Announcing our 2016 Season!

James Earl Jones and Mary Alice in the 1985 world premiere of Fences at Yale Rep.

2016 at Cal Shakes will be filled with sharp wit, “will they or won’t they” couples, tragic heroes, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, New York Times-heralded directors, and plenty of excitement, with our new Artistic Director, Eric Ting, starting this fall. Ting will choose the fourth show—a Shakespeare play as is our tradition—which will be announced later this year. Below are the first three titles of our 2016 Season, selected by our former artistic director Jonathan Moscone. To ensure premium seating, big savings, and flexible dates, subscribe or renew your subscription here. Single tickets will be available this spring. Until then, check out our production of King Lear, which runs through October 11th.

Much Ado About Nothing

By William Shakespeare/ Directed by Jackson Gay / May 25–June 19

She’s a witty, independent woman and he’s a pompous, misogynistic man, making Beatrice and Benedick a match made in entertainment heaven. This dynamic duo at the center of Shakespeare’s sharpest comedy about the thin line between love and hate, has become the archetype for “will they or won’t they” couples. Jackson Gay, who has been named one of the “power players of off-Broadway,” by the New York Times, directs.


By August Wilson/ Directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges/ July 6–July 31

This powerful drama about a middle-class family’s disillusion with the American dream marks two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson’s Cal Shakes’ debut. Set in the 1950s, Troy Maxson is a charismatic former baseball player-turned-sanitation worker. With his solid paycheck and lessons in tough love, he is the de facto captain of his own house, but when an affair is exposed and his son lashes out, this tragic hero fights to keep his family together and his strong beliefs intact.

You Never Can Tell

By George Bernard Shaw /Directed by Lisa Peterson/August 10–September 4

Let the battle of the sexes begin, in George Bernard Shaw’s sharply witty take on marriage and the modern woman. Mrs. Clandon, a famed feminist author and lecturer, fled, with her three children, to the island of Madeira to escape her unhappy marriage. When they return to England 18 years later, she is accidentally reunited with her husband at a seaside resort, while her daughter, raised in her mother’s mirror image, fights against falling in love with a devoted dentist. What will happen? As a wise waiter continuously, and hilariously, observes, “You never can tell.”

Fourth Show, TBD

By William Shakespeare/September 14–October 9

The final play of the Main Stage season—written by Shakespeare as is our Cal Shakes’ tradition—will be announced by Artistic Director Designate Eric Ting at a later date.

Renew your subscription online now or call the Box Office at 510.548.9666, and you’ll receive a complimentary box of gourmet cookies from Holly Baking Company, which will be available for you to pickup at the Welcome Center when you visit the Bruns for your scheduled performance of King Lear. The Welcome Center will also have forms ready to fill out if you’d rather renew or subscribe in person.

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Meet our King Lear: Anthony Heald


Anthony Heald as King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

First up is Anthony Heald, who plays King Lear. He is a two-time Tony nominee who has spent the past year playing the double role of Ross and Bishop How in the record-breaking Broadway and West End runs of The Elephant Man. The long-time Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member is also known for playing Hannibal Lecter’s arch-nemesis Dr. Frederick Chilton in The Silence of the Lambs and the Vice Principal Scott Guber in Boston Public. Heald makes his Cal Shakes debut in King Lear.

Where are you from?

Born and raised in the New York City area—Long Island (Massapequa).

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Lear’s best quality, which is in slim supply as the play starts, but builds as the story unfolds, is the care he takes with those around him. Lear’s worst quality is his narcissism and his hot temper—his expectation that he deserves special treatment, and his sudden rages when he’s frustrated.

Favorite line in King Lear:

It’s so difficult to choose in a play so verbally rich and full of ideas. It would probably be, “Take physic, pomp, Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them And show the heavens more just.”

First experience at a play, or musical:

The first play I remember seeing—I was probably eight or so—was You Can’t Take It With You. My mother and father were playing parts in our community theater’s first real production, after several years of play readings.

First acting gig:

My first professional acting job came the summer I turned 19 (1963), when I worked at the Houghton Lake Playhouse in Michigan. I used my first name (Phil) in the Children’s Theater programs, but when I got my first main stage show, I decided to use my middle name, Anthony. Weeks later an audience member praised my performance and said, with great sympathy, “I saw your brother Phil in the kiddy show—he’s nowhere near as good as you are!”

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

Lear is a very, very special role—one I’ve been dreaming of and preparing for over the years. Before that, Iago? Shylock? Tartuffe?

Favorite Shakespeare play:

I think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is practically a perfect play—which, of course, makes it terribly difficult to mount successfully. I also love Measure for Measure.

Do you have any pets? If so, what are they?

We have far too many pets in our home. My wife and I have three dogs, and our daughter has one. She also has three cats, and three horses, but they don’t live at home.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

I confess to having been sort of locked in Lear land for the last year or so. I get enormous pleasure and satisfaction out of doing my research.

What is your pre-show ritual?

I try to always to get there at least an hour to an hour-and-a-­half before curtain. I check that my stage properties are where they need to be, I take a nice, slow, relaxed time with my makeup, and getting into my clothes. I try to do a 15-minute vocal/physical warm-­up. I try to speak with everyone in the cast.

What is your line memorization technique?

Long, hard work. Daily sessions with frequent drills. I need to know all my lines down cold before I even begin rehearsals. I don’t ever want to waste any valuable time, energy, and focus during rehearsals (and performances) feeling anxious over not being certain what I have been given to say.

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd.

To read more about Heald’s experience preparing to play King Lear at Cal Shakes, pick up a program at a performance of King Lear which runs through October 11. For tickets click here.


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Coming Next: King Lear starring Anthony Heald

Anthony Heald as Shylock in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2010 production of The Merchant of Venice. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Capes are being fitted, swords ordered, and “blood meetings” are taking place. That can only mean one thing: Rehearsals for King Lear,  directed by Amanda Dehnert—the creative force behind our 2011 production of The Verona Projectare in full swing.

Making his Cal Shakes debut as King Lear will be Anthony Heald. He has appeared in hit films and TV shows like The Silence of the Lambs, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Boston Public, as well as on Broadway, where he has been nominated for two Tony Awards and was most recently seen alongside Bradley Cooper in a record-breaking revival of The Elephant Man. But as the long-time Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member said in a recent interview with Cal Shakes, he feels most at home when performing in a Shakespeare play at an organization like Cal Shakes or OSF. “I’ve done seven Broadway productions and it’s wonderful in terms of the exposure,” said Heald, “but the actual experience of performing on Broadway, for my money, doesn’t compare with performing on the stage of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—and I’m certain the experience of performing at the California Shakespeare Theater.”

Joining Heald on the Bruns stage will be Arwen Anderson, El Beh, and Kjerstine Rose Anderson as his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, respectively. Aldo Billingslea, last seen at Cal Shakes in the 2013 productions of Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Winter’s Tale will play the Earl of Kent, and audiences may remember Charles Shaw Robinson, who recently appeared alongside El Beh in SF Playhouse’s Stupid F**cking Bird, from Cal Shakes’ 2010 world premiere of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven by Octavio Solis. He will play the Earl of Gloucester. Dan Clegg (Romeo in 2013’s Romeo and Juliet), and Rafael Jordan (our upcoming tour of The Tempest) will play Gloucester’s sons, Edmund and Edgar.

To read our full interview with Heald pick up a program at a performance of King Lear, which begins previews on September 16th and runs through October 11th. For tickets click here.

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Listen to an Original Song from our Upcoming Tour of The Tempest


A student at Laney College works on writing an original song for The Tempest.

Building on the success of last year’s All the Bay’s a stage tour of Twelfth Night, we’re increasing the impact of this year’s tour of The Tempest, even further, by inviting community partners to collaborate. Over the summer, students from the jazz and theater programs at Oakland’s Laney College worked with tour director Rebecca Novick and composer Olive Mitra to write music and lyrics for an original song that will be performed during our production of The Tempest.

Here is a sample of the song, which has a working title of “Untamed and True,” performed a cappella. Enjoy!

Untamed and True Laney Cal Shakes Collaboration

Cal Shakes’ All the Bay’s a Stage program is funded by donations from community members like you. Seats for the public performances of The Tempest at OMCA, which will take place on Fridays at 7pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 4pm from November 13-22, are extremely limited. Beginning September 1st, donors of $250 or more to this project can reserve two complimentary seats to one of the OMCA performances (while supplies last). To make a donation and reserve your seat for the Cal Shakes tour of The Tempest, click here or contact our Director of Development, Megan Barton at


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Artist-Investigator Elizabeth Gjelten on Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing

As part of our ongoing series about the Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator program, we have asked our AI’s to write about their projects. Here, our Artist-Investigator Elizabeth Gjelten gives a look inside her work with the Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing (D.I.S.H.) organization.

Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing (D.I.S.H.) provides high-quality, permanent housing to formerly homeless San Franciscans who suffer from serious health issues. Elizabeth Gjelten, a writer/arts educator, is working with D.I.S.H. to develop activities that will create more opportunities for beauty and creativity in the lives of residents. 

By Elizabeth Gjelten

Photographs by Audra Miller

For people who get into housing after living on the streets, it’s a huge relief to have a door they can close—to lock out the chaos and danger. But that door also presents its own danger: isolation. This is the main thing I heard over months of listening to tenants, caseworkers, and managers at D.I.S.H. (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing), which provides supportive housing for people who were homeless and had serious health issues. After years on the streets, most lack the most basic tools needed to live side-by-side with neighbors and follow rules. They’ve often lost whatever semblance of community they may have had outside (folks who watched each other’s back or used together), and when they’re working on sobriety, it can be risky to spend time outside in the Tenderloin. Sometimes it feels easier to stay in their rooms and watch TV. This is D.I.S.H.’s challenge: not only to maintain safe, decent housing and give tenants the support they need to stay there, but also to help them rebuild their lives and build community.

Sometimes the first step in rebuilding your life is to value it. A beautiful, professional portrait can be a powerful tool to say to yourself and to anyone else who looks at it: This is who I am, what I’m worth. When I learned that a D.I.S.H. intern, Audra Miller, is a skilled photographer, it seemed obvious: Why not create a portrait gallery of willing tenants at the D.I.S.H. hotels? And why not strengthen the message of these photographs with the tenants’ own words? With the help of some list-making and other writing exercises, the tenants reveal what home means to them.


“Home is being part of a community that helps and lets me be me.” — Aja



 “I am at home when I am with my tools.” — Luis

For Luis, home means having a place where he can keep his tools safe and pursue his passion for woodworking.



“I feel at home when anybody says hello and smiles at me …” — Kolinio

 Home may mean the daily specifics of community, the celebrations, and greetings.



“Home is a place where I feel uplifted.” — Patricia

 Or it may simply be the positive feelings of community. When I heard Patricia died a few weeks ago, I was saddened—but heartened to know that the picture of her words and hands (she was too shy to show her face) will be part of her legacy at her last home.

As we wrap up the portrait-and-writing sessions, we’ll frame the photos in groups, to go in the hotels’ community rooms, where they’ll be a beautiful conversation piece, a powerful record of tenants’ lives, a testament to what it takes to build community, and an excuse for a party! Also, D.I.S.H. administrators are already talking about how they can use these photos to convey their work and mission to the larger community.


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I AM NOT WHAT I AM: Dressing in drag turns gender roles upside down in the theater— and beyond.

This article appears in the program for The Mystery of Irma Vep.

Danny Scheie as Lady Enid in The Mystery of Irma Vep. Photo by Kevin Berne.


By Keith Spencer

Most of us have, at some point in our lives, tried on clothes of the opposite gender. For many of us it happens in a childhood theater experience, dressing for a role. For others it happens in normal childhood play, as it did with me; one day, after kindergarten, when a girl and I swapped clothes in the playroom for curiosity’s sake. After observing myself clad in an ill-fitting, flower-pattern dress, in her mother’s full-length mirror, I felt a strange taboo sensation wash over me, as if I had been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. For actors of any level, theater offers the opportunity to play as someone other than ourselves: for a brief staged moment, we get to experience what it might feel like to be the Prince of Denmark, or a poor flower girl, or, as in The Mystery of Irma Vep, several different characters ranging from a nobleman to an Egyptian princess. For many actors this is a lesson in empathy, in that we learn to relate with people radically different than ourselves by stepping into their skin. Yet sometimes, actors discover that they’re more comfortable in who they become on stage, than who they are off.

Long before the modern struggle for LGBTQ civil rights, theater offered an escape, a means of performing as the person many actors felt, deep down, that they were. Only in the 20th century did intellectuals start to think of gender itself as a taught performance. In the 1980s, Berkeley professor Judith Butler developed a theory of gender performativity, theorizing that both sex and gender were an edifice, constructed by culture. Masculinity and femininity, and their associated behaviors and symbols, were not inherent traits; rather, they were inventions of culture, and learned ones at that. Hence the strange uncomfortable feeling I experienced when trying on a dress at age five: I was performing outside of the gender I’d been told I was. This idea of life as a performance, akin to acting, is not new: As Jaques mused in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” On the Elizabethan stage of Shakespeare’s era, women were not allowed to be actors—meaning the first performances of Shakespeare’s plays in England featured all-male casts. Imagine the multiple layers of meaning in, say, Twelfth Night, where a woman (Viola), played by a male actor, pretends to be a man, Cesario, in the context of the story. One can see how a queer actor—struggling with conflicting identities that were not acceptable in Elizabethan society— might find respite in such a role.

Recently, the headlines have been full of stories surrounding the idea of gender as an artifice, not an inborn trait, with different sexualities being even more accepted in progressive communities like the Bay Area. This has led to major progress in civil rights, such as this summer’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide. However, before identities like gay, transgender, gender fluid, and gender variance were well on their way to becoming socially accepted, drag performance was used—and still is—as a means of questioning gender and sexuality conventions, and satirizing the rigidity of gender roles. Why is it exactly that we find drag so funny? Perhaps it’s because the way we are taught to perform and adhere to gender roles is so uncompromising that it can be a relief to recognize it as a farce, a constructed world at which we can play. Or maybe it’s because deep down we know the whole premise of gender is absurd. Charles Ludlam, playwright of The Mystery of Irma Vep and a gay man himself, certainly saw the potential of theater to enact alternative identities. Supposedly, one of his college professors told him he was “too effeminate” to make it as an actor. He did so anyway, and shortly after college began a career as a playwright, director, and actor, founding the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in the West Village. Ludlam’s 1984 play The Mystery of Irma Vep—which requires two male actors to play eight characters, both male and female—went on to become his best-known and most-produced. While previous plays of Ludlam’s were well-known within the gay theater scene, Irma Vep was unequivocally a mainstream success. Though privately ambivalent, Ludlam himself seemed pleased at the success of Irma Vep, and the success of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. He once explained his theatrical style as such: “I think the distinction between gay theater and what I do, which some people call ‘queer theater,’ is that gay theater is really a political movement to show that gay people can be admirable, responsible members of the community… I don’t do that.”

Reading between the lines, Ludlam’s point seems to be not that he is apolitical, but that he depicts queer identities in a way that normalizes them. Playing off queer themes for laughs rather than politics attests to the way that queer art was on its way to becoming more conventional, even in the 1980s. If then the theater doors were wedged open just far enough for Ludlam’s queer theater to become mainstream, it is telling how much we’ve progressed since. Queer characters of all stripes grace television and movie screens, so much so that seeing a gay or trans character on the screen no longer causes a to-do. Ludlam, no doubt, would approve.


Keith Spencer is a freelance writer and graduate student, currently pursuing a PhD in Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Formerly publications manager for Cal Shakes, he has written about gender, class, and sexuality for Jacobin, Dissent, and PopFront. He will be giving four pre-show Grove Talks in mid-August prior to The Mystery of Irma Vep, where he will talk more about gender performativity and comedy.

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Introducing our New Artistic Director Eric Ting

It is with great excitement that we announce our new Artistic Director Eric Ting. He comes to Cal Shakes after spending 11 years with the Long Wharf Theatre, eight of which were as the company’s Associate Artistic Director.  He is also an Obie Award-winning director who has been called “a magician” by The New Yorker magazine and “perhaps one of the most gifted young directors in our midst” by the Hartford Courant.

The announcement, by Cal Shakes Board President Jean Simpson, Managing Director Susie Falk, and Search Committee Chair Kate Stechschulte, caps an extensive seven-month nationwide search. Ting will serve as the fifth artistic director in the company’s history, succeeding outgoing Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, who completed his 16-year tenure with the opening of The Mystery of Irma Vep.

“I am profoundly honored to join this remarkable organization whose mission and programming both on and off its stage so thoroughly embody what I believe a theater can and must be today,” says Ting. “I’m inspired by the fearless scope of vision of my predecessor, Jonathan Moscone; and humbled by the collective commitment, faith, and trust given me by Jean, Kate, and the entire Cal Shakes Board. I can’t imagine a more passionate and devoted partner than Susie Falk; nor a more dynamic community of staff, artists, and audience to call my home; nor a more splendid cultural and civic landscape than the Bay Area; and that stage, that glorious backdrop, those hills, that sky, the stars! I’m eager to see what the future holds for Cal Shakes, and so very excited to be a part of it.”

Ting will make periodic visits to Cal Shakes between now and November 1, 2015, when he assumes his official duties as our Artistic Director. His wife Meiyin Wang—currently Co-Director of the Under the Radar Festival and the Devised Theater Initiative at the Public Theater as well as Curator of the Park Avenue Armory Artist-In-Residence program in New York City—and their new daughter, Frankie, will make their move from Brooklyn to the Bay Area in early 2016.

Read the press release, which includes Ting’s full bio here.


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Ask Philippa: The Mystery of Irma Vep edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

In The Mystery of Irma Vep, the very name of which is its own kind of riddle, Charles Ludlam uses parody, vaudeveille, melodrama, satire, and horror to re-cast the history of the classic plays and movies he knew and loved very well. Written initially as a showcase for himself and his partner Everett Quinton, the play would go on, four years after Ludlam’s untimely death, to be Ludlam’s most famous play, and, indeed, the most performed play in the American theater. The glossary I’ve attached here will answer many of your questions—and I’d love to respond to further questions and thoughts that you have.

Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Irma Vep Glossary

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, or post below to ask her a question.

Buy tickets for The Mystery of Irma Vep, or subscribe to the 2015 Season, by clicking here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.



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Coming Next: The Mystery of Irma Vep

Liam Vincent and Danny Scheie get their silly on. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Come and celebrate Jonathan Moscone’s final show as Cal Shakes’ Artistic Director with tickets to Charles Ludlam’s 1984 romp, The Mystery of Irma Vep. High, low, and above all, absolutely fabulous comedy converge at a sinister English estate, where Lord Edgar and his nervous new wife, Enid, find themselves haunted by werewolves, ghosts, a vampire, and Edgar’s mysterious ex-wife, Irma Vep.

In an unparalleled theatrical feat, Cal Shakes favorites Danny Scheie and Liam Vincent (who brought audiences to their feet in last year’s The Comedy of Errors) will make 35 costume changes to play eight different characters—ranging from a nobleman to an Egyptian princess—resulting in a gender- and genre-bending tour de force.

Irma Vep is a hilarious send-up of a medley of different styles and sources, specifically, Hitchcock’s thriller, Rebecca, Brontë’s dark romance, Wuthering Heights, and Noël Coward’s otherworldly comedy Blithe Spirit. As Moscone said about directing Ludlam’s most popular play, “I’m so happy to get some silly on at the Bruns.”


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Virgins to Villains’ Robin Goodrin Nordli talks Shakespeare’s Women, Life with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival , and her Return to Cal Shakes

On Monday July 20th—for one night only—Oregon Shakespeare Festival favorite and Cal Shakes’ alumna Robin Goodrin Nordli will bring her one-woman show Virgins to Villains: My Journey with Shakespeare’s Women to the Bruns Amphitheater. From Queen Margaret to Lady MacBeth, Goodrin has performed over 70 roles in 25 different Shakespeare plays. In her own work—which also includes a kind of how-to for playing Shakespeare’s women called Bard Babes—Nordli strives to make Shakespeare more accessible and personal. With Virgins audiences will see her mix Shakespeare’s language with intimate, poignant, and often hilarious stories about how these characters have affected her life and career as a performer.

Producer and Cal Shakes board member Craig Moody first saw Nordli, who has been a member of OSF for over 20 years, as Regan in King Lear while on a trip to the festival in Ashland. He knew from that moment that he wanted to help bring this gifted performer back to the Bay Area if only for just one night. Here, the lawyer-by-day-and-theater-enthusiast-by-night interviews Nordli about her favorite Shakespeare characters, the struggle to find great roles for women in the theater, and her long-awaited return to Cal Shakes.

What prompted you to create both Bard Babes and Virgins to Villains?

Bard Babes was the first one I did. That started out because I realized I had played a lot of female Shakespeare roles and I kind of missed playing them. I missed the characters, and I wanted to talk about playing them. One season when I was doing The School for Scandal and Henry IV, Part 1 I had a lot of offstage time. I had like 45 minutes to an hour and half break between entrances sometimes. While I was sitting at my dressing space I just started writing. I originally wanted to make Bard Babes a one-woman show, but I realized I couldn’t; I needed an assistant, and it needed a lot of props, so it wasn’t exactly the piece I wanted to write, but I liked it well enough. Then I did it as a Carpenter Hall lecture here at OSF [in 1998] and it worked. I had a couple of people give me feedback on what it needed, and how to tweak it. I ended up doing it a variety of places and still do. Then I wrote [a piece] for Shakespeare Santa Cruz called Shakespeare’s Labors in Love about how dysfunctional relationships are in Shakespeare. It’s kind of a comedy piece that I wrote for Michael Elich [Nordli’s husband] and myself . We did it for a benefit and it went over very well, and then I finally sat down and wrote the piece I’ve always wanted to write which was Virgins to Villains. I sat down with Lue [Morgan] Douthit from OSF—she was very helpful to me with Bard Babes—and I told her I wanted to write this other piece, but I was so afraid that it would turn out like Bard Babes. She said, “Write down all the information. Write down everything you’ve done. Write down when you did it and what was going on in your life at that time. Make a bunch of lists of anything you feel is important and it will appear to you,” so I did that and it kinda did.  I sat down and I wrote this piece. Sometimes it helps me if I have a date that I have to perform it by, so I called up the [Oregon] Shakespeare Festival and asked if they could give me a Carpenter Hall lecture.  It was a good first shot at it, but since then I have changed about one-third to half of it and gone on to perform it in various places. It doesn’t have any props except a music stand and some chairs. It’s very simple and portable, which I love—and it’s just me.

Other than Virgins being a one-woman show, what are the main differences between Bard Babes and Virgins to Villains?

Bard Babes is more about how to play a Shakespearean character; it’s a “how to.” It’s about why Shakespeare isn’t scary, but it’s actually funny, and that it’s very accessible and why, as opposed to Virgins which is my personal journey with Shakespeare’s female characters.

Do you have any particular thoughts about coming back to Cal Shakes where you were so many years ago?

Of course I do! I badly wanted to do this because Cal Shakes—which was Berkeley Shakespeare Festival prior to—was one of the most influential places I’ve worked. I was there for three seasons when it was Berkeley Shakespeare Festival and two as Cal Shakes, and those five years were huge for me and my development. I’ve always wanted to come back and do something and this seems like the perfect piece to do there.

What are some of the roles you  remember doing while you were at Cal Shakes /Berkeley Shakespeare Festival?

 One season while it was still Berkeley Shakespeare Festival I was Mistress Quickley in Merry Wives of Windsor, while I was doing Desdemona in Othello, and Imogen in Cymbeline. Then we rehearsed Twelfth Night and I was Viola, so at one point I had those four in my head. My first year there I did Ariel in The Tempest with Louis Lotorto, who was also Ariel and it was just phenomenal. It was the role I was dying to play. I ended up splitting it with Louis, and we had a great time.  I wrote my Master’s thesis on it [because] it was such a phenomenal experience.

It sounds like those five years here were a good time in your life.

Definitely. The last year I was there I was Rosalind in As You Like It, Constance in King John, Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, and multiple roles in Hamlet, so that was another one of those hard-core seasons which was just great.

There’s always a lot of talk about Shakespeare having cast boys in women’s roles and women not always having the best parts in his plays. Do you think Shakespeare gave short shrift to female roles?

 Well whoever he—or she—was, he [for the sake of this interview] was a commercial  writer. He wrote to make money. He wrote for his audience, and he wrote for the actors that he had. I think you always have to keep that in context. It was the world he lived in. Other than the fact that a woman was running the country for most of the time he was around, it was very much a man’s world. Also, he was writing for boys playing those women roles who would grow out of those roles. With some of the male roles the guys could play them for much longer, so you always have to take that into consideration, but that said he did not write two dimensional women. For the most part they are multi-dimensional characters, even the small ones. That’s what’s so astonishing. I wish there were more. I wish they had more language. I wish they had more power, but the fact that he gives us characters like Beatrice and Volumnia… There were a bunch of them that he wrote—more so than anybody else at that time—that were fairly wonderful and multi-dimensional, particularly the pants roles.

Can you explain pants roles for those who may be unfamiliar with that terminology?

Those were women who disguised themselves as men in order to survive or get something done. There are basically five of them: You have Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Rosalind  in As You Like It, Viola in Twelfth Night, Imogen in Cymbeline, and Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. They’re very multi-dimensional, and you learn a lot about what the world was: what surviving was, and where the power was to make changes. It was in a male society and therefore you had to adapt to achieve what you needed to. But I am surprised to say that my two favorite productions of Twelfth Night—which I’ve seen more than any other play, and I’ve done more than any other play—are Mark Rylance’s all-male production, and a Russian version that came to the United States about 10 years ago that was just interesting and phenomenal, and it was also all male. There’s another layer in the play that you get when it’s all men that you don’t get when it’s played by women. It’s fascinating. It’s something on a subliminal level. It’s hard to explain, and I was quite blown away, but those are fabulous roles for women. I wish there were more, but I understand at that time, with those people that he wrote for in that climate, and the culture that he lived in, for him to do what he did was quite a lot.

Do you think women’s roles in the theater are improving?

 Not a whole lot. I think new writers are trying to address the female issue, but I don’t think there’ve  been any huge breakthroughs yet. In the 1800s you had Sarah Bernhardt, Julia Marlowe, Fanny Davenport, all these fabulous women actresses who toured the United States, or Europe with their companies and they played male and female roles. They were power-driven forces, and they were the actors and managers of the companies. We don’t have anything like that anymore. Even with movies in the 20s and 30s, there were women who were huge stars, and box office draws, now it’s the guys. We’ve kind of taken a step backwards in that direction, and I think in theater we have too. There’s a number of people out there trying to shake it up, but it’s tough.

What are some of your favorite and least favorite roles that you’ve played?

I have favorites for different reasons, and I have ones that I can’t stand for different reasons. I don’t have just one. I will tell you this though, I really loved playing Margaret through the Henry VI cycle. We did Henry VI, Part 1 and then a combined Parts 2 and 3 and then Richard III, so I played her through from a teenage girl to an old lady. Nobody gets to do that. Usually you break it up, and different people play different ages, but I got to do it all the way through. It was fabulous.

You also played Elizabeth in last year’s OSF production of Richard III right?

Yes, that was fun too—to turn around and play [Richard III] from a different angle. I’ll also tell you that the first time I ever felt like I played a character who really drove the boat, so to speak or controlled her own destiny, was with Imogen in Cymbeline. That was the first time I felt a character control things, as opposed to reacting to things.

I had a great Measure for Measure at Berkeley Shakespeare Festival. I did it in ’89 there. Richard E.T. White directed it. It was one of my favorite productions anywhere, ever, but of course I love Twelfth Night too. As far as least favorite? So much of that has to do with the production instead of the play, but I can’t think of a Shakespeare one that I didn’t enjoy in some way, or have a good experience with.

Are there any Shakespeare roles you haven’t played yet, that you still want to play? I can’t believe there are…

You’re going to have to come to my show, because I talk about that. You will understand and be satisfied with my answer.

We certainly will! One last question: How has your life changed since putting down roots in Oregon?

The beauty of this place is it’s a repertory theater and you don’t get that at many places now. When I started out there were a lot of places to go and do rep, and not just Shakespeare, but other plays too, and that experience is really lost in America. Even Cal Shakes is show to show. It’s not a rep anymore. Berkeley Rep used to be a rep at one point, and A.C.T. too. I miss that, so here I get to still do that. This year I have one of the best rep seasons I’ve ever had. I’m only in two shows, but in The Count of Monte Cristo I play a spy who goes into all these different disguises, so I get to play all these different characters under the same character. I also get to do Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. It’s not Shakespeare this year, but it’s infinite variety, and that’s kind of what I really love to do, and what I’ve always wanted to do. And I get to live in a small town. I ride a Vespa or a bike everywhere. It’s pretty ideal at the moment.

Robin Goodrin Nordli will perform Virgins to Villains at 7:30pm on Monday, July 20th. For tickets click here. You can also meet Nordli in person at an after-show dessert reception by purchasing premium-priced tickets.

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