Friday, December 17, 2010

Busting the Myth of the “Off-Season”

A little perspective from Box Office Manager Robin Dolan.

On those crazy days here at the Cal Shakes office when there are actors warming up with nonsense words in the hall or playing instruments and dancing in the parking lot, I’m reminded why I’m grateful to work in theater. Performers notwithstanding, I’m surrounded by wonderful, funny, creative people year-round; I don’t have to worry if I curse occasionally; and I frequently see hilarious things—donkey’s heads, giant swords, jewel-encrusted wigs—being carried in through the front door.

But working in the nonprofit sector is demanding. Our resources are stretched, and many of us are often doing the jobs of several people. Patrons frequently say to me, “You must be looking forward to the off-season, when you’ll be less busy.” In truth, I think there’s perhaps four days a year when I’m not busy. I believe they happen in November, but they usually go so quickly that I don’t notice them till they’re gone. I remember relating this to Ilsa, our graphic designer, a few years ago; she replied, “Me too! But I think it’s about two days for me.”

In the winter and spring, our education department is busy setting up school residencies and Summer Shakespeare Conservatories. Development is raising money for the annual fund, getting corporate sponsors, and planning our annual gala fundraiser—referred to internally as our biggest production of the year, since it all happens on one night. The Artistic department is working on our New Works/New Communities projects, working with at-risk youth through Creative Risk, hiring interns for the coming year, and planning the Main Stage season. Marketing is designing our beautiful subscription brochure, fine-tuning the website, working with the press, and beginning group sales for 2011.

I’m busy with subscription renewals and seat change requests. I also work with the Marketing department to plan promotions and sales campaigns, and support other departments with statistics needed for corporate sponsorships and grant applications and reporting. In the box office it’s mostly me holding down the fort, answering the phone and talking to patrons. I have been lucky to have great people working during the season, and I miss their contributions. But the phones ring less this time of year, so I’ve got it covered.

A big thing we do in the “off-season” (which, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is inaccurately named) is set objectives for the following year. We look at what worked last year and what we want to try again. This fall, our senior staff unveiled a three-year Strategic Plan for the company, spelling out Cal Shakes’ vision, mission, core values, goals, and strategies for the next three years. While this could be a very dry document, I’m finding it inspiring. For instance, how many companies include in their core values “humor, authenticity, and a sense of home?” Valuing all members of the Cal Shakes community is equally important to productive goals. Gotta love that.

When the final draft of the Strategic Plan was presented to us, staff members were invited to create a team—facilitated by board member Alan Schnur—that would come up with suggestions on how to implement it. This invitation to contribute allows us to feel included in the creation of everything that we do. A major concept we’re looking at here is “de-siloing”: making sure departments are not isolated from one another, and that pertinent information is shared. Most of all, de-siloing allows us to share our skills cross-departmentally; as a result, we’re learning more about each other’s talents.

During our well-earned break over the holidays—the office is mostly closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day—I often personally consider what’s happened in the previous year, and make plans for the coming year. So does Cal Shakes. So what do we do off-season? We plan. We review. We talk with patrons. We vision. And we laugh, and support one another. Just like we do all year-round.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Big Ideas Fest Blog #1: Video Inspiration

This week, Cal Shakes' Artistic Learning Programs and Outreach Manager Emily Morrison attended Big Ideas Fest 2010 in Half Moon Bay. Big Ideas is a three-day-long conference that aims to immerse educators in collaboration and design with the focus on inspiring and modeling cutting-edge thinking in K-20 education.

For her first blog entry, Emily wanted to post this video The Roadtrip Nation Experience at Big Ideas Fest 2010, wherein students participating in the Roadtrip Nation Experience curriculum interviewed participants (including Emily!) at the conference. The high school students asked questions about how the participants got to where they are, what it took to overcome doubts and failures, what their high school experience was like, and more.

Video below. More blogging from Big Ideas to come soon!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ron Campbell blogs about his own workshop--with video!

Recently, Nancy Carlin blogged about her fellow Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ron Campbell's acting, clowning, and mask workshop here at the rehearsal hall. Late last week, Mr. King of the Kooza Clowns himself posted his own thoughts on the subject over at his blog, complete with new photos and three videos. Here's an excerpt:

In accordance with the Fox Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement this was to be a sharing of my findings from the various trainings in Mask and physical theatre that I have received over the past two years in Greece, Japan, Scotland, Canada and the United States. It turned out to be so much more. Once again I was reminded that the best way to learn something is to try to teach it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The last of the Carlin-Campbell blogs: Jumping away from conclusion

Last week, Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ron Campbellwho has spent the last few years appearing as The King of the Clowns in Cirque du Soleil's Koozagave a workshop on in our rehearsal hall as the culmination of his Fox Fellowship. The workshop covered mask, clowning, and other physical theater techniques, and was offered to Cal Shakes staff, teaching artists, and other members of our theater community. Nancy Carlin, a fellow Associate Artist, was one of Ron's students, and has been blogging about the class. These are her last two entries; you can read the previous two here and here.

Sunday: Jump away from conclusion.

We did Buffoon Circles. Starting in neutral, you walk in a circle. You don’t

think, plan, contrive, just walk in a circle. Begin t

o notice something—a heavy foot, an imbalanced shoulder, a lopey gait, whatever—and as you continue around in this circle you let this gesture or attribute grow to its fullest, grotesque-est, extremest place. Voilà: your “buffoon” character. Wind them back halfway or more, and you could use this characteristic more “naturalistically”. At its most wound up, you’ve got a full-on extreme character. We then did two buffoon circles side-by-side. When each participant found their full buffoon, they

were then to see each other, circle each other observing carefully, and gradually take on the other’s characteristics—swapping buffoons. And all the while giving the audience their “arêtes”. Quite wonderful!

We then played on an emotional jungle gym. We imagined the floor of our playing space was divided into four quadrants: happy, sad, angry, and afraid. As we passed into that geographic area we instantly were in that emotion. The point being to be successive, not progressive. So often we assume in theater that we have to make this gradual logical evolution from one emotion to the other, when in fact, in life, we quickly switch our states of being. Another such exercise involved an actor, this time in a neutral mask, making her way from upstage to downstage, but on either side of the center line were territories belonging to a “devil” and an “angel”. So, as the character weaved in and out on her way down, she successively changed. Sharp!

The third of these spatial, territorial exercises (TWISTER for clowns), using random phrases of text from the newspaper. We imagined the rehearsal room's space divided into three parts, successively, from left to right. Stage left was the “witness” box, or place for comment. In the center was the “speaker”, very clear and neutral. And on stage right was the “gesture”, the silent movement. So the player could go from box to box in any order, repeatedly or not, and simply read the text (without comment or movement) in the center, or display one or the of the attributes on either side. Really fun to see the effects of dividing all this out.

As with everything, economy of movement, business, what have you, is essential. To illustrate this, Ron had a great example: He took a blank piece of paper, put a pinpoint hole in the center, and held it up for us to see. We could all see this tiny speck quite clearly. H

e then took the paper and crumpled it up and held it up for us again. There was no hope in finding the pinprick now. Lost in the chaos.

Monday: Performance

The final night was our “show”. The first hour, we reviewed things and learned some new stuff, too (why not?), and at 8pm, our audience arrived. This was the night the Giants clinched the World Series; needless to say, our audience was small.

Suddenly, we motley bunch of adult-size children were a troupe! We all showed up our black clothes and went through many of the exercises we had learned. The last ten minutes were a free-flowing succession of various exercises wherein we’d jump in or sit out as felt right, and morph from event to event. Instant Twyla, and then some! We failed big, often, had a few moments of transcendence, and had the unique pleasure of being vulnerable to each otherof sharing humor and heart.

Ron offered to buy the first round at the Albatross. I felt really bad not being able to go out with the group, but I needed to get home right away to my teenage daughter and houseguests. Good thing, too, because the very second I walked in the door I was whisked into a room to work with my daughter on her impending audition for the high school production of The Vagina Monologues. (She got the part! When she works on her moans I’ll have to tell her to be sure to put in some arêtes.) (Now she’ll tell me I’m being “inappropriate”.)

Pictured above: Ron Campbell and class; photos by Jay Yamada.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recess Repertory, or The Ripple Effect

This story was sent to us by Denise Altaffer, mother of Summer Shakespeare Conservatory student—and Macbeth understudy—Will Altaffer.

My 13-year-old son, Will, participated in the five-week camp this past summer for the first time. He had a fantastic experience and would come home daily with enthusiastic stories of his day. This story, however, is not about him, but about his 10-year- old sister, Adrian, who did not attend camp and had had, at that point, no exposure to Shakespeare.

Adrian would look forward to Will’s stories of camp daily and with some regret for not having chosen to attend camp herself. By the time the end of camp rolled around, she insisted on watching every group perform. Soon after camp ended, and as a direct result from his performance at camp, Will was asked to understudy as Fleance in Macbeth. Will watched Macbeth six times as part of his preparation for this, and Adrian insisted on coming along every single time. She was fascinated by the story; the Wyrd Sisters, in particular, grabbed her imagination. By late August she had all of the Wyrd Sisters’ scenes memorized, and would discuss the details of the blocking and imagery at length.

When school started in the fall, she brought Will’s script to class as her “silent reading” book, which aroused the curiosity of her fellow fifth-grade students. By the end of the first week of school, she had gathered a group of six other fifth-graders, arranged to use the library at recess three days a week, and proceeded to direct and act in the cauldron scene. She designed and made, with my help, all six costumes she would need; re-cast several of the roles as kids decided they weren’t willing to give up that much recess; and, by the middle of October, performed their scene for the entire fifth grade!

That’s seven kids, including Adrian, with no prior Shakespeare exposure, choosing to spend a month and a half of their own time—for no particular reason—learning lines from Shakespeare, and 40 kids watching their peers perform Shakespeare, afterward asking for autographs because, “that was so good, someday you will be famous!”

That’s Cal Shakes Artistic Learning reaching 40 kids and their siblings and their friends and their teachers … without even trying!

Pictured: Adrian Altaffer as a Wyrd Sister, Quin Seivold as Macbeth, and the rest of their recess repertory company; image from video shot by Denise Altaffer.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Saturday: From the tube to you.

This past week and weekend, Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ron Campbellwho has spent the last few years appearing as The King of the Clowns in Cirque du Soleil's Koozagave a workshop on in our rehearsal hall as the culmination of his Fox Fellowship. The workshop covered mask, clowning, and other physical theater techniques, and was offered to Cal Shakes staff, teaching artists, and other members of our theater community. Nancy Carlin, a fellow Associate Artist, was one of Ron's students, and will be blogging about the class over the next few days.

A clown celebrates his failure.

We were encouraged to “fail big”. When I was a student at A.C.T. I remember Bill Ball telling us just that: Fail big. Making a big choice, even if it’s a big steaming pile of poo, is so much better than making no choice at all.

More games and some beginning work with masks. Four at a time, we went up with grocery bags over our heads. Standing in “neutral” to begin with, Ron would then call out images. “Be a question mark.” “A smile.” “An exclamation point.” “Okay,” he’d say, “that’s a question mark at a 2. Give me one at 10!”

There was a wonderful kind of freedom, having one’s face safely hidden. And so interesting to watch the exercise from the outside. The slightest incline of the bag-head, a strong but economic gesture, told such a big story. To see what the body emanates when you’re smiling, even though we can’t see a face. It confirms the power of image and imagination. If we can only keep our faces more “neutral” (like the bag), don’t “show” what we’re feeling, just strengthen the image, an inner smile or concern can be read so clearly by our audience, and can draw them in with intrigue, not push them away with the phony “masks” of expression we so often contrive.

Then paper plate masks. Flat white ovals with one pinpoint eye-hole. Myopic vision only. We were given simple directions: Enter, see a stone, pick it up, throw it. Or enter, walk to the edge of the pier and wave good-bye to a loved one. We quickly saw how the bold but economic choices worked best. Too much busy extraneous movement quickly dispersed the story. And as with all the exercises, Ron asked us to include an arrêté, the “ponte fixe”. It is the artist's decision where to place it.

The best players are the most relaxed.

Some leading and following exercises. “Flocking”, where the front of the flock, or “bowling pins” leads a mirror type group movement, which quickly falls to whoever becomes the next lead bird or bowling pin, when the focus shifts to another direction. “Instant Twyla Tharp”, as Ron said.

Energy = glow.

We did some improvs using outside/in dichotomies. How much to hide, and what to leak out, reveal. Wise on the outside, an idiot inside. Sarcastic, grateful. Democrat, Republican. Holy, evil.

Energy = What you get out of it. Like Einstein’s theory. We exist in the “tube” that is the equal sign between energy on one side, and whatever is manifested to balance it out on the other. Ok, so it made sense when he said it…….?

From the tube to you.

Photos by Jay Yamada.

Fingerprints and All: Submitting Yourself to the Unpredictable

This past week and weekend, Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ron Campbellwho has spent the last few years appearing as The King of the Clowns in Cirque du Soleil's Koozagave a workshop on in our rehearsal hall as the culmination of his Fox Fellowship. The workshop covered mask, clowning, and other physical theater techniques, and was offered to Cal Shakes staff, teaching artists, and other members of our theater community. Nancy Carlin, a fellow Associate Artist, was one of Ron's students, and will be blogging about the class over the next few days.

Getting ready to head off to the first session of Ron Campbell’s workshop. He’s had such a wild and amazing couple of years going around the world to study masks and clowning with masters in Greece, Japan, and France and such, on his TCG Fox Fellowship, on top of touring with Cirque du Soleil. The guy’s gonna have stories to tell!


Fun tonight! First session always the most awkward, everyone getting comfortable with each other, etc. Hasn’t changed since first day of kindergarten. Nice big group of teaching artists and assorted clowns and Ron-devotees. Too bad the other Associate Artists couldn’t be there. It’s a tough time slot because anyone in a production wouldn’t be able to attend….

Ron is sporting a phenomenal beard that makes him look like some kind of magical billy-goat or elfin impresario. He started by offering us a wonderful W. H. Auden quote to this effect: that the difference between a craftsman and an artist is that a craftsman knows what the finished product will look like. In essence, we, as artists, should submit ourselves to the unpredictable. The two hours were filled with wise words, fun exercises, and show-and-tell. I experienced my first iPad PowerPointor Finger Point (Finger Drag?)as Ron showed us a slide show of masks and things from his travels. Fingerprints and all.

Random Wisdoms:

We carve the world around us.

How you do one thing, is how you do everything, i.e., how you park the car is how you make love.

Allow the mask to shape your body.

Economy of movement. Arrêtés (stops), moments of stillness. Takes.

Movement trumps sound. Arrêtés trump movement.

Get away from being a show-off.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

Pictured above: Ron Campbell and Nancy Carlin in class;
photo by Jay Yamada.

Friday, October 1, 2010

High-fives, kid wrangling, and the usual "ews" and "aws"

Our first student audience for Much Ado had a great time today. The theater gods blessed us with temperate weather, a virtual army of kid-wrangling staff, extra volunteers and house staff, and a full audience. (Which is a trend that will continue, since all of the fall student shows are sold out!)

I sat in the house with a bunch of middle school boys, who just couldn’t get over how much kissing there was, but I think my favorite moment was when Claudio discovers that Hero is alive at the end of the play and gives her the sweetest hug, which elicited a huge “Awwww!” from nearly every girl in the audience. Nick Childress (Claudio) won more points later in the Q&A with the actors afterwards when a student, half seriously, half jokingly, asked if Nick’s girlfriend minded his having to kiss Emily (Kitchens, who plays Hero) in the play. Nick took the question very seriously and said that, yeah, he and his girlfriend had to really talk about it, and she accepts that it’s part of his job, and that “she knows I love her.” Another big “Awwww!” from the girls (and I think some of the adults, too.)

Dogberry (played by Danny Scheie, above) was also a big hitalthough the vocabulary was a little out of their range, his buffoonery and exclamations of “I am an ass” of course got big laughs. But, beautifully, it also seemed to make him quite endearing.

Andy Murray (Benedick) and Domenique Lozano (Beatrice) also involved the audience wonderfully—when Benedick realized he was in love with Beatrice, Andy high-fived a student in the front row. Then Domenique, skulking through the third row to overhear the gossip on stage, hid by sitting in a student’s seat and putting the girl on her lap as a shield. They were very professional and fun and the students felt really part of the action. Every group left in a good mood and talking about the play.

I am really, really proud that we can share our extraordinary theater work with so many students. We do great stuff here at Cal Shakes, but art of such a high level demands to be seen and shared with young people especially. I heard it said today on NPR that youth participation in art is “rehearsing for a better society,” and I know that to be absolutely true.

Photo by Jay Yamada.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Ask Philippa": MUCH ADO edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes,shares her thoughts on our 2010 productions.

In Jonathan Moscone's enchanting and stunningly beautiful production of Much Ado About Nothing, we see and feel a musical elasticity of mood (Shakespeare's own version of "notes", or "noting".) There is the merry banter of the opening; the hopefulness of the wooing scene; the hilarity of mistaken identity played out in the dance; and the calamitous consequences of a misanthropic plot against the marriage of two young lovers. After intermission you'll see mayhem released as the play veers dangerously toward tragedy. Yet somehow, as if by magic, the disastrous events are harmonized in the beautiful simplicty of a plea for redemption and the general joy of a double wedding.

Have you seen our production of Much Ado About Nothing yet? Do you have questions or comments about the production's themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I'll be sure to respond.

Photo by Jay Yamada.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Creating MUCH ADO'S onstage flora

For the ultimate show of Cal Shakes' 2010 season, the audience will see even more greenery than usual at the Bruns Amphitheater: To help create the lush atmosphere of Much Ado About Nothing's Messina, director Jonathan Moscone asked Will's Weeders, our all-volunteer-staffed and -funded gardening group, to landscape the stage, as well.

Below, check out some photos of the work in progress, all by Paul S. Doyle.

Flowering plants arrive at the Bruns on the morning of September 14:

Muriel Wilson (at left) and Kathy Graeven prune a Mexican lobelia:

From left: Muriel Wilson, Diana Caldwell, Patti James, Dayna Taylor, and Midge Zischke discuss plants to be used onstage during Much Ado, including Mexican lobelia, yellow lantana, geraniums, roses, and marguerites:

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Good Fortune Artists

The following blog was written by Martie Ogle (pictured center in the photo at right), a member of the Fortune Artists group of the 2010 Summer Shakespeare Conservatory.

Six months after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, residents are still struggling to recover in their demolished country. Since the media has moved onto different stories, donations have slowed; many Haitians aren’t getting the relief they need. Among those who need the most aid are small children, from infants to teens, who are living in ruins of their homes, in under-funded orphanages, or on the streets. Orphans as young as five are now living on their own and have resorted to stealing food for survival. Over a million children are estimated to be orphaned, twice the amount prior to the earthquake.

After reading an article in the paper about Haiti and telling the cast about it, the Fortune Artists decided to hold a fundraiser to benefit children in Haiti. The Fortune Artists are the second-oldest group at Five-Week Conservatory, with most of us entering our freshman or sophomore years of high school. By spending a month in a theater camp with about a hundred other children, we saw how smaller kids really needed help and guidance on a daily basis, and that’s just in a Shakespeare Camp! We recognized that kids the same age as our younger thespians weren’t getting the help they needed in Haiti. So we decided to do something about it.

Our show this year was a punk version of Henry IV set in 1970s England (see partial cast photo at right), highlighting the tension between young rebels and the government. After watching the oldest group—the Queen’s Own—hold multiple successful fundraisers, we decided to use the all-Conservatory performance days as our chance to generate revenue by holding a bake sale to benefit Haiti. So what if none of us had organized a fundraiser before? Phooey on that! We proposed the idea to our director, who gave us a couple of minutes of rehearsal time to divide and conquer. We eventually ended up with two committees (set-up/clean-up and publicity), three different shifts to work, and everyone pledged to bring in some form of sugary deliciousness.

After two days of confusion, chaos and mega-long Facebook messages, we made it to Friday. Performance Day. Bake Sale Day. D-day. For sale, we had cookies, brownies, rice crispies, scones, muffins, English toffee-chocolate bars, cheesecake, water, lemonade, punch, and only about 60 or so cupcakes. The youngest kids were our first major rush, and we made about 40 dollars in the fifteen minutes after their show. The day continued with dashes between last-minute rehearsals, bake sale, costume changes, bake sale, makeup application, back sale, fight call, and bake sale. By the end of the day, we were too tired to count up the money, and left it at the theater overnight.

But first thing the next morning, I was too excited to wait, and quickly tallied the money to come to (drum roll please) ... $225.64! From a BAKE SALE! And to make things even better, Matson Navigation Co. has matched our profit to make a grand total of $451.28! That’s amazing. I personally feel proud and honored to have been part of such a wonderful team effort.

Till next time,
Martie Ogle (King Henry IV), Fortune Artist

The Fortune Artists who assisted in the preparation of this bake sale were: Myself, Julia Hershey and Mother, Remy Behrendt, Mariah Neurge, Noah St. John, Eliana Fujita, Madison O’Connor, Alex Jonasse, Miranda Taylor, Stephanie Brannon, Jonathan Bianchini, Lauren McCaffrey, Ariel Coronado, Madeline Clark, Ariel Adair, Alex Shankland, and Katya Walch. We’d also like to thank intern Mirabelle Korn, Teaching Artist Fellow Carrie Foster, and director Dylan Russell. All profits were donated to Save the Children, a nonprofit organization helping children around the world and in Haiti.

Photos by Jay Yamada.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

OakTechRep blogs from Scotland!

Below is a series of blog entries sent to us by several of Jessa Berkner's Advanced Drama Students, currently in the U.K. to perform Hamlet: Blood in the Brain at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, thanks to their winning the American High School Theatre Festival, and the support of Cal Shakes and many other friends.

Hey everyone, it’s Naomi Zingman-Daniels. I’m typing this from Pollock Halls all the way over in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s been amazing! It feels like we’ve been here three weeks, not six days, and pretty much everyone wants to stay for a long time more. We’ve seen so much good theater, and we’ve started our run of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain off fantastically. When we got in, it was hectic—we went straight from the airport to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to see Henry IV, Part 1. It was awesome! The Globe is unlike any theater that I’ve ever seen before—for one thing, no roof. It was totally different to see a play in daylight like that. The show was amazing—the actors were brilliant (and the stage combat was so cool—I want to learn how to do that!). We returned there the next day for a workshop and a tour, learning lots of facts and even getting to work with one of the actors from Henry. It was so wonderful, I can’t even think of words for it (amazing keeps coming to mind, but it gets redundant to describe everything that way). To sum it all up: Thank you so much for making this possible! We love you!

Hey it’s G-MONEY! And I’m going to describe how opening night of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain went on August 18, 2010. “Are you listening, can you hear me? I said LISTEN UP!” A'ight then. Opening night was full of energy, ensemble flubs, and some damn heavy guns. We stepped down from the coach and sauntered in through the alleyway that led to our venue at the Church Hill Theatre in full costume. DAMN we looked bad-ass. The bystanders outside of the theater stole perplexed glances at our braids and baggy pants. When we got onside the theater, a black box with oversize curtains, we set up the blocks and the three Mylar flats we had constructed the day before. It takes two people to stand them up, but once we set them up they looked really good. Then we were given the prop guns that they let us borrow. The guns supposedly could be loaded to make a real noise, so they were legit. But they were entirely metal, so they were extremely heavy. When I tried to stash my prop gun in my jeans, my pants sagged down even lower than normal. During my big scene with Marcus, my arm was trembling from holding the gun up to his head for so long. The ensemble scenes went a little rough, but we had each other's backs. We have rehearsed this play for so long that we know each other's lines almost as well as our own, so when someone forgets their line, the brief silence is only due to everyone else deciding who should cover for them and say the line. But we got through it, and other than the curtains being too long for us to enter and exit smoothly, the show was fantastic. The AHSTF group that came to see us was very supportive. They cheered when we stepped outside like we were movie stars. I’m glad that the groups are so enthusiastic to see each others’ shows as well as performing their own. Well, thanks for everything. See you around!

Hello everyone! Marcus Thompson here! I’m having a blast here in the UK. Going to London was a fantastic experience. In a way it reminds me of New York City—many lights many people, very busy, always alive and quite inspirational. Now we are in Edinburgh, Scotland, taking advantage of the wonderful and priceless opportunity given to us. Every single day feels like two days in one, the reason being that we are always doing something, from going to see a show, to rehearsal, to enjoying the gorgeous and culturally abundant environment. It can get difficult to keep track of what we have done over the past six days. However, to be able to make that statement is an amazing thing to have the privilege to do. Thank you so much to all of the people that helped us get here, and thank you to everyone who has believed in us. I want everyone out there to remember that we couldn’t have gotten here with out you and that every one of us are very grateful for the love and support. You are all in our hearts during this journey. Well my time is up; we have to go to a show. So, until next time...

What’s up everyone??? This place is so utterly awesome like beyond words, but I’ll try anyway. We have been in Edinburgh for six days and it already feels like I live here. Everyone is so friendly and hospitable. Everything seems so familiar here for some strange reason even though the buildings look like they’ve been here for hundreds of years. It’s a very interesting mix of today and history. Because America is so young a country you don’t get to experience this there yet. The clothes people wear here are awesome too; everyone looks like they’ve stepped out of a magazine or something. You’d think it would be weird seeing a whole bunch of grown men walking around in skirts but it just makes them look more dignified. Kind of trippy. Anyway we’ve been able to embrace the culture here in many ways. This is made easier by the fact that it isn’t hidden in museums and monuments, it’s EVERYWHERE. A few nights ago we went to a Celidgh (pronounced keltay), which is basically a party, and it was so hard to keep up with the dancing. We learned many Scottish dances and about clothes and whatnot, while at the same time working off all the heavy food. You could eat very little here at breakfast and be full until around dinner. And haggis was not that bad. I expected it to look like someone had stuffed a stomach with a load of chopped meat and cut it up, but it just looked like a veggie burger the size of a hockey puck. It tasted kind of good too…for the first couple of seconds and then something about it hits you and you almost gag. It's amazing here and I wish everyone back home could see and feel what we’re feeling. Thanks so much!

Hi everybody, this is Hong Ho. Here we are in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it’s beautiful. We went to a lot of terrific and amazing shows, especially No Child, an excellent show featuring a talented actress, Nilaja Sun, from New York, who portrays all the students she taught in New York. Her show presents her amazing acting skills that capture the audience, and the best thing was the comedy However, I laughed at the wrong moments. Is that weird? Oh, well. Thank you for this experience.

Hello everybody, it’s Rafa Moraga. I am in Scotland and having a wonderful time. I have met people here that are from so many different backgrounds and walks of life. I feel that all of the groups that we have met, the group from Savannah, Georgia has had the most in common with us. They have that same level of high energy and spiritedness that we have. This was first apparent when Marcus, Tyree. and I passed by them playing gigolo; they invited us with such open arms and kind hearts that it was hard to refuse them. Having had an encounter with them, we were so excited to see their show, The Katrina Project: Hell in High Waters. It was a wonderful and moving show that really gave me a different perspective on Hurricane Katrina and people's struggles through the disaster. It is great to see people like us doing works of art on their own.

Hey hey hey! It’s Keyera Lucas and, man, I am having the GREATEST time on this trip. Edinburgh is an extremely beautiful place. I have never seen anything like it. Every day we do so much. We have seen so many great plays. Yesterday, we went to see On the Verge or the Geography of Yearning, performed by the only other group from California, a group of five girls from Marin County. They represented the Bay Area very well. Their show was hilarious. Those ladies were amazing. COOL FACT: We actually met this group for the first time at the San Francisco Airport. We boarded the same flight to London. How crazy is that? Just know that the Bay Area is doing well! Signing off, Keyera.

Greetings from Gareth across the pond! This whole trip has been so much fun! I have really enjoyed spending time with the rest of the Tech students, as well as Ms. Sabella, Ms. J, and Scott. I’m really glad we all get along really well, because the trip wouldn’t have been as meaningful to me if I didn’t have friends to share the experience with. We like seeing the sights and meeting the other AHSTF groups. We especially enjoy seeing performances together and talking about what we liked and disliked about the show. One of the shows we saw in London was a play called War Horse. It was set during World War II, and it followed the close relationship between a young boy and his horse, Joey. The boy’s father ends up selling Joey to the Army, and the boy sets out to look for him. It was a very touching story. However, the most incredible part about the play was the fantastic puppetry. The horses were wood and wire puppets that were controlled by two to three people each. The puppeteers moved the horse puppets in such synchronized, animalistic movements, it really looked like a real horse was on stage. It was a very sad play, but with a happy ending.
Another play that we all saw together was a hilarious show in Edinburgh called the Beat Box Action Comedy Chef. The show consisted of about eight Korean men and two women, all of whom had their own special talent. The women could sing and dance; a couple guys were amazing beat boxers (they had a battle—coolest beats I’ve ever heard without using a drum machine!); and some other guys could break-dance really well! It was a tremendously funny and exciting show, and I was breathless by the end.

Hey, hey, it's Tenecia. The trip has been full of excitement so far, and every day has been a fun a new experience. Last night, however, was truly a treat. The cast of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain had the chance to be on the Scotland radio station, Fresh Air. The station was just a walk away from the school, so as we walked we got to site-see and be in a whole different vibe. It was around 9:30 when we left so we got a slight look at the night life, which was very friendly. The interview went great. They mostly interviewed Marcus and Keyera, and then the other rappers and I did our rap. It was great publicity and I'm hoping that we get a full house because of it

What’s really good with it? Alright so let it be known this is the one and only Tyree on the mic for the time being. You know the kid that’s oh so FLY. But yeah, man, I am loving it out here in Edinburgh. I love the sights and I am really digging how different it is out here. We've performed three shows so far and today is our last day to perform; every show has been a full house. I used to feel like I wasn’t a good actor and that I shouldn’t waste my time with this or anything in that nature, but man, Ms. Sabella helped me out and I feel a little more confident each time.

Hey guys. This is Krystal and on August 19 I saw the most amazing theater I have ever seen, Beat Box Action Comedy. It took my breath away I could not believe that I was actually watching all of it live because the play seemed like a movie filled with special effects. They beat boxed, danced, and did stage combat—the even had real food onstage, which they called somebody from the audience to try. And all the sounds effects were done by mouth. It was just amazing—such a great experience. I cannot thank you guys enough for making this experience possible, and your support of this adventure. Thanks again.

"Ask Philippa": MACKERS edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on our 2010 productions.

It's not about evil, but about what evil feels like; it's not about a sociopath, but about a character who is appalled at the thought of himself as a sociopath. This is Shakespeare's Macbeth, brought into stunning focus through Joel Sass's adaptation for our Cal Shakes stage. Through their actions, Macbeth and his wife experience a horrifying diminishment, as Macbeth feels the clawing of scorpions in his mind and his wife labors to wash the blood from her hands. In this stunning show, a pared-down cast of characters follows the arc of the couple's decline.

Have you seen our production of
Macbeth yet? Do you have questions or comments about the production's themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I'll be sure to respond.

Friday, August 6, 2010

OakTechRep on performing on the Cal Shakes stage

So you've read Cal Shakes' thoughts on the OakTechRep performance of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain at the Bruns; now here's a representative from the cast (Naomi Zingman-Daniels) telling their side of the story.

So all along, we at OakTechRep have been sort of going "Woo! We're going to Scotland!" as we performed on various schools' stages. Every rehearsal we'd done was at a school, and every performance, too. We'd done a few excerpts in public, but actually performing on a big public stage—that was just insane. So when we went on a tour of the Bruns Amphitheater less than a week before we performed there, it started to hit us.

We were performing at Cal Shakes.

I mean, it wasn't new news. We'd known about it for months. But when we were walking the stage, going over blocking, figuring out how to set the stage—it was actually real. We were really going to perform on the Bruns Amphitheater stage. People—about 500 of them—were really going to come see us perform. This was really happening. It was also really, really cold, and on the night of the show, incredibly windy.

In the hours before we got called for the start of the show, the backstage area was buzzing. People in their dressing rooms were taking pictures with their mirrors (we have slightly modified bathrooms at school and get rather overly excited anytime there are professional dressing rooms), resting, frantically going over lines, and—in my case—figuring out which costume I was going to wear. Everyone was talking and yelling about everything under the sun, finding props, and doing last minute runs of blocking.

And then came the call for places.

By 7pm, it was already pretty cold out. We stood at the entrances to the amphitheater, in character, for about half an hour before we moved to the stage. Personally, I think it was the best show we've done yet. We seemed to find new dimensions to our characters throughout the show. Throughout the show, we had to make a few emergency changes—one being me standing behind the mirror we use for one scene, so the winds wouldn't knock it over onto one of the characters—but in the end, everything worked out great.

We were down one actor, Rafa Moraga (Fate/Funeral Home Employee), who was out of town, and I was playing his part, so I had rehearsed it before plenty of times, but just for me, performing that scene was a whole different experience. The show was unlike any we'd ever performed before, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it was absolutely amazing (thank you so much, Cal Shakes!) and it just made it even more excited (if that's possible) for Scotland!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oakland Tech Takes Orinda by Storm (almost literally)

Wow! What a night! Last night we hosted our largest New Works/New Communities (NW/NC) event to date. My name is Daunielle Rasmussen and I am, among many other things here at Cal Shakes, the Community Engagement Manager for the NW/NC program. I began fulfilling the responsibilities of this job title last December and have had an amazing year of discovering what our community engagement program is.

In the last week, we have opened the "doors" of our outdoor Bruns Amphitheater to the talented young actors of Oakland Technical High School to prepare for a one-night-only performance of their much celebrated production of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain. Since March, we have become close collaborators; upon hearing that they were selected to take Blood in the Brain (the first work created through NW/NC) to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, we knew we needed to send them off in style.

The company members of OakTechRep first set foot on our grounds last Monday when they came to rehearse in the space. We were immediately blown away by their professionalism and dedication. This is no mere group of teenagers—this is a well-trained team of actors who are giving, fun, and extremely talented. The process of putting on the performance last night went insanely fast. They had one four-hour rehearsal in the theater on Monday, July 19 to reset their blocking to our space. They had to use and work around the set that we currently have on stage for Mrs. Warren’s Profession—a play as different from this one in aesthetic tone as could be.

The second rehearsal was a technical rehearsal wherein we added in sound and light cues. In between the two rehearsals, members of our tech team—composed of interns from Cal Shakes' Professional Immersion Program—and theirs feverishly worked to solidify what cues and lighting design could be done with what was already hung for Mrs. Warren’s. Sunday night, after Mrs. Warren's had ended, we tech'd Blood in the Brain from 7 to 11pm. The kids were released but we kept working on notes and adjusting the lights. Monday (yesterday) the OakTechRep cast showed up at 4pm for a speed-through of the play, took a short break for dinner, and went straight into the show at 7:30pm.

The house was almost full, which felt fantastic! We were so pleased to be able to share this special event with such a large group, many of whom were completely new to our Theater. The only disappointment was the weather. The wind was so bad it was hard to hear the actors from the back of the house, and it was sooooo cold! We were worried that the large standing mirror—one of the few props OakTechRep brought with them—would blow over. I had to run backstage at one point to ask one of the actors to stand behind it during the scene. Overall, though, the show was an amazing success: We raised $1,100 to continue and deepen the residency partnership between Cal Shakes and Oakland Tech.

This group is special, and I feel like I have gained so much just by being in their presence.

Photo of OakTechRep curtain call by Jay Yamada.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


This week at Cal Shakes is pretty amazing on the volunteer front. We’ve got ushers out at the Bruns every performance day—up to 15 of them! We’ve got two great new volunteers, Dave and Lahdan, helping out in the office on a database project and a mailing, respectively.

The big things this week in Artistic Learning are the Conservatory performance days—Friday and Saturday. We have some great mother-daughter teams from the National Charity League helping out as ushers and box office at the Bentley School in Lafayette.

Last but certainly not least, we have our Simpson Center Open House this Saturday from 10-3— we have six great people helping our patrons take a tour of our new building at the Bruns. The chance to drive the golf cart was a huge draw; we ended up turning away more volunteers than we needed for this rare behind the scenes glance at the theater.

Interested in volunteering? Click to register; once your application has been approved, you will be able to sign up for ushering dates and will be notified of other opportunities.

If you have any questions about the process, please contact Jamie Buschbaum, Volunteer Coordinator/Office Manager, at 510.548.3422 x101.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

L. Peter Callender in the News

On the occasion of his appearing in the Stanford Summer Theater’s Homeric cycle, which showcases The Wanderings of Odysseus (an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey), the Stanford blog The Book Haven has posted a lovely piece on L. Peter Callender (pictured at right with Julie Eccles and James Carpenter in our 2009 production of Romeo and Juliet).

“It’s one of my favorite types of theater when it’s done well,” the Cal Shakes Associate Artist told blogger Cynthia Haven, “because of the language, because of the history, the mythology, the depth of character and the depth of passion.”

Read the whole post here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Return of "Ask Philippa"!

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on our 2010 productions.

"Everybody has some choice, mother. The poorest girl alive may not be able to choose between being Queen of England or Principal of Newnham; but she can choose between ragpicking and flowerselling, according to her taste. People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them."

Here speaks Vivie in George Bernard Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession, a play about a young woman who gets know the mother who has always been a stranger to her and who, in the process, reveals aspects of her mother in herself.

Have you seen our production of Mrs. Warren's Profession
? Do you have questions or comments about the production's themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I'll be sure to respond.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hamlet in Juvy

This past Memorial Day weekend, a special group of teens came together to perform adapted scenes from Shakespeare for their peers. It’s not a traditional summer holiday activity for kids, that’s for sure; but these kids are in Alameda County Juvenile Hall, where neither beach trips, nor barbecues, nor performing Shakespeare is an everyday occurrence.

For several years, Cal Shakes has worked closely with Write to Read, a program of the Alameda County Library; Juvenile Hall’s head librarian Amy Cheney; and Associate Artist Andy Murray to provide Shakespeare workshops in the hall’s classrooms. This May, we expanded to our first evening residency: three hours per week over four weeks in which students took on selected scenes from Hamlet. With the guidance of new teaching artists Sean Levon Nash and Jade Raybin as well as Cal Shakes Artistic Administrator Daunielle Rasmussen, students read scenes from Hamlet and Hamlet: Blood in the Brain by Naomi Iizuka, then improvised the actions of the play to create performance pieces that recast Shakespeare’s characters in modern times.

On the final night of the residency, six students performed for an audience of fifteen peers and three staff members, a first in our three years of Shakespeare at the Hall. Plans are in the works for further residencies at Alameda County Juvenile Hall and, with the help of consultant Kim Nelson, we are pursuing new partnerships with other organizations and facilities serving juvenile offenders.

Pictured above: Jade Raybin, Sean Levon Nash, Daunielle Rasmussen, and Cal Shakes Director of Artistic Learning Trish Tillman in a curriculum meeting for the Hamlet residency; photo by Brianna Regan.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer in OakTechRep

In August, Jessa Berkner's Oakland Technical High School advanced drama students will travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As American High School Theatre Winners, they will perform Naomi Iizuka's Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, which was the first development project of Cal Shakes' New Works/New Communities program. (For more information, visit our news and NW/NC pages.)

Summer's starting, and OakTechRep is full of exciting news! A few weeks before school ended, we made our fundraising goal for Scotland—suddenly, it's so much more real to all of us who are going. In addition to this exciting news for all of us, senior Marcus Thompson, who plays H, the Hamlet character in Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, won the Beach Blanket Babylon scholarship—a $10,000 scholarship that is awarded to the best actor, the best singer, and the best dancer graduating from a Bay Area high school each year. Congratulations, Marcus!

For all of us, what we have now to do is rehearse—which is going to be a journey unto itself. We have a busy summer schedule, rehearsing at school, in parks, on the steps. If you're around, maybe you'll catch us at a rehearsal somewhere. The place you can for sure catch us is at Cal Shakes on July 26, when we have our last US show before heading over the ocean to Edinburgh.

We're all really excited for everything that's coming up. Since not everyone in the original OakTechRep cast of the show could make it to Scotland, we have to change roles and reblock for the smaller space that we'll have in Scotland. Nearly everyone has changed lines and two of us have completely changed roles, which means new lines for most of us and new blocking for everyone. It's going to be hard - this is all of our first time really reblocking a show that we've already done a bunch - but it's going to be amazing in Scotland, so it'll be worth it. We're also really excited for the Cal Shakes show; it means a lot to us (thank you so much, Cal Shakes!) and it's our last chance to show everyone on this side of the world all our hard work.

Because we essentially have another show to learn, we have a lot of rehearsal to go through. Even with all the craziness, though, it's going to be an amazing summer for all of us. We all know we're incredibly lucky to have this chance—and, sure, maybe we'll have to cancel a day at the beach—but it's more than worth it. I can't think of anyone or anything I'd rather spend time on than this.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Intern Eden Meets the Muralists

The following blog was originally published over at our Profesisonal Immersion Program (PIP) blog, Inside the Interns Studio.

My name is Eden Neuendorf; I’m an artistic department intern at Cal Shakes. I attended the Meet the Muralists event on Saturday, June 26, after the 2pm matinee of John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven.

It was a very hot day, but quite a few patrons stuck it out to listen to Salinas' José Ortiz (pictured below right in a photograph by Jay Yamada) and six of young muralists of Hijos del Sol describe the Pastures mural in the plaza, titled Las Pasturas del Cielo. People were very attentive while José spoke about the mural and his process, even applauding after the answer to a question from the audience. Many patrons stayed after the talk had ended just to ask more questions and to personally thank José and the boys. Patrons seemed very grateful of and amazed by the work.

What most interested me was to hear about the strong connection José and his students felt after reading Pastures of Heaven, and about how they felt a mural was the best way to present that connection to the stories. José gave a brief description of each story depicted in the mural, and also gave the illustrators a chance to say what part of the mural they had worked on. José said they all fought over the painting of Tularecito, because as painters they all connected closely with that story. It was also one of their favorite parts of the play. It was so amazing to hear how much these young artists connected to the story.

During the talk I was struck by the depiction of the sunset at the very far right side of the mural (photographed below by Paul Doyle). I’ve seen the mural so many times, but for some reason this was the first time I really saw the sunset. But Saturday afternoon, the picture and José’s description of the artist's intent really spoke to me. The sunset was painted with different shades of grays, which aren’t the colors you typically think of when you think about a sunset. They were trying to depict the Salinas sunset, ending the mural's story with lots of grays and just a glimmer of color and hope. This is how they interpreted the end of Pastures of Heaven. It’s beautiful; I’m thankful I was finally able to see it and to fully appreciate it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Conservatory Teachers: Silver and Gold

The classic Girl Scout song proclaims, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold”. This applies to our Summer Shakespeare Conservatory family as well, and not just the kids—teachers, too! There are our golden (and much-loved!) Teaching Artist pals like Susannah Martin and Wendy Wisely who, between them, have 15 years teaching experience with Cal Shakes campers. And for 2010 we've welcome several exciting new artists into the Conservatory troop.

Lisa Tateosian (pictured at right) comes to us by way of Contra Costa Jewish Day School, where she teaches drama. Since getting her Master’s in educational theater at NYU, Lisa has been putting her skills to good use, specializing in choreography and dance-theater. She will be directing A Winter’s Tale and teaching acting classes for our Five-Week Conservatory in Lafayette.

Kai Morrison (pictured at left) has been wielding swords and other stage weaponry for many years, and enjoys passing his love for fight choreography on to the next generation. When we began to expand our summer offerings and needed additional stage combat instructors, longtime Conservatory director Dylan Russell suggested we contact Kai. He has shaped the fights in Dylan’s San Francisco high school productions, and performs (and fights) onstage himself, most recently in Giant Bones at the EXIT Theater. Kai will be teaching at our programs in Oakland and San Francisco.

Hope Mirlis (pictured at right) was introduced to us through Teaching Artist Organized, a Bay Area collective of arts specialists who come together to share best practices and gain professional development. A movement expert with an MFA from UC Davis, Hope co-founded Synchronicity Performance Group in Atlanta which focused on community engagement, women artists, and new work. She will keep our young performers on their toes teaching movement at our two-week programs in the East Bay.

We are beside ourselves with excitement now that our talented friends, new and old, have started coming together for what's sure to be an awesome summer of training, performance, and general good theater times. For more information on our Summer Shakespeare Conservatories, click

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Amy blogs the last week of PASTURES.

Nearly three years. That's how long I have been involved in the collaboration which ends its first life this coming week. I have been immersed in Pastures for these last weeks, doing my work while performing, but also letting it have free reign through all my quiet time, my half-awake time, what I call my dream-time, when so many ideas come to me, things to try during the next performance. My body changed over these weeks. I am stronger now than I was on May 1. I know, because I can get up off that platform during the tantrums so much faster that I have time now to see Julie, to focus my rages at her, to send her scurrying out of my line of sight (whereas before...I was just working on getting the heck up off the floor!) Also, I know, because the pillows I fling seem to go so far sometimes if I am not careful...backstage crew says they are taking bets about whether or not I'll heave the mattress off the platform after the pillows one night...well, maybe closing? Wouldn't that be fun?!

My experience at the Bruns has been intimate, and expansive, and has stretched me in ways that feel so good, like oiling a creaky joint. And now comes the last week of sharing these stories with an audience. Here lies the rub. How to gently let it go. I always feel as though doing theater is like filling up the gas tank of my soul. I suppose because of my home circumstances, which only allow me to do theater work every so often, I may never feel that professional detachment I see in other actors, which I imagine they use most when the time comes to let the experience go. I will miss Cal Shakes in a personal way, all you in Admin, and Box Office, and backstage, and the interns, and the artists. Jon and Octavio. I will miss my castmates...all the love and chicanery...and most of all I will miss my characters. They have been my constant companions and now will have to be folded away and put in the memory box with the script, the book, the reviews, and some hairpins from Miss Martin's wig. Phillipa Kelly asked if I would come back to work again at Cal Shakes; yes, I would. It is a truly special family, and I am grateful to have shared this experience with you all.


Pictured above: Julie Eccles and Amy Kossow as Helen and Hilda van Deventer, respectively, in John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven; photo by Jay Yamada.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You never know how much kissing is really going on in a show until you play it for adolescents.

The first Student Discovery Matinee of the year was yesterday morning, for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven. We had about 420 people in the house, the majority of whom were from under-served Oakland middle and high schools. Two of those schools had also had a Pastures residency this spring in which they studied and dramatized stories from the book. The students were an excellent audience, and proved themselves respectful and interested for the entire show—and, as usual, there was a lot of vocal response! I tell you, you never know how much kissing is really going on in a show until you play it for adolescents! The Tularecito story seemed particularly interesting and affecting to this audience—their reaction was to laugh at first, and then were drawn in to his real sweetness, and were very quiet when he was sent to the asylum. The Tortilla Sisters won applause, and the flash-paper fire was also a hit, of course.

In the Question and Answer session afterward, some usual questions came up such as “How long did you rehearse?”, “Have any of you been on TV?,” as well as “What was your favorite character to play?” and “How do you practice for hard roles like Tularecito?” This last one gave Tobie (Windham, pictured at right as Tularecito, with Emily Kitchens as Miss Morgan; photo by Jay amada) a chance to elaborate on how stepping into someone else’ shoes really helped him understand someone with development difficulties, since it’s so easy from the outside to think they are just really strange. The other very interesting thing that came up was that the character of Raymond Banks says about going to see an execution, “I think it’s a Mexican this time.” When that line was said, there was an audible gasp in the audience, which was of mostly Latino origin. One boy asked, “Why was that a joke?” Actor Catherine Castellanos said that she didn’t think it was a joke, but that the character said it in a way that might have seemed disrespectful because of the time period in which these stories are set, and that people were viewed very much by whatever easily perceived characteristic they had, be it race, or anything else and hopefully we are a lot better at being respectful of everyone now.

Ava Jackson and Clive Worsley were the stars of the hour, making everything run great and be fun at the same time; the PIPs were all enthusiastic and did great with their groups, and being in the new space was pretty amazing backstage and front. (Sorry, I know we go on and on about the bathrooms, etc., but Artistic Learning really got the advantage of all this today!)

Thanks to everyone who makes this kind of thing happen; we are so proud that we can provide this incredible opportunity to get young people in to see great actors, in a great play, in a great space. Wow.

Click here for more information on our Student Discovery Matinees. John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven runs through June 27.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Belated blog from the middle of the night.

Amy Kossow, Word for Word Performing Arts charter member, has been involved with the development of John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven since the beginning. Now, as an actor in the forthcoming world-premiere production, she blogs from inside the rehearsal room. This blog was written in the wee hours of Saturday, May 22.

Hello out there: Up in the middle of the night here listening to the quiet, running lines in my head. Realized I forgot to memorize the coda! That's what jolted me awake!

Rehearsals are already half over, with two weeks to go before opening. The play is already fully staged and we are in the weedy bit now when we are off book but not quite at speed—heading into stumble-throughs—and it is a time of maximum discovery and growing ownership. Nice. Anxiety always a part of the process, but can be useful, if frightening.

I am shocked that my major choreography (massive tantrums as psychotic child) is on the floor of a platform 12 feet in the air. Holy cow. I am pretty scared up there, but I figure use it or lose it, or both! I also have a good share of the combat—a fistfight with sweet Julie Eccles who then SHOOTS me—and I have my first-ever death fall onto three very bouncy mattresses which propel me hilariously all over, like a big bowl of jello; two wranglers (the amazing Katie and intern blogger Dallas) and Charlie Robinson are on call to stop me bouncing back up and ruining the moment!—spent yesterday morning getting cortisone shots in my 47-year-old crappy knees, of course. Yesterday was relatively low key for me, mostly feather choreography and BBQ mime, though deep backstories are developing into quite the soap opera among us BBQ attendees. We had to be reminded that, uhh, the scene was not about us "extras" per se ... Jon (Moscone) doesn't know what he's missing. Well, he doesn't want to know what he's missing, probably...

My family is sorting itself out without much attention from me. Robin turned 14 this week and has his party today—first one I ever had to miss. boo. He requested physics kits and is building an eternity clock right now. Something innately poetic about him. I was personally more intrigued by the trebuchet. Give me a big machine for hurling rocks! I think every woman needs one!

May as well get up and make his cake. Going to make brownies while I am at it for the theater folk. They never eat sweets of course...

John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven runs June 3-27. Visit for all the details.

Photo by Kevin Berne.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Behind the Scenes at a Student Discovery Matinee

The following is an account of our Student Discovery Matinee Series from the perspective of Trish Tillman, director of Artistic Learning. the first half of this piece ran in Cal Shakes' May 2010 newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, click here.

When I was growing up, I was lucky to be able to see many kinds of performances in my city: Some of them I liked, and some I didn’t; either way, just going into the theater itself gave me a thrill. I always felt a powerful combination of anticipation, ceremony, and specialness, which made me feel alive. Part of our mission at Cal Shakes is to provide that kind of experience to as many students as we can, which takes a lot of inspiration, organization, and good humor.
To give you a sense of what I mean, here’s a little backstage look at how the staff experience our Student Discovery Matinees.

7am – Wake up and realize that we are going to be receiving over 500 students, age 8 to 17, in a matter of hours! Mentally check the paperwork prep we’ve done for the last two months, and get moving.

7:30am – Down an essential cup of coffee and head to the theater.

8:30am – Arrive at the theater parking lot. The chill from the night before still has a hold on the air, so we pull on extra sweatshirts and jackets. We set up orange cones for traffic patterns in the parking area and then trek up the hill to the amphitheater. Then all of us, a group of about 12-15 staff and volunteers, gather to familiarize ourselves with today’s schools and seating chart. Each person is assigned to lead one or two groups, given a reminder of the rules to tell the students.

8:45am – Wipe dew from chairs. Let them have dry seats! We put out programs on the seats for the show, pick up any remaining trash from the previous evening's performance.

8:58am – The shuttle driver departs to pick up groups coming by BART. Other staff and volunteers duck backstage to set up breakfast for the actors who will be arriving soon to work hard in the sun for the next two hours. Grab more coffee.

9:25am – Groups begin arriving; buses and cars fill the lot. The Cal Shakes staff is on hand to greet them, share the rules of attending outdoor theater, and do a head-count. Our walkie-talkies crackle as we communicate from the top of the hill to the bottom parking lot about who’s arriving.

kids-in-groves9:45am – As groups arrive, they line up and begin the ascent. We always hear students wondering aloud about where the heck the theater is out here in the woods.

9:50am – Each group is led to a designated grove on the theater grounds to await their time to be seated. Each group gets an entrance time so that not all 550 students are trying to get into the theater at once!

10:05am – As they wait, students usually decide to picnic. Even though it is barely past breakfast, we notice that they seem to be devouring their lunches.

10:25am – Students line up to enter the amphitheater. Their faces light up as they enter the space and see the set. No curtains, no dim lights. The set for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven is like a giant three-story dollhouse featuring different rooms on many levels; a real, rusted 1920s-era Ford pickup truck sits on the stage, one wheel off. Then students start to talk about what this play might be like—the sense of anticipation grows.

10:45am – Teaching Artist Clive Worsley takes the stage to do his fabulous pre-show welcome. He goes over some key points from the play in plain, student-ready language; has the students do a call-and-response; and generally primes the energy of the house.

11:00am – Music starts. An actor enters. The audience is suspended in the moment before everything begins, breathing lightly. Then the other actors come onstage, and ... ACTION!

11:30am – As the play progresses, we sit among the groups, always amazed at how real and potent theater is for young people: T
hey laugh loudly, gasp outwardly at the surprise moments, and snicker at any hint of romance. They’re told not to talk, but inevitably they want to check in with their friends with a glance or a poke as they share the experience. We feel that as long as it’s about the show and it’s respectful, reactions are good.

12:20pm – Intermission. Kids rush to the café for goodies. We watch to make sure no one strays off into the woods and we overhear them chatter about Act One
which characters they like, which parts stick in their mind, and which girls have already picked an actor to have a crush on.

12:31pm – Sweater comes off. Sunscreen goes on. The fog is long gone. Act Two begins!

Sarah-and-students1:30pm – The crowd rises, applauding loudly. The actors look happy and the students start to chatter. Clive jumps up on stage to give instructions for the Question and Answer session.

1:40pm – The post-show Q&A is a treat rarely enjoyed by our evening audiences. The actors, once out of their costume bonnets and aprons, reappear onstage to answer questions ranging from, “How do you become a professional actor?” and, “How did you do that stage effect?” to, “Have you been in movies?” and, “Is anyone in the cast boyfriend and girlfriend?”

2:07pm – Back down the hill they go. If the students are lucky, they run into one of the actors leaving the theater to get some rest before the evening show, and can pepper them with additonal questions.

2:10pm - We prepare the grounds for the evening performance, repeat to each other the amazing things we heard from the students that day, and begin looking forward to the next Student Discovery Matinee.

Seats are still available for the June 8 and 10 Student Discovery Matinees of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven!
In addition, our Student Discovery Matinees for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About NothingSeptember 30, Oct 6, 8, 12, and 14are booking up fast. Please forward this to a teacher you know or, to bring your own school group, please call Ava Jackson, Artistic Learning Coordinator at 510.809.3292 or email You can also learn more by visiting our website at