Share Your Story for the Lear Family Stories Project

September 18, 2015  |  Rebecca Novick

 Our family is where we learn about love – for better or for worse.  King Lear demands that his daughters compete for land by telling him how much they love him and he sets a terrible tragedy in motion.  We want to know how love, legacy and loss have played a role in your life.  

 About the Lear Family Stories project:

The Triangle Lab is launching a community story-sharing project inspired by the deep examination of family love and its limitations in Shakespeare’s Lear. The Lear Family Stories project will invite a wide variety of participants to share how love, legacy and loss work in their family.

 We’ll begin by inviting audience members at Cal Shakes’s Fall 2015 production of Lear to share related stories.  Artists, staff and board members will also be invited to participate.  We will then expand past Cal Shakes’ core audience to invite stories from students at Civicorps (a job-training and alternative education program in Oakland) and Our Space (a community center for LGBTQ youth in Hayward).

 These stories – and the framework of Lear – will be the springboard for a new piece of theater to be performed in Spring 2016.  Lead artists (and Cal Shakes’ staff members) Rebecca Novick and Lisa Evans will work with selected participants from our story circles as well as professional actors to create the performance.  Stories will also be shared in a podcast format.

 How you can participate:

 1) Record a story in our booth at the Bruns on September 24th or 25th (open to the public) or on October 10th (at our Champion Donor event).  Click here to learn more about sharing a story, read our prompts, and sign up for a slot.

 2) Join our Cal Shakes story circle. We’ll be holding an evening story-sharing circle in January as part of phase 2 of the project. If you’re interested in attending, please contact Rebecca at rnovick (at) calshakes.org.

 3) Story circle participants may be invited to participate in the devising, rehearsal and performance of the play.  Learn more about this by attending our story circle.

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Going Beyond the Bars with The Green Life and Triangle Lab

This past spring, members of the Green Life, a re-entry project formed by former prisoners, came together in healing circles led by  Ayodele Nzinga,  an Artist-Investigator with Cal Shakes’ Triangle Lab, to share stories of heartbreak and healing around the topic of “home.” The stories shared in these circles served as the basis for a dramatic piece entitled Beyond the Bars: Growing Home. This  Friday, June 19th from 6-8PM, a free staged reading of the piece will be produced at United Roots Oakland, in collaboration with the youth group DetermiNation, and The Lower Bottom Playaz, a theater troupe based out of West Oakland.

 Beyond the Bars Highlight Reel

The Project

The Artist-Investigator Program investigates how artists can help bridge differences, heal hearts, and connect communities.  This year, we are focusing on how theater artists can partner with social service organizations to help serve their clientele and advance the organization’s mission.

Four partnerships between artists and organizations have taken four rich paths to melding the organizing strengths of the non-profits with our artists’ skills at gathering stories, building performance, and bringing together disparate groups of people. The four projects will all share the lives of disenfranchised populations through story, image, performance, and poetry.

In the partnership with Green Life, the impact of Nzinga’s skills was greatly felt. “What was surprising was that everyone was willing to share deep and meaningful stories,” says Green Life program director, Angela Sevin. “We observed cross generational connections and communications that inspired us for our future.”

We invite you to join us at Beyond the Bars: Growing Home on Friday June 19th from 6-8PM at United Roots Oakland ( 2781 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, California 94612).

Click here for more information about the event.

For Additional Information about Triangle Lab Programming go to http://www.calshakes.org/trianglelab.

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Lab Report: My Experience as an Artist-Investigator

By Ayodele Nzinga

It’s hard to know where to start. I always like the beginning. I like big pictures and story/stories. So I think that’s where I will start.

Pictured: Ayodele Nzinga

As an artist it’s hard to find funding for work. The places that offer funding often offer direction as well as funding—thus they become collaborators in the project.

If the funders want you to collaborate with another entity, they too come to the table as collaborator.

When the work comes with a deadline and a set of collaborators, each invested from a different perspective and potentially representing different populations with divergent goals for a commonly derived project, a type of crucible is formed.

To imagine art coming from this crucible can be challenging.

Challenges include:

  • How to hold on to and serve the inspiration that brought you into the room
  • How to be open to not serving that inspiration as you envisioned or imagined it (can your Bird of Paradise seed grow a Meyer Lemon Tree?)
  • Reimagining how to find your inspiration (something of what brought you in the room), inside the things that brought the other collaborators into the room
  • Practicing leaderless/leaderful interaction that results in the production of knowledge that in turns supports action/doing
  • Investing fully and engaging soulfully with the Meyer Lemon Tree
  • Finding the way in which the Meyer Lemon Tree serves the Bird of Paradise seed
  • How to facilitate equal collaboration when collaborators are invested differently, and the acknowledgement that funders are unacknowledged collaborators as well, who influence the trajectory and the boundaries of projects, further complexifies the collaborative art making process

To imagine not making art when given a chance is inconceivable.   Especially if support is offered that facilitates your exploration of what might come of your interaction with Meyer Lemon Trees and you can negotiate the challenges above while engaging the process of making art.

As an artist, I find collaboration an interesting animal. I am not sure I like it, but I understand its importance. The things collaboration gifts are and are not art-making related. That is, the bigger lessons and blessing that come from collaboration transcend the art making process to live in how one addresses the world and builds community.

It is a space in which one must advance ideas as a part of showing up fully, at the same time one must hold space for the ideas of others and view them with as much value as ones own, while helping to facilitate the advancement of a project that in some way reflects our mutually derived vision.

In closing, the process of making art is always as interesting as the art that is the product of the process. The fusion of artist with the practice of research/investigation adds a layer on top of the complexity inherent in collaboration. I am looking forward to the soul of this endeavor which for me lies somewhere beyond the negotiation of the things I have written about here.

So far the experience has been very cerebral and that’s satisfying to my scholar soul – but the artist in me looks forward to painting with my fingers and getting clay beneath my fingernails.

Maybe next time I will blog about how collaboration invites you to be bigger than your dreams of Birds of Paradise.

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Lab Report: Artist-Investigator Program Gets Rolling

By Rebecca Novick

Last month we launched a new round of our Artist-Investigator program, in which four distinguished artists partnered with four non-profit organizations to see how theater artists can help meet community needs.  (Read more about the artists and their partners here.)  We’ll be sharing regular “lab reports” on the progress of these experiments, as we find out what happens when the powerful skills of artists are deployed outside the rehearsal room.

Our early meetings have unearthed some exciting possibilities, like the conversation we had with the chaplain at Berkeley Food and Housing Project about creating theater-based rituals to help homeless vets struggling with “moral injury.” Or the proposal from Causa Justa::Just Cause—that their artist Paul Flores work with their clients to help them tell their compelling stories to decision-makers like government officials and funders.

Earlier this week, all of the artists and their partners came together for a day-long training with the dynamic Michael Rohd, whose Center for Performance and Civic Practice has pioneered a lot of the methodology we’re using.  He asked everyone to name assets that artists bring to the partnerships—not just in the “product” we might create, but in how artistic skills influences the process of the collaboration. Here is a portion of the inspiring list the artists generated:

What we bring to the table as artists:

  • my writer self
  • ability to collaborate
  • understanding when communication has not occurred
  • basing work in the body
  • making things happen, moving a process from A to B
  • seeing when things are stuck
  • seeing from multiple points of view
  • listening
  • getting people to tell their story
  • imaginative problem-solving
  • spirit-based work
  • using humor as a tool
  • articulating something for collective interrogation
  • fearlessly naming the elephant in the room
  • asking good questions at the right time
  • witnessing
  • surfacing emotional undercurrents
  • inspiring risks
  • making space for transgression

As exciting as artistic collaboration is, we’ve had to remind ourselves to hold off and be mindful of moving too fast. Our process asks artists and organizations to work off each other; but, speedy implementation is not always fruitful. As Dr. Ayodele Nzinga shared, “I always have a map, but I’m learning to make space for the emergent.”

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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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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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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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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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RAW Talent – Young Artists Takeover the Bruns

Last week, Richmond Artists With Talent (RAW Talent)—in partnership with Cal Shakes’ Triangle Lab—performed The Adventure Of Grief: A Short Play on the Bruns Amphitheater stage. Six years ago, Richmond Artists with Talent was founded by a small group of teachers and students, in order to provide safe spaces and creative outlets for youth in Richmond, California.

The Adventure of Grief was written by the members of RAW Talent, ages 13-24, and directed by Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator Arielle Julia Brown. Much of Arielle’s work focuses on theater as witness and testimony, including the piece Love Balm For My Spirit Child which ran at Brava Theater and shared testimony from mothers who lost their children to violence.

This project was a further development of Phoenix Rysing, a workshop series co-sponsored by Cal Shakes in which the students used writing and performance to create pieces that explore how we experience and heal from grief. Phoenix Rysing was prompted by the loss of Dimarea Young–one of the founding members of RAW Talent to whom The Adventure of Grief was dedicated–to gun violence in 2013. The students participated in a week-long residency up at the Bruns Amphitheater along with RAW Talent staff Molly Raynor and Donte Clark, developing this piece. They performed it on stage before Pygmalion on August 8th.

The Adventure of Grief performance was truly inspiring, with about 70 invited audience members in attendance, half of whom had come from Richmond to see the show. The opening act “The House of Grief” was an ensemble piece about moving into grief when you have nowhere else to go, and no one to turn to. The format of the show allowed the audience to relate to the subject matter that the students were addressing. There were six scenes, some performed in small  groups, and in one case even a dance duet, creating multiple windows and perspectives into this House of Grief.

The most daring moment of the show arrived when the actors asked the audience to write down down their own stories and then to volunteer to come onstage and read them. In the community piece entitled “Write Myself Whole,” the students sang as attendees wrote two and three line poems about a grief or struggle that had made them who they were today. Here are some of the poems that were written by individuals in the audience:

“I come here by way of family struggles
Art healed me
The loss of my dad, young when he killed himself.”

“I come here by way of Nana Kika & Kim Pate + Raymen Justice. I come here by way of sadness, emptiness, rage & love. I sit in my sadness to reach for my gratitude & humility.”

“I come here by way of Salvador Joseph
I come here by way of separation and loss of love from loved ones.”

By the end of the play, much of the audience was moved to tears from the shared experience of acknowledging grief and sharing in the stories of these young people. Yet the most important takeaway was that we must all learn to move out of the House of Grief, by writing ourselves whole and empathizing with the experiences of others.

Triangle Lab was honored to work with such an inspiring and talented group and to help bring their stories to the Bruns. Richmond Artists with Talent has been a program for six years and has reached over  500 students in the Richmond Area, and will continue growing with support from the RYSE Center. For more information about RAW Talent visit their Facebook Page.

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

Photos by Jay Yamada.

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Feast on the Dinner Project: Part 2

The Dinner Project lives on this summer at the Bruns in our new Story Hub space. We’re inviting audience members to share their life stories and experiences in exciting new ways that relate to the themes of the show they’re seeing. We encourage you to stop by this season like so many of our other audience members have. Participate in our interactive exhibits, talk to our friendly staff, peruse the audience stories on display, or share your own!

At our last show, Raisin In The Sun, patrons responded to the question “What does your family talk about at the dinner table?” You can read about what happened here.

During the run of Comedy of Errors we asked the audience a slightly more scandalous question: “Share a secret or surprise that someone revealed to you over dinner.” Our answers this time around were even juicier, check out some of them below!

“When I was a boy we were eating dinner & I said this chicken tastes funny. My dad replied ‘that’s because it’s your duck.’ I had a pet duck named Quackers and my father was not a sentimental man.”

“Grandad Rick is secretly a top No 1. Spy.”

“Dear people I very like the place I even like this show. I will come next time [heart] show. Yours Truly, 7 years old Callie Chu”

“I came out to my parents at Passover Seder. This night was a bit different than all other nights…” 

“Today is my birthday but I decided for the next year not to be any age so I can let go of the stigma of being old. That and I’m secretly in love with Jonathan Moscone <3 he he”

Though the theme of the Dinner Project will be consistent throughout the season, the question and way of sharing your stories will change. Stop by the Story Hub and contribute to our newest prompt for Pygmalion: “What’s taboo at your dinner table?” Maybe your story will be featured on our blog!

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

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