All The Bay’s a Stage With a Touring Tempest

October 22, 2015  |  Rebecca Novick

 We’re deep in rehearsal for The Tempest, Cal Shakes’ upcoming All The Bay’s a Stage touring production (which I’m directing). With eight actors and one musician, plus a vanload of props and costumes, this show will tour to seven different community sites before playing to the general public at the Oakland Museum of California from November 13th to the 22nd.

Ariel (Amy Lizardo) atop a ship’s mast in a rehearsal for The Tempest. Photo credit: Jamila Cobham.

 As we delve into the play and figure out how to make a storm from just a few instruments and props, and how to make magic with few tricks up our sleeves, we’re thinking hard about the audiences we’ll be playing for. We’re remembering the laughter and empathy we found as we performed for homeless clients of Berkeley Food and Housing Project last year and the deep knowledge of life’s challenges that gave SRO residents in San Francisco a window into the extremity of a Shakespeare play.

 BFHP residents witnessing last year’s tour of Twelfth Night. Photo credit: Callie Cullum.

 And we’re surer than ever that these words and these stories can be meaningful to any audience, and that we learn more about these plays every time we invite more people to be part of the audience.

Ferdinand (Rafael Jordan) and Miranda (Tristan Cunningham) embrace in a sneak peek of The Tempest on the Cal Shakes Theater Stage at the Life is Living Festival. Photo credit: Sonjhai Meggette/Esoteric Images.

 This year we are immensely grateful for the partnerships that will allow us to share The Tempest with a broader audience than we currently reach at the Bruns. We will be touring to Allen Temple Arms, a housing complex for low-income seniors in East Oakland; a hotel operated by DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing), which permanently houses formerly homeless San Franciscans with serious health problems; Civicorps, a West Oakland high-school diploma and job training program for 18-26 year olds; the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Oakland; incarcerated women at the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin; the Hacienda assistant living facility for low-income seniors in Martinez; and to homeless clients of Berkeley Food and Housing Project.

 Tickets to the Oakland Museum of California performances will soon go on sale to the public—for now, we’re still seeking the donations that make this community work possible. To find out more about the project, please email rnovick (at) calshakes.org.

Share

A Teen Night to Remember

A group at THE VERONA PROJECT Teen Night enjoys pizza and soda.

By Marketing Intern Anna Kritikos

It was The Verona Project Teen Night last night in the beautiful Upper Grove at the Bruns Amphitheater. And good times were indeed had by all.

On the agenda for the evening: a dinner—a feast, shall we say—of  pizza and soda, a fun and engaging pre-show activity to introduce the students to The Verona Project, and a raffle drawing— the prize being a Verona Project T-shirt (which are quite comfortable, by the by).  The pizza arrived piping hot, courtesy of Classic Catering, and soon thereafter the students arrived. There were upward of 35 guests that attended the event, so it made for a lively crowd. They dug into the cheese pizza like nobody’s business, and they carried on and conversed with one another until Trish Tillman, the director of Cal Shakes’ Artistic Learning programs, hopped up on a picnic table and gave everyone the basic plot of The Verona Project. It was no dull summary—Trish had the kids cracking up.

Trish Tillman leading the group through a synopsis of THE VERONA PROJECT

Trish then led the kids through an activity that had them connecting to the more emotional concepts in the play. She posited questions such as: Have you ever been in love? Have you ever liked someone who didn’t like you back? (To which one cheeky kid yelled out, “Oh yeah! All the time!”) If they wished to answer “yes,” they would walk to a different picnic table. It was a good activity and the kids were definitely into it, laughing and running from picnic table to picnic table. ‘Twas a good, old-fashioned ,rowdy time.

Showtime was nearly upon us when Trish announced the next activity—the raffle drawing. As the crowd collectively held its breath, Marilyn Langbehn (Cal Shakes Marketing and PR Manager) announced the winner, and this lucky young man (pictured at right) emerged victorious. So, look out for this guy and his spankin’ new Verona Project T-Shirt.

In all, Teen Night was a top-quality event that was followed by an excellent performance of The Verona Project.

There will be another Teen Night on September 29 during The Taming of the Shrew. Buy tickets here

Share

It’s Summer Camp Time and the Living is Easy

By Anna Kritikos, Marketing intern.

After learning about stage combat, students line up at the door, ready for thier next class.

I spent last Tuesday at the Five-Week Summer Shakespeare Conservatory, wandering around and observing the multitude of activities; it made me realize how much I miss summer camps. I had a bast just moseying around the conservatory. In addition to appreciating the fun atmosphere that was ever-present at the camp, I was really impressed by the sophistication and the higher standard to which the teaching staff held the campers, while still maintaining that fun summer camp atmosphere.

The teaching staff at the conservatories—currently there are two sessions running, Five-Week at Bentley Upper School and Two-Week  at Holy Names—is composed of working professionals assisted by interns from the Professional Immersion Program and the Teaching Artist Fellowship. I met all of the Bentley staff and observed them at work, and their passion and energy was unyielding. It was absolutely wonderful to watch such excellent teachers.

I really appreciated the structure of the conservatory as well. It was like a theater kid’s heaven. I wish I could enroll in the conservatory simply to attend all the classes the teaching staff provides the kids. In the morning, all of the campers attend classes: one-hour sessions in stage combat, improv, Shakespeare history, movement, or text/voice. That’s what was on the agenda the day I attended, but other days include storytelling, a master class on hip-hop Shakespeare, and so on. Before listening in on a Shakespeare history class I thought it would be a bit of an uphill battle—trying to get kids to listen to history during the summer months seemed to me to be a very tough mountain to climb—but with the skills and larger-than-life personalities of the faculty, it was not at all the losing battle I had predicted. It was actually fun.

The second half of the day, after lunch, is rehearsal time, with the five different groups all retreating to separate classrooms to rehearse the plays they were working on. I was impressed by the young kids tackling Shakespearean language with tenacity, laughing and joking and having a blast. The interns and TAFS got to teach and exercise their directorial skills by working with small groups within the casts—simultaneously providing one-on-one attention for the campers and hands-on experience for the TAFs and PIPS who are pursuing careers in theater education.

“You really pick up a different part of your craft when you are able to articulate it, rather than just do it,” Teaching Artist Fellow Vince Rodriguez said. “And so not only do I teach the kids, they also teach me. Also, to be able to see how one goes about teaching abstract concepts like movement  to such young kids is wonderful, and I’m learning a lot.”

Students play an improv game in Heidi's class.

Heidi Abbott ran a wonderful improv class that all of the kids (myself included!) loved. She didn’t play down to the kids, no matter how young they were, which in turn helped spur the kids to play on a level higher than perhaps they usually would do.

It was fascinating to watch the movement classes as well. Susannah Martin really challenged the kids to just plunge into the exploration of movement—to enter a “private laboratory” where you just experiment with the space. Susannah asked her students to feel the space with their muscles, feel the space with their skin, as a fluid, and so on. She was asking them to completely abandon the ever present fear of looking foolish, and the students (the Queen’s Own group, grades  10-12) rose easily to the challenge. They moved across the auditorium with complete abandon, focusing solely on their movements, how their bodies felt, not on the other kids around them. This summer camp obviously pushes kids to step outside of their comfort zones, and in the very safe and fun environment that is present, the kids are willing and even eager to do so.

It was very cool also to talk to the PIPs and the TAFs about their seemingly endless passion for theater education.

Actress and Cal Shakes Associate Artist Catherine Castellanos discusses the script of TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA with her students.

“I’m going to sound completely cliché, but when you are teaching theater you are not just teaching ‘ok this is upstage and downstage.’ You aren’t just putting on a play, you are teaching these kids skills,” said Teaching Artist Fellow Jenna Goodman. “You are building confidence; they are learning how to be an individual as well as to be part of something greater. The kids are being challenged to make bold choices, and to sort of stretch and grow. There is something about it, there is a kind of freedom that comes with teaching theater that you don’t really see anywhere else.”

Share

Clowning in China, by Joan Mankin PART 2

I am learning so much about clowning by being in a place where I understand no one, and no one understands me. When I say I understand no one, I am referring to words, of course, verbal interactions (which for me are limited to “hello” and “thanks”). But when I have no hope of conversing with someone in the usual, more facile manner, I must look into their eyes and read their body language, and respond in ways that touch different chords in my body energies. And Chinese people have the most truthful smiles. Either their faces are composed and distant, or they smile completely–there is no half-smile, they don’t do it unless they mean it. And that makes me be more truthful in what I say and do. I feel like I am revisiting the core of what clowning means.

Last night Jonah (a student from the SF Circus center) and I were walking home along Stinky Tofu Alley (our name, not the official name) and we started singing “Country Roads” (“country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads”) and when we got to the “West Virginia” part someone started singing along with us. It was a Chinese man, who somehow knew the words (although I’m sure he had no idea what they were about) and loved the song. So all three us walked down this alley in the heart of downtown Nanjing, singing about West Virginia at the top of our lungs–we even did harmony! And when we finished, he went to get into his car, and he held out his hand to shake mine, to thank us for letting him sing with us. And I couldn’t help bursting into “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”–and I sang to him and his friends with all my heart and soul as they drove away, leaving me and Jonah in the smoggy, dark Nanjing night.

(Pictured above: Joan with Arthur Keng in SF Playhouse’s 2008 production of
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.)

Share

Did you see the Bruns cat?

Did you see this little guy? The stray cat suddenly, mysteriously appeared at our amphitheater two weeks before Twelfth Night (and our season) ended, clearly lost but clean and definitely cared for. The actors, house and box office staff, and backstage crew fed the little fella and grew to love him, and he definitely became one of the family, even wandering onstage during one of the actor Q&A sessions that follow student matinees.

House and box office staffer Carol Marshall (who took the picture above) took the cat home and cleaned him up. (Though he’d shown up in good order, the Bruns is a dirty place to live.) After a few days, Carol took the cat to the Berkeley animal shelter for adoption and, lo and behold, the shelter discovered that the cat’s owner had implanted a microchip in the kitty that allowed them to identify him, and locate his owner.

No one is quite certain how the cat got to the Bruns, but he’s home now, giving the tale a Dickensian twist–the little lost orphan cat was actually a feline of station.

Share

Clowning in China, by Joan Mankin

I’ve been in Nanjing for two and 1/2 half weeks now, teaching Western clowning and acting to Chinese acrobats (and a few magicians). The workshop itself is in Nanjing, but the acrobats are from troupes all over China: Beijing, Wu Han, Yin Chuan, An Hui, Tai Yuan. They were brought together by the Chinese Arts and Cultural organization to try and raise the level of comic acting in the acrobatic performances, and to encourage them to connect on a more personal level with their audiences.

China is going through a transformative phase now, letting go of some of the attachment to tradition and seeking out new artistic and performative channels. It’s exciting to be in on this surge of interest in Western comedy forms. There are very few Westerners in Nanjing (a city of five and 1/2 million people) so I get stared at a lot (which I kind of like) and laughed at a lot (which I really like). I’m here with three other people from the Clown Conservatory at the San Francisco Circus Center, and we’re all intrigued by the cultural differences and similarities. The students threw themselves with tremendous dexterity and gusto into every gag we ask them to do–running into walls, tripping, falling, slapping–but ask them to reveal something true and vital about themselves in front of other people, and they run into a different kind of wall.

We will do two performances at a college here in Nanjing in the middle of this month; I’m so excited to see how they take in what we have brought.

I miss eating salads sooo much. Best to all from Joan Mankin.

Share

Keys to the Kingdom

Hello blog readers. Your usual blogging host, Stefanie, has packed her bags and gone off to Bali for a couple of weeks. She has entrusted me, Beth Sandefur, special events and membership manager, with the care and feeding of this blog while she’s gone. I’d like to think that it’s because of my superb writing skills but really it’s because I’m a girl that likes to tell a story and I have basic working knowledge of HTML. And she left me a very thorough list of instructions (i.e. little to no creative license).

The Cal Shakes bull pen is playing vacation rotation at the moment. We’ve all been overlapping each other by a day here and there. Robin, the box office manager, spent a few days in New Mexico and will be going back next week. Paul, development coordinator, was in Northern Minnesota. Susie, marketing director, spent some time in France. I have just returned from a trip to Minneapolis.

What’s in Minneapolis? I’m so glad you asked. Shawn Hamilton–who played the narrator, Gower, in our production of Pericles earlier this year–is currently holding down a role in a world premiere musical; Little House on the Prairie, at the Guthrie Theater. (Do view the flash site when you click that link, it’s quite something.) I am an unapologetic fan of musical theater, even the fluffy stuff, and couldn’t resist an offer of comp tickets for a musical that is still in development.

I’ll have the blog humming along with links to Twelfth Night reviews and photos, an inside look at how the development swings into the off season, and a preview of one of our upcoming Artistic Learning classes. You know, as soon as I finish wading through all the voice mail and email that stacked up while I was out of the office for a week and a half. Which will go much quicker now that I’ve shown my vacation photos to everyone in the office. Priorities.

Share