Meet our Earl of Kent: Aldo Billingslea

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

Aldo Billingslea as the Earl of Kent in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Aldo Billingslea as the Earl of Kent in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

“Aldo Billingslea brings down the house with a tour de force delivery of old Kent’s cavalcade of insults,” wrote Robert Hurwitt in his San Francisco Chronicle review of King Lear. Before Billingslea brought down the Bruns as the Earl of Kent, Lear’s closest advisor who epically hands Goneril’s servant his behind, he entertained Cal Shakes’ audiences in a wide-range of roles including, Sweet Back and Joe in 2012’s Spunk, and Polixenes and the Bear in The Winter’s Tale and Lord Windermere in Lady Windermere’s Fan during our 2013 season. Offstage he is a Professor of Theatre Arts at Santa Clara University where he teaches acting, directs plays, and is Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion. Plus it appears he knows a thing or two about raising chickens…

Where are you from?

Born in San Bernadino; lived in Istanbul, Michigan, and got to Fort Worth, Texas by second grade.

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Best: Loyalty

Worst: Lack of impulse control!

Favorite line in King Lear:

Calling someone an S.O.B.!

First experience at a play, or musical:

Third grade watching Hansel and Gretel as opera

First acting gig:

Pierre and the Lion in Carole King’s Really Rosie

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man

Favorite Shakespeare play:

Othello

Do you have pets? If so, what are they?

Beckwourth the 16 ½-year-old Lab/Chow mix; Ramon the turtle; Benjamin the cat; Rose, Daisy, Tulip, Buttercup, and Chrysanthemum the chickens.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

The New Jim Crow [Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander]

What is your pre-show ritual?

Driving

What is your line memorization technique?

I read the other actor’s part. A lot.

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Mark Rucker’s The Taming of the Shrew at South Coast Rep with Marco Barricelli.  Perfect, witty, sexy, Rat Pack, and everything rooted in the text.  I saw it three times and PAID TWICE!

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.

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Making Oscar Proud

Dramaturgy Intern Clio McConnell blogs from inside the Lady Windermere’s Fan rehearsal room.

Before actually landing one’s dream job in the real world, the average college student looks upon that prospect as a sort of utopian ideal: Naturally, one’s dream job involves spending all day doing something one enjoys and is good at. If one is lucky, of course, this utopia will eventually become reality.

By that standard, hanging out at Cal Shakes this summer has been a really lucky break for me. The more time I spend in the rehearsal room for Lady Windermere’s Fan, the harder it is to imagine a better workplace. From the first read-through it has been clear that this early Oscar Wilde play is seriously complex, with a lot of complicated relationships and moral quandaries. But I assumed that director Christopher Liam Moore would have a vision to dive into straightaway—to my untrained mind, that is what a director does. Of course, Chris had a thoroughly better idea about how to approach directing.

Stacy Ross (Mrs. Erlynne), Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Stacy Ross (Mrs. Erlynne), Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

On the first day of rehearsal he spoke to a huge group of actors, designers, production crew, Cal Shakes staff, and donors, essentially saying to us: “I could tell you what I think this play is about. But instead, I’m going to wait for these actors to teach me what it’s about.” And from then on, the process of Lady Windermere’s Fan has been a great big learning experience—for everyone, I think (directors, actors, stage managers, dramaturg), but especially for me.

Indeed, we have all learned (or been reminded of) a fair amount about Oscar Wilde and his London. We know about the peerage system—a Duke is higher than a Lord, for anyone who was wondering—and about how to properly convey one’s feelings with a certain wave of a fan. We know about 1870s fashion and train schedules and Victorian gentlemen’s clubs. Hopefully all of these fascinating minutiae will afford lessons that the audience can learn from their seats. But I have learned one thing above all that will not (and should not!) manifest in the final production: that this show has had a head-spinning trajectory of evolution.

After the first day of work, I remember chatting with one of the actors and telling her how great her scene had looked (because it really had been lovely). She grimaced, saying, “No, no—let’s just forget about today.” This has been the overwhelming attitude of everyone involved: We can always know more and we can always change things.

So, my utopian ideal of working in the theater is largely based on a dream to work with intelligent people. As far as that wish goes, I think I have fallen in with the right crowd, because the Lady Windermere’s Fan rehearsal room is pervaded by an air of intelligent wit—an air, I think, which Mr. Wilde would have much appreciated.

Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, is on stage at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda from August 14 to September 8.

 

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Volunteer Scoops the Scoop!

Volunteer Zoe Halsne attended the Inside Scoop for Lady Windermere’s Fan and submitted this review about the event.

Inside Scoop panelists (from L-R): Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly, actor Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone; photo by Jay Yamada. (Not shown: set designer Annie Smart)

Inside Scoop panelists (from L-R): Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly, actor Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone; photo by Jay Yamada. (Not shown: set designer Annie Smart)

On Monday, July 29, I attended my first-ever Cal Shakes Inside Scoop—for Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan—at the Orinda Public Library. In addition to this event, I confess I did not know much about the play itself. However, I quickly became enthused about it after chatting to longtime California Shakespeare Theater-goer, Joan. She told me that, despite the unusually long line for the ice cream, she was looking forward to Lady Windermere’s Fan, especially as a feminist.

Indeed, after the Q&A, it was clear the mere 24 hours of Lady Windermere’s life covered in the play portrays a significant change in a young woman, while simultaneously providing comedic elements. It produces a sense of independence and disillusionment and, despite my disappointing lack of Oscar Wilde exposure in high school, I could relate the description of the themes of the play to other stories like Zora Neale Hurston’s bildungsroman novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Or, as was mentioned during the Q&A, there are even similarities between the struggles of Hamlet and those of Lady Windermere.

Lady Windermere's FanIt was also interesting just to hear how this particular production was put together. Emily Kitchens, who plays Lady Windermere, actually auditioned for the role over video while she was with her mother in Georgia. She went on to describe her personal process for dissecting the script including determining the distinctions between producing a sense of realism versus a sense of melodrama. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone also mentioned the additional difficulties with speaking with 19th-century British mannerisms.

One audience member asked why the production wasn’t adapted to another time period, like the theater often does with Shakespeare plays. Moscone said it would be possible to set the play in decades like the 1950s (and he had even seen a 1930s version once) but for several reasons they decided not to—one of which is the love for the costumes. “You can flirt like nobody’s business,” Set Designer Annie Smart said, pointing out the enormous poof the skirt had on the costume’s backside.

Lady Agatha's act 2 costume

Costume designer Meg Neville's sketch for the Act 2 costume of Lady Agatha, played by Rami Margron.

Though the production is definitely not set in the 21st or even the 20th century, Smart admitted that the costumes are not entirely designed based on when the play originally takes place, for good reason. The true attire of the play’s age would require a tiny waist of about 17 inches, and actors have an understandable need for access to their diaphragm.

Besides a mannequin sporting one of the female costumes from the production, there was also a model of the stage’s set design on display in the front of the auditorium. Smart described how even something as simple as a living room was difficult to replicate for this specific stage, especially when there was a need for several niches within the set, in order for the characters to be able to share secrets without other onstage characters “hearing” those secrets.

I felt informed and excited after hearing the background of Lady Windermere’s Fan directly from the some of the creative team and cast as well as other theater enthusiasts. It sounds like a fantastic production of a universal story (though with rather fixed societal standards), and I can’t wait to see it! Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, is on stage from August 14 to September 8. The next Inside Scoop is for A Winter’s Tale on September 9.

Thanks, Zoe! 

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Ask Philippa: LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN Edition

Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere) and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere) and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. Lady Windermere’s Fan runs August 14–September 8, 2013.

Lady Windermere’s Fan has an intriguing subtitle: A Play About a Good Woman. Written in 1892, this was one of Wilde’s earlier plays, a “drama” with farcical undertones, as distinct from the more broadly farcical The Importance of Being Ernest that would emerge a few years later. The entirety of Lady Windermere’s Fan takes place over a single day, which happens to be the protagonist’s 21st birthday. “I’m of age today,” she tells Lord Darlington, and we see her, over this 24-hour period, go through what Jonathan Moscone described at our Inside Scoop as “24 YEARS of experience.” Among other things, she comes to question what a “good woman” actually is in this fascinating drama that combines mystery, comedy, and a measure of malignity.

Are you going to see our production of Lady Windermere’s Fan?  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.

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Fanning the Flames of Victorian Desire

The language of the fanIn Victorian society—including that of Oscar Wilde and the dramatis personæ of Lady Windermere’s Fan— it was said that fans were used to communicate silently across a room. Some claim it was merely a myth made up by advertisers to sell fans, like what De Beers did with engagement rings and, less romantically, what Campbell’s did with green-bean casserole. Regardless, it’s a lovely idea, not unlike the language of flowers, a more ancient form of wordless-yet-poetical communication that also saw a rise in popularity during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Here are just a few unspoken sentiments one could convey with this useful accessory. When you take in our production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, see if you can find any hidden meanings in the actors’ fan choreography!

  • The fan placed near the heart: “You have won my love.”
  • Resting the fan on her lips: “I don’t trust you”
  • A closed fan touched to the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
  • Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: “Yes.”
  • Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: “No.”
  • The lady fans herself with her left hand: “Don’t flirt with that woman.”
  • Covering the left ear with an open fan: “Do not betray our secret.”
  • Fan opened wide: “Wait for me.”
  • Running her fingers through the fan’s ribs: “I want to talk to you.”

Read more about the Victorians’ secret language of fans—regardless of its actual, factual existence—at the following websites:

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Get Wilde & Win

Oscar WildeI am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.

Ah, Oscar Wilde. Was he the cleverest man in all Christendom? You be the judge:

I can resist everything but temptation.

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.

The thing is, we’re pretty sure our Cal Shakes community has some masters of the aphorism in its ranks. Fancy yours a Wildean wit? We hereby challenge you to come up with your own Wilde-style witticism, for fun—and prizes.

HOW DO YOU  ENTER? Comment here; tweet to @calshakes with the hash tag #Wildean; write on our wall at facebook.com/calshakes; or email marketing@calshakes.org.

HOW DO YOU WIN? Be clever! Extra points will be awarded to those entrants who:

  • Attribute their line to a particular character
  • Make the topic Cal Shakes
  • Make the topic one of the plays in our 2013 season

WHAT CAN YOU WIN? The ones we like will be published in our program for Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. The one we LOVE will earn its creator a pair of tickets to the show!

So slip into something fur or velvet, sharpen your walking stick, gaze longingly into the camera…and get that wit cracking! Contest ends July 17.

Lady Windermere’s Fan begins previews at Cal Shakes on August 14, and opens on August 17. Get your tickets today.

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Ask Philippa: Off-Season Edition

Philippa Kelly at Blithe Spirit Scoop 2012 by Jay Yamada

Philippa Kelly at the Inside Scoop for BLITHE SPIRIT, July 2012; photo by Jay Yamada.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about our 2013 season, which begins May 29. Subscriptions and FlexPasses on sale now.

Just because the Main Stage season closes, it doesn’t mean we at Cal Shakes are suddenly turned to marble, like Hermione in the fourth play of our 2013 season, A Winter’s Tale. Ask any questions you like and you’ll get an answer promptly. Are you reading the 2013 plays between seasons? Curious as to what we’re planning? Or do you have questions about Shakespeare—what is known about his life and writing process? Ask in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond.

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