The Love Balm Project: Form Follows Function

By Arielle Brown

In January of this year, after working as an artist-investigator with the Triangle Lab to explore site specific performances of testimonies from The Love Balm Project, I began a second residency with The Triangle Lab to consider how The Love Balm Project might come to have a more sustained community presence. At the time, Rebecca Novick at Calshakes had been talking with me about the idea of developing a Love Balm Institute. The Institute would be an opportunity for me to train other cultural workers in the methodologies of The Love Balm Project in order to implement them with mothers and other communities in the Bay Area. The inaugural Love Balm Institute took place in may of this year and was a powerful encounter and skill sharing gathering. Still the institute posed more questions than answers. Practitioners who attended the institute brought to light all of the other specific communities that needed work like what the Love Balm Project offered to mothers. As I moved into working on the run of the play at Brava Theatre Center, I filed these questions and concerns. I soon began to think more about the organizational structure of the Love Balm Project. I considered that perhaps I needed to look to other collective organizational structures to inform and get to the root of exactly how I wanted the Love Balm Project to continue on.   Continue reading

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Cal Shakes at the Theatre Bay Area 2014 Awards

It was a wonderful 40th Anniversary surprise to wake up on Tuesday and find that shows from Cal Shakes’ 2014 Season had received accolades at the Theatre Bay Area Awards, held Monday night in San Francisco. While 3 of our 4 main stage shows had cast or staff nominated for awards, we emerged with five awards to five different actors and creative staff:

James Carpenter as Alfred Doolittle. Photo by Jay Yamada.

James Carpenter won “Best Featured Male Actor in a Play” for his role as Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion. (Read an interview with James Carpenter about his role in Pygmalion, including how he rehearsed.)

Danny Scheie won “Best Principal Male Actor in a Play” for his role as the Dromios in The Comedy of Errors.

Andre Pluess won “Best Sound Design” for The Comedy of Errors.

Beaver Bauer won “Best Costume Design” for The Comedy of Errors. (Read our interview with Bauer about her inspiration for the Comedy costume design).

Danny Scheie and Adrian Danzig in The Comedy of Errors. Cal Shakes' Comedy of Errors won awards for direction (Aaron Posner), costumes (Beaver Bauer), sound design (Andre Pluess) and lead actor (Danny Scheie).

Aaron Posner, who won “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing The Comedy of Errors.

And as a bonus, our PR and Marketing Manager Marilyn Langbehn won an award for “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing August: Osage County at Contra Costa Civic Theater.

 

Congratulations to all the wonderful theater-makers in the Bay Area for coming together and making such wonderful work. (69 awards were given last night). And thanks to all our staff for such a great 40th Anniversary Season! We can’t wait to see what fun 2015 will bring.

 

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Announcing The Triangle Lab’s 2014 Artist-Investigators

Clockwise, from top left: Paul Flores, Elizabeth Gjelten, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, and Krista De Nio.

Clockwise, from top left: Paul Flores, Elizabeth Gjelten, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, and Krista De Nio.

In the Triangle Lab, Cal Shakes’ research and development wing, we experiment with ways to bring together theaters, artists, and communities to ignite change. We believe that through deep collaboration, artists and community members can lift up each other’s work—starting conversation, sharing stories, bridging difference, and activating deeper civic participation.

Our Artist-Investigator Project asks artists to lead our investigation into what the performances of the future might look like, and help us discover what happens when the arts are more deeply integrated into community life.

We are delighted to announce this year’s four Artist-Investigators:

Paul Flores working with Causa Justa::Just Cause

Elizabeth Gjelten working DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing)

Krista De Nio working with Berkeley Food and Housing

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga working with Green Life Project/Pathways 2 Resilience

In 2013, we invited ten artists into the inaugural round to conduct projects that investigated new locations for performance and new methods for community collaboration. You can read more about their projects here.

In the 2014 round of the Artist-Investigator program we will be creating partnerships between artists and non-profit organizations to investigate how the skills of theater artists can help address community issues.

Our Hypothesis: Theater artists have key skills that can be deployed outside the rehearsal room to help community organizations advance their missions

Our Desired Outcomes

1. Organizations can demonstrate specific impact from the project in a mission area they’ve identified.

2. This impact is possible with a relatively small budget ($5000) and investment of time by the artist (about 60 hours).

The Projects

Four artists with experience in performance and community engagement were selected via an open call. Each artist will work with one organization to develop a project together. These small-budget projects will be conducted over the course of one year, and documented carefully so they can serve as models for future collaborations between our sectors. Projects will be driven by the needs of the partner organization and will identify what theatrical skills, techniques, and processes will be most useful to that organization. Projects may or may not include public or invited performances.

We’ve begun exploring what kinds of skills these artists might share with their partner organizations, although we don’t know what will arise from these specific collaborations. For example:

As expert storytellers , theater artists can work with staff, clients or other stakeholders to gather, shape and share relevant stories in dynamic and powerful ways.  Stories – written, performed, or online – can animate public interest, influence key decision-makers, and activate public gatherings.

As skilled story coaches , theater artists can work with clients to find their own voices through training in writing and performance.  Clients can be prepared to advocate for themselves by claiming the power of their own stories and taking charge of their own narratives.

As rehearsal experts, theater artists know how to rapidly try, discard, and reinvent solutions to problems we discover.  Artists can work with staff to brainstorm new programming or to address places where discussion is stuck and work with clients to rehearse solutions to life problems.

As trained team-builders , theater artists can offer skill-building workshops in many areas such as team-building and meeting facilitation skills, public speaking, writing, etc.

As event producers, theater artists can help shape the structure and content of events, celebrations, demonstrations, and other public events, helping to make these events more powerful, enjoyable, and memorable.

We’re very excited to be working with these outstanding artists and this range of extraordinary non-profits.  Watch this blog for more updates on this project throughout the year.

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Ask Philippa: 2015 Pre-season Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

The 2014 Season has just barely ended, and already we’re preparing for 2015. We have an incredible array of artists and plays lined up for the 2015 Season, and I can’t wait to see you all tumbling out of the grove next season with your digestibles and into our beautiful amphitheater.

While Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has written a letter about the 2015 Season, here’s a brief overview of the Main Stage season:

Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
May 27–June 21

Director Christopher Liam Moore (Cal Shakes’ Lady Windermere’s Fan) is renowned for being able to delve into comedy, romance, and language with humanity and élan. Now he’s opening our season with Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece of mistaken identity, in which shipwrecked twins navigate across a strange island to find love—and each other.

Life Is a Dream
By Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Translated and Adapted by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Loretta Greco
July 8–August 2

This stunning Spanish Golden Age classic that’s been called “the Spanish Hamlet” tells the tale of a prince imprisoned by his father at birth because of a prophecy. Magic Theatre’s Loretta Greco directs a brilliant translation and adaptation by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Nilo Cruz, who brings urgency and accessibility to Calderon’s mythic, poetic play, where reality and dreams collide in a story of human will battling fate.

 The Mystery of Irma Vep
By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
August 12–September 6

Lady Enid is haunted by the spirit of her husband’s ex-wife, Irma Vep—but that’s just the beginning of her problems. Mummies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other surprise guests pursue the numerous characters played frenetically by only two actors, including the fabulous Danny Scheie in a gender-bending tour-de-force performance. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone (Pygmalion, American Night) takes on Charles Ludlam’s outrageously ingenious comedy.

King Lear
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
September 16–October 11

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s King Lear, an old king asks his daughters to deliver love in return for slices of land. A cataclysmic scene ensues, at the end of which Lear (via hubris? Naivity? The foolishness of age?) is thrust out into the world with almost nothing that’s ever had value to him—without his land, without his familiar duties and prerogatives, and, most importantly, without his most precious daughter. He goes on an epic journey to finally (and fleetingly) experience the redemption of love, and, indeed, the redemption of a self.  Nationally renowned director Amanda Dehnert—whose credits include the groundbreaking 2011 production of Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—directs two-time Tony award nominee Anthony Heald as Shakespeare’s profound tragic hero.

As 2015 draws near, I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for next year. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

—-

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.

Subscribe to the 2015 Season by clicking here, or call 510.548.9666.

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A Night of Fairy Dust and Dancing Queens at the Bruns

This season at the Bruns concluded with a night of dancing, drag queens, fairy wings, and glitter! Friday, September 26th, Cal Shakes hosted a “Find Your Inner Fairy Dance Party” complete with pop-up dancers, gorgeous drag queens, and a costume dance party. Patrons, guest performers, and staff took over the forest grounds in what became a magical night to envelop our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The evening began with dance performances throughout the Bruns grounds. Pop-up dances were choreographed by Dream actor Travis Santell Rowland, with performances by Brianna Anthony, Eric Garcia, Melanie Elms, Parker Murphy, Strobe FEARude Growles, and Travis Santell Rowland (Qween).

 

 

Performance art by Diana Sauce in the plaza.

Some Cal Shakes Patrons even came dressed for the party!

Post show performances by some of the Bay Area’s finest Drag Queens, Kings, and a blessing by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence!

To round out the evening, the plaza was transformed into a magical fairyland complete with glistening lights, costume corner, wings, and magical umbrellas.

Patrons, guest performers, and staff fashioned glitter and wings, while everyone danced the night away to a Fairy Dance Party mix provided by Cal Shakes dancers/choreographers Travis Santell Rowland and Parker Murphy.

Thank you for helping make this a night to remember.

If you’d like to see more photos please take a peek at our Flickr stream. (All photos were taken by Sophie Spinelle.)

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the night. Please email rnovick@calshakes.org with any and all feedback.

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The Understudy Diaries

If you attended a Cal Shakes show this past weekend, you may have seen my face—on our stage. I’m the understudy for Movement Director and actress Erika Chong Shuch, a powerhouse of a woman, and I wound up being called on to play Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people have asked me what this experience was like, and so I thought I would chronicle it into phases.

Phase I: Excitement

After interning all summer at Cal Shakes, I auditioned and was accepted to understudy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was all knock-knees and general excitement, highlighting away in my binder during the first rehearsal and gasping at all the set and costume designs. Understudying allows you to absorb so much information and as a young actress it’s pretty ideal. I get to try on a part without as much of the risk, and see the professionals do their work.

Phase 2: Technical Rehearsal

This was the most fun part of being an understudy for me, where I learned all my lines and wrote down all my blocking. Essentially the expectation is to know everything by Opening Night, and then to have your understudy rehearsal the following Tuesday. Simple enough. I had just finished my internship and so was content to hang around the Bruns all during tech, cracking jokes with cast and crew and being on book when needed. I was so impressed with all the actors, working twelve hour days and being incredibly patient and generous with each other.

Regina Fields and Danny Scheie (Puck) backstage before the show. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 3: Understudy Rehearsal

Finally our time had come! My fellow understudies were chomping at the bit to do their scenes. They were really prepared and ready to finally DO something with all the knowledge they’d been collecting. On the way to rehearsal we all got an email that would change the whole course of our day. Brian, the understudy for James Carpenter (Egeus/Starveling) was going to go on! It was getting real. We spent most of the day doing Brian’s scenes, which meant I only got to walk through one Titania scene once.

Catherine Castellanos (Snout) and I kept joking about how it would be crazy if I had to go on after not getting to do any of my scenes. Good thing that was entirely unlikely. Little did I know…

Phase 4: The Call

Friday morning the unthinkable happened. I received a text message from Karen Szpaller, our stage manager/resident superwoman, saying I should be prepared to go on, and she would let me know as soon as she could. At which point I immediately began to do three things:

1) hyperventilate

2) read my script 500 times

3) cry (just a little).

In order to understand why I would react in such a fashion it’s important to note that I’m a senior in college, who has a few credits mostly accrued while at conservatory in Europe. Cal Shakes is a theater I respect and whose company of staff, crew, and actors I am constantly in awe of. Basically I felt like I was hitting fast forward on getting to do my ultimate dream job.

Karen confirmed that Operation Understudy was a go (she doesn’t call it that, I do, and I’m not sorry about it) and I hit the road around 3pm, reciting Shakespeare all the way.

Regina Fields' understudy debut in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 5: The Trial By Fire

I got to the theater with enough time to warm up, walk the space, and get fitted into a costume before my two hour put-in rehearsal began. A put-in is essentially what it sounds like—putting me into the show. However, anyone who has seen this show with Erika knows: you can’t imitate greatness. So we (and by we I mean Craig, and the fairies; Travis, Parker and Mel), re-choreographed a whole lot, from the top of show fight, to my entrance out of the trap (under the stage) and more.

Everyone was incredibly supportive, including Jonathan Moscone who came to help direct me through some moments and get acquainted with the show. The fairies (Travis Parker and Mel) helped me focus on my job, which was to make everyone else not freak out by appearing calm, knowing my part and just doing the damn thing.

After asserting my warrior dominance as Hippolyta in the first scene, I had a second to look out and had only one thought: “oh my lanta, people”. I don’t even remember saying my first line. What I do remember is the outpouring of love from everyone around me. I felt like I was on an Olympic Rowing Team and we were all going for the gold in one final burst before the finish line: either we all won or we all didn’t make it, and failure was not an option. Coming through the green room door after that first show was the most electrifying feeling in the world. We had done it! We had pulled off this behemoth, beautiful, inspiring show and I quite frankly couldn’t believe I’d gotten to be a part of it.

Phase 6: The Aftermath

I cannot stress enough how much Cal Shakes’ culture of support, love of art, and community helped me to get through this moment. Without all of the words of encouragement from my fellow actors, and the amazing Cal Shakes audience, I never would have found the courage to step out on that stage. Now that Erika is back and more graceful than ever, it feels like even more of a family because we all helped each other through a tough spot. I have nothing but eternal gratuity and respect for everyone involved for helping a young actress to realize her dreams for just a few shows. The best way to articulate how I feel is with a quote from the play:

“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”

Regina Fields and Daisuke Tsuji (Oberon, Theseus) in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

* * *

About the author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.

 

 

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Ask Philippa: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs September 3–28. Tickets on sale now.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins where most comedies end: with the announcement of a wedding. As the curtain rises, Duke Theseus calls for general rejoicing at the news of his impending wedding to the Amazon Hippolyta.  “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriment,” he tells Philostrate, expecting the young folk to readily oblige. But they will not, or they cannot, so hopelessly enmeshed are they in the tangles of their hearts. By the play’s conclusion, however, all will find fulfillment (or at the very least, acceptance), bowing to the wonder of this wedding day. Marriage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more than a note of triumph: it marks the end of a struggle and the beginning of a journey. And all of us who witnesses this play—beautiful, hilarious, even dangerous—bring to it our own flawed hearts. In the confusions of the young lovers, the competitive ambiguities of mature love, and the hilarious malapropisms of the “rude mechanicals: we might see our hopes, dreams, passions, and our laughably regrettable mistakes.

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

Are you going to see our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  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.

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Unconventional Artistry: Fridays in the Grove

By Regina Fields

If you’ve picnicked at the Bruns this season on a Friday evening (as so many of our patrons do), you might have noticed the new Fridays in the Grove show starting at 6:45pm. Inaugurated by Cal Shakes’ community engagement wing, the Triangle Lab, this is a new performance series that takes place before Grove Talks and is designed to showcase new and exciting artists our patrons may not have heard before. Cal Shakes is known for its unconventional spins on the classics, and our audience likes being exposed to the unexpected. Fridays in the Grove does just that—bringing a wide variety of acts ranging from youth poetry, to improv comedy, to eclectic musical acts.

Pictured: Eggplant Casino. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Genre-bending band Eggplant Casino played Fridays in the Grove on July 4th. Eggplant Casino self-defines their genre as “Afro-Latin-Disco-Cabaret,” and they have a wide variety of instruments onstage such as saxophone, viola, and more.

Sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Killing My Lobster is San Francisco’s premiere sketch comedy troupe for 17 years. They brought their outrageous comedy set to the Bruns on July 18th, at the Comedy of Errors pre-show.

Destiny Muhammad playing harp in the Grove. Photo by Jay Yamada.

The Destiny Muhammad Jazz Trio haunted the grove with their delicate  melodies in a Pygmalion pre-show on August 18th. Jazz harpist Destiny Muhammad and her trio filled the hills with delicate and intricate music that had patrons in the next grove clapping in appreciation.

The Living Earth Show. Photo by Jay Yamada.

The Living Earth show performed on July 11th, and was the product of a partnership between Cal Shakes and the Center For New Music. They brought a unique electro-chamber music sound that featured percussion and electric guitar.

Join us up at the Bruns Amphitheater during the run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to see our next four Friday in the Grove performances:

September 5th – Antique Naked Soul: Soulful all-vocal beat boxing and a cappella band.

September 12th – Out Side Show: A curated sampling of performers from the streets, stages, and clubs of the Bay Area drag scene.

September 19th – Center for New Music presents Pet The Tiger: An improvised acoustic collective for invented instruments.

September 26th – Killing My Lobster: San Francisco’s premier sketch comedy troupe.

About the Author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress 

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Pygmalion Grove Talk

Listen to Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s pre-show Grove Talk on Pygmalion.

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Waking the Dream

By Aliya Charney

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of the end of Cal Shakes’ historic 40th anniversary season. This summer alone, our audience has travelled back in time and around the world onstage: from segregated Southside Chicago, to the circus-inspired ancient port city of Ephesus, and now to Edwardian London. In this season alone, the Bruns has reached new heights and hosted a series of transportive and transformative theater. And we’re not quite finished yet.

Enter renowned director (and former Assistant Artistic Director) Shana Cooper, directing the final installment of our regular season, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cooper’s journey with Dream began when she was nine years old and living in Ashland, Oregon. As she sat in on a technical rehearsal for their production, Cooper witnessed what she describes as “a magical moment.” The nine-year-old Cooper watched in awe as a mischievous Puck gracefully climbed atop a tall Elizabethan pillar—and forgot his line. In one swift moment, Puck was transformed form a Fairy to an actor, and when the line was recalled and a colorful comment made, Puck was back again. It is this spirit of transformation, of the subtle differences between what our eyes perceive and what may be lurking just below the surface of reality, that contributed to Cooper’s desire to direct Dream.

A photo of the costume design sketches for Puck, by Katherine O'Neill.

Dream has remained one of Cooper’s favorite plays throughout the years because it serves as a gateway to an unseen world, a glimpse into the characters’–and even the audience’s–subconscious minds. According to Cooper, in Dream, the untamed landscape of the woods, where the lovers flee to and the Fairies live, “is filled with mystery and danger” due to its potential to disturb the status quo. The Athenians live on the outskirts of this liberated wood, and in Dream, we enter into a world that is wild, violent, and dangerous: the world of our subconscious desires–the world of our dreams. As Cooper so rightly states: “within fantasy lurks madness.”

During last Wednesday’s Meet & Greet with the show’s cast and creative team, we learned that Dream will take place in “a world in which the perspective shifts with the dreamer.” This lends itself naturally to the theme of transformation, hopping from one “reality” to the next, as if trapped in someone else’s fantasy. Scenic designer Nina Ball (The Comedy of Errors) joins Cal Shakes once again this season with Dream’s duel set: the oppressive, civilized Athenian landscape, slowly peeled away to reveal a “poetic representation of a forest,” complete with an exploding arch of twigs, sustained–mid-air–by a seeming lack of gravity. By the end of the play, the arch bursts to life, sprouting blossoms that carry over to, and transform, the once-stale Athenian aesthetic.

Dream photo shoot

Erika Chong Shuch, Daisuke Tsuji, and Danny Scheie in the Midsummer Night's Dream photo shoot. Photo by Esther Ho.

Also joining Dream for her second Cal Shakes production this season is Movement Director Erika Chong Shuch (Hippolyta, Tatiana). As Cooper reasons, “this play demands a need for movement and dance to transport us from one world to the next [in order] to tell the story.” In Dream, movement will serve as a vessel to infuse the production with magic. And it is safe to say that Cooper’s vision of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be magical indeed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens September 6th. Buy your tickets online or by calling 510.548.9666.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern and Cal Shakes Patron Services Associate. You might have heard her answering Cal Shakes’ phones, giving Grove Talks before our Shakespeare shows, or in her occasional stints welcoming patrons at the new Welcome Center.

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