Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare!

In honor of William Shakespeare’s 448th birthday (celebrated today, even though he was baptized on April 26), here are a list of Cal Shakes/Shakespeare/Jonathan Moscone factoids, courtesy of Board Member and unofficial Cal Shakes photographer Jay Yamada. (These numbers include the productions in our upcoming 2012 season.)

What play has been produced the most at Cal Shakes since 1974? A Midsummer Night’s Dream, eight

What plays come in second? As You Like It, Twelfth Night and The Tempest, seven productions each

What plays by Shakespeare have not been done at Cal Shakes? Henry VI parts 1, 2, 3 and Henry VIII

How many plays have been produced at Cal Shakes since 1974? 156

How many people have/will have directed plays at Cal Shakes since we began in 1974? 63

How many different plays have/will have been produced at Cal Shakes since 1974? 60

How many plays has Jonathan Moscone directed at Cal Shakes? 16

After Jon, who has/will have directed the most plays at Cal Shakes? A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Mark Rucker, five

How many people have/will have directed plays during Jon’s tenure (2000-now)? 19

How many women have/will have directed plays during Jon’s tenure (2000-now)? Nine

Of all the directors who have directed more than one play at Cal Shakes during Jon’s tenure (2000-now), who have only directed Shakespeare plays? Joel Sass and Daniel Fish, three each

Cal Shakes’ full production history can be found here; more details about our 39-year history can be found here.


Titus Wears Titus

Jim Carpenter swung by the office today, to finally pick up the Titus Andronicus T-shirt that bears his likeness. So, of course, we took pictures. We’re not sure quite yet what we’ll do with them (possibly use them as part of our Theater Store online sales). But for now, they can at least make you guys laugh. Photos of James Carpenter by Jamie Buschbaum. Photo on shirt by Kevin Berne.

Titus makes a Titus face


Titus cracks a smileHappy Titus


The Bloodshed Continues for the Cast of TITUS ANDRONICUS

TITUS ANDRONICUS cast members Chad Deverman, David Mendelsohn, and Galen Murphy-Hoffman donate blood for the Red Cross.

In light of the closing of Titus Andronicus, cast members Chad Deverman, David Mendelsohn, and Galen Murphy-Hoffman—who, together, played Tamora’s brutal Goth songs—joined crew members Dallas Kane and Sam Schwemberger in donating blood to the American Red Cross. Being in a play is the perfect opportunity to get your cast to give back to the community in some way. Deverman thought that, having spent so much time onstage as Demetrius, “shedding other people’s blood, it was only fitting that I shed a little of my own offstage. So I invited the cast and crew to come give blood with me; the American Red Cross center in Oakland was the perfect place. ”

“The staff was great and made us feel totally comfortable through the whole process,” continued Deverman. “Donating is absurdly easy and makes an incredible difference. Plus, you get free Girl Scout cookies afterward. Really, what could be better? I would encourage anyone reading this to take an hour and go donate.”


California Shakespeare Theater Teen Night

The following was written by Bristol Glass, Artistic Learning intern.

As an intern, about to see the bloody glory that is Titus Andronicus, I hadn’t quite anticipated my own excitement combining with that of the group that attended Teen Night. It was a blood bath of enthusiasm—ha! What exactly is Teen Night, you ask? Well, aside from it being the most fun you’ll ever have, it’s a pre-show event for students ages 13-18, this time including delicious pizza and soda (which flew out of the coolers—thanks to the Professional Immersion Program crew) in the Upper Grove. A mesh of California Shakespeare Theater staff, parents, students, and my fellow interns created a rowdy groundling-esque bunch. Clearly, there was a love for Shakespeare all around! Our fun, interactive pre-show activity for the night was a “32 Second Titus Andronicus” competition between, of course, the Romans and the Goths. Brevity was key in successfully completing the ultra-abridged version of our Teen Night Titus. It’s very telling that the Romans won, but thankfully all character participants remained alive and well to continue eating their pizza after the activity. Highlights of each teams’ run included a lot of blind gender casting—specifically the roles of Lavina and Tamora, which provided our cast with some interesting dynamics. Getting to see involved teens in their element was my favorite part.

I’ll even say that watching that night’s Titus performance with this group in the audience was a theatrical experience all on its own, as the teens were deeply engrossed in the show; in awe of the skillful fight scenes or even surprised at the comedic moments-jaws dropped to the ground and snickers were shared between amused friends. It was an entertaining time with an uproarious, artistic, eager group of under-30 folks. It was an opportunity like no other to have experienced Titus Andronicus with such a unique, eager crowd in the seats.

For more details about the event, click on http://calshakes.org/news/tag/titus-andronicus/.


TITUS Grove Talk Podcast

Listen to a podcast of an illuminating pre-performance Titus Andronicus Grove Talk, presented by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly.

Podcast produced by Will McCandless. Music by Andre Pleuss.

Titus Andronicus runs through June 26, 2011.


Staring Your Future in the Face with a Smile: Titus opens!

A dispatch from this weekend’s Titus Andronicus opening, by Stage Management Intern Cordelia Miller.

I’ve never been so overwhelmed by so many emotions on an opening night. As I got in my car to drive to my last tech rehearsal, I actually started to cry because I thought, “I don’t want to open, because opening means closing!” But then I remembered that this isn’t college theater: I’ve got three more weeks of glorious Titus to go. So I smiled.

Opening night was exhilarating. The energy in the green room and the dressing rooms was completely different from the previews. Of course, we were all nervous about the impending rain, but the theater gods smiled on us, giving us a dry performance. By opening, we had smoothed out the kinks and determined the most efficient paths for quick changes, prop handoffs, and set changes, giving me (as part of the run crew) the opportunity to breathe around this amazing piece we were putting forth. I even almost had the chance to watch the show, by which I mean that I could truly listen to the scenes and pair them with what I’d seen in rehearsals. Backstage, I couldn’t have asked for more.

I’ll never forget the feeling as I emerged from the green room to go to the opening night party after we had struck the stage. I turned the corner and met music, food, drink, and incredibly happy people. Everyone was hugging, smiling, and chatting; the sense of catharsis was palpable.

Something awesome: being in the middle of a life-changing experience and realizing it. Six months ago, the idea that I’d be working on a show at Cal Shakes was not even a remote possibility. I never thought that I could be here. All of the reality hit me double as Jessica Richards and Susie Falk, associate artistic director and managing director, respectively, made their speeches at the party. I cried again realizing just how amazing it is to be a part of this Titus family here at Cal Shakes. The joy that I feel being a piece of this machine is inexplicable. It’s worth waiting ten years. I am staring my future in the face, and I can only return a smile. It is inspiring to know that you’ve chosen the right path.


Titus and Friends: Cordelia Miller blogs from tech

The author and the director at tech rehearsal

The author and director Joel Sass at tech rehearsal.

Stage Management Intern Cordelia Miller offers some insight into the long days and nights of Titus tech rehearsal.

Tonight, after our second preview, Rob Campbell, who plays Saturninus, said, “I actually don’t want tech to end.” I realized in that moment that I agreed with him. Yes, the hours are long and it can get a little chilly but, in truth, I’m doing so much running around backstage that I keep warm. We’re in previews now, which means we’re almost through tech—I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But as we draw nearer to opening, I realize how much I’m going to miss these long hours—and how lost I’ll feel the first few days without them.

Tech really helps bring us together in a way that always reminds me of why I do theater. The family that exists here in Titus (“Titus and Friends,” as the Andronici are sometimes called) is the part I could never give up. The hours become the glue and it’s a connection that every single person, cast or crew, will be able to reach back and touch, anytime in their futures. Sometimes I pause, in the brief moment of tranquility and silence, and realize that I’m working somewhere I’ve wanted to be for probably ten years. It still brings the warm feeling I had on the first day of rehearsal.

I’m so impressed with everyone here—not only the cast, but my fellow crew: Sam and Dallas, the deck manager and production assistant, who have been with us barely two weeks; and Caitlin, my fellow stage management intern, who joined us just barely over a week ago and has solidly planted her feet in the ground here. There is such a “Yes, and…” attitude here, really helping us glide through. I can feel myself learning lessons faster than I can process. I want to shower with flowers and chocolate everyone that’s lent a helping hand along the way. They’ve all taken me under their wings, and it’s pretty cozy from where I’m standing.

So come see the show, because it’s worth it.



A Breathtaking Adventure: Puzzles, Weapons, and Blood in the Titus Rehearsal Room

Cordelia MillerFirst, the vitals: My name is Cordelia Miller and I’m Cal Shakes’ stage management intern for Titus Andronicus; first preview June 1, opening June 4. The events in my life leading me to the rehearsal room of Titus are why this experience will stay with me many years from now, no matter what career I end up choosing.

Eight years ago, I attended my first Cal Shakes show: George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, directed by Lillian Groag. Since then, I have attended 26 shows and been a subscriber for seven years. To say it’s been surreal participating in the rehearsals for Titus is an understatement. Before I was an actor, I was an avid theatergoer, so being introduced to actors I have applauded on stages for more than 10 years is a humbling experience. I am still in awe when I watch their processes. People like Jim Carpenter, Stacy Ross, Anna Bullard, Dan Hiatt, Delia MacDougall, Nick Pelczar, Liam Vincent—all Bay Area gems I’ve probably seen in more than 200 shows combined. I get to know young actors still in school for their craft as well as actors from Los Angeles, the Midwest, and New York. I have only seen productions directed by Joel Sass, Titus’ director, twice, but both made a sincerely lasting impression: Pericles, which still tops my list as one of the most unequivocally beautiful productions of any Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen; and, of course, Macbeth, which will never leave my mind because of its unrelenting ability to make me terrified for my life (and for most of the poor, sad characters). Now I get to watch Joel mold and shape this world he has envisioned for us, with the entire rehearsal room filled with people I have respected since before I even knew I wanted to be a part of this world. Now I get to be a part of it. It’s a breathtaking adventure, watching all this magic unfold before me.

I joined rehearsals on Monday, May 9 and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. I help set up every morning, making coffee, filling water pitchers, opening windows, and sharpening pencils (school supplies have always been my vice). I sit in on production meetings, which I get immense pleasure from. During rehearsal, I began mostly being on book (the person responsible for threading through the rehearsal text and prompting actors with their lines), helping set up and strike scenes, cleaning some awesome weapons (be jealous) and doing various bits of paperwork for Laxmi, our incredible stage manager.

It’s been a bit like watching a puzzle being built without knowing what the picture on the box looks like. I wasn’t here for the first day, so I’ve been re-creating the world in which Titus takes place from the scraps I discover in rehearsal along the way. The first thing I saw, before I even arrived, was the set model: Immediately I felt the sense of antiquity and the fierce, stark atmosphere that this immensely violent play lives in. When I arrived in the rehearsal room, one of the first things I noticed were the costume renderings on the wall, which helped define the moving pieces of this board game a little more. But the key that really glued everything together and cemented it in my mind was the sound. The first time I saw the opening scene, Laxmi turned on the music and I’ll never forget how I felt: I just knew. I knew exactly where we were, I knew what time, I knew what this environment meant to each of the characters—it was because of that sound that I was able to fit all the pieces together. Plus, the opening scene does exactly what Joel said it would: It’s the pilot that sets up the rest of the miniseries. Seeing that for the first time really informed the other parts as well. I can’t wait to see everyone in costume—the renderings are breathtaking.

How much I’m learning and the experience I’m amassing should be illegal. I’m working alongside complete professionals; I feel something like a voyeur. Lynne Soffer, our vocal/text coach, and Philippa Kelly, our dramaturg, are both so open, giving, and willing to teach that it’s all I can do to soak up every bit of information they provide. There almost aren’t words for how exciting it is to watch the scene stopping and starting with notes from Joel, then watch the same scene take on a totally different, vibrant life. As a stage manager, I get to look up to Peter and Laxmi, who never falter or show any signs of stress or weakness—they’re warriors and fabulous role models. Every task set in front of them is manageable and can be completed. I’ve been keeping a list of things I want to do as a stage manager (mostly modeled after the way they do things, and how silly it was of me to not be doing them before now!). As an actor, I love learning the dos and don’ts, how different actors learn their lines and use their props, rehearsal costumes, and set pieces; how each actor goes about learning each bit of the script, from the simple physical task of entering a scene to the mountainous emotional task of portraying murder, death, unimaginable loss. As a writer, I am intrigued by the intricate life of checking different quartos for alternate lines, substituting and changing as our world requires, keeping track of every word; as a director, my ears are pricked for the language and tone Joel uses to communicate with the actors to create this masterpiece; I love the sense of teamwork as everyone works together to create a living, breathing, work of art.

There is definitely excitement growing within me like a snowball as we hurtle towards tech. I feel like I started yesterday, and already, less than 72 hours from now, we’ll be at the Bruns, lighting and costuming and fighting it out. I hope to write another blog during tech, which may be a slightly insane thing to do…

Cordelia and the Titus blood test!Lastly (and I wanted to keep this until the end because it’s such a wonderful closer), the tagline for this play is “It’s about bloody time.” Naturally, there’s a hefty amount of stage blood. Naturally, it would come up in a production meeting that it needs to be tested before it’s used. Naturally, I vehemently volunteered to be the testee. I mean, come on, what is cooler than trying out several different types of edible/non-edible/goopy/runny/viscous/chunky/gelatinous (enough adjectives? They were all true for at least one type I encountered) blood? So, OK, the inner eight-year-old-boy reared his little head inside of me. But really, it’s been one of the most hilariously awesome things I’ve done—and a great many people think it’s very strange how much I enjoy it… but I do…

Until next time…!

(Click here for more information on Titus.)


The Return of “Ask Philippa”!

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on our 2011 productions.

Philippa Kelly and Joel Sass by Jay YamadaTitus Andronicus, when it first hit the boards in the early 1590s, was a raging success, threatening to steal audiences away from the bear-baiting that was one of Elizabethan England’s favorite spectator sports. This bloody, fast-moving play is Shakespeare’s contribution to revenge tragedy, a formula of wrongdoing, revenge, and inevitable bloodshed that was as popular in the playwright’s time asLaw and Order is today. But even in his salad days, Shakespeare succeeded in making this play more complex than the conventional genre from which it emerged: As well as a rollicking grisly ride, Titus Andronicus gives us questions about loyalty, statescraft, and the power of words to shape deeds and lives.

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

Pictured above right: Philippa with Titus director Joel Sass; photo by Jay Yamada.



2010 Season Artist Profile: Daniel Ostling

In the months leading up to our 2010 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Macbeth, and Much Ado About Nothing—in our e-newsletters. For the fourth and final installment, I spoke with Daniel Ostling, who is creating the dual-purpose set for 2010’s Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Dan. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

What’s the first piece of theater you ever saw? Alternately (or in addition), what was the first piece you saw that really made you think, “I want to be a part of this”?

Gosh, I don’t really know, maybe a high school production of Mame my older brother was in. That was NOT the thing that made me want to go into theater, though. When I was in high school, we went and saw Godspell and I distinctly remember finding that thrilling—not the theater part of it as much as how exhilarating it was to have live people running around singing, telling a story, telling THAT story in such a completely different way than I had grown up being told that story. It was alive and uncontrolled, almost dangerous rather than the dead, pre-packaged, deadly predictable way it was told over and over. I didn’t think, at that point, that I could ever be part of creating something like that.

I come from a blue-collar family; my brother and I were the first generation to go to college. I thought I needed to have a job where I made a lot of money (and probably hated). At that point, I was planning on going to school to study business, which is what my brother was studying. The idea of being an artist, coming out, or becoming politically active all seemed mythological—not things real people did.

The turning point to me was at the end of my sophomore year in college. While studying business, I took a general education course, astronomy, that I had heard had a cool professor; this was in 1983, in the middle of the Reagan years. That professor, who was from the Netherlands, sort of blew my mind open. It was more of a political science or philosophy course than a science course. He really encouraged the students to think for themselves and asked us what we wanted to do with our lives. I began going to his office and talking to him one on one. I don’t know that I remember much about astronomy but, by the end of that quarter, I knew I could not continue studying business. I had no idea what to do; everyone I knew hated their jobs so I asked myself “what brings me joy? “ Two answers came to mind: 1, watching films; my father used to take us to great films starting when we were little kids, matinees, films really way too intense for young kids but I am so grateful he did this. And 2, lighting designs at rock ‘n’ roll concerts.

So I dropped out of the business school and enrolled in some intro to film classes and, in order to take a lighting course in the theater dept, I had to take the intro to theater course. In that class, the first play we read was Cherry Orchard. I remember how shocked I was at the end of the play; I thought I was missing a page or something. It was so ambiguous, so unresolved—it felt so much like life! I am getting choked up thinking about this again. I think that event is the moment I was hooked, the moment I knew I wanted to do this.

So I guess I really have Henk Houvre from the Northern Illinois University Astronomy Department to thank for changing my life—thanks, Henk.
What inspires you right now? Any particular music, current events, people, et cetera?
I find myself more drawn to the art world and to film than to theater for inspiration. A lot of my friends are filmmakers and artists and I love swimming in those worlds.

I am very interested in and influenced by sight specific art/installation art. I love the innate dialogue that takes place between the environment, the installation and the viewer of the work; I find an immediate connection to what I find most interesting about the theater (that being the relation between the audience and the actors and how it unfolds in time and space).

I am also a fairly political person. It is hard for me not to connect the struggles and issues of our time with the work I am doing and the projects I choose to take.

Facebook has become my new electronic soapbox, although I am not sure anyone is listening.

I looked on your website and your recent C.V.—though impressive as all get-out—doesn’t seem to include any outdoor theater work. If that’s the case, can you talk a little about the specific challenges and opportunities, for you, of designing for outdoors?

I’ve designed a couple things for outdoor venues—I did a Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte (Central Park) a few years ago and a couple of operas in Stern Grove here in SF as well.

I don’t think there is any real difference in the aesthetic process of designing for exterior spaces. I think my work is in a dialogue with the space it takes place in—I don’t see set design as being about what is on the stage as much as being about finding a way to connect the space (both the stage and the auditorium) to the story being told—to find a way to manifest the ideas and tensions of the play in time and space. I think this is why I like installation art. The entire experience is the work of art, not just what is up onstage. Time and space become essential elements.

So one of the first things I need to do when working on a new project is to see the space live—to walk in it, take it in. This always affects the design. Of course, being outdoors effects how one approaches the work, but so does being in a Baroque theater, or a small, low-ceiled storefront theater.

Technically, there are a lot of issues that need to be paid attention to when working in an outdoor space

– How will materials hold up to moisture and the sun? Will certain materials warp? Will some materials be slick on the actors’ feet if they get wet (from either rain or dew), etc?

– How will the wind affect the scenery? The wind can treat a piece of fabric like a sail and blow it and whatever it is attached to down. It can also be annoying by constantly making delicate objects move. When I worked at the Delacorte in Central Park, we had a central chandelier and we had to glue each crystal onto plastic sheeting, then assemble the pieces together so it did not tinkle all night.

– Often the lighting positions are much more limited than in a traditional theater, so it is helpful to design lighting positions into the set as well.

– You also generally do not have a proscenium arch or central frame to set off the stage. So the designer must figure out how to help focus the audiences’ attention and frame the action in other ways.
The sets for Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing will be the same basic structure. Can you talk about the elements that will be the same, and, if possible, what those elements say about how these two seemingly very different stories relate to one another?

When Jon (Moscone) contacted me about doing the project he wanted to approach the shows so they were in dialog with each other. This was a conceptual idea more than a practical producorial one. He felt like the plays were different examinations of men returning from war, stepping back into the norms of a civilian society after living in a world with a very different set of norms. They are two ways of looking at this moment—one through the form of tragedy and one through the form of romantic comedy. Jon speaks much more eloquently about this than I do.

Jon and Joel (Sass) came to Chicago to meet and we looked at some early ideas. I was having trouble finding a design that related to both—the ideas felt either too intellectual or, on the flipside, too simple, looking like we were trying to save money, which was not the reason Jon wanted to do this. I felt that the difference between the shows connected them intuitively (Macbeth dense, dark, obscure, disorienting, shutting off the beauty of the landscape/ Much Ado open, light, clear, framing the landscape). But I was not finding a form that contained them.

We were looking at a rough model for Macbeth that we liked when Jon began removing scenic elements and furniture till just the inner structure remained—it was a great moment and I think we all instantly saw what the answer was. I refined the model a couple times in the next 24 hours and we pretty much saw the ideas come to light.

The set will consist of a simple, planked wooden deck for both productions. The shape and the color/value will be altered between the two. Rising out of this deck will be a pipe structure that will remain for both shows. In Macbeth, it will be raw and corroded, in Much Ado it will be gleaming gold.

For Macbeth, the scaffold will serve as a skeleton on which salvaged architectural element (doors, chandeliers, walk-in freezer rubber strips, etc), and huge slabs of rusty steel and patinaed brass will hang precariously from it. The space will be full of old, salvaged props and furniture that have archetypal, almost dreamlike emotions associated with them (a bed with a antique headboard, a old tub and shower, etc).

In Much Ado, the structure will be exposed with very little added besides a couple of wood windows. In the middle of the scaffold will be a blazing red tree, with patches of tall grass on either side of the scaffold. Only a few pieces of simple, wood furniture will live in the space. The overall feeling is of an airy, open, warm space.

One of my favorite things that you said when you spoke to the Cal Shakes staff back in March was that the Macbeth set would have a kind of “crystalline density.” Could you flesh that idea out a little more for our readers?

When Joel spoke of his early idea he spoke of almost a fever dream, a David Lynch-like world of distortions and confusion, grounded in the concrete reality of mundane objects. We began to realize that the supernatural qualities of the play should be manifest not in fog and hazy visions but in concrete, nonlinear, disorienting ways. When I started to work in the model, I felt like one way to deal with the issue of focus I brought up earlier was to create an open structure that became denser and denser as it moved into the focal point of the space. I felt like the material world almost crystallized moving from the scaffold frame on the outside into a denser and denser claustrophobic center where the characters were stuck. The only way in or out is through this mass of layers and objects—like burrowing rats.

When you were here in March, you also talked about creating, for Much Ado, a “relatively empty space that is warm, but not warmed by objects.” Could you elaborate on that a little more?

I don’t remember saying that … not sure what I meant. To riff off of what I said above, Much Ado is sort of the photographic negative of what we are trying to do with Macbeth in terms of framing and density. In Much Ado, the gleaming scaffold frames the actions with open lines rather than dense planes and objects. There is a diagonal movement across the stage, moving from the hills and trees upstage right across the center of the stage moving gently into the audience down stage left. The space is open, warm, fresh, earnest, and transparent. It is not decorated by dressing or any furniture beside the most essential strokes (two windows to create the courtyard, a table, a set of chairs, some luminaries to create the spectacle of the wedding, etc.
And finally, if you could have designed sets for any play in history, what (and/or where, and/or with who) would it be?

Wow, what a question…

Maybe working on Eugene O’Neill’s Lazarus Laughed, a play from his experimental period that I love. It is an almost impossible play to stage but I have always been drawn to it because of its crazy ambition, its wild form, and its very powerful and subversive story.

…or maybe to have been able to work with Maria Irene Fornes when she was developing her plays for the first time; I think she is an extraordinary writer who has not received the recognition she deserves.

… but if I had to pick one (I have cleverly listed three), I would choose to have worked with Federico Garcia Lorca on his plays before he was assassinated in 1936. To me, Blood Wedding and Yerma are perfect plays that integrate story, spectacle, movement, music, lore, poetry and politics in a seamless tapestry. It would have been such a privilege to work with such an amazing artist; he was a playwright, director, artist, musician, dancer, activist, and poet. It is staggering to think of what he might have created had he not been murdered by the right wing Nationalists.

Subscribe now to get the best seats at the best prices for Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, and the rest of our 2010 season. Click http://web.me.com/danielostling to see Dan Ostling’s portfolio, photography, and more.