By Ayodele Nzinga
It’s hard to know where to start. I always like the beginning. I like big pictures and story/stories. So I think that’s where I will start.
As an artist it’s hard to find funding for work. The places that offer funding often offer direction as well as funding—thus they become collaborators in the project.
If the funders want you to collaborate with another entity, they too come to the table as collaborator.
When the work comes with a deadline and a set of collaborators, each invested from a different perspective and potentially representing different populations with divergent goals for a commonly derived project, a type of crucible is formed.
To imagine art coming from this crucible can be challenging.
- How to hold on to and serve the inspiration that brought you into the room
- How to be open to not serving that inspiration as you envisioned or imagined it (can your Bird of Paradise seed grow a Meyer Lemon Tree?)
- Reimagining how to find your inspiration (something of what brought you in the room), inside the things that brought the other collaborators into the room
- Practicing leaderless/leaderful interaction that results in the production of knowledge that in turns supports action/doing
- Investing fully and engaging soulfully with the Meyer Lemon Tree
- Finding the way in which the Meyer Lemon Tree serves the Bird of Paradise seed
- How to facilitate equal collaboration when collaborators are invested differently, and the acknowledgement that funders are unacknowledged collaborators as well, who influence the trajectory and the boundaries of projects, further complexifies the collaborative art making process
To imagine not making art when given a chance is inconceivable. Especially if support is offered that facilitates your exploration of what might come of your interaction with Meyer Lemon Trees and you can negotiate the challenges above while engaging the process of making art.
As an artist, I find collaboration an interesting animal. I am not sure I like it, but I understand its importance. The things collaboration gifts are and are not art-making related. That is, the bigger lessons and blessing that come from collaboration transcend the art making process to live in how one addresses the world and builds community.
It is a space in which one must advance ideas as a part of showing up fully, at the same time one must hold space for the ideas of others and view them with as much value as ones own, while helping to facilitate the advancement of a project that in some way reflects our mutually derived vision.
In closing, the process of making art is always as interesting as the art that is the product of the process. The fusion of artist with the practice of research/investigation adds a layer on top of the complexity inherent in collaboration. I am looking forward to the soul of this endeavor which for me lies somewhere beyond the negotiation of the things I have written about here.
So far the experience has been very cerebral and that’s satisfying to my scholar soul – but the artist in me looks forward to painting with my fingers and getting clay beneath my fingernails.
Maybe next time I will blog about how collaboration invites you to be bigger than your dreams of Birds of Paradise.
In Shakespeare’s time, with its high mortality rates, most twins were split apart by death—as were the Bard’s own 11 year-old twins Judith and Hamnet in 1595, with Judith living on to be her father’s un-favorite child. Unlike Twelfth Night’s Viola and Sebastian, Shakespeare’s twins were not identical, but their fate, and its residual presence in the playwright’s imagination, very likely had a connection to the play’s central miracle – that the sea, long seen as a metaphor for death or the great unknown, delivers its dead safely back again. (By the way, here Shakespeare made one of his few famous factual mistakes – boy and girl twins cannot be identical as they are in his play.)
Despite the joyous restoration of the twins to each other and their eventual celebration of a different kind of pairing (the rites of marriage), Twelfth Night was to prove Shakespeare’s farewell to comedy. Indeed, the play itself has many dark notes: not least all the references to the plague that had killed young Hamnet and, in Shakespeare’s own childhood, had also killed one of his sisters. Duke Orsino refers to Olivia, for example, as having “purged the air of pestilence”; Sir Toby objects to “contagious breath”; and Olivia says of love, “Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” How did people protect themselves from catching the plague in those days when people rarely bathed, and, on the occasions where they did, shared the same bathwater with up to ten members of the family? On a daily basis people washed their hands as often as they could with water, vinegar or urine. They avoided crowded indoor places—meetings, including church sermons, would be held in the open air during onslaughts of the plague, and the theaters were shut down altogether (this is how Shakespeare got his sonnets written). The wealthy would often evacuate their homes when the illness came uncomfortably close, prevailing on great estates elsewhere to take them in. But many people died (one third of Europe’s population had been wiped out in the 1300s, and many thousands died in London during the repeated waves in the 1500s).
Questions about Twelfth Night, or other Shakespeare plays? Click over to Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s Question of the Fortnight.
By Rebecca Novick
Last month we launched a new round of our Artist-Investigator program, in which four distinguished artists partnered with four non-profit organizations to see how theater artists can help meet community needs. (Read more about the artists and their partners here.) We’ll be sharing regular “lab reports” on the progress of these experiments, as we find out what happens when the powerful skills of artists are deployed outside the rehearsal room.
Our early meetings have unearthed some exciting possibilities, like the conversation we had with the chaplain at Berkeley Food and Housing Project about creating theater-based rituals to help homeless vets struggling with “moral injury.” Or the proposal from Causa Justa::Just Cause—that their artist Paul Flores work with their clients to help them tell their compelling stories to decision-makers like government officials and funders.
Earlier this week, all of the artists and their partners came together for a day-long training with the dynamic Michael Rohd, whose Center for Performance and Civic Practice has pioneered a lot of the methodology we’re using. He asked everyone to name assets that artists bring to the partnerships—not just in the “product” we might create, but in how artistic skills influences the process of the collaboration. Here is a portion of the inspiring list the artists generated:
What we bring to the table as artists:
- my writer self
- ability to collaborate
- understanding when communication has not occurred
- basing work in the body
- making things happen, moving a process from A to B
- seeing when things are stuck
- seeing from multiple points of view
- getting people to tell their story
- imaginative problem-solving
- spirit-based work
- using humor as a tool
- articulating something for collective interrogation
- fearlessly naming the elephant in the room
- asking good questions at the right time
- surfacing emotional undercurrents
- inspiring risks
- making space for transgression
As exciting as artistic collaboration is, we’ve had to remind ourselves to hold off and be mindful of moving too fast. Our process asks artists and organizations to work off each other; but, speedy implementation is not always fruitful. As Dr. Ayodele Nzinga shared, “I always have a map, but I’m learning to make space for the emergent.”
By Arielle Brown
In January of this year, after working as an artist-investigator with the Triangle Lab to explore site specific performances of testimonies from The Love Balm Project, I began a second residency with The Triangle Lab to consider how The Love Balm Project might come to have a more sustained community presence. At the time, Rebecca Novick at Calshakes had been talking with me about the idea of developing a Love Balm Institute. The Institute would be an opportunity for me to train other cultural workers in the methodologies of The Love Balm Project in order to implement them with mothers and other communities in the Bay Area. The inaugural Love Balm Institute took place in may of this year and was a powerful encounter and skill sharing gathering. Still the institute posed more questions than answers. Practitioners who attended the institute brought to light all of the other specific communities that needed work like what the Love Balm Project offered to mothers. As I moved into working on the run of the play at Brava Theatre Center, I filed these questions and concerns. I soon began to think more about the organizational structure of the Love Balm Project. I considered that perhaps I needed to look to other collective organizational structures to inform and get to the root of exactly how I wanted the Love Balm Project to continue on. Continue reading
It was a wonderful 40th Anniversary surprise to wake up on Tuesday and find that shows from Cal Shakes’ 2014 Season had received accolades at the Theatre Bay Area Awards, held Monday night in San Francisco. While 3 of our 4 main stage shows had cast or staff nominated for awards, we emerged with five awards to five different actors and creative staff:
James Carpenter won “Best Featured Male Actor in a Play” for his role as Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion. (Read an interview with James Carpenter about his role in Pygmalion, including how he rehearsed.)
Danny Scheie won “Best Principal Male Actor in a Play” for his role as the Dromios in The Comedy of Errors.
Andre Pluess won “Best Sound Design” for The Comedy of Errors.
Beaver Bauer won “Best Costume Design” for The Comedy of Errors. (Read our interview with Bauer about her inspiration for the Comedy costume design).
Aaron Posner, who won “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing The Comedy of Errors.
And as a bonus, our PR and Marketing Manager Marilyn Langbehn won an award for “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing August: Osage County at Contra Costa Civic Theater.
Congratulations to all the wonderful theater-makers in the Bay Area for coming together and making such wonderful work. (69 awards were given last night). And thanks to all our staff for such a great 40th Anniversary Season! We can’t wait to see what fun 2015 will bring.
In the Triangle Lab, Cal Shakes’ research and development wing, we experiment with ways to bring together theaters, artists, and communities to ignite change. We believe that through deep collaboration, artists and community members can lift up each other’s work—starting conversation, sharing stories, bridging difference, and activating deeper civic participation.
Our Artist-Investigator Project asks artists to lead our investigation into what the performances of the future might look like, and help us discover what happens when the arts are more deeply integrated into community life.
We are delighted to announce this year’s four Artist-Investigators:
Paul Flores working with Causa Justa::Just Cause
Elizabeth Gjelten working DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing)
Krista De Nio working with Berkeley Food and Housing
Dr. Ayodele Nzinga working with Green Life Project/Pathways 2 Resilience
In 2013, we invited ten artists into the inaugural round to conduct projects that investigated new locations for performance and new methods for community collaboration. You can read more about their projects here.
In the 2014 round of the Artist-Investigator program we will be creating partnerships between artists and non-profit organizations to investigate how the skills of theater artists can help address community issues.
Our Hypothesis: Theater artists have key skills that can be deployed outside the rehearsal room to help community organizations advance their missions
Our Desired Outcomes
1. Organizations can demonstrate specific impact from the project in a mission area they’ve identified.
2. This impact is possible with a relatively small budget ($5000) and investment of time by the artist (about 60 hours).
Four artists with experience in performance and community engagement were selected via an open call. Each artist will work with one organization to develop a project together. These small-budget projects will be conducted over the course of one year, and documented carefully so they can serve as models for future collaborations between our sectors. Projects will be driven by the needs of the partner organization and will identify what theatrical skills, techniques, and processes will be most useful to that organization. Projects may or may not include public or invited performances.
We’ve begun exploring what kinds of skills these artists might share with their partner organizations, although we don’t know what will arise from these specific collaborations. For example:
As expert storytellers , theater artists can work with staff, clients or other stakeholders to gather, shape and share relevant stories in dynamic and powerful ways. Stories – written, performed, or online – can animate public interest, influence key decision-makers, and activate public gatherings.
As skilled story coaches , theater artists can work with clients to find their own voices through training in writing and performance. Clients can be prepared to advocate for themselves by claiming the power of their own stories and taking charge of their own narratives.
As rehearsal experts, theater artists know how to rapidly try, discard, and reinvent solutions to problems we discover. Artists can work with staff to brainstorm new programming or to address places where discussion is stuck and work with clients to rehearse solutions to life problems.
As trained team-builders , theater artists can offer skill-building workshops in many areas such as team-building and meeting facilitation skills, public speaking, writing, etc.
As event producers, theater artists can help shape the structure and content of events, celebrations, demonstrations, and other public events, helping to make these events more powerful, enjoyable, and memorable.
We’re very excited to be working with these outstanding artists and this range of extraordinary non-profits. Watch this blog for more updates on this project throughout the year.
The 2014 Season has just barely ended, and already we’re preparing for 2015. We have an incredible array of artists and plays lined up for the 2015 Season, and I can’t wait to see you all tumbling out of the grove next season with your digestibles and into our beautiful amphitheater.
While Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has written a letter about the 2015 Season, here’s a brief overview of the Main Stage season:
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
May 27–June 21
Director Christopher Liam Moore (Cal Shakes’ Lady Windermere’s Fan) is renowned for being able to delve into comedy, romance, and language with humanity and élan. Now he’s opening our season with Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece of mistaken identity, in which shipwrecked twins navigate across a strange island to find love—and each other.
Life Is a Dream
By Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Translated and Adapted by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Loretta Greco
July 8–August 2
This stunning Spanish Golden Age classic that’s been called “the Spanish Hamlet” tells the tale of a prince imprisoned by his father at birth because of a prophecy. Magic Theatre’s Loretta Greco directs a brilliant translation and adaptation by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Nilo Cruz, who brings urgency and accessibility to Calderon’s mythic, poetic play, where reality and dreams collide in a story of human will battling fate.
The Mystery of Irma Vep
By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
August 12–September 6
Lady Enid is haunted by the spirit of her husband’s ex-wife, Irma Vep—but that’s just the beginning of her problems. Mummies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other surprise guests pursue the numerous characters played frenetically by only two actors, including the fabulous Danny Scheie in a gender-bending tour-de-force performance. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone (Pygmalion, American Night) takes on Charles Ludlam’s outrageously ingenious comedy.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
September 16–October 11
At the beginning of Shakespeare’s King Lear, an old king asks his daughters to deliver love in return for slices of land. A cataclysmic scene ensues, at the end of which Lear (via hubris? Naivity? The foolishness of age?) is thrust out into the world with almost nothing that’s ever had value to him—without his land, without his familiar duties and prerogatives, and, most importantly, without his most precious daughter. He goes on an epic journey to finally (and fleetingly) experience the redemption of love, and, indeed, the redemption of a self. Nationally renowned director Amanda Dehnert—whose credits include the groundbreaking 2011 production of Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—directs two-time Tony award nominee Anthony Heald as Shakespeare’s profound tragic hero.
As 2015 draws near, I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for next year. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.
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, or post below to ask her a question.
Subscribe to the 2015 Season by clicking here, or call 510.548.9666.
This season at the Bruns concluded with a night of dancing, drag queens, fairy wings, and glitter! Friday, September 26th, Cal Shakes hosted a “Find Your Inner Fairy Dance Party” complete with pop-up dancers, gorgeous drag queens, and a costume dance party. Patrons, guest performers, and staff took over the forest grounds in what became a magical night to envelop our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The evening began with dance performances throughout the Bruns grounds. Pop-up dances were choreographed by Dream actor Travis Santell Rowland, with performances by Brianna Anthony, Eric Garcia, Melanie Elms, Parker Murphy, Strobe FEARude Growles, and Travis Santell Rowland (Qween).
Performance art by Diana Sauce in the plaza.
Some Cal Shakes Patrons even came dressed for the party!
Post show performances by some of the Bay Area’s finest Drag Queens, Kings, and a blessing by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence!
To round out the evening, the plaza was transformed into a magical fairyland complete with glistening lights, costume corner, wings, and magical umbrellas.
Patrons, guest performers, and staff fashioned glitter and wings, while everyone danced the night away to a Fairy Dance Party mix provided by Cal Shakes dancers/choreographers Travis Santell Rowland and Parker Murphy.
Thank you for helping make this a night to remember.
If you’d like to see more photos please take a peek at our Flickr stream. (All photos were taken by Sophie Spinelle.)
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the night. Please email email@example.com with any and all feedback.
If you attended a Cal Shakes show this past weekend, you may have seen my face—on our stage. I’m the understudy for Movement Director and actress Erika Chong Shuch, a powerhouse of a woman, and I wound up being called on to play Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people have asked me what this experience was like, and so I thought I would chronicle it into phases.
Phase I: Excitement
After interning all summer at Cal Shakes, I auditioned and was accepted to understudy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was all knock-knees and general excitement, highlighting away in my binder during the first rehearsal and gasping at all the set and costume designs. Understudying allows you to absorb so much information and as a young actress it’s pretty ideal. I get to try on a part without as much of the risk, and see the professionals do their work.
Phase 2: Technical Rehearsal
This was the most fun part of being an understudy for me, where I learned all my lines and wrote down all my blocking. Essentially the expectation is to know everything by Opening Night, and then to have your understudy rehearsal the following Tuesday. Simple enough. I had just finished my internship and so was content to hang around the Bruns all during tech, cracking jokes with cast and crew and being on book when needed. I was so impressed with all the actors, working twelve hour days and being incredibly patient and generous with each other.
Phase 3: Understudy Rehearsal
Finally our time had come! My fellow understudies were chomping at the bit to do their scenes. They were really prepared and ready to finally DO something with all the knowledge they’d been collecting. On the way to rehearsal we all got an email that would change the whole course of our day. Brian, the understudy for James Carpenter (Egeus/Starveling) was going to go on! It was getting real. We spent most of the day doing Brian’s scenes, which meant I only got to walk through one Titania scene once.
Catherine Castellanos (Snout) and I kept joking about how it would be crazy if I had to go on after not getting to do any of my scenes. Good thing that was entirely unlikely. Little did I know…
Phase 4: The Call
Friday morning the unthinkable happened. I received a text message from Karen Szpaller, our stage manager/resident superwoman, saying I should be prepared to go on, and she would let me know as soon as she could. At which point I immediately began to do three things:
2) read my script 500 times
3) cry (just a little).
In order to understand why I would react in such a fashion it’s important to note that I’m a senior in college, who has a few credits mostly accrued while at conservatory in Europe. Cal Shakes is a theater I respect and whose company of staff, crew, and actors I am constantly in awe of. Basically I felt like I was hitting fast forward on getting to do my ultimate dream job.
Karen confirmed that Operation Understudy was a go (she doesn’t call it that, I do, and I’m not sorry about it) and I hit the road around 3pm, reciting Shakespeare all the way.
Phase 5: The Trial By Fire
I got to the theater with enough time to warm up, walk the space, and get fitted into a costume before my two hour put-in rehearsal began. A put-in is essentially what it sounds like—putting me into the show. However, anyone who has seen this show with Erika knows: you can’t imitate greatness. So we (and by we I mean Craig, and the fairies; Travis, Parker and Mel), re-choreographed a whole lot, from the top of show fight, to my entrance out of the trap (under the stage) and more.
Everyone was incredibly supportive, including Jonathan Moscone who came to help direct me through some moments and get acquainted with the show. The fairies (Travis Parker and Mel) helped me focus on my job, which was to make everyone else not freak out by appearing calm, knowing my part and just doing the damn thing.
After asserting my warrior dominance as Hippolyta in the first scene, I had a second to look out and had only one thought: “oh my lanta, people”. I don’t even remember saying my first line. What I do remember is the outpouring of love from everyone around me. I felt like I was on an Olympic Rowing Team and we were all going for the gold in one final burst before the finish line: either we all won or we all didn’t make it, and failure was not an option. Coming through the green room door after that first show was the most electrifying feeling in the world. We had done it! We had pulled off this behemoth, beautiful, inspiring show and I quite frankly couldn’t believe I’d gotten to be a part of it.
Phase 6: The Aftermath
I cannot stress enough how much Cal Shakes’ culture of support, love of art, and community helped me to get through this moment. Without all of the words of encouragement from my fellow actors, and the amazing Cal Shakes audience, I never would have found the courage to step out on that stage. Now that Erika is back and more graceful than ever, it feels like even more of a family because we all helped each other through a tough spot. I have nothing but eternal gratuity and respect for everyone involved for helping a young actress to realize her dreams for just a few shows. The best way to articulate how I feel is with a quote from the play:
“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”
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About the author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.