A Trip Down Memory Lane: Our 2015 Season in Review

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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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How many goodly creatures are there here!

Stage Management PIP Alex Kimmel offers a window into the Tempest rehearsal hall.

interns at Haight-Ashbury

Interns Katie, Jessica, Erin, and Alex at Haight-Ashbury.

I’m Alex and I’ve just completed my first week as an SM intern at Cal Shakes! Three cheers to Erin, Andrea, Katie, Jess, Kendall, and Jessica—all the other interns—for completing their successful first weeks!

And it has been such a fantastic first week. Just yesterday, we stumbled through all of Act I, and it looks fantastic. This comes as no surprise, but I am just overwhelmed by the talent and hard work everyone has thrown into this play. The play goes by quickly and is packed full of beautiful movement pieces, moving language, and lots and lots of charm and wit.

Since internships are about learning I thought I would use this blog to share the lessons I have learned at Cal Shakes so far.

Lesson 1: Cal Shakes folks are friendly folks! Smiling seems to be part of the dress code and everyone is extremely helpful (especially explaining how to properly use “Big Ricoh,” the printer).

Lesson 2: Percolators make weak coffee… I have yet to discover the ideal coffee- to-water ratio in a percolator, and for that I apologize to everyone who drinks the coffee I make. I’m working on it, and it’s getting better (I promise)!

Lesson 3: The nanosecond you take your eyes off the prompter’s script is the nanosecond that someone calls for line.

Lesson 4: Glitter is fun but it’s a bear to pick up. Folding the glitter makes it easier and faster to pick up (thanks, Corrie Bennett!).

Lesson 5: The universe—and Cal Shakes folks—are generous. If you mention that you are looking into buying a bike, someone may give you one for free (thanks again to Corrie!). That being said, the intern house would benefit from a vacuum …

Lesson 6: The songs in the play will get stuck in your head for three days straight. Singing Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” is an effective if unpleasant way to get the songs of the play out of your head (Thanks Catherine Castellanos!)

Lesson 7: Actors are creative, witty people (see Lesson 6), and if you give them a prop of a roasted rabbit on a spit, they will do creative, witty things with it … primarily when they are on their breaks.

Lesson 8: Scamels are delicious if you know how to cook them correctly.

I hope you have found these lessons as valuable as I have; if there are any that you don’t understand, I hope you take it as incentive to come see The Tempest opening in just two short weeks! It’s going to be a magical show!

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It’s Almost Showtime at the Shakespeare Summer Conservatory!

By Sloane Henry, Artistic Learning Intern

The Bentley Five-week Conservatory is in full swing! We’re almost half way through and time continues to fly by. I have been stage managing for the Merry Kinsmen—the youngest group (third–sixth grade) and I am proud to say that they are well on their way to a very solid production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Heidi Abbott

The 3 witches of MACBETH take a break from rehearsing with intern Bristol Glass to strike a pose

and led by PIP Sam Coughlin, that sends a much more positive message than a traditional staging of the Shakespeare play. I am also anxious to see the oldest group, The  Queen’s Own, pull off their own rendition of Titus Andronicus directed by Susannah Martin, staged managed by PIP Cordelia Miller, and supported by their fearless leader, PIP Brett Jones. Cal Shakes just closed a powerful production of Titus on their Main Stage, so the Queen’s Own have been very fortunate to acquire many of its props this way. But it’s very clear how important it is to these kids to make this show their own, as they have set up multiple bake sales at Conservatory lunch to raise money for additional props and special effects.

The cast of TAMING OF THE SHREW decked out in pirate garb.

There is also a lot of buzz around the Fortune Artists’ modern take on The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Catherine Castellanos and stage managed by Caitlin Volz. From what I’ve heard in rehearsals, it looks like the second-oldest group has taken a cue from The Verona Project and is featuring the players’ musical talents in the show. I talked to some Noble Knaves (the second-youngest group) during a break and they seemed very confident in their progress with Macbeth, directed by Laura Lowry, stage managed by Sam Callahan, and headed by PIP Bristol Glass, declaring “We’re all blocked and almost off-book!”

The Riotous Knights leap for joy. HUZZAH!

And last, but not least, the Riotous Knights’ Twelfth Night, directed by Ryan O’Donnell, aided by PIP Jordan Reiff, and currently staged managed by Sophie Kreeger (while their other stage manager, Julia Van Broeck is working the Cal Shakes Main Stage production of The Verona Project) is looking like it’s going to be a wild ride complete with hippies, colored hairspray, disco, Ke$ha, and a live band.

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It’s Summer Camp Time and the Living is Easy

By Anna Kritikos, Marketing intern.

After learning about stage combat, students line up at the door, ready for thier next class.

I spent last Tuesday at the Five-Week Summer Shakespeare Conservatory, wandering around and observing the multitude of activities; it made me realize how much I miss summer camps. I had a bast just moseying around the conservatory. In addition to appreciating the fun atmosphere that was ever-present at the camp, I was really impressed by the sophistication and the higher standard to which the teaching staff held the campers, while still maintaining that fun summer camp atmosphere.

The teaching staff at the conservatories—currently there are two sessions running, Five-Week at Bentley Upper School and Two-Week  at Holy Names—is composed of working professionals assisted by interns from the Professional Immersion Program and the Teaching Artist Fellowship. I met all of the Bentley staff and observed them at work, and their passion and energy was unyielding. It was absolutely wonderful to watch such excellent teachers.

I really appreciated the structure of the conservatory as well. It was like a theater kid’s heaven. I wish I could enroll in the conservatory simply to attend all the classes the teaching staff provides the kids. In the morning, all of the campers attend classes: one-hour sessions in stage combat, improv, Shakespeare history, movement, or text/voice. That’s what was on the agenda the day I attended, but other days include storytelling, a master class on hip-hop Shakespeare, and so on. Before listening in on a Shakespeare history class I thought it would be a bit of an uphill battle—trying to get kids to listen to history during the summer months seemed to me to be a very tough mountain to climb—but with the skills and larger-than-life personalities of the faculty, it was not at all the losing battle I had predicted. It was actually fun.

The second half of the day, after lunch, is rehearsal time, with the five different groups all retreating to separate classrooms to rehearse the plays they were working on. I was impressed by the young kids tackling Shakespearean language with tenacity, laughing and joking and having a blast. The interns and TAFS got to teach and exercise their directorial skills by working with small groups within the casts—simultaneously providing one-on-one attention for the campers and hands-on experience for the TAFs and PIPS who are pursuing careers in theater education.

“You really pick up a different part of your craft when you are able to articulate it, rather than just do it,” Teaching Artist Fellow Vince Rodriguez said. “And so not only do I teach the kids, they also teach me. Also, to be able to see how one goes about teaching abstract concepts like movement  to such young kids is wonderful, and I’m learning a lot.”

Students play an improv game in Heidi's class.

Heidi Abbott ran a wonderful improv class that all of the kids (myself included!) loved. She didn’t play down to the kids, no matter how young they were, which in turn helped spur the kids to play on a level higher than perhaps they usually would do.

It was fascinating to watch the movement classes as well. Susannah Martin really challenged the kids to just plunge into the exploration of movement—to enter a “private laboratory” where you just experiment with the space. Susannah asked her students to feel the space with their muscles, feel the space with their skin, as a fluid, and so on. She was asking them to completely abandon the ever present fear of looking foolish, and the students (the Queen’s Own group, grades  10-12) rose easily to the challenge. They moved across the auditorium with complete abandon, focusing solely on their movements, how their bodies felt, not on the other kids around them. This summer camp obviously pushes kids to step outside of their comfort zones, and in the very safe and fun environment that is present, the kids are willing and even eager to do so.

It was very cool also to talk to the PIPs and the TAFs about their seemingly endless passion for theater education.

Actress and Cal Shakes Associate Artist Catherine Castellanos discusses the script of TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA with her students.

“I’m going to sound completely cliché, but when you are teaching theater you are not just teaching ‘ok this is upstage and downstage.’ You aren’t just putting on a play, you are teaching these kids skills,” said Teaching Artist Fellow Jenna Goodman. “You are building confidence; they are learning how to be an individual as well as to be part of something greater. The kids are being challenged to make bold choices, and to sort of stretch and grow. There is something about it, there is a kind of freedom that comes with teaching theater that you don’t really see anywhere else.”

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You never know how much kissing is really going on in a show until you play it for adolescents.

The first Student Discovery Matinee of the year was yesterday morning, for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven. We had about 420 people in the house, the majority of whom were from under-served Oakland middle and high schools. Two of those schools had also had a Pastures residency this spring in which they studied and dramatized stories from the book. The students were an excellent audience, and proved themselves respectful and interested for the entire show—and, as usual, there was a lot of vocal response! I tell you, you never know how much kissing is really going on in a show until you play it for adolescents! The Tularecito story seemed particularly interesting and affecting to this audience—their reaction was to laugh at first, and then were drawn in to his real sweetness, and were very quiet when he was sent to the asylum. The Tortilla Sisters won applause, and the flash-paper fire was also a hit, of course.

In the Question and Answer session afterward, some usual questions came up such as “How long did you rehearse?”, “Have any of you been on TV?,” as well as “What was your favorite character to play?” and “How do you practice for hard roles like Tularecito?” This last one gave Tobie (Windham, pictured at right as Tularecito, with Emily Kitchens as Miss Morgan; photo by Jay Yamada) a chance to elaborate on how stepping into someone else’ shoes really helped him understand someone with development difficulties, since it’s so easy from the outside to think they are just really strange. The other very interesting thing that came up was that the character of Raymond Banks says about going to see an execution, “I think it’s a Mexican this time.” When that line was said, there was an audible gasp in the audience, which was of mostly Latino origin. One boy asked, “Why was that a joke?” Actor Catherine Castellanos said that she didn’t think it was a joke, but that the character said it in a way that might have seemed disrespectful because of the time period in which these stories are set, and that people were viewed very much by whatever easily perceived characteristic they had, be it race, or anything else and hopefully we are a lot better at being respectful of everyone now.

Ava Jackson and Clive Worsley were the stars of the hour, making everything run great and be fun at the same time; the PIPs were all enthusiastic and did great with their groups, and being in the new space was pretty amazing backstage and front. (Sorry, I know we go on and on about the bathrooms, etc., but Artistic Learning really got the advantage of all this today!)

Thanks to everyone who makes this kind of thing happen; we are so proud that we can provide this incredible opportunity to get young people in to see great actors, in a great play, in a great space. Wow.

Click here for more information on our Student Discovery Matinees. John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven runs through June 27.

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Associate Artist Round-Up: One More

(See last week’s round-up here.)

Catherine Castellanos will be working with Central Works Theatre Ensemble on Blessed Unrest, a new play adapted by Gary Graves and written in collaboration with Castellanos, Marvin Greene, Kristin Fitch, Gregory Sharpen, and Jan Zvaifler. Inspired by a book from one of the world’s leading environmental and social activists, Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming–a manifesto for hope in the 21st century.

The production runs October 25-November 23 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley. Performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 5pm.

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Maybe your curse and the farm’s curse has mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes.

There were actual actors roaming the halls for most of last week, starting Tuesday; once I got over the shock of it, I started asking after what was going on. I mean, I love me some Dan Hiatt, Nancy Carlin, and Catherine Castellanos, but I’m not used to seeing them just ambling about during the off-season, not to mention that Catherine (who, in my humble–oops, I mean, IMHO–stole the show as Queen Margaret in Richard III this season) was doing her ambling in a full-leg cast, thanks to an injury sustained during the San Jose Rep production of The Triumph of Love.

Tuesday afternoon the following email arrived from Associate Artistic Director Joy Meads:

“As you may have noticed from the actors and playwright walking around, we are conducting our first workshop for PASTURES OF HEAVEN this week. We’ll be working on one of the stories (number 4, the turalecito story) using exercises drawn from Word For Word’s practice and inspired by the RSC’s development of Nicholas Nickleby. We’d like to invite you to drop in and observe the workshop at any point this week.”

Pastures of Heaven (or, as Joy, who has a bit of a volume control problem, puts it, PASTURES OF HEAVEN) is the latest piece our New Works/New Communities program is sinking its teeth into. With NW/NC, Cal Shakes partners up with community groups, other theater companies, and various and sundry other orgs to adapt and create new theater with roots in the classics. In 2006, we partnered with partnered with Campo Santo (the resident company at SF’s Intersection for the Arts) and playwright Naomi Iizuka to create Hamlet: Blood in the Brain; and, in 2006/2007 with playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, MFA students at A.C.T., and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco to reimagine A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Now, with playwright Octavio Solis, Word for Word Performing Arts Company, and community organizations still TBA, we’re adapting John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven.

I am using the following method. The manuscript is made up of stories, each one complete in itself, having its rise, climax and ending. Each story deals with a family or an individual. Each story deals with a family or an idividual. They are tied together by the common locality and by the contact with the [central family].

– John Steinbeck in the introduction to The Pastures of Heaven

Pastures is an anthology of interconnected stories, stories that unfold in the farming community of early twentieth-century Salinas. It is hard to imagine a collection of short fiction being easily adaptable to the stage, even a collection so interrelated by place and persons. Because short stories vary–in their main characters, and usually in their tone–from each other. And because, any time you’re adapting something written for the page to be performed on the stage, you’re dealing with exposition that was not created to be spoken. Luckily, there are things like set design, sound, lighting, and costumes to add to the conversation. And even luckier is our partnership with Word for Word, a professional ensemble whose mission is to stage short stories in their entirety., and our commissioning of Octavio Solis, who has also been working on an adaptation of Don Quixote for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

And, even luckier, perhaps, is that Pastures of Heaven features dialogue like this:

Maybe your curse and the farm’s curse has mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes. Maybe there’ll be a lot of baby curses crawling around the pastures the first thing we know.

Oh, yeah.

But of course, the performance is still some time away, and the adaptation’s just begun. So on Friday, I sat in on a little of the workshop. And this is a little of what I saw:

Actor Dan Hiatt reading passages from a book called Grow It, by Richard W. Langer, and attempting to explain, somewhat, the difficulties of farming. (Left to right: Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, the back of playwright Octavio Solis’s head, Word for Word company member Patricia Silver, the back of Word for Word co-Artistic Director JoAnne Winter’s head, and Hiatt.)

Octavio listening intently as a workshop participant showed pictures of a 1930s-era one-room schoolhouse, while talking about how this schoolhouse would have had no segregation, and that1930 was a watershed year for educational theory, when educational conservatives and progressives squared off over who should be educated (the most gifted or the least), and how and what to teach to them.

It’s a fascinating process, and on Saturday NW/NC held rehearsals at Z Space in San Francisco. Joy told me on the phone today that “it went great!” She’s usually more verbose, but she’s otherwise occupied, having just finished her last week at Cal Shakes, and therefore being in the midst of packing for chillier climes. In fact, I shouldn’t let you think that the Pastures workshop was all that happened last week.
Because it wasn’t.

On Friday, most of us ditched work early to meet up at the Townhouse, an Emeryville bar and restaurant that (as my former coworker Vicky would say) is both hoity and toity. We drank, we ate hors d’oeuvres, and things happened.

Jon Moscone delivered a very funny, sweet toast to Joy while Daunielle moved furniture around.
Joy made a speech that I, apparently, found quite amusing.
And Cal Shakes Board Vice President Nancy Kaible presented to us a song that her daughter had written for her friends moving to Chicago, and then adapted for Joy’s going-away.
She fiddled with the wee boom box a bit, and we asked the staff to turn down the nonthreatening jazz that was playing over the Townhouse’s sound system.
And then? Well… the following is a bit unsafe for workplace consumption. Unless you work somewhere cool like Cal Shakes, that is.
And then we laughed.
And laughed, and laughed.
Joy may have even cried a little.
 
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