Introducing Margaret of Anjou

 

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly discusses her latest endeavor – working with Elizabeth Schafer to bring Margaret of Anjou, “a new play by Shakespeare, to life. Margaret of Anjou will be produced at SF Shakes this year.

anjouImagine Shakespeare as a young playwright in the early 1590s, trying to capture the attention and imagination of Queen Elizabeth I. How would he begin? It’s no secret that women were seen as physically and intellectually incapable of doing what men did – Elizabeth herself was aware of this when she gave her famous speech at the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588: ‘I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman. But I have the heart of a king, and a king of England, too…I myself will take up arms.” Astride her horse, flanked by lieutenants, Elizabeth was the new woman of England, the new woman of history.

Enter Margaret of Anjou, daughter of Rene, Duke of Anjou, and, we believe, Shakespeare’s special envoy to the imagination of Queen Elizabeth. Margaret was born on his stage in the wake of Elizabeth’s Armada speech. Women could be more than chattel – England had before its very eyes a queen who was multi-lingual, a beautiful writer, and an expert diplomat. A queen who’d most likely chosen not to marry because marriage would have compromised her power (and because her father provided a terrible marital role-model!) Now think of Margaret, Elizabeth’s real-life predecessor. Elizabeth hadn’t needed to be a wife in order to have access to power; and, had she been a mother, she might have suffered the heartache that befell Margaret as she lost both her husband and her only son to the forces ranged against her.

Elizabeth Schafer, author of Ms-Directing Shakespeare, theater historian, and Professor at Royal Holloway, London, has collaborated with Cal Shakes’ Philippa Kelly to pirate from Shakespeare’s four plays to give Margaret a singular textual life of her own. Professor R.S. White gave Margaret her world premiere when he invited Elizabeth and Philippa to launch a staged reading with Robert Conke’s Melbourne Acting Troupe, Nothing But the Roaring, in February 2016, sponsored by the Centre for the History of Emotions. Now we are partnering with SF Shakes’ Rebecca Ennals. Our mission: to bring Margaret across the Atlantic for a staged reading at SF Shakes in this important anniversary year. Our play, drawn from Shakespeare’s Henry VI tetralogy and Richard III, uses only Shakespeare’s words to shape Margaret’s journey. It’s being billed at the Caryl Churchill Theater in London this year as a ‘new’ play by Shakespeare and does something we think is important: it proves that Shakespeare wrote a female role that is an ‘Everest’ on par with King Lear.

Historically, Margaret, brought over to England dowryless to secure a relationship between the Duke of Anjou and England, was alluring and (initially) obedient, and it seems that her marriage to England’s Henry VI suited both herself and her husband. However, it took 10 years for her to conceive a child, and, once she did, Henry VI fell into one of what would be frequent bouts of insanity, with Margaret ruling in his place. It was Margaret who led the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and her feats, in part, inspired the character of Cersei Lannister in today’s Game of Thrones.

Shakespeare adheres to the beginning of the historical Margaret’s story, but changes its course considerably. Shakespeare’s young Margaret is, like her original, an ingenue, bought and sold; but the playwright makes King Henry VI weak instead of mad. In real life, Margaret became intimate with the Duke of Suffolk (possibly as a retreat from her husband’s madness?) But in Shakespeare’s play Suffolk woos her on behalf of Henry VI at Tours, and the young, impressionable woman falls for Suffolk instead of her intended husband, while Suffolk encourages this love-interest so that he can use her as a puppet to rule the feeble Henry. What we see in our play, Margaret of Anjou, is the young Margaret, complying with her father’s cold sale of her as goods; the new Queen Margaret, intimate lover/conspirator with Suffolk behind her weak husband’s back; the mourning Margaret, grieving for the execution of her lover as traitor; the Amazonian Margaret leading her troops into battle; the monster taunting her defeated opponent, Richard, duke of York; and the raging crone, whose husband and son, prince regent, have been murdered.

Margaret, unlike her theatrical contemporary Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, is never tamed. She looks forward to later formidable female parts like Lady Macbeth, Volumnia, and Paulina.

Please share this post and celebrate with us this year as, with Rebecca Ennals of SF Shakes, we make Margaret America’s Queen.

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O Brave New World! See Photos from Gala 2016

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We are inspired by the enthusiasm and generosity of those who attended O Brave New Word, and we’re thrilled by how much their support will fuel the power of creativity for students and communities throughout the Bay Area. Our tally shows a total of at least $473,000 in winning bids for spectacular auction items, in ticket sales, and from generous contributions.

From the dining room to the dance floor, we’re grateful to have had the chance to celebrate with many of you at the event and online.  Click here to see the fun in action.

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A Brief Timeline from Shakespeare’s Life #Shx400

This April 23 marks the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death, and theater lovers worldwide are celebrating four centuries of his legacy. Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly takes us through a very brief timeline and “fun facts” of Shakespeare’s life and works.

Visit http://www.stahome.org/2016/ or follow the #Legacy400 and #Shx400 hashtags to learn more!

1564: William Shakespeare, his parents’ third-born and first living child, is baptized. The date of William’s actual birth remains unknown due to the high infant mortality rates in England at the time – no child was registered as born until baptized. The date has been designated April 23 to create an attractive correlation with his death, known to be April 23, 52 years later.

Fun Fact: William’s father, John, was a whittawer (a maker, worker and seller of leather goods such as purses, belts and gloves) and a dealer in agricultural commodities. He was a solid, middle class citizen at the time of William’s birth, and a man on the rise.  He served in Stratford’s local government successively as a member of the Council (1557), constable (1558), chamberlain (1561), alderman (1565) and finally high bailiff (1568)–the equivalent of town mayor.  This allowed him to send his children to Stratford’s Grammar School. In about 1577 John Shakespeare’s fortunes began to decline for unknown reasons, and Shakespeare had to leave school at the age of 13.

Fun Fact: most households in Shakespeare’s time made their own beer and ale, and it was quite common to drink them with breakfast.

1582: Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway, 8 years his senior. Shakespeare has been dating  (and some say betrothed to) another Anne: but the pregnancy gives Anne Hathaway precedence in the marriage stakes. Anne’s father, owner of a large, sprawling farm, is affluent enough to provide Anne with a dowry. Many believe that Anne is illiterate, as are most girls of her station: but it is unknown for sure. After their marriage, as is common at this time, Anne moves in with her new husband and his parents in their family home.

1583: Daughter Susannah is born.

1585: Twins, Hamnet and Judith, are born – named after William and Anne’s close friends, Hamnet and Judith Sadler.

Between 1587 and 1592 Shakespeare disappears from all known surviving records. This period is often referred to as the ‘lost years’. Did he leave his wife and three small children during this time? He may have worked as a schoolmaster. But if so, where? The answer is unknown. By 1592, he was living in London as an actor and a dramatist. His family remained in Stratford, living with his parents in John Shakespeare’s family home.

1596: Hamnet dies of the plague. Shakespeare does not return for the funeral. Why not? He may have been informed after the burial, since plague victims have to be buried as soon as possible for the sake of sanitation. We know that at the time it takes three days to get by horse and carriage from Stratford to London – stopping overnight in Oxford and going on to Uxbridge. But a letter (which cost 2 pence to send – a third of an actor’s daily wages) could even take only 2 days.

1597: Shakespeare, now wealthy because of the popularity of his plays in addition to royal patronage (his company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite), buys the second largest house in Stratford, and settles his wife and two remaining children there before returning to London.

1598: Shakespeare writes Much Ado About Nothing, the first play of our 2016 season. “Nothing” is a play on “noting”, a word which in Shakespeare’s day means “to pay attention” (or notice) someone romantically. A woman’s genitals are at this time also referred to as “nothing” because, unlike a man’s, they are not evident (i.e. they are “nothing”) on the outside. So Shakespeare is basically punning on the idea of “Much Ado About Sex.”

1603: Shakespeare writes Othello, fourth up in our 2016 season. The term, “Moor” in Shakespeare’s London refers to everyone of a dark skin tone, and refers to most Africans. The first staging of Othello is performed before  King James 1 in the Banqueting House at Whitehall on the 1st of November 1604. Queen Anne, James’ wife, has a fascination with performing blackface. We might wonder how much of an influence her taste had on Shakespeare’s choice of material.

Fun Fact: Shakespeare offers wisdom for the ages. From cautionary examples of the wisdom of not promoting someone whose talents are superior to yours (Macbeth) to examples of how greatness is not enough (Coriolanus, Othello), to the terrible example offered by King Lear (don’t give your worldly goods to your children if you can’t trust them to take care of you as you see fit, not as they do), to the lessons of love in Romeo and Juliet (love doesn’t cure everything) and in Twelfth Night (don’t judge a book by its cover), Shakespeare offers remarkable insight into many of our life situations.

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A Day at Shakespeare Summer Camp

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Stephanie Ann Foster, our Oakland Conservatory Coordinator, reflects on a day at camp.

“How do we do this?” “TOGETHER!”

The opening ritual of conservatory, our morning assembly, is audible all the way out to the street. We dance, we vote on creative ideas for costume days (Dr. Who, the students assure me, is quite the Shakespeare corollary). We redistribute dropped jackets and water bottles—the joyfully flung detritus of young actors who have put all their concentration into combat, improv, and the history class ghost stories that trickle out of Shakespeare’s plays when you poke at them with your (required) pencils.

We come here to try on new selves, and to recognize the pieces of ourselves in others. We come here to break apart texts, and maybe our whole selves while we’re at it.

Then we rebuild.

Together.

Registration is now available for our Summer Shakespeare Conservatories. Click here for more information.

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The Quintessential Outsider: Thoughts on Othello

By Artistic Director Eric Ting

Since taking over as Artistic Director of Cal Shakes, I’ve been traveling a lot. My wife and new baby are still in Brooklyn, so, racking up lots of miles. But this is strangely about a different trip, one to Houston for my cousin’s wedding this past December, my cousin who I hadn’t seen in several years, my cousin who (I realized about 10 minutes into the service) was “born again” (a level of devotion not really found in my family #understatement). This is to say that, heading home the next day, I was already of a mind to be surprised by people.

The flight home was nothing special. I like to sit towards the back of the plane, and I like to get there early so there’s room for my bag in the overhead. I settled in, leaning against the window, half-shutting my eyes, waiting for sleep. Eventually a woman with blonde (almost white?) hair settled beside me, and a young man hugging a backpack and listening to music took the aisle. A quick text to my wife: “I LOVE YOU!” The plane taxied, took off, sleep found me.

I awoke from my nap, an hour still to go before landing. There’s that moment when you first open your eyes, when your mind is trying to reconcile your surroundings before sleep with their current state. And something caught my eye.

Now I consider myself a decent man, an honest man. But since my daughter’s birth, I’ve been taken by a new anxiety; and in this moment, my head leaning against the hull of the plane, a woman with blonde almost white hair and a red blouse sleeping next to me, next to her was… a black backpack in an empty seat. A flicker, but nothing to think twice about. But 15 minutes later, and still, an empty seat; 45 minutes later, and we were preparing for landing and still no one; and I found myself seized with this inexplicable fear. I found myself glancing up and down the aisle looking for even a glimpse of this man in a black hooded sweatshirt and can headphones, a man with olive skin who sat there on the aisle as we were taking off but was nowhere to be found and it was all I could do not to reach over and grab that bag and yank it ope—

A month earlier, men with guns and suicide vests had walked through the streets of Paris killing 130 people.

I think of myself as an honest man, decent, fair. And yet, there I was, overcome by paranoia, shutting my eyes and thinking of my daughter. I think I held my breath until we reached the gate.

I chose OTHELLO for my Cal Shakes debut, in part because of the climate of racial injustice across our country–what better play to explore the ravages of white envy in a politically correct era, capturing the subtle and not so subtle extremism that surfaced with and has lingered after Obama’s election? Iago, career soldier, working class, a good and decent man who has opportunity “stolen” from him by a Black man; but who re-commits himself to this general, this friend, only to once more be passed up for a younger man, perhaps even another Black man.

But something else happened after arriving home from Houston: the political rhetoric shifted. And in this post-ISIS climate, the quintessential outsiders revealed themselves. Othello the Black Man became once more Othello the Moor, the Muslim, the stranger in a strange land, who is surrounded by fearful glares and who has compromised himself to participate in this community, and who can never fully trust anything–even love.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It steals our will, but it also bestows permission to do things, to think things, we would never otherwise consider. It feeds on our flaws, it teases them into the open, it lays them naked before us. My OTHELLO will be a consideration of this, of the daily compromises we make to co-exist in a place with others who are not like us, of the manner in which those compromises might eat at our insides, revealing themselves as fear, as rage, as hope, as desire, as paranoia, as faith. This tragedy does not reside in just one man, one marriage, but rather in all of us, even the most honest of us.

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Tickets on Sale for Cal Shakes Gala

City View at Metreon“O Brave New World, That has such people in’t!” – William Shakespeare, The Tempest

With the arrival of our new Artistic Director Eric Ting coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Bruns, we have a lot to celebrate!

Make plans to join the fun at our 21st Annual Gala on Saturday, March 12, 2016 at City View, on the top floor of the Metreon in downtown San Francisco. You can participate in our gala either by attending in person or by sponsoring an artist or community partner to attend.

This exciting event is a little more than a month away – we can’t wait to share all of the details of the night’s festivities. You will be able to bid on exciting new auction items like a glass-blowing lesson and party for you and your closest friends at Glassybaby in Berkeley, or a trip to New York to catch all of the hottest plays on Broadway.

You will be delighted by two different secret performances that will tickle your funny bone. Indulge in our new menu, provided by our new caterer, Grace Street Catering.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks to preview more of the auction items and find out more about the delicious food and entertainment you’ll enjoy.

For tickets, visit http://calshakes.org/galatickets.

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Seeing’s Believing!

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

by Philippa Kelly

How can we know our minds when appearances keep on changing? And how can we judge appearances when our minds keep on changing?

How we speak is as unreliable as what and how we see. This is one of the great mysteries of living that Shakespeare addresses repeatedly in his plays, sometimes (as with Othello) with dark intensity, and at others (as with Much Ado) with somersaulting levels of hilarious confusion. In Much Ado, characters are forever mishearing each other from behind hedges, not to mention mistaking each other’s motives from under bedroom windows. And when the lower-class Dogberry and his associates try to inform Duke Leonato of a gulling trick that has awful consequences, Leonato dismisses them as mistaken, well-disposed fools. Not for the first time, Shakespeare shows those unversed in the niceties of language as nonetheless possessing a truth that their so-called “betters” fail to understand. This theme reverberates in the tale of the soldier Benedick and Leonatos’ niece Beatrice (surely Shakespeare’s most expert wordsmiths!), who nonetheless find the truth of their love when their friends use words to trick them. Yet, much as our ears and eyes might fool us, the paradox of living is that we have only these same ears and eyes to rely on.

“Give me the ocular truth,” we’ll hear Othello cry in the fourth play of our season, as he monsters his imagination with the very same Cassio on whose behalf Desdemona advocates so fervently: ‘if he be not one that truly loves you… I have no judgment in an honest face’. Desdemona’s pleas ring out with dramatic irony: she knows nothing of Othello’s fears that a two-faced Cassio has made him a cuckold. It’s the human mind, it seems, that shapes what we see and how we judge – and there’s a perilous [eye]rony in that.
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Artistic Director Eric Ting announces Othello as the fourth show of our 2016 Season!

TK as Iago and Billy Eugene Jones as Othello in Cal Shakes' 2005 production of Othello.

Bruce McKenzie as Iago and Billy Eugene Jones as Othello in Cal Shakes’ 2005 production of Othello. Photo by Kevin Berne.

By Eric Ting

Change is in the air.

I certainly felt it, walking into the Cal Shakes’ offices for the first time as Artistic Director. I’ve felt it with each new patron I’ve met; all of you filled with a passionate sense of why you join us at the Bruns every summer. I feel it when I imagine picnicking in the groves with my wife and new daughter amongst friends like you. Change is in the air and I am exhilarated by all the possibilities that lie ahead of us.

And yet: Some things remain the same. This is what we count on in the theater—that stories centuries old should ring as true today as they did when the words were first uttered. We trust in that truth. It lives in Much Ado’s breathless battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick; in the aching sense of what might have been that haunts Fences’ Troy Maxson; in the joyous comedy of You Never Can Tell that leaps from the accidental Clandon family reunion; and in the timely, immediate, essential tale of Shakespeare’s most famous Moor.

I am thrilled to announce Othello as our final Main Stage production of the Cal Shakes 2016 season and my directorial debut at the Bruns. My vision for Cal Shakes reveres the old plays; but makes room for—not so much the new, but rather—the now. As with many of you I’m sure, I’ve been disturbed by the extreme rhetoric flooding our airwaves, our social media, and our communities, as the ever-present fear of the other—the outsider—grows more manifest by the day. In choosing to represent our Othello as not just Black but Muslim, we hope to confront the rising atmosphere of Islamophobia in our communities, both through the production and aligned with a series of civic dialogues across the Bay Area.

Stripped down to the barest elements of the live theater – actors, audience, magnificent language – we hope the play will reverberate anew with urgency in today’s political climate. We have big plans in mind for the 25th anniversary of Cal Shakes at the Bruns. I look forward to meeting you!

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A Trip Down Memory Lane: Our 2015 Season in Review

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It’s that time of year again: time to collect and reflect. We here at Cal Shakes like to do that in slideshow form. Here are some of the wonderfully dramatic, down-right hilarious, and transcendingly beautiful moments  from this past year including a swaggeringly drunk Catherine Castellanos, the frighteningly fabulous Danny Scheie and Liam Vincent, a luminous Tristan Cunningham, and a tortured Anthony Heald. Click here to enjoy this trip down memory lane, and here’s to an even better 2016 with our new artistic director Eric Ting!

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Photo Diary: The Tempest Tour

Photographs by Sonjhai Meggette.

Cal Shakes’ All the Bay’s a Stage tour of The Tempest recently stopped at a residential hotel in the Tenderloin where Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing (DISH), an organization that provides housing for San Franciscans who suffer from serious health issues, gathered audience members from that building as well as surrounding SROs. Below is a beautiful photo diary by Sonjhai Meggette of the cast—which includes Amy Lizardo, Rafael Jordan, John R. Lewis, Tristan Cunningham, Catherine Castellanos, Carla Pantoja, Patrick Kelly Jones, and Liam Vincent—and the audience, which at these intimate performances are almost intertwined. To experience what Chad Jones of Theater Dogs calls “stripped down theater at its best” click here to purchase tickets for the public performances of The Tempest at the Oakland Museum of California.

The Tempest runs Thurs-Sun at OMCA through Nov. 22. Click here for $20 tickets.

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