happy-[n]ever-after

by resident dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream between 1594 and 1598, when the playwright was in his early to mid-thirties (solidly-middle-aged by the standards of his time, “young” by today’s measurements, where the Y and Z generations have an estimated average life-span of 103!)

Midsummer was preceded by Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and the three Henry VI plays that we produced last season. The play’s closest companion, however, was Romeo and Juliet, of which it can be seen as an inversion: while Romeo and Juliet begins as a comedy about youthful infatuation, suddenly plummeting into intense passion and ultimate tragedy, Midsummer begins with a cruel threat of death, soaring from there through darkness, misunderstanding and panic all the way to a glorious comic resolution that is celebrated in multiple marriages. The use of trickery, too, is inverted in the two plays, one for tragic purposes, the other for comic: in Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers are tricked by fate into losing their lives; while Midsummer’s lovers are tricked into complicated, intersecting versions of misunderstanding and despair, ultimately to be resolved within joyous concord.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake

But why doesn’t Midsummer end with the several weddings that provide a gorgeous wrap-up to the hectic cross-currents of alarm and confusion? Instead of ending with its weddings, the play has a final act that counters concord with discord: all of the wedding couples are forced to sit through a performance of The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, a Romeo and Juliet-style horror-show complete with blood and gore, hilariously rendered by an inept group of unschooled actors.

I think this ambivalent ending provides one of the analogues that make the play so powerful in our present day, when myths about happy families and forever-marriages are no longer hammered in as they were after the two world wars.  As a part of their wedding celebration, Shakespeare’s contented lovers witness love that doesn’t end up happily ever-after. They witness, in other words, the future that might easily have confronted them, or the future that they still might face. Swearing to love forever doesn’t necessarily mean forever: there was any number of accidents (falling into a pothole, catching an infection, burning in a house fire), that ended many sixteenth-century marriages almost before they had begun. In a time that was governed by carpe diem (“live for the day,”) people understood, at the most profound level, that happy-ever-after is a dream to be longed for, but, perhaps, something that exists as only a dream.

P.S. Subscriptions to our 2019 Season are available now. If you’ve already subscribed, please consider a donation to Cal Shakes to show your love today!

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Cal Shakes at the Theatre Bay Area 2014 Awards

It was a wonderful 40th Anniversary surprise to wake up on Tuesday and find that shows from Cal Shakes’ 2014 Season had received accolades at the Theatre Bay Area Awards, held Monday night in San Francisco. While 3 of our 4 main stage shows had cast or staff nominated for awards, we emerged with five awards to five different actors and creative staff:

James Carpenter as Alfred Doolittle. Photo by Jay Yamada.

James Carpenter won “Best Featured Male Actor in a Play” for his role as Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion. (Read an interview with James Carpenter about his role in Pygmalion, including how he rehearsed.)

Danny Scheie won “Best Principal Male Actor in a Play” for his role as the Dromios in The Comedy of Errors.

Andre Pluess won “Best Sound Design” for The Comedy of Errors.

Beaver Bauer won “Best Costume Design” for The Comedy of Errors. (Read our interview with Bauer about her inspiration for the Comedy costume design).

Danny Scheie and Adrian Danzig in The Comedy of Errors. Cal Shakes' Comedy of Errors won awards for direction (Aaron Posner), costumes (Beaver Bauer), sound design (Andre Pluess) and lead actor (Danny Scheie).

Aaron Posner, who won “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing The Comedy of Errors.

And as a bonus, our PR and Marketing Manager Marilyn Langbehn won an award for “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing August: Osage County at Contra Costa Civic Theater.

 

Congratulations to all the wonderful theater-makers in the Bay Area for coming together and making such wonderful work. (69 awards were given last night). And thanks to all our staff for such a great 40th Anniversary Season! We can’t wait to see what fun 2015 will bring.

 

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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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The Understudy Diaries

If you attended a Cal Shakes show this past weekend, you may have seen my face—on our stage. I’m the understudy for Movement Director and actress Erika Chong Shuch, a powerhouse of a woman, and I wound up being called on to play Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people have asked me what this experience was like, and so I thought I would chronicle it into phases.

Phase I: Excitement

After interning all summer at Cal Shakes, I auditioned and was accepted to understudy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was all knock-knees and general excitement, highlighting away in my binder during the first rehearsal and gasping at all the set and costume designs. Understudying allows you to absorb so much information and as a young actress it’s pretty ideal. I get to try on a part without as much of the risk, and see the professionals do their work.

Phase 2: Technical Rehearsal

This was the most fun part of being an understudy for me, where I learned all my lines and wrote down all my blocking. Essentially the expectation is to know everything by Opening Night, and then to have your understudy rehearsal the following Tuesday. Simple enough. I had just finished my internship and so was content to hang around the Bruns all during tech, cracking jokes with cast and crew and being on book when needed. I was so impressed with all the actors, working twelve hour days and being incredibly patient and generous with each other.

Regina Fields and Danny Scheie (Puck) backstage before the show. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 3: Understudy Rehearsal

Finally our time had come! My fellow understudies were chomping at the bit to do their scenes. They were really prepared and ready to finally DO something with all the knowledge they’d been collecting. On the way to rehearsal we all got an email that would change the whole course of our day. Brian, the understudy for James Carpenter (Egeus/Starveling) was going to go on! It was getting real. We spent most of the day doing Brian’s scenes, which meant I only got to walk through one Titania scene once.

Catherine Castellanos (Snout) and I kept joking about how it would be crazy if I had to go on after not getting to do any of my scenes. Good thing that was entirely unlikely. Little did I know…

Phase 4: The Call

Friday morning the unthinkable happened. I received a text message from Karen Szpaller, our stage manager/resident superwoman, saying I should be prepared to go on, and she would let me know as soon as she could. At which point I immediately began to do three things:

1) hyperventilate

2) read my script 500 times

3) cry (just a little).

In order to understand why I would react in such a fashion it’s important to note that I’m a senior in college, who has a few credits mostly accrued while at conservatory in Europe. Cal Shakes is a theater I respect and whose company of staff, crew, and actors I am constantly in awe of. Basically I felt like I was hitting fast forward on getting to do my ultimate dream job.

Karen confirmed that Operation Understudy was a go (she doesn’t call it that, I do, and I’m not sorry about it) and I hit the road around 3pm, reciting Shakespeare all the way.

Regina Fields' understudy debut in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 5: The Trial By Fire

I got to the theater with enough time to warm up, walk the space, and get fitted into a costume before my two hour put-in rehearsal began. A put-in is essentially what it sounds like—putting me into the show. However, anyone who has seen this show with Erika knows: you can’t imitate greatness. So we (and by we I mean Craig, and the fairies; Travis, Parker and Mel), re-choreographed a whole lot, from the top of show fight, to my entrance out of the trap (under the stage) and more.

Everyone was incredibly supportive, including Jonathan Moscone who came to help direct me through some moments and get acquainted with the show. The fairies (Travis Parker and Mel) helped me focus on my job, which was to make everyone else not freak out by appearing calm, knowing my part and just doing the damn thing.

After asserting my warrior dominance as Hippolyta in the first scene, I had a second to look out and had only one thought: “oh my lanta, people”. I don’t even remember saying my first line. What I do remember is the outpouring of love from everyone around me. I felt like I was on an Olympic Rowing Team and we were all going for the gold in one final burst before the finish line: either we all won or we all didn’t make it, and failure was not an option. Coming through the green room door after that first show was the most electrifying feeling in the world. We had done it! We had pulled off this behemoth, beautiful, inspiring show and I quite frankly couldn’t believe I’d gotten to be a part of it.

Phase 6: The Aftermath

I cannot stress enough how much Cal Shakes’ culture of support, love of art, and community helped me to get through this moment. Without all of the words of encouragement from my fellow actors, and the amazing Cal Shakes audience, I never would have found the courage to step out on that stage. Now that Erika is back and more graceful than ever, it feels like even more of a family because we all helped each other through a tough spot. I have nothing but eternal gratuity and respect for everyone involved for helping a young actress to realize her dreams for just a few shows. The best way to articulate how I feel is with a quote from the play:

“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”

Regina Fields and Daisuke Tsuji (Oberon, Theseus) in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

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

 

 

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Ask Philippa: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs September 3–28. Tickets on sale now.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins where most comedies end: with the announcement of a wedding. As the curtain rises, Duke Theseus calls for general rejoicing at the news of his impending wedding to the Amazon Hippolyta.  “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriment,” he tells Philostrate, expecting the young folk to readily oblige. But they will not, or they cannot, so hopelessly enmeshed are they in the tangles of their hearts. By the play’s conclusion, however, all will find fulfillment (or at the very least, acceptance), bowing to the wonder of this wedding day. Marriage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more than a note of triumph: it marks the end of a struggle and the beginning of a journey. And all of us who witnesses this play—beautiful, hilarious, even dangerous—bring to it our own flawed hearts. In the confusions of the young lovers, the competitive ambiguities of mature love, and the hilarious malapropisms of the “rude mechanicals: we might see our hopes, dreams, passions, and our laughably regrettable mistakes.

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

Are you going to see our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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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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Waking the Dream

By Aliya Charney

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of the end of Cal Shakes’ historic 40th anniversary season. This summer alone, our audience has travelled back in time and around the world onstage: from segregated Southside Chicago, to the circus-inspired ancient port city of Ephesus, and now to Edwardian London. In this season alone, the Bruns has reached new heights and hosted a series of transportive and transformative theater. And we’re not quite finished yet.

Enter renowned director (and former Assistant Artistic Director) Shana Cooper, directing the final installment of our regular season, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cooper’s journey with Dream began when she was nine years old and living in Ashland, Oregon. As she sat in on a technical rehearsal for their production, Cooper witnessed what she describes as “a magical moment.” The nine-year-old Cooper watched in awe as a mischievous Puck gracefully climbed atop a tall Elizabethan pillar—and forgot his line. In one swift moment, Puck was transformed form a Fairy to an actor, and when the line was recalled and a colorful comment made, Puck was back again. It is this spirit of transformation, of the subtle differences between what our eyes perceive and what may be lurking just below the surface of reality, that contributed to Cooper’s desire to direct Dream.

A photo of the costume design sketches for Puck, by Katherine O'Neill.

Dream has remained one of Cooper’s favorite plays throughout the years because it serves as a gateway to an unseen world, a glimpse into the characters’–and even the audience’s–subconscious minds. According to Cooper, in Dream, the untamed landscape of the woods, where the lovers flee to and the Fairies live, “is filled with mystery and danger” due to its potential to disturb the status quo. The Athenians live on the outskirts of this liberated wood, and in Dream, we enter into a world that is wild, violent, and dangerous: the world of our subconscious desires–the world of our dreams. As Cooper so rightly states: “within fantasy lurks madness.”

During last Wednesday’s Meet & Greet with the show’s cast and creative team, we learned that Dream will take place in “a world in which the perspective shifts with the dreamer.” This lends itself naturally to the theme of transformation, hopping from one “reality” to the next, as if trapped in someone else’s fantasy. Scenic designer Nina Ball (The Comedy of Errors) joins Cal Shakes once again this season with Dream’s duel set: the oppressive, civilized Athenian landscape, slowly peeled away to reveal a “poetic representation of a forest,” complete with an exploding arch of twigs, sustained–mid-air–by a seeming lack of gravity. By the end of the play, the arch bursts to life, sprouting blossoms that carry over to, and transform, the once-stale Athenian aesthetic.

Dream photo shoot

Erika Chong Shuch, Daisuke Tsuji, and Danny Scheie in the Midsummer Night's Dream photo shoot. Photo by Esther Ho.

Also joining Dream for her second Cal Shakes production this season is Movement Director Erika Chong Shuch (Hippolyta, Tatiana). As Cooper reasons, “this play demands a need for movement and dance to transport us from one world to the next [in order] to tell the story.” In Dream, movement will serve as a vessel to infuse the production with magic. And it is safe to say that Cooper’s vision of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be magical indeed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens September 6th. Buy your tickets online or by calling 510.548.9666.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern and Cal Shakes Patron Services Associate. You might have heard her answering Cal Shakes’ phones, giving Grove Talks before our Shakespeare shows, or in her occasional stints welcoming patrons at the new Welcome Center.

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The Dramaturg’s Task: Cost-“cutting” and art-making

As Shakespeare put his text together for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1590s, did he have any actor friend with whom he talked over his thoughts and staging choices? We know that the actors themselves weren’t permitted a copy of his script—they received only their own lines and those immediately preceding and following their time on-stage. At the early stages of his career, Shakespeare didn’t have a stable company of actors. But I am quite sure that as the 1590s progressed, he became very close to his actors: indeed, two of them, Heminge and Condell, curated all of his plays seven years after his death into a full edition (they left out Pericles, either because they felt that he didn’t write enough of it for it to be representative of his work, or because they didn’t like it: we will never know. But the play has since been reinstated into Shakespeare’s Complete Works). Who was Shakespeare as he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, somewhere between 1594 and 1598? We know that he lived away from his wife and family, who were settled in Stratford. We know that his son Hamnet died in 1596. But as an artist—perhaps like every great artist—much of his mind is opaque, left to our conjecture, its shifting shapes glimpsed by reflections caught in his work. In this sense, A Midsummer Night’s Dream—part of whose subject is reflection, what we see of ourselves in others – “stages” the mirror-like nature of any artistic communication. “The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye…” I love this image because it suggests the translucence of art: like a pool of water, art changes with the casting of a single stone or the movement of light across its surface.

As the invisible wheels turn in preparation for our rehearsal for the upcoming production staged by Shana Cooper, I am now beginning on one of the most enjoyable front-end tasks of dramaturgy: sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of Peet’s tea, with Shana’s draft of our script laid out in front of me (Arden text), and two separate editions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on either side. The dramaturg’s task is to work very slowly through the draft, looking at each of the suggested cuts and seeing whether the storyline remains intact, both in terms of on-stage plotline and thematic development. So, for instance, Shana’s first cut is one of two and a half lines in Theseus’ first speech, in which she has suggested leaving out his image about the wait for his upcoming marriage being like waiting impatiently for a moneyed maiden aunt to die. Instead of

 Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue,

We now have

 Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes!

I think this transition is seamless and works well: the major thing it excises is the sense of materialism planted so early in the play via Theseus’ image of love. In this play, over and over again, we are asked, “what is the cost of love?” To our pride? To our hearts?  To our lives, even? There is plenty of material that brings up this theme as the first scene develops, so I don’t think we lose anything by dropping these few lines here.

By leaving out this initial very specific image of the aged dowager withering out a young man’s revenue, there is also the possibility to release a stark question: what is the dynamic between Theseus (the conqueror, the warlord, who has brought home his latest spoil of war, Hyppolita, the Amazonian queen, claimed in his most recent pillage), and Hippolyta herself? We know that Theseus eagerly awaits his wedding to Hippolyta—and the pared-down opening lines accentuate this eagerness. But in losing the materialism of the dowager image, they also throw out to the actors and the artistic team an open question: who is this character, Theseus? Has he fallen head-over-heels with Hippolyta, his own surrender to love somewhat ironically overturning his actual material victory in war? And who is Hippolyta? Does she come willingly? Or is she desperate and in pain, torn from the world of warfare in which she was the heroic queen? Or is she stoic, a veteran of war, understanding that she is to pay the price of defeat?? All of these questions may come up in the rehearsal hall when we meet on August 3.

You can live the Dream from Sept 3rd—Sept 28th. Tickets for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

About the Author: 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 pkelly@calshakes.org,.

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