“This was the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life. …We made Hermione come back to life.”

Actor Christopher Michael Rivera works the audience at a Student Discovery Matinee of A WINTER'S TALE;.

Actor Christopher Michael Rivera works the audience at a Student Discovery Matinee of A WINTER'S TALE;.

From: Ms. Maiuri

Sent: Thursday, October 03, 2013 8:11 PM

To: Clive Worsley

Subject: Thank you so much for everything (could you pass this on?)

Dear Director and Cast of A Winter’s Tale and the Cal Shakes Artistic Learning Team:

I got an email from a student after returning from Cal Shakes’ student matinee performance of A Winter’s Tale: “Dear Ms. Maiuri, This was the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life.  Also, I’ve discovered that Grace and I have magical powers.  We made Hermione come back to life.  Love, Lisa”

I struggled for years as a teacher in Oakland before I realized that if you’re really honest with students and bring what you love right up to them and put it in their hands, they’ll love it right along with you. I don’t know if it’s the content or the honesty, but it works.

So we study Shakespeare because I love it—the rhythm and the description and the challenge of hearing a play that might be a struggle to understand. I love the slow reveal of the language and the experience of “settling in” when you suddenly realize every word is making sense. I pour my heart into bringing that to my students.

A student asks a question of the cast after a performance of A WINTER'S TALE.

A student asks a question of the cast after a performance of A WINTER'S TALE.

But after I drill and they sweat and we giggle over the plots, we come to Cal Shakes and they’re just mesmerized.  I look over and see kids light up at certain speeches—”It’s too hot, too hot!”—or realize when bits have been skipped or altered, or get quiet and rapt at a moving moment, and I can feel my heart swell and my throat catch.

And then, at the end, to have the actors all come out in hoodies and college t-shirts and sit on the edge of the stage and use real names and talk like real people is the real crux for me.  I can make my students memorize and understand Shakespeare but these artists showed them that it’s okay to stand up and perform in front of others, to cry and feel on stage, to balance football and literature (or even give football up, god forbid), and wear mascara with pride.  Thanks for that. And thanks to the fun and relatable directing and acting choices, they got a Paulina that sounds like their mom’s tough best friend, a steely speech from a jailed mother, a Polixenes that echoes the best and worst of their fathers, and a Leontes who descends into a powerful, believable frenzy that’s surprisingly similar to the throes of middle-school jealousy and spite.

I feel like I’m always making excuses not to write thank-you notes. But Cal Shakes is really special for us, and I thank you all for moving me today.

With gratitude,

Jana Maiuri
(Teacher, Edna Brewer Middle School)

See more highlights of her students’ experience with these photos from Cal Shakes’s 2013 Student Discovery Matinees.



A Winter's Tale by Alessandra Mello

Tristan Cunningham, Zion Richardson, Omoze Idehenre, Mackenzie Kwok in A Winter's Tale; photo by mellopix.com.

The top five commonly asked questions around the Cal Shakes offices about our current production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale—answered at last.

1. Is there going to be a bear onstage?

From Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone: Yes, but you’ll have to see it to find out how it appears.

2. Why is this play less performed/less well known/adapted into film?

From Production Dramaturg Cathleen Sheehan: The play certainly presents some truly daunting challenges in terms of story and staging. There is the dramatic shift in location and tone between Sicilia and Bohemia, the 16-year leap forward, a shipwreck off the coast of Bohemia (which, depending on which scholar you ask about where the  borders were, historically had no coastline), a statue which appears to come back to life, and the tricky business of Antigonus who must “exit pursued by a bear.”

In spite of these challenges and its shifting popularity, A Winter’s Tale has been staged fairly consistently since its inception. In the centuries following its first performances, directors handled these challenges in various ways—sometimes cutting huge portions of the play or allowing one tone to dominate—playing up the Classical themes, for example. In 1756, David Garrick presented Florizel and Perdita at Drury Lane, cutting the first three acts entirely. While 19th–century and early 20th–century productions reinstated Leontes and Hermione as the compelling emotional center of the play, the popular desire for elaborate spectacle meant that the more theatrical elements tended to overshadow the language, characters, and story—and cost a pretty penny as well.

More recently, directors have embraced a more balanced approach to the complexity of the play and accepted the story on its own terms—as a tale including divine, natural, and unusual elements, but one that is essentially human in its struggles and triumphs…with the occasional entrance of a bear.

3. Where in time and space does the play take place?

From Director Patricia McGregor: In this production, in the near future through a Narniaesque door to fantastical fertile lands and the labyrinthine interiors of the self.

4. How will music and dance be featured in the production?

Tristan Cunningham as Perdita

Tristan Cunningham as Perdita in A Winter's Tale; photo by Alessandra Mello.

From Director Patricia McGregor: A Winter’s Tale is performed by a group of traveling storytellers with many tricks up their sleeves. The actors playing Paulina and Autolycus are the ringleaders of this wild theatricalist journey and often use music and dance to transport and transform both the players and the audience. At times, the audience is invited to participate in celebrations and ceremonies through song and dance.

5. What about the play lends itself to a participatory experience?

From Triangle Lab Director Rebecca Novick: I think any play has the potential to be a participatory experience, if the director and the producing theater share that vision.  We like to say that any play could be enriched by “starting with a potluck and ending with everyone dancing on stage.” That said, those are specific participatory activities, and we like to work with directors to design the levels and types of participation that will work best for their production.  In this case, Patricia is particularly interested in how to use a play to build community with an audience, to help people see themselves inside stories that might feel strange or foreign to them, and to encourage people to find their own creative selves.  Seen through that lens, Winter’s Tale is particularly appropriate because it’s a play that asks us to believe that magic can unfreeze our stuck hearts and in Patricia’s production that magic is created collectively by the audience.

A Winter’s Tale runs now through October 20, 2013.


Personalize Our Onstage License Plate!

In our upcoming production of A Winter’s Tale, travelling storytellers spill out of a vehicle to invite you into the story. And since we marketing folks have got connections with the props department (who are so much friendlier than the DMV), director Patricia McGregor has asked us to ask you to decide what goes on the license plate!

The entry the company likes the best gets put on the plate—and earns its creator two tickets to see A Winter’s Tale, and a photo with the vehicle.

Post your entry—no more than seven characters long—by 5pm PST on Wednesday, September 18, one of the following four ways:

Patricia and the cast would like it to have a nod to Spunk, our 2012 production that got so many of them together for the first time.  Here are some ideas that have been thrown around already; maybe they’ll get you thinking.

diddly wah diddy
D wah D

A Winter’s Tale runs September 25–October 20, 2013.




A Winter's Tale

Callie Cullum's show art for A WINTER'S TALE, featuring Omozé Idehenre as Hermione; photo by Jeff Singer.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. A Winter’s Tale runs September 25–October 20, 2013.

As directed by Patricia McGregor, A Winter’s Tale suggests the overwhelming power of emotion to govern and transform the authority of a king: At the start of the play, it is explosive jealousy that “rules” Leontes, the king of Sicilia; by the end, it’s compassion and sorrow that govern him, by way of the transformative power of his own tears.

Coming right in the middle of King James’ reign over England, Shakespeare wove into this play his profound belief in the truth of monarchy as well as his skeptical knowledge that a king is but a man. The collapse of a king’s authority into blind personal jealousy—resulting in death and even in assumed murder—would have been, to Shakespeare’s audiences, like an apocalypse. For any man, tears have all-too-often been seen as weakness: yet here we have a king whose tears take him to a new strength, a new belief in the power of love, and a knowledge that no man should assume power over others that serves only his own interest.

The “saint-like sorrow” performed in A Winter’s Tale evokes Christian parables of penitence—but these, like the old oral traditions that the title calls on, are in the service of a wondrous theme: that no matter what authority is vested in a king, it takes a village to raise a full-grown human being.

Are you going to see our production of A Winter’s Tale?  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.


Season Artist Profile: Paloma McGregor

In the months leading up to the start of our 2013 Main Stage season, I am once again profiling the creative minds behind our productions. The final installment of the 2013 Season Artist Profile series introduces you to choreographer Paloma McGregor, whose movement work on last summer’s Spunk helped make it one of the liveliest productions in our nearly-40-year history. This season, she again teams up with her sister, director Patricia McGregor, for our production of A Winter’s Tale.

What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Paloma. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

Stefanie Kalem: What are your most recent, current, and upcoming projects?

Paloma McGregor; photo courtesy of Angela's Pulse.

Paloma McGregor; photo courtesy of Angela's Pulse.

Paloma McGregor: I rounded out last year with two exciting projects: 

In September, I directed a devised performance work about food systems at UC Berkeley, developed during a five-week residency with three dozen participants from across the Bay Area. In October, I was invited to show a work-in-progress development of my latest Angela’s Pulse project, Building a Better Fishtrap, at St. Mark’s Church as part of Danspace Project’s DraftWork series. Fishtrap, based on my father’s fishing stories and my memory of building a small fishtrap as a child, is a performance work that explores water, memory, and home, as well as examines what we take with us, leave behind, and reclaim. I have been developing the piece for more than a year. In December, with support from the Jerome Foundation, I traveled home to St. Croix to do more research for the project, including spending two weeks as a fisherman’s apprentice. I will continue developing the work this year, involving Patricia in the text development and dramaturgy, and plan to premiere the work in the 2014–15 season.

Also this year, Patricia and I are excited to spend time in June, July, and August at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, developing a new musical together (our latest Angela’s Pulse endeavor). The piece is based on the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case on mixed-race marriage. At a time when marriage rights are once again at a historical crossroads, we will revisit this political precedent, and the young black woman and white man who had to choose a quiet life apart or the fight of their lives.

I joined NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics as a yearlong Artist in Residence, researching embodied memory, agency, and cultural reclamation.

And…I’m still dancing, collaborating as a performer two works that premiere this Spring: How to Lose a Mountain, choreographed by Cassie Meador, artistic director of Dance Exchange, and last days/first field, choreographed by Jill Sigman. 

SK: Had you any experience with designing movement for an outdoor stage before Spunk? How was Spunk/Cal Shakes different? What were the challenges or advantages specific to choreographing for our stage?

IndomitablePM: I grew up in a culture of public performance. In St. Croix, formal parades and informal “tramps” at Carnival time are an integral part of community life. My first major performance as a child dancer was in an outdoor theater, Island Center, the same stage that Alvin Ailey and Dance Theatre of Harlem performed on. Two summers ago, I brought those experiences to my work as choreographer for Indomitable: James Brown, a show Patricia directed for SummerStages in New York. The show involved—among other things—a soul train line that the audience could join. With Cal Shakes, I was able to build on these experiences with the added gift of time: I had weeks to work in the actual performance space, during which I could consider the setting, stage, scenic design, lighting, and costumes in my movement development.

SK: What’s your experience with Shakespeare—watching it, working with it—in general, and A Winter’s Tale in specific?

PM: My first introduction to Shakespeare was the witches’ chant from Macbeth—”Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”—which I used to recite when I was maybe 5 or 6, as though it were a nursery rhyme! Later, in high school, King Lear drew me in with its tragic reflections of love, justice, and betrayal. I saw A Winter’s Tale at Shakespeare in the Park a few years ago, and delighted in its magic and wit.

SK: What can you tell me about your thinking about the Cal Shakes production this early in the game? What role will movement play in the story? What other early thoughts can you share?

Aldo Billingslea, Omoze Idehenre, and Tyee Tilghman in Cal Shakes’ SPUNK; photo by Kevin Berne.

Aldo Billingslea, Omoze Idehenre, and Tyee Tilghman in Cal Shakes’ SPUNK; photo by Kevin Berne.

PM: I often say that characters reveal themselves in their bodies first, before they ever say a word. I am excited to develop and differentiate the two worlds of this piece—Sicilia and Bohemia—by distinguishing the ways their people walk, stand, sit, revel, fume … and dance.

SK: I understand you were a journalist for a time. What kind of writing did you do? I’m thinking of that famous quote (attributed to everyone from Martin Mull to Thelonious Monk to Laurie Anderson) that says “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”—but is there any way that journalism and dancing intersect? The skills you use, the perspective you need? Or do they engage completely different parts of your brain and body?

PM: I like to think of the brain as just another important part of the body. So being a dancer allows me to use my full body to hone the skills I practiced as a journalist: listening deeply and to everything, obsessing over details, noticing subtle shifts, adjusting to what the circumstances require, being efficient and creative, thinking and acting fast, and synthesizing multiple layers of information to make a legible statement. Good storytelling, whether in the body or on the page, necessitates patience, persistence, and grace.

SK: What was the first piece of dance or performing arts that you saw that inspired you to think, “I want to be a part of that”?

Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun

Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun.

PM: As a young child in St. Croix, I saw Alvin Ailey perform. After the show, I took my autograph book back to have the dancers sign it. They were all so beautiful and kind, and I knew one day I wanted to be like them. Every time I sign a program for a child now, I think of that moment.

My first memory of going to see theater was Annie Get Your Gun, probably when I was 6 or 7. The lead character was so dynamic, funny, and brave, and I believe she shaped some of my early notions of what a strong, sassy woman was capable of—ideas that stick with me today. I remember that show when I think about the impact I want my work to have.

SK: What or who inspires you right now? Any particular writers, music, current events, people, et cetera?

PM: My mom and sister are always an inspiration when I think about working with purpose, integrity and compassion. My current project is tangling with objects and sites as containers of memory, so visual artists are inspiring me a great deal, particularly Theaster Gates and El Anatsui. The slow, powerful work that’s happening around developing, supporting, and perpetuating sustainable environmental practices inspires me each day.

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What Does It Take to Awaken Your Faith? A Note from the Director of A WINTER’S TALE

Director Patricia McGregor’s early thoughts on her fall 2013 production of A Winter’s Tale.

Patricia McGregor_by Matt Holliday

Patricia McGregor by Matt Holliday.

What does it take to awaken your faith?

At some point in our lives, each one of us is sure to have suffered from the diseased itch of jealousy or paranoia; perhaps we’ve endured the consequences of succumbing to the scratch, as well. A Winter’s Tale plunges us deep into our personal dark corners, where insecurity and fear battle against logic and love. As Leontes unleashes his irrational wrath, the strength of Hermione’s grace is put to the ultimate test.

My production—told as a fable by Paulina and her traveling group of gypsies—will enliven the muscular and miraculous natures of forgiveness and faith: Bohemia and Sicilia will be drawn to emphasize the correlating restraint and playfulness of the literal and psychological landscapes of the “twinned lambs” (Leontes and Polixinies). Using the simple magic of traveling storytellers and the natural beauty of the Orinda hills, we will evoke the elements that draw us toward and away from our best natures.

While this is a tale that, on the surface, has clear markers between good and bad actions, I’m interested in digging deeper in order to explore how each character holds both iconic attributes and also their opposite. Is Leontes driven to exert his power due to his fragility? Is jovial Polixines a tyrant when crossed? Part tale of warning against the decayed mind or heart, part celebration of the triumph of hope and love, A Winter’s Tale is all magical realism and rugged theatricality.

This timeless fairytale has a truth and power that resonates with all ages.

Read all about our 2013 season here.