Who’s Your Twin?

When Shakespeare penned The Comedy of Errors—one of his shortest, most slapstick plays—the idea of twins (a central theme of the play) fascinated the Elizabethans. Though they didn’t understand the genetics of multiple births—the difference between fraternal and identical twins, for instance—they had many beliefs about twins: that they signified an especially fertile mother, and that the comradely twins would hold hands in the womb, for instance. (Interestingly, Shakespeare’s wife birthed twins—Hamnet and Judith—in 1585, seven years before the publication of The Comedy of Errors.)

Twins fascinate us today just as much as they did in Shakespeare’s time.  When we read stories about long-lost twins finding each other again at age 78, it makes front-page news for the BBC. Twins tell us about ourselves, our genetics and culture and how each makes us similar and/or different.

Even if you don’t have a biological twin, we all joke about having “twins” in a metaphorical sense. Sometimes we spot a celebrity, friend, or a random person on the street who reminds us of someone; my elementary school even had “twin day”—where (non-twin) students would coordinate outfits and mannerisms.

For our Comedy of Errors program, we’re asking our patrons and fans to send in pictures of themselves and their twin–whether real, celebrity, or stranger. Who do you look or act like? Who look or acts like you? Further your fame by sending in a picture of you and your twin (real or imagined)—the best ones will appear in our program.

Email your twin pictures to our publications manager and get a chance to be in the Comedy of Errors program!

Learn more about The Comedy of Errors or buy your tickets by clicking here.

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Rave “Raisin” Review Roundup

Our 40th Anniversary Summer Season has only just begun, and the buzz has been overwhelming. Since Opening Night on May 24, reviews for A Raisin in the Sun have been praising the stellar cast and inventive production.

Karen D’Souza, in her review in the San Jose Mercury News, called Cal Shakes’ Raisin a “resonant revival” that “taps into the timelessness of the characters, the way their struggles to keep their heads above water echo our own.”  D’Souza praised the “powerhouse actresses” that portray the three women. “Ryan Nicole Peters etches Lena’s daughter-in-law Ruth with great sensitivity,” wrote D’Souza. “Walter Younger’s wife doesn’t usually get a chance to speak her mind but Peters colors her glances with so much exhaustion and regret that you always feel the impact of her presence. Peters also shows us how easily Ruth blossoms in a rare moment of kindness from her husband.” Continue reading

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A Raisin in the Sun and Dreams Deferred

By Shi Yi

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes

A Raisin in the Sun is about the dream of the Youngers, a black family living in South Side Chicago in the 1950s. Like any family, the Youngers’ dream is a stitched-together mosaic; as they impatiently wait for the arrival of an insurance check for ten thousand dollars, each member of the Younger clan has a slightly different dream for the money. Yet when the check actually arrives, their dreams collide. Even as the dream of each relation moves closer to reality, the family fragments. The struggle between material desires and family ideals escalates into a heavy and bittersweet drama.

Racial Segregation in Chicago in 2000

Half a century after the debut of A Raisin in the Sun, Chicago remains a segregated city; this block map is based on US Census data from 2000.

A Raisin in the Sun is about a family’s aspiration to a better life. But this is not just a story of the American Dream. This is a story of an African American Dream. This is not a story that transcends category, but a story that unfortunately transcends time. From slavery to restrictive covenants to gentrification, the form of racial inequity has changed, but its essence perpetuates in our society. A Raisin in the Sun may have been written in the 1950s, but the struggles of the Younger family can be found in neighborhoods around this theater and near where we live. Perhaps, the dreams of those families who may never make it to Cal Shakes in their life are not too different from the dream of the Youngers. I wonder what happens to their dreams deferred.

Do [they] dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

 

 

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Life Interrupted

By Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

On the final day of a trip I recently made to Australia, I sat with my sister-in-law, reading from one of the last diary entries that my brother wrote before his death in a mountain-climbing accident three and a half years ago. In his almost indecipherable backhand, and in between lists of equipment, two-or-three-word observations on the climate in the mountains where he was, and reminders of appointments to be made or kept on his return, John wrote a cryptic note to himself: “Enjoy new challenges. All those years at MSJ and ALLCO not for nothing.” My brother had been a high-flying lawyer for the above two firms: a wealthy man who, in his late forties, decided that he wanted to quit corporate law and devote himself to improving the lives of young people who had not had the advantages his own children enjoyed. Within six months of this decision he was dead, the years of unfulfilled promise stretching before him as a road mapped out for others, and not himself, to travel on.

As I read John’s final diary entry—and knowing how I feel about him (gone/not gone, beautiful/wasted)—I was of course, as is every person who grieves a loved one, reminded of my feelings about others who’ve passed through this inescapable human gate; in this case, Lorraine Hansberry.

Lorraine_Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun playwright Lorraine Hansberry

In 1959, at the age of 29, Lorraine wrote to her mother in anticipation of the Broadway debut of A Raisin in the Sun:

…it is a play that tells the truth about people, Negroes and life and I think it will help a lot of people to understand how we are just as complicated as they are—and just as mixed up—but above all, that we have among our miserable and downtrodden ranks—people who are the very essence of human dignity. That is what, after all the laughter and tears, the play is supposed to say. I hope it will make you proud. See you soon. Love to all.

The period in which Lorraine wrote this letter to her mother was, she said, “one of the most affirmative periods in history”— a period of upcoming revolution—to which “Walter Lee Younger and his family are tied…whether they have consciousness about it or not.”

Not only did Lorraine go on to open a play on Broadway that had an initial run of 530 performances, but she was also the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. Her play—the play you will see here at Cal Shakes—helped to usher in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which would change race relations in America forever. Looking back on her play just before her death in 1964, she wrote in a letter to the New York Times:

25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile “white neighborhood” in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this “correct” way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.

Through A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine found her own way to fight, through a war waged with words. She brought the Younger family out of the shadows of Chicago’s South side and imagined for them a different life on a different side of town; absorbing white Broadway audiences within this particular family’s struggles, compelling them to care about, and feel with, a segment of the population that had heretofore been largely faceless to them, visible for the most part only as domestic workers, chauffeurs, yardmen.

Lorraine was initially applauded by her white Broadway audiences for creating a family of “everymans”; but no, Lorraine stated in a rebuke to her enthusiastic reviewers: these were not everymen. These were the Youngers:

 What [reviewers] are trying to say is something very good; that they believe the characters transcend category. I believe that one of the most sound ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create the universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific. Universality, I think, emerges from truthful identity of what is…. [This family] is specifically South Side Chicago. That kind of care, that kind of attention to detail, to the extent that people accept them and believe them, to the extent that they can become anybody.  [This] is definitely a Negro play before it is anything else.

Perhaps each individual is in some sense an everyman; but every “everyman” is also, in a very real sense, an individual; this is what Lorraine Hansberry believed, and she herself endures as more “individual” than most. Amongst the remnants of Lorraine’s life have flourished a field born of promises: the promise she foresaw in the decade ahead, a promise that the Youngers would not themselves fulfill because this was the 1950s, before the civil rights movement had taken full swing. And, more poignantly still, there was the promise of Lorraine‘s brilliant talent, beckoning toward future works, cut off by her cancer before these works could be written. Who knows what she’d have gone on to do? But what she did do in her brief life was amazing.

To learn more about Cal Shakes’ summer production of A Raisin in the Sun and buy tickets, click here.

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 on the ASK PHILIPPA blog to ask her a question.

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Off to Ashland! A Weekend of Theater and Discussion in Oregon

This October 3-5, Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly will lead a trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Attendees will stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel and attend three plays during their stay, while enjoying dinners, cocktails, and conversation with Philippa and other guests. Philippa will lead discussions on each play and give her own insight. If you are interested in attending or learning more, please call or email Special Events Manager Shelly Jackson at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 12.

The Tempest

Dennis Arndt in The Tempest. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Why perform a play at this time, in this space, and for this audience?  What kind of play are we watching? These are some of the questions that a dramaturg asks, either when beginning work with a cast and crew or when leading a tour like the one we’ll be taking to Ashland this October. We’ll be seeing The Tempest, Shakespeare’s late work that explores revenge, relinquishment, aging, deep love, and indeed, the surrender that comes with such love. What do we know about Shakespeare’s life at the time when he was writing The Tempest? He wrote the play at the age of 47, yet themes of mortality had underscored his writing from quite early in his career, as with Sonnet 73: “That time of year thou may’st in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/ Upon those boughs which shake against the cold…”

Water by the Spoonful

Daniel José Molina in Water by the Spoonful. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

We’ll also see Water By the Spoonful, whose plot pivots on a returning Iraq War veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia. Haunted by his memories, and of one in particular, this literally crippled man interacts with various characters who have, each in a different way, been crippled within the alienating modern world. I’ve recently done a lot of research on the experience of war veterans—both in reading and by interview—and I look forward to integrating some of this knowledge into our pre-show session on Water by the Spoonful.

Kenajuan Bentley and Jack Willis in The Great Society.

Kenajuan Bentley and Jack Willis in The Great Society. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The third play we’ll see is The Great Society, the sequel to Robert Schenkkan’s remarkable play All the Way, which blew me away when I saw it in 2012. This new play is again about Lyndon Johnson, looking at the period from 1965 to 1968 when LBJ struggled to fight a “war on poverty” as the Vietnam War escalated out of control.

I love leading these tours because they challenge me to enrich the experience of play-going for all of us who meet up there in Oregon’s beautiful theater town, surrounded by lush walking trails. In addition, I bring in guest artists and dramaturges to chat with you over dinner—many of the OSF staff members have become my friends since I worked there last year, and they bring an intimate (and often humorous) knowledge to our table. I want to share it all with you.

–––

Additional Details on the Ashland OSF Tour with Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly:

WHEN: Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5, 2014

LODGING: The elegant Ashland Springs Hotel in the heart of downtown, just steps away from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

DINING: Your package includes Friday night cocktail reception and dinner, and Saturday night dinner at a restaurant in town; breakfasts included with your stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel.

ENTERTAINMENT

FRIDAY EVENING: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s classic tale as reimagined by Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone. In Shakespeare’s romance, sorcery and love transmute vengeance into humility and humanity, making it possible for all to return to a world made new by the power of forgiveness.

SATURDAY MATINEE: Water by the Spoonful, directed by Shishir Kurup. In this fearless, groundbreaking Pulitzer Prize–winner, worlds virtual and real unfold onstage, challenging our notions of family, forgiveness, community, and courage. A janitor. A software mogul. A college grad. An IRS paper-pusher. Although they live thousands of miles apart, these four people share a secret: They’re recovering addicts who’ve found a safe haven in an online chat room. There, with liberal doses of jokes and bullying, they help each other navigate the broken terrain of their lives. But when an Iraq War vet’s tragedy spills over into their cyberhome, everything changes.

SATURDAY EVENING: The Great Society, directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director), the tumultuous beginning of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency that Robert Schenkkan presented in All the Way (2012) continues in part two, The Great Society. This world premiere is an unflinching examination of the morality of power.

SUNDAY MORNING: We’ll come together to reflect on our experience of all three productions this weekend, facilitated by Philippa’s illuminating insights.

TRANSPORTATION: Transportation to and from Ashland is not provided. Short distances in Ashland (from hotel to restaurant, hotel to theater) are readily walkable by people in moderate health.

COST: $1,200 per person double occupancy, or $1,350 single occupancy (includes a $500 tax-deductible contribution to Cal Shakes). A deposit of $300/per person is required to confirm your reservation.

RSVP: Please call or email Special Events Manager Shelly Jackson at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 12.

2013 Ashland trip participants

2013 Ashland trip participants.

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Happy 450th Birthday Shakespeare!

By Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Shakespeare Stamp

A commemorative Shakespeare stamp printed in 1864, on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth.

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday (also nominated as his death day 52 years later).

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 to John Shakespeare (leather merchant turned prominent alderman and town bailiff—equivalent to town mayor) and Mary Arden (local heiress). No birth records exist for William, but the records of the local church in Stratford-Upon-Avon indicate that a “William Shakespeare” was baptized on April 26 of that year. From this we deduce that he was born on or about April 23: infant mortality at that time was very high (25% of children died before the age of 2, and, indeed, three of Shakespeare’s siblings died in early childhood), which meant that children were baptized a few days after their birth.

William was the third of eight children. The very sketchy records of his early life have encouraged Oxfordians in their belief that “Shakespeare” was a local lout whose name was used as a cover for the Earl of Oxford who really wrote his plays. When challenged with this hypothesis at the grove, I remind Oxfordians that it was very common in the sixteenth century not to have much in the way of childhood records. Historians surmise that William Shakespeare was able to till his naturally gifted mind by virtue of being a public official’s child, entitled to attend the King’s New School in Stratford, which gave a classical education. His father’s fortunes declined when young William was about 13, however, and he had to leave school and never got to go to university. (The period of “childhood” was truncated then, compared to today: some children of the upper classes, the product of private tutors, began university studies at 15 or 16 and would have a law degree by the age of 18!)

In 1582, when William was 18, Anne Hathaway, a 26 year-old woman of some family means, became pregnant to him. They married late in that year, before the birth of their first daughter, Susannah. William’s wife and family lived in Stratford, including the couple’s twins, Hamnet and Judith, born in 1585. Hamnet died at the age of eleven. Judith and her father were not close, and Susannah remained William’s favored child until the end of his life.

Midsommer Night's Dream cover page

The first folio of A Midsummer Night's Dream, dated to 1600.

As a man of the theater, William spent much of his life in London near the theater, living away from his family in Stratford. Over a period of 18 years he wrote 37 plays (give or take one “discovered” extra and a couple of collaborations) and 154 sonnets. He stopped writing about three years before his death in 1616. Some scholars have speculated that he stopped writing because he had nothing left to say: however, I think this theory is highly unlikely when applied to a man of 47 who wrote a late play as gifted as The Tempest. It’s much more likely that he developed Scrivener’s Palsy, a degenerative disease that impeded his capacity to write. If you look at the range of his signatures, they markedly change as his physical state deteriorates. He could barely sign his final will, made in March 1616 (to register his displeasure at his daughter Judith’s marriage to a man who had at the same time got another woman pregnant).

Shakespeare, registered as “Will Shakespeare gent”, was buried on 26 April 1616 at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford Upon Avon. His tombstone is inscribed with the unlikely quatrain said to have been prepared by him, its stark ugliness compounding the mystery of who this man was:

Good Friend for Jesus sake forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blest be the man that spares these stones,

And curst be he that moves my bones.

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 on the ASK PHILIPPA blog to ask her a question.

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Likes, Hates, Dreams, and Wants: the Mind of Lorraine Hansberry

As opening night of A Raisin in the Sun approaches and the production comes together, we at Cal Shakes have been learning more about the history of an amazing playwright, Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry was an anomaly and a prodigal author in her day; after growing up in a segregated America, Hansberry became the first African American woman to have a play on Broadway. Privately, Hansberry was a lesbian in a time when LGBT civil rights were not even on most Americans’ radars; still, she fought for civil rights in her writing and activism throughout her life.

All of this makes more interesting this fragment of a notebook page from her life, owned by the New York Public Library and rediscovered recently.  On April 1, 1960, Hansberry scrawled on legal pad an offbeat list of things that she liked, hated, and wanted, with a final column for what she was “bored to death with.” The fragment is unique for the window it opens on her mind and disposition; it is both sad and funny, political and personal. “My homosexuality” appears twice, as a like and a hate; “racism,” “death,” “pain,” and “cramps” are all hates, along with “what has happened to Sydney Poitier” (who had starred in the first Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959).

The page also reflects on many of the themes present in A Raisin in the Sun. We see Hansberry thinking about family (she likes “my husband, mostly [sic] the time” ), about status and social justice (“racism” as a “hate”), and about aspiration (“Eartha Kitt’s looks” she likes).

In considering this document, we decided it would be fun to poll our fans to create a similar list. What does our audience “like” and “hate”? How would you have written your list?

In the comments section below, feel free to add your own likes and hates list, in the spirit of Hansberry. We plan to collect these and put the best ones in the program for A Raisin in the Sun.

A Raisin in the Sun tickets are now on sale. Learn more about our upcoming production, peruse the cast list, and look at available dates here.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Joyce Weissman

Meet Joyce!

Joyce Weissman joined the Cal Shakes Volunteer Corps in 2011. Joyce commutes from the South Bay via public transit to serve as an usher at our Student Matinees, and as a raffle ticket seller at our evening performances; you may have even seen her at your picnic table at the Bruns.

When asked whose dramatic shoes she’d like to fill on our stage, she said “If I could be any character– and since I love to laugh and hear others laugh– my dream part is to play any character, in any play performed by Omozé Idehenre, Stephen Epp, Bill Irwin, and Danny Scheie.”

Read on to learn more about Joyce and her passion for theater and how she spends her time as a volunteer at Cal Shakes.

What does Cal Shakes and theater mean to you?

I am transported to a passionate place in my heart and my mind to a creative and inspirational world of storytelling at the Cal Shakes outdoor theater. The endless possibilities of learning, changing a belief, seeing something differently, sensing how a play moves inside me and moves me, being open to the magical world of theater, I am just plain PASSIONATE about theater, hands down.

What’s a typical volunteer shift like for you?

My two favorite volunteer positions at Cal Shakes include: firstly, student matinees, I love hearing the students immediate response to what happens on the stage, and being with the students, I allow myself full expression and response to happen freely. My second is raffle ticket volunteer. I indirectly help support students get to the theater and have all sorts of creative theater learning experiences in the classroom via Cal Shakes. The students become involved in the arts, and receive the bonus of expanding their creativity, imagination, and confidence building skills.

Joyce, thank you for being an important part of our Cal Shakes family!

Volunteers are a vital part of our Cal Shakes community. With over 1,000 volunteers, our volunteer corps represents a wide and diverse demographic. Our volunteers hail from throughout the Bay Area, San Francisco to Pleasant Hill, to across the state, from Grass Valley to Los Angeles. They are mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, coworkers and friends. Volunteering with California Shakespeare Theater can be a great opportunity to experience and learn new things, spend time with family and friends, earn high school credit, fulfill community service requirements, see great theater for free, and, most importantly, pay it forward in the spirit of volunteerism. There are many ways to lend a hand at Cal Shakes, and signing up is easy.

Cal Shakes Volunteers on our Community Day of Service. Photo by Jamie Buschbaum.

Cal Shakes Volunteers on our Community Day of Service. Photo by Jamie Buschbaum.

Interested in volunteering?

Click here to register; once your application has been approved, you will be able to sign up for ushering dates and will be notified of other opportunities.

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My First Week at Cal Shakes

On my first day as Cal Shakes’ new publications manager, I biked to the Berkeley office and parked in the workshop next to a wall of stage props.  One box on the wall was labeled “BODY PARTS/BONES.”

When I mentioned this bemusement to our Managing Director, Susie Falk, she laughed; after years of working at Cal Shakes, she’d grown immune to funny details like this.

Folder, Notebook, Folder, Wine

Folder, folder, folder, wine, folder...

I noticed a lot of Cal Shakes was like this—little theatrical oddities that clash with the normal idea of what a Serious Office Environment should be. For instance, there are a lot more wine bottles sitting around than in most workplaces, much of it left over from our successful gala last week.  It becomes part of the office background of folders and memos, as you can see.

The wall art is more interesting than the average office, too–lots of great old play posters and advertisements. This poster in the hall motivates me and reminds me what we’re working for:

010.JPG

-Keith Spencer

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Single Tickets on Sale March 31

Join us for A Classic Summer…with a twist!

Single tickets go on sale Monday, March 31 for Cal Shakes’ 40th Anniversary Summer Season and you’ll want to get your tickets now before it’s too late.  We’re so excited about our four productions and we very much hope you’ll join us for one or two of them.

This season we’re proud to present:

  • Lorraine Hansberry’s American classic A Raisin in the Sun, directed by rising national star Patricia McGregor
  •  Shakespeare’s masterful comedy The Comedy Of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner, who helmed 2009’s smash-hit A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone grappling with George Bernard Shaw’s great anti-romantic comedy, Pygmalion
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, infused with movement and raw power by director Shana Cooper and choreographer Erika Chong Shuch

If you’re a subscriber and would like to make changes to your subscription before single tickets go on sale, please contact our Box Office, Mon-Fri from 10am-5pm, at 510.548.9666 or at boxoffice@calshakes.org.

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