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.

Share

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.

Share

Ask Philippa: 2014 Pre-season Edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about our 2014 season, which begins May 21. Subscriptions on sale now.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

2014 brings a very exciting season for many reasons—not the least of which is that it’s Cal Shakes’ 40th anniversary.

First up is Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Patricia McGregor, who first joined us at the Bruns last in 2012 with her magnificent Spunk. A Raisin in the Sun offers a stunning portrait of a black family’s experience in racially divided Chicago, injecting domestic and racial tension into 1950s self-portraits of the post-war American Dream. Raisin made Hansberry the youngest playwright, the fifth woman, and the only black writer ever to win the New York Critics’ Circle award. (The play also inspired the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, written 60 years later and directed by our own Jonathan Moscone in an award-winning production at A.C.T. in 2011). Next is Shakespeare’s early play The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner, a comic take on mistaken identity that offers a brilliant look at the dark side of Shakespeare as well as the light—loss, isolation, family reunion, and redemption. Third in our season director Moscone brings us Pygmalion, often seen as George Bernard Shaw’s most enduringly important play, a savagely ironic critique of the British class system. (This play, too, made such a social impact that it gave birth, 44 years later, to another masterpiece, the musical My Fair Lady.) Lastly is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Shakespeare play most often described as “perfect” in its exploration of love that opens out, concertina-like, from an early threat of punishment and even death. Buoyed by perhaps the most beautifully poetic language of Shakespeare’s entire career, director Shana Cooper will take us into the “green world” of the forest—will the lovers emerge from the forest different, or more truly themselves?

Look out, too, for my free, off-season session, Reprises and Rehearsals, a look at how the plays of the 2013 and 2014 seasons connect to different works and themes in their authors’ lives. Date TBD. In the meantime, post any question or observation you like right now (and into the early spring) and I will post an answer as quickly as possible—often within 24 hours.

Dr Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

Share

“This was the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life. …We made Hermione come back to life.”

Actor Christopher Michael Rivera works the audience at a Student Discovery Matinee of A WINTER'S TALE;.

Actor Christopher Michael Rivera works the audience at a Student Discovery Matinee of A WINTER'S TALE;.

From: Ms. Maiuri

Sent: Thursday, October 03, 2013 8:11 PM

To: Clive Worsley

Subject: Thank you so much for everything (could you pass this on?)

Dear Director and Cast of A Winter’s Tale and the Cal Shakes Artistic Learning Team:

I got an email from a student after returning from Cal Shakes’ student matinee performance of A Winter’s Tale: “Dear Ms. Maiuri, This was the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life.  Also, I’ve discovered that Grace and I have magical powers.  We made Hermione come back to life.  Love, Lisa”

I struggled for years as a teacher in Oakland before I realized that if you’re really honest with students and bring what you love right up to them and put it in their hands, they’ll love it right along with you. I don’t know if it’s the content or the honesty, but it works.

So we study Shakespeare because I love it—the rhythm and the description and the challenge of hearing a play that might be a struggle to understand. I love the slow reveal of the language and the experience of “settling in” when you suddenly realize every word is making sense. I pour my heart into bringing that to my students.

A student asks a question of the cast after a performance of A WINTER'S TALE.

A student asks a question of the cast after a performance of A WINTER'S TALE.

But after I drill and they sweat and we giggle over the plots, we come to Cal Shakes and they’re just mesmerized.  I look over and see kids light up at certain speeches—”It’s too hot, too hot!”—or realize when bits have been skipped or altered, or get quiet and rapt at a moving moment, and I can feel my heart swell and my throat catch.

And then, at the end, to have the actors all come out in hoodies and college t-shirts and sit on the edge of the stage and use real names and talk like real people is the real crux for me.  I can make my students memorize and understand Shakespeare but these artists showed them that it’s okay to stand up and perform in front of others, to cry and feel on stage, to balance football and literature (or even give football up, god forbid), and wear mascara with pride.  Thanks for that. And thanks to the fun and relatable directing and acting choices, they got a Paulina that sounds like their mom’s tough best friend, a steely speech from a jailed mother, a Polixenes that echoes the best and worst of their fathers, and a Leontes who descends into a powerful, believable frenzy that’s surprisingly similar to the throes of middle-school jealousy and spite.

I feel like I’m always making excuses not to write thank-you notes. But Cal Shakes is really special for us, and I thank you all for moving me today.

With gratitude,

Jana Maiuri
(Teacher, Edna Brewer Middle School)

See more highlights of her students’ experience with these photos from Cal Shakes’s 2013 Student Discovery Matinees.

Share

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! 

Share

Jumping Into the Fire: An Understudy’s Tale

During the extension week of Liesl Tommy’s Hamlet this month, actor Nicholas Pelczar fell ill the morning of the Student Discovery Matinee, and his understudy, Philip Goleman, went on for him.

This is his story.

Everyone said, “Not what you expected when you woke up this morning, huh?” And it was not: It was a whirlwind from the moment (Stage Manager) Laxmi (Kumran) called me to the minute I got back on BART to head back to work after the show.

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as I was whisked from the green room to the stage for fight call to rework the play’s final fight; to the dressing room to get the down-low on the costumes; to the moment when I finally stepped on stage. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a wonderful, supportive group of actors, stage management, and backstage crew to get me properly through the show.

It’s a show that, from the audience’s perspective, did not seem like three hours—and it seemed a lot shorter from my perspective that day. For me, my favorite moment was coming down through the audience as Laertes, gun in hand, yelling at the King, with the kids in the audience turning to see me and exclaiming “whoa!” as I went down the steps toward the stage. That made the day for me, being there to make sure that they got to see this show and get exposure to Shakespeare.

Going on is not something you expect to happen, especially in the extension week, but you keep alive the idea and the willingness to jump into the fire on a moment’s notice. With a phenomenal show and superb cast and production crew, you know you’re not jumping in alone, and it’s something I would willing jump into again and again.

Pictured above: Goleman with actors LeRoy McClain (Hamlet) and Zainab Jah (Ophelia) after his performance; photo by Jay Yamada.

Share

Listen to Trish Tillman Talk About 32-Second Shakespeare

Trish Tillman

Trish Tillman

Here’s our own Director of Artistic Learning Trish Tillman on the air at FOX 101.1 FM in Salinas yesterday, talking with Mark Carbanaro about her 32-second Shakespeare at the Carmel Authors & Ideas Fest and our production of Hamlet.

Share

The BLITHE SPIRIT Cocktail Contest


Noel Coward with cocktail

No, it doesn't have to be a martini: Coward with cocktail.

“Anybody can write books, but it takes an artist to make a dry martini that’s dry enough.” — Blithe Spirit

As spirited comedies go, the work of Noël Coward tends to take the boozy cake. The current Cal Shakes script for Blithe Spirit, which will grace our stage August 8–September 2, contains seven uses of the word “martini” (all in speech), ten of the word “cocktail” (eight in stage directions, two in speech), and an intoxicating 18 uses of the word “drink” (nine in speech, nine in stage directions). So it is only proper that we expand our 2012 cocktail contest series beyond the borders of a single event for Blithe Spirit—this contest asks you to think outside of the martini glass and invent a sophisticated cocktail for a chance to see your recipe published in the show program.

Simply submit your Blithe-inspired alcoholic beverage no later than Tuesday, July 17 at 10am, one of these ways:

 

Share

Ask Philippa: SPUNK Edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes and production dramaturg for Spunk, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. Spunk runs July 4–29, 2012.

Spunk Inside Scoop by Jay Yamada

Philippa Kelly, Margo Hall, Patricia McGregor, and L. Peter Callender at the Inside Scoop event for SPUNK; photo by Jay Yamada.

To honor …  and adapt … Black southern dialect forms the living heartbeat of this musical theater piece, lovingly made by George C. Wolfe in 1982, in which the Broadway genius—already a significant star by the age of 35—adapted three of Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories to create Spunk. An anthropologist as well as an artist, Hurston used the language of her southern people—not the language of Dickens or Shakespeare or even of Richard Wright—to represent the world she came from. She saw oral culture as the key to the selves that slip down through the family tree: the spirits of parents and grandparents that live on in tongues, not texts.

Are you going to see our  production of  Spunk? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s music, cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Share

The Tempest Brings Out the Best in Student Audience … and Local Cows

 

SMAT Pic

Pictured: The cast of The Tempest takes a bow for the Student Discovery Matinee audience; photo by Jay Yamada.

Director of Artistic Learning Trish Tillman gives us an inside look at the first Student Matinee of The Tempest.

We had our first Tempest matinee today, with a brand new group of Artistic Learning interns, and a really excited, well-prepared audience of students.  They came from many schools, including Willard Middle and The Academy in Berkeley, Oakland Charter and Joaquin Moraga from Oakland, and several private school groups.  We saw familiar residency teachers, some conservatory students, students who reeled off ALL the student matinees they had been to since 2009, plus students brand new to our theater.

The whole audience was admirably attentive, even when tempted to shriek as the clown Trinculo dove headfirst under the monstrous Caliban’s smelly cloak, and when the young lovers swooned over each other. I talked to several students I knew at intermission and several that I didn’t, and all were enjoying it very much.  There was a full forest of hands up when Clive Worsley, our inimitable Moderator, asked after the show what their favorite moments were.  The marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, the creation of the tempest itself (with only sound effects, actors in raingear, a rope and a stick) and the Trinculo-under-the-cloak moment won out for favorites.

The Question and Answer time after the show was attended by actors Nicholas Pelczar (Trinculo, Ferdinand), Catherine Castellanos (Antonio, Caliban), Erika Chong Shuch (Ariel), as well as sprites Travis Santell Rowland and Aaron Moreland.  They were ALL spectacularly articulate and respectfully serious in answering every question, ranging from “Is it hard to memorize Shakespearian language?” to “Was it weird being under the cloak?” to “How did you all decide to be actors/dancers?”  There was also a seriously playful moment when a student asked if Aaron was really singing the song when the marriage dance occurs, and he said no, but that he could sing and that it was a famous song by Nat King Cole.  He asked the kids if they knew Nat King Cole and (interestingly) a lot of hands went up (besides chaperones and teachers!).  Then they asked him to sing the song, and he sang the first two lines, very nicely, to thunderous applause.  They then asked him to sing a pop song (anyone know “One Direction?”) which he didn’t know, so an entire girls’ chorus from Willard sang a verse to him.  (Also to thunderous applause.)

Catherine ended the Q&A session by saying that being an actor really helped her as a person who is full of feeling to be able to deal with life by learning to express powerful emotions on stage.  There was a little hush in the theater after she said that it was a blessing to her to be an actor.  (And then more thunderous applause!)

The only rather sad note was that a very large group of students from one public high school were not able to attend due to their inability to get their school administration’s authorization in time, even though the teacher had reserved seats with us weeks in advance.  So the audience was somewhat smaller than what we’d like, to be able to serve as many students as possible.  If you are anyone who is close to an underserved school or want to build a relationship with such a school, I’d love to talk to you about becoming a special liaison.  Relationships are crucial to what we do and what keeps us going.  Sometimes just an extra bit of attention can keep schools feeling connected and excited to be with us, and that is a commodity that is really lacking in those communities.  And then they can keep their commitments and the students benefit so, so much.

A final note: the beautiful rolling hills behind the theater stage are home to a few groups of wandering cows, and for some reason during the Q & A today they were especially vocal.  Loud MOOs punctuated almost every sentence said by an actor; so much so that it seemed like the cows wished to answer the questions themselves.  There was a special round of applause for the newly named Cal Shakes Cow Chorus, after which a collective MOOOOO rose from the students and reverberated back into the hills. A Tempest remember.

 

The Tempest  opens at the stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA, Saturday, June  2, and continues until Sunday, June 24.

 

Share