The Quintessential Outsider: Thoughts on Othello

By Artistic Director Eric Ting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tickets on Sale for Cal Shakes Gala

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

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

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

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

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

For tickets, visit


Seeing’s Believing!

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

by Philippa Kelly

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

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

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

Artistic Director Eric Ting announces Othello as the fourth show of our 2016 Season!

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

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

By Eric Ting

Change is in the air.

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

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

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

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


A Trip Down Memory Lane: Our 2015 Season in Review


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


Ask Philippa: The Tempest edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Power and authority, betrayal, injustice, what it means to be a parent, what it means to love and to relinquish: These are some of the themes threading through Shakespeare’s late masterpiece, The Tempest. Come see our All the Bay’s a Stage production, directed by Rebecca Novick and starring three of our Cal Shakes favorites as well as four new additions to our theater family. We welcome you to share your thoughts, just as we’ve been honored to share our stage.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this touring production of The Tempest, which will culminate in six public performances at the Oakland Museum of California. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions 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, or post below to ask her a question.

The Tempest runs Fri-Sun from Nov. 13-22 at the Oakland Museum of California. To buy $20 tickets to these intimate public performances click here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.


Our 2015 Bucket Brigade Raises More than $85,000!

The cast of Twelfth Night at curtain call. Photo by Jay Yamada.

The cast of Twelfth Night at curtain call. Photo by Jay Yamada.

If you’ve been to a Cal Shakes production, you know that audience members reach into their pockets at the end of each show and donate what they can to the Bucket Brigade. This year, our Bucket Brigade had record-setting results, with audiences contributing $86,358 to support Cal Shakes artistic and education programs! Board members and other donors contributed an additional $57,731 in matching gifts, along with $15,000 from McRoskey Mattress Company during the run of The Mystery of Irma Vep.

Thank you to all of you who contributed to the Bucket Brigade. Your support—whether $1, $20, or $200—makes a difference in the lives of so many who are touched by Cal Shakes’ work. We also want to give special recognition to the matching donors (below) who stepped forward with larger gifts to match the generosity of our audiences.

Didn’t get the chance to donate to the Bucket Brigade? You can still make a difference by making a donation here. Thank you!

2015 Bucket Brigade Matching Donors

Megan Barton & Brian Huse

Barbara & Rick Bennett

Jamie Buschbaum

Michael & Phyllis Cedars

Josh & Janet Cohen

Chapin Cole

Ellen & Joffa Dale

Joe Di Prisco & Patti James

Patrick Golden & Susan Overhauser

Maureen & Calvin Knight

Blake & Shelly Larkin

Drs. Hilary Lerner & Yuriria Lobato

Janet Magleby

Craig & Kathy Moody

Susan Morris & Kathy Morris

Nancy Olson

Shelly Osborne & Steve Tirrell

Noralee & Tom Rockwell

Jim & Nita Roethe

Michael & Virginia Ross

Claire, Dean, & Will Ruskin

Michele & John Ruskin

Maureen Shea & Allen Ergo

Jean Simpson

Sharon Simpson

Lawrence & Patty Siskind

Frank & Carey Starn

Alexandra & Peter Starr

Kate Stechschulte & David Cost

Betsy Streeter & Robert McFarlane

Mark Toney

Mark & Rosie Traylor

Buddy & Jodi Warner

Jay Yamada

 Plus our friends at:


City National Bank

McRoskey Mattress Company


Get to Know our new Artistic Director Eric Ting

Eric Ting helps plant a tree at the Bruns to commemorate his arrival at Cal Shakes.

Eric Ting helps plant a tree at the Bruns to commemorate his arrival at Cal Shakes.

From cold sesame noodles to The Taming of the Shrew Eric Ting talks about what he loves, what he’s intrigued by, and what he’s most looking forward to when he arrives in the Bay Area.

Where are you from?

I was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. My father was a geologist. He passed away between my junior and senior years of high school, which is why I ended up staying in Morgantown for college; to stay and help my mom who ran a Chinese restaurant for about 23 years. When she retired from the restaurant she turned the whole building into an arts complex with a ceramics studio and walk-in kiln, and a cafe where they exhibit art. She’s been a real inspiration to me.

What are you most looking forward to experiencing in the Bay Area? Other than joining the Cal Shakes team of course!

I’m looking forward to taking my daughter [the four-month old Frankie] to the ocean for the first time.

How did you originally get into theater?

Through puppetry. I was a biochem major at West Virginia University with minors in women’s studies and creative writing. I decided for my last year in school that I would only take classes that I would never ever think to take, and puppetry was one of them. Then I fell in love with it. Joanne Siegrist who was head of the puppetry program there at the time introduced me to all of the design faculty, because I had a visual arts background—I was a sculptor and a painter when I was younger—I ended up getting involved in all these other aspects of theater. I designed the lights for Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill and I was cast in a production of The Comedy of Errors that was directed by Harold Surratt, who is a graduate of A.C.T., and it just kept snowballing from there…

What is the directing accomplishment you’re most proud of?

I directed an adaptation of Macbeth at the Long Wharf that we called Macbeth 1969. It was controversial to say the least. At the time we were in the midst of bringing troops back from Iraq, and I was reading about PTSD and the experiences of soldiers coming home from the war, which Macbeth has all these allusions to. During our second workshop we brought a drama therapy group from a VA hospital to the theater and their responses to the reading… That was a very good moment.

What is your favorite Shakespeare play, and why?

I don’t know that I have a favorite Shakespeare play. I’m not coming here with a list of my top plays that I want to direct; I’m looking for plays that speak to who and where we are now. I love Richard II, Richard III, All’s Well. I love Midsummer. There’s a reason why it gets done all the time. It’s just really good. I’m super intrigued by The Taming of the Shrew. Partly because I don’t know how it lives in the moment today. It’s like throwing a gauntlet down for me when trying to understand how we would do a play like that when there is all this conversation around gender parity in this country. Is there a place for a play like this today? And how do we carve that place out for it? Oh, I love The Winter’s Tale. If there’s going to be something that defines my tenure here at Cal Shakes it will be the plays that I choose and the manner in which they speak vividly to the moment. I’m looking for ways to engage around these timeless works that simultaneously makes a case for: Why now? Why today? Why here?

If you were going to bring a picnic to Cal Shakes what would be in it?

It would have to be Chinese food! Cold sesame noodles, some steamed dumplings… There will definitely be some white rice. There might be some chicken curry… and maybe a Thai lime juice. So, not all Chinese. [laughs]