Seeing’s Believing!

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

by Philippa Kelly

How can we know our minds when appearances keep on changing? And how can we judge appearances when our minds keep on changing?

How we speak is as unreliable as what and how we see. This is one of the great mysteries of living that Shakespeare addresses repeatedly in his plays, sometimes (as with Othello) with dark intensity, and at others (as with Much Ado) with somersaulting levels of hilarious confusion. In Much Ado, characters are forever mishearing each other from behind hedges, not to mention mistaking each other’s motives from under bedroom windows. And when the lower-class Dogberry and his associates try to inform Duke Leonato of a gulling trick that has awful consequences, Leonato dismisses them as mistaken, well-disposed fools. Not for the first time, Shakespeare shows those unversed in the niceties of language as nonetheless possessing a truth that their so-called “betters” fail to understand. This theme reverberates in the tale of the soldier Benedick and Leonatos’ niece Beatrice (surely Shakespeare’s most expert wordsmiths!), who nonetheless find the truth of their love when their friends use words to trick them. Yet, much as our ears and eyes might fool us, the paradox of living is that we have only these same ears and eyes to rely on.

“Give me the ocular truth,” we’ll hear Othello cry in the fourth play of our season, as he monsters his imagination with the very same Cassio on whose behalf Desdemona advocates so fervently: ‘if he be not one that truly loves you… I have no judgment in an honest face’. Desdemona’s pleas ring out with dramatic irony: she knows nothing of Othello’s fears that a two-faced Cassio has made him a cuckold. It’s the human mind, it seems, that shapes what we see and how we judge – and there’s a perilous [eye]rony in that.
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Artistic Director Eric Ting announces Othello as the fourth show of our 2016 Season!

TK as Iago and Billy Eugene Jones as Othello in Cal Shakes' 2005 production of Othello.

Bruce McKenzie as Iago and Billy Eugene Jones as Othello in Cal Shakes’ 2005 production of Othello. Photo by Kevin Berne.

By Eric Ting

Change is in the air.

I certainly felt it, walking into the Cal Shakes’ offices for the first time as Artistic Director. I’ve felt it with each new patron I’ve met; all of you filled with a passionate sense of why you join us at the Bruns every summer. I feel it when I imagine picnicking in the groves with my wife and new daughter amongst friends like you. Change is in the air and I am exhilarated by all the possibilities that lie ahead of us.

And yet: Some things remain the same. This is what we count on in the theater—that stories centuries old should ring as true today as they did when the words were first uttered. We trust in that truth. It lives in Much Ado’s breathless battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick; in the aching sense of what might have been that haunts Fences’ Troy Maxson; in the joyous comedy of You Never Can Tell that leaps from the accidental Clandon family reunion; and in the timely, immediate, essential tale of Shakespeare’s most famous Moor.

I am thrilled to announce Othello as our final Main Stage production of the Cal Shakes 2016 season and my directorial debut at the Bruns. My vision for Cal Shakes reveres the old plays; but makes room for—not so much the new, but rather—the now. As with many of you I’m sure, I’ve been disturbed by the extreme rhetoric flooding our airwaves, our social media, and our communities, as the ever-present fear of the other—the outsider—grows more manifest by the day. In choosing to represent our Othello as not just Black but Muslim, we hope to confront the rising atmosphere of Islamophobia in our communities, both through the production and aligned with a series of civic dialogues across the Bay Area.

Stripped down to the barest elements of the live theater – actors, audience, magnificent language – we hope the play will reverberate anew with urgency in today’s political climate. We have big plans in mind for the 25th anniversary of Cal Shakes at the Bruns. I look forward to meeting you!

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A Trip Down Memory Lane: Our 2015 Season in Review

season_opener

It’s that time of year again: time to collect and reflect. We here at Cal Shakes like to do that in slideshow form. Here are some of the wonderfully dramatic, down-right hilarious, and transcendingly beautiful moments  from this past year including a swaggeringly drunk Catherine Castellanos, the frighteningly fabulous Danny Scheie and Liam Vincent, a luminous Tristan Cunningham, and a tortured Anthony Heald. Click here to enjoy this trip down memory lane, and here’s to an even better 2016 with our new artistic director Eric Ting!

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Get to Know our new Artistic Director Eric Ting

Eric Ting helps plant a tree at the Bruns to commemorate his arrival at Cal Shakes.

Eric Ting helps plant a tree at the Bruns to commemorate his arrival at Cal Shakes.

From cold sesame noodles to The Taming of the Shrew Eric Ting talks about what he loves, what he’s intrigued by, and what he’s most looking forward to when he arrives in the Bay Area.

Where are you from?

I was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. My father was a geologist. He passed away between my junior and senior years of high school, which is why I ended up staying in Morgantown for college; to stay and help my mom who ran a Chinese restaurant for about 23 years. When she retired from the restaurant she turned the whole building into an arts complex with a ceramics studio and walk-in kiln, and a cafe where they exhibit art. She’s been a real inspiration to me.

What are you most looking forward to experiencing in the Bay Area? Other than joining the Cal Shakes team of course!

I’m looking forward to taking my daughter [the four-month old Frankie] to the ocean for the first time.

How did you originally get into theater?

Through puppetry. I was a biochem major at West Virginia University with minors in women’s studies and creative writing. I decided for my last year in school that I would only take classes that I would never ever think to take, and puppetry was one of them. Then I fell in love with it. Joanne Siegrist who was head of the puppetry program there at the time introduced me to all of the design faculty, because I had a visual arts background—I was a sculptor and a painter when I was younger—I ended up getting involved in all these other aspects of theater. I designed the lights for Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill and I was cast in a production of The Comedy of Errors that was directed by Harold Surratt, who is a graduate of A.C.T., and it just kept snowballing from there…

What is the directing accomplishment you’re most proud of?

I directed an adaptation of Macbeth at the Long Wharf that we called Macbeth 1969. It was controversial to say the least. At the time we were in the midst of bringing troops back from Iraq, and I was reading about PTSD and the experiences of soldiers coming home from the war, which Macbeth has all these allusions to. During our second workshop we brought a drama therapy group from a VA hospital to the theater and their responses to the reading… That was a very good moment.

What is your favorite Shakespeare play, and why?

I don’t know that I have a favorite Shakespeare play. I’m not coming here with a list of my top plays that I want to direct; I’m looking for plays that speak to who and where we are now. I love Richard II, Richard III, All’s Well. I love Midsummer. There’s a reason why it gets done all the time. It’s just really good. I’m super intrigued by The Taming of the Shrew. Partly because I don’t know how it lives in the moment today. It’s like throwing a gauntlet down for me when trying to understand how we would do a play like that when there is all this conversation around gender parity in this country. Is there a place for a play like this today? And how do we carve that place out for it? Oh, I love The Winter’s Tale. If there’s going to be something that defines my tenure here at Cal Shakes it will be the plays that I choose and the manner in which they speak vividly to the moment. I’m looking for ways to engage around these timeless works that simultaneously makes a case for: Why now? Why today? Why here?

If you were going to bring a picnic to Cal Shakes what would be in it?

It would have to be Chinese food! Cold sesame noodles, some steamed dumplings… There will definitely be some white rice. There might be some chicken curry… and maybe a Thai lime juice. So, not all Chinese. [laughs]

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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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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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Ask Philippa: Twelfth Night Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s last and darkest comedy, written in 1601. Director Christopher Liam Moore calls Twelfth Night his favorite Shakespeare play, treasuring its capacity to soar to the heights of mirth and delve to the darker parts of humanity. Set on the tiny island of Illyria, the play takes its characters on a huge emotional journey, in which they question who they are, mourn losses, entertain big dreams, and discover parts of themselves that they didn’t know where there.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this season’s production of Twelfth Night. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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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.

Buy tickets for Twelfth Night, or subscribe to the 2015 Season, by clicking here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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Cal Shakes in Ashland with Philippa Kelly

Please join us for Cal Shakes in Ashland with Philippa Kelly, a three-day, Ashland 2014_4two-night theater adventure in Ashland, Oregon, from October 2–4, 2015. Immerse yourself in theater during a weekend at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the company of Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly.

We’ll stay at the elegant Ashland Springs Hotel; see three Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions (Much Ado About Nothing, Antony and Cleopatra, and Sweat); dine together at a top-flight local restaurant; and enjoy surprise guest appearances by Oregon Shakespeare Festival company members.

Philippa—an accomplished scholar and beloved Cal Shakes Grove Talk Speaker—will give us unparalleled entrée into the fascinating world of these productions. You’ll gain indelible memories in the good company of an intimate group of your fellow Cal Shakes supporters while simultaneously benefiting California Shakespeare Theater’s work on stage, in classrooms, and throughout communities.

Reservations are filling fast for this exceptional experience so please reply soon to secure your space. Contact Special Events Manager Zoe Westbrook at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 15.

2014 Ashland guests; photo by Cal Shakes.
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Grove Speakers 2015

As the gateway to our theater, the Grove is a place we’re very proud of. This year Philippa Kellywe are mixing the familiar with the new—and yet the thing that everyone has in common is dramaturgy! Almost all of our speakers have served as dramaturgs in various theaters. A love of dramaturgy is what makes us all so interested in speaking in the Grove—the desire to share knowledge and to nurture conversations about the stage.

Returning this year are Philippa, Joanie, Cathleen, Robin, Ciara, Keith and Molly. New faces include Amelia Furlong, fresh from a degree in theater at Middlebury College, where she wrote her senior thesis on The Two Noble Kinsmen. This summer she is interning with Cal Shakes as well as speaking in our grove. Sonia Fernandez, dramaturg for Life is a Dream, recently completed her doctoral thesis on race and humor at UC San Diego. She has dramaturged at many theaters, including the Magic, Crowded Fire and Cutting Ball. Patrick Kenney, associate dramaturg for The Mystery of Irma Vep, is a student at UC Santa Cruz and has experience in acting, directing and dramaturgy. Laura Brueckner is a recent PhD graduate and a long-time expert in dramaturging new works. She is a writer for Theater Bay Area and works intensively with Crowded Fire Theater. Rebecca Ennals is Artistic Director for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. Julian Talamantez Brolaski is a poet, teacher, musician, and Medieval and Renaissance scholar, holding a PhD in English from UC Berkeley.

Pictured: Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly giving a Grove talk; photo by Jay Yamada

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Artists Dish at Inside Scoops

Our popular Inside Scoops are back at the Orinda Library!Inside Scoop

Our Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly facilitates these lively discussions between directors, artists, and other key artisans from our main stage productions. As always, we’ll begin at 7pm, with complimentary sweet treats and Peet’s Coffee & Tea available beginning at 6:30pm. Did you know that seats will be reserved for our Support Cast Champion Donors ($250 and up)? To learn more about becoming a Champion, call Ian Larue Annual Fund Manager at 510.548.3422 ext. 107.Inside Scoops Dates and Production Discussion:

Monday, May 11—Twelfth Night, directed by Christopher Liam Moore
Monday, June 22—Life is a Dream, directed by Loretta Greco
Monday, July 27—The Mystery of Irma Vep, directed by Jonathan Moscone
Monday, August 31—King Lear, directed by Amanda Dehnert

(Artists to be announced.)

Pictured: Jonathan Moscone and Shana Cooper at an Inside Scoop, 2012. Photo by Jay Yamada.

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