Volunteer Scoops the Scoop!

Volunteer Zoe Halsne attended the Inside Scoop for Lady Windermere’s Fan and submitted this review about the event.

Inside Scoop panelists (from L-R): Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly, actor Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone; photo by Jay Yamada. (Not shown: set designer Annie Smart)

Inside Scoop panelists (from L-R): Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly, actor Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone; photo by Jay Yamada. (Not shown: set designer Annie Smart)

On Monday, July 29, I attended my first-ever Cal Shakes Inside Scoop—for Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan—at the Orinda Public Library. In addition to this event, I confess I did not know much about the play itself. However, I quickly became enthused about it after chatting to longtime California Shakespeare Theater-goer, Joan. She told me that, despite the unusually long line for the ice cream, she was looking forward to Lady Windermere’s Fan, especially as a feminist.

Indeed, after the Q&A, it was clear the mere 24 hours of Lady Windermere’s life covered in the play portrays a significant change in a young woman, while simultaneously providing comedic elements. It produces a sense of independence and disillusionment and, despite my disappointing lack of Oscar Wilde exposure in high school, I could relate the description of the themes of the play to other stories like Zora Neale Hurston’s bildungsroman novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Or, as was mentioned during the Q&A, there are even similarities between the struggles of Hamlet and those of Lady Windermere.

Lady Windermere's FanIt was also interesting just to hear how this particular production was put together. Emily Kitchens, who plays Lady Windermere, actually auditioned for the role over video while she was with her mother in Georgia. She went on to describe her personal process for dissecting the script including determining the distinctions between producing a sense of realism versus a sense of melodrama. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone also mentioned the additional difficulties with speaking with 19th-century British mannerisms.

One audience member asked why the production wasn’t adapted to another time period, like the theater often does with Shakespeare plays. Moscone said it would be possible to set the play in decades like the 1950s (and he had even seen a 1930s version once) but for several reasons they decided not to—one of which is the love for the costumes. “You can flirt like nobody’s business,” Set Designer Annie Smart said, pointing out the enormous poof the skirt had on the costume’s backside.

Lady Agatha's act 2 costume

Costume designer Meg Neville's sketch for the Act 2 costume of Lady Agatha, played by Rami Margron.

Though the production is definitely not set in the 21st or even the 20th century, Smart admitted that the costumes are not entirely designed based on when the play originally takes place, for good reason. The true attire of the play’s age would require a tiny waist of about 17 inches, and actors have an understandable need for access to their diaphragm.

Besides a mannequin sporting one of the female costumes from the production, there was also a model of the stage’s set design on display in the front of the auditorium. Smart described how even something as simple as a living room was difficult to replicate for this specific stage, especially when there was a need for several niches within the set, in order for the characters to be able to share secrets without other onstage characters “hearing” those secrets.

I felt informed and excited after hearing the background of Lady Windermere’s Fan directly from the some of the creative team and cast as well as other theater enthusiasts. It sounds like a fantastic production of a universal story (though with rather fixed societal standards), and I can’t wait to see it! Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, is on stage from August 14 to September 8. The next Inside Scoop is for A Winter’s Tale on September 9.

Thanks, Zoe! 

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Blithe Spirit Grove Talk

Click on the arrow below to listen to a podcast of a pre-performance Blithe Spirit Grove Talk, presented by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Podcast produced by Will McCandless. Blithe Spirit runs through September 2, 2012.

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Belated Notes from the CANDIDA “Meet and Greet” Event

By Publications Manager Stefanie Kalem

Candida art

This has taken me a while to get around to writing, which is really too bad, as the first-rehearsal “Meet and Greet” event, on July 13, for George Bernard Shaw’s Candida was inspiring, enlightening, and just plain hilarious. Ain’t no production like a Jonathan Moscone production: Our fearless leader explained, cajoled, and delved his way deep into this romantic comedy within minutes.
Below are a few observations with which I walked away.

The Play: Moscone finds Candida more complex and dissonant than Mrs. Warren’s Profession in some ways, even though this is classified as one of Shaw’s “Pleasant Plays.” This play, said Moscone, “could be explosive if it was untied; it could be an opera. It should vibrate energy just under the surface of this content world.”

Julie Eccles

Actor Julie Eccles, who portrays Candida.

The title is ironic, Moscone opined, in that the character of Candida rarely gets to speak for herself. Yet both Candida and her husband, Rev. James Morell, are either loved or hated by everyone else in the play. No one is ambivalent about this seemingly perfect pair—everyone is fanatical over them, and all the characters maneuver around the two, positioning themselves to their best advantage. Appropriately, Moscone called the set “a very complex little chessboard.”

Sets: Moscone’s frequent co-conspirator, Annie Smart, has returned. She designed his productions of The Pastures of Heaven, Man and Superman, and An Ideal Husband (as well as the Berkeley Rep and Broadway productions of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play) so she knew of whence she spoke when she said that, though Candida is written as a classic Victorian drawing room play, a small handful of people on the Bruns stage can be hard to watch if they’re all staying in one place most of the time. So she and Moscone settle on a “room without walls” for this production, similar in theory to Smart’s 2009 Private Lives set. She opened it up, so the audience can see people coming and going.

Candida set

Set model and photo by Annie Smart.

A major source of inspiration for the Candida set is British interior designer William Morris, who was also an activist. His rooms and houses were what we call Mission or Arts & Crafts in the U.S.—very human, handmade, welcoming, which is parallel to Rev. Morell’s character, how his ideas for Christianity and mankind fit together in a utilitarian way. This room is a working room, too, so it will appear to be a very busy office that, at one point, was a parlor, but now is in service to a very busy, in-demand man.

With no walls to decorate, Moscone and Smart decided on a yellowed, parchment-paper backdrop behind a hand-stained, floral-pattered window, imbuing the whole set with the feel of a photo.

Proserpine Garnett

Miss Proserpine Garnett costume sketch by Anna Oliver. Click for more costume sketches!

Costumes: Costume designer Anna Oliver, who designed Nicholas Nickleby andRestoration Comedy for us, explained the creative team’s decision, early on in the planning process, to move the date of the action forward by a decade. The women’s silhouette in the mid-1890s was very aggressive, she said, with big sleeves, tiny waists, and severe hair. In looking for a softer, more sensual shape—in an effort to to “speak the character, not shout it out”—they landed in the early years of the 20th century.

The costumes of Proserpine Garnett (played by Alexandra Henrikson) are of particular interest, in that being a typist was one of the first non-domestic-service jobs widely held by women. Garnett wears slightly masculine dress, with a slightly silly hat to demonstrate that she’s got her own money to spend.

Candida begins previews Wednesday, August 10; opens Saturday, August 13; and closes Sunday, September 4. Get your tickets now!

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2009 Season Designer Profile: Private Lives’Annie Smart

In the months leading up to our 2009 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—Romeo and Juliet, Private Lives, Happy Days, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in our e-newsletters. For the second installment, we profiled scenic artist Annie Smart, known to our audiences as the inventive hand behind An Ideal Husband, Man and Superman, Othello, and The Tempest. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Ms. Smart. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

What have you been working on since An Ideal Husband? I know that you did Yellowjackets at Berkeley Rep; anything else since last summer? And what do you have coming up in 2009, besides Private Lives?

Danny Hoch’s show Taking Over opened in NY for an extended run this November and December. We rebuilt the BRT set with some refinements and reproduced the BRT costumes. That now goes on to LA this Jan so I’ll be down there for a few days.

Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room has taken most of my time since Yellowjackets opened, designing the set and props. A lot of design work for this one as it’s high Victorian period—1889-ish. It goes into rehearsal Dec 30th and opens early Feb at BRT. Les (Waters, Annie’s husband) directing. It will be great fun, a very witty piece, but it’s a lot of work.

Then comes sets for the Tiny Kushners for the Guthrie in Minneapolis. This is a collection of 5 very short plays that are being grouped together for a festival of Kushner’s work. Tony Taccone is directing this. I think it opens in May.

If you could have designed sets (or costumes, for that matter) for any theatrical production in history, what would it be?

No idea. But I’ve never designed a Chekhov and I just love all his plays. He’s the best. I didn’t get to see Timothy (Near)’s Vanya unfortunately though I heard some very good things about it. And Eric Flatmo’s designs always impress me so I’d have liked to see that.

I also love opera (I did my equivalent MFA at the English National Opera Design Course, back in the day) and don’t get to do that much.

I’ve been told that you’ve acted in Private Lives. When and where was this, and which role did you play?

No. This is me being sloppy and muddling my Coward titles. Which are all I think designed for publicists with deadlines to meet. (With a title like) “Hay Fever,” for example, the content really could be almost anything funny! I bet he hadn’t even written them when the posters had to be printed. I was in Present Laughter playing Joanna, who has to wear extravagant hats. It was fun pretending to be stylish and a sophisticate. I’m so not either.

But the following is a famous story in my family. First time I ever went on stage I was 3-1/2. My parents were involved in a production of Coward’s Blithe Spirit, which features Madame Arkadina, a medium, who has as her spirit guide a little blonde-haired girl. Unfortunately you are not supposed to see this child, but I was in the wings, saw my Mum across the way and crossed the stage, causing a sensation I’m told!
How do you think that experience will inform (or how is it already informing) your plans for the Cal Shakes Private Lives set?

No idea but Coward is meant to be lighthearted. If a Coward farce doesn’t at some point make you absolutely choke with laughter then you’ve failed. And then the really bitter, real-life, hard stuff is embraced with the frivolous and the artificial. I think you have to have a truly camp sensibility. (Tho I shudder to say that out loud in the Bay Area, it becomes a way more complex statement than it looks! A minefield of a statement for a designer!)

Your previous work at the Bruns Amphitheater has showcased your skill with creating interiors for an outdoor space. Do you have any early thoughts on what the specific challenges for Private Lives might be, and how you’ll overcome them? (I’m thinking the problems of destroying the Paris apartment in the latter acts, and making an effective balcony in the first—but then again I haven’t created so much as a shoebox diorama since elementary school.)

All things comedic and interior at the Bruns are predicated on the control of the scale. The stage is 80′ across. That’s as big as a very large opera house. And they put dozens of people on those stages. And they sing very, very loudly. And Jonathan and Mark have chosen this. The dramatic equivalent of a spun sugar dessert.

I have no idea how it will be made to work. None at all. But then I never do when I start working on something. And I haven’t yet talked with Mark R. So that will be the first little baby step.

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Coming soon … An Ideal Husband podcast

Hidey-ho… Stefanie here. Last Wednesday we had the Meet & Greet for Jonathan Moscone’s production of An Ideal Husband. For those of you who don’t know, the Meet & Greet happens on the first day of a show’s rehearsals. The whole staff (plus a smattering of board members, donors, and other folks who rate) get together with the new show’s cast and crew to hear and see presentations by the director, set designer, costume designer, and any other designers present. Then they kick all of us out and jump into their first read-through.

For An Ideal Husband, Moscone is reuniting with his award-winning Man and Superman set designer, Annie Smart, and working with Meg Neville, who captured the beautiful desperation of the pre-Depression era with her King Lear costumes last season. Jon’s speech was a stunner, a fascinating examination of how the personal and political intersect in the lives of the powerful; watch this space for a podcast of it. During Meg’s costume presentation, we learned that Gertrude Chiltern (Julie Eccles) will be a “Grace Kelly type” with sleek blond hair and the “Victorian version of a Chanel suit,” and that the chic villainess Mrs. Cheveley will be fresh from Vienna in the latest, most avant-garde couture, which, in this case means no corset (how scandalous!) and fabrics inspired by the art of Gustav Klimt.

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