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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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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From Twelfth Night to Life Is a Dream: Fate Works in Mysterious Ways

Get Tangled Up In Love show art for Twelfth NightThe first two productions of our 2015 season—Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night about falling in love with mistaken identities and Life Is a Dream, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1635 drama, translated and adapted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nico Cruz, which examines the relationship between fate and reality—couldn’t seem farther apart at first read. But it turns out Olivia, Viola, Orsino, and Sebastian have more in common with King Basilio, Segismundo, and Rosauro then one might think. Here our Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly explains the link between these two wildly different productions.

The question: Where character comes from and where it can lead? is at the core of both Twelfth Night and Life Is a Dream. Twelfth Night’s characters have their dreams, but they end up with fates they never dreamed of. In Life Is a Dream, Calderon’s 17th century Spanish masterpiece, translated and adapted by Nilo Cruz, the question grabs us from the very start and chills us with its development. Does a person have any real power to change the fate that’s written for him or her? And if not, why not? Malvolio struggles with this idea in Twelfth Night and we’ll see in Life Is a Dream the vengeance that is wreaked by a son who is imprisoned for the first 20 years of his life. Was his father right to lock him up? Was he wrong to release him, given that he’s done exactly the monstrous deeds that were predicted at his birth? Or is his vengeance created by his father’s actions? (Who wouldn’t want to go on a rampage after being locked away since birth?) Do we have the power to change our fates and to change the way we adapt to experience? Come judge for yourselves.

Twelfth Night starts Previews on May 17 and runs through June 21. Life Is a Dream starts Previews on July 8 and runs through August 2. Click here to learn more and buy tickets. Hear more about the link between these two shows from Philippa herself at the Life Is a Dream Inside Scoop, June 22 at the Orinda Library. Reserve your spot here.

 

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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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One Night Only! Robin Goodrin Nordli’s “Virgins to Villains”, July 20, 2015

Esteemed Oregon Shakespeare Festival actress RobinRobin NordliGoodrin Nordli, who has performed over 70 roles in 25 different Shakespeare plays, storms the stage of the Bruns Amphitheater for her one-woman show about her personal journey through the females of Shakespeare’s canon. “As a Shakespearean actress, I started my career playing virgins and ended up playing villains,” she says.Tickets for this funny and moving show will go on sale this spring, with priority ticketing for subscribers.

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Lab Report: My Experience as an Artist-Investigator

By Ayodele Nzinga

It’s hard to know where to start. I always like the beginning. I like big pictures and story/stories. So I think that’s where I will start.

Pictured: Ayodele Nzinga

As an artist it’s hard to find funding for work. The places that offer funding often offer direction as well as funding—thus they become collaborators in the project.

If the funders want you to collaborate with another entity, they too come to the table as collaborator.

When the work comes with a deadline and a set of collaborators, each invested from a different perspective and potentially representing different populations with divergent goals for a commonly derived project, a type of crucible is formed.

To imagine art coming from this crucible can be challenging.

Challenges include:

  • How to hold on to and serve the inspiration that brought you into the room
  • How to be open to not serving that inspiration as you envisioned or imagined it (can your Bird of Paradise seed grow a Meyer Lemon Tree?)
  • Reimagining how to find your inspiration (something of what brought you in the room), inside the things that brought the other collaborators into the room
  • Practicing leaderless/leaderful interaction that results in the production of knowledge that in turns supports action/doing
  • Investing fully and engaging soulfully with the Meyer Lemon Tree
  • Finding the way in which the Meyer Lemon Tree serves the Bird of Paradise seed
  • How to facilitate equal collaboration when collaborators are invested differently, and the acknowledgement that funders are unacknowledged collaborators as well, who influence the trajectory and the boundaries of projects, further complexifies the collaborative art making process

To imagine not making art when given a chance is inconceivable.   Especially if support is offered that facilitates your exploration of what might come of your interaction with Meyer Lemon Trees and you can negotiate the challenges above while engaging the process of making art.

As an artist, I find collaboration an interesting animal. I am not sure I like it, but I understand its importance. The things collaboration gifts are and are not art-making related. That is, the bigger lessons and blessing that come from collaboration transcend the art making process to live in how one addresses the world and builds community.

It is a space in which one must advance ideas as a part of showing up fully, at the same time one must hold space for the ideas of others and view them with as much value as ones own, while helping to facilitate the advancement of a project that in some way reflects our mutually derived vision.

In closing, the process of making art is always as interesting as the art that is the product of the process. The fusion of artist with the practice of research/investigation adds a layer on top of the complexity inherent in collaboration. I am looking forward to the soul of this endeavor which for me lies somewhere beyond the negotiation of the things I have written about here.

So far the experience has been very cerebral and that’s satisfying to my scholar soul – but the artist in me looks forward to painting with my fingers and getting clay beneath my fingernails.

Maybe next time I will blog about how collaboration invites you to be bigger than your dreams of Birds of Paradise.

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