2009 Season Designer Profile: Romeo and Juliet’s Andre Pleuss

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 inaugural installment, we are introducing newsletter subscribers to sound artist Andre Pleuss, an Artistic Associate at Lookingglass Theatre (Chicago) who designed sound for our 2008 production of Twelfth Night, as well as Berkeley Rep’s current production of Arabian Nights. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Mr. Pleuss. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

If you could have composed music and/or designed sound for any production(s)—historical or modern—what would it be?
I would love to have composed/designed JoAnne Akalaitis’ production of Iphigenia, Tina Landau’s Space, and most things I’ve ever seen produced by SITI Company and recently Elevator Repair Service. I love the Greeks and I always want to design any House of Atreus plays (or adaptations) that come along. I’d also love to write/design for the Japanese multi-media theatre-arts/dance collective Dumb Type. They blow my mind.

Who are your favorite composers (theatrical and nontheatrical)?
My favorite theatrical composer these days is … hmm that’s tough. I guess I’d say Richard Woodbury in Chicago, and Willy Shwarz in Germany. I also like Michael Keck’s music a lot, and Victor Zupanc in Minneapolis I think does great work. I loved the music for Les Waters’ production of To the Lighthouse at Berkeley Rep a few seasons back, written by Paul Drescher.

My favorite nontheatrical composer is Frank Zappa (unrivaled prolific genius IMHO). I’m a big fan also of Jon Brion (as both a composer and producer). His music for Punch Drunk Love is always on heavy rotation on my iPod. I’d also add Rufus Wainwright to that list.
What’s your favorite band? Or bands?
I’m going through a huge roots music phase right now. (I can’t stop listening to the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant album Raising Sand. Gillian Welch, Jolie Holland and the Be Good Tanyas are also in heavy iPod rotation these days.) Unrelated, I find Postal Service endlessly fascinating—not just musically, but in terms of their process (i.e., rarely being in the same room, but rather sharing files across the country via the internet, passing them back and forth layering tracks gradually over time).

Oh yeah, and I’m a sound designer so it’s like a prerequisite to be a Radiohead fan. And I am, proudly.

You recently did Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare Santa Cruz; I know it’s a bit early to be thinking too much about our upcoming production, but can you provide any insight at all into how that production, with its Hungarian Gypsy feel, may inform how you approach the Cal Shakes ’09 one?
I wish I could. It’s still quite early and Jon and I have only had one conversation. I will say that it is great having the play still very resonant in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on the same play (with different production aesthetics, et cetera) so closely on top of one another before. I’m really thrilled that it’s this play. I’ve always thought I could work on Romeo and Juliet once every few years for the rest of my career and not be bored. There is so much going on in that world emotionally, dramatically. It’s sexy, romantic, violent and lyrical, joyous and profoundly sad all in the same breath. If any one play can kick-start a designer’s imagination in a wide variety of different directions, it’s this one.


Associate Artist Round-Up Addendum

Earlier this week we posted an “Associate Artist Round-Up” to our news page. No sooner had I checked its formatting on the website than additional ones started rolling in from the rest of our artistic family. So go there, read the first one, and then come back here and read these. (Or vice versa–it makes no nevermind to me).

Nancy Carlin is directing Sands Hall’s adaptation of Little Women for Foothill Theatre Company in Nevada City, CA; the production runs Nov 20-Dec 28.

As mentioned in the original news item, Jim Carpenter is going into closing week of Rock ‘N’ Roll at A.C.T. After that, he and wife Cass will be taking a short trip up to Ashland, OR as a 35th Anniversary present to themselves; shortly thereafter Jim goes back to A.C.T. reprising his role as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Joan Mankin, who has been posting to this blog from China, will be back in the USA on October 20. She has two main projects upon her return: to begin work on a piece with the third-year students at the A.C.T. Conservatory, a collaboration with Glide Church which will will attempt to address the situation of homeless people; and to direct a show about conservation of our resources with clowns from the S.F. Circus Center, to tour elementary schools all over Alameda County.

Lynne Soffer has been in Arizona since August rehearsing and performing in Enchanted April, directed by Timothy Near. Next up is dialect and text coaching at Berkeley Rep and Marin Theatre Company.

Dan Hiatt will be playing Rutherford Selig in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Berkeley Rep, directed by Delroy Lindo and running Oct. 31-Dec. 14.

Clive Worsley is finishing up residencies in Fruitvale Elementary and Charlotte Wood Middle schools, while directing Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Clackervilles for Orinda Intermediate School’s Bulldog Theatre. And of course, he’s still “steering the ship” as Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre.

Have you seen our Associate Artists anywhere (besides Cal Shakes) recently? Do you plan on attending any of the above mentioned productions? Let us know in the Comments section!


A little corn before your turkey, breaders?

First off, “breaders” is a term coined (we hope) by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Nancy Carlin when she was writing a production blog for the 2007 season production of Man and Superman; it’s shorthand for “blog readers.” And of course, it’s appropriate for today, the day before most of the nation stuffs themselves with starches of many stripes.

Stuffing’s my favorite.
But before I talk more about the succulent, slovenlicious joy of carbohydrates (and before I explain this entry’s opening photo) I’d like to ladle out some corn; I want to give thanks to the great actors who were onstage during my first season at Cal Shakes by showing you some stuff they’re doing right now.
Here’s Lorri Holt (Queen Elizabeth in our Richard III) and T. Edward “T. Headdy” Webster (Hastings in Richard III and Hector Malone in Man and Superman) in The Magic Theatre’s current production of The Crowd You’re in With. That photo to the left is from the SF Chronicle, whose Robert Hurwitt gave an enthusiastic review to the show earlier this week, calling Holt “invaluable” and opinig that Webster “slowly, cannily emerges as the emotional and intellectual focus of the fissures gaping ever wider beneath these characters.”
And to the left you’ll see, front and center and wielding a shield (and some serious gams), our very own Associate Artist Andy Murray in Berkeley Rep’s current prodocution of Argonautika. Andy’s a pretty old-fashioned guy, in his own way–when I was gathering updated cast and crew bios for the Man and Superman program some months ago, Andy never responded to my emails, instead calling my phone and leaving a delightfully succinct, two-sentence bio on my voicemail. So he’s especially suited for what a member of the Bullpen crew called his “star turn” in the Argonautika. I’m not sure yet what that means, but I’m going to see the play the first week of December, so I’ll let you know. I’m pretty psyched, though. The Contra Costa Times said that the “experience of seeing the show really is like going on an adventure into some uncharted theatrical territory, and returning with memories to treasure for a long time.”
Meanwhile, over at A.C.T., The Rainmaker–which, according to the San Francisco Examiner, “rocks”–is not only directed by Mark Rucker (who helmed Romeo and Juliet for us in 2001, Richard III in 2007, and will close out Cal Shakes’ 2008 season with Twelfth Night) but it features Cal Shakes Associate Artists Anthony Fusco (The Fool in King Lear) and Stephen Barker Turner (second from left in the picture to the left, and most recently seen at the Bruns in As You Like It and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby) plus, as understudies, Jud Williford (who portrayed Agis in 2007’s The Triumph of Love) and Marcia Pizzo (Berinthia in 2006’s smash hit Restoration Comedy).
OK, so we’ve got Cal Shakes actors delving into modern, character-driven new works, and other ones doing fantastic flights of fancy costumery or classic American romance … what’s left? How about a new take on a sentimental favorite? One starring a Cal Shakes MVP? (I’ll let you in on a little secret–the entire Bullpen squealed about this one earlier today, in unison. You can tell it’s finally the holidays.)
I present to you… Dan Hiatt in This Wonderful Life.
Yep, 2007 season MVP Dan Hiatt–who portrayed Buckingham in Richard III, Straker in Man and Superman, and Hermocrates in The Triumph of Love–will be starring in the one-man adaptation of It’s a Wonderful life at San Jose Rep, opening this very Saturday. Take note, mother of our resident dramaturg Laura Hope (who was famously outed as having a crush on Dan in her daughter’s Man and Superman blog): The Man with the Best Hair at Cal Shakes will be playing George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence, and even, one would assume, even Mary and little Zuzu.
This, of course, prompted Paul and I to do a resounding rendition of the old Dudley Do-Right “I can’t pay the rent! You MUST pay the rent!” skit. I have a feeling Dan will embody the multiple characters far better.
Another holiday classic opens Dec. 5 at A.C.T., this time relatively straight-up (although there is some mention of “gang this” and “gang that” in the cast): A Christmas Carol as directed by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Domenique Lozano, last seen on our stage as Leontine in The Triumph of Love. The cast is studded with Cal Shakes lights, most notably fellow Associate Artist (and devoted, prolific blogger) James Carpenter as the old crankypants himself, Ebeneezer Scrooge.
I’m sure I could find more–Cal Shakes actors are as tireless as they are peerless. Thank you to all of you, for snoozing in the Green Room, reading my old magazines, making me laugh and gasp and think all summer long.
Oh, and about those carbs–thanks to our neighbors at Metropolis Baking, too, who gifted us with bags and bags and BAGS of bread earlier this afternoon. I snagged some sourdough for sandwiches and durum brushed with olive oil and sea salt for tomorrow’s feast. It wasn’t easy, as you can see that the competition (Jessica, Beth, and Liz in the picture at the top of this post) was tough.
Thanks everyone!! Have a great holiday.