Announcing a new Marcus Gardley commission!

We’ve received a prestigious Hewlett 50 Arts Commission! 

A program of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission awards 10 Bay Area-based non-profit organizations. Each will receive $150,000 to create important and unique work that facilitates discussions around the most pressing local issues.

For this commission, Playwright Marcus Gardley will seeks inspiration from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to write A Thousand Ships, based on the women of the Richmond Shipyards.

Playwright Marcus Gardley

“We are thrilled to have been selected for this significant and meaningful commission,” commented Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting. “Since the launch of Cal Shakes’ New Classics Initiative (NCI) with Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey in 2017, we’ve sought to elevate classic works through the voices of writers living and engaging with our contemporary moment. The Hewlett 50 affords us one of our first full commissions for a New Classic, allowing us the sort of timeline to build meaningful and deeply rooted engagement between our artists and the larger Bay Area.”

“I am deeply honored to receive this commission,” added playwright Marcus Gardley. “To have the opportunity to create another play with Cal Shakes and to tell another Bay Area Story is truly an incredible gift. I do not take it lightly. I am extremely grateful to have Hewlett’s support, and I look forward to sharing our next story with the community and the world beyond. Time to start writing!”

With A Thousand Ships, Gardley returns to a subject he first explored more than a decade ago in This World in a Woman’s Hands, the lives of the women like his two great-grandmothers who came to the Bay Area during World War II to work in the Richmond Shipyards. Eager to revisit these “Rosie the Riveters” and their stories, he plans to integrate their friendships, tragedies, loves and enduring spirit into a larger narrative of the region’s history, fused with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A Thousand Ships will explore themes of migration, community, and the notion of making home and family among strangers in a new land. Along with choreography, media design and special effects, the music of the period such as Ella Fitzgerald, the Andrew Sisters, and blues and folk songs will be integral to evoking the world of the shipyards. The play will also spotlight the Bay Area’s role in gospel music. The project reunites key artistic collaborators from both black odyssey and This World in a Woman’s Hands, Linda Tillery and Molly Holm, to create a vocal score that weaves this musical heritage into the story’s telling. A Thousand Ships is slated to premiere at Cal Shakes’ Bruns Amphitheater as part of the 2021 season.

Marcus Gardley, Molly Holm &  Linda Tillery during black odyssey 2017 music workshops.

As with previous NCI projects, Cal Shakes will provide opportunities for Bay Area residents, and in particular, Richmond residents, to engage with A Thousand Ships. Cal Shakes will host intergenerational Story Circles to bring community voices into the developmental orbit of the work at key points in its journey towards its world premiere. Story Circles will include women who worked in the shipyards, as well as their descendants, to help them connect to each other and connect their stories to the larger historical and social context. Additional programming includes residencies in schools and community settings, on-site audience enrichment programs, and Community Night previews. Cal Shakes also offer discounted tickets to community partners and subsidized ticket options for the general public as well as seniors, students, and teachers.

Exploring what it means to be a classical theater in the 21st century, Cal Shakes’ New Classics Initiative engages living writers in dialogue with our classical canon to see old stories through new eyes, challenging, expanding, and revitalizing our very notions of universal. Previous New Classics include black odyssey and Octavio Solis’ Quixote Nuevo (2018); upcoming projects include the world premiere of Madhuri Shekar’s House of Joy in 2019.

Launched in 2017 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions is a five-year, $8 million initiative supporting the creation and premiere of 50 new works by world-class performing artists working in five disciplines.  The largest commissioning initiative of its kind in the country, the program is a symbol of the Hewlett Foundation’s longstanding commitment to sustaining artistic expression and encouraging public engagement in the arts across diverse communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

More information about the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission can be found at: hewlett.org/50Commissions.

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