Listen to Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s pre-show Grove Talk on Pygmalion.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, Richmond Artists With Talent (RAW Talent)—in partnership with Cal Shakes’ Triangle Lab—performed The Adventure Of Grief: A Short Play on the Bruns Amphitheater stage. Six years ago, Richmond Artists with Talent was founded by a small group of teachers and students, in order to provide safe spaces and creative outlets for youth in Richmond, California.
The Adventure of Grief was written by the members of RAW Talent, ages 13-24, and directed by Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator Arielle Julia Brown. Much of Arielle’s work focuses on theater as witness and testimony, including the piece Love Balm For My Spirit Child which ran at Brava Theater and shared testimony from mothers who lost their children to violence.
This project was a further development of Phoenix Rysing, a workshop series co-sponsored by Cal Shakes in which the students used writing and performance to create pieces that explore how we experience and heal from grief. Phoenix Rysing was prompted by the loss of Dimarea Young–one of the founding members of RAW Talent to whom The Adventure of Grief was dedicated–to gun violence in 2013. The students participated in a week-long residency up at the Bruns Amphitheater along with RAW Talent staff Molly Raynor and Donte Clark, developing this piece. They performed it on stage before Pygmalion on August 8th.
The Adventure of Grief performance was truly inspiring, with about 70 invited audience members in attendance, half of whom had come from Richmond to see the show. The opening act “The House of Grief” was an ensemble piece about moving into grief when you have nowhere else to go, and no one to turn to. The format of the show allowed the audience to relate to the subject matter that the students were addressing. There were six scenes, some performed in small groups, and in one case even a dance duet, creating multiple windows and perspectives into this House of Grief.
The most daring moment of the show arrived when the actors asked the audience to write down down their own stories and then to volunteer to come onstage and read them. In the community piece entitled “Write Myself Whole,” the students sang as attendees wrote two and three line poems about a grief or struggle that had made them who they were today. Here are some of the poems that were written by individuals in the audience:
“I come here by way of family struggles
Art healed me
The loss of my dad, young when he killed himself.”
“I come here by way of Nana Kika & Kim Pate + Raymen Justice. I come here by way of sadness, emptiness, rage & love. I sit in my sadness to reach for my gratitude & humility.”
“I come here by way of Salvador Joseph
I come here by way of separation and loss of love from loved ones.”
By the end of the play, much of the audience was moved to tears from the shared experience of acknowledging grief and sharing in the stories of these young people. Yet the most important takeaway was that we must all learn to move out of the House of Grief, by writing ourselves whole and empathizing with the experiences of others.
Triangle Lab was honored to work with such an inspiring and talented group and to help bring their stories to the Bruns. Richmond Artists with Talent has been a program for six years and has reached over 500 students in the Richmond Area, and will continue growing with support from the RYSE Center. For more information about RAW Talent visit their Facebook Page.
About the Author: Regina Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.
Photos by Jay Yamada.
The Dinner Project lives on this summer at the Bruns in our new Story Hub space. We’re inviting audience members to share their life stories and experiences in exciting new ways that relate to the themes of the show they’re seeing. We encourage you to stop by this season like so many of our other audience members have. Participate in our interactive exhibits, talk to our friendly staff, peruse the audience stories on display, or share your own!
At our last show, Raisin In The Sun, patrons responded to the question “What does your family talk about at the dinner table?” You can read about what happened here.
During the run of Comedy of Errors we asked the audience a slightly more scandalous question: “Share a secret or surprise that someone revealed to you over dinner.” Our answers this time around were even juicier, check out some of them below!
Though the theme of the Dinner Project will be consistent throughout the season, the question and way of sharing your stories will change. Stop by the Story Hub and contribute to our newest prompt for Pygmalion: “What’s taboo at your dinner table?” Maybe your story will be featured on our blog!
About the author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.
By Aliya Charney
In 1988, James Carpenter made his debut on the Cal Shakes stage (then called “Berkeley Shakespeare Festival,” its performance space then John Hinkel Park in Berkeley) as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part 1. Pygmalion (directed by Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone) marks his 30th production for Cal Shakes. Pygmalion is not Carpenter’s first time working with our Artistic Director. Moscone was a directing intern at Berkeley Rep in the early 90’s when Carpenter was a core company member. “Even then I knew he was going places,” said Carpenter of Moscone.
Aside from the location and name, how has Cal Shakes grown over the past 26 years? According to Carpenter, now a Cal Shakes Associate Artist, Cal Shakes “has become a national force. You can see the growth with every season because we are constantly reinventing ourselves here. It’s no longer just Shakespeare but American theater and world theater. For a season ticket holder this gives a well-rounded, theatrical experience.”
Hot on the heels from performing in David Mamet’s American Buffalo at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, Carpenter joins the cast of Pygmalion as Alfred Doolittle, the outspoken yet well-intentioned father of Eliza Doolittle. Perhaps no greater contrast exists in the theater than between Mamet and Shaw. (Carpenter describes American Buffalo as a “high voltage piece of danger.”) To smooth out his exceptionally quick transition from Mamet’s contemporary America to Shaw’s Edwardian London, Carpenter revealed that he would recite his monologues from American Buffaloin a Cockney accent. This allowed him to seamlessly transition from one piece to the next while simultaneously discovering the differences between his two wildly contrasting characters.
Discovering Alfred Doolittle is an ongoing process for Carpenter. In the beginning of the rehearsal process, he sat down with the text, piecing together Alfred’s world view and “wrapping [his] head around it.” Then, Carpenter applied this worldview to his scenes to give them a rough shape. “[Alfred] just wants to get by for the moment…[he’s] never planning too far ahead for the future,” he said.
Carpenter sees Alfred Doolittle as “the everyman’s voice” whom Shaw writes as a “counterpoint to Eliza’s story.” Just like Eliza, Professor Higgins creates a new Alfred Doolittle by the end of Act V, although Carpenter sees his character’s transformation as not a “conscious creation” like Eliza’s, but rather, an unintentional outcome of Higgins’ careless regard towards others. Doolittle is obsessed with happiness, and happiness, for him, emerges from having no responsibilities. Doolittle’s transformation forces him to take on unwelcome dependability and charity; the burden of the middle class, as Doolittle sees it, is living for others, not yourself.
On the rocky, estranged relationship between Alfred and his daughter, Eliza, Carpenter holds a bold theory: “I suspect Eliza is his favorite child,” Carpenter states, because “he has a delicacy in regards to telling her that he never married her mother. He doesn’t want to ruin her reputation or her life [being born out of wedlock]. [This] means that he cares for her…but she’s got his mouth and [he] could never make her shut up.” That’s where the true anger and resentment stems from: their similarities. Their complex relationship comes to a head in Act V, when Eliza begs her father to rescue her from Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering. Instead of rescuing his daughter, Doolittle leaves her to fend for herself between the two men. Carpenter grapples with Doolittle’s decision. “Is he abandoning Eliza or granting her independence?” Carpenter questions. “This is an example of one of those moments, as an actor, when you really have to pay very close attention to detail and think analytically. The answer may not come until opening night.”
By Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator in Residence Arielle Julia Brown
The Love Balm Project is a theater of testimony workshop series and performance based on the testimonies of mothers who have lost children to violence. The Love Balm Project currently collaborates with six mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last summer, with support from the Triangle Lab, we hosted site specific performances in the spaces where the young men—sons of the mothers—had been murdered. These performances took place on street corners, in front of homes, at a BART station, in front of a church, on the porch of a mothers’ home and on a MUNI train platform. These performances met the communities in the spaces that haunt them and the spaces we learn to forget. Naturally, it was in these spaces that more mothers and community members began to inquire about getting involved in this work. Mothers approached me after performances, family members took my contact information to give to other mothers they knew.
This leads me to the beginning of my current investigation with The Triangle Lab. How is it that a grassroots arts collective recreates itself? How do we move in full awareness of our limited capacity as facilitators and yet be open and permeable for new knowledges, new community members, new stakeholders? What does it look like structurally to have an open space for all mothers to find and make space in their neighborhoods to tell and witness their stories? I am in deep search of what these answers could look like for the Love Balm Project. The only place I knew to begin is with the Love Balm workshop series. The workshop series features 4 workshops for mothers and community artists to gather together and perform, witness and creatively write their testimony. So I began to imagine in the middle of last year’s site specific investigation, what would it look like to have an institute to train other artists, mothers and cultural workers in how to facilitate a Love Balm Workshop series or group. In the Love Balm Institute we collectively questioned this work, reviewed and adapted the curriculum, witnessed mothers’ testimonies, explored applied theatre methods including original games, playback theatre, drama therapy and theatre of the oppressed and finally strategized about workshopn structures and funding models. The Love Balm Institute was supported by The Triangle Lab, Eastside Arts Alliance and The Akonadi Foundation. The institute took place from May 23rd–25th in Oakland.
Several amazing cultural workers attended the institute. The cultural workers live and work with communities throughout the state of California. Please see their bios below to see what kind of work they are doing in communities already. Each of them have studied and taken their training from the institute to start planning love balm workshops and community circles for the communities they work and live in. The cultural workers will facilitate the Love Balm workshop series with mothers, LGBTQ youth, young men and women of color who have both perpetrated and survived acts of violence. Check out their projects below alongside their bios. I will continue to post updates as their projects progress.
by Sarah Lamb
Opening night is a big deal for theaters, of course. It’s the first time all the artistry and hard work is shown to the public. (Aside from previews, open rehearsals, and the other promotional events along the way.) Other parts of opening night also include audience enrichment, thanking producers and donors, and the after party. The opening night after party is a tradition among professional theaters, and is a way to celebrate the work and the actors with family, friends, staff, and audience members.
In less than two weeks of working at Cal Shakes, I found myself scurrying around at the Bruns in a quiet attempt to set up the after party for The Comedy of Errors. I’m a Special Events intern from central Wisconsin and go to school at Columbia College Chicago for Arts Management. I arrived in the Bay Area less than two weeks before opening night, and during those weeks I absorbed myself into the planning process. In addition, since this internship is part time, I have the time to explore a beautiful city that I have never visited before.
The first couple days of the internship were exactly what anyone expected: orientation and filling out paperwork, introductions to so many people all you have are a jumble of faces and names as you try to piece them together, pretending you remember all of those names for about a week, and tours and instructions no one actually expects you to remember. But bonus points if you do. For me, I was also trying to remember my way home, what bus to take, and where exactly the grocery store was. I live in the intern apartment with three other girls, so the mad dash to learn the area was added to trying to learn the company.
Before I knew it, I was finding myself settling into the company. I was putting names to faces (finally) and could get myself home and fed without needing to ask for directions. If I’m being honest, I was expecting to have to do traditional internship tasks, like making coffee, fighting with the copier, and all that goes with those clichés. On the contrary, I was sitting in on meetings, giving input, and collaborating to create multiple successful, enriching events.
Opening night was filled with a lot of logistics. I arrived shortly after 4:00 to set up the Producer’s Dinner – one of Cal Shakes’ way of thanking the people who make each production possible, and then constantly doing something else. By the time I finished one task, another was on the list to be completed as soon as possible. It’s fast-paced, sudden, hectic, and exactly what I love.
When you’re planning an event, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a large amount of people having fun and enjoying the work and thought you put into it, which is precisely what the reaction was to our Carnival of Errors. Between the jugglers, the dress up photo booth, the atmosphere created, and the food, the guests were happy and enjoying themselves.
Between starting a new position, meeting people I’m sure I will continue to be friends and contacts with, exploring a new city, participating in area festivals, and producing a successful event, I have had an amazing first two weeks in the Bay Area.
Click on the arrow below to listen to a podcast of a pre-performance The Comedy of Errors Grove Talk, presented by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. The Comedy of Errors runs through July 20, 2014.
It’s that time of year again, when Cal Shakes Conservatory students, kids and teens, put together all they’ve learned from their Teaching Artists to create a wonderful production. Come out and support our campers by coming to see their shows on July 25th and 26th, in Orinda and Oakland. All the information you need is on the flyers below.
Click here to learn more about Cal Shakes’ work in schools.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org,.