Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fireside chats, fundraisers, and the glory of new plays

Cal Shakes has been making inroads into the world of new plays for some time now, with our New Works/New Communities program. Last year, John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven, written by Octavio Solis, directed by Jonathan Moscone, and developed in conjunction with Word for Word Performing Arts Company, became the first-ever work to have its world premiere on the Bruns stage. This summer, The Verona Project—Amanda Dehnert's music filled romp inspired by The Two Gentlemen of Verona—will make its debut at Cal Shakes, as well.

So Artistic Director Moscone knows a thing or two about new plays; PlayGround, a new-play development organization dedicated to local playwrights, knows even more (just don't tell Jon I said that). PlayGround has been holding monthly Monday night readings at Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage for some time now; gives grants to local theater companies in order to produce world premieres by PlayGround playwrights; and offers master classes and workshops to a variety of experience levels.

While we at Cal Shakes love our Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, Chekhov—even Marivaux!—there's nothing quite like a new work to reveal the dizzying possibilities of theater. So we're pleased to be able to invite you to PlayGround's 15th annual Benefit & Awards Night, coming up Monday, April 11 at the Claremont Hotel. The evening features a fireside chat with Moscone, Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone, and local playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb—creator of BOB, T.I.C. (Trenchcoat In Common), boom, and Hunter Gatherers, to name a few. The party also includes reception, silent auction, and dinner; and the presentation of the 2011 PlayGround Emerging Playwright Awards, the June Anne Baker Prize, and PlayGround Fellowship.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Artistic Learning Valentine: R & J in Suburbia

Last week we heard from Eli Wirtschafter, a former Cal Shakes Conservatory student—that's him on the right, playing Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost in 2009, the summer after his senior year of high school. Eli is now studying at UC Berkeley, and he wrote us to tell us about the production of Romeo and Juliet that he's directing.

We'll let Eli take it from here.

It's a Cal Shakes' Artistic Learning success story!

Everything I know about Shakespeare I learned from my six summers at Cal Shakes, and the program inspired me to direct my own show. It's with BareStage, a student-run theater group at UC Berkeley and it opens March 4. Susannah Martin, who I was lucky to have as my director four times, would always set Shakespeare's plays in a specific period; as we engaged with the text we were also engaging with recent history and how we saw ourselves. It was a continuation of Cal Shakes' mission of "reimagining the classics." I'm directing my own production Cal Shakes-style, transposing Verona to an American suburb in 1953. I could go on endlessly, but it's about disempowered youth, strict ideas about family, and distrust of people who aren't so different after all.

Here's some information about the show (and here's the link to its Facebook event)

Location: Caesar Chavez Student Center

Friday March 4 at 8pm
Saturday March 5 at 8pm
Sunday March 6 at 7pm

Friday March 11 at 8pm
Saturday March 12 at 8pm
Sunday March 13 at 2pm

Students $8, General $10
Tickets available at the door and at

I am constantly grateful to Cal Shakes, and I wanted to tell you what I was up to!

Monday, January 31, 2011

More dispatches from Heaven

Les Reinhardt, stage manager for the our staged reading of John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven at the New Play Festival in DC, is blogging about the experience over at Be sure to check it out!

Dispatch from Heaven, DC

Amy Kossow of Word for Word and the cast of John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven sent this dispatch from the New Play Festival at Arena Stage in DC, where selected scenes from Pastures are being performed alongside fellow inaugural selections of the National Endowment for the Arts New Play Development Program.

Hello from snowy DC. Pastures of Heaven cast and crew finally all assembled after much airport drama. Costumes and props had an easier time getting here than we did!

Walking into the stunning new Mead Center took my breath away. Immediately ran into six people I know! Nice feeling. Plus, the mural is here in a place of honor.

We rehearsed today in the Kogod Cradle. Round theater with lovely, basket-weave wooden walls. The new cast members have blown us away with how quickly they have gained ownership of their many roles. Surprising how we hear the stories anew in their voices. I feel like I am seeing how a new director and cast would do things differently... gives me the sense that the show will move on out of our hands...