A message from Sarita Ocón, Theater Artist

I was so honored when Cal Shakes asked me to share my story.

You may remember me from this past season as Dulcinea in Quixote Nuevo. And you may remember my heartfelt appeal at the end of the show, inviting you and other audience members to participate in the Pay It Forward Campaign. Night after night, I was so moved by your generosity and that of the whole
Cal Shakes Familia.

I was also truly blown away when Cal Shakes decided to dedicate several nights’ fundraising revenue to another organization supporting work against a humanitarian crisis. We were all deeply affected by the crisis unfolding along the Southern border as immigrant children were being separated from their parents. So when Cal Shakes audiences came together to raise more than $7,000 for RAICES (an organization working with these families), my corazón (heart) burst with joy and gratitude.

To witness my Cal Shakes community come together in such a tremendous way was a moment I will never forget. Cal Shakes does more than tell epic stories to audiences from all walks of life—Cal Shakes builds community and, by making art that matters more to more people, inspires audiences and theater makers to become active change agents in the world.

This is something that inspires me to want to give back to Cal Shakes. I hope it will also inspire you to support Cal Shakes with your donation today.

Love and light,

Sarita Ocón
Theater Artist


Off-Broadway with Eric Ting!

Join Cal Shakes in New York City! Travel on and Off-Broadway with Artistic Director Eric Ting on this insider’s tour of New York Theater, April 30-May 6, 2019.

“The best part of a theater tour is, of course, the plays—and this is such a meaty and diverse selection. But what enriches your experience is access to artists, behind the scenes experiences, and the opportunity to gather after the plays to share your views with other tour members. I always look forward to those “a ha” moments when I can see a play through another person’s lens. Having Eric there to share his insights and spark conversation is invaluable!”
Beverly Wyllie, Cal Shakes Supporter
   and Dramarama Tour Alum

New York Tour Package

Your tour package includes:

  • 6 nights at the charming, centrally located RIU Plaza Hotel
  • Daily American breakfast in the hotel dining room
  • Tickets to 3 Off-Broadway and 2 Broadway productions
  • Access to 2 additional performances of in-demand Broadway shows
  • Discussions with artists led by Cal Shakes Artistic Director, Eric Ting
  • Welcome & Farewell dinners in fine restaurants, plus 2 optional group dinners
  • Nightly post-show discussions exclusively for your group

Cost for the complete trip package:*
$4,550 | per person, double occupancy
$5,150 | per person, single occupancy
Price includes a tax-deductible donation of $750
to California Shakespeare Theater
*Airfare not included

Sign up now for this extraordinary theater experience! The tour group is limited in size, so reserve your place NOW with a $1000 deposit OR pay in full before February 1 and receive $200 off.

For more information, please contact:
Shanti Peterson
Donor Stewardship & Events Associate
510.899.4907 | speterson@calshakes.org

Helen Rigby
510.350.7675 | helen@dramaramatours.com

Short Itinerary for April 30 – May 6, 2019
For full itinerary including times, restaurants, and play descriptions, click here.

Day 1
Arrival & Welcome Dinner (included)

Day 2
Overview of shows with Eric Ting
Optional Performance 1: KING LEAR by William Shakespeare, starring Glenda Jackson at Cort Theater
Dinner on your own
Performance 1: OCTET by Dave Malloy at Signature Theater
Post-show discussion about the play at hotel

Day 3
TBA: Theater related activity—discussion, backstage tour
Free time; Dinner on your own
Performance 2: SANCTUARY CITY by Martyna Majok at New York Theatre Workshop (tentative)
Post-show discussion about the play at hotel

Day 4
Discussion with guest artists led by Eric Ting
Dinner on your own OR optional group dinner
Performance 3: PASSAGE by Christopher Chen at Soho Rep
Post-show discussion about the play at hotel

Day 5
Guest artists: panel of young actors “beating the boards” in NYC
Optional Performance 2: THE BAND’S VISIT, book by Itamar Moses, music & lyrics by David Yazbek at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Dinner on your own OR optional group dinner
Performance 4: GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS by Taylor Mac at Booth Theatre
Post-show discussion about the play at hotel

Day 6
Chat with a guest artist led by Eric Ting
Performance 5: INK by James Graham at Manhattan Theatre Club
Farewell Dinner (included)

Day 7
Check out and then depart for home


Survey Says…

The War of the Roses

You may have seen them walking about the Bruns with tablets in hand—our fearless volunteers asking people to answer a few questions. Hundreds of you took the time to respond. (Six won a year’s supply of Peets!)

Based on the % of people’s responses, the top 8 things you love about the Cal Shakes experience (besides seeing the season’s epic shows) are:

  1. Picnicking
  2. Spending time with the people I arrived with
  3. Purchasing food/drink at the café
  4. On-site parking
  5. Enjoying the grounds
  6. Purchasing drinks or merchandise at the bar
  7. Grove Talks
  8. Meeting new people

We also received dozens of comments and suggestions, ranging from sharing minor frustrations to special call-outs to staff and artists. Some of these we can address (i.e., retire dysfunctional assisted listening devices); some are beyond our control (the weather). Some comments helped us learn where we need to do a better job communicating (a lot of you asked if you can get programs online before the show—yes!). We take all your comments seriously and appreciate you letting us know how we can improve the time you share with us at the Bruns.

Thank you, and see you next summer!


Announcing a new Marcus Gardley commission!

We’ve received a prestigious Hewlett 50 Arts Commission! 

A program of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission awards 10 Bay Area-based non-profit organizations. Each will receive $150,000 to create important and unique work that facilitates discussions around the most pressing local issues.

For this commission, Playwright Marcus Gardley will seeks inspiration from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to write A Thousand Ships, based on the women of the Richmond Shipyards.

Playwright Marcus Gardley

“We are thrilled to have been selected for this significant and meaningful commission,” commented Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting. “Since the launch of Cal Shakes’ New Classics Initiative (NCI) with Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey in 2017, we’ve sought to elevate classic works through the voices of writers living and engaging with our contemporary moment. The Hewlett 50 affords us one of our first full commissions for a New Classic, allowing us the sort of timeline to build meaningful and deeply rooted engagement between our artists and the larger Bay Area.”

“I am deeply honored to receive this commission,” added playwright Marcus Gardley. “To have the opportunity to create another play with Cal Shakes and to tell another Bay Area Story is truly an incredible gift. I do not take it lightly. I am extremely grateful to have Hewlett’s support, and I look forward to sharing our next story with the community and the world beyond. Time to start writing!”

With A Thousand Ships, Gardley returns to a subject he first explored more than a decade ago in This World in a Woman’s Hands, the lives of the women like his two great-grandmothers who came to the Bay Area during World War II to work in the Richmond Shipyards. Eager to revisit these “Rosie the Riveters” and their stories, he plans to integrate their friendships, tragedies, loves and enduring spirit into a larger narrative of the region’s history, fused with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A Thousand Ships will explore themes of migration, community, and the notion of making home and family among strangers in a new land. Along with choreography, media design and special effects, the music of the period such as Ella Fitzgerald, the Andrew Sisters, and blues and folk songs will be integral to evoking the world of the shipyards. The play will also spotlight the Bay Area’s role in gospel music. The project reunites key artistic collaborators from both black odyssey and This World in a Woman’s Hands, Linda Tillery and Molly Holm, to create a vocal score that weaves this musical heritage into the story’s telling. A Thousand Ships is slated to premiere at Cal Shakes’ Bruns Amphitheater as part of the 2021 season.

Marcus Gardley, Molly Holm &  Linda Tillery during black odyssey 2017 music workshops.

As with previous NCI projects, Cal Shakes will provide opportunities for Bay Area residents, and in particular, Richmond residents, to engage with A Thousand Ships. Cal Shakes will host intergenerational Story Circles to bring community voices into the developmental orbit of the work at key points in its journey towards its world premiere. Story Circles will include women who worked in the shipyards, as well as their descendants, to help them connect to each other and connect their stories to the larger historical and social context. Additional programming includes residencies in schools and community settings, on-site audience enrichment programs, and Community Night previews. Cal Shakes also offer discounted tickets to community partners and subsidized ticket options for the general public as well as seniors, students, and teachers.

Exploring what it means to be a classical theater in the 21st century, Cal Shakes’ New Classics Initiative engages living writers in dialogue with our classical canon to see old stories through new eyes, challenging, expanding, and revitalizing our very notions of universal. Previous New Classics include black odyssey and Octavio Solis’ Quixote Nuevo (2018); upcoming projects include the world premiere of Madhuri Shekar’s House of Joy in 2019.

Launched in 2017 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions is a five-year, $8 million initiative supporting the creation and premiere of 50 new works by world-class performing artists working in five disciplines.  The largest commissioning initiative of its kind in the country, the program is a symbol of the Hewlett Foundation’s longstanding commitment to sustaining artistic expression and encouraging public engagement in the arts across diverse communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

More information about the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission can be found at: hewlett.org/50Commissions.


Help us make Cal Shakes a home to all

Hello friends,

This past season, thousands of people like you gathered together to share unforgettable stories, told by the finest artists the Bay Area has to offer, against the most beautiful backdrop imaginable. For those brief hours, we made a home—together—at Cal Shakes.

From left: Hugo Carbajal and Emilio Delgado in Quixote Nuevo; Cleavant Derricks, J.D. Mollison, Michael Curry, Ruthie Price, and Santoya Fields in black odyssey; Student Matinee; Catherine Luedtke, Stacy Ross, and Danny Scheie in The War of the Roses. Student Matinee photo by Jay Yamada, others by Kevin Berne.


Donations from our supporters are what makes this possible. Contributing to a home for extraordinary artists and artistry creates the work you want to see on our stage. Sustaining this work also requires additional resources that aren’t funded by ticket sales alone. You can help make Cal Shakes a home for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Your gift helps us produce epic stories and helps us attract and support the most exciting artists working in American theater today. Your gift helps us serve thousands of school children at the Bruns, at our Summer Conservatory, and in their own classrooms. And your gift helps us welcome thousands of audience members each year to the place I am so grateful to call home.

As you prepare to share your own home with family and friends, please include Cal Shakes in your year-end giving plans and make a donation today.

With gratitude,

Eric Ting
Artistic Director


Statement of Solidarity with the Trans Community

Image credit: Micah Bazant

On October 21, The New York Times leaked a draft of a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services, which revealed the current administration’s intent to define gender as “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” This proposed legal change denies the existence and experiences of trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people, and would roll back recognition, rights, and protections for these communities.

With the changes proposed in the memo, the role of gender identity would be lessened under Title IX anti-discrimination laws in favor of the limited definition. This would mean transgender people would not be able to dispute discrimination in terms of physical attack, housing, employment, education, or healthcare. Having to take invasive genetic tests to prove one’s sex with a DNA sample is a very real possibility and would be a violation of one’s personal rights.

Cal Shakes strives to be a theater where people of all gender identities and expressions are safe, supported, and welcome. Trans, intersex, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people are members of our staff, audiences, community partners, student groups; they are our family, and deserve safety, respect, and self-determination. We stand unequivocally with them and we do not support any government policies that endanger their safety and agency. Trans rights are human rights. From the law to our offices to our amphitheater, our family #WontBeErased.

There are many direct action steps you can take, including some listed here by Out Magazine. There are also many organizations that you can support with your time, in-kind donations, or financial contributions.

Here are some organizations that Cal Shakes partners with that support the trans community that you can support:

Other local and national organizations you can support:

If you are a person impacted by this proposed change and are in need or support or resources or in crisis, here are some organizations ready to help:


Announcing the 2019 Season!

A note from Artistic Director Eric Ting:

“Our Epic 2018 Season was one of our most exciting yet! I’ve never felt so inspired, so revitalized, as I was this past year watching our staff and guest artists rise to meet the ambitions of our shows. It’s the sort of effort that one grows into and steps out the other side wiser, stronger, fuller.

We are still finalizing many of the details, but those that are falling into place have been delightful and compelling. It promises to be a season of courage, of enchantment, of desire, of valor. We look forward to you joining us for our 2019 season under the stars—it wouldn’t be the same without you!”

The 2019 Season:

First up, Shakespeare’s delightfully charming comedy of desire, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Four lovers escape into the woods and find themselves entangled in the royal politics of a magical world. When it comes to love, what’s fantasy and what’s reality? Tricks abound and wires cross as we all seek escape from (or surrender to) the clutches of love.

Next, Cal Shakes presents for the very first time a play by Bertolt Brecht, The Good Person of Szechwan. In a city of “haves” and “have-nots,” can a good person stay good even as their fortunes rise? The Good Person of Szechwan is a fable for our times exploring the lengths to which one must go to keep clean in a dirty world.

The season continues with the World Premiere of House of Joy by Madhuri Shekar. House of Joy is being produced as part of Cal Shakes’ New Classics Initiative, which engages living writers in dialogue with our classical canon to see old stories through new eyes, challenging, expanding, and revitalizing our very notions of universal. Set in a place and time something like 17th century Delhi, House of Joy is a tale of adventure and intrigue drawn from Indian legends and history. An elite bodyguard must choose between protecting the empire and protecting her vulnerable charge, but who will she betray?

Finally, Cal Shakes presents Macbeth, Shakespeare’s cautionary tale of unbridled ambition. Determined to fulfill a prophecy of greatness, Macbeth’s hunger for power consumes all he holds dear. How far would you go to take what you’ve been told you deserve? And who will rise up to stop you?

Season packages for the four-play season are available now; single and group tickets go on sale to the public spring 2019. Prices start at $132 for a four-play subscription, with discounts available for seniors, youth, and full-time K-12 educators.

Subscribe now!


Of Forests and Metal: an Interview with Composer Byron Au Yong

Dramaturg Philippa Kelly chats with composer Byron Au Yong, composer for The War of the Roses. Get tickets to the final performances here!

Byron at rehearsal; photo by den.

Philippa Kelly: Can you tell us a little about your background—something different from resume info? Early life?

Byron Au Yong: My elementary school was inside a forest. Classmates and I made shelters from gigantic fallen tree boughs. The best part of the year was singing after a storm surrounded by the trees and structures we built. I read recently that when trees feel comfortable, they will comfort you. I know that when trees feel powerful, they impart power. Last June, I was back in the Pacific Northwest walking in an old-growth forest. I asked the trees if they knew of other forests being clear cut, then burned. They said that their roots could feel the pain. They added that as we protect them, they protect us. My music connects with nature. It’s thrilling to work at Cal Shakes, where even the distant cows contribute their mooing to the performance.

PK: In terms of composing, who inspires you and which scores do you love?

BAY: I’m attracted to music which is dangerous. When J.S. Bach died, he was less famous than his sons. A critic called his work “contrapuntal caterwauling.” Nowadays, this accusation would be a compliment. Collaborating with theater artists also gives me energy, as dramatic solutions have a way of reaching the heart.

PK: I love that thought! Can you share some insight as to how you compose?
How do things come to you?

BAY: The music for The War of the Roses is grounded in Viking aesthetics. Shakespeare was influenced by Old Norse culture. Check out Amleth, the precursor to Hamlet. Moreover, Queen Margaret’s agency is similar to how Viking women held power, from managing their husbands to fighting in battles. Two contemporary musicians I adore include Norwegian metal folk composer/musician Einar Selvik and Faroese singer-songwriter Eivør Pálsdóttir. I was also influenced by 13th century French polyphony, known as the Ars Nova, and the neo-folk metal band Heilung from Denmark, Germany, and Norway. For this production, I got to work with actor/composer/musician Josh Pollack. Josh creates an astounding array of sounds using the electric guitar with effects pedals. These sounds range from low rumbles to whirring orbits to Viking metal riffs. Every project requires a tailored working process. Outside sources inform musical ideas and sketches. Rehearsals provide crucial time to determine which sonic moments become part of the show.

Effects pedals operated by Josh Pollock

For example, Aysan Celik has a vocal solo in the show that we call “Queen Margaret’s Battle Song.” I initially set 27 lines of text. It felt clunky and was way too long, so I simplified the song to allow Aysan’s powerful voice to resonate.

PK: What led you to Cal Shakes and us to you?

BAY: Director Eric Ting asked,”Hey, you wanna compose music for The War of the Roses?” I responded, “The War of the What?” Not knowing what something is, is always a good sign. Learning with this wonderful team at Cal Shakes shows what theater can do best: bring people together to create moments of beauty and pain that move us towards a deeper understanding of who we are and how we can affect change.

PK: I feel similarly—that in making art we wrestle with ourselves and with our capacity to understand the world in new and surprising ways. My husband (composer Paul Dresher) feels that if he weren’t a composer he would be one or more of three things: an attorney, a vegetable-grower, or a carpenter/handy-person. If you weren’t a composer, what would you be?

BAY: I would be a tree…western red cedar or mountain hemlock…definitely not a rose bush.


Introducing Awele: Assistant Dramaturg, The War of the Roses

Interview by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg
Awele Makeba’s very being illuminates a room. She glows with humane warmth and light. Awele is a professional actor and storyteller, and a drama teacher at Skyline High in Oakland. Almost all of Skyline’s students are bused up the hill from the Oakland flats to a school that overlooks the San Francisco Bay and the glittering cities below. Awele often digs into her own pocket for change to buy her students tickets to see professional theater, and sometimes needs to help out with supplies, food, and transportation—challenges that don’t face middle-class families in the Orinda Hills nearby. Awele also gives her students inspiration and skills to perform great theater—these kids shine! They’ve performed in theaters and festivals around the Bay Area as well as at the High School Theatre Fest in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2017. Their light is ignited and sustained by the dedication of a great teacher.

Awele also gifts her talents to Cal Shakes. This summer, we partnered with Awele and the Oakland Unified School District so she could join us on an externship, which allows her to observe dramaturgy, production, and directing. She spends what time her school duties permit her with us in production: and on school days, she does her own “homework” after school is out, working on research on a shared google doc that helps us in the rehearsal hall. Here she speaks with dramaturg Philippa Kelly.

Philippa Kelly: First off, Awele, where does your passion come from? 
Awele Makeba: I began as a four year-old dancing and continued in ballet, had piano lessons at 12, adding tapdance and modern dance in high school, and then was accepted into a conservatory of theater arts. So I’ve always been immersed in music and dance and theater. It wasn’t until high school that I experienced theater as an actual class. And it helped shape my belief in what theater can do, how it can change lives. For real. And how storytelling on stage can be a transformational experience.  I was invited to Russia before the walls came down—a five city tour over three weeks—as a storyteller performing in schools, pioneer centers, museums. 
PK: You’ve done some amazing productions with your students, including the award-winning Prospect High: Brooklyn by Robert Daniel Sullivan. What is it like to have students in the audience watching YOU on stage?
AM:  Having students in the audience is a pretty awesome experience. The first time this happened was my first year at Skyline I performed in a play xtigone, by Nambi E. Kelley, which was a hip hop adaptation of Antigone. I bussed the students over to the theater, and no one knew I was actually performing in the play. I came out on stage and I could hear students in the audience saying “Oh My God, Miss Awele‘s in the play! Miss Awele‘s in the play!” They were so excited. And this gave them the belief that they could be on stage too. They stayed for the talkback, and, because they’d studied the play, they were able to give wonderful jewels of feedback. I love to help my students get to performances, and sometimes this entails getting together $500-$700 to charter a bus or to purchase BART tickets for my students! But I think it’s so important for my students to go to the theater and see people who look like them and speak like them. This is a great gift that they get at Cal Shakes through its student matinee program that sponsors all my students. I will never forget when they saw Othello directed by Eric Ting. It was a transformative experience for them, and they received a stunning gift from Clive and his team of a pre-post show engagement with superb teaching artists.
PK: what appeals to you about dramaturgy?
AM: Before I knew the terms, “Dramaturg” and “Dramaturgy,” I had always been a dramaturg of sorts but just didn’t know it. I have always been a lay historian and a lover of it, because my father brought it into my life. I saw that history is not always accurate. I had my father, and other people in my life, who helped me to see that in studying history and challenging master narratives, we can be change agents in society.  Being able to help students to see beyond and behind master narratives and to be able to do my research on this—what a gift. My research for my Master’s thesis was focused on Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith—two young teens who were arrested before Rosa Parks’ case. There was already an ordinance in place that if there was a spare seat elsewhere in the bus, a person of color did not have to move. So in a sense the mythology behind Rosa Parks’ case presents an exhausted working woman who could barely stand on her feet, but behind this is a flagrant denial of an ordinance was a denial of a social movement of people, change agents who had been taking action against segregation, a system of structural racism, sanctioned by the government, and the mere fact that Ms. Parks very much like Fannie Lou Hamer, was sick and tired of being tired. These women spurred a boycott of the busses, many of them walking to work for 361 days to make the point and force the bus system to change the rules if they wanted to stay in business. So that was the issue that ignited my Master’s thesis and I made a performance piece about it.
PK: When finances look appalling, things look grim, what keeps you shining? 
AM: What keeps me shining? Knowing that the power of storytelling on stage is huge. I believe through and through in the power of storytelling, and I love the thought of times when people would sit around a campfire and tell stories. I draw on this model in my classroom (though of course without throwing logs on fires.) Bringing in music and lighting when we can afford it is wonderful, often through the generosity of colleagues. I took my students to perform in Scotland at the Festival two years ago. We still have $15,000 to raise, and have put up a go fund me campaign, which people have been donating to. And I’m hoping that with my Go Fund Me campaignmatch my $200, if 15 people contributed $200 and invited 4 friends to contribute with them, this would help us tremendously.



Ask Philippa: The War of the Roses edition

by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Have a question for Philippa? Email pkelly@calshakes.org, or comment below!

The Henry VI and Richard III plays marked the young Shakespeare’s creation of a national history that spanned the rules of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III.  Shakespeare has Henry VI’s infancy mark the beginning of the War of the Roses—the rivalries between England’s bickering nobles in the power vacuum created by the death of a powerful king (Henry V) and the reign of an infant (Henry VI).  We see Shakespeare’s geographical scope contract in the course of the tetralogy—from the looming rivalry with France, we move inward to the bickering within one ruling family, the Plantagenets (Yorkists v. Lancastrians), and then inward again to the corrosion of the York family by Richard Gloucester of York, who clambers up a power vacuum, destroying everyone in his path—even his own brother, nephew and wife—to become Richard III. 

Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).