Artistic Learning: Inside and Out

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20161121_105541Cal Shakes’ teaching artists not only teach to students around the Bay Area—they learn how to be better teachers themselves. We strive to create a team of teaching artists that are culturally competent and well equipped to encounter the populations of students we serve, we hold trainings around the following issues/topics:

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Teaching Children on the Autism Spectrum
Child Development and Psychology
Teaching Shakespeare to Elementary and early Middle School students
Teaching Shakespeare to upper Middle and High School students

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20161121_123850According to our teaching artists, the training:

“…really put into perspective a lot of tactics I had already been using in my teaching and helped show me the mechanics of the methods.”

“…[provided] learning techniques to create equitable classroom environments. Thank you for this training.”

“…[gave me] SO MUCH insight into the Autism Spectrum. The trainer made the content very accessible and hands on.”

“…provided a safe space in which to re-assess my teaching approaches. I really appreciate the excellent trainings.”

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We are so proud of our teaching artists’ continual dedication to expanding their knowledge and skills with kids in classrooms and in our Summer Conservatories! Artistic Learning professional development and mentorship programs are part of a two-year initiative funded by the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation.

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Notes from the Road: Othello tour part 4

House manager Jane Eisner joined the crew of Othello on the community tour, and has been keeping notes during every performance. She has written previously about her unique perspective on the audience response to Othello—read on to see how the final performances of the tour went.

See previous Notes from the Road: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Excerpt from House Report 6: Larkin Street Youth Services 10/26/16

Hello all, yesterday we held a performance at Larkin Street Youth Services, a community center that helps at-risk youth with housing, education, employment, health. The space appears to be a converted warehouse with exposed brick and large piping which run across the ceiling.

A combination of twenty-eight youth and adults who worked at the center were in attendance. At first, there were a lot of people getting up and down—but as we got further into the heart of the play people became more attentive and engrossed in the material. By the second act folks were totally hooked and engaged with focus and intensity.

There were a few interesting responses throughout the show. There was clapping at Cassio’s line about not wanting Othello to see him “womaned”—for me, as a woman in the audience and someone who has seen the show upwards of 30 times(!), I finally understood that line: to be seen as “womaned” was to be seen as weak, vulnerable, sensitive. It was an interesting moment to observe.

Yesterday was Lance’s last performance as Cassio. Congratulations Lance and thank you for all of your hard work—it has been a pleasure working with you!

Talkback:

—-Breathe together—-

Thoughts:
“Intense.”
“Twisty.”
“There was no way to prove her innocence.”

“It is [interesting] that Shakespeare wrote about this random act of violence. He could have been writing about any violence we see on the streets here, today.”

“I have a complicated relationship with Shakespeare because of this play. It’s like I’m an actor and this is a play I wish I could enjoy.”

“I feel that you have to learn how to enjoy it. You probably wouldn’t go to see Shakespeare if you didn’t know who he was. I liked how you guys put little bits in the middle. I like the description of the person getting choked out.”

“It’s a lot.”
“It’s hard to be same once you watch it.”

“There’s a play Red Velvet that I saw—I was a zombie after. It was really well done and so is this—this is everything that theater is and it’s a story about someone like me, who isn’t, because the decision that he is about to make is one that the character Othello is about to make but indirectly.” 

“It makes me think a little bit about this election. How much have we changed in 500 years?”

“Trickery!”
“Iago is a scapegoat and we’re kinda complacent.”
Jim: “Iago wasn’t born evil. He was led to evil.”
Lance: “What would you do if baby Hitler were in the room? I would hold baby Hitler and kiss baby Hitler and maybe baby Hitler wouldn’t be the Hitler we know today.”

 Excerpt from House Report 7: Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California 10/28/16

Hello everyone, last night we held a performance at the Islamic Cultural Center in Oakland, free and open to the public. The venue was gorgeous and felt sacred with stained glass windows and high ceilings with intricate carvings. With 125 people in attendance there was a large crowd waiting outside of the doors before opening, and they filled nearly all of the seats inside. The feeling in the room felt urgent—folks were ready to see the show and commit to its intensity.

One woman, a teacher, shared her experience of reading Othello in school as a student twenty years ago. She explained that as a student, the play wasn’t taught to her in a way that acknowledged the main themes she noticed during our performance—it opened her eyes to the racism, jealousy, and white supremacy laced throughout the play.

Kaiso replaced Lance last night as Cassio. He did a wonderful job all around and received many laughs when he crushed an empty water bottle against his head after chugging it during the party scene. Kaiso did not perform pre-show standup. Cassio’s jokes during Act 1 sat heavier in the room in comparison to other performances.

The audience was eager to share what was on their minds during the talkback. In fact, we had a 16-minute talkback as opposed to our regular ten minutes. Many folks acknowledged the white supremacy they saw in the show, a term that hadn’t come up too much for previous audiences.

The night was powerful and many actors remarked on how special it felt to perform in space that held so much beauty.

Talkback:

“Hyper masculinity and honor killings—theme of men and women relationships.”
“Manipulations playing on someone fears and doing their will.”
“Pride and you can’t see past it.” 

“There’s so many different ways during the play the white and the black racial issue [surfaces]—there was so much anger around his position and Othello’s position—all of that came from a high level of anger and racism—he’s living in the white supremacist world and its just tears him apart.”

“Cal Shakes opened the season with Much Ado and I [love how] this echoes it between a comedy and tragedy: the book ends is such a powerful ending to the season.”

“I hated that Iago used the system to do all of that. The fact that it wasn’t a tragedy that Desdemona dies but it became a tragedy when we see that she was wronged. That makes me so angry.” 

“What does it mean for intergenerational lives to exist?”

“What struck me the most is the matter-of-fact nature of the racism. It’s only [mentioned] a few times by the racist characters themselves and then it’s just an every day thing that’s going on. And Othello doesn’t acknowledge it. The dichotomy within him; here he is a general and at the same time he is helpless in love and has no control.”

Excerpt from House Report 8:
Rainbow Community Center at Olympic High School 10/29/16

Hi everyone, we wrapped up the Othello community tour with a show in partnership with the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County (RCC) at Olympic High School. RCC seeks to build community and promote well-being within the LGBTQA community.

With 32 people in attendance, we had a personal show with an engaged audience, many of whom were moved to tears by the end of the performance. One man, a long-time Bruns patron, proclaimed:

“This was the 6th time I’ve seen Othello—I am over 90—I was never as moved as I was today. I have never seen this strong a performance. I have come to Cal Shakes before and this time I missed Othello, so I came here and I am so glad I did because this small group made it much more powerful and intimate…I am so moved, I hope you realize how much of an impact you have.”

This comment was greatly appreciated by the cast. Aldo thanked the man and called him a “godsend,” and explained that on the very first night of Othello at the Bruns, one patron stated during the talkback that this was the “worst Othello” he’d ever seen. Since that opening night, the cast reflected on this negative comment and discussed it during many pre-show moments. Aldo explained the poetic justice of this perfectly timed comment. It was definitely an uplifting and special way to end the final show. The cast brought everything to the table on Saturday and were received by an audience who left inspired.

Talkback:

“Painful.”
“Sad.”
“Horrified.”
“Sad what men can do to each other.”
“Powerful.” 

“It’s confusing how easily Othello changed his mind about Desdemona.”
“Why do you think he did that?”
“Because women are discounted.”
“Because he was insecure.” 

“You know the old saying: power corrupts: well it’s true as hell today.”

“Hella intense. It was awesome. At first my brain was thinking abut little political things about how it’s disturbing — and it’s disturbing because any of us can be influenced, anyone can be blinded. Humans are emotional creatures, and I think its so disturbing because anyone can manipulate anyone. If someone loves and trusts you, you can manipulate them. We choose not to because we care—but you can. This can happen to anyone.” 

Thank you everyone. It has been a joy to work with you all!

Until next time,

Jane

 

 

 

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Othello, night after night: a House Manager’s perspective

by Jane Eisner

As the Cal Shakes House Manager, I’m at the Bruns for most performances. My job is to “host the party” for Cal Shakes—make sure people know where to go, where to sit, and that they have what they need to have a safe and enjoyable night at the theater. Therefore, I have the unusual experience of witnessing every single night of Othello. To some, this may sound like a nightmare (!); to others, a dream come true. For me, it tends to be the latter. Ultimately the best way I can describe my nightly experience at Othello is like being a tightrope walker: I carefully navigate each step of the line straddling two extremes: the lovers and the haters. Whichever way the wind blows, the House staff and I navigate the sea of polarizing opinions we’ve been cast into. No matter what happens during the show, one thing continuously stands true: no night is the same.

What sets Othello apart from any of our other shows this season is the involvement of the audience. The play is directed and designed with a Q&A, or “talkback,” between the audience and the actors during the show itself—in fact, right at a crucial moment. This allows, or rather, requires, the show to change each night. The audience responses are vital to the performance—arguably as important as the actors themselves. While many audience members at this point are already applauding or reeling from directorial choices, it is this factor in and of itself that seems to be the most major plot twist.

At every show I make a point to record the comments being said during the Q&A, as well as personal discussions I have with patrons, so I can report a few of them to staff. Each night, a slew of drastically different opinions creates a new dialogue between individuals in each audience and the actors:

It was marvelous; like a string quartet of a symphony, sparse, clean, and beautiful.

Ive been coming here for 20 years and Ive never seen a worse play.

This transcends pretty much any production.

I have been coming to this theater for over 12 years and I have never been more uncomfortable in this predominately white space and I think it’s incredibly brave of you to take on this race issue.

I’m frustrated because I don’t want this interruption; I want to see the rest of the play.

The jokes were really inappropriate and distracting.

The jokes were chilling and daringthe audience reactions were maybe inappropriate.

To watch you interact as actors and then watch you sit and watch each other on the stage is something you never get and I loved seeing thatto see you as actors and as people.

This is a watershed moment for Cal Shakes.

With each new insight that surfaces we, (as staff members, as theater-goers, as artists, and as people) see and hear a new perspective. We are challenged and put on the spot—there is no phone screen to hide behind to plot a reaction—we are in real time.

Just before the talkback, the audience experiences the climactic scene in which Othello strangles Desdemona. This scene in particular has been a topic of discussion for many audience members. Not only for the obvious reason—that a murder is performed on stage—but specifically because of the director’s portrayal of this violent act.

The onstage scene is shown concurrently through a video camera streaming live onto a screen in the background, while simultaneously the audience hears narration of a medical definition of strangulation. Audience members either love or hate this juxtaposition. Some state that the definition of strangulation is “too factual” while others comment that the definition makes the murder “more real.” To the same effect, patrons have adverse and complimentary reactions to the use of the video camera in this scene. Some find it distracting, while others believe it makes the murder “hard to ignore” and have compared it to videos of police shootings seen on social media. To that end, whatever the commentary may be, it is clear that the director’s choices are provoking thought. It is in these moments of truth, where our personal realities surface.

What the “naysayers” and “yaysayers” can’t convey in words is the palpable energy and emotion that lights them up, performance after performance. As a nightly observer, I’ve noticed that this work makes our audience feel vulnerable, challenged, and often, uncomfortable. It’s putting the personal into theater by forcing us to look at the hard stuff.

As a member of the frontline, I’ll take the good and the bad with a grain of salt and know that with each new night there is an opportunity to grow. #LoveHateOthello, and I’ll see you at the Bruns!

Jane Eisner has been Cal Shakes’ House Manager since the beginning of the 2016 Season. She joined us from The Playwrights Foundation where she was the Associate Producer. She is also a playwright and actor.

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2017 Season Announcement letter from Eric

Greetings, friends,

As we look forward to 2017, I want to share with you my thoughts on our next season’s plays, one I’m confident you’ll find as dynamic and exhilarating a theatrical ride as this summer has been.

We’ll begin our season with As You Like It,that most classic of Shakespearean journeys; from city to forest, director Desdemona Chiang (who most recently directed A Winter’s Tale in Ashland) invites us into her Arden—a place both familiar and wildly unexpected, where everyone is so much more than they seem. We continue our celebration of modern American classics with Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie—a play you think you know, but in the dynamic hands of Chicago-based director Lisa Portes, a comedy of family that’s sure to feel gloriously new. I’m honored to be directing the West Coast premiere of black odyssey, Oakland-native Marcus Gardley’s adaptation of one of Western civilization’s earliest epics, a vividly theatrical tale of homecoming set right here in the East Bay. And finally, Measure for Measure completes our summer with that indelibly funny and simultaneously chilling examination of the body politic and the body personal.

These four plays will form the core of a season rich with opportunities to dive deeply into the issues of our moment, continuing our efforts to build bridges between our art and our communities, between our past and our present, as we forge a classical theater for our 21st century. By subscribing, you’ll be showing your support for this vision, and joining a community of theater-makers committed to celebrating the transformational power of this art, here under the sky and stars, in our classrooms, and in our communities. Won’t you join us next summer? And always feel free to drop me a note—ting@calshakes.org—I’d love to hear from you.


Eric Ting, Artistic Director

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