Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The King of Comedy

This interview with Cal Shakes Associate Artist and Fox Fellowship recipient Ron Campbell was excerpted in an article of the same name that is running in our Pericles program. The complete interview text below is exclusive to the blog.

The interview was conducted by Artistic Learning Programs and Outreach Manager Emily Morrison and Publications Manager Stefanie Kalem.

Cal Shakes: So you taught seventh and eighth graders this past spring for the Art of Comedy. We were wondering how do you get kids at such a self-conscious age to break out of their bodies and take risks?

Ron Campbell: A lot of the exercises that I do to start the ball rolling with seventh and eighth graders are the same exercises I do with adults at Berkeley Rep. One of the things is that I tell them how interested I am in two things: One is failure. They will fail big and ugly and awfully and have wonderful failures. I celebrate failure as a weapon because failure is kind of a—it’s what we do most of the time. And the other thing is that I say is that I’m very interested in them from the chin down; how expressive they can be from the chin down. So believe it or not, what I do is put a shopping bag on their head.

CS: We saw that in the pictures.

RC: But if I tell them I want to see them express a question mark or an exclamation point or a comma, from the chin down, they start to have that kind of freedom, and they get celebrated for that. Even though they’re under a bag. I feel that a great part of the fodder for comedy is failure and things that go wrong. No one has a comedy routine—no stand-up guy has a routine about how great a day he had. Never. It’s all the bad stuff. Part of my introduction to that group was that they each state their name and the most embarrassing thing that they’ve had to do. It does take a little time to get them to know that failure is their friend, and that they’re going to get more laughs and get more built up the more they reveal the bad things that happen to them.

CS: Did your personal kind of physical comedy, your style of comedy work as a way to get kids to respond to you more easily?

RC: One of the things that I say at the very beginning is, “Welcome to my church.” I’m an actor. I don’t do this because I want to, but because if I don’t, I’ll die. It’s as important to me as breath. And so they see this grown man who’s willing to fail, look stupid, trip and fall. I give homework, and one of the assignments I gave this last group is to trip in public. Then I develop with them the technique of tripping effectively so it’s realistic; and then the response to that, noting other people’s response to your own tripping. So clumsiness is another weapon. We hate to be clumsy but that’s where the comedy lies.

CS: Do you think that gets the kids to connect to you more easily?

RC: They can tell I’m fully in it. I’m very into nervous fingers and calm eyes—when you make a combination of things. Shy chin plus bold eyes, that coy; there’s juxtaposition there and that to me is interesting. So I’ll be talking with my students about why we laugh there and all of a sudden they’re using my terminology: They’re saying “well, there was great juxtaposition, he had scared elbows but he had proud chest.” And those things have really affected how I have to believe what I’ve said. And now I have to apply what I’ve said to my own work. I get so much more out of teaching.

CS: What do they teach you?

RC: I used to teach “acting from the outside in.” And that’s kind of the direction that I play with. The other day, one of the students in the Art of Comedy class had to do an exercise where you show what you are on the inside and what you are on the outside. On the outside he was a real estate agent showing a house. And on the inside he was an evil killer of people. Again, juxtaposition—those two things going on at the same time. You see an actor engaged in the art of deciding which one wins. Does the psycho killer win or does the smooth real estate agent?

I also do a character exercise where there’s a large circle. In the center of the circle is one quality, say smart or democrat or whatever and on the outside is, somehow, its opposite. So, stupid or republican. And I want them to take a very specific route. So they know there’s a time when they’re fully the smart, total brain center, and then they walk a little farther out. Their IQ goes down. That place where they’re kind of both can be very interesting to me.

CS: So you’ve been teaching these kids The Art of Comedy for eight weeks; but in the summer you’ll be offering one-hour Master Classes to the kids in our Summer Theater Programs. How do you cull all that information down into an hour? How do pick what you’re going to do into such a short period of time?

RC: Well, if I haven’t worked with them before, I have some of my greatest hits. One exercise involves anger: You know your anger can go from one to 10 where 10 is the angriest you’ve ever been. Two is kind of irritated, pissed off and you have all the things in between, so let’s use that. You make them get specific, and they think it’s taking away their freedom as an artist, but actually it’s given them a cleaner scale.

We have all that power in our brain to do that, to use our experience to act. So that’s a weapon we all have—we learned it back when mom was shaking you and saying, “Come on, it’s time to go to school.” And you said, “I don’t feel good, I’m sick. I don’t want to go”

CS: Our marketing director says her three-and-a-half-year-old has already figured out that she can whine about school, act like she’s not feeling good because she wants to stay home and play. How old were you when you started acting?

RC: As the story goes, my grandmother Campbell started reading me stories very young, and she took me to see Man of La Mancha at the Old Vic theatre in London. Richard Kiley was Don Quixote. And he was dying in front of all these people and no one would do anything, and it was the most awful thing! My grandmother started pointing out things like that it wasn’t a castle, it was a flat. As my grandmother told the story at Thanksgivings, a kindly usher, seeing that I had gone berserk, took us backstage to meet Mr. Kiley with his makeup and everything. So I was about 8.

At my house we’d act out The Mayflower and my little brother would play Plymouth Rock. Little brothers have to do things like that

CS: Did you have a comedic mentor? Or an acting mentor?

RC: Before I was an Associate Artist at Cal Shakes, I was an Artistic Associate at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, where the great actor Tom Rosqui took me under his wing. He was great.

CS: When was this?

RC: This was before the (one-man) Buckminster Fuller show brought me to the Bay Area. I was about 22. I was very fortunate—I started as a founding member of The Actor’s Gang and went (Actor’s) Equity shortly thereafter.

CS: How do you act funny without becoming flip or cartoony? How do you get the laughs without forgetting the fundamentals of acting—finding the foundation of the character that makes them a real person and not just a goof?

RC: There’s a Japanese concept of Kokoro, which is sometimes referred to as “heart,” though it’s much more involved than that. It also refers to “giving your all” and “not saving anything for later" and "cherishing the present moment.” It’s kind of like commitment. We know some of those performers that are able to keep that sense of commitment on a balance with the same thing. Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey are in clown world and they trip over into absurdity, but they have commitment. The Cable Guy is a little scary because this guy actually exists.

I think maybe it’s down to something that has come up with my students a lot, and that is to erase the apology working in the back of their minds. A lot of actors work like that, not having an apology in the very corner of their minds. They should erase that. They feel some gum underneath the table and try it. Don’t apologize.

CS: What do you think the main difference is between clowning, like when you were the Chef at Teatro Zinzanni, and comedic acting?

RC: I don’t know if Teatro Zinzanni was clowning or something else. I think at the root of it the tools we need to be a great clown and the tools we need to play, for example, Charlie in (Larry Shue’s) The Foreigner, are the same. Clowns see the world as the jungle; comedic characters may not have that.

Ron Campbell and California Shakespeare Theater are participants in the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships, funded by William & Eva Fox Foundation administered by Theatre Communications Group.

Road Trip!

Cal Shakes and Word for Word research The Pastures of Heaven

The first part of the following was originally printed in the Pericles program; Part 2 is a blog-only exclusive.

Part 1:

In the wee hours of Monday, March 19, a motley crew of theater types hit the road for Salinas—playwright Octavio Solis, Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, Word for Word Artistic Directors Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter, and an assortment of Word for Word company members and Cal Shakes staffers. We packed ourselves into a trio of vehicles and headed a hundred miles south to Salinas, to get the lay of the land that sculpted John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, which Cal Shakes and Word for Word have commissioned Solis to adapt through our next New Works/New Communities project. I went along to help document the excursion; it was an interesting part to play—a watcher and transcriber of watchers and transcribers, a member of the press reporting on a two-day dramatic adaptation junket.

The first stop on Day One of our trip (after a fast-food breakfast—this was a road trip, after all) was The Farm, an agricultural education center just outside of Salinas. The grandfather of our host, Chris Bunn, founded Bunny Farms (so named because of his long ears) in the 1930s, and now they grow a variety of seasonal produce, much of it organic. Mr. Bunn explained to us some of the intricacies of modern farming, talked about the history of agriculture in the valley, and even let us hoe a row or two. We learned about local artist John Cerney, a Salinas native whose larger-than-life people sculptures dot the landscape of the Central Valley, and fascinated our crew—The Farm commissioned Cerney to pay tribute to its workers, and the giant people can be seen throughout its fields.

Before we knew it, our caravan was off to the Firehouse Recreation Center to interview seniors who would surely impart upon us the wisdom of the ages, spin yarns about the ways of life in Steinbeck’s time, and so very many more things … if only they hadn’t already had their lunch and skedaddled. So we moved onto our next destination—or rather, the quest for our next destination, Corral de Tierra. Corral de Tierra is a massive tract of valley land that Steinbeck’s titular Pastures are based on, the landscape on which the novel’s delicate narratives rest; nowadays, however, it’s a prime piece of real estate upon which a golf course, country club, and multimillion-dollar homes lay. We drove around for upwards of an hour, pulling into parking lots and onto curving road shoulders, imagining Ms. Morgan climbing up to Castle Rock (one of the wildly grooved formations visible from the road) to think about her father, or Edward "Shark" Wicks lumbering down the way, gunning for the bad boy Jimmie Munroe. While we were peeking past a particularly tempting “No Trespassing” sign, NW/NC project director Jessica Richards got the call we’d been waiting for: The next day we’d be allowed access to Markham Ranch, where many of the aforementioned multimillion-dollar houses lay. And so we bid farewell to much of our party, and Richards, playwright Solis, and myself repaired to a local Ramada for a good night’s rest.

Road Trip! Part 2:

After enjoying our complimentary continental breakfast (hey, we’re a nonprofit theater) we hustled back to the Firehouse Recreation Center. This trip was far more successful than the day before, and Solis found himself in the middle of a bilingual story circle, populated by seniors from all over the age range that the word implies. There was the thrice-married bookkeeper who’s welded in the San Francisco shipyards; the ranchero who came from Mexico with his family as part of the U.S. government-sponsored Bracero Program; and the sixtysomething woman who showed us her tattoos and spun many a hard-luck tale. We were so fascinated by the seniors’ stories that we were nearly late for our meeting with National Steinbeck Center CEO Steve Hoffman who had been on the job for a only a few months and who, we were pleased to learn, had been deeply involved with theater arts back in South Dakota. The meeting was a great one—he seemed eager to work with us, and we discussed the museum hosting Steinbeck Project events, his bringing groups to the Bruns (on a bus with champagne, even!), and even partnering to restore some archival Steinbeck recordings.

We tooled around the Center proper for a while, and I’m happy to report that it’s a truly engaging museum, packed to the rafters with interactive exhibits, video of actors from Western Stage readings from Steinbeck, original possessions of Steinbeck’s (including books and a desk), clips from films made of the author’s work, and much more. Solis’ favorite part, by far, was the modified camper truck that Steinbeck piloted around in Travels with Charley; the trailer is named Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse, which delighted the playwright as he’s currently adapting Don Quixote for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (Me, I liked the giant Steinbeck crossword puzzle.)

After the Steinbeck Center, we hurried to pick up sandwiches in quaint downtown Salinas and get in the gate at Markham Ranch by 2 p.m.—the time our gate code would expire. Sadly, between parking and ordering and driving up the way again, we found ourselves running too late, and when a phone call elicited the information that the man who programmed the gate code was gone for the day, we despaired. Would we have to only imagine the verdant dells of los Pastos del Cielo, never seeing them up close?!

But wait. What’s this? A car going through the gates just as we pull up to Markham Ranch? And just what is Octaivio Solis doing?! He’s driving his own car through those closing gates, spiked iron security (yes, really) be damned!?!

And then we were in. We were oohing and ahhing over hill and dale, peeking at alpaca and horses, getting barked at by protective housedogs as we mooned over rock formations. The landscape is breathtaking up there—truly what inspiration’s made of. And the gated community only drove home what John Steinbeck predicted in The Pastures of Heaven’s final chapter, that the ways of the Munroes and Maltbys are long gone, and the modern world has come to Corral de Tierra. But one could easily see how folks could move to this place and work the hard land while still believing in their personal dreams. It’s that stunning, that otherworldly.

And so, with one last snap of the digital camera and a wave to the livestock, we headed back to the Bay Area. The Steinbeck Project rolls on, and we at Cal Shakes are glad of it.

A few candid shots before preview

All photos by Shawn Hamilton, who portrays Gower, Lychorida, and many others in Pericles.

This is Alex Morf, suiting up in his Antioch drag.

The amphitheater, with set. And actors.

Christopher Kelly (Pericles) with baby Marina and Ron Campbell (dig the dyed hair and eyebrows).

Joel Sass directs Domenique Lozano and Alex Morf in their big horseback riding scene.

Danny Scheie being ... you know, Danny Scheie.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Notes from Pericles Tech Weekend

Here are some more of Jay Yamada's observations from a weekend of Pericles Tech:
  • FIGHT CALL: Early in Pericles, Ron Campbell takes a long staff and swings it between Alex Morf’s legs. Now you would expect Dave Maier, the fight choreographer, to be worried about Alex’s family jewels. Actually, Dave would like Ron to hit Alex high up on the thigh, so he's more worried about Alex’s knee.
  • FIGHT CALL II: Danny Scheie is swinging a bare, blunt pine scimitar at Chris Kelly (playing Pericles) who is trying to catch it with his bare hands. Chris asks Joel, the director, “Is the sword sharp?”

Joel answers, “It will be painted.”

Chris asks, “Does Pericles think the sword is sharp?”

Joel responds, “I missed the metaphysical question. Yes, Pericles thinks the sword is sharp.”

  • YEAR OF THE SAND DUNE: No, Cal Shakes is not doing Beach Blanket Babylon. But there is a lot of sand on the set.

According to Cal Shakes' resident technical director Dave Nowakowski, the set will eventually have “over three thousand pounds” of sand on the deck. Cal Shakes buys Quikrete Premium Play Sand in fifty pound bags.

  • VELCRO: Ron Campbell, while helping with an onstage costume change: “When the Velcro comes off, somebody cough.”
  • PROPS: Danny Scheie takes the same bare, blunt pine scimitar and bangs it on the floor to make a point. It breaks into two pieces with a sharp crack. Jo in props will either insert a dowel in the middle and glue it back together or take two hours to craft a new one. I guess it depends on what else needs to be done in props by tomorrow.
  • SOFTWARE VERSUS THEATER: Joel Sass, the director of Pericles, use to be in software development and testing at American Express. According to him the difference between software development and theater is that with software “you can push the delivery date back.”
  • MORE SAND: Asked Jean-Paul, Cal Shakes production manager, how much the sand cost. It runs for about $4.50 a bag. Cal Shakes is also using 3,250 pounds of sand or 65 bags. Let’s see--that comes to about $300 for the beach.

JP also says there is a finer sand than what we’re using. He bought some of the finer stuff by mistake. He says they give you a funny look when you’re trying to exchange 20 of the 50-pound bags at OSH.

  • RED VINES: Each stage manager has their traditions. Les is usually the stage manager for Cal Shakes’ first and third shows. She’s on tour right now with the Ballet at the moment (and going to China). At the start of Tech, she plops a four pound tub of Red Vines on her desk for everyone to share.
Got to Tech on Thursday--no Red Vines (and of course no Les). Fortunately the Orinda Safeway has a sale on tubs of Red Vines. Bought a tub and left it on the table next to the coffee and hot water in her honor. The big question is how long they will last.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A few more photos from Pericles tech rehearsal--costumes this time!

Some more pictures just came in from Jay Yamada:

Sarah Nealis wigs out (with half of Christopher Kelly in the background).

Ron Campbell contemplates.

Jay Yamada on the First Night of Pericles Tech Rehearsal

Jay Yamada is a member of the Cal Shakes Board of Directors, but he's actually much more than that. He's our official photographer, IT angel, and a tireless volunteer both in- and off-season. Today, he makes his debut as a Cal Shakes blogger, with this account of last night's first technical rehearsal for Pericles. Scroll down to the bottom for photos!

The night is warm and the air still.

Joel Sass’ production of Pericles unfolds with a fairytale-like air. It’s not a tech heavy show with lots of lighting changes and special effects (at least I haven’t seen them yet). They’re still rehearsing in their street clothes and I’m looking forward to seeing how the costume changes work.

I’ve always thought of Pericles as a play easy to watch and hard to read. Parts of the play are Shakespeare at his best. Other parts seem so flat on the page that you can’t imagine Shakespeare would have anything to do with the play.

Watching this production, I’m starting to see unsuspected bits of Shakespeare in new places. Sass picks pieces out of the Tempest–the storm scene would hold its own in any of Shakespeare’s later plays. The high formality of joust has echoes in the history plays.

Joel has done fine job in adapting the play. You don’t see the clunky parts of the original.

Some observations from the first night of tech:

  • There are too many Dannys in the cast.When both are on stage, there are lots of references to Danny and Danny the younger (i.e. Danny Scheie and Daniel Duque-Estrada).
  • The horses have names. Near the end of Act II, the knights all come out with their horses. Each horse has been name by the actors and somewhat color coordinated. The names are Cocoa, Butterscotch, Stinky Cheddar and Brie. Ron Campbell insists that his horse’s name is “Shik-a-Poo” and he says that it’s a cheese in one of his made-up languages, but I’m not sure.
  • The Bruns is a big stage. I was wondering how they were going to find a carpet big enough to work on the main stage. They didn’t find one but a whole collection of Persian and modern rugs arranged in a patchwork pattern. Lots of production crew wandering around with staple guns.
  • I was concerned about how a small cast and a big stage would work. But the set frames the space well and the cast is energetic.
Below, the Bruns stage the week before tech rehearsal.

The stage during tech; photos by Jay Yamada.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stuff of Fear and Wonders

Some historical (and modern) perspective from Pericles production dramaturg Philippa Kelly.

Although Pericles has been generally seen as one of Shakespeare’s last plays, we know for certain only that it was written between 1603 and 1608, when the playwright was somewhere between the ages of 39 and 44. Surprisingly, perhaps, this was also the period in which he wrote King Lear. Imagine Shakespeare’s mind as he began working these plays up with his actors: a mind simultaneously steeped in tragedy and romance, the stuff of despair and the stuff of fairytales, the life of archaic times and the world of the current king (who, like Pericles, had lived as a prince regent, his father being dead and his mother banished from the Scottish throne). Where King Lear overwhelms us with loss, Pericles offers magical restoration at its close, as a father bereft of everything—place, title, name, even speech—is reunited with his long-lost daughter and then with his wife. Pericles, in other words, offers what we all wish for and what, in the process of living, we also learn not to expect: dead people who can magically be brought back to life; stormy seas that can wash up pieces of our family history like messages in bottles; horrendous experiences that can deliver us back to our beds safe and sound.

Pericles offers much else besides. It is a play with more than its fair share of horrors—shameful incest, skulls, injustice, and ill winds of fortune that cast the noble Pericles and his family adrift in different parts of the world. This is also a play saturated with history, reviving a dead storyteller, Gower, whose monologues lead us through the many chapters of a story filled with traces of the past—old tales and ballads and aristocratic conventions of chivalry, good and evil kings and their progeny, temples and elaborate tombs. It is as if, in beginning Pericles, Shakespeare wanted to throw into it all the richness, the ugliness, and the contradictions that filled his life in this remarkable period at the beginning of the seventeenth century, a period in which the streets of London, where he lived, were ravaged by the bubonic plague, fouled by the stench of dead bodies; in which Queen Elizabeth died (1603) after forty-five years on the throne and King James took her place, immediately conferring on Shakespeare’s theater company the honor of royal patronage; and in which Shakespeare consorted with a bawdy brothel owner in London while also establishing a very fine home in Stratford so that his wife and daughters could prosperously bear his name.

And into the mix, of course, we all throw our own complexities as we watch this play and connect with the experiences it evokes. Act Five’s reunion scene between Pericles and Marina offers one of the play’s most stellar scenes, a scene that might well be recognizable to us through the pressure exerted on fragile minds by grief, or even by the freight of time. We see Pericles in Act Five, his hair and beard wild and unkempt, speechless and stowed away on board a ship like an animal, and we might think of our uncles or parents or grandparents whose lives have decayed to the barest rudiments so that we can barely see how they hang onto life itself. Yet, from time to time in this compromised state—perhaps triggered by a visitor or simply by the gift of a moment’s clarity—there might shine the light of recognition that tells them who they are, and that tells them who you are and what you mean to them. We can, in such a moment, see a person able to rise from his death bed to sit in a chair watching TV and eating broccoli. In Pericles Shakespeare gives us just such a rebirth of clarity and function, but, true to the promise of a fairytale, he gives it forever. A father, lost somewhere in the depths of despair, meets his daughter; and this grief-stricken man strikes out at the very child he should be able to love because he cannot tell who she is, and her sweet song of comfort means nothing to him. But when the light of recognition shines, he emerges from a desolate place to one of infinite love in which, once again, he knows himself. A moment that started with an almost-blow thus ends with an embrace: Pericles has been restored to his senses, regeneration is complete, decay is defeated, and the fairytale is really true. Pericles comes out of his 14-year deprivation chamber and is suddenly, miraculously, restored. And, more marvelously, this miracle isn’t something thrown out to him by divine gods sitting on high—it is affected by humanity, by the sheer healing force of love and the trust that can accept it. This is Shakespeare’s Pericles.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Box Office Help Needed--PASS IT AROUND

We're looking for 3-4 people to work up at the beee-auuuutiful Bruns Amphitheater (Orinda), and possibly fill in here at our Heinz office (West Berkeley) during our June-October summer season. Hours vary, but generally it's 4-8pm or 4:30-8:30pm Mon.-Sat., or 1-5pm on Sundays. Person must have a car; box office or customer service experience is preferred, and sound computer skills are required.

For more information, drop a line to or call 510.548.9666.

To apply, fax cover letter and resume to 510.843.9921, Attn: Box Office Manager, or mail hard copies to:
Box Office Manager
California Shakespeare Theater
701 Heinz Ave
Berkeley CA 94710

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sarah Nealis and Joel Sass on your FM dial THIS THURSDAY!

Last year's Cordelia and this year's Marina--a.k.a. blogger and actress Sarah Nealis--will accompany Pericles adapter and director Joel Sass to the basement studios of KALX, UC Berkeley's popular radio station, this very Thursday. The occasion? An appearance on Arts in Review, Greg Scharpen's weekly afternoon arts round-up. So tune into 90.7 FM between noon and 12:30 this Thursday (May 15) to hear Nealis (a Berkeley grad) and Sass (as articulate a director as you'll find anywhere) speak the truth to the youth!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sarah Nealis returns to the Blogosphere

Hello Cal Shakes fans and aimless internet wanderers alike, this is Sarah returning to the land of Blog for some more notes and musings on life in the theater.

Why am I doing this? That’s the question on my brain right now. It’s a bit nuts. I am currently quite overwhelmed with “double-duty,” rehearsing Pericles during the day and still performing in The Trojan Women at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley at night. These days are crazy. Par exemple, as the French say, yesterday I spent the morning ruminating on what it’s like to reunite with one’s parents (one long-lost, the other presumed dead), then spent a little time romping around a sea of rugs, trying to escape rape at the hands of both Alex Morf and Danny Scheie (yikes!, I mean he’s a dear friend and all, but…YIKES!) at two different times. Not to mention an evening of Greek tragedy over at the Aurora spilling my guts out to my “mother” (Hecuba) and a room of women who think I’m crazy. I mean, really, why am I doing this? And always the same silly answer always comes up, loud and clear, “What else would I do?”

Enough of that. Pericles!!! Joel Sass! I love them both. This show is going to be such a delight to perform, a nice change from rubbing a bunch of poop on my face (makeup), throwing on a bloody wedding dress (paint), and lamenting my being cursed by Apollo (Cassandra in The Trojan Women). Not in Pericles! We all get to play mucho characters, who all move and speak in tempo with their own worlds of origin. We are making up all of these worlds, rather than taking them literally, historically from some big smarty-pants text. Our worlds are ancient, of another element than we are used to; at least, that is our goal. So far, the process if delightful.

Another exciting thing about this piece, selfishly, is that I get to go from playing a daughter corrupted into incest by her… hmmm… confused, lonely, and creepy father, to the daughter of our hero Pericles, who herself goes on a hero’s journey of sorts. And of course, she is good, speaks from the heart and all that. So, you see, very different. Today actually, Ron Campbell (who is playing the creepy father) and I started off the morning by (again!) rolling around on the carpet to create a sort of dance that suggests the development of the perversion of our relationship. Sounds kinky, eh? It’s so much fun. We have a group of truly fearless artists, willing to jump right in and find these worlds that can only exist in the farthest stretches of our imaginations. Don’t miss it!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Gloriously funny, magnificent—the usual.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a review of the the 11th annual Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa, CA. The article winds up with an enthusiastic, four-paragraph mention of You, Nero, a play by Amy Freed (who wrote Restoration Comedy, a huge hit for us in 2006) which had a staged reading at the festival. One of the readers—deemed "magnificent" by the Times—was our very own Danny Scheie, who appeared in Restoration Comedy and who is in the rehearsal hall as I type this preparing for his Pericles roles (Helicanus, Simonides, and Boult).

In case you don't feel like reading through the whole review, here are the paragraphs regarding You, Nero:

"...the festival drew to a close with a reading of Amy Freed’s You, Nero, an uproarious comedy set during the declining years of the Roman Empire. Even in a bare-bones staged reading—a format hardly congenial to a broad, bawdy gagfest—Ms. Freed’s play delighted almost from start to finish.

A spoof of theater through the ages—from Sophocles to A Chorus LineYou, Nero makes lively sport of contemporary American culture, as Ms. Freed imagines the mincing Nero (a magnificent Danny Scheie—but Nathan Lane might want to call his agent now) commissioning an image-primping pageant from a down-on-his-luck dramatist. Nero has banished tragedy, preferring fancy spectacles and saliva-generating gore-fests.

The slams at the puerile appeal of popular movies and television are predictable but still enjoyable, the theatrical in-jokes silly but inspired. Indeed, Ms. Freed’s gloriously funny play is its own argument for the continued viability of an endangered species, the stage comedy. I’m tempted to quote at length, but the play’s delirious charm would surely fizzle in sober newsprint.

For evidence of its irresistible appeal I’ll just report that the audience staggered out into the sunny spring afternoon with stomachs sore from laughter, and that I await a New York production with unusual relish."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

As promised yesterday ... set and costume photos!

This is the Pericles set model (by Melpomene Katakalos). Actual Bruns hills will not, presumably, be red this season.

Set details. Note the onstage "offstage" areas, where characters transform to serve the storytelling.

Below, Raquel M. Barreto's costume sketches.

Prince Pericles of Tyre, his own self.

Antiochus' sullied daughter.

The grateful and kind (but foolish) governor Cleon.

Pericles' bride, Thaisa.

Cleon's wife, the duplicitous Dionyzia.

Thaliard, the assassin with a heart of gold.

Pericles' virtuous daughter, Marina.

A bawd in the house of ill repute. I think she kinda looks like Amy Winehouse; she also makes me wonder if they're going to put Delia MacDougall in a fat suit.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Met. Greeted. Pericles!

Last Wednesday we had our first Meet & Greet of the 2008 season. The Meet & Greet is wherebefore the actors can get down to the business of their first script read-throughtwo things happen: Everyonefrom the stage crew to the actors to the publicists and development department—introduces themselves (which caused much hilarity when the actors attempted to pronounce their unfamiliar, Grecian character names); and then the director, costume designer, and any other members of the creative team who happen to be present let a large group of staff, board members, and other special guests in on their vision for the production. In other words, last Tuesday we got to:

hear about Joel Sass' plans for creating
Pericles' story-upon-story structure, beginning with a group of nomadic types unloading their cart onto a beach in Morocco (or some place like it), laying out a rug, and beginning to spin a yarn that eventually includes the whole epic tale. He spoke a bit about casting, how eight actors and four ensemble members are not just a matter of economy: "it makes sense to have a recognizable mother figure playing different variations on that," to have one actor who keeps playing the baddies (mostly), one who is the revered advisor is then the brothel costumer," "who has fallen completely off his moral axis." He also told us a bit about the otherwise-engaged Greg Brosofske's original scorehow a musical premonition becomes Marina's theme, and how the music helps provide continuity and consistency in this often wild and chaotic storyline.

see Melpomene Katakalos' set, inspired by ancient Middle Eastern cityscapes and archeological relics; and including one magical tree and a set of onstage "offstage" areas constructed from weathered wood and more rugs. There will also be a large water urn in which to float a boat, drown an assassin, and any other watery business necessary!

learn about lighting designer Russell H. Champa's plans to imbue the production with a handful of truly magical moments; to illuminate instruments stashed in the sand; and to trick out clumps of stage grass with hidden light bulbs so that those points can sparkle at will.

look over Raquel M. Barreto's costume sketches, which borrow from different styles and cultures (from ancient Persia to the Caribbean to the world of Japanese fishermen and beyond) while still allowing actors to transform from one character to another with a minimumor maximum, as the theatrical case may beamount of fanfare. Raquel talked a bit about how each stop on the hero's journey is its own world: the dark creepy world of Antioch with its bones and leather, the bright, colorful kingdom of Simonides and Thaisa, et cetera.

Images of the set and costumes to follow tomorrow. Stay tuned!