Friday, August 21, 2009

Ask Philippa!

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes and production dramaturg for Happy Days, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. Happy Days runs through Sep 6, 2009.

Samuel Beckett's Winnie, protagonist of Happy Days, is locked in a mound of earth. "And I thought, who would cope with that and go down singing," said Beckett. "Only a woman." Repeatedly Winnie exclaims, "That is what I find so wonderful."

But what's so wonderful about her situation? And what's it supposed to mean?

There are so many ways to see Winnie: as a victim, a heroine, a battler, a hilarious purveyor of humor in the face of life's most depressing truths. No matter how you see her, however, there is one thing you can't contest: Winnie is a talker. It is words through which she seeks to understand her life, and words through which she pries open the mysteries of eternity.

Have a question about the play, the playwright, or the production? Leave it in the comments section below, and I'll do my best to answer it there!

Pictured above: Philippa at the 2008 Pericles Inside Scoop.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One belated HAPPY DAYS blog, or, Jon laughs at a naughty word

The latest and in a fascinating series of dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, written by the show's director (and Cal Shakes' Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.

Thursday August 13, 2009

Last night: first preview. I was oddly calm. I’m usually not. Those who know me were a bit stunned by my apparent mellowness. I don’t know why I was like that. But I think it has something to do with the feeling of amazement at this play, this script. Beckett is brilliant. It seems WAY OUT THERE, but in reality it isn’t. It’s very real. Almost painfully real at times. And the poetry of his sparse language is a genuine pleasure to listen to.

But none of this would matter without Patty and Dan who took the play to a whole new level last night. It was full. Of life, humor, passion, love, wit. I was taken aback. I would have expected tentativeness on the part of the performance—after all it’s the first time in front of a group of people. But no. No no. Patty took to like a fish to water. If that is the right phrase. She paced herself beautifully and found new stuff even in performance. Wow. Cannot believe her. She is astounding.

Dan has apparently so little to do in the play, but his effect is devastating, especially in the last scene, which may be one of the great pieces of writing ever. It’s impossible to describe. It needs to be seen to be felt, to be understood, to be affected by.

I look forward to tonight, perhaps a little more nervous than last night cause it went so well. I’m a little “waiting for the other shoe to drop” kind of person. Maybe it’s my Catholicism. Or just my neuroses.

That’s a funny word when you see it written.

Favorite line from the play: “Put a little jizz into it.” Jizz. Ha.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Brutal beauty and genuine, pure theater. (Or, hey, look, it's a picture of the set!!)

The latest and in a series of dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, written by the show's director (and Cal Shakes' Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.

Friday, August 8, 2009

Well, what do you know.

We put the show together at the Bruns today. I have to say that Todd Rosenthal is kind of a genius of a set designer. The mound is epic and intimate, authentic (thanks to our great scenery team led by Dave Nowakowski), and, when lit by York Kennedy, it is a thing of beauty. Brutal beauty.

And Patty takes to it like moths to a flame. She fills the mound with energy and life that makes it compelling, utterly compelling to watch. Then Dan appeared with a bloody head (she throws a medicine bottle carelessly in his direction), and it looks like a painting. A surreal painting. It’s quite amazing. This play is genuine, pure theater. Beckett is a genius.

Here’s a pic. Come see.


First day of tech

Another in a series of dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, written by the show's director (and Cal Shakes' Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.

Friday August 7, 2009

Today we start technical rehearsals, going up to the Theater to fit Winnie and Willie into their mound and figure out the play in space. Always a nervous-making, excitement-inducing transition. Saying goodbye to the rehearsal hall is always a mixed bag for me. It means I am now bringing the show to its next level, scaling it to the size of the Bruns, worrying if the subtle moves of emotion will read.

But all in all it’s great to be there, to be making theater in the outdoors. It’s invigorating. I love our space. It’s epic AND intimate. Actors can really connect to an audience while the scope of the external imagery—those burnt hills of the Siesta Valley—recalls early Greek theater-going. The muscles I have developed directing at the Bruns. Physically and imaginatively.

Our Resident Dramaturg has not been with us this week, the inimitable Phillipa Kelly. Many of you know her from when she delivers our Grove Talks. Seemingly a proper Australian academic, she is a fierce thinker of theater, a great supporter and colleague, and loves connecting our work to audiences. I think we do a pretty good job of that, through our Audience Enrichment activities, on our website, which I think is pretty innovative, and in our entire energy—even our house management staff, who make you feel at home when you come to our Theater. It’s genuine community up there. To me the Theater is artists, audiences, and staff—all of them together. We’re all in this together. Making theater requires all of us, experience it, all of us. That’s why I do it. I’m kind of a “it takes a village” kind of guy—I rely on the collaboration, the relationships, to make the work happen, and to make it matter.

I think the politics of my father instilled that in me.

If I am not too pooped after tech, which goes to 12:30 followed by a production meeting, I’ll post tonight/early next morning.

See ya.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

We do this a lot in the theater—calm ourselves down.

The latest in an exciting series of dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, written by the show's director (and Cal Shakes' Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.

Wednesday August 5, 2009

Today we braved a stumble-through. For those of you not familiar with the term, the "stumble-through" is the first time you run through the show from beginning to end without stopping. Since it’s the first time, everyone is given the relief of knowing it’s a stumble through—that a perfect run is not expected, so the pressure can go down.

We do this a lot in the theater—calm ourselves down.

But they did it. Act One, that is. The bear act. Winnie’s mind goes so many places and there is always a logic to it, even if it is subconscious, often in fact it is subconscious. She runs that way. She diverts from feelings and thoughts that allow the sadness to break in—so much of it for her. Stuck up to her diddies in the bleeding ground, as Beckett puts it. But beyond that, she has lost her past. Her physical connection to her beloved husband, Willie, who is now on the other side of the mound (physically and emotionally) is lost. Her youth, her beauty (in her opinion) is lost. But she remains optimistic. It could be worse, she says. “Ah yes many mercies, MANY mercies.” Even when it gets too tough for her to handle, she finds a way to make it funny—life, that is. And enjoyable. In fact, she makes it endlessly fascinating. Taking great interest and comfort in the tiniest of things (“things have their life!” she exclaims in Act Two when she can no longer reach for them, being as she is now up to her neck in the mound) Winnie finds hope.

Beckett is not about death. It’s about enduring. And in Winnie he finds his most enduring and heroic creature. Only a woman could play this part. In fact Beckett said that the only creature who could make life work in a mound was a woman. Resilient, rebounding, poetic, humorous, witty, and smart as heck, Winnie endures like no other woman I’ve ever encountered in theatrical literature. I love this character.

Patty was quite heroic today. It’s not easy for someone to be putting it out there, a lot of it alone. Talking to us, her unseen husband, to herself, to an ant, anything and anyone who will listen (for Winnie cannot bear to speak alone in such wilderness) Patty can feel pretty exposed. Dan even feels this, especially since he comes in only here and there, finding his timing and his actions only through sound since he does not look directly at Patty. And yet we are building to the best of our abilities a deep, connected relationship between the two. And Dan is really making that happen. It’s rare to see a Willie who is connected to his Winnie. Most of the time when he is gone from our sight, he is gone from our minds. But Dan is in rehearsal every single day, in his hole, listening and responding through breath and energy to Patty, who calls out for him almost every minute of the play. You can palpably feel his presence. It’s an amazing feat. I hope it does not go unsung because it is something to behold, and without it, Patty’s work would be far less dimensional, as would the production.

Dan Hiatt is seriously, THE MAN. He has always been one of my most favorite artists to work with, but he is out of this world in this. Many mercies. Many, many mercies.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In the company of a most excellent company.

Another in an ongoing series of dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, written by the show's director (and Cal Shakes' Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I am going to take a break about waxing Beckettian and talk about our Theater. This last week, previous to today, has been a real test of what this company’s mettle is. And now that I am rounding the bend, as it were, quickly but delicately putting this new production together, I find that I have been in the company of a most excellent company.

First, the board and our patrons, about 50 of whom had RSVP’d to a dinner at the Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa to celebrate me and Marsha. When they received calls notifying them of the cast change, not one of them cancelled. Every one of them showed up and the evening turned out to be a celebration of our Theater, and of the endurance of theater itself.

This followed a week in which our staff—each and every single one of them, from Susie, my partner, to our interns—not only advised me, but held my hand, counseled me, and gave me the courage to move forward with confidence and the knowledge that people had my back. We became a team. Everyone did their part, especially our Marketing Manger, Marilyn, who fielded all press issues with what can only be called aplomb.

And Dan Hiatt, who has become a close friend, a confidant, a colleague, and, since rehearsing with Patty, an artist of the highest caliber. (He’s always been of a high caliber, but what he is bringing out in what is seemingly such a small role is providing a depth I never knew was in the play.)

Last night we had our Inside Scoop—something we do pre-opening for audiences to learn about the process from the artists. It was the most profound and ebullient one we’ve had, and that’s saying a lot, given that we are putting on a play about a woman in a mound. Our patrons were interested, interesting, and supportive, and you could actually feel the idea of community come to palpable life.

All of this, each of these people in my life, and in the life of our company, has allowed me to go on. In Beckett, there is the truism: “I can’t go. I must go on.” This is true. This is life. This is what is going on. But to have it go on with such loving and dedicated colleagueship and support is oddly, a blessing. It takes a crucible, a test, to see what you have built, what is around you. And I am around some great people, in the staff, on the board, amongst our community of patrons, and artists.

Sometimes doing theater actually pays back. After all the energy you put into it, you come to rely on few indicators—reviews, ticket sales. But in this, there was an unexpected indicator—that of a real community. Not a fake, marketing-termed “community.” The real thing.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I’m nervous but I am in love.

Monday August 3, 2009

Sorry, folks. Took a couple of days off of blogging. Have frankly been quite exhausted, physically that is, not mentally or spiritually, from this week’s work. But I have to say, I am in a place I thought I’d never be. I cherish this project in a way that surpasses any other piece I have worked on in my life. Partly it’s the events of the week that make me feel more connected to this piece than perhaps to other plays that haven’t seen themselves through a real crisis-turned-opportunity. And a great part is this play. Patty (Gallagher) makes me love this work and have a deep emotional connection to Beckett, something I thought would never happen.

You know, when I was in college, I found myself turned on by the study of existentialism. I took a course in Beckett, wrote a story for my final in “Beckett’s voice"; I received a B for the course with a kind but disappointing response from my teacher, and continued to be fascinated with Beckett’s idea of life—what does it mean? Now I am 44, and all that has melted away: What I thought was existentialism I have come to know as “life.” Beckett writes life. And he also writes astounding, heartbreaking, and yet ultimately life-affirming theater. I mean, if you think your life is tough, check out Winnie. She’s stuck up to her diddies in the earth. She cannot move her legs, cannot see her legs. And she is in the wilderness with her husband, who, though present, finds a wholly different way of dealing with his lot. She quotes the classics, she makes herself look fabulous, she remembers and tells great stories, she makes jokes, she distracts herself, and she finds every little delight possible in her predicament, right down to spotting an ant in the mound (“Willie! An Emmet! A live Emmet!” she yells with delight).

Winnie is an inspiration. And that’s only because Patty makes her so. She brings out the humor in this lady, the life force of this woman, and, even when heartbreaking, I take solace in her way of handling life. I think I can make it through anything when I experience Patty’s Winnie. Living in the void has never seemed so energizing. I feel alive when I see her work, and Dan’s beautiful portrayal of a man of very few words.

We start tech this week (yes, after five days of rehearsal with Patty, we start our final few days in the rehearsal room, then INTO THAT MOUND!!). I’m nervous but I am in love.