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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Cal Shakes at the Theatre Bay Area 2014 Awards

It was a wonderful 40th Anniversary surprise to wake up on Tuesday and find that shows from Cal Shakes’ 2014 Season had received accolades at the Theatre Bay Area Awards, held Monday night in San Francisco. While 3 of our 4 main stage shows had cast or staff nominated for awards, we emerged with five awards to five different actors and creative staff:

James Carpenter as Alfred Doolittle. Photo by Jay Yamada.

James Carpenter won “Best Featured Male Actor in a Play” for his role as Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion. (Read an interview with James Carpenter about his role in Pygmalion, including how he rehearsed.)

Danny Scheie won “Best Principal Male Actor in a Play” for his role as the Dromios in The Comedy of Errors.

Andre Pluess won “Best Sound Design” for The Comedy of Errors.

Beaver Bauer won “Best Costume Design” for The Comedy of Errors. (Read our interview with Bauer about her inspiration for the Comedy costume design).

Danny Scheie and Adrian Danzig in The Comedy of Errors. Cal Shakes' Comedy of Errors won awards for direction (Aaron Posner), costumes (Beaver Bauer), sound design (Andre Pluess) and lead actor (Danny Scheie).

Aaron Posner, who won “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing The Comedy of Errors.

And as a bonus, our PR and Marketing Manager Marilyn Langbehn won an award for “Outstanding Direction of a Play” for directing August: Osage County at Contra Costa Civic Theater.

 

Congratulations to all the wonderful theater-makers in the Bay Area for coming together and making such wonderful work. (69 awards were given last night). And thanks to all our staff for such a great 40th Anniversary Season! We can’t wait to see what fun 2015 will bring.

 

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Ask Philippa: 2015 Pre-season Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

The 2014 Season has just barely ended, and already we’re preparing for 2015. We have an incredible array of artists and plays lined up for the 2015 Season, and I can’t wait to see you all tumbling out of the grove next season with your digestibles and into our beautiful amphitheater.

While Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has written a letter about the 2015 Season, here’s a brief overview of the Main Stage season:

Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
May 27–June 21

Director Christopher Liam Moore (Cal Shakes’ Lady Windermere’s Fan) is renowned for being able to delve into comedy, romance, and language with humanity and élan. Now he’s opening our season with Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece of mistaken identity, in which shipwrecked twins navigate across a strange island to find love—and each other.

Life Is a Dream
By Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Translated and Adapted by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Loretta Greco
July 8–August 2

This stunning Spanish Golden Age classic that’s been called “the Spanish Hamlet” tells the tale of a prince imprisoned by his father at birth because of a prophecy. Magic Theatre’s Loretta Greco directs a brilliant translation and adaptation by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Nilo Cruz, who brings urgency and accessibility to Calderon’s mythic, poetic play, where reality and dreams collide in a story of human will battling fate.

 The Mystery of Irma Vep
By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
August 12–September 6

Lady Enid is haunted by the spirit of her husband’s ex-wife, Irma Vep—but that’s just the beginning of her problems. Mummies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other surprise guests pursue the numerous characters played frenetically by only two actors, including the fabulous Danny Scheie in a gender-bending tour-de-force performance. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone (Pygmalion, American Night) takes on Charles Ludlam’s outrageously ingenious comedy.

King Lear
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
September 16–October 11

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s King Lear, an old king asks his daughters to deliver love in return for slices of land. A cataclysmic scene ensues, at the end of which Lear (via hubris? Naivity? The foolishness of age?) is thrust out into the world with almost nothing that’s ever had value to him—without his land, without his familiar duties and prerogatives, and, most importantly, without his most precious daughter. He goes on an epic journey to finally (and fleetingly) experience the redemption of love, and, indeed, the redemption of a self.  Nationally renowned director Amanda Dehnert—whose credits include the groundbreaking 2011 production of Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—directs two-time Tony award nominee Anthony Heald as Shakespeare’s profound tragic hero.

As 2015 draws near, I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for next year. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave them 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.

Subscribe to the 2015 Season by clicking here, or call 510.548.9666.

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The Understudy Diaries

If you attended a Cal Shakes show this past weekend, you may have seen my face—on our stage. I’m the understudy for Movement Director and actress Erika Chong Shuch, a powerhouse of a woman, and I wound up being called on to play Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people have asked me what this experience was like, and so I thought I would chronicle it into phases.

Phase I: Excitement

After interning all summer at Cal Shakes, I auditioned and was accepted to understudy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was all knock-knees and general excitement, highlighting away in my binder during the first rehearsal and gasping at all the set and costume designs. Understudying allows you to absorb so much information and as a young actress it’s pretty ideal. I get to try on a part without as much of the risk, and see the professionals do their work.

Phase 2: Technical Rehearsal

This was the most fun part of being an understudy for me, where I learned all my lines and wrote down all my blocking. Essentially the expectation is to know everything by Opening Night, and then to have your understudy rehearsal the following Tuesday. Simple enough. I had just finished my internship and so was content to hang around the Bruns all during tech, cracking jokes with cast and crew and being on book when needed. I was so impressed with all the actors, working twelve hour days and being incredibly patient and generous with each other.

Regina Fields and Danny Scheie (Puck) backstage before the show. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 3: Understudy Rehearsal

Finally our time had come! My fellow understudies were chomping at the bit to do their scenes. They were really prepared and ready to finally DO something with all the knowledge they’d been collecting. On the way to rehearsal we all got an email that would change the whole course of our day. Brian, the understudy for James Carpenter (Egeus/Starveling) was going to go on! It was getting real. We spent most of the day doing Brian’s scenes, which meant I only got to walk through one Titania scene once.

Catherine Castellanos (Snout) and I kept joking about how it would be crazy if I had to go on after not getting to do any of my scenes. Good thing that was entirely unlikely. Little did I know…

Phase 4: The Call

Friday morning the unthinkable happened. I received a text message from Karen Szpaller, our stage manager/resident superwoman, saying I should be prepared to go on, and she would let me know as soon as she could. At which point I immediately began to do three things:

1) hyperventilate

2) read my script 500 times

3) cry (just a little).

In order to understand why I would react in such a fashion it’s important to note that I’m a senior in college, who has a few credits mostly accrued while at conservatory in Europe. Cal Shakes is a theater I respect and whose company of staff, crew, and actors I am constantly in awe of. Basically I felt like I was hitting fast forward on getting to do my ultimate dream job.

Karen confirmed that Operation Understudy was a go (she doesn’t call it that, I do, and I’m not sorry about it) and I hit the road around 3pm, reciting Shakespeare all the way.

Regina Fields' understudy debut in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 5: The Trial By Fire

I got to the theater with enough time to warm up, walk the space, and get fitted into a costume before my two hour put-in rehearsal began. A put-in is essentially what it sounds like—putting me into the show. However, anyone who has seen this show with Erika knows: you can’t imitate greatness. So we (and by we I mean Craig, and the fairies; Travis, Parker and Mel), re-choreographed a whole lot, from the top of show fight, to my entrance out of the trap (under the stage) and more.

Everyone was incredibly supportive, including Jonathan Moscone who came to help direct me through some moments and get acquainted with the show. The fairies (Travis Parker and Mel) helped me focus on my job, which was to make everyone else not freak out by appearing calm, knowing my part and just doing the damn thing.

After asserting my warrior dominance as Hippolyta in the first scene, I had a second to look out and had only one thought: “oh my lanta, people”. I don’t even remember saying my first line. What I do remember is the outpouring of love from everyone around me. I felt like I was on an Olympic Rowing Team and we were all going for the gold in one final burst before the finish line: either we all won or we all didn’t make it, and failure was not an option. Coming through the green room door after that first show was the most electrifying feeling in the world. We had done it! We had pulled off this behemoth, beautiful, inspiring show and I quite frankly couldn’t believe I’d gotten to be a part of it.

Phase 6: The Aftermath

I cannot stress enough how much Cal Shakes’ culture of support, love of art, and community helped me to get through this moment. Without all of the words of encouragement from my fellow actors, and the amazing Cal Shakes audience, I never would have found the courage to step out on that stage. Now that Erika is back and more graceful than ever, it feels like even more of a family because we all helped each other through a tough spot. I have nothing but eternal gratuity and respect for everyone involved for helping a young actress to realize her dreams for just a few shows. The best way to articulate how I feel is with a quote from the play:

“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”

Regina Fields and Daisuke Tsuji (Oberon, Theseus) in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

* * *

About the author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.

 

 

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Beginning Again: The Love Balm Institute

By Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator in Residence Arielle Julia Brown

The Love Balm Project is a theater of testimony workshop series and performance based on the testimonies of mothers who have lost children to violence. The Love Balm Project currently collaborates with six mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last summer, with support from the Triangle Lab, we hosted site specific performances in the spaces where the young men—sons of the mothers—had been murdered. These performances took place on street corners, in front of homes, at a BART station, in front of a church, on the porch of a mothers’ home and on a MUNI train platform. These performances met the communities in the spaces that haunt them and the spaces we learn to forget. Naturally, it was in these spaces that more mothers and community members began to inquire about getting involved in this work. Mothers approached me after performances, family members took my contact information to give to other mothers they knew.

This leads me to the beginning of my current investigation with The Triangle Lab. How is it that a grassroots arts collective recreates itself? How do we move in full awareness of our limited capacity as facilitators and yet be open and permeable for new knowledges, new community members, new stakeholders? What does it look like structurally to have an open space for all mothers to find and make space in their neighborhoods to tell and witness their stories? I am in deep search of what these answers could look like for the Love Balm Project. The only place I knew to begin is with the Love Balm workshop series. The workshop series features 4 workshops for mothers and community artists to gather together and perform, witness and creatively write their testimony. So I began to imagine in the middle of last year’s site specific investigation, what would it look like to have an institute to train other artists, mothers and cultural workers in how to facilitate a Love Balm Workshop series or group. In the Love Balm Institute we collectively questioned this work, reviewed and adapted the curriculum, witnessed mothers’ testimonies, explored applied theatre methods including original games, playback theatre, drama therapy and theatre of the oppressed and finally strategized about workshopn structures and funding models. The Love Balm Institute was supported by The Triangle Lab, Eastside Arts Alliance and The Akonadi Foundation. The institute took place from May 23rd–25th in Oakland.

Several amazing cultural workers attended the institute. The cultural workers live and work with communities throughout the state of California. Please see their bios below to see what kind of work they are doing in communities already. Each of them have studied and taken their training from the institute to start planning love balm workshops and community circles for the communities they work and live in. The cultural workers will facilitate the Love Balm workshop series with mothers, LGBTQ youth, young men and women of color who have both perpetrated and survived acts of violence. Check out their projects below alongside their bios. I will continue to post updates as their projects progress.

 

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Ask Philippa: “Pygmalion” Edition

Listen to Philippa Kelly’s Grove Talk about Pygmalion by clicking here.

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about Pygmalion, which runs July 30–August 24. Tickets on sale now.

Pygmalion, perhaps George Bernard Shaw’s most renowned play, concerns the playful plight of phonetics Professor Henry Higgins and penniless flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he takes under his tutelage. Poor Eliza is reduced to a bet between aristocrats who believe they can pass her off as one of their own. This scheme leaves plenty of room for Shaw’s signature social commentary on the British class system and the relationship between language, class, and power.

Many of us might know the characters of Pygmalion from its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady; however, it is worth noting that artists and directors have struggled against Pygmalion’s lack of predictable romance for a century (since it debuted in 1914). Some writers think this may be why Pygmalionis still “underperformed”:

From the PYGMALION stage at the Bruns: You'll notice this population chart sitting on Higgins' bookshelf.

A hundred years on from that first production, the ending of Pygmalion continues to be a sticking point. It stands as an unspoken matter of contention between audiences, confidently expecting a romantic resolution of the plot, and most directors who wish to remain true to Shaw’s intentions. And it may help to explain the conundrum of why the play, for all its enduring fame and popularity, remains relatively underperformed today.

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

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

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.

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Inside the Rehearsal Hall for “The Comedy of Errors”

“The play’s the thing.”

—Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

Hello!

This is dramaturgy intern Aliya Charney blogging from inside the rehearsal room for Cal Shakes’ upcoming production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner. We started off running (and tumbling!) this past Wednesday at the Meet and Greet, where cast members, artistic staff, production crew, the entire Cal Shakes team, and donors had the opportunity to listen to Posner discuss his vision for the play, which centers around the idea of “play.”

The cast of The Comedy of Errors in rehearsal.

The various puns on the word “play” (a stage performance, an exercise of amusement, fun and jest, a game, to act the part of a character, and even another word for “pun” itself ) perfectly complement Shakespeare’s earliest comedy. The Comedy of Errors, which is filled with wordplay and jest, is a play about mistaken identity, mystery, doubling, farce, magic, confusion, and love.

The notion of play, which Posner will use to drive The Comedy of Errors forward, will manifest on stage not just through juggling, clowning, and acrobatic tricks performed by the actors, but through the sense of what Posner himself calls “invented Shakespeare”—a term he uses to describe the contemporizing of Shakespeare’s texts through the fluidity of the Bard’s own language. Meaning, Posner, the cast, and artistic staff will create a world that profits from Shakespeare’s enduring language, rather than interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Costume Designer Beaver Bauer draws inspiration for her looks from Buster Keaton, 1920s fashion, eastern European clowns, Steampunk, and much more. Her looks coincide with Posner’s vision of play and “invented Shakespeare” because they do not come from one specific place or time period, but rather, are drawn from themes and images that the text itself evokes. Nina Ball, scenic designer for the production, has created a multi-level, colorful, trapdoor-filled, “shutter-cluttered” open stage that provides a canvas for abundant physical humor, allowing the actors to fully embody the sense of play, while simultaneously harmonizing with the beautiful, natural backdrop of the Bruns.

Posner adds to the play’s themes of doubling and confusion with a cast of seven. Both sets of twins (four characters total): Antipholus of Ephesus/Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus/Dromio of Syracuse (played by Adrian Danzig and Danny Scheie, respectively) are performed by two actors, while other cast members play multiple personalities on stage as well. The actors, therefore, rely on quick changes (some of which take place on stage before the audience), accent shifts, and physical humor to tell the story of mistaken identity between two sets of brothers.

Less than one week into rehearsal, The Comedy of Errors is already promising to be a a fun-filled, hilarious, and loving production. Posner began the first rehearsal by requesting the cast to “find the love” in this dark comedy. Indeed, love of all forms flourishes on stage: from romantic love to love between brothers, sisters, and friends, and even unapologetic self-love, The Comedy of Errors balances Shakespeare’s oft-dark text with fruitful moments of tenderness guaranteed to make the audience fall in love with the production, and actors.

The Comedy of Errors begins previews on June 25th and opens on June 28th. With rehearsals now fully underway, I will be updating this blog periodically with production developments and insight into the rehearsal process.

Join in the madness! Buy your tickets for The Comedy of Errors here.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern for Cal Shakes. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Aliya is a Shakespeare and cat enthusiast from Chicago. Her favorite line in The Comedy of Errors is: “I to the world am like a drop of water / That in the ocean seeks another drop.”

 

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Who’s Your Twin?

When Shakespeare penned The Comedy of Errors—one of his shortest, most slapstick plays—the idea of twins (a central theme of the play) fascinated the Elizabethans. Though they didn’t understand the genetics of multiple births—the difference between fraternal and identical twins, for instance—they had many beliefs about twins: that they signified an especially fertile mother, and that the comradely twins would hold hands in the womb, for instance. (Interestingly, Shakespeare’s wife birthed twins—Hamnet and Judith—in 1585, seven years before the publication of The Comedy of Errors.)

Twins fascinate us today just as much as they did in Shakespeare’s time.  When we read stories about long-lost twins finding each other again at age 78, it makes front-page news for the BBC. Twins tell us about ourselves, our genetics and culture and how each makes us similar and/or different.

Even if you don’t have a biological twin, we all joke about having “twins” in a metaphorical sense. Sometimes we spot a celebrity, friend, or a random person on the street who reminds us of someone; my elementary school even had “twin day”—where (non-twin) students would coordinate outfits and mannerisms.

For our Comedy of Errors program, we’re asking our patrons and fans to send in pictures of themselves and their twin–whether real, celebrity, or stranger. Who do you look or act like? Who look or acts like you? Further your fame by sending in a picture of you and your twin (real or imagined)—the best ones will appear in our program.

Email your twin pictures to our publications manager and get a chance to be in the Comedy of Errors program!

Learn more about The Comedy of Errors or buy your tickets by clicking here.

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Ask Philippa: 2014 Pre-season Edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about our 2014 season, which begins May 21. Subscriptions on sale now.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

2014 brings a very exciting season for many reasons—not the least of which is that it’s Cal Shakes’ 40th anniversary.

First up is Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Patricia McGregor, who first joined us at the Bruns last in 2012 with her magnificent Spunk. A Raisin in the Sun offers a stunning portrait of a black family’s experience in racially divided Chicago, injecting domestic and racial tension into 1950s self-portraits of the post-war American Dream. Raisin made Hansberry the youngest playwright, the fifth woman, and the only black writer ever to win the New York Critics’ Circle award. (The play also inspired the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, written 60 years later and directed by our own Jonathan Moscone in an award-winning production at A.C.T. in 2011). Next is Shakespeare’s early play The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner, a comic take on mistaken identity that offers a brilliant look at the dark side of Shakespeare as well as the light—loss, isolation, family reunion, and redemption. Third in our season director Moscone brings us Pygmalion, often seen as George Bernard Shaw’s most enduringly important play, a savagely ironic critique of the British class system. (This play, too, made such a social impact that it gave birth, 44 years later, to another masterpiece, the musical My Fair Lady.) Lastly is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Shakespeare play most often described as “perfect” in its exploration of love that opens out, concertina-like, from an early threat of punishment and even death. Buoyed by perhaps the most beautifully poetic language of Shakespeare’s entire career, director Shana Cooper will take us into the “green world” of the forest—will the lovers emerge from the forest different, or more truly themselves?

Look out, too, for my free, off-season session, Reprises and Rehearsals, a look at how the plays of the 2013 and 2014 seasons connect to different works and themes in their authors’ lives. Date TBD. In the meantime, post any question or observation you like right now (and into the early spring) and I will post an answer as quickly as possible—often within 24 hours.

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.

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