Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010 Season Artist Profile: Octavio Solis

In the months leading up to our 2010 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Macbeth, and Much Ado About Nothing—in our e-newsletters. For the inaugural installment, we are introducing newsletter subscribers to playwright Octavio Solis, a Cal Shakes Associate Artist and occasional contributor to this blog. Since 2007, Octavio has been working with us and Word for Word Performing Arts Company to adapt John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, the first new play to debut at Cal Shakes in 25 years. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Octavio. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

Do you remember your very first piece of creative writing, or perhaps the piece that alerted you to the possibilities of the form?
Yes, a pair of poems I wrote in class when I was in the fifth grade. One was a tribute for my mother. The other was a poem called "Ode to a Prairie Dog" or something like that. I lived in Texas and we had these critters everywhere. I was very moved by a ballad I had read in class that practically sang to me: “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. It really made me want to be a poet. Then I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and I consumed everything he ever wrote. All his fiction, all his poetry, everything. I loved him.

Is there a work (literary, musical, or any other form) that would be your dream adaptation project?
I would love to attempt sometime an adaptation of the life of Eva Hesse. She was a beautiful German-born American artist who was one of the biggest influences on Abstract Expressionism. She led a troubled life, surrounded with tragedy and death, from the Nazis to the brain tumor, which eventually took her life. I think her life is compelling enough to warrant a play or film.

What inspires you right now? Any particular music, current events, people, et cetera?
Music is a chief inspiration. I listen to jazz from every epoch, particularly the bebop era, and the jazz-flavored world music coming from the ECM label: Anouar Brahem and Arve Henrikson and the Tomasz Stanko Quartet. Really dark moody stuff. The music takes me to other worlds.

If you could have written any play in history, what do you wish it could have been?
A Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe Our Town.

Who are your favorite writers (theatrical and nontheatrical, living or deceased)?
That changes from year to year and mood to mood. Right now I like the fiction of Roberto Bolaño and the poetry of Mark Strand. I am enamored of the works of Mary Oliver too. And Thomas Hardy. His poetry is as rich in story and nuance as his novels.

You’ve been so very busy these last few years. Do you have any plans to slow down in the next months or years? Or are you just building up momentum to keep going at a similar pace?
I have slowed down. My body has buckled under me and imposed a period of rest. So I am laying low at the moment. I like it. I have been working at a pace that was killing me, and now I don't think I want to do that anymore.

Subscribe now to get the best seats at the best prices for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, and the rest of our 2010 season. Photo by Anne Hamersky.

New Works/New Communities play goes to Edinburgh Fringe!

This weekend, Oaklanders will get another chance to see Hamlet: Blood in the Brain as Oakland Technical High School's award-winning drama department presents the play for three nights. Naomi Iizuka's reimagining of the Shakespeare tragedy transports the scandalous classic to the drug-ravaged streets of mid-1980s Oakland; as American High School Theatre Festival winners, Oakland Tech will tour the production around the Bay Area this spring—including a Feb 24 performance at Stanford and an excerpt performance at Oakland's popular street festival. Art Murmur, on March 5—before traveling all the way to Scotland to present Blood in the Brain at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

Back in 2003, Cal Shakes partnered with renowned playwright Iizuka and San Francisco's Campo Santo—the resident theater company at Intersection for the Arts—to launch this first New Works/New Communities project. The play was developed over the course of three years of grassroots community engagement that included community conversations and public readings, and culminated in a sold-out eight-week run at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco. (Pictured above, Sean San José and Ryan Nicole Peters perform at Intersection; photo by Dave Nowakowski.)

We are so pleased that Oakland Tech is performing this play, and we congratulate them on their AHSTF win. Break a leg!

Click here for more info on the Oakland Tech performances.
Click here for more info on New Works/New Communities, or get regular updates on our new play and community development efforts by signing up for our email list and clicking the box for New Works/New Communities.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Online volunteer registration and serving on a not-for-profit board

There’s some exciting news on several Cal Shakes volunteer service fronts that we’d like to share with you.

First, participants in our general volunteering program—ushers, Inside Scoopers, administrative office helpers, et cetera—will now be able to register and schedule online. In 2009, nearly 500 volunteers recorded more than 4,000 hours, and that’s a lot of us to keep track of. So this year we’ve made it easier by using Shiftboard online scheduling software. Once you’ve registered at you’ll be able to sign up for all of your favorite Cal Shakes opportunities. There are even a few new ones this year, helping out the Artistic staff, actors, and designers. PLEASE NOTE: Everyone—including returning volunteers—must register with Shiftboard in order to receive volunteer information and to schedule a shift. For more information about Cal Shakes volunteer opportunities, contact Jamie Buschbaum at 510.548.3422 x101 or

Secondly, Cal Shakes will be participating in the Board Match event next Tuesday, January 12, 4:30–7:30pm at Moscone Center South in San Francisco. If you’ve ever considered deepening your commitment to Cal Shakes or another not-for-profit by serving on a board, then this free event is for you. The Volunteer Center’s Board Match is a job-fair style event featuring over 100 Bay Area nonprofits—large to small, focusing on everything from the environment to arts toYouth. Serving on a nonprofit board can provide fantastic opportunities for your personal and professional development. You can build new and skills, network and broaden your knowledge of the community and provide essential skills to community nonprofits. This may be the single best opportunity to talk to nonprofit leadership (including Cal Shakes Managing Director Susie Falk) from over 100 Bay Area nonprofits about board membership. Bring copies of your résumé and business cards—board members are the foundation of nonprofit organizations, and we’re looking for a few new recruits! For more information on the event, click