Friday, January 30, 2009

Don't miss Stephen Barker Turner performing with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra!

Thursday, February 5 through Sunday, February 8, Cal Shakes Associate Artist Stephen Barker Turner—who has portrayed, among others, Orsino in 2008's Twelfth Night, Nicholas in Nicholas Nickleby, Orlando in As You Like It, and Posthumous in Cymbeline on the Bruns stage—narrates A Midsummer Night's Dream to Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra as part of their "Midwinter Magic" concert. Music Director Nicholas McGegan will direct the period-instrument orchestra in celebration of the 200th birthday of Mendelssohn. The orchestra will be joined by the San Francisco Girls Chorus and other speical guests.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra presents "Midwinter Magic" on:

Thursday, February 5, 8pm at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco

Friday, February 6, 8pm at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto

Saturday, February 7, 8pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley

Sunday, February 8, 7:30pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley

Buy your tickets today! Visit or call City Box Office at 415.392.4400.

Photos, top to bottom: Stephen Barker Turner in Twelfth Night by Kevin Berne; The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra by Randi Beach.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the capacity for wonder and amazement.

Last Friday, the Cal Shakes staff got to attend a brown-bag lunch with Aaron Posner, who was in town for, among other things, some Midsummer Night’s Dream auditions. Though Posner cut his teeth in the Northeast—cofounding Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company and serving, currently, as Artistic Director of New Jersey’s Two River Theater Company—he grew up in Eugene, OR, which helped him fit in rather quickly with the casual-yet-enthusiastic admin staff here at Cal Shakes. And despite the fact that Midsummer doesn’t open till September, he gave us some valuable insight into where his creative process currently stands.

The first thing Posner told us was that he played Oberon in a fourth-grade production of Midsummer, wearing green tights and the torn-up lining of his mother’s coat. Years later, he was inspired to mount the play at the Arden by a friend who told him she would soon be too old to portray Helena; that production was the inaugural show at the Arden’s larger theater and Posner says that he had “the best time of my life” directing that production.

He’s thinking that the Cal Shakes/Two River coproduction will be fairly simple, scenically speaking, with a set by Erik Flatmo (Uncle Vanya, Richard III, TheatreWorks’ Radio Golf), lighting by Russell H. Champa (Pericles, Man and Superman, Berkeley Rep’s The Pillowman), and—new to Cal Shakes—Serbian costume designer Olivera Gajic, who recently did Midsummer at the Prague Quadrennial.

Posner is adamant that, “more so than any other writer, Shakespeare got that every day and every scene needs to have the capacity for wonder and amazement.” He says that the line “Lord what fools these mortals be” is central to his thinking about the play. “Shakespeare must have been in a pretty good mood when he wrote Midsummer, as he’s looking at all of these very broken people, and just lovin’ them.”

“My intuition is to go straight at it; full of love, amazement, hope, and magic. Not to get too Obama about it, but there’s a sense of optimism around.”

There is darkness in Midsummer, of course, and Posner doesn’t want to shy away from that. He cites a production of the play he saw in 1970s Eugene wherein Puck was played as a devilish satyr: “Cute pucks have since driven me a little crazy”; Loki in Norse mythology and the coyote in Native American lore are more his kinds of Pucks. “Because the world gets screwed up, you have to have someone who’s responsible for that.”

As Posner likes the idea of mythology lurking around the corners of everyday life, he says that the fairies in our Midsummer might only be implied—tiny, invisible sprites interacting with the actors. He also likes the idea of Titania and Oberon’s relationship straddling the line between royalty and “regular” marriage. “When the leadership is at odds, everyone beneath it suffers.”

Since the fairies may only be implied, the music and sound are the biggest question, still. Since Posner is firm that (referring to the fairies’ song) “no one should really be allowed to speak the word ‘philomel,’” he is playing with the idea of a mystical version of Sirius satellite radio. If Titania and/or Oberon could call up whatever music they wanted, whenever, they could just as easily conjure “Dvorak, Aimee Mann, Sinatra, or ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’” from the air as they could a bunch of trilling sprites; they could also turn it down or off, or change it as they desire, just as a human couple might do in the heat of argument.

Posner is currently working on an adaptation of Cyrado de Bergerac, a work that he says, like Midsummer, “leaves you wanting to live your life more fully.” Ultimately, the director says, he’d like the audience to walk out of the Bruns suffused with “optimistic delight.”

Click here to read more about our 2009 season, and to subscribe.

Congratulations to L. Peter Callender

Our longtime friend and Associate Artist, L. Peter Callender, got rave reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle's theater critic for his portrayal of Mr. M. Even in Athol Fugard's My Children, My Africa over at Marin Theatre Company. Writes Robert Hurwitt in the Chronicle, Callender embodies the play's "complexity with every paternalistic utterance and sidelong glance he casts." Read the whole review—which features the much-sought-after "leaping man" icon—by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009 Season Designer Profile: Private Lives' Annie Smart

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 second installment, we profiled scenic artist Annie Smart, known to our audiences as the inventive hand behind An Ideal Husband, Man and Superman, Othello, and The Tempest. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Ms. Smart. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

What have you been working on since An Ideal Husband? I know that you did Yellowjackets at Berkeley Rep; anything else since last summer? And what do you have coming up in 2009, besides Private Lives?

Danny Hoch's show Taking Over opened in NY for an extended run this November and December. We rebuilt the BRT set with some refinements and reproduced the BRT costumes. That now goes on to LA this Jan so I'll be down there for a few days.

Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room has taken most of my time since Yellowjackets opened, designing the set and props. A lot of design work for this one as it's high Victorian period—1889-ish. It goes into rehearsal Dec 30th and opens early Feb at BRT. Les (Waters, Annie's husband) directing. It will be great fun, a very witty piece, but it's a lot of work.

Then comes sets for the Tiny Kushners for the Guthrie in Minneapolis. This is a collection of 5 very short plays that are being grouped together for a festival of Kushner's work. Tony Taccone is directing this. I think it opens in May.

If you could have designed sets (or costumes, for that matter) for any theatrical production in history, what would it be?

No idea. But I've never designed a Chekhov and I just love all his plays. He's the best. I didn't get to see Timothy (Near)'s Vanya unfortunately though I heard some very good things about it. And Eric Flatmo's designs always impress me so I'd have liked to see that.

I also love opera (I did my equivalent MFA at the English National Opera Design Course, back in the day) and don't get to do that much.

I’ve been told that you’ve acted in Private Lives. When and where was this, and which role did you play?

No. This is me being sloppy and muddling my Coward titles. Which are all I think designed for publicists with deadlines to meet. (With a title like) "Hay Fever," for example, the content really could be almost anything funny! I bet he hadn't even written them when the posters had to be printed. I was in Present Laughter playing Joanna, who has to wear extravagant hats. It was fun pretending to be stylish and a sophisticate. I'm so not either.

But the following is a famous story in my family. First time I ever went on stage I was 3-1/2. My parents were involved in a production of Coward's Blithe Spirit, which features Madame Arkadina, a medium, who has as her spirit guide a little blonde-haired girl. Unfortunately you are not supposed to see this child, but I was in the wings, saw my Mum across the way and crossed the stage, causing a sensation I'm told!
How do you think that experience will inform (or how is it already informing) your plans for the Cal Shakes Private Lives set?

No idea but Coward is meant to be lighthearted. If a Coward farce doesn't at some point make you absolutely choke with laughter then you've failed. And then the really bitter, real-life, hard stuff is embraced with the frivolous and the artificial. I think you have to have a truly camp sensibility. (Tho I shudder to say that out loud in the Bay Area, it becomes a way more complex statement than it looks! A minefield of a statement for a designer!)

Your previous work at the Bruns Amphitheater has showcased your skill with creating interiors for an outdoor space. Do you have any early thoughts on what the specific challenges for Private Lives might be, and how you’ll overcome them? (I’m thinking the problems of destroying the Paris apartment in the latter acts, and making an effective balcony in the first—but then again I haven’t created so much as a shoebox diorama since elementary school.)

All things comedic and interior at the Bruns are predicated on the control of the scale. The stage is 80' across. That's as big as a very large opera house. And they put dozens of people on those stages. And they sing very, very loudly. And Jonathan and Mark have chosen this. The dramatic equivalent of a spun sugar dessert.

I have no idea how it will be made to work. None at all. But then I never do when I start working on something. And I haven't yet talked with Mark R. So that will be the first little baby step.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Postcard from Baltimore

The following is from our former Managing Director, Debbie Chinn, who left us this August to take up that post at Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE.

Am slowly adjusting to life here. Little things come up to bite me, such as this time I went to fill up my car. Evidently, cars made in California don’t have gas tanks that easily accommodate gas nozzles in Maryland. After I filled up the tank, I couldn’t get the nozzle out. I twisted and turned, tugged and shoved…all to no avail. I asked the nice man pumping gas next to me if he could help and he also had trouble getting the nozzle out. I went inside the gas station and spoke to the person behind the bulletproof glass and he paged the owner. The owner then called a technician to help. Both rocked the car back and forth and still the nozzle wouldn’t budge.

I then called Audi roadside service and forgot that I never changed my address so they assumed I was calling from California. The owner suggested I call AAA and I got a clueless cretin who asked if the car was drivable. I said, sort of. She asked if the car could start and I said yes. She said that they could then tow it to the nearest repair shop. I explained that the car was literally attached to the gas tank and so she’d have to tell the tow truck driver to remove the tank as well.

By this time, I had a crowd of seven big burly men surrounding me laughing hysterically as they were overhearing my conversation. She asked to speak to the owner because she wanted to know how big the gas tank was (probably she really thought it could be unearthed from the service island and hoisted onto a tow truck). The owner told her she was out of her mind. She then suggested I call the fire department because she realized the gas tank was flammable. After I hung up on her, the seven men followed me to the car and collectively lifted it and shook the car while I yanked at the nozzle. It finally came out.

And so that’s how you fill up a car with gas in Maryland...

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Chron likes us, too.

Last week (and, hey—last year!) I let you know that we made it onto the year-end "best of" lists for both the East Bay Express and Theater Dogs. Today I'm happy to report that, over at the San Francisco Chronicle, Uncle Vanya made Robert Hurwitt’s Top Ten for 2008, and Cal Shakes was named “Most Improved” as a whole. (See previous blog entry for Theater Dogs and East Bay Express accolades.)

Thanks to everyone—audiences, critics, staff, and artists alike—for making 2008 such a magnificent year.