A Spy in Rehearsal: Quixote Nuevo Dispatch

by Alicia Coombes, Publications Manager

Last week I had the pleasure of watching rehearsal for the first time since the first read-through. The cast welcomed me with the offer of snacks (their snack game is ON), and they worked on blocking a scene from around page 50 of the new script.

Playwright Octavio Solis has spoken about how thrilled he is that he can continue exploring the story of Don Quixote (this is its third incarnation! Hence: Quixote Nuevo) and is particularly excited about the possibilities afforded him with an all-Latinx cast.

Here’s a bit of an interview between Production Dramaturg Sonia Fernandez and Octavio:

Sonia Fernandez: I wanted to ask you about the Spanish. I’m curious because the Spanish within the scenes can be understood through the context around it. But you have whole songs in Spanish.

OS: Well yeah. I think because music is a language unto itself. Even if we don’t know the lyrics, we respond to the emotions that are carried through. Music can say—with its notes, just with its melody and its rhythm—it can say everything and more than if you literally translate that into language, into written words, into spoken language. It’s universal. Everybody gets that. There are people like my brother who lives in Mexico, he’ll hear Frank Sinatra, or Perry Como, and love that music, or Billie Holiday, and have no idea what she was singing, what the words were. It didn’t matter. Because he knew what they were singing about. They were singing about love or a party or heartbreak or loneliness, they understood that in the music, they feel it. So I feel like I can do that in this play. And in my plays, generally there’s often some songs that are all in Spanish. People will get it, and if they don’t, you know, then they just gotta wait until the song is over.

SF: There’s just something beautiful that I find in plays in other languages that it’s like you’re giving a special treat to the people who understand it. They’re getting something extra. And those are the people who may not usually get something extra, but in this you say, this is for you. It’s for everyone, but especially for you.

OS: Yeah. I feel that way, and there’s no doubt about it, I’m writing for an English-speaking audience in my plays, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t offer these little gifts to the people who also can speak Spanish who are there. And we may get audiences that don’t speak any English at all, and if we do, these songs will be a way for them to help carry on the journey of the play. At least that’s my hope.

This Quixote squarely lives in today’s Texas, steps from the Mexican border, and his is an American story rather than a Spanish/European one. The new script features songs in Spanish, some characters whose only language is Spanish, some whose only language is English (or “Texan” maybe? No disrespect, as a former Oklahoman), and other characters who playfully mix Spanish and English into a greater sum of its parts. The cast’s familiarity with the language is also varied: during rehearsal, some folks tried to remember rules of grammar, others helped with accents. Some practiced new lines written just moments before, and some played with their jokes a few different ways, feeling out what different emphases gave to the lines.

We’re all a bunch of language geeks around here, and it’s nice to see a living playwright play with language with the same zeal that I imagine Shakespeare must have done. There are raunchy jokes, bilingual rhymes, and poetic moments that will be a delight to watch this cast continue to explore.

More soon as I continue to spy from the rehearsal room! For lots more behind the scenes, follow #QuixoteNuevo and @calshakes on Instagram; and if you haven’t bought tickets already, you can get them here.


Quixote’s Dreams

by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

I wonder what Cervantes’ character, Don Quixote, would think if he were to spend an hour or two at the conversation table on the plaza at the Bruns? His trusty horse, Rocinante, would be tethered in the car park because we don’t allow horses on site (unless they’re on stage—and never again, not after the nightly clean-up routine for our first staging of Macbeth). There would be hills stretching beyond, enticing Don Quixote with invisible adventures, and the goats he runs into would be replaced by gently lowing cows. Quixote’s stout lance and suit of armor would stand out amongst a sea of puffy jackets. And, just as in his story, our accommodating grounds staff would surely allow him to keep his helmet on, with a straw serving for the reed that gets his wine to his mouth.

And there would be dreams: dreams held up in the face of adversity, dreams abandoned or cherished, dreams that belong not just to our knight errant himself, but to every person sitting at that plaza table. And this is one of the great beauties of Cervantes’ long, rambling story. It’s a story about dreams that keep a man going even when his ear is mangled and anyone else would have given up and gone to bed; dreams that carry him, his friend Sancho and his tired old horse Rocinante, through heat and cold and exhaustion; dreams that transform the world so that Quixote can find a reason to live in it.

As you can see, I love Don Quixote (but advise those of you who haven’t read it to listen to it on tape on a very, very long journey.) But I am positive that, after decades of loving Cervantes’ story, I’m going to love Octavio Solis’s adaptation even more. Solis is back with us again, adapting another classic novel (the last being Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven in 2009.) Into our current cynicism, the playwright is infusing the breath of an old, old story, but a story that is primal for us as human beings. What is the sum of a life? No matter who we are, or how much we possess or don’t possess, we all must leave our loved ones, our enemies, our goods and chattels, someday, to cross that border alone beyond this mortal life.

Emilio Delgado as Quixote; photo by Kevin Berne

And here is where Octavio’s adventure with Don Quixote begins. He’s renamed Cervantes’ story Quixote Nuevo, signaling the area near El Paso, Texas, where Octavio himself was born and raised. In Quixote Nuevo, Octavio asks Cervantes to travel through time and help us to learn about who we are today. And nothing would make Cervantes’ character, Don Quixote, happier than to oblige: he always thinks he’s right; he knows what it means to gallop full-tilt in the face of reality; and he believes, above all else, that one should always follow one’s dreams. As with all of us, it’s Quixote’s dreams that make him ferociously, vulnerably, poignantly, hilariously human.

And in Quixote Nuevo, he’s dying. Why on earth would he accept this new curve ball from reality when he’s never accepted anything else?  Why would he believe the doctors and philosophers who tell him it’s all over? It’s not over—it never will be; because the great gift he has is his imagination, which carries him back, through hurts, heartaches, the crumbling of his aged mind, to the days when all things were possible and all he needed was a horse, a friend and a will of iron. Octavio has taken Cervantes’ marvelous character—the inhabitant of the first novel ever written—and, assisted by director KJ Sanchez and a fabulous creative team, brought him across the Atlantic. In Octavio’s words, he’s endeavored to give Quixote “a different cast, darken his skin, darken his hair, give him roots that are more native to the Americas,” then set him to seek out adventures in La Plancha, Texas. And all we need do is bring our jackets, our wine and our sandwiches, and we can be right there with him.

Quixote Nuevo begins playing June 13. Get tickets here!


Announcing the Quixote Nuevo cast & creative team

Click here to buy tickets!

We’re opening our 2018 Season with Octavio Solis’ World Premiere of Quixote Nuevo, directed by KJ Sanchez! Our music-filled contemporary retelling of Cervantes’ classic novel will feature feature Emilio Delgado, best known for his long-running role as Luis on Sesame Street, in the title role, and a cast of Latinx actors from the Bay Area and beyond:

Clockwise from top left: Juan Amador, Carlos Aguirre, Emilio Delgado, Sol Castillo, Hugo Carbajal, Sarita Ocón, Amy Lizardo, Michele Apriña Leavy, and Gianna DiGregorio Rivera.

Juan Amador (who can often be seen DJing locally, including for the Grammy-nominated group Alphabet Rockers), as Sancho; Carlos Aguirre (Bruja, Lily’s Revenge, and Oedipus el Rey at Magic Theatre; Campo Santo’s Fuku Americanus and A Place to Stand);  Hugo Carbajal (Heart Shaped Nebula and The Great Divide at Shotgun Players, San Francisco Mime Troupe’s Freedomland and Oil and Water); Gianna DiGregorio Rivera (Custom Made Theater’s How I Learned to Drive, Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream); Michele Apriña Leavy (A Tale of Autumn, Blackademics, The Late Wedding, and many more at Crowded Fire Theater, The Seagull, Twelfth Night, and Comedy of Errors at Livermore Shakespeare); and Sol Castillo (The Night Fairy, Charlottes Web, and Adventures of Pop Quinly at South Coast Repertory, Sunsets & Margaritas at Denver Center, and Of Mice and Men at Pasadena Playhouse), all making their Bruns debuts. Returning to Cal Shakes are Amy Lizardo (Cal Shakes’ All the Bay’s a Stage touring production of The Tempest, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, Hundred Days at Z Space, The Unfortunates at A.C.T.) and Sarita Ocón (Cal Shakes’ All the Bay’s a Stage touring production of Twelfth Night, A Streetcar Named Desire and To The Bone at Ubuntu Theater Project, The River Bride at Arizona Theater Company, PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo at South Coast Repertory).

Quixote Nuevo’s creative team includes: Scenic Designer Annie Smart (whose previous designs for Cal Shakes include Measure for Measure and The Glass Menagerie); Costume Designer Ulises Alcala (The Gangster of Love at Magic Theater, The Merry Wives of Windsor at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Don Pasquale, Le Nozze di Figaro, and many more at San Francisco Opera); Lighting Designer Wen-Ling Liao (Vietgone at A.C.T., Reel to Reel at Magic Theatre, Barbecue at San Francisco Playhouse); Co-Composer/Music Director, & Sound Designer David R Molina (Lydia at Mark Taper Forum, Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles at Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and Co-Composer/Music Director Eduardo Robledo (musician, performer, and educator who has been a member of Teatro De La Gente, Teatro Campesino and the San Francisco Mime Troupe).


Quixote Nuevo plays from June 13-July 1. Click here for tickets and more information.


Announcing Lead Artists for our Epic 2018 Season




We’re thrilled to announce the directors for our 2018 Season—KJ Sanchez (Quixote Nuevo), Nataki Garrett (Everybody), and Eric Ting (The War of the Roses). We’re also excited to announce the Cal Shakes debut of Sesame Street’s Emilio Delgado, who will play our Quixote, as well as the return of Cal Shakes favorites Aldo Billingslea, Stacy Ross, and Danny Scheie in The War of the Roses.

“I’m thrilled to be working with these fantastic collaborators in 2018,” Artistic Director Eric Ting said.

“KJ’s work with American Records (a theater company whose mission is to make theater that chronicles our time and serves as a bridge between people) and her passion for the communities she makes work with is so close to our own mission at Cal Shakes and an excellent entry point into our reimagined Quixote Nuevo. And Nataki’s roots in Oakland, reputation as a “change-leader” and champion of new and diverse voices in the American theater, along with her close artistic relationship with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins makes her a perfect fit to direct Everybody.”

Ting continued, “I’ve already had the pleasure of working with KJ and Nataki on casting for the 2018 Season. All three shows lend themselves to strong ensembles, and each show will have crossovers with several actors joining more than one show. I love that KJ and Nataki are game for helping to create such a vibrant company of new faces and returning favorites. I know our returning audiences love seeing Danny Scheie (You Never Can Tell, The Mystery of Irma Vep), Stacy Ross (Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night) and Aldo Billingslea (black odyssey, Fences) on our stages. Many of us know Emilio Delgado from his 30+ years on Sesame Street as Luis, the friendly Fix-It Shop owner, and we’re all delighted to welcome him to La Mancha, Texas, the fictional setting of our Quixote Nuevo, for the summer!”

Read the whole press release here.

Your epic summer—filled with fantastical escapades, Shakespearean intrigue, and classic works reimagined for today—is closer than you think. Subscriptions are on sale now!


Miguel de Cervantes: A Remarkable Life

by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Last week my 85-year-old mother had cause to go to the bank, where, with her walker frame, she stood in front of another elderly woman with an identical frame. “Let’s have a race,” said the woman behind her. “I should warn you, when I get going with this thing I can run like the clappers,” replied my mother. The other woman said, “I withdraw.”

Today the world—particularly in its wealthier parts—is blessed with many 85-year-olds. In the 16th and 17th centuries this was not the case: many people considered a good long life to be one lived till the mid-forties. But if you made it to the age of 8 (37 percent of children did not), you were not unlikely, if you had the means (and also the good fortune to avoid the plague), to reach the age of 50 or even 60. This was more than true of Miguel de Cervantes, who lived until almost 70, surviving three gunshot wounds and over 5 years’ imprisonment, much of it spent in irons.

We know almost nothing of the first 20 years of Cervantes’ life from 1547 onward, except that he came from a noble but impecunious family. We know much more about this period in Spain, which was one of great transition. The old “native” Spain, with its chivalrous codes of honor and its powerful nobility, had crumbled under the force of the Habsburg kings’ sole dominion, backed by the church and the Spanish inquisition. Spain sought to command as much of Europe as it could, extending its authority into the Americas, the East Indies, parts of France and Germany, Portugal, North Africa, and Italy’s nation states. The Spaniards’ voyages around the world led to many advantages: for example, on discovering that the orange plants they had plundered from China could, within three days, magically cure the horrible disease of scurvy that produced swollen, stinking gums and bleeding to the brain, wealthy Spanish landowners now graced their homes with their own orangeries, namely glass-enclosed, heated greenhouses that produced oranges all year round.

This period of enormous growth and stature led to an efflorescence not only in the gardens of Spain, but also in its artists. The period from 1492 to 1659 become known as the Spanish Golden Age, during which Miguel de Cervantes spent his entire life.

The clearest knowledge we have of Cervantes’ young days begins with his occupancy, at age 21, of the role of Cardinal’s chamberlain. At the age of 23 he resigned this post and entered the military. Seeds of Don Quixote’s stubbornness can be found in the exploits of the young soldier Cervantes: although desperately ill on the voyage from Messina, Cervantes insisted, against all advice from doctors and comrades, on sticking to his post, claiming that he would die in the service of God rather than remain in the ship’s hold secure and in good health. During this military campaign he survived three gunshot wounds, which left him severely incapacitated and hospitalized for seven months, and he never regained the use of his wounded left hand. He came out of hospital, however, only to enlist for another three years’ military service, beginning his return to Spain at the age of 28 in the company of his brother, with a written recommendation from his General to the king honoring his brave service.

On the way home, the Cervantes brothers’ regiment was overpowered by an Algerine force and taken to Algiers. A ransomed fellow-captive got the news of the brothers’ imprisonment to their family, who strove by every means—the father selling his goods and the Cervantes sisters forfeiting their dowries—to cobble together enough ransom money to free them. But when the Algerian governor found on Miguel’s person the general’s letters of recommendation to the king, he concluded that the young man was a person of great importance, and that the ransom money was inconsequential for someone so highly prized: he kept Miguel in captivity, allowing his brother to go free.

Thus began a period in Miguel’s life that affords some precedent for his eventual literary hero’s indomitable strength of conviction (if not for his absurdity). Miguel tried not only to escape, but to take his fellow captives to safety with him; and when they were discovered, he insisted, despite threats of impalement, that all blame for the breakout be placed on his shoulders alone. The Algerian governor executed some of his companions but held onto Cervantes, feeling that there was something special in his bravery and resourcefulness. Although restrained in irons, Cervantes remained unbroken in spirit and ventured another escape, for which he was sentenced to 2000 blows to the back, which would have killed him had not some unknown powerful people interceded to save him. He was kept under even further confinement (how was this even possible?!), but two years later attempted another escape, trying to save sixty of his fellow-prisoners with him. An informant, jealous of the love and admiration that Cervantes inspired in his fellows, revealed his plot to the governor, and Cervantes’ plan was again foiled. No threat of torture could compel him to name any of his accomplices, and he was sent back to prison heavily ironed as before.

Portrait of Cervantes credited to Juan de Jáuregui. Like Shakespeare, there is no official likeness of Cervantes.

All this time Cervantes’ family never ceased its efforts to raise sufficient ransom money to get him released. Finally the governor, planning his own retirement, accepted a sum, releasing the 33-year-old prisoner five years almost to the day after his first captivity. But Cervantes’ trials were not yet over. A jealous functionary, claiming to be an officer of the Inquisition, concocted false evidence against him, claiming that he was guilty of misconduct while in prison. Cervantes checkmated him by drawing up a list of 25 questions that covered the period of his captivity, and he asked that credible witnesses he deposed to answer them. All of them attested to his bravery and to his selfless concern for others while in prison, and he returned to Spain a free man.

But not for long. He was penniless, and felt compelled, for the sake of his own survival, to rejoin his old regiment. Pushing 40 and with a useless left hand, however, he could expect no promotion, and he finally left the army, married a woman of sufficient means to feed them both as well as his infant daughter (conceived with someone else before his marriage), and wrote 30 or 40 plays in an attempt to earn a living as a writer. The plays were not admired, and at the close of the century, at the age of 50, he accepted a position as tax collector. It was as he traveled from town to town collecting the king’s taxes that he noted down scenes that would eventually end up in his remarkable novel, Don Quixote. He was again imprisoned because a merchant to whom he entrusted the taxation revenue absconded with the money—and although this imprisonment was brief, it appears that Cervantes was not reinstated to his former position. But he did appear, in this last prison stint, to have begun transcribing Don Quixote from his notes. The novel was first published in 1605 when Cervantes was almost 60, and was immediately successful (although Cervantes himself still had to work at various jobs for the Council, trying to make up the money with which the merchant had absconded.)

Despite Don Quixote’s immediate success, Cervantes didn’t continue with his anti-hero’s comic adventures. He wrote several other works, mainly plays, continuing to believe that he could make a great career as a playwright. The fact that Don Quixote has a second volume is due to a disciple of the great writer Lope de Vega, who loathed Cervantes. This disciple, Avallenada, wrote his own “second volume” of Don Quixote, to which he attached a preface attacking Cervantes with such vile descriptions that our literary hero was provoked to write his own second part to Don Quixote, eventually killing off the famous knight errant to ensure that he had final control of his character.

Cervantes died at the age of 69, on April 23 1616, the same day as Shakespeare.