Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hello, fellow travelers.

Hello fellow travelers: Latest from the Pastures of Heaven.dot dot dash dash. incoming message... The artistic members of the latest P of H workshop met for a work week just before Christmas, and, as previously reported, we could not have had a more enjoyable gift than the opportunity to work together once more. We got to unwrap the first draft of four stories, as adapted by Octavio Solis. It took Director Jonathan's stern reminder to us all to concentrate on giving the play an airing (versus arguing about our favorite bits of the book) and then we all got a chance to begin the acting work, exploring Octavio's characters. Octavio gave us four stories, each different in its theatrical form. I found that exhilarating and unexpected: narrative, discursive, presentational, monologue or scene- or song-based, as one story slipped into the next, the form changed as well. And Jonathan gave us interesting visual shapes to fill, and explored tone, as well, looking for low-key (though highly dramatic) transitions which felt true to the book. We ended with a presentation of the material for an audience and for Octavio, who then serenaded us with the "Song of the Two Sisters."

All in all, a great week for us. And now Happy New Year wishes to all reading this; may our 2009 be filled with great theater!
.end message.
from, Amy

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Two Best Ofs, two Honorable Mentions.

Cal Shakes productions got the nod from area theater wags this week--Chad Jones named Pericles his number 2 production of 2008 at Theater Dogs, Sam Hurwitt lauded Uncle Vanya as his number 4 in the East Bay Express, and both critics named An Ideal Husband in their lists of honorable mentions.

Stay tuned for the Chronicle's faves. And happy holidays from Cal Shakes! (And from this blogger, who's actually blogging from home in her bathrobe, like a REAL blogger.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Original corridos, photos from Steinbeck Project road trips and workshop, and much more to come...

The Steinbeck Project is all kinds of active again. Last week, Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, Word for Word Co-Artistic Directors Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter, Cal Shakes Associate Artistic Director (and New Works/New Communities honcho), and myself drove down to Salinas for a trio of Community Conversations. You can see a few pictures of those--at Hartnell College, Breadbox Recreation Center, and the Steinbeck Center--on our Flickr page, and there will be video, blog entries, and more to come on the subject.

Same goes for the third Steinbeck Project/Pastures of Heaven workshop, which took place this Saturday through today with members of both companies, here in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall. So far, playwright Octavio Solis has adapted four of the novel's stories: one about a cursed farm (featuring my favorite line from the book); another about the stoic widow of a huntsman and her increasingly unhinged young daughter; the heartbreaking tale of the phony-baloney capitalist Shark Wicks; and the novel's epilogue, wherein a busload of tourists view the Pastures of Heaven some two decades after the book's main stories have unfolded.

I shot video of three thirty-minute sections of the workshop rehearsal and performance (including a surprise performance of one of the other stores as a corrido, sung by Solis himself) and will be editing that video in the coming weeks. And there will be blog accounts to come! But in the interim, here are a few pictures from yesterday, shot by Jay Yamada.

Pictured at top: In rehearsal (left to right), Ron Campbell, Patricia Silver Stephanie Hunt, Joan Mankin, Julie Eccles, Daniel Duque-Estrada, JoAnne Winter, and Sarah Nealis.
In rehearsal (left to right), Joan Mankin, Julie Eccles, Ron Campbell, Daniel Duque-Estrada, Catherine Castellanos, Sarah Nealis, Susan Harloe, JoAnne Winter, Amy Kossow, and Jonathan Moscone.

Middle photo: Playwright Octavio Solis talks to Cal Shakes Associate Artist Joan Mankin.

Bottom photo: In rehearsal (left to right), Ron Campbell, Patricia Silver Stephanie Hunt, Joan Mankin, Julie Eccles, Daniel Duque-Estrada, JoAnne Winter, and Sarah Nealis.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Shall I Compare Thee to a Saxophone?

An abbreviated version of this article appears in the December issue of the Cal Shakes e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

Back in August of this year, New Works/New Communities program director Jessica Richards sat down with Cal Shakes Associate Artist Andy Murray to chat about his Write 2 Read Community Residency, part of the Alameda County Youth Literacy program at the Juvenile Justice Center. The resulting article ran in our Uncle Vanya program, and since then, Murray has continued to visit the kids in the center's classrooms.

When the actor and teacher began his latest visits in late November, he was about to open The Seafarer at Marin Theatre Company, a play wherein Murray’s character ends up playing a card game with the devil for his soul (and which has been extended through December 14). Though he says it’s really hard to find a parallel in your life for something like that, “in all great works of dramatic literature, you find parallels. Like in Macbeth, there’s very few people who are going to end up killing the King of Scotland. But there’s plenty of people who have been faced with a moral choice because they wanted something, whether it’s a candy bar in the store or their best friend’s girlfriend, they’ve said, ‘I know this is wrong, but I’m gonna do it anyway.’”

Getting the kids in the three Write 2 Read units to relate to literature is one of Murray’s primary challenges, along with the changeable nature of the classroom population—kids being late or absent, leaving or entering the center—and getting the students to just settle down. “But you do what you can, introducing them to a few famous speeches and getting them to speak the language out loud and talk a little bit about what it means and how it might relate in some way to their experience, everyone’s experience.” So he brings in speeches from the four major tragedies—Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and Hamlet—and also some sonnets. Some units want him to read the text aloud before they take a crack at it, because it helps them understand. “I always say, ‘well, you read it. You read it.’ And I’ve always said ‘no.’ I know how to read it. But it actually really helps them to understand it if I read it first, and then we can go through it. I hadn’t figured that out. I’d always been about throwing the attention off me and putting it on them, but it’s actually really helpful to do it this way. So that’s something that I learned this time, and it’s always about learning what works better.”

In a coed unit, Murray brought in Sonnet 18, the one that famously begins “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” Then, he asked them to rewrite the opening lines.

“I tell them that a summer’s day in England is no small thing, since it’s always raining. It’s like, ‘shall I compare you to one of the greatest days of the year?’ So I say to them, ‘what do you like, what do you find beautiful?’ And it’s a push to get them doing it, but one girl said, ‘Shall I compare you to a saxophone? You’re better because you can’t get any dents and I don’t need WD-40.’ I said to them, ‘I read a lot of poetry, and in the thousands, hundreds of thousands of poems written since Shakespeare first wrote a poem, that may be the first one with the reference to WD-40.’ So that’s a great thing. It’s hard to get them to push their imaginations a little further. Most of them want to talk about money, drugs, sex, you know? Some teachers are OK with that, but I always want to get them out of that place. They spend their whole lives talking about money, drugs, and sex, which is partially a function of being a teenager. But with these guys, it’s really hard to get them away from those stock references they have in their lives. But I want to get them to use their imaginations, and see alternative ways of expressing themselves. So that’s the challenge.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

2009 Season Designer Profile: Romeo and Juliet's Andre Pleuss

In the months leading up to our 2009 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—Romeo and Juliet, Private Lives, Happy Days, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in our e-newsletters. For the inaugural installment, we are introducing newsletter subscribers to sound artist Andre Pleuss, an Artistic Associate at Lookingglass Theatre (Chicago) who designed sound for our 2008 production of Twelfth Night, as well as Berkeley Rep’s current production of Arabian Nights. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Mr. Pleuss. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

If you could have composed music and/or designed sound for any production(s)—historical or modern—what would it be?
I would love to have composed/designed JoAnne Akalaitis' production of Iphigenia, Tina Landau's Space, and most things I've ever seen produced by SITI Company and recently Elevator Repair Service. I love the Greeks and I always want to design any House of Atreus plays (or adaptations) that come along. I'd also love to write/design for the Japanese multi-media theatre-arts/dance collective Dumb Type. They blow my mind.

Who are your favorite composers (theatrical and nontheatrical)?
My favorite theatrical composer these days is ... hmm that's tough. I guess I'd say Richard Woodbury in Chicago, and Willy Shwarz in Germany. I also like Michael Keck's music a lot, and Victor Zupanc in Minneapolis I think does great work. I loved the music for Les Waters' production of To the Lighthouse at Berkeley Rep a few seasons back, written by Paul Drescher.

My favorite nontheatrical composer is Frank Zappa (unrivaled prolific genius IMHO). I'm a big fan also of Jon Brion (as both a composer and producer). His music for Punch Drunk Love is always on heavy rotation on my iPod. I'd also add Rufus Wainwright to that list.
What's your favorite band? Or bands?
I'm going through a huge roots music phase right now. (I can't stop listening to the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant album Raising Sand. Gillian Welch, Jolie Holland and the Be Good Tanyas are also in heavy iPod rotation these days.) Unrelated, I find Postal Service endlessly fascinating—not just musically, but in terms of their process (i.e., rarely being in the same room, but rather sharing files across the country via the internet, passing them back and forth layering tracks gradually over time).

Oh yeah, and I'm a sound designer so it's like a prerequisite to be a Radiohead fan. And I am, proudly.

You recently did Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare Santa Cruz; I know it's a bit early to be thinking too much about our upcoming production, but can you provide any insight at all into how that production, with its Hungarian Gypsy feel, may inform how you approach the Cal Shakes '09 one?
I wish I could. It's still quite early and Jon and I have only had one conversation. I will say that it is great having the play still very resonant in my mind. I don't think I've ever worked on the same play (with different production aesthetics, et cetera) so closely on top of one another before. I'm really thrilled that it's this play. I've always thought I could work on Romeo and Juliet once every few years for the rest of my career and not be bored. There is so much going on in that world emotionally, dramatically. It's sexy, romantic, violent and lyrical, joyous and profoundly sad all in the same breath. If any one play can kick-start a designer's imagination in a wide variety of different directions, it's this one.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Main Stage 2008 polls-a-poppin'—what's your favorite??

OK, so, don't try to deny it: We're halfway through November already. Some people have finished shopping for holiday gifts, while the rest of us are just starting to feel the guilt of not having started. (Or, if you're like me, you're thanking your lucky, lazy stars that you never got around to mailing those birthday presents to the east coast.)

Here at Cal Shakes, we've just finished general auditions for the 2009 season. Our esteemed graphic designer has already designed a number of attractive choices for Romeo & Juliet art, and will be working in earnest tomorrow on the show art for Private Lives. Our Spring Classes brochure will go to the printer in the next few weeks, and, perhaps most importantly, I think I saw the receptionist Administrative Project Manager preparing the bowl full of Secret Santa name choices yesterday.

But the 2008 season still looms large over all of this next-season preparation and year-end festivity: The Development department is preparing "Return on Investment" reports for all of our sponsors, filled with impressive numbers and beautiful pictures from the most reason Main Stage productions; and, in fact, this time of year we're constantly reviewing the photos from all of our 2008 activities—Main Stage plays and Audience Enrichment events, Summer Theater Programs, adult classes, New Works/New Communities workshops, and more—for use in various brochures, web pages, and other marketing materials.

As a result, I find myself in my usual state of mind for this year—much like that phenomenon wherein you can't discern which childhood memories are legitimately yours, or which have been created by looking at photo albums and home movies, I'm currently so overwhelmed and impressed by the visuals generated by Kevin Berne and Jay Yamada this season that I can't recall which 2008 Cal Shakes productions and individual performances were my favorites.

Can you? I'm curious as to what Main Stage stuff that folks who read this blog liked best in 2008—not just overall productions but also individual performances, costumes, set and lighting design, even specific moments from Pericles, An Ideal Husband, Uncle Vanya, and Twelfth Night. If you've got opinions, please express them in the comments section!

Pictured, from top to bottom: Delia MacDougall and Sarah Nealis in Pericles, as photographed by Kevin Berne; Michael Butler in An Ideal Husband, as photographed by Kevin Berne; Barbara Oliver and Annie Purcell in Uncle Vanya, as photographed by Jay Yamada; Andy Murray and Dan Hiuatt in Twelfth Night, as photographed by Jay Yamada.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cal Shakes' European Vacation (OK, so it's really our Costume Director's trip to a costuming symposium, but ...)

The following was written by Cal Shakes Costume Director Naomi Arnst.

In May of 2007, at a Costume Society of America Symposium, Susan No
rth of the Victoria and Albert Museum announced that, at the the Costume Colloquium in November of this year, several institutions were planning a tribute to Janet Arnold, on the tenth anniversary of her death. Arnold was one of the premier dress historians of our time (her book Patterns of Fashion Vol. 3 is at right), and my hero, so, as soon as I returned home, I checked my mileage plan; I was really close to a European reward, so the plan was set.

As it turned out, however, I had to fly free to Munich first. This was the first time I had ever been to Germany and, being half German, I was right at home. It was like returning to my childhoodthe food, the language, the musicall brought me back. One of my favorite things, of course, was the Bavarian embrace of the ethnic dressit just made me giddy. Since I used to be a muumuu designer in Honolulu, it's great to see other cultures wherein ethnic dress has become widely adopted kitsch (see photo to the right). While in Bavaria, I climbed to the Neuschwanstein Castle to see how King Ludwig II lived, and the next day did a Sound of Music foot tour of Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg was fabulous, and the locals really do wear the Tyrolean garb as day wear. The Old City takes your mind back to Mozart's time, and earlier. Then again, my mind is known to time travel.

Soon it was on to the main event: The Costume Colloquium in Florence, Italy. A nine-hour train ride later, I was there (I think I'm done with sleeper cars after this trip). The weather was fabulous the whole time in Florence; if I wasn't in a symposium session I was walking my feet off for six days straight.

The Costume Colloquium focused on several aspects of the field of History of Dress.

First, on the status of academic programs in the UK, Italy, Switzerland, and some in the US. There are more programs in Dress, Archeology, Restoration, and Costume than ever before, but to keep funding is a real battle in these strained economic times. As a result, many programs are moving toward an artifact-based study, instead of a strictly painti
ng-based one. This change has been directly affected by Janet Arnold's tireless research and search for accuracy. Second, the articles themselves. Representatives from the Medici Tomb research team spoke about their most recent findings, coffins unearthed when the tomb was most recently opened. The wooden boxes had collapsed, but the bodies and clothes were preserved in mud from the river Arno in a 1960s flood. One little boy, in his fine burial suit, could not be touched, so 360-degree photography and computer imaging were used to figure out his mysteries. It was quite amazing to see the process—before computers were widely used, other Medici garments were studied with photography, drawing, painting (see Girolamo Macchietti's portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici at right), and lots and lots of handling. This can be seen in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion Vol. 3 (cover pictured above).

The most important collections of historic Italian dress (some even dating back to the 12th Century) a
re to be found in Venice, Milan, Genoa And Florence. But the 20th century is represented at the Museo del Tessuto, where we found a history of manufacturing, and how it changed dress. In Florence, the Pucci Family chronicles 60 years of Roberto Pucci's colorful, and now timeless, designs. And we got to tour the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, which celebrates the living legend (and which features the shoe at left). We also got to hang out in the designer's home for a cocktail party—it was palatial, fitting for someone who got his start in Hollywood in its heyday. The last aspect of dress that we examined was documentation: Whether it be in books, online, or in exhibits, getting the information to the public is the thing. For people who love fashion like I do, we are very lucky that major galleries like the Tate Britain in London, the de Young in San Francisco, LACMA, and the Met in NY now think nothing of displaying both paintings and their corresponding dress at the same time, in the same exhibit. This is a huge breakthrough. The popularity of Project Runway has also helped fuel the dialogue of bringing the love of fashion and its understanding to the masses, and the popularity of reenactment and historical interpretation have also kept the study of dress a lively topic.

One of my last stops was a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence and the hisorical home of Cosimo Medici, Eleonora di Toledo, and their daughter, Maria de Medici (depicited in the painting at right by Alessandro Allori). The educational staff and interpreters are set up at so that schoolchildren can put on renaissance costumes and be part of the dialogue; the Palazzo's educational agenda is to get the public engaged in the time period, instead of just feeding it to them, so it was fun and theatrical, too.

It was a great trip—I learned about advances in information gathering, computer-aided research, and much more, all while gaining a broader worldwide perspective. If you want to learn more about the fascinating group that organized the Colloquium, click here, but be warned: Navigating away from that link will dunk you into Italian-language waters. Ciao!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Barackian Booster Shot

While the excitement over the presidential election may have died down a bit, the Cal Shakes office got one heckuva Barackian booster shot this week when our Finance Director, Nina Marie Thompson, got some quality face time with President-elect Obama on Veterans Day! Nina, you see, used to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army (the first female field commander, in fact) and, for the last seven years, she has represented the National Association of Black Military Women at the Women's Memorial Veterans Day Ceremony in Washington, DC. This year, as Nina—the final speaker at Arlington National Cemetery before the group moved onto a luncheon—was about to leave the podium, "the assembled crowd suddenly went wild. And I thought, 'I'm good, but I'm not that good!'"

But they weren't applauding for her—they were applauding President-elect Obama, who had taken a place behind her, arms crossed. It seems that they had invited him to appear at the event some months ago, and had gotten a "maybe" from his campaign team. Now, in town to meet with President Bush at the White House the day before, Obama had stuck around for Veterans Day, and decided to take a swing by the event at Arlington.

Nina and the President-elect shook hands, and, as he made a few minutes of remarks, Nina tried to leave the stage. "A Secret Service agent grabbed me, and I said, 'What did I do?!'"

"Nothing," replied the agent, who Nina knew. "Just stand here and keep your mouth shut." Once Obama was done speaking, the Secret Service led the President-elect, Nina, and the NABMW President, Vice President, and Secretary into the green room for a brief tête-à-tête*. Obama shook our Finance Director's hand, and said he'd heard a lot about her. "From who?!" she asked and, when told that he'd been talking to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Nina began to worry a bit. "I used to go before her committee a lot," Nina recalls. "I used to get in a lot of trouble."

"I even saw it on videotape," continued President-elect Obama.

"Not my best moments," Nina responded, to laughter.

"He was very personable, very genuine," Nina recounts. He even chatted a bit with her mother when Nina reached her by cell phone, ultimately handing the phone back to Nina and informing her that she was in big trouble
—seems that Nina's mom has accompanied her on a few of these Veterans Day trips, and was pretty angry that she hadn't come along on this one.

Before the President-elect left the building, Nina was sure to tell him about Cal Shakes, and about the life-size Obama cut-out (see above) that had been loitering just outside of the Finance office in the weeks leading up to the election. And then, at the subsequent luncheon, multiple speakers expressed—from the podium—their intense jealousy of the folks who'd gotten to meet our next President.

"We just sat there and listened," Nina says, "with smiles on our faces the size of California."

*That's what you have to call informal talks with heads of state, I think.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shakespeare's Better than Recess: Tales from Artistic Learning

Here's a tale recently told to our Director of Artistic Learning, Trish Tillman, by Mike Jones, a teacher whose students have been working with Cal Shakes Teaching Artist Norman Gee at Oakland High. Jones says that there are two young men in his English class known for their truancy and bad behavior, but who show up consistently for the Shakespeare sessions. "They are the ones this year who have memorized their lines before anyone else," says Mr. Jones, "delivering them with the beginnings of emotional resonance in front of the others in class. Quite a nice occurrence."

And from Victoria Erville, a Cal Shakes Teaching Artist (and Artistic Director of the African-American Shakespeare Company) currently working with kids at Foothill Elementary (Pittsburg), comes a story of a couple of smaller boys who actually prefer Shakespeare to recess. "They come into my class during recess and practice their lines with me. It has become a bit of a 'thing' to know more lines than anyone else." Another favorite of Ms. Erville's is "the young lady who is having trouble remembering her lines. When I told her she could do it and that she just needed a little confidence, she smiled and said I sounded like her mom."

"Then there is David," continues Ms. Erville, "who want to play every role, and Manuel, who is my stage manager and says directing is 'easy.'" She says that the entire elementary school has got the acting bug: She's even got one of the teachers quoting Shakespeare now.

"They are already talking about spring, and fighting over which classes get drama. It's a shame that they have no other arts programs here. The kids are drinking it up."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New play? No problem!

This year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) began its New Play Development Program. And we're beyond proud to announce that Cal Shakes has been chosen as one (of just five!) of the inaugural selections. As a recipient of Arts Endowment support for a NEA Distinguished New Play Development Project, Cal Shakes will receive $20,000 toward early development activities, such as read-throughs, public readings, and workshop productions, for Pastures of Heaven. Followers of this blog and of Cal Shakes probably already know about Pastures--it's our latest New Works/New Communities project, an adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven to be written by Octavio Solis and developed in partnership with San Francisco’s Word for Word Performing Arts Company.

Administered by Arena Stage, the New Play Development Program is intended to help the nation’s nonprofit theaters bring more new plays to full production. For us that means more workshops, more research trips, and more than two years of communication between our two very different theater companies, and urban and rural Northern Californians. Our artists will continue to talk to their artists, our playwright will continue to talk to the communities, and, in 2010, these stories of fragile farm life in Salinas Valley will premiere on the California Shakespeare Theater Main Stage, directed by Jonathan Moscone.

Read our news story about the grant here, or, for national news outlets’ coverage of this story, check out Playbill and Variety.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Associate Artist Round-Up: One More

(See last week's round-up here.)

Catherine Castellanos will be working with Central Works Theatre Ensemble on Blessed Unrest, a new play adapted by Gary Graves and written in collaboration with Castellanos, Marvin Greene, Kristin Fitch, Gregory Sharpen, and Jan Zvaifler. Inspired by a book from one of the world's leading environmental and social activists, Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming--a manifesto for hope in the 21st century.

The production runs October 25-November 23 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley. Performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 5pm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Associate Artist Round-Up Addendum

Earlier this week we posted an "Associate Artist Round-Up" to our news page. No sooner had I checked its formatting on the website than additional ones started rolling in from the rest of our artistic family. So go there, read the first one, and then come back here and read these. (Or vice versa--it makes no nevermind to me).

Nancy Carlin is directing Sands Hall's adaptation of Little Women for Foothill Theatre Company in Nevada City, CA; the production runs Nov 20-Dec 28.

As mentioned in the original news item, Jim Carpenter is going into closing week of Rock 'N' Roll at A.C.T. After that, he and wife Cass will be taking a short trip up to Ashland, OR as a 35th Anniversary present to themselves; shortly thereafter Jim goes back to A.C.T. reprising his role as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Joan Mankin, who has been posting to this blog from China, will be back in the USA on October 20. She has two main projects upon her return: to begin work on a piece with the third-year students at the A.C.T. Conservatory, a collaboration with Glide Church which will will attempt to address the situation of homeless people; and to direct a show about conservation of our resources with clowns from the S.F. Circus Center, to tour elementary schools all over Alameda County.

Lynne Soffer has been in Arizona since August rehearsing and performing in Enchanted April, directed by Timothy Near. Next up is dialect and text coaching at Berkeley Rep and Marin Theatre Company.

Dan Hiatt will be playing Rutherford Selig in Joe Turner's Come and Gone at Berkeley Rep, directed by Delroy Lindo and running Oct. 31-Dec. 14.

Clive Worsley is finishing up residencies in Fruitvale Elementary and Charlotte Wood Middle schools, while directing Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Clackervilles for Orinda Intermediate School's Bulldog Theatre. And of course, he's still "steering the ship" as Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre.

Have you seen our Associate Artists anywhere (besides Cal Shakes) recently? Do you plan on attending any of the above mentioned productions? Let us know in the Comments section!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Clowning in China, by Joan Mankin PART 2

I am learning so much about clowning by being in a place where I understand no one, and no one understands me. When I say I understand no one, I am referring to words, of course, verbal interactions (which for me are limited to "hello" and "thanks"). But when I have no hope of conversing with someone in the usual, more facile manner, I must look into their eyes and read their body language, and respond in ways that touch different chords in my body energies. And Chinese people have the most truthful smiles. Either their faces are composed and distant, or they smile completely--there is no half-smile, they don't do it unless they mean it. And that makes me be more truthful in what I say and do. I feel like I am revisiting the core of what clowning means.

Last night Jonah (a student from the SF Circus center) and I were walking home along Stinky Tofu Alley (our name, not the official name) and we started singing "Country Roads" ("country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads") and when we got to the "West Virginia" part someone started singing along with us. It was a Chinese man, who somehow knew the words (although I'm sure he had no idea what they were about) and loved the song. So all three us walked down this alley in the heart of downtown Nanjing, singing about West Virginia at the top of our lungs--we even did harmony! And when we finished, he went to get into his car, and he held out his hand to shake mine, to thank us for letting him sing with us. And I couldn't help bursting into "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"--and I sang to him and his friends with all my heart and soul as they drove away, leaving me and Jonah in the smoggy, dark Nanjing night.

(Pictured above: Joan with Arthur Keng in SF Playhouse's 2008 production of
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Did you see the Bruns cat?

Did you see this little guy? The stray cat suddenly, mysteriously appeared at our amphitheater two weeks before Twelfth Night (and our season) ended, clearly lost but clean and definitely cared for. The actors, house and box office staff, and backstage crew fed the little fella and grew to love him, and he definitely became one of the family, even wandering onstage during one of the actor Q&A sessions that follow student matinees.

House and box office staffer Carol Marshall (who took the picture above) took the cat home and cleaned him up. (Though he'd shown up in good order, the Bruns is a dirty place to live.) After a few days, Carol took the cat to the Berkeley animal shelter for adoption and, lo and behold, the shelter discovered that the cat's owner had implanted a microchip in the kitty that allowed them to identify him, and locate his owner.

No one is quite certain how the cat got to the Bruns, but he's home now, giving the tale a Dickensian twist--the little lost orphan cat was actually a feline of station.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Clowning in China, by Joan Mankin

I've been in Nanjing for two and 1/2 half weeks now, teaching Western clowning and acting to Chinese acrobats (and a few magicians). The workshop itself is in Nanjing, but the acrobats are from troupes all over China: Beijing, Wu Han, Yin Chuan, An Hui, Tai Yuan. They were brought together by the Chinese Arts and Cultural organization to try and raise the level of comic acting in the acrobatic performances, and to encourage them to connect on a more personal level with their audiences.

China is going through a transformative phase now, letting go of some of the attachment to tradition and seeking out new artistic and performative channels. It's exciting to be in on this surge of interest in Western comedy forms. There are very few Westerners in Nanjing (a city of five and 1/2 million people) so I get stared at a lot (which I kind of like) and laughed at a lot (which I really like). I'm here with three other people from the Clown Conservatory at the San Francisco Circus Center, and we're all intrigued by the cultural differences and similarities. The students threw themselves with tremendous dexterity and gusto into every gag we ask them to do--running into walls, tripping, falling, slapping--but ask them to reveal something true and vital about themselves in front of other people, and they run into a different kind of wall.

We will do two performances at a College here in Nanjing in the middle of this month; I'm so excited to see how they take in what we have brought.

I miss eating salads sooo much. Best to all from Joan Mankin.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


An excerpt from today's Student Discovery Matinee Performance: At the post-show Q&A, some students asked if it was hard to remember all those lines.

Danny Scheie (seen at left with Dana Green) jumped in and said, “Alex (Morf, who plays Viola and Sebastian) has more lines, but I’m older.”

Here he is (at right) in his Feste drag. Photos (and observation) courtesy of Jay Yamada.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Just Like Riding A Bike

When we announced our 2009 season you may have noticed that our very own Jon Moscone will be directing Romeo & Juliet. What you may not have realized is that the last time he took on Shakespeare for our stage was back in 2006 when he directed As You Like It.

That's right folks. 2006. How does he feel about his return to the world of iambic pentameter? He's excited. Here at the office we're hearing him float around ideas like looking for young actors to play the title roles. And by young, I really mean age appropriate since Romeo & Juliet were teenagers after all.

Every production goes through a period of transformation while the director and designers research and explore the work. Then you cast the show and when rehearsals begin another series of transformations occur as the actors bring each character to life. So there's no telling what the final outcome will be.

But the man isn't artistic director of a Shakespeare theater for nothing. This should be a fun ride.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Clicking Makes the Net Go Round

Today's post is all about clickability.

Click here for Twelfth Night production photos.

Does video trip your trigger more than still photography? Then check out this sampling of scenes from Twelfth Night.

Also on the multimedia page for Twelfth Night is a highlight reel from the Inside Scoop, a panel discussion that took place in August in Orinda, featuring director Mark Rucker, dramaturg Cathleen Sheehan, and actors Alex Morf (Viola/Sebastian) and Dana Green (Olivia).

LGBT Night is just around the corner. A pre-show cocktail party for the LGBT crowd, included with your ticket price. 30 and under? Tickets to the performance are only $20! Click here to buy your performance ticket and RSVP for the event.

Did you come online to shop? We can help with that too, just click on over to our online auction. More items were just added to the catalog and two more will be added in the next few days. If you missed out on placing a bid on the hot air balloon ride in the spring online auction, never fear. That popular prize package is making an encore. But bidding is only open while Twelfth Night is on stage.

Monday, September 22, 2008

When it Rains, It Pours

When you do theater outside, weather is always an issue. Will there be enough blankets to go around if it's cold? Did the sun make the stage floor too hot for the actors who are supposed to be barefoot? Did the wind blow over the umbrellas in the grove? Are those rain clouds?

For most of the season we are blessed with beautiful weather out at the Bruns Amphitheater. Sometimes the nights get chilly, but our audiences tend to be a hardy group. But the last days of our season overlap with the beginning of the rainy season in this area. And on Friday night, the hardiness of our audiences got its first test.

The rain started while we were setting up for the Shindig. When the rain stopped Susie, our marketing director, ran around the North Star Grove with a big roll of paper towels and dried off picnic tables. Which was great for a while, but then it began to rain again. Not the kind of rain where you see the actual drops, but like a really aggressive mist. Just enough to get everything damp. I personally was standing under a big blue canopy pouring wine for most of the evening, so I stayed dry.

The Shindig seemed to go quite well, despite the moisture in the air. We had a big turnout. So much that we ran out of food and red wine. There was lots of mingling and conversation and participation in the game we'd concocted. A very special version of Mad Libs centered around obscure holidays to fit in with the Twelfth Night theme.

But the aggressiveness of the mist was creating problems on stage. The current floor treatment can get pretty slick from just fog. So Friday night, it was pretty wet. Which means it's a safety hazard for the actors. Which meant that the first 15 minute hold went into effect.

After 15 minutes, the rain was still coming down. The audience was mostly seated but the rumors of a possible cancellation had started to circulate. A second 15 minute hold went into effect while the staff crossed their fingers for the rain to stop and the cast crossed theirs for it to continue so they'd get an unexpected night off.

Actor's Equity, the union to which our actors and stage managers belong, has rules about rain and holding the show. You get three 15 minute holds. After that, if it's still deemed unsafe, you cancel the show. We were down to the wire.

The audience was starting to get restless. Each time a 15 minute hold went into effect, Susie would make her way to the front of the house and announce what was going on. When she announced the third and final hold, a murmur made it's way across the theater. And shortly after, there was a small line of folks loading up on coffee and hot chocolate at the cafe.

By the time the last of the 15 minute holds had expired the rain had finally stopped. The stage floor was mopped up and deemed safe. There were some adjustments made. Danny Scheie did not roller skate as planned. Shoes were switched out as needed. But at 8:30, a full half hour late, the show finally got underway.

The mist came back for while at some point during the show. But our faithful audience stayed with us till the end. Let's just all cross our fingers and hope that this is our rainy day experience this season. M'kay?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Keys to the Kingdom

Hello blog readers. Your usual blogging host, Stefanie, has packed her bags and gone off to Bali for a couple of weeks. She has entrusted me, Beth Sandefur, special events and membership manager, with the care and feeding of this blog while she's gone. I'd like to think that it's because of my superb writing skills but really it's because I'm a girl that likes to tell a story and I have basic working knowledge of HTML. And she left me a very thorough list of instructions (i.e. little to no creative license).

The Cal Shakes bull pen is playing vacation rotation at the moment. We've all been overlapping each other by a day here and there. Robin, the box office manager, spent a few days in New Mexico and will be going back next week. Paul, development coordinator, was in Northern Minnesota. Susie, marketing director, spent some time in France. I have just returned from a trip to Minneapolis.

What's in Minneapolis? I'm so glad you asked. Shawn Hamilton--who played the narrator, Gower, in our production of Pericles earlier this year--is currently holding down a role in a world premiere musical; Little House on the Prairie, at the Guthrie Theater. (Do view the flash site when you click that link, it's quite something.) I am an unapologetic fan of musical theater, even the fluffy stuff, and couldn't resist an offer of comp tickets for a musical that is still in development.

I'll have the blog humming along with links to Twelfth Night reviews and photos, an inside look at how the development swings into the off season, and a preview of one of our upcoming Artistic Learning classes. You know, as soon as I finish wading through all the voice mail and email that stacked up while I was out of the office for a week and a half. Which will go much quicker now that I've shown my vacation photos to everyone in the office. Priorities.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Have you ever taken the back way to the Bruns?

If you've ever skipped the tunnel on your way from Berkeley to our Orinda amphitheater, than you know how twisty-turny the Claremont Avenue route is.

But would you ever skateboard down it??

Adam Kimmel presents: Claremont HD from adam kimmel on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In case you haven't heard ...

We've announced our 2009 season!*

Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
May 27 – Jun 21

Private Lives
By Noël Coward
Directed by Mark Rucker
Jul 8-Aug 2

Happy Days
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
Starring Marsha Mason**
Aug 12-Sep 6

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Aaron Posner
Sep 16-Oct 11

Read more about the productions on our website.

*But don't forget about Twelfth Night, playing now to close out our 08 season. Check out the new trailer!
**This one's making national news already!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chad Jones interviews our Viola/Cesario/Sebastian

Confused yet? Chad Jones unravels the double/triple casting of Alex Morf in Twelfth Night (which starts previews in a matter of hours) on his Theater Dogs blog.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Where's J-Mo? Or, What Our Artistic Director's Been Up To.

In between drafting opening letters for the Twelfth Night program, weighing in on gala themes, and deciding our 2009 season (to be announced this Wednesday!) our fearless leader has spent the last month in the savage republic of Boston, directing a new play by Richard Nelson titled, appropriately, How Shakespeare Won the West at the Huntington Theatre. Read more about it in the News on the Rialto blog.

Up next for Mr. Moscone: Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice* at Milwaukee Rep. But he will be here for opening night this weekend, I hear.

*The production of which at Berkeley Rep is one of this blogger's personal all-time favorite Bay Area shows.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cal Shakes Summer Conservatory Student for President!

In a recent Contra Costa Times article, future presidential candidate Zachary Larkin cited such heroes as Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, William Shakespeare, Steven Spielberg, and Barack Obama. And we should we here at Cal Shakes care? Because for the last three summers, Zach has participated in our Summer Theater Programs; maybe we can someday credit our five-week conservatory for the oratorial skills of the leader of the free world!

"The 13-year-old plans to run when he's 37 and insists it's no joke," wrote Elisabeth Nardi in this Tuesday's Times. "This young Democrat has started a blog, has a Web site and even made the theme of his bar mitzvah last Saturday 'Campaign 2032.' He walked in to the strains of 'Hail to the Chief.'"

Read the whole article here. Pictured here: Young Master Larkin as Richard III in a 2007 Summer Theater Program performance. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Better late than never: The TWELFTH NIGHT Meet & Greet podcast

The actors and creative team have cleared out of our West Berkeley rehearsal hall, moving up to the Bruns for the beginning of tech. So, no more Danny Scheie rolling around on roller skates, practicing the trombone.

What am I talking about, you ask? Oh, just you wait and see. For a hint or three, listen to the just-posted podcast of Twelfth Night director (and Cal Shakes Associate Artist) Mark Rucker outline his vision on the first day of rehearsal last month. If video's what you prefer, early next week I'll post a highlight reel from the Inside Scoop, the panel discussion that took place last Monday in Orinda, featuring Rucker, dramaturg Cathleen Sheehan, and actors Alex Morf (Viola/Sebastian) and Dana Green (Olivia).

But in the meantime, enjoy the podcast.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Twelfth Night publicity photos

OK, so, not to deflect attention from Uncle Vanya (which has two weeks left to its run and is absolutely wonderful) but we've got our publicity photos for Twelfth Night back, and they're positively scintillating. I know that's a corny word, but it's the best one I can find to describe this shoot. Normally, I have very mixed feelings about publicity shoots. They usually take place too early in the rehearsal process for the actors to have the feel for their parts necessary to project onto a still shot. And these are actors, after all, not models.They have tools besides their faces and bodies--they have gestures and voices and all sorts of other tricks that don't necessarily transfer well to the inherently still life of photography.

But we've been trying harder here in the Cal Shakes Marketing Lab, trying to think outside the rehearsal hall. For Vanya, we trundled the actors off the the train tracks behind the office. And for the Twelfth Night shoot, I borrowed my neighbor's disco ball and we spirited Dana Green (Olivia), Alex Morf (Viola/Cesario/Sebastian), and Stephen Barker Turner (Orsino) away to my favorite after-work juke joint, that elegantly neighborhood dive known as The Missouri Lounge.

Here's Olivia with her Cesario.

Orsino and Cesario. This shot reminds me of one I've seen of Mick Jagger and Mikhail Baryshnikov at Studio 54 (from Anthony Haden-Guest's The Last Party).

And finally, the triangle: Count Orsino, Countess Olivia, and Viola/Cesario. Le sigh.

Twelfth Night runs September 10-October 5. Photos by Kevin Berne.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Unreasonably Excited

The title of this post refers to the general state the office staff of Cal Shakes was left in after this Tuesday's Twelfth Night Meet & Greet. The podcast of director Mark Rucker's presentation will be posted within hours (click here and look under the "Multimedia" tab; or just check back to this blog), with his idea of Orsino and Olivia as jaded, hedonistic gentry, tales of finding inspiration from our outdoor amphitheater--Rucker's last production of Twelfth Night, 12 years ago, was set in a tropical paradise, bikinis and all--and his reasons for auditioning actors of both genders for each and every role.

What's not on the podcast is Rucker and costume designer Clint Ramos' design presentations: the references to Andy Warhol's Factory and San Francisco's Cockettes and Trocadero Transfer; nightclubs after their heyday's done or even just after the night is over, lit by flouresecence and regret; the freaks lingering around the edges of a privileged party scene; mirror balls on the floor; and the element of performance that runs throughout the characters and scenarios, whether they're dressed up as other genders, other classes, or just falsifying emotion.

And Clint's Studio 54-inspired costume sketches are what really put us all over the top--Olivia as Bianca Jagger (second picture, at left), a joyous Toby Belch in pyjamas, a la the artist Julian Schnabel ...

Orsino as a tuxedoed Halston...

Malvolio as malevolent disco Goth with an Elvis pompadour...

... and Viola as Carrie-meets-Debbie Harry-meets Gwen Stefani (and, in her Cesario drag, as Marlene Dietrich-meets-Grace Jones).

This is sure to be one pretty, pretty show. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vanya: Open. Man: Leaping.

Yeah, the Chron's little man is leaping out of his chair for us. Writes critic Robert Hurwitt, "[Director Timothy] Near, the outgoing head of San Jose Repertory Theatre, delivers a beautifully orchestrated Vanya"in her California Shakespeare Theater debut. Working with a gently pruned, graceful adaptation by playwright Emily Mann and a flawless cast, she does full justice to the cosmic comedy Chekhov mined from self-involved, wasted lives without stinting the pathos of their dashed hopes."

Look below for pictures from this stunning, stirring production.

Annie Purcell as Sonya and Sarah Grace Wilson as Yelena; photo by Kevin Berne.

Andy Murray (Astrov) and Dan Hiatt (Vanya); photo by Kevin Berne.

Sarah Grace Wilson (Yelena); photo by Kevin Berne.

Joan Mankin (Maria) and Dan Hiatt (Vanya); photo by Kevin Berne.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Bad Hair Day (or: A Little Sleight of Beard)

(Once again, lifted from Associate Artist Jim Carpenter's blog.)

OK. Something is weird in my Universe.

The past 3 nights I've gone to bed very tired and very late. This morning I awoke, moaned quietly, rolled over, looked at the clock and saw its little beady LED eyes blinking exactly the same time as it has the previous two mornings.

7:49 AM

I've also had some, shall we say alarmingly vivid, erotic dreams and, while I am not opposed to erotic dreaming in any fashion, these seem rather Chekhovian in nature .... actually life in general seems to bear a faint tint of Chekhov for me these days; a sort of double vision, everything seems quite serious and somehow farcical at the same time. I won't go into the details of my dream eroticism but suffice it to say, it's fairly ridiculous ...

We finished the tech process Tuesday evening, had our first two previews Wednesday and Thursday and will have our 3rd tonight. The first show was largely uneventful with laughs in unexpected places and last night we had a full house with a lovely audience ... BUT ... my beard came off.

Yep, right at the beginning of my big scene in the 3rd act--the one that has the speech that still gives me that "deer in the headlights" kind of feeling. I'm the deer. The deer with the beard. A magnificent Patriarchal full beard built for me (I couldn't grow one like this without a good head start) and glued on with the old standby Spirit Gum, applied and aligned by yours truly.

Now I thought that sucker was on. I even gave a cursory inspection--seemed fine, but no sooner had I gotten 5 lines out of my mouth than I got a sudden and distinct sensation of non-adhesion. This was not a good thing--I had a major speech coming up and an argument with Vanya (the inestimable Dan Hyatt) and the last thing I wanted was the audience to be staring at my beard and taking bets on when my little furry would at last topple from my face instead of listening to what was being said.

So I changed my blocking, or rather wound up keeping my right bearded side facing the audience as much as possible, and when I absolutely had to face stage right would do so while scratching my temple and holding my beard pressed in place with my palm to mask it.

Clever, no? A little sleight of beard.

I was met on my brief exit by Howard Swain with spirit gum in hand, tacked the damn thing down again, blotted the glue and walked back on.


Coming up: Will Jim wake at 7:49 again? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Rake's Progress, by James Carpenter

(Lifted, once again, from Associate Artist and Uncle Vanya professor portrayer Jim Carpenter's blog):

It's been warm out at the Bruns during our last four days of Tech; our first evening was chilly, the next two sublime, and we finished out the week on Sunday with another brisk evening.

We've actually been able to do some work on scenes between the cracks of working on lighting and sound cues but didn't run the show till last night. Oddly my performance was better in the full sun with no costumes, sound or lights.... I hate it when that happens.

I find myself stumbling on internal adjustments; at the top of Chekhov's act 2 the Professor and his wife are revealed onstage asleep in their chairs--his gout has been troubling him, the pain keeping him from sleep and as a consequence he's kept the entire household awake tending to him.

But we have no curtain, hence no reveal; this means that I have to limp onstage through many bustling people who are shifting scenery and moving furniture, plop myself down, read a bit, fall asleep and then get startled awake and at present I've barely time to get to my chair and let my head drop before I suddenly jolt awake; the actress playing my wife has a full costume change (she's in the final scene in act 1) and barely makes it on in time.

This feels odd--we both go from a brief burst of energetic motion to a moment of stasis and I at least have not made my peace with the moment--it feels as if the audience is supposed to witness that silence and non activity for some time -- this is not criticism mind you, but more in the nature of dealing with the peculiarities of this particular set; I'm sure we'll find a happy medium.

The raked stage has added a few challenges but as proved fairly easy to deal with--the cast had a session with a physical therapist who gave us a full range of stretches and provided exercise balls and foam rollers to help counteract whatever adverse affects we might be feeling from the rake and we've put them to good use; I've had to do much work on my ankle (the one I sprained in Richard III last year) and am using my brace.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dan Hiatt talks Vanya to Chad Jones

“It’s almost like maybe I’m even sort of looking back on the time when I was Vanya’s age--I’m maybe a few years older than he is--from the vantage point of having gone through what he’s going through,” Hiatt says. “You get through that, and you reach a place where you’re pretty comfortable and happy. I’m there, Vanya isn’t. Looking back on all this angst, it’s better to have been through it than to have to imagine it entirely. The advantage of being older is not having to go through it in life while you’re working on the role.”

Read more on Chad Jones' Theater Dogs blog.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Brush Up Your Chekhov

(This was written by Cal Shakes house staffer Carol Marshall, and is meant to be sung to the tune of the late, great, Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," from the musical Kiss Me Kate.)

Living in today's society
Can cause one a lot of anxieties

We need something to cling to
That will somehow... always ring true

Feeling a little disillusioned and lost?
Reaching for a vodka and a sawn-off?

There's a certain Russian gadabout,
who will teach you what it's all about..

Brush up your Chekhov
Start quoting him soon
Brush up your Chekhov
cause life ain't no cheery show tune

There always seems to be guns,
and no one is having much fun

Just sell the damned estate already...
I am sure it would fetch a pretty penny

Sonya, you really are a hero
Even though your future may look less than zero

But forget about the doctor my dear,
His arm he will exercise I fear

And your Uncle... what's his name...
Can he just stop finding others to blame

Forests, guns and butter,
they all start to look like one anutter....

Brush up your Chekhov
it all cuts close to home
(I don't mean avenues)
Cause it all cuts close to home
(under the sun there ain't no news)
Cause it all cuts close to home

Marriage, death, and depression
And day to day life processions

Maybe the Three Sisters should finally move
and Yelena just have your little interlude

I am a Seagull ... wait ... no I'm not...
Da ... things just didn't turn out like you thought!

Remember the Czar is still in power
And the serfs aren't being paid by the hour

So even if you all still sit on your ass
A certain die has been cast...

Brush up your Chekhov
'Cause the revolution was close at hand
(I don't mean the Beatles)
'Cause the revolution was close at hand
(you know the big sickle)
'Cause the revolution was close at hand

Ivanov ... Dude!!! Don't do it
I am sure you can still pull through it

Feeling overwhelmed by what's on ya?
Remember it's nothing compared with Vanya ...

Cherry Orchard I never saw that one
But it sure sounds like a lota fun!

Brush up your Chekhov, cause there ain't no news under the sun!
just keep looking... cause there ain't no news under the sun!

(End with leg kicks and smashing a glass of vodka!!)

Jim Carpenter's Tech Week Packing List

(The following was lifted, once again, from Associate Artist and Uncle Vanya professor portrayer James Carpenter's blog):

Tech Week list
-Shaving cream & razor
-Makeup & brushes
-Contact lenses and solution
-Toothbrush and toothpaste
-Goopydoo hair gel
-Sunblock x50
-Ratty white shirt
-Dad's old cowboy hat
-Thermal socks
-Long underwear
-Shakespeare Santa Cruz sweatshirt
-Ankle brace and exercise bands
-A decent book
-Reading glasses
-Bottle of Scotch (post-show use only)
-Frozen taquitos
-Triscuits and spinach dip

Thursday, July 31, 2008


(Finally! A blog by Associate Artist James Carpenter!)

So here I am, ostensibly blogging for Cal Shakes, I'm 3 weeks into the rehearsal process of Uncle Vanya, and have not blogged one single letter of the process................

Why is that? Well, hard to explain.

Excuse # 1. I fear Chekhov. Yes, I've a bad case of Chekhovphobia; I can't always sense on reading his plays just how they function--it's only in rehearsal, that I begin to see the dynamics of what the author may have intended. So, happily here is a cure for my phobia--I just have to do it. It does, however, lead to some hesitancy on my part on blogging the process. Apologies. And many thanks to Timothy Near, our director, who has helped immensely with my therapy.

Excuse # 2. The role of Professor Serebryakov is a great role, a pivotal one, but he's got one line in act 1, a big scene in act 2 with his wife (others come in later at which point he leaves), a big scene in act 3, and a small scene in 4. As a consequence I've been called in to rehearse for a few hours here, a few there and have only a faint overview of the show as a whole and little interaction with the other actors on stage.

It's odd when this happens--you're cast in a role in which you have little to do, or one in which you interact only with a few people in the production and as a result feel almost that you're in another play. Which is arguably as it should be with this character--he does feel apart, out of his element and alienated.

Excuse # 3. I hate my character. Not the role mind you, but the the man that Chekhov has limned so acutely. He's spoiled, arrogant, selfish, and conceited; he looks down on all the others and has no tolerance or understanding of their lives and the challenges they face. I've known real people like this and I didn't like them either.

Thankfully though, I once played a character which I found to be thoroughly disagreeable and on expressing my feelings to another actor was told "Well then, you'll probably never be any good at it, will you?", so I have a prior lesson to go by on that excuse, and while I'll probably never ever love this man, I will find a way to tolerate him, at the least.

Excuse # 4. This is a rough one--Many times actors are required to perform in roles that are out of their experiential realm. We have to find ways of accessing those same feelings, perhaps finding experiences in our own lives which engender parallel emotions. I'm playing an older man than myself, one who has health problems and who fears death and stultification. This has caused me to explore some of my own fears so I can perform the role and it's put me in a bit of a dark spot. Apologies again. I'm better now.

Doing Chekhov seems to have affected my dream life as well; one of my more notable dream sequences had me afflicted with a bout of uncontrollable flatulence--and not just occasional mind you, but a muted continuous "Bbbbrrrrrpppppppttt" which varied in pitch up and down the musical scale and which followed me wherever I went, sometimes stressed in tempo with my footsteps.

It would occasionally cease when I came to rest to pour myself a cup of coffee, say, and would be accompanied by a long Chekhovian pause by cast and crew who breathlessly awaited to see if Jim's farting spell had finally abated. I knew they were waiting. They knew I knew, but were feigning nonchalance. The air would still and silence reign as I slowly stirred in my sugar and half half, silently, fervently praying for no resumption of intestinal volcanism. And breaths would expel in unison, life unpause and begin anew--albeit with some grumbling on the part of the others ("When is he going to stop?")--as I strolled away pooting helplessly, apologetically.

I don't think I want to know what that one means.

Coming up: Hysterical Chekhov stories!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shots from the UNCLE VANYA set build

Tech starts tomorrow for Uncle Vanya--yep, that's how quickly things go. It seems like just yesterday I was posting images and descriptions of Erik Flatmo's set, and now it's becoming a reality.

Photos by Jay Yamada.