A message from Sarita Ocón, Theater Artist

I was so honored when Cal Shakes asked me to share my story.

You may remember me from this past season as Dulcinea in Quixote Nuevo. And you may remember my heartfelt appeal at the end of the show, inviting you and other audience members to participate in the Pay It Forward Campaign. Night after night, I was so moved by your generosity and that of the whole
Cal Shakes Familia.

I was also truly blown away when Cal Shakes decided to dedicate several nights’ fundraising revenue to another organization supporting work against a humanitarian crisis. We were all deeply affected by the crisis unfolding along the Southern border as immigrant children were being separated from their parents. So when Cal Shakes audiences came together to raise more than $7,000 for RAICES (an organization working with these families), my corazón (heart) burst with joy and gratitude.

To witness my Cal Shakes community come together in such a tremendous way was a moment I will never forget. Cal Shakes does more than tell epic stories to audiences from all walks of life—Cal Shakes builds community and, by making art that matters more to more people, inspires audiences and theater makers to become active change agents in the world.

This is something that inspires me to want to give back to Cal Shakes. I hope it will also inspire you to support Cal Shakes with your donation today.

Love and light,

Sarita Ocón
Theater Artist


Survey Says…

The War of the Roses

You may have seen them walking about the Bruns with tablets in hand—our fearless volunteers asking people to answer a few questions. Hundreds of you took the time to respond. (Six won a year’s supply of Peets!)

Based on the % of people’s responses, the top 8 things you love about the Cal Shakes experience (besides seeing the season’s epic shows) are:

  1. Picnicking
  2. Spending time with the people I arrived with
  3. Purchasing food/drink at the café
  4. On-site parking
  5. Enjoying the grounds
  6. Purchasing drinks or merchandise at the bar
  7. Grove Talks
  8. Meeting new people

We also received dozens of comments and suggestions, ranging from sharing minor frustrations to special call-outs to staff and artists. Some of these we can address (i.e., retire dysfunctional assisted listening devices); some are beyond our control (the weather). Some comments helped us learn where we need to do a better job communicating (a lot of you asked if you can get programs online before the show—yes!). We take all your comments seriously and appreciate you letting us know how we can improve the time you share with us at the Bruns.

Thank you, and see you next summer!


Help us make Cal Shakes a home to all

Hello friends,

This past season, thousands of people like you gathered together to share unforgettable stories, told by the finest artists the Bay Area has to offer, against the most beautiful backdrop imaginable. For those brief hours, we made a home—together—at Cal Shakes.

From left: Hugo Carbajal and Emilio Delgado in Quixote Nuevo; Cleavant Derricks, J.D. Mollison, Michael Curry, Ruthie Price, and Santoya Fields in black odyssey; Student Matinee; Catherine Luedtke, Stacy Ross, and Danny Scheie in The War of the Roses. Student Matinee photo by Jay Yamada, others by Kevin Berne.


Donations from our supporters are what makes this possible. Contributing to a home for extraordinary artists and artistry creates the work you want to see on our stage. Sustaining this work also requires additional resources that aren’t funded by ticket sales alone. You can help make Cal Shakes a home for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Your gift helps us produce epic stories and helps us attract and support the most exciting artists working in American theater today. Your gift helps us serve thousands of school children at the Bruns, at our Summer Conservatory, and in their own classrooms. And your gift helps us welcome thousands of audience members each year to the place I am so grateful to call home.

As you prepare to share your own home with family and friends, please include Cal Shakes in your year-end giving plans and make a donation today.

With gratitude,

Eric Ting
Artistic Director


Of Forests and Metal: an Interview with Composer Byron Au Yong

Dramaturg Philippa Kelly chats with composer Byron Au Yong, composer for The War of the Roses. Get tickets to the final performances here!

Byron at rehearsal; photo by den.

Philippa Kelly: Can you tell us a little about your background—something different from resume info? Early life?

Byron Au Yong: My elementary school was inside a forest. Classmates and I made shelters from gigantic fallen tree boughs. The best part of the year was singing after a storm surrounded by the trees and structures we built. I read recently that when trees feel comfortable, they will comfort you. I know that when trees feel powerful, they impart power. Last June, I was back in the Pacific Northwest walking in an old-growth forest. I asked the trees if they knew of other forests being clear cut, then burned. They said that their roots could feel the pain. They added that as we protect them, they protect us. My music connects with nature. It’s thrilling to work at Cal Shakes, where even the distant cows contribute their mooing to the performance.

PK: In terms of composing, who inspires you and which scores do you love?

BAY: I’m attracted to music which is dangerous. When J.S. Bach died, he was less famous than his sons. A critic called his work “contrapuntal caterwauling.” Nowadays, this accusation would be a compliment. Collaborating with theater artists also gives me energy, as dramatic solutions have a way of reaching the heart.

PK: I love that thought! Can you share some insight as to how you compose?
How do things come to you?

BAY: The music for The War of the Roses is grounded in Viking aesthetics. Shakespeare was influenced by Old Norse culture. Check out Amleth, the precursor to Hamlet. Moreover, Queen Margaret’s agency is similar to how Viking women held power, from managing their husbands to fighting in battles. Two contemporary musicians I adore include Norwegian metal folk composer/musician Einar Selvik and Faroese singer-songwriter Eivør Pálsdóttir. I was also influenced by 13th century French polyphony, known as the Ars Nova, and the neo-folk metal band Heilung from Denmark, Germany, and Norway. For this production, I got to work with actor/composer/musician Josh Pollack. Josh creates an astounding array of sounds using the electric guitar with effects pedals. These sounds range from low rumbles to whirring orbits to Viking metal riffs. Every project requires a tailored working process. Outside sources inform musical ideas and sketches. Rehearsals provide crucial time to determine which sonic moments become part of the show.

Effects pedals operated by Josh Pollock

For example, Aysan Celik has a vocal solo in the show that we call “Queen Margaret’s Battle Song.” I initially set 27 lines of text. It felt clunky and was way too long, so I simplified the song to allow Aysan’s powerful voice to resonate.

PK: What led you to Cal Shakes and us to you?

BAY: Director Eric Ting asked,”Hey, you wanna compose music for The War of the Roses?” I responded, “The War of the What?” Not knowing what something is, is always a good sign. Learning with this wonderful team at Cal Shakes shows what theater can do best: bring people together to create moments of beauty and pain that move us towards a deeper understanding of who we are and how we can affect change.

PK: I feel similarly—that in making art we wrestle with ourselves and with our capacity to understand the world in new and surprising ways. My husband (composer Paul Dresher) feels that if he weren’t a composer he would be one or more of three things: an attorney, a vegetable-grower, or a carpenter/handy-person. If you weren’t a composer, what would you be?

BAY: I would be a tree…western red cedar or mountain hemlock…definitely not a rose bush.


Introducing Awele: Assistant Dramaturg, The War of the Roses

Interview by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg
Awele Makeba’s very being illuminates a room. She glows with humane warmth and light. Awele is a professional actor and storyteller, and a drama teacher at Skyline High in Oakland. Almost all of Skyline’s students are bused up the hill from the Oakland flats to a school that overlooks the San Francisco Bay and the glittering cities below. Awele often digs into her own pocket for change to buy her students tickets to see professional theater, and sometimes needs to help out with supplies, food, and transportation—challenges that don’t face middle-class families in the Orinda Hills nearby. Awele also gives her students inspiration and skills to perform great theater—these kids shine! They’ve performed in theaters and festivals around the Bay Area as well as at the High School Theatre Fest in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2017. Their light is ignited and sustained by the dedication of a great teacher.

Awele also gifts her talents to Cal Shakes. This summer, we partnered with Awele and the Oakland Unified School District so she could join us on an externship, which allows her to observe dramaturgy, production, and directing. She spends what time her school duties permit her with us in production: and on school days, she does her own “homework” after school is out, working on research on a shared google doc that helps us in the rehearsal hall. Here she speaks with dramaturg Philippa Kelly.

Philippa Kelly: First off, Awele, where does your passion come from? 
Awele Makeba: I began as a four year-old dancing and continued in ballet, had piano lessons at 12, adding tapdance and modern dance in high school, and then was accepted into a conservatory of theater arts. So I’ve always been immersed in music and dance and theater. It wasn’t until high school that I experienced theater as an actual class. And it helped shape my belief in what theater can do, how it can change lives. For real. And how storytelling on stage can be a transformational experience.  I was invited to Russia before the walls came down—a five city tour over three weeks—as a storyteller performing in schools, pioneer centers, museums. 
PK: You’ve done some amazing productions with your students, including the award-winning Prospect High: Brooklyn by Robert Daniel Sullivan. What is it like to have students in the audience watching YOU on stage?
AM:  Having students in the audience is a pretty awesome experience. The first time this happened was my first year at Skyline I performed in a play xtigone, by Nambi E. Kelley, which was a hip hop adaptation of Antigone. I bussed the students over to the theater, and no one knew I was actually performing in the play. I came out on stage and I could hear students in the audience saying “Oh My God, Miss Awele‘s in the play! Miss Awele‘s in the play!” They were so excited. And this gave them the belief that they could be on stage too. They stayed for the talkback, and, because they’d studied the play, they were able to give wonderful jewels of feedback. I love to help my students get to performances, and sometimes this entails getting together $500-$700 to charter a bus or to purchase BART tickets for my students! But I think it’s so important for my students to go to the theater and see people who look like them and speak like them. This is a great gift that they get at Cal Shakes through its student matinee program that sponsors all my students. I will never forget when they saw Othello directed by Eric Ting. It was a transformative experience for them, and they received a stunning gift from Clive and his team of a pre-post show engagement with superb teaching artists.
PK: what appeals to you about dramaturgy?
AM: Before I knew the terms, “Dramaturg” and “Dramaturgy,” I had always been a dramaturg of sorts but just didn’t know it. I have always been a lay historian and a lover of it, because my father brought it into my life. I saw that history is not always accurate. I had my father, and other people in my life, who helped me to see that in studying history and challenging master narratives, we can be change agents in society.  Being able to help students to see beyond and behind master narratives and to be able to do my research on this—what a gift. My research for my Master’s thesis was focused on Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith—two young teens who were arrested before Rosa Parks’ case. There was already an ordinance in place that if there was a spare seat elsewhere in the bus, a person of color did not have to move. So in a sense the mythology behind Rosa Parks’ case presents an exhausted working woman who could barely stand on her feet, but behind this is a flagrant denial of an ordinance was a denial of a social movement of people, change agents who had been taking action against segregation, a system of structural racism, sanctioned by the government, and the mere fact that Ms. Parks very much like Fannie Lou Hamer, was sick and tired of being tired. These women spurred a boycott of the busses, many of them walking to work for 361 days to make the point and force the bus system to change the rules if they wanted to stay in business. So that was the issue that ignited my Master’s thesis and I made a performance piece about it.
PK: When finances look appalling, things look grim, what keeps you shining? 
AM: What keeps me shining? Knowing that the power of storytelling on stage is huge. I believe through and through in the power of storytelling, and I love the thought of times when people would sit around a campfire and tell stories. I draw on this model in my classroom (though of course without throwing logs on fires.) Bringing in music and lighting when we can afford it is wonderful, often through the generosity of colleagues. I took my students to perform in Scotland at the Festival two years ago. We still have $15,000 to raise, and have put up a go fund me campaign, which people have been donating to. And I’m hoping that with my Go Fund Me campaignmatch my $200, if 15 people contributed $200 and invited 4 friends to contribute with them, this would help us tremendously.



Ask Philippa: The War of the Roses edition

by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Have a question for Philippa? Email pkelly@calshakes.org, or comment below!

The Henry VI and Richard III plays marked the young Shakespeare’s creation of a national history that spanned the rules of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III.  Shakespeare has Henry VI’s infancy mark the beginning of the War of the Roses—the rivalries between England’s bickering nobles in the power vacuum created by the death of a powerful king (Henry V) and the reign of an infant (Henry VI).  We see Shakespeare’s geographical scope contract in the course of the tetralogy—from the looming rivalry with France, we move inward to the bickering within one ruling family, the Plantagenets (Yorkists v. Lancastrians), and then inward again to the corrosion of the York family by Richard Gloucester of York, who clambers up a power vacuum, destroying everyone in his path—even his own brother, nephew and wife—to become Richard III. 

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).


What happens? The War of the Roses Synopsis

We’re about to embark on the most epic Shakespearean undertaking in Cal Shakes history, including presenting the Henry VI trilogy for the first time ever! Many of us are familiar with the title character of Richard III (even if just from the headlines a few years ago after his body was finally found under a carpark), but seeing the Henry VI trilogy leading up to Richard’s terrible reign gives us a unique opportunity to watch the making of a monster as well as his downfall.

What combination of infighting and political turmoil brought us here?

Henry VI

Part one: Affairs Abroad

Temple Garden—in the power vacuum created by the death of King Henry V and the imminent crowning of his infant son, the ruling Plantagenet family is torn in two. Half support the Lancaster faction (the red rose); the others support the York faction (the white rose).

Meanwhile, in France, the French forces led by Joan of Arc have risen up in rebellion against the English armies.

The baby Henry is crowned King Henry VI. Time passes.

In the midst of growing conflict within England, Henry—now a young man—seeks peace and amity. He restores Richard Plantagenet to the title of Duke of York.

Meanwhile, Margaret of Anjou is captured in France by Suffolk, who intends to present her to his king as a royal bride. King Henry accepts Margaret as his Queen. Many (including Henry’s uncle Gloucester, Lord Protector of the young king) are unhappy with the match.

The fractious Lancasters maneuver to strip Gloucester of his position, accusing his wife of witchcraft and himself of treason. While awaiting trial, Gloucester is murdered. Henry, heart-broken, moves to exile Suffolk, whom he believes to be responsible for Gloucester’s death. Queen Margaret convinces Henry to relent. York uses this moment of regal instability to declare his claim to the crown.

Across the channel in France, Joan of Arc is executed by fire. As civil war breaks out in England, Margaret gives birth to Ned, Prince of Wales.

Part two: The Battle Between

After the first battle of St Albans, the Yorks are now in control of England. The Duke of York threatens to take the throne. Henry cuts a deal to keep the crown, agreeing to relinquish it to the Yorks upon his death. Margaret—appalled that their son has been thus disinherited—leads the Lancaster forces against the unsuspecting Yorks and wins. In the ensuing battle, Rutland, youngest son of York, is killed. Margaret taunts the captured Duke of York, placing a paper crown upon his head and ordering his execution.

The remaining sons of York—Edward, Richard, and George—retaliate. During the battle, King Henry watches from a place of exile in a field and wonders what and who he is without his crown. He observes a father who has unknowingly killed his son, and a son who has unknowingly killed his father. As the tide turns for the Yorks, Suffolk is killed, Margaret flees to France with her son, and Edward, oldest son of York, is crowned King Edward IV.

Warwick, the Kingmaker, goes to France to secure the hand of King Louis XVI’s sister for King Edward. Meanwhile, back home, King Edward chooses to marry an English widow, Lady Elizabeth Grey. Furious at this betrayal and humiliation, Warwick switches sides, declaring his support for Queen Margaret and Prince Ned. Henry is captured and taken to the Tower. Richard Gloucester begins to plot.

Warwick and Queen Margaret lead the French forces to England where they confront King Edward’s armies and are ultimately defeated. Warwick is killed. Prince Ned is killed. Queen Margaret is exiled. Richard travels to the Tower and there assassinates King Henry.

Richard III

Part three: The War Within

Richard Gloucester begins his bloody journey to the throne of England. Those ahead of Richard in the line of succession include his brothers George, Duke of Clarence and King Edward; and Edward’s young sons, Prince Edward and Prince Richard.

Queen Margaret appears, now aged, cursing all who have had a hand in her family’s demise. Meanwhile, Richard has arranged for his brother Clarence to be killed in prison. King Edward, ill after years of sexual indulgence, mourns Clarence’s death.

Although he has killed both King Henry and his son Ned, Richard manages to seduce Lady Anne, Ned’s young widow.

King Edward IV dies. Richard is made Lord Protector and guardian to Edward’s two sons. He sends the princes to the tower, supposedly to keep them safe until prince Edward can be crowned. Richard promises Buckingham rewards in exchange for his aid in seizing the crown. The two maneuver to eliminate all opposition.

Part Four: Ghosts

Richard is crowned King Richard III.

King Richard orders Buckingham to kill the princes in the tower, but Buckingham falters. Richard then turns to Tyrell to murder them instead.

To further secure his crown, Richard decides to kill his wife Anne and to quickly marry his niece Elizabeth, the dead King Edward’s daughter, before the arrival of Richmond, who is rumored to be coming from Wales (“the Western coast”) to marry young Elizabeth himself and claim the crown.

As King Richard ventures forth to confront Richmond’s and Buckingham’s forces, he is confronted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, his mother—who have been taught by the Old Queen Margaret how to replace their laments with curses that they lay on Richard.

Richard attempts to convince Queen Elizabeth to secure her daughter’s hand in marriage.

Richard’s paranoia grows as the ghosts of those whom he has killed come to haunt him. Richard goes to battle—first with himself in the middle of the night (“Is there a murderer here?”)—and the following day with Richmond.

On the field of battle, Richmond fulfills an earlier prophecy, killing Richard and taking the crown. The newly crowned Henry begins the Tudor line which continued through Shakespeare’s time, ending with the death of Elizabeth I.


The War of the Roses plays from August 23 through September 15. Get tickets here!
Click here to read more blog posts about our production of The War of the Roses.



Artist Spotlight: Interview with Lana Russell, The War of the Roses assistant director

Philippa Kelly: I notice that your middle name is Rosalind. Is that a conscious Shakespearean choice on your parents’ part?

Lana Russell: No, it is actually my family name going back through 4 generations—I wish I could have Shakespeare take credit for it!

PK: It’s great to have you here, with your intimate knowledge of the tetralogy. Can you tell me a little about that?

LR: I’ve worked on these plays twice, the first time in grad school [The New School in New York, with 4 people, the cast composed of 3 men and 1 woman] and the second in a new adaptation made for the company I’ve just started called the regroup (this production being 4 women and 1 man). So I’ve seen Richard played by a very tall white man, and also by a 5 foot-tall black woman. We did explore Richard’s disability in different ways, for example, on one half of the body, but truly I love Eric’s vision that the disability is about otherness, however that manifests.

My deep love for examining Richard III comes from his being the first Shakespearean character I discovered in middle school. I was flipping through a Shakespeare Complete Works on my own and discovered the longest soliloquy in all of Shakespeare (the famous 2nd last line being, “Can I do all of this and cannot get a crown?”) and I learned it. I felt, even at that age, that I had an incredible ambition but not yet a voice to express it. Then I delivered and delivered that monologue over the years every time I auditioned. The reason that this particular monologue still really holds true for me is that in everything I do, I’m interested in seeking out why the most evil people do the things they do, and how and why they are still human.

By the way, people thought I was absolutely insane giving this psychopathic monologue, so occasionally I would switch to giving a Margaret monologue from Richard III… And truly, I’ve spent so much time on Richard that the thing I’m most excited about is diving deeper into Margaret’s story. I was really thrilled and am inspired by is Eric’s commitment to keeping the women’s voices and storylines in this play so dynamic and vivid.

PK: Oh yes, a lovely curse from Margaret—works every time. But actually it’s intriguing that Shakespeare really understood and played with the limitations of women in his time – he puts Margaret on the battlefield and then, when she’s taken off it, he has her curse—which is one of the “worst” (or most socially challenging) things a woman in his time could do besides speaking at length at all. BTW, speaking of women speaking, our audiences will want to know how you landed with us for this production.

LR: I thought this was the most exciting season, so (I was living in New York at the time) I got in touch with Eric to tell him so. I contacted a few of my friends who know Eric (Octavio Solis being one), and they made an introduction.

PK: …and the rest is history! Well, to be more accurate, a history play.

LR And being born and raised in the Bay Area, this is a fabulous homecoming. I’m staying with my parents, and my mom tried to make lunch for me and I did not allow it…

PK: Well, Queen Margaret would understand the impulse.

LR: But she would never make it herself.

The War of the Roses plays through September 15. Get tickets here!

Lana is a director, producer, teacher, activist and founder of the [re]group. She has developed plays at The Lark, Primary Stages, New Georges and Naked Angels. She is a producer and resident director for Goldfish Memory Productions. She is  lead teaching artist with The Other Side which is a global drama exchange organization for young women. She was a producing fellow at Naked Angels and Cape Cod Theatre Project and the Literary Associate at Primary Stages. Member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. MFA, Directing New School. Lanarrussell.com.

More about Lana’s company, the [re]group: The [re]group is an artistic collective and social impact organization dedicated to the empowerment of public spirit and communal healing. Our mission is to provide art that is innovative, accessible and audience-driven. The adaptation of Henry VI 3 and III was the company’s first production, called “[re]consider,” which focused on the privilege, power and opportunity of choice: making the audience complicit in the question: is free will really free?

The [re]group toured the [re]consider adaptation to both traditional and non-traditional theatre spaces alike. The most meaningful performance was for veteran transition home, Samaritan Village, in midtown Manhattan. With only chalk, a chalkboard, three flashlights, five actors, and the most important prop, snacks, we joined their weekly meeting to share our performance and stay for questions, conversation and ideas about future action. It was the most powerful theatrical and human experience of my life. Our audience cheered out loud, cried, chanted. Their spirit filled the room and there was no gap between audience and actor, a truly communal experience.