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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Beginning Again: The Love Balm Institute

By Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator in Residence Arielle Julia Brown

The Love Balm Project is a theater of testimony workshop series and performance based on the testimonies of mothers who have lost children to violence. The Love Balm Project currently collaborates with six mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last summer, with support from the Triangle Lab, we hosted site specific performances in the spaces where the young men—sons of the mothers—had been murdered. These performances took place on street corners, in front of homes, at a BART station, in front of a church, on the porch of a mothers’ home and on a MUNI train platform. These performances met the communities in the spaces that haunt them and the spaces we learn to forget. Naturally, it was in these spaces that more mothers and community members began to inquire about getting involved in this work. Mothers approached me after performances, family members took my contact information to give to other mothers they knew.

This leads me to the beginning of my current investigation with The Triangle Lab. How is it that a grassroots arts collective recreates itself? How do we move in full awareness of our limited capacity as facilitators and yet be open and permeable for new knowledges, new community members, new stakeholders? What does it look like structurally to have an open space for all mothers to find and make space in their neighborhoods to tell and witness their stories? I am in deep search of what these answers could look like for the Love Balm Project. The only place I knew to begin is with the Love Balm workshop series. The workshop series features 4 workshops for mothers and community artists to gather together and perform, witness and creatively write their testimony. So I began to imagine in the middle of last year’s site specific investigation, what would it look like to have an institute to train other artists, mothers and cultural workers in how to facilitate a Love Balm Workshop series or group. In the Love Balm Institute we collectively questioned this work, reviewed and adapted the curriculum, witnessed mothers’ testimonies, explored applied theatre methods including original games, playback theatre, drama therapy and theatre of the oppressed and finally strategized about workshopn structures and funding models. The Love Balm Institute was supported by The Triangle Lab, Eastside Arts Alliance and The Akonadi Foundation. The institute took place from May 23rd–25th in Oakland.

Several amazing cultural workers attended the institute. The cultural workers live and work with communities throughout the state of California. Please see their bios below to see what kind of work they are doing in communities already. Each of them have studied and taken their training from the institute to start planning love balm workshops and community circles for the communities they work and live in. The cultural workers will facilitate the Love Balm workshop series with mothers, LGBTQ youth, young men and women of color who have both perpetrated and survived acts of violence. Check out their projects below alongside their bios. I will continue to post updates as their projects progress.

 

Continue reading

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The Triangle Lab: What’s in a Name?

A report on the naming of our partnership with Intersection, courtesy of Partnership Project Director Rebecca Novick.

Rebecca NovickLast August, I was invited by Jonathan Moscone and Deborah Cullinan (executive director of Intersection for the Arts) to help develop the partnership they had formed. After a successful collaboration some years ago on Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, Cal Shakes and Intersection wanted to work together on something larger than creating one new play;  with a generous grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation in-hand, the staff from both organizations had been meeting for some time to determine what this partnership would look like. They had some goals and projects in mind but it was proving harder than they had expected to get started: The two organizations worked in very different ways, both staffs were tremendously busy with their regular work, and little things like different calendar systems and big things like different approaches to season planning were all adding up to insurmountable.

With so much conviction from the leaders of both organizations, and so much talent on the two staffs, I knew it wouldn’t take much to unlock the potential of this partnership, but one thing was puzzling me: I didn’t know what to call the project. What started out as a minor administrative question—what should I write on my file folder? What should I name the folder in my computer?—quickly emerged as a key issue we needed to address. As Shakespeare can tell you, the names of things matter very much, and if you can’t name something, you may not know yet what it is.

Many meetings later, while deep in discussion of the kind of community relationships we wanted to create, I found myself drawing a triangle, showing the connections between a theater, artists, and community members. “That’s it!,”  Jonathan exclaimed. “That’s the name!”  Thus was born the Triangle Lab. A lab (because we’re experimenting) and a triangle because we are examining the triangular relationship between artists, institutions, and communities. We want to find ways to strengthen each side of the triangle and to make sure we are putting equal value on each of the corners. This name proposes that we always consider the community that a play might engage as much as we consider what artists we’re working with, and that we carefully work to connect artists to communities at every stage of the process.

The goal of the Triangle Lab—now a program run jointly by Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts—is to learn how to “make new plays together,” that is to say, how to make new plays with theater institutions, artists, and community members working in close collaboration, as equal partners. We’re aiming to expand who participates in theater-making and how they participate.

Our first experiments will invite people, in many different ways, to tell the stories of their places (their homes, the places they come from, the journeys that have brought them to the place they now call home). These experiments will surround and enrich two productions of work by artists who deeply explore place. Spunk (the second show in Cal Shakes’ 2012 season) showcases Zora Neale Hurston’s intricate stories of African-American life during the Harlem Renaissance while Allelulia (to be produced at Intersection in 2013 with Jonathan Moscone directing), by distinguished playwright Luis Alfaro, traces a journey up Highway 99 from Disneyland to San Francisco. Though these plays are stories by renowned artists, in the Triangle Lab we believe that everyone is a storyteller—we want to invite as many people as we can to tell stories about their places. Stay tuned for more information on how you can participate in this exploration.

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Volunteering by the Numbers

By Jamie Buschbaum, Volunteer Program Coordinator

A mother-daughter volunteer team hands out programs; photo by Jamie Buschbaum.

Volunteering at Cal Shakes came in many different forms this year. The one most visible up at the Bruns Amphitheater was, of course, ushering. Our ushers come from all over the Bay Area to hand out programs, help patrons to their seats, sell raffle tickets, andbonus!see our plays. In 2011 we had ushers from Berkeley, Orinda, Folsom, Campbell, Washington state, and even from as far away as Nepal. Many of our ushers are mother-daughter teams, representing the National Charity League. Together, our extended family of ushering volunteers helped out with nearly 4,000 hours of service during 100 performances, including the ever-important Student Discovery Matinees.

Some of the young people running around up in our Orinda hills home are also volunteersthey’re our interns. This summer, 30 people participated in our Professional Immersion Program, shortened around the office to PIP. The PIPs arrived, for the most part, in May, and helped out for a big chunk of our season, learning the ropes in our education, marketing, production, artistic, and development departments. You can read up more on the PIP program in these blog entries by the interns themselves. The summer PIPs worked 1,700 shifts, totaling more than 10,000 hours of work!

We have PIPs outside of the theatrical season, too, helping us prepare and put on our annual black-tie fundraiser in March; making the casting process go smoothly (it’s happening right now!); keeping the momentum going on the Triangle Lab, our New Works/New Communities partnership with Intersection for the Arts; assisting in our marketing and development efforts; and more. That adds up to another 500 hours that we couldn’t do without.

We’re so fortunate to have this help in making our different programs happen. More than 600 people so far this year have provided us, the theater-going community and the schoolchildren of the greater Bay Area with an irreplaceable gifttheir precious time and energy. We thank you! And if you’re interested in helping us out in the future, please drop me a line to let me know. or visit our Shiftboard page and see what opportunities are available at your convenience (you’ll have to complete a brief registration process first).

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Occupy Theater with The Triangle Lab

The Triangle Lab is collecting and presenting performance responses to recent events at #Occupy Oakland. This is an open call for interested theater artists, musicians, dancers, singers, writers or anyone interested in contributing a story to be performed. Performances will take place in Oakland on Wednesday November 2, and will also be made available online.

Performances will be on the street, brief, unamplified,  and various; based on tweets, videos, and other stories coming out of the Occupy movement.

ONLINE
Share a story you’d like to see performed by actor:
Via Ustream
Via Twitter #OccupyTheater @Triangle_Lab
On our Facebook wall
Upload videos to Vimeo group

LIVE
Meeting/Rehearsal Tuesday Nov 1, 6-10pm at Intersection for the Arts

Performance Wednesday Nov 2, 4-4:15pm
Meet at 3:30pm at It’s a Grind Coffee Shop and we will walk over to City Hall together. The performance will take place in the amphitheater in front of City Hall.

To participate live:
Please come to our artist meeting/rehearsal at Intersection for the Arts on Tuesday 11/1, 6-10 pm.  RSVP on our Facebook page

Please bring a 1-3 minute piece; feel free to incorporate any of the story resources collected on our Facebook page.  Please email a script or description of the piece to drasmussen@calshakes.org by midnight on Monday.

Actors wishing to perform assigned material are encouraged to come to the rehearsal as well or you can just show up on Wednesday.

The Triangle Lab: Intersection for the Arts + California Shakespeare Theater + Campo Santo
Experiments in making new plays with diverse communities

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