Event Planning 101: My Internship Crash Course

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.


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The Comedy of Errors Grove Talk

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.

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Cal Shakes Conservatory Performances 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.

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The Dramaturg’s Task: Cost-“cutting” and art-making

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 pkelly@calshakes.org,.

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Feast on The Dinner Project

This summer at the Bruns, we’ve created a new space called the Story Hub where we’re inviting audience members to share their stories. Shakespeare’s stories may be on stage, but your stories are invited to live alongside them through the interactive exhibits you’ll find in the Story Hub. Here you have the chance to share your answers to the prompts and learn more about your fellow audience members by reading theirs.

At every performance, you’re invited to take part in the Dinner Project, a season-long exploration of the ways our family conversations relate to the larger world. Inspired by Raisin in the Sun’s juxtaposition of one family’s struggles against the challenges of the world around them, this project imagines family dinners as the place where our private and public worlds intersect.  Not to mention that many of our audience members enjoy dinners together at the Bruns!

During Raisin In The Sun patrons responded to the question “What does your family talk about at the dinner table?” Check out some of our favorites below!

“Now that I’m home from school for a hot minute, I spend my free after-noons prepping gourmet dinners for my parents. At the table I’ll often brag about my methods. My parents love it.”

 “”Life, Books, Psychology, Politics, Food, Police Brutality, Education, Relationships, School to Prison Pipeline, Income -> lack of it, Money, Racism/Social Justice, Violence, Poverty, Values, War, Implicit Bias, People of Color”

“No cats on the table! Poor turnout for primary election. Is it time to hire a life planner? How does King Lear speak to us? Is there more wine?”

“New movies”

 Though the theme of The Dinner Project will be consistent throughout the season, the question and way of sharing will change. Visit The Story Hub during Comedy of Errors and contribute to our newest prompt: “Share a secret or surprise that someone revealed to you over dinner.” Maybe your story will be featured on our blog!

About the author: Regina Fields is a Triangle Lab intern and a local actress.

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Ask Philippa: “Pygmalion” Edition

Listen to Philippa Kelly’s Grove Talk about Pygmalion by clicking here.

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about Pygmalion, which runs July 30–August 24. Tickets on sale now.

Pygmalion, perhaps George Bernard Shaw’s most renowned play, concerns the playful plight of phonetics Professor Henry Higgins and penniless flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he takes under his tutelage. Poor Eliza is reduced to a bet between aristocrats who believe they can pass her off as one of their own. This scheme leaves plenty of room for Shaw’s signature social commentary on the British class system and the relationship between language, class, and power.

Many of us might know the characters of Pygmalion from its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady; however, it is worth noting that artists and directors have struggled against Pygmalion’s lack of predictable romance for a century (since it debuted in 1914). Some writers think this may be why Pygmalionis still “underperformed”:

From the PYGMALION stage at the Bruns: You'll notice this population chart sitting on Higgins' bookshelf.

A hundred years on from that first production, the ending of Pygmalion continues to be a sticking point. It stands as an unspoken matter of contention between audiences, confidently expecting a romantic resolution of the plot, and most directors who wish to remain true to Shaw’s intentions. And it may help to explain the conundrum of why the play, for all its enduring fame and popularity, remains relatively underperformed today.

Are you going to see Cal Shakes’ Pygmalion?  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.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

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 pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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The Comedy of Errors Production Spotlight: Assistant Director Leah Gardner

Assistant Director Leah Gardner in full clown regalia.

By Aliya Charney

The Comedy of Errors Assistant Director, Leah Gardner, found herself at Cal Shakes this season through none other than our very own Danny Scheie (Dromio of Ephesus and Syracuse) and Patty Gallagher (Merchant, Officer, Courtesan, Abbess). At UC Santa Cruz, Gardner was a student of both Scheie and Gallagher. Gardner served as Assistant Director for many of Scheie’s productions as well as founded a student theater group at Santa Cruz, BarnStorm, through Scheie’s guidance. As a student in Gallagher’s clown class at UCSC, Gardner tapped into her true talent. “Patty pulled me aside one day after class and told me that I was a natural clown. That was truly one of those life-changing moments where everything makes sense.”

Since then, Gardner has been clowning her way through life. Upon moving to Seattle, Gardner joined Pi, a physical clowning troupe, which eventually relocated to San Francisco. Once in the Bay Area, Gardner joined the San Francisco Clown Conservatory to hone her craft, learning more about juggling, acrobatics and clown technique.

This is the first time that Gardner is working with The Comedy of Errors director, Aaron Posner, but she has seen some examples of his work at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, what Gardner describes as a “remarkable” production of As You Like It. “With Aaron, the story is paramount,” she says. “Each choice is made to tell the story in a clear way.” On the topic of clowning, which is prevalent throughout Posner’s version of Shakespeare’s earliest comedy, Gardner jokes that “[Posner] says he doesn’t know what clowning is,” yet he has produced “a very physical, real, simple, clear, honest rendition of the play that works perfectly with the clowning style.”

Gardner admits that “clown” is a loaded word. “Lots of people have different ideas of what it is. But [to me] it’s a very simplistic joy at the very heart of it and at its core. In terms of Aaron’s vision, he talked to us about ‘simple joy’ and I feel like we are seeing that vision.”

On the topic of “dark” comedies, such as The Comedy of Errors, Gardner insightfully reasons that, “there is, in good comedy, a darkness to it [and] looking at this play through the clown perspective is a brilliant way of working through it because all good comedy is rooted in tragedy. Laughter is a way to deal with the darker side of life in a constructive, positive way. The heart of all comedy is tragedy.”

Before beginning rehearsals for The Comedy of Errors in May, Gardner had “very high expectations for the cast…and they have exceeded that. This is…the most fun…I’ve ever had in a rehearsal hall.”

You can join the fun till July 20th! Tickets for The Comedy of Errors are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

For more information about Leah’s clown troupe, Pi, visit: www.piclowns.com.



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Behind the Seams: An Interview with “The Comedy of Errors” Costume Designer Beaver Bauer

By Aliya Charney

As Antipholus of Syracuse remarks in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the town of Ephesus “is full of cozenage / As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, / Dark-working  sorcerers that change the mind [and] Disguised cheaters.” For costume designer Beaver Bauer, Cal Shakes’ production of The Comedy of Errors is a welcomed challenge. The magic present in Errors differs greatly from other examples of Shakespearean sorcery because the illusions seen on stage are rooted in farce, not enchantment. Thus, the costume design plays a pivotal role in the audience’s involvement and comprehension of the baffling events that transpire on stage.

Ephesus, an ancient port city in Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea, serves as the setting for The Comedy of Errors. On the edge of Asia Minor, Ephesus, at the turn of the last century, was equally influenced by Eastern and Western styles. Therefore, costuming the play, Bauer combines various inspirations to create a unique “East-Meets-West” look. “Ephesus is a place of wonder. The Ephesian world is fun, surprising and different,” she says. Director Aaron Posner described one aspect of the look and feel of Comedy as a “Croatian circus.” To Bauer, this does not mean bright colors and extravagance, but rather, a subtle exotic and quirkiness. According to Bauer, Ephesus is a “nucleus where people pass through”; therefore, the challenge was to create a style that creates a sense of “the familiar within the unfamiliar.” For example, for the twin Antipholi, Bauer dresses them with vests over their robes, what she describes as a “more western, quirky way of styling.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display during The Comedy of Errors rehearsal. Pictured: Nemuna Ceesay (Adriana) and Tristan Cunningham (Luciana). Photo by Jay Yamada.

For the women of The Comedy of Errors, especially the sisters Adriana and Luciana, Bauer cites the upper and royal classes of Asia Minor in the 1920’s. Bauer notes that, during this time period, the men were wearing traditional vestments, but the women were more likely to wear western-styled gowns (i.e. “flapper dresses.”) Bauer incorporates this aspect into her design because, although The Comedy of Errors is “not rooted to a specific time period” it is, very clearly, “rooted in a specific place.” This mix of Eastern and Western fashion perfectly encapsulates Posner’s vision of not interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Another major factor that went into Bauer’s costume design was the notion of currency and economic status, which proves a major theme in The Comedy of Errors. The frequent transfer of money and goods throughout the play allowed Bauer and her team to think creatively about how each character would carry valuable goods and funds, such as in an Eastern money pouch or in a Westernized cummerbund. These small yet significant costume pieces also grant Bauer the opportunity to add dynamic colors and patterns to the existing pallet.

Bauer has worked with all of The Comedy of Errors cast members previously, so she felt like she could predict what the actors would want, and need, from their costumes before rehearsals began. “I held a preconception of what the actors might do with their characters [and] I created looks to accommodate that,” she says. And accommodate she did: “The trick is, you must make sure that the costume does not dictate the actors, but supports them.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Bauer reveals that the greatest challenge in the costume design was adjusting the styles to support “quick changes.” With many actors playing multiple roles on stage, costume changes have to be fast and efficient, especially when an actor switches characters within a single scene. But Bauer embraces these challenges. “We take it as a puzzle—embrace it and nail it. That’s the most fun we have. There are practical considerations that affect our designs, but challenges like these ultimately spark the greatest ideas and most creativity.”

You can see Beaver Bauer’s costumes in The Comedy of Errors, which is playing at the Bruns till July 20th. Get your tickets here!

Posted in By Aliya Charney (dramaturgy intern), Main Stage, The Comedy of Errors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Our Story Part One: The John Hinkel Park Years

For our 40th Anniversary, Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly has penned a four-part series on the history of California Shakespeare Theater. Each piece appears in our playbill before arriving on the blog–four articles for each of our four summer shows. Part one of the series originally appeared in the program for A Raisin in the Sun.

By Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

By the 1970s, Berkeley had established itself at the heart of the counterculture, a multifaceted outgrowth of the Beat movement (“cool jazz,” “beatitude,” anti-materialism, anti-institutionalism) in which the children of post-war Americans sought to express their independence. These young people rejected their parents’ drive for security and prosperity, forming collectives and movements of their own that pushed for environmental reform, sexual freedom, and a stop to the Vietnam War. There were profound engagements with non-Judeo-Christian beliefs, including Buddhism, the EST self-realization movement, and the Hare Krishnas; the hedonism led by Timothy O’Leary, a direct outgrowth of drug-taking; and the music of Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Janice Joplin and the Woodstock Festival, iconic political embodiments of youthful idealism.

Howard Swain and Annette Bening in "All’s Well That Ends Well," 1983

The California Shakespeare Theater had its origins in this culture. It began as a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts who wanted to stage performances. Led by Peter Fisher, graduate student and musician, the group originally met as the ”Emeryville Shakespeare Company,” gathering in a shed in Emeryville, with an aim to stage only Shakespeare, leaving other playwrights to other newly-established theater companies like the Berkeley Repertory Theater and the American Conservatory Theater. Every decision was to be arrived at, where possible, through a non-hierarchical governing structure—what plays to perform, in what order, who to direct, and what budgets could be allocated. Each director, once selected and given a budget, had the freedom to cast and staff the show at will.

James Carpenter as Hal and Michael McShane as Falstaff in "Henry IV, Part 1," 1987.

In 1974 the company pooled funds to establish a season budget of $3000, moving to the ready-made amphitheater provided by Berkeley’s John Hinkel Park. They re-named themselves the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival. The park was shaded by a glorious oak tree, and at an early performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck swung onto the stage from one of its branches. Bay trees scented the amphitheater, and old, broken-down redwood benches, probably dating back to the 1930s, were built into its tiers. Once the City of Berkeley had replaced the benches with gravel, audiences camped along the tiers, making themselves comfortable on cushions and lawn chairs, often arriving very early—through either the bottom or the top of the park—to secure their favorite spots. Many brought sleeping bags so that when the fog rolled in and the temperature dropped, they were able to stretch out, warm and snug, with a picnic and a bottle of wine. (In the first few seasons the company members also made a big pot of stew for each performance, which was offered to the audience at intermission.) Two dank, dark old toilets were available for use at the perimeter of the audience area, later to be upgraded via the rental of porta-potties. Over time the electricity was upgraded and, under the supervision of production manager Michael Cook, lighting towers were constructed to allow full stage lighting. Elaborate sets were designed for the space in front of what is now left of the old stone fireplace. From 1974 to 1976 the company didn’t sell tickets or charge admission, suggesting instead a donation of $2.00 per show. Effective publicity consisted of parking old cars topped with large painted signs at strategic locations in Berkeley and near Hinkel Park. The cars had to be moved from time to time, but the advertising system was effective. By the end of the first season, the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival had become very successful, filling to capacity and scoring reviews in local papers and even one in the highly prized international journal, Shakespeare Quarterly. Company members were able to reimburse themselves for their investment, also setting aside a small sum to bankroll a winter production of All’s Well That Ends Well and to start up the next season. The collective awarded every participant—from directors to the children who were fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest—exactly $1.00 for each performance. Those who were there for every performance would receive a total compensation of $41.00 for the season.

Kandis Chappell as Witch, Julian Lopez-Morillas as Macbeth, and Howard Swain as Witch in "Macbeth," 1983.

This system of collective governance worked well, but after its third season the board began contemplating ways to expand, and members discussed the possibility of appointing an Artistic Director. In 1979, against some objections, the collective appointed its first Artistic Director, George Kovach. It also elected its first Board of Directors, which included Bernard Taper, journalism professor at UC Berkeley and one of the original “Monuments Men” who tracked down works of art pillaged by the Nazis and restored them to their rightful owners.

Louis Lotorto and Dakin Matthews in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," 1985.

From the appointment of Kovach, the Festival went through four artistic directors, two of whom—in the grand tradition of Shakespeare’s Lear, Coriolanus, Prospero, Richard II, Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, the Thane of Cawdor, and Macbeth— were banished by collective command. The company’s second Artistic Director, a brilliantly resourceful actor/manager named Dakin Matthews, instituted season concepts, as well as company “sharers,” an early version of today’s Associate Artist structure. Under Matthews’ five-year tenure (1983–1987) the Festival produced four plays in repertory every summer, and actress Lura Dolas was recruited to run a Summer Conservatory. During this period, however, the company outgrew its premises, prospective audience members were being turned away, and the neighbors were complaining about noise and parking. Audience members often came out after a performance to find their tires slashed, and one irate man was caught taking an axe to the stage. Even after an 11pm curfew was instituted to mollify the neighbors, the unrest continued, and a new location was clearly on the menu. But more about this in next program’s article, where we look at Artistic Director Michael Addison who led the company through its search for new premises, culminating in Professor Hugh Richmond’s near-arrest and an eventual move to the Bruns.

Lura Dolas as Rebecca and Annette Bening as Rowena in "Ivanhoe," 1983

Many remarkable artists joined the Festival in the early days, including Annette Bening, Robin Goodrin Nordli, Howard Swain, Nancy Carlin (who continues as an Associate Artist with the company today), Lura Dolas, Richard E.T. White, and Julian López-Morillas. The collective spirit required everyone to pitch in to make ends meet, and Dolas, for example, recalls her multiple roles on and off-stage—administrative work, publicity, directing, script cutting, driving the van from venue to venue, and, in the off-season, running a teaching conservatory. Jim Carpenter, lacking a beard, was obliged to carefully cut the hair of the company mascot dog for a performance of The Comedy of Errors (opening on June 28, 2014, hopefully, though, with no need to coif Jonathan’s Chihuahua, Lucy). The company members’ resourcefulness in these early days puts me very much in mind of how Shakespeare and his actors must have worked. They, too, made and hauled their own props, and they, too, had neighbors who didn’t want them (forcibly shut down at one point, Shakespeare and his troupe had to break down their theater and carry its parts across the Thames in the middle of the night.) “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves…” Four hundred years apart, the members of regional theater companies are living proof of this.

Learn more about California Shakespeare Theater, and support our work, by clicking here.

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Actor Spotlight: Ron Campbell on The Comedy of Errors, Masks, and Clowning

By Aliya Charney

Ron Campbell in "Kooza."

After a seven-year sabbatical, Ron Campbell is back at Cal Shakes. Five years ago, Campbell “ran away with the circus,” performing as The King in over 2,000 shows of Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza (directed by David Shiner) across the globe, collaborating with over 50 artists of 22 different nationalities. His final production took place this past New Year’s Eve in Paris.

Previously, through Cal Shakes, Campbell was the recipient of the Fox International Fellowship, in which he was awarded a grant to tour the world studying masks. Campbell is a prolific mask maker, with over 50 handmade masks in his repertoire. He teaches workshops at his studio, Soar Feat Unlimited, as well as in theaters across the Bay Area, training actors in the delicate art of mask acting. “Mask work gets the short shrift. We see it as a form of conjuring, supernatural. It’s got a spooky edge to it.” Through his teaching and workshops, Campbell is changing the way audiences and actors respond to masks. “Masks are evilly delicious tools used in teaching more often than performance.” Campbell hopes to incorporate more mask work into his future stage roles.

Although in Cal Shakes’ upcoming production of The Comedy of Errors he wears no literal mask, Campbell still makes use of his mask training through props, costumes, and language. Campbell views mask work as a mandate to be truthful, that is, externals allow him to obtain a sense of what the physical body of his character should be. “When I hold [Egeon’s] twisted staff and put on his long coat, I transform. As a receptive actor, try having [those costume pieces] not have an effect on you.” On mask acting in Shakespeare, Campbell suggests that the true masks lie in Shakespeare’s poetic language. “Speech is the beginning of the character. Language allows the actor to become physically aware.”

Mask acting is not the only experience Campbell is bringing back to the Cal Shakes stage. On applying the pitfalls and pratfalls of circus life to his new work, Campbell feels that he has become more aware of the audience when he performs. His years in Kooza have taught him to banish “the fourth wall,” a theater convention that separates the audience from the actors. Recalling a particularly memorable performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Ron interacted with Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton, demanding his “crown” and attempting to climb up into the royal box where the two were seated. “You’ll never take the full clown out of me,” Ron remarks. “There are lessons of the clown that can be applied to, say, Hamlet.”

A sample of Ron's mask work.

Campbell views clowning as a continuum in which, in its most extreme case, nothing ever gets accomplished. But according to Campbell, director Aaron Posner is finding the balance of incorporating clowning with driving the action of the play forward in The Comedy of Errors. “Clowning is definitely present but nothing is stalled by it for the sake of a few laughs. The play is driven and balanced. A difficult feat with clowning.”

Campbell, who played in The Comedy of Errors at Cal Shakes in the 2004 production (directed by Sean Daniels) as the twin Dromios (alongside a life-sized puppet of himself), compares his experience ten years ago to today. “Not only have the people changed,” Campbell relates, “but the world has changed since then, and Shakespeare has changed with it.

When asked what his dream role would be, Ron responded: “anything out at the beautiful Bruns Theater. I have a deep fondness of the human voice and [performing at the Bruns] is like being a jazz musician. You have to adapt your voice to a sudden gust of wind or a helicopter overhead. You don’t get that indoors.”

You can see Ron Campbell clowning his way through The Comedy of Errors, which begins previews on June 25th and opens on June 28th.


For more information about Ron Campbell’s workshops, visit www.soarfeat.org.

Interested in learning more about Ron’s experiences in Kooza, mask acting and martial arts? Visit www.RonCampbelltempest.blogspot.com. And visit www.soarfeat.wordpress.com to read Ron’s poetry and travel journal.

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