Lady Windermere’s Fan Grove Talk

Click on the arrow below to listen to a podcast of a pre-performance Lady Windermere’s Fan Grove Talk, presented by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Lady Windermere’s Fan runs through September 8, 2013.


Romeo & Juliet Grove Talk

Click on the arrow below to listen to a podcast of a pre-performance Romeo & Juliet Grove Talk, presented by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Romeo & Juliet runs through July 28, 2013.


Dispatch #5 from Inside the R&J Rehearsal Hall: Costume Preview

The latest peek inside the Romeo & Juliet rehearsal room from Cal Shakes Blogging Fellow Peter Selawsky.

In a previous post, I summarized the main points raised by set designer Dan Ostling as he discussed director Shana Cooper’s upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to get a sneak peek of Romeo and Juliet’s costumes with costume designer Christine Crook, so today I want to write about (and show some pictures) of that! Based on Cooper’s vision for the production, Crook has tried to create costumes that reflect an edgy, guerilla street-theater aesthetic. Her costumes feature the heavy use of army green, camouflage, hoods, and rough, heavy black boots. Like the set, the costumes will be pared down to what is essential, exposing the actors and the harsh rawness of the story. The actors will wear masks, however, during the dance party at Capulet’s house where the young lovers first meet. While the costumes will be contemporary, the production will showcase an appreciation for distressed and repurposed things, and this will be reflected in the costumes as well as the set. The masks in particular are made entirely from repurposed costume shop stock.

Caught between a world of secret love and a world of violent masculinity, Romeo’s (Dan Clegg) costume contains bohemian as well as “harder” elements. Clegg appears in a denim jacket and rust-colored corduroy pants, with boots, black suspenders and a belt with rose buckle. The costume of Juliet (Rebekah Brockman), with lace dress, veil, and floral garland, is designed to match many of Romeo’s bohemian elements. She also wears a black leather jacket in some scenes. Other male characters, however, disdain romantic accoutrements: As Tybalt, Nick Gabriel wears a dark jacket and leather kilt with black boots; as the less naturally aggressive Paris, he wears a green sportcoat with green vest and green collar. Most hardened and minimalistic of all, Joseph Parks’ Mercutio wears jeans and an olive green shirt with heavy boots and a chain necklace; his Apothecary covers his face with a hooded sweatshirt. Hoods also feature in Dan Hiatt’s reversible costume, allowing for immediate transformations between the Friar and Lord Capulet. Other rapid costume costumes include Arwen Anderson removing her stocking cap and putting on a coat and eyeglasses to switch from Benvolio to Lady Capulet, and Domenique Lozano putting a wool cape over her base costume to become the Prince. As the Nurse, she wears a calico-colored smock over her base costume.

As of this writing, the actors were preparing to start previews on July 3, and in my next post, I’ll talk about watching the cast’s dress rehearsal, and about the evolution of the production now from the start of the process. Romeo & Juliet runs until July 28, and you can order tickets online at the Cal Shakes website.

Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.


Dispatch #4 from Inside the R&J Rehearsal Hall: On Quick Changes and Indispensability

The fourth peek inside the Romeo & Juliet rehearsal room from Cal Shakes Blogging Fellow Peter Selawsky.

In my last post, I wrote about watching the cast of Shana Cooper’s Romeo and Juliet perform their initial run-through of the first half of the play on June 14. Since then, rehearsals have focused entirely on blocking and practicing scenes from the second half; on June 20 I was able to see the first run-through of these scenes in order. Just as before, the speed with which the actors assimilate direction and blocking was remarkable, but I was especially impressed by the emotional depth and fluidity to cast was able to achieve in such a short time.

Condensed to suit a cast of seven, the script brings on the calamities of the second half with a merciless suddenness, creating a strong contrast with the good humor and relative expansiveness of the play until Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths. At the beginning of the play, Romeo has all the time in the world, and doesn’t seem to take the conflicts around him seriously. In its early stages, the play allows for pleasurable digressions and spectacles such as Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech or the Capulets’ party. By contrast, the second half is nightmarish, sped up and out of control with confrontations and miscommunications escalating in rapid succession. After the brief final moments between the lovers near the beginning of the second half, circumstances force them apart and then unite them in death.

As in the first run-through, the pace and logistics of the production require actors to make instantaneous costume changes in front of the audience. Arwen Anderson wears a stocking cap when appearing as Benvolio; we in the audience see her become Lady Capulet by putting on a coat and eyeglasses several times during the play. Perhaps most notably, Dan Hiatt becomes Lord Capulet after a scene talking to Romeo as the Friar; later, Hiatt has two consecutive scenes with Juliet, one as the Friar, one as Capulet. I’ll be writing more about these quick costume changes, and about the costumes in general, in my next post.

At least in this first run, Hiatt’s performance as Capulet was less tempestuous than one familiar with the play might expect. Rather than merely ranting, Capulet reacts with a mixture of controlled rage and exasperated confusion upon discovering that his daughter does not share his wishes for her future. In general, Hiatt’s Capulet gives the sense of a man who is not used to being out of control, and now, therefore, doesn’t know what to do. At the same time, his genuine care for his daughter is apparent, and seems to be confirmed by his anger. All this is re-emphasized in the scene in which the Nurse and parents believe they have found Juliet dead in her bed, as Capulet’s orders—“All things that we ordained festival/Turn from their office to black funeral:/… And all things change them to the contrary”—sound like his determination to take control of the tragedy before even possessing the ability to process it.

With such a small ensemble, each member is indispensable, and all have memorable moments in the second half. Dan Clegg is a highly likeable Romeo and Rebekah Brockman brings a quiet maturity to the role of Juliet; the leads have excellent chemistry together and their shared scenes are delightful. Domenique Lozano (the Nurse, Prince) has a memorable discovery of Juliet’s apparently lifeless body. Nick Gabriel, Tybalt in Act 1, returns to play another foil for Romeo, Juliet’s intended husband Paris; Joseph J. Parks, Mercutio in Act 1, returns as the Apothecary.

Romeo and Juliet begins previews at the Bruns Amphitheater on July 3, opens July 6, and runs through July 28. Tickets are available at the Cal Shakes website.

Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.


Dispatch #3: First Half Run-Through

Cal Shakes Blogging Fellow Peter Selawsky continues to blog from inside the Romeo & Juliet rehearsal room.

Arwen Anderson plays Lady Capulet and Benvolio.

As rehearsals for director Shana Cooper’s upcoming Romeo and Juliet continue, the production is coming together and the process is intensifying. The work the actors, directors, and crew have been doing was apparent on the afternoon of June 14, as the cast performed a full run-through of the first half of the play. After over a week of watching individual scenes blocked and worked in slow detail, I was impressed to see the unexpected fluidity and lively pace of the first half as a whole. The actors have already found many exciting ways to engage with the audience and the physical space surrounding them and, as someone who’s not used to observing this sort of process, it’s been fascinating to see how quickly the cast members experiment with choices of movement and line interpretation. Many of the transitions revolve around finding the most fluid transition from a moment of love or humor to a moment of danger or violence.

It’s also been fun to see the actors, many of whom are playing three parts, switch between characters without ever leaving the stage and even, in some cases, in the middle of a scene. For example, some sequences or transitions require both Benvolio and Lady Capulet (both played by Arwen Anderson) or Dan Hiatt (both played by Dan Hiatt) at different points. Letting the audience see quick costume and character changes calls attention to the cast as constituent parts of a resourceful and flexible unit, playing roles as needed to best tell the story. Without spoiling any details, I can say that director Shana Cooper and the cast have come up with several creative solutions to the sorts of logistical problems that come with a small cast. If what I’m seeing at this point in rehearsal is a good indication, audiences will be impressed with the versatility and energy of the cast, and entertained and moved by the play.

The run-through would not have been possible without the hard work the cast has been putting in with movement coach Erika Chong Shuch and fight choreographer Dave Maier. Although both the fight and dance scenes were rehearsed at half-speed during the first run-through, the sequences are now fully blocked and the cast is becoming increasingly comfortable with them. With the production’s X-shaped stage, spacing choices are a major consideration.

Much of the blocking leading up to the deadly duel between Mercutio, Tybalt, and Romeo is designed to emphasize the danger of direct confrontation. For the beginning of the fight, Maier and Cooper carefully consider how far apart Mercutio and Tybalt should be in each moment, whether or not they can touch and how, when and where they should circle each other, and what specific lines or moments create specific motivation for escalation.  The result is a memorable fight that creatively utilizes the space and surrounding materials.

Romeo and Juliet opens at the Bruns Amphitheater on July 3 and runs until July 28. Tickets are available at the Cal Shakes website.

Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.



Dispatch #2 from the R&J Rehearsal Hall: Repurposing, Re-creating

Cal Shakes Blogging Fellow Peter Selawsky continues to blog from inside the Romeo & Juliet rehearsal room.

In my last post, I summarized the main points raised by director Shana Cooper as she discussed her upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet with Cal Shakes staff. Today, I want to take a closer look at how her general vision for the play is being reflected in the details of the production’s set design. We were lucky enough to recently hear from set designer Dan Ostling (Cal Shakes’ productions of The Verona Project, Macbeth, and Much Ado About Nothing) who shared some of his general thoughts about the play, and how they might relate to the specific needs of this production.

Ostling’s first observation was that the world Shakespeare created for Romeo and Juliet is “not what we immediately think about… it’s not perfume and flowers, it’s brutal.” More specifically, he pointed out that Renaissance Verona had the reputation of being a fortified, violent city. He imagines Verona as a fortified city filled with fortified houses and dangerous streets, torn by internecine strife and random violence where opposing forces meet in the public square—but with internal gardens and sanctuaries such as Juliet’s balcony or the Friar’s cell. The idea that love and beauty could grow up from the very heart of hate and violence may be why the story of the children of bitter enemies falling in love was ever considered remarkable in the first place, and may be why one of Shakespeare’s best-loved works still has the capacity to move us. Like director Cooper, Ostling emphasizes that the harshness of the young lovers’ surroundings not only endangers but highlights their love.

This focus on the bleakness of the surrounding world explains why Ostling envisions a bleak set with nothing superfluous: We “start from a bare stage and build up from there.” Indeed, Ostling claims to be the rare set designer with “a distrust of scenery,” refusing to allow any elements that do not prove themselves to be necessary. The set will feature barn wood that will be torched to look like reclaimed wood and worn, aged, rusted grates on the downstage corners of the stage. Both set and costume will display an appreciation for the possibilities of repurposed things, utilizing tension and distress of materials and creating an austere, militaristic vintage aesthetic. The stage will be built in the shape of an X, creating a neutral, public focal point for the collision of equal and opposing forces.

Set Model for Romeo and Juliet

While the set will have a very minimal backdrop, Dan is interested in including (potentially) mobile spaces where actors can perch. For example, the crew has discussed various possibilities for re-creating the famous balcony scene. Seen with fresh eyes, this moment has the potential to appear as an unexpected miracle, full of tender humor and the wonder of the discovery of love.

Romeo and Juliet opens at the Bruns Ampitheater on July 3 and runs through July 28. Tickets are available on the Cal Shakes website.

Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.


Dance Jamming with Traci Bartlow and the Cast of SPUNK

Artistic Intern Andrea Safar gives a report from inside the Spunk rehearsal room.


cast of Cal Shakes Spunk with director Patricia McGregor and choreographer Poloma McGregor.

Spunk rehearsals. How to even begin to describe them? They are a vortex of laughter, comfort, and warmth. The ensemble converts the chilly white-walled room into a home and there’s no way you will leave without a smile on your face! 

Luckily, I have been given the task of producing the Friday night dance parties—or Onstage Dance Jams— wherein local choreographer Traci Bartlow, will invite audience members onstage after the 90-minute show to learn a few moves and dance together. The audience will learn moves from the Lindy Hop, jazz dances, and even how to Charleston. Traci was invited to rehearsal to show the cast the same steps so that they can incorporate them in the performance.

They started their dance rehearsal with the same warm-up the cast always uses. We stood in a circle (I was lucky enough to be included) and we clapped and chanted “I am,” “I want,” “I need,” “I feel,” with all of us, one by one, completing the sentences. It was full of joy and L. Peter Callender, who plays Sykes and Slang Talk Man, finished it by saying “I feel … like I need to give everyone a hug!” and we all jumped around embracing and laughing and just being glad to be in the same room with one another.

Traci then turned on some music and had the group follow her dance steps. They barely stumbled, and were almost immediately in sync and having a good time. The jazzy and cool music—similar to the tunes in the show—filled the room and everyone felt the rhythm and flow within them. Even those of us who weren’t dancing were still moving a little in our chairs or tapping our feet. I can already envision the audience members feeling the music move them the same way when watching Tru Peterson, playing Guitar Man, make music on stage.



Music Is Like Breathing: An Interview with SPUNK’s Guitar Man

Anthony “Tru” Peterson as discusses his views on life, music, and the extraordinary Cal Shakes production of Spunk directed by Patricia McGregor. Interview by Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt.


"Guitar Man" Anthony "Tru" Peterson in the rehearsal room for Spunk.

 I was seated in Jonathan Moscone’s office, anxiously waiting for Spunk’s “Guitar Man” Anthony “Tru” Peterson’s first strum on his lap steel guitar. “Music is another language that takes us to a different place,” he said, and then Marketing Director Janet Magleby and I sat in awe as he took  us on a journey home to the south. You could almost hear the laughter of children playing and taste the ice-cold sweet tea at your granddaddy’s house, swaying lazily on a porch swing hand-in-hand with a loved one. It seemed as almost though Tru went into a trance-like state, shutting out every distraction of the modern world, and just played. This guy really pours his heart out into his music; there’s no faking this kind of passion and ability.

The blues is a style of music that explores the not-so-perfect side of life, diving into something deeper and realer. The emotions I felt during this session rejuvenated my spirit…and the interview hadn’t even started yet! “What would you like to ask me?,” Tru began with a smile.

Tru’s kind demeanor and remarkable laugh made me feel like I was just talking music with an old friend. I asked about his “I Dare You to Make Music” concept where children get to explore the natural rhythms in their bodies, and turn feeling into action. Tru explained how he would take sheets of paper, and would tell the kids to do anything they felt to it, then rip it up himself. Music comes from a real and true feeling, he explained, and many of his unique exercises taught young students how to connect to art. “Every child and every story is different, and as much as they gain from you, you learn just as much from them.”

Tru lazily strummed his guitar, adding a mesmerizing background to his tales on music and life. We got to the root of what makes a musician when Tru said, “If the power went out and a DJ’s equipment got turned off, would they be able to pick up an instrument and play?” There are so many forms of music made possible by new technology, and accessible via the internet, making for a large variety of music; but also a large output of junk. It really is important for our generation to be able to weed through that junk, and to realize that we are capable of making music ourselves.

“Music used to be used as a herald for change,” Tru said, a tradition he calls upon with his melodies for the three remarkable short stories by Zora Neale Hurston that make up Spunk. Tru stated that the dark truth behind African-Americans’ journey in America is something that many people are afraid to discuss. If a person of color expresses feelings on that history, they’re sometimes stereotyped as a “ typical angry negro,” he said, or other hurtful assumptions. Spunk breaks those barriers; these stories are a part of our history that everyone needs to learn, regardless of background or color.

Onstage Tru’s music becomes the background of the story, like a soundtrack to a movie taking the audience through the twists and turns of the show. Tru described director Patricia McGregor as being a “rare find of a human being” and the entire cast as having a dedication to their art like he’s never seen. “Why would my character feel this way in this scene?,” actors ask each other at the picnic table during lunch. Tru described tremendous joy to come to work every day and work with the welcoming people of Cal Shakes.

As if picking his brain about music wasn’t enough, I even got to jam with this blues legend, singing my own version of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.” When I forgot the lyrics to the bridge Tru gladly joined in, making Janet and me glow. And as memorable as that was for me, these rehearsals have been just as much so for Tru. Asked what his most memorable project has been so far, he answered, simply: “I’ll tell you a secret. Spunk”.

Click here to listen to Tru’s original music recorded that day.

Anthony “Tru” Peterson began teaching music at age 14 and became one of the youngest members of the faculty a year after graduation from the Berklee College of Music. He has worked on songs for producer Andre Harrell on Atlantic Records, and director Spike Lee for Columbia records. He has performed and recorded projects with Peter Gabriel, Joan Baez, Janis Ian, and Cassandra Wilson. These alliances took him all over the world, on television, and on various recordings as well as his own debut CD, I’m Not Through Dreaming.






Spunk Cocktail Contest

Spunk will grace the Bruns stage with joyous poetic language, powerful movement, and the wailing sounds of the blues this July. What similarly flavorful and fulfilling cocktail would you wish to sip while soaking up the Spunk experience?

Invent a bourbon-based drink, name it, and tell us about it no later than Friday, July 6 one of these ways:

  • Email with the subject header “Spunk cocktail contest.”
  • Post your recipe on Twitter with the hashtag #zoracocktail.
  • Share on our Facebook wall.

The creator of the winning cocktail will be rewarded with their choice of a Spunk T-shirt or free entry to our July 12 pre-performance Cal Shakers party at the Bruns. 

Click here for more information about the party.


The Tempest Brings Out the Best in Student Audience … and Local Cows



Pictured: The cast of The Tempest takes a bow for the Student Discovery Matinee audience; photo by Jay Yamada.

Director of Artistic Learning Trish Tillman gives us an inside look at the first Student Matinee of The Tempest.

We had our first Tempest matinee today, with a brand new group of Artistic Learning interns, and a really excited, well-prepared audience of students.  They came from many schools, including Willard Middle and The Academy in Berkeley, Oakland Charter and Joaquin Moraga from Oakland, and several private school groups.  We saw familiar residency teachers, some conservatory students, students who reeled off ALL the student matinees they had been to since 2009, plus students brand new to our theater.

The whole audience was admirably attentive, even when tempted to shriek as the clown Trinculo dove headfirst under the monstrous Caliban’s smelly cloak, and when the young lovers swooned over each other. I talked to several students I knew at intermission and several that I didn’t, and all were enjoying it very much.  There was a full forest of hands up when Clive Worsley, our inimitable Moderator, asked after the show what their favorite moments were.  The marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, the creation of the tempest itself (with only sound effects, actors in raingear, a rope and a stick) and the Trinculo-under-the-cloak moment won out for favorites.

The Question and Answer time after the show was attended by actors Nicholas Pelczar (Trinculo, Ferdinand), Catherine Castellanos (Antonio, Caliban), Erika Chong Shuch (Ariel), as well as sprites Travis Santell Rowland and Aaron Moreland.  They were ALL spectacularly articulate and respectfully serious in answering every question, ranging from “Is it hard to memorize Shakespearian language?” to “Was it weird being under the cloak?” to “How did you all decide to be actors/dancers?”  There was also a seriously playful moment when a student asked if Aaron was really singing the song when the marriage dance occurs, and he said no, but that he could sing and that it was a famous song by Nat King Cole.  He asked the kids if they knew Nat King Cole and (interestingly) a lot of hands went up (besides chaperones and teachers!).  Then they asked him to sing the song, and he sang the first two lines, very nicely, to thunderous applause.  They then asked him to sing a pop song (anyone know “One Direction?”) which he didn’t know, so an entire girls’ chorus from Willard sang a verse to him.  (Also to thunderous applause.)

Catherine ended the Q&A session by saying that being an actor really helped her as a person who is full of feeling to be able to deal with life by learning to express powerful emotions on stage.  There was a little hush in the theater after she said that it was a blessing to her to be an actor.  (And then more thunderous applause!)

The only rather sad note was that a very large group of students from one public high school were not able to attend due to their inability to get their school administration’s authorization in time, even though the teacher had reserved seats with us weeks in advance.  So the audience was somewhat smaller than what we’d like, to be able to serve as many students as possible.  If you are anyone who is close to an underserved school or want to build a relationship with such a school, I’d love to talk to you about becoming a special liaison.  Relationships are crucial to what we do and what keeps us going.  Sometimes just an extra bit of attention can keep schools feeling connected and excited to be with us, and that is a commodity that is really lacking in those communities.  And then they can keep their commitments and the students benefit so, so much.

A final note: the beautiful rolling hills behind the theater stage are home to a few groups of wandering cows, and for some reason during the Q & A today they were especially vocal.  Loud MOOs punctuated almost every sentence said by an actor; so much so that it seemed like the cows wished to answer the questions themselves.  There was a special round of applause for the newly named Cal Shakes Cow Chorus, after which a collective MOOOOO rose from the students and reverberated back into the hills. A Tempest remember.


The Tempest  opens at the stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA, Saturday, June  2, and continues until Sunday, June 24.