Actor Spotlight: Interview with James Carpenter

Interview: James Carpenter on Transitioning from Mamet to Shaw and his Twenty-Six Year Career at Cal Shakes

By Aliya Charney

James Carpenter, who plays Alfred Doolittle in PYGMALION.

In 1988, James Carpenter made his debut on the Cal Shakes stage (then called “Berkeley Shakespeare Festival,” its performance space then John Hinkel Park in Berkeley) as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part 1. Pygmalion (directed by Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone) marks his 30th production for Cal Shakes. Pygmalion is not Carpenter’s first time working with our Artistic Director. Moscone was a directing intern at Berkeley Rep in the early 90’s when Carpenter was a core company member. “Even then I knew he was going places,” said Carpenter of Moscone.

Aside from the location and name, how has Cal Shakes grown over the past 26 years? According to Carpenter, now a Cal Shakes Associate Artist, Cal Shakes “has become a national force. You can see the growth with every season because we are constantly reinventing ourselves here. It’s no longer just Shakespeare but American theater and world theater. For a season ticket holder this gives a well-rounded, theatrical experience.”

Hot on the heels from performing in David Mamet’s American Buffalo at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, Carpenter joins the cast of Pygmalion as Alfred Doolittle, the outspoken yet well-intentioned father of Eliza Doolittle. Perhaps no greater contrast exists in the theater than between Mamet and Shaw. (Carpenter describes American Buffalo as a “high voltage piece of danger.”) To smooth out his exceptionally quick transition from Mamet’s contemporary America to Shaw’s Edwardian London, Carpenter revealed that he would recite his monologues from American Buffaloin a Cockney accent. This allowed him to seamlessly transition from one piece to the next while simultaneously discovering the differences between his two wildly contrasting characters.

James Carpenter as Teach in AMERICAN BUFFALO at Aurora. Photo by David Allen.

Discovering Alfred Doolittle is an ongoing process for Carpenter. In the beginning of the rehearsal process, he sat down with the text, piecing together Alfred’s world view and “wrapping [his] head around it.” Then, Carpenter applied this worldview to his scenes to give them a rough shape. “[Alfred] just wants to get by for the moment…[he’s] never planning too far ahead for the future,” he said.

Carpenter sees Alfred Doolittle as “the everyman’s voice” whom Shaw writes as a “counterpoint to Eliza’s story.” Just like Eliza, Professor Higgins creates a new Alfred Doolittle by the end of Act V, although Carpenter sees his character’s transformation as not a “conscious creation” like Eliza’s, but rather, an unintentional outcome of Higgins’ careless regard towards others. Doolittle is obsessed with happiness, and happiness, for him, emerges from having no responsibilities. Doolittle’s transformation forces him to take on unwelcome dependability and charity; the burden of the middle class, as Doolittle sees it, is living for others, not yourself.

Carpenter as Alfred Doolittle in PYGMALION. Photo by Jay Yamada.

On the rocky, estranged relationship between Alfred and his daughter, Eliza, Carpenter holds a bold theory: “I suspect Eliza is his favorite child,” Carpenter states, because “he has a delicacy in regards to telling her that he never married her mother. He doesn’t want to ruin her reputation or her life [being born out of wedlock]. [This] means that he cares for her…but she’s got his mouth and [he] could never make her shut up.” That’s where the true anger and resentment stems from: their similarities. Their complex relationship comes to a head in Act V, when Eliza begs her father to rescue her from Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering. Instead of rescuing his daughter, Doolittle leaves her to fend for herself between the two men. Carpenter grapples with Doolittle’s decision. “Is he abandoning Eliza or granting her independence?” Carpenter questions. “This is an example of one of those moments, as an actor, when you really have to pay very close attention to detail and think analytically. The answer may not come until opening night.”

See James Carpenter on stage for Pygmalion, which runs from July 30–August 24 at the Bruns Amphitheater. Buy tickets online or call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

 

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Beginning Again: The Love Balm Institute

By Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator in Residence Arielle Julia Brown

The Love Balm Project is a theater of testimony workshop series and performance based on the testimonies of mothers who have lost children to violence. The Love Balm Project currently collaborates with six mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last summer, with support from the Triangle Lab, we hosted site specific performances in the spaces where the young men—sons of the mothers—had been murdered. These performances took place on street corners, in front of homes, at a BART station, in front of a church, on the porch of a mothers’ home and on a MUNI train platform. These performances met the communities in the spaces that haunt them and the spaces we learn to forget. Naturally, it was in these spaces that more mothers and community members began to inquire about getting involved in this work. Mothers approached me after performances, family members took my contact information to give to other mothers they knew.

This leads me to the beginning of my current investigation with The Triangle Lab. How is it that a grassroots arts collective recreates itself? How do we move in full awareness of our limited capacity as facilitators and yet be open and permeable for new knowledges, new community members, new stakeholders? What does it look like structurally to have an open space for all mothers to find and make space in their neighborhoods to tell and witness their stories? I am in deep search of what these answers could look like for the Love Balm Project. The only place I knew to begin is with the Love Balm workshop series. The workshop series features 4 workshops for mothers and community artists to gather together and perform, witness and creatively write their testimony. So I began to imagine in the middle of last year’s site specific investigation, what would it look like to have an institute to train other artists, mothers and cultural workers in how to facilitate a Love Balm Workshop series or group. In the Love Balm Institute we collectively questioned this work, reviewed and adapted the curriculum, witnessed mothers’ testimonies, explored applied theatre methods including original games, playback theatre, drama therapy and theatre of the oppressed and finally strategized about workshopn structures and funding models. The Love Balm Institute was supported by The Triangle Lab, Eastside Arts Alliance and The Akonadi Foundation. The institute took place from May 23rd–25th in Oakland.

Several amazing cultural workers attended the institute. The cultural workers live and work with communities throughout the state of California. Please see their bios below to see what kind of work they are doing in communities already. Each of them have studied and taken their training from the institute to start planning love balm workshops and community circles for the communities they work and live in. The cultural workers will facilitate the Love Balm workshop series with mothers, LGBTQ youth, young men and women of color who have both perpetrated and survived acts of violence. Check out their projects below alongside their bios. I will continue to post updates as their projects progress.

 

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Event Planning 101: My Internship Crash Course

by Sarah Lamb

Opening night is a big deal for theaters, of course. It’s the first time all the artistry and hard work is shown to the public. (Aside from previews, open rehearsals, and the other promotional events along the way.) Other parts of opening night also include audience enrichment, thanking producers and donors, and the after party. The opening night after party is a tradition among professional theaters, and is a way to celebrate the work and the actors with family, friends, staff, and audience members.

In less than two weeks of working at Cal Shakes, I found myself scurrying around at the Bruns in a quiet attempt to set up the after party for The Comedy of Errors. I’m a Special Events intern from central Wisconsin and go to school at Columbia College Chicago for Arts Management. I arrived in the Bay Area less than two weeks before opening night, and during those weeks I absorbed myself into the planning process. In addition, since this internship is part time, I have the time to explore a beautiful city that I have never visited before.

The first couple days of the internship were exactly what anyone expected: orientation and filling out paperwork, introductions to so many people all you have are a jumble of faces and names as you try to piece them together, pretending you remember all of those names for about a week, and tours and instructions no one actually expects you to remember. But bonus points if you do. For me, I was also trying to remember my way home, what bus to take, and where exactly the grocery store was. I live in the intern apartment with three other girls, so the mad dash to learn the area was added to trying to learn the company.

Before I knew it, I was finding myself settling into the company. I was putting names to faces (finally) and could get myself home and fed without needing to ask for directions. If I’m being honest, I was expecting to have to do traditional internship tasks, like making coffee, fighting with the copier, and all that goes with those clichés. On the contrary, I was sitting in on meetings, giving input, and collaborating to create multiple successful, enriching events.

Opening night was filled with a lot of logistics. I arrived shortly after 4:00 to set up the Producer’s Dinner – one of Cal Shakes’ way of thanking the people who make each production possible, and then constantly doing something else. By the time I finished one task, another was on the list to be completed as soon as possible. It’s fast-paced, sudden, hectic, and exactly what I love.

When you’re planning an event, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a large amount of people having fun and enjoying the work and thought you put into it, which is precisely what the reaction was to our Carnival of Errors. Between the jugglers, the dress up photo booth, the atmosphere created, and the food, the guests were happy and enjoying themselves.

Between starting a new position, meeting people I’m sure I will continue to be friends and contacts with, exploring a new city, participating in area festivals, and producing a successful event, I have had an amazing first two weeks in the Bay Area.

 

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The Comedy of Errors Grove Talk

Click on the arrow below to listen to a podcast of a pre-performance The Comedy of Errors  Grove Talk, presented by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. The Comedy of Errors runs through July 20, 2014.

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Cal Shakes Conservatory Performances 2014

It’s that time of year again, when Cal Shakes Conservatory students, kids and teens, put together all they’ve learned from their Teaching Artists to create a wonderful production. Come out and support our campers by coming to see their shows on July 25th and 26th, in Orinda and Oakland. All the information you need is on the flyers below.

Click here to learn more about Cal Shakes’ work in schools.

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The Dramaturg’s Task: Cost-“cutting” and art-making

As Shakespeare put his text together for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1590s, did he have any actor friend with whom he talked over his thoughts and staging choices? We know that the actors themselves weren’t permitted a copy of his script—they received only their own lines and those immediately preceding and following their time on-stage. At the early stages of his career, Shakespeare didn’t have a stable company of actors. But I am quite sure that as the 1590s progressed, he became very close to his actors: indeed, two of them, Heminge and Condell, curated all of his plays seven years after his death into a full edition (they left out Pericles, either because they felt that he didn’t write enough of it for it to be representative of his work, or because they didn’t like it: we will never know. But the play has since been reinstated into Shakespeare’s Complete Works). Who was Shakespeare as he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, somewhere between 1594 and 1598? We know that he lived away from his wife and family, who were settled in Stratford. We know that his son Hamnet died in 1596. But as an artist—perhaps like every great artist—much of his mind is opaque, left to our conjecture, its shifting shapes glimpsed by reflections caught in his work. In this sense, A Midsummer Night’s Dream—part of whose subject is reflection, what we see of ourselves in others – “stages” the mirror-like nature of any artistic communication. “The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye…” I love this image because it suggests the translucence of art: like a pool of water, art changes with the casting of a single stone or the movement of light across its surface.

As the invisible wheels turn in preparation for our rehearsal for the upcoming production staged by Shana Cooper, I am now beginning on one of the most enjoyable front-end tasks of dramaturgy: sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of Peet’s tea, with Shana’s draft of our script laid out in front of me (Arden text), and two separate editions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on either side. The dramaturg’s task is to work very slowly through the draft, looking at each of the suggested cuts and seeing whether the storyline remains intact, both in terms of on-stage plotline and thematic development. So, for instance, Shana’s first cut is one of two and a half lines in Theseus’ first speech, in which she has suggested leaving out his image about the wait for his upcoming marriage being like waiting impatiently for a moneyed maiden aunt to die. Instead of

 Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue,

We now have

 Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes!

I think this transition is seamless and works well: the major thing it excises is the sense of materialism planted so early in the play via Theseus’ image of love. In this play, over and over again, we are asked, “what is the cost of love?” To our pride? To our hearts?  To our lives, even? There is plenty of material that brings up this theme as the first scene develops, so I don’t think we lose anything by dropping these few lines here.

By leaving out this initial very specific image of the aged dowager withering out a young man’s revenue, there is also the possibility to release a stark question: what is the dynamic between Theseus (the conqueror, the warlord, who has brought home his latest spoil of war, Hyppolita, the Amazonian queen, claimed in his most recent pillage), and Hippolyta herself? We know that Theseus eagerly awaits his wedding to Hippolyta—and the pared-down opening lines accentuate this eagerness. But in losing the materialism of the dowager image, they also throw out to the actors and the artistic team an open question: who is this character, Theseus? Has he fallen head-over-heels with Hippolyta, his own surrender to love somewhat ironically overturning his actual material victory in war? And who is Hippolyta? Does she come willingly? Or is she desperate and in pain, torn from the world of warfare in which she was the heroic queen? Or is she stoic, a veteran of war, understanding that she is to pay the price of defeat?? All of these questions may come up in the rehearsal hall when we meet on August 3.

You can live the Dream from Sept 3rd—Sept 28th. Tickets for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

About the Author: 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).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org,.

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Feast on The Dinner Project

This summer at the Bruns, we’ve created a new space called the Story Hub where we’re inviting audience members to share their stories. Shakespeare’s stories may be on stage, but your stories are invited to live alongside them through the interactive exhibits you’ll find in the Story Hub. Here you have the chance to share your answers to the prompts and learn more about your fellow audience members by reading theirs.

At every performance, you’re invited to take part in the Dinner Project, a season-long exploration of the ways our family conversations relate to the larger world. Inspired by Raisin in the Sun’s juxtaposition of one family’s struggles against the challenges of the world around them, this project imagines family dinners as the place where our private and public worlds intersect.  Not to mention that many of our audience members enjoy dinners together at the Bruns!

During Raisin In The Sun patrons responded to the question “What does your family talk about at the dinner table?” Check out some of our favorites below!

“Now that I’m home from school for a hot minute, I spend my free after-noons prepping gourmet dinners for my parents. At the table I’ll often brag about my methods. My parents love it.”

 “”Life, Books, Psychology, Politics, Food, Police Brutality, Education, Relationships, School to Prison Pipeline, Income -> lack of it, Money, Racism/Social Justice, Violence, Poverty, Values, War, Implicit Bias, People of Color”

“No cats on the table! Poor turnout for primary election. Is it time to hire a life planner? How does King Lear speak to us? Is there more wine?”

“New movies”

 Though the theme of The Dinner Project will be consistent throughout the season, the question and way of sharing will change. Visit The Story Hub during Comedy of Errors and contribute to our newest prompt: “Share a secret or surprise that someone revealed to you over dinner.” Maybe your story will be featured on our blog!

About the author: Regina Fields is a Triangle Lab intern and a local actress.

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Ask Philippa: “Pygmalion” Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about Pygmalion, which runs July 30–August 24. Tickets on sale now.

Pygmalion, perhaps George Bernard Shaw’s most renowned play, concerns the playful plight of phonetics Professor Henry Higgins and penniless flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he takes under his tutelage. Poor Eliza is reduced to a bet between aristocrats who believe they can pass her off as one of their own. This scheme leaves plenty of room for Shaw’s signature social commentary on the British class system and the relationship between language, class, and power.

Many of us might know the characters of Pygmalion from its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady; however, it is worth noting that artists and directors have struggled against Pygmalion’s lack of predictable romance for a century (since it debuted in 1914). Some writers think this may be why Pygmalion is still “underperformed”:

A hundred years on from that first production, the ending of Pygmalion continues to be a sticking point. It stands as an unspoken matter of contention between audiences, confidently expecting a romantic resolution of the plot, and most directors who wish to remain true to Shaw’s intentions. And it may help to explain the conundrum of why the play, for all its enduring fame and popularity, remains relatively underperformed today.

Are you going to see Cal Shakes’ Pygmalion?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly
Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

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).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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The Comedy of Errors Production Spotlight: Assistant Director Leah Gardner

Assistant Director Leah Gardner in full clown regalia.

By Aliya Charney

The Comedy of Errors Assistant Director, Leah Gardner, found herself at Cal Shakes this season through none other than our very own Danny Scheie (Dromio of Ephesus and Syracuse) and Patty Gallagher (Merchant, Officer, Courtesan, Abbess). At UC Santa Cruz, Gardner was a student of both Scheie and Gallagher. Gardner served as Assistant Director for many of Scheie’s productions as well as founded a student theater group at Santa Cruz, BarnStorm, through Scheie’s guidance. As a student in Gallagher’s clown class at UCSC, Gardner tapped into her true talent. “Patty pulled me aside one day after class and told me that I was a natural clown. That was truly one of those life-changing moments where everything makes sense.”

Since then, Gardner has been clowning her way through life. Upon moving to Seattle, Gardner joined Pi, a physical clowning troupe, which eventually relocated to San Francisco. Once in the Bay Area, Gardner joined the San Francisco Clown Conservatory to hone her craft, learning more about juggling, acrobatics and clown technique.

This is the first time that Gardner is working with The Comedy of Errors director, Aaron Posner, but she has seen some examples of his work at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, what Gardner describes as a “remarkable” production of As You Like It. “With Aaron, the story is paramount,” she says. “Each choice is made to tell the story in a clear way.” On the topic of clowning, which is prevalent throughout Posner’s version of Shakespeare’s earliest comedy, Gardner jokes that “[Posner] says he doesn’t know what clowning is,” yet he has produced “a very physical, real, simple, clear, honest rendition of the play that works perfectly with the clowning style.”

Gardner admits that “clown” is a loaded word. “Lots of people have different ideas of what it is. But [to me] it’s a very simplistic joy at the very heart of it and at its core. In terms of Aaron’s vision, he talked to us about ‘simple joy’ and I feel like we are seeing that vision.”

On the topic of “dark” comedies, such as The Comedy of Errors, Gardner insightfully reasons that, “there is, in good comedy, a darkness to it [and] looking at this play through the clown perspective is a brilliant way of working through it because all good comedy is rooted in tragedy. Laughter is a way to deal with the darker side of life in a constructive, positive way. The heart of all comedy is tragedy.”

Before beginning rehearsals for The Comedy of Errors in May, Gardner had “very high expectations for the cast…and they have exceeded that. This is…the most fun…I’ve ever had in a rehearsal hall.”

You can join the fun till July 20th! Tickets for The Comedy of Errors are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

For more information about Leah’s clown troupe, Pi, visit: www.piclowns.com.

 

 

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Behind the Seams: An Interview with “The Comedy of Errors” Costume Designer Beaver Bauer

By Aliya Charney

As Antipholus of Syracuse remarks in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the town of Ephesus “is full of cozenage / As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, / Dark-working  sorcerers that change the mind [and] Disguised cheaters.” For costume designer Beaver Bauer, Cal Shakes’ production of The Comedy of Errors is a welcomed challenge. The magic present in Errors differs greatly from other examples of Shakespearean sorcery because the illusions seen on stage are rooted in farce, not enchantment. Thus, the costume design plays a pivotal role in the audience’s involvement and comprehension of the baffling events that transpire on stage.

Ephesus, an ancient port city in Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea, serves as the setting for The Comedy of Errors. On the edge of Asia Minor, Ephesus, at the turn of the last century, was equally influenced by Eastern and Western styles. Therefore, costuming the play, Bauer combines various inspirations to create a unique “East-Meets-West” look. “Ephesus is a place of wonder. The Ephesian world is fun, surprising and different,” she says. Director Aaron Posner described one aspect of the look and feel of Comedy as a “Croatian circus.” To Bauer, this does not mean bright colors and extravagance, but rather, a subtle exotic and quirkiness. According to Bauer, Ephesus is a “nucleus where people pass through”; therefore, the challenge was to create a style that creates a sense of “the familiar within the unfamiliar.” For example, for the twin Antipholi, Bauer dresses them with vests over their robes, what she describes as a “more western, quirky way of styling.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display during The Comedy of Errors rehearsal. Pictured: Nemuna Ceesay (Adriana) and Tristan Cunningham (Luciana). Photo by Jay Yamada.

For the women of The Comedy of Errors, especially the sisters Adriana and Luciana, Bauer cites the upper and royal classes of Asia Minor in the 1920’s. Bauer notes that, during this time period, the men were wearing traditional vestments, but the women were more likely to wear western-styled gowns (i.e. “flapper dresses.”) Bauer incorporates this aspect into her design because, although The Comedy of Errors is “not rooted to a specific time period” it is, very clearly, “rooted in a specific place.” This mix of Eastern and Western fashion perfectly encapsulates Posner’s vision of not interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Another major factor that went into Bauer’s costume design was the notion of currency and economic status, which proves a major theme in The Comedy of Errors. The frequent transfer of money and goods throughout the play allowed Bauer and her team to think creatively about how each character would carry valuable goods and funds, such as in an Eastern money pouch or in a Westernized cummerbund. These small yet significant costume pieces also grant Bauer the opportunity to add dynamic colors and patterns to the existing pallet.

Bauer has worked with all of The Comedy of Errors cast members previously, so she felt like she could predict what the actors would want, and need, from their costumes before rehearsals began. “I held a preconception of what the actors might do with their characters [and] I created looks to accommodate that,” she says. And accommodate she did: “The trick is, you must make sure that the costume does not dictate the actors, but supports them.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Bauer reveals that the greatest challenge in the costume design was adjusting the styles to support “quick changes.” With many actors playing multiple roles on stage, costume changes have to be fast and efficient, especially when an actor switches characters within a single scene. But Bauer embraces these challenges. “We take it as a puzzle—embrace it and nail it. That’s the most fun we have. There are practical considerations that affect our designs, but challenges like these ultimately spark the greatest ideas and most creativity.”

You can see Beaver Bauer’s costumes in The Comedy of Errors, which is playing at the Bruns till July 20th. Get your tickets here!

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