2009 Season Artist Profile: A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Aaron Posner

In the months leading up to our 2009 Main Stage season, we’ve been profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—Romeo and Juliet, Private Lives, Happy Days, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in our e-newsletters. For the March installment, we profiled director Aaron Posner, director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who you may remember from this blog entry a few months back. Posner is the Artistic Director at Two River Theatre Company in New Jersey, coproducer of Midsummer. What follows is the complete Q&A for that article. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

You’re currently in tech for Melissa Arctic at Two River; what are a few of your most recent projects before that, and one or two coming up?
My adaptation of My Name Is Asher Lev from the novel by Chaim Potok just closed at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia (of which Posner was a cofounder -ed.). I am very proud of it and am pleased it is going on to other productions around the country, including one in this area in the fall at the Marin Theatre Company. Actually, folks in this area will be able to see both my adaptations of Chaim Potok novels, because Theatreworks in Palo Alto is doing The Chosen next year as well. I have never worked in the Bay Area before, but next year I will be represented three times, which is great. I am looking forward to seeing all of them, and spending some time out here…

In the meantime, I am starting rehearsals in a few weeks for Arcadia by Tom Stopppard at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in DC, and next season I will also be working on a fabulous new adaptation of Euripides’ Orestes by Anne Washburn at the Folger and Two River, and also a new Cole Porter musical revue I am putting together. And more things on other burners as well. So lots of exciting stuff…

What has changed in your thinking and planning for the Cal Shakes’ production of Midsummer since you spoke to the staff here in January?
The core ideas are the same, though they continue to evolve and percolate. The show is very much with me now, in my consciousness all the time, so I see somebody wearing something in a coffee shop and I think “Oh, that could be very Puck” or I see a piece of art in a gallery and it gives me idea for the set. Both of those things have happened recently, by the way. I am just beginning the design process, so that work is really still to come. We shall see where it leads. The other major thing that is happening is that we are getting the show cast, as with each new cast member, I have new ideas. My whole idea of the mechanicals has totally evolved based on the folks I met here at Cal Shakes for the auditions. I was excited and inspired by some of your long time Associate Artists, and I think I am finding fun and playful ways to use them.

What are you looking forward to regarding working in the Bay Area in general, or with Cal Shakes or at the Bruns in particular? This will be the third time I have worked outside, so I am looking forward to that. Though I hear there are foxes and wolves and wild beasts in the area, so I am not so sure about that. I am from the west coast originally, from Eugene, Oregon, so it is always great to be back on the west coast. A lot of folks I grew up with and went to school with and did plays with in school and at the Oregon Repertory Theatre when I was in high school actually live in the area I am finding out (mostly via Facebook and from folks who have seen your season advertised) so that will be fun, too, to re-connect with some folks. And as I said above, I am very excited by the actors I have been meeting from the area, so I am looking forward to that, too. This cast will be a great combination of long-time collaborators that I am bringing with me and a lot of folks that are new to me, so that is usually a good and dynamic combination.

And finally, if you could have directed any play in history, what (and/or where, and/or with who) would it be?
Wow. This is absolutely a question I have never been asked and never really thought about. There are great actors now I would love to work with, and a million stories to tell. I am not sure I can think back that way. I can tell you I would give anything to have been in the audience of one of Shakespeare’s plays back in the day, when they were being advertised as World Premieres. It would just be so fascinating to know what they were really like and how they were viewed. I would love to really be able to see that.

The great thing is, of course, that if there are plays from the past that I love so deeply I would have wanted to do them back then, I can still do them now. That is one of the great gifts of this profession. The plays don’t get used up. Particularly the really great ones. There is always more to explore, more to delve into, and new things keep happening to you and to the world, so there are always new things to inform any production. So, that pretty much entirely dodges the question, but I think it is the best that I have.

Oh, and I would like to have directed the first production of Man and Superman. And Uncle Vanya. And Arcadia. And Orestes. And The Misanthrope. And…

Don’t miss a minute of our 2009 Main Stage season; click here to subscribe. Single tickets go on sale May 1!

Share

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the capacity for wonder and amazement.

Last Friday, the Cal Shakes staff got to attend a brown-bag lunch with Aaron Posner, who was in town for, among other things, some Midsummer Night’s Dream auditions. Though Posner cut his teeth in the Northeast—cofounding Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company and serving, currently, as Artistic Director of New Jersey’s Two River Theater Company—he grew up in Eugene, OR, which helped him fit in rather quickly with the casual-yet-enthusiastic admin staff here at Cal Shakes. And despite the fact that Midsummer doesn’t open till September, he gave us some valuable insight into where his creative process currently stands.

The first thing Posner told us was that he played Oberon in a fourth-grade production of Midsummer, wearing green tights and the torn-up lining of his mother’s coat. Years later, he was inspired to mount the play at the Arden by a friend who told him she would soon be too old to portray Helena; that production was the inaugural show at the Arden’s larger theater and Posner says that he had “the best time of my life” directing that production.

He’s thinking that the Cal Shakes/Two River coproduction will be fairly simple, scenically speaking, with a set by Erik Flatmo (Uncle Vanya, Richard III, TheatreWorks’ Radio Golf), lighting by Russell H. Champa (Pericles, Man and Superman, Berkeley Rep’s The Pillowman), and—new to Cal Shakes—Serbian costume designer Olivera Gajic, who recently did Midsummer at the Prague Quadrennial.

Posner is adamant that, “more so than any other writer, Shakespeare got that every day and every scene needs to have the capacity for wonder and amazement.” He says that the line “Lord what fools these mortals be” is central to his thinking about the play. “Shakespeare must have been in a pretty good mood when he wrote Midsummer, as he’s looking at all of these very broken people, and just lovin’ them.”

“My intuition is to go straight at it; full of love, amazement, hope, and magic. Not to get too Obama about it, but there’s a sense of optimism around.”

There is darkness in Midsummer, of course, and Posner doesn’t want to shy away from that. He cites a production of the play he saw in 1970s Eugene wherein Puck was played as a devilish satyr: “Cute pucks have since driven me a little crazy”; Loki in Norse mythology and the coyote in Native American lore are more his kinds of Pucks. “Because the world gets screwed up, you have to have someone who’s responsible for that.”

As Posner likes the idea of mythology lurking around the corners of everyday life, he says that the fairies in our Midsummer might only be implied—tiny, invisible sprites interacting with the actors. He also likes the idea of Titania and Oberon’s relationship straddling the line between royalty and “regular” marriage. “When the leadership is at odds, everyone beneath it suffers.”

Since the fairies may only be implied, the music and sound are the biggest question, still. Since Posner is firm that (referring to the fairies’ song) “no one should really be allowed to speak the word ‘philomel,’” he is playing with the idea of a mystical version of Sirius satellite radio. If Titania and/or Oberon could call up whatever music they wanted, whenever, they could just as easily conjure “Dvorak, Aimee Mann, Sinatra, or ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’” from the air as they could a bunch of trilling sprites; they could also turn it down or off, or change it as they desire, just as a human couple might do in the heat of argument.

 

Posner is currently working on an adaptation of Cyrado de Bergerac, a work that he says, like Midsummer, “leaves you wanting to live your life more fully.” Ultimately, the director says, he’d like the audience to walk out of the Bruns suffused with “optimistic delight.”

Click here to read more about our 2009 season, and to subscribe.

 

 

 

Share

Coming soon … An Ideal Husband podcast

Hidey-ho… Stefanie here. Last Wednesday we had the Meet & Greet for Jonathan Moscone’s production of An Ideal Husband. For those of you who don’t know, the Meet & Greet happens on the first day of a show’s rehearsals. The whole staff (plus a smattering of board members, donors, and other folks who rate) get together with the new show’s cast and crew to hear and see presentations by the director, set designer, costume designer, and any other designers present. Then they kick all of us out and jump into their first read-through.

For An Ideal Husband, Moscone is reuniting with his award-winning Man and Superman set designer, Annie Smart, and working with Meg Neville, who captured the beautiful desperation of the pre-Depression era with her King Lear costumes last season. Jon’s speech was a stunner, a fascinating examination of how the personal and political intersect in the lives of the powerful; watch this space for a podcast of it. During Meg’s costume presentation, we learned that Gertrude Chiltern (Julie Eccles) will be a “Grace Kelly type” with sleek blond hair and the “Victorian version of a Chanel suit,” and that the chic villainess Mrs. Cheveley will be fresh from Vienna in the latest, most avant-garde couture, which, in this case means no corset (how scandalous!) and fabrics inspired by the art of Gustav Klimt.

Share

A little corn before your turkey, breaders?

First off, “breaders” is a term coined (we hope) by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Nancy Carlin when she was writing a production blog for the 2007 season production of Man and Superman; it’s shorthand for “blog readers.” And of course, it’s appropriate for today, the day before most of the nation stuffs themselves with starches of many stripes.

Stuffing’s my favorite.
But before I talk more about the succulent, slovenlicious joy of carbohydrates (and before I explain this entry’s opening photo) I’d like to ladle out some corn; I want to give thanks to the great actors who were onstage during my first season at Cal Shakes by showing you some stuff they’re doing right now.
Here’s Lorri Holt (Queen Elizabeth in our Richard III) and T. Edward “T. Headdy” Webster (Hastings in Richard III and Hector Malone in Man and Superman) in The Magic Theatre’s current production of The Crowd You’re in With. That photo to the left is from the SF Chronicle, whose Robert Hurwitt gave an enthusiastic review to the show earlier this week, calling Holt “invaluable” and opinig that Webster “slowly, cannily emerges as the emotional and intellectual focus of the fissures gaping ever wider beneath these characters.”
And to the left you’ll see, front and center and wielding a shield (and some serious gams), our very own Associate Artist Andy Murray in Berkeley Rep’s current prodocution of Argonautika. Andy’s a pretty old-fashioned guy, in his own way–when I was gathering updated cast and crew bios for the Man and Superman program some months ago, Andy never responded to my emails, instead calling my phone and leaving a delightfully succinct, two-sentence bio on my voicemail. So he’s especially suited for what a member of the Bullpen crew called his “star turn” in the Argonautika. I’m not sure yet what that means, but I’m going to see the play the first week of December, so I’ll let you know. I’m pretty psyched, though. The Contra Costa Times said that the “experience of seeing the show really is like going on an adventure into some uncharted theatrical territory, and returning with memories to treasure for a long time.”
Meanwhile, over at A.C.T., The Rainmaker–which, according to the San Francisco Examiner, “rocks”–is not only directed by Mark Rucker (who helmed Romeo and Juliet for us in 2001, Richard III in 2007, and will close out Cal Shakes’ 2008 season with Twelfth Night) but it features Cal Shakes Associate Artists Anthony Fusco (The Fool in King Lear) and Stephen Barker Turner (second from left in the picture to the left, and most recently seen at the Bruns in As You Like It and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby) plus, as understudies, Jud Williford (who portrayed Agis in 2007’s The Triumph of Love) and Marcia Pizzo (Berinthia in 2006’s smash hit Restoration Comedy).
OK, so we’ve got Cal Shakes actors delving into modern, character-driven new works, and other ones doing fantastic flights of fancy costumery or classic American romance … what’s left? How about a new take on a sentimental favorite? One starring a Cal Shakes MVP? (I’ll let you in on a little secret–the entire Bullpen squealed about this one earlier today, in unison. You can tell it’s finally the holidays.)
I present to you… Dan Hiatt in This Wonderful Life.
Yep, 2007 season MVP Dan Hiatt–who portrayed Buckingham in Richard III, Straker in Man and Superman, and Hermocrates in The Triumph of Love–will be starring in the one-man adaptation of It’s a Wonderful life at San Jose Rep, opening this very Saturday. Take note, mother of our resident dramaturg Laura Hope (who was famously outed as having a crush on Dan in her daughter’s Man and Superman blog): The Man with the Best Hair at Cal Shakes will be playing George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence, and even, one would assume, even Mary and little Zuzu.
This, of course, prompted Paul and I to do a resounding rendition of the old Dudley Do-Right “I can’t pay the rent! You MUST pay the rent!” skit. I have a feeling Dan will embody the multiple characters far better.
Another holiday classic opens Dec. 5 at A.C.T., this time relatively straight-up (although there is some mention of “gang this” and “gang that” in the cast): A Christmas Carol as directed by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Domenique Lozano, last seen on our stage as Leontine in The Triumph of Love. The cast is studded with Cal Shakes lights, most notably fellow Associate Artist (and devoted, prolific blogger) James Carpenter as the old crankypants himself, Ebeneezer Scrooge.
I’m sure I could find more–Cal Shakes actors are as tireless as they are peerless. Thank you to all of you, for snoozing in the Green Room, reading my old magazines, making me laugh and gasp and think all summer long.
Oh, and about those carbs–thanks to our neighbors at Metropolis Baking, too, who gifted us with bags and bags and BAGS of bread earlier this afternoon. I snagged some sourdough for sandwiches and durum brushed with olive oil and sea salt for tomorrow’s feast. It wasn’t easy, as you can see that the competition (Jessica, Beth, and Liz in the picture at the top of this post) was tough.
Thanks everyone!! Have a great holiday.
Share

Based on a Totally True Theatrical Experience

Back in 2006, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa helmed Cal Shakes’ second NewWorks /New Communities project, King of Shadows (originally known as Sweet Thunder), creating and developing a new take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the help of MFA students at American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco. This was before my time here at Cal Shakes, but this summer, I had the pleasure of going to see a workshop performance of Aquirre-Sarcasa’s Good Boys and True at the Marin Theatre Company. The tense, funny tale of how a private school’s legacy of secrets unravel–revealing the uneven seams of class and sexuality–really lept to life in the hands of the five actors (including Man and Superman‘s Hector Malone, Sr., Steve Irish, and Restoration Comedy‘s Berinthia, Marcia Pizzo), even though they remained seated on stools in a straight line at all times.

We went for drinks afterward, the actors and crew, Joy Meads, me, and some other assorted folks. And Aguirre-Sacasa struck me as a sweet and down-to-earth guy with a pretty deadly wit. It wasn’t till after we’d left the 2AM Club in Mill Valley that Joy told me the playwright also writes comics–like, big ones. X-Men. This may not impress you, but it does me. Superhero comics ain’t my bag, but underground comics are, as is certain strains of sci-fi. I’ve even been trying, off and on this year, to write a script for a comic book series of my own. So I was ticked off that I didn’t get to pick the brain of a pro, especially since, at the time, that brain had been addled slightly by alcohol!

Lucky for me, Aguirre-Sacasa’s got a show running now at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theater. And that play, Based on a Totally True Story, features a comic book writer who (and maybe I’m being too literal here) could definitely be based on a totally true playwright.

At least I can pick the actor’s brain, right?

Share

Busy days aHEAD! Who knew?

It’s Tuesday afternoon, the first Tuesday after my first Cal Shakes season has ended. The rainy grey days have started, the executive types are planning their big vacations, and … I’m busy as all get-out. Part of it has to do with the fact that I went on a little vacation of my own late last week, spending a few days in central and north Florida with friends and family types. So now I’m playing catch-up.

Or should I say, I’m struggling to get ahead.
Ahem. This is what greeted me when I opened my drawer to put my purse away Monday morning, after my vacation. If you saw the first play of the season at our theater this year, that head may look familiar. It’s the head that Reg Rogers and his right-hand man tossed around like a ghastly football, and it’s made from the face of the actor who portrayed the playboy Lord Hastings — T. Edward Webster or, as we like to call him around here now, “T. Headdy Webster,” ever since that head made its triumphant return to the Bruns Amphitheater as set dressing for our “Monster Mash” big shindig. (Not Mr. Webster, though — he’d already been back in Man and Superman.)
Yesterday (Monday) I spent catching up on emails and tsk-tsking people for not getting their newsletter copy to me in time (much of it’s in now, but I’m finding this blog a little more fun to work on). This morning, Marketing folks met at the Platoon Captain’s house to eat brunch, do a little post-mortem on the season, and plan some for the months to come.
When I finally rolled in this afternoon at around 1:15, i found the bullpen in a fever. A tizzy, even. Three of the fair and true and pure Development folks — Paul, Beth, and Dana — were frantically putting papers in a fishbowl…
What? That doesn’t seem exciting? Do you realize that the Grand Prize was a pair of first-class, round-trip tickets to anywhere in Europe? Sheesh, even the fourth prize was a year’s supply of coffee.
Did I mention that employees are allowed to enter?
We repaired to the rehearsal hall for the big deal drawing … only the abovementioned Devo folks were allowed to get near the bowl, because, as also mentioned above, they were fair and true and pure, meaning that not a one of them had purchased raffle tickets for either themselves or for someone else. So Paul and Dana and Beth were allowed in the “inner circle” while the rest of us had to sit or stand a few feet away.
Well, Dana and Beth stayed near the bowl, anyway.

Paul provided the ambience.

The bad news is, not a single Cal Shakes employee won. The good news is … a whole passel of our patrons did — and the lady who won the grand prize also won one of our giant puppets last year!! Maybe you should go ahead and sign up for that email newsletter I’m supposed to be writing right now … then you can find out her name, and ask her to pick your lottery numbers.
Share