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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Ask Philippa: AMERICAN NIGHT Edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. American Night runs through June 23, 2013.

Since the Founding Fathers, immigrants to America have been assessed on the basis of their worthiness to be Americans. In American Night, directed by Cal Shakes’ own Jonathan Moscone, it’s America itself that is held up to scrutiny, with all the hilarity and astringent social commentary that is playwright Richard Montoya’s signature style. His work has been described as “living cloth” pulled “from the threads of social fracture and cultural schism that is the world we live in.” In a 100-minute extravaganza, American Night takes us on a breakneck road-trip through American history, in which we see the “mainstream” challenged and reinvented through the jokes, the colloquialisms, the preoccupations, the parodies, of Montoya’s Chicano culture.

Are you going to see our production of American Night? 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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Season Artist Profile: Christopher Liam Moore

CLM in Ghost Light

Christopher Liam Moore and Bill Geisslinger in GHOST LIGHT at Oregon Shakespeare Festival; photo by Jenny Graham.

In the months leading up to the start of our 2013 Main Stage season, I am once again profiling the creative minds behind our productions. The March installment of the Season Artist Profile features Christopher Liam Moore, a frequent guest artist at Oregon Shakespeare Festival who may be familiar to you as the actor who played Jon in Ghost Light at OSF in 2011 and Berkeley Rep in 2012. The noted director makes his Cal Shakes debut this summer when he helms Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde.

What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Chris. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

Stefanie Kalem: What are you working on right now? What projects have you done most recently, or do you have coming up?

Christopher Liam Moore: I am directing two shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this season. I am currently in rehearsals for A Streetcar Named Desire, which opens on mid-April. I start rehearsals next week for A Midsummer Night’s Dream which opens in mid-June. This winter, I directed Red Herring by Michael Hollinger at Artists Repin Portland.

Red Herring at Artists Rep

The cast of Moore's 2013 production of RED HERRING at Artists Rep; photo by Owen Carey.

SK: Is this your first time directing Wilde?

CLM: This will be my first time directing Mr. Wilde. I am thrilled and terrified.

SK: What do you like about directing for an outdoor stage?

CLM: I love the scale of it. I love that the stars are the roof. I love the intimacy and claustrophobia of a Victorian drawing room juxtaposed against the expansiveness of the hills and trees.

SK: How do you think working on our stage will be different from working with the OSF one?

CLM: In the Elizabethan Theatre at OSF, there is a massive two-story Tudor facade that is the backdrop for every production. It is a decidedly strong visual presence which can be wonderful and also challenging. I am very much looking forward to having the hills of Orinda lend their magic to Mr. Wilde’s world. I am looking forward to learning the space acoustically as well.

SK: Can you share with us any additional early thoughts on this production of Lady Windermere?

CLM: We have a tremendous cast. I know we will dive deep and create an emotionally fearless production which honors Mr. Wilde’s wit and sharp insight. Our early design meetings have been exciting. There will be some unexpected choices.

SK: Was there a piece of theater you saw when you were younger that made you think, “I want to be a part of this”?

Original production of Streetcar

Elia Kazan's original Broadway production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, starring Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Jessica Tandy.

CLM: Yes, I saw Midsummer at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts when I was in high school. I had never seen Shakespeare done with such wide-open imagination.

SK: What inspires you right now? Any particular theater artist, music, film, television, visual art, politics?

CLM: Two people: my husband, Bill Rauch, the artistic director at OSF, for always putting his heart into the work and inspiring me to do the same; and Jon Moscone, for being brave and daring me to be so, too

SK: And lastly, if you could have directed or acted in any production in history, what would it be?

CLM: Right now, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process for the original production of Streetcar.

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Where Are the Mothers in Shakespeare?

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly muses on maternal absences in The Tempest and other Shakespeare plays.

Pericles photo by Kevin Berne

A rare Shakespeare mother and child reunion: L-R, Sarah Nealis (Marina), Delia MacDougall (Thaisa), Ron Campbell (Cleon), and Christopher Kelly (Pericles) in PERICLES (2008); photo by Kevin Berne.

In Renaissance times the mother was the family member principally involved with her children’s education and upbringing. Yet in Renaissance drama older women were rarely represented onstage in what would obviously be one of their more sympathetic roles: that of the loving and nurturing mother. This lack is partly explained by the fact that women were not allowed to perform on the English stage: All of the female roles were played by young boys before their voices broke, so that a younger character part was obviously a better physical and vocal match. The lack of mothers in Shakespeare is notorious:  We have the noticeably absent Mrs. Prospero (of whom Prospero says merely that “thy mother was a piece of virtue”); the apparently nonexistent Queen Alonso; and the devilish witch Sycorax, Caliban’s dead mother.  Consider this lack of mother-nurturers in context with the three sisters in King Lear, Imogen in Cymbeline, Marina in Pericles, Portia and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Ophelia in Hamlet, Desdemona in Othello, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It, characters who are all deprived of mothers. Moreover, almost all of the older women Shakespeare does represent onstage offer negative images of motherhood: Volumnia in Coriolanus; Gertrude in Hamlet; and Lady Macbeth, who says that she would have been a terrible mother if she had had the chance to be one. And as for Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, we can infer that, having herself been married at age 13, she depicts a former girl-bride who learned principally to please her husband.

Why does Shakespeare exploit this idea of the older woman as largely absent figure, or an unsympathetic one if she must be present, except for those few rare mothers who, like Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and Thaisa in Pericles, are effectively buried alive, losing their children either forever or for most of the play? (Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, for example, is forced into a 16-year banishment so that her husband can undergo a process of personal moral regeneration.) We might hypothesize about the playwright’s own life, married, as he was, to a woman eight years older than himself who reached middle age well before he did. We know that William Shakespeare spent most of his married life living in London, while his wife Anne Hathaway lived in Stratford with their children. We also know that Shakespeare’s plays were written in an extremely patriarchal period. But we can also see how useful a mother might be to a girl as, at a very young age, she comes face-to-face with the complexities of love and life.

And this is where there emerges a structural and thematic reason for the absence of mothers in Shakespeare. Aside from helping to solve the difficulty of finding boys who could plausibly play the parts of mature women, this lack allowed Shakespeare to create an important dramatic pretext: By taking away the mother (either, as in Romeo and Juliet, as a figure of real guidance or, as in many of his plays, like The Tempest, as a presence onstage at all), Shakespeare creates a gap in the young female characters’ lives, compelling them to develop that extraordinary independence and character that makes them so attractive. It is the completely sheltered and yet wise Miranda, after all, who first sees inherent nobility in the King’s son, of whom she knows nothing at all except that “nothing natural/I ever saw so noble.” Prospero might shape events in the world through his magic: But it is this young girl, Miranda, who shapes her own destiny through her heart.

The Tempest begins previews at our stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA, on Thursday, May 31, opens Saturday, June  2, and continues until Sunday, June 24.

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Ask Philippa: THE TEMPEST Edition

Philippa Kelly by Robert Friedman

Philippa Kelly by Robert Friedman

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes and production dramaturg for The Tempest, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. The Tempest runs May 30–June 24, 2012.

The Tempest is a “Romance” play, best introduced in relationship to King Lear, written six years before it in 1605.  Lear is a tragedy that leaves its audiences in a diminished Britain amidst the wasteland of loss, with only Lear’s brief reunion with his beloved Cordelia to comfort us, and even that reunion made bittersweet because both are dead by the time the curtain falls. The Tempest affords a more elegant wrap-up: Its fairytale structure—the power of Prospero’s magic; the mysterious setting somewhere in the Mediterranean; and the satisfaction of final redemption and of a wedding to close things—allows Shakespeare to tie up the play’s loose ends and to make what many have seen as his farewell to London and the stage. As Jonathan Moscone said at the Inside Scoop, the play is full of beautiful tropes—love, romance, loss, relinquishment—and we’re asked to open our hearts unguardedly to all of them via the production’s spectacle, movement, and beautiful poetry.

Are you going to see our  production of  The Tempest? 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.

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The Triangle Lab: What’s in a Name?

A report on the naming of our partnership with Intersection, courtesy of Partnership Project Director Rebecca Novick.

Rebecca NovickLast August, I was invited by Jonathan Moscone and Deborah Cullinan (executive director of Intersection for the Arts) to help develop the partnership they had formed. After a successful collaboration some years ago on Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, Cal Shakes and Intersection wanted to work together on something larger than creating one new play;  with a generous grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation in-hand, the staff from both organizations had been meeting for some time to determine what this partnership would look like. They had some goals and projects in mind but it was proving harder than they had expected to get started: The two organizations worked in very different ways, both staffs were tremendously busy with their regular work, and little things like different calendar systems and big things like different approaches to season planning were all adding up to insurmountable.

With so much conviction from the leaders of both organizations, and so much talent on the two staffs, I knew it wouldn’t take much to unlock the potential of this partnership, but one thing was puzzling me: I didn’t know what to call the project. What started out as a minor administrative question—what should I write on my file folder? What should I name the folder in my computer?—quickly emerged as a key issue we needed to address. As Shakespeare can tell you, the names of things matter very much, and if you can’t name something, you may not know yet what it is.

Many meetings later, while deep in discussion of the kind of community relationships we wanted to create, I found myself drawing a triangle, showing the connections between a theater, artists, and community members. “That’s it!,”  Jonathan exclaimed. “That’s the name!”  Thus was born the Triangle Lab. A lab (because we’re experimenting) and a triangle because we are examining the triangular relationship between artists, institutions, and communities. We want to find ways to strengthen each side of the triangle and to make sure we are putting equal value on each of the corners. This name proposes that we always consider the community that a play might engage as much as we consider what artists we’re working with, and that we carefully work to connect artists to communities at every stage of the process.

The goal of the Triangle Lab—now a program run jointly by Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts—is to learn how to “make new plays together,” that is to say, how to make new plays with theater institutions, artists, and community members working in close collaboration, as equal partners. We’re aiming to expand who participates in theater-making and how they participate.

Our first experiments will invite people, in many different ways, to tell the stories of their places (their homes, the places they come from, the journeys that have brought them to the place they now call home). These experiments will surround and enrich two productions of work by artists who deeply explore place. Spunk (the second show in Cal Shakes’ 2012 season) showcases Zora Neale Hurston’s intricate stories of African-American life during the Harlem Renaissance while Allelulia (to be produced at Intersection in 2013 with Jonathan Moscone directing), by distinguished playwright Luis Alfaro, traces a journey up Highway 99 from Disneyland to San Francisco. Though these plays are stories by renowned artists, in the Triangle Lab we believe that everyone is a storyteller—we want to invite as many people as we can to tell stories about their places. Stay tuned for more information on how you can participate in this exploration.

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The Illustrated SHREW

As anyone who does any kind of educational work can tell you, kids can be awfully cute. And the emails, letters, and surveys we get here at Cal Shakes from conservatory campers, residency students, and Student Discovery Matinee attendees range from the sweet to the surprising, the inspiring to the painfully adorable.

The illustration to the right, from an Oakland middle schooler, falls firmly into all four categories. Click on the thumbnail to see the detail with which the student depicts Shana Cooper’s 2011 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Anyone who saw that show—as this student did as part of a Student Matinee audience—will instantly recognize the scenes and the actors! My personal favorite is the caption “MEAN MEETS CRAZY!” (And she obviously knows what she’s talking about when she squeezes in “Cal Shakes iss [sic] the place for go [sic] theatre!”)

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Ask Philippa: Off-season Edition!

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts and answers your questions on our upcoming 2012 season programming and about productions past.

Philippa Kelly by Jay Yamada

Photo by Jay Yamada.

Throughout his 20-year writing career, Shakespeare was fascinated with metaphors of rehearsing and scripting: the very things we do in life to re-make the past and to predict and forestall the future. No matter how we might wish it, there is no rehearsal that can prepare us for, or insulate us against, the vagaries of life itself; and there are limitless possibilities for misspeaking our intentions and mishearing what we ought to understand. This is the stuff of comedy as well as tragedy, history as well as romance.

What was Shakespeare doing in the “lost years”, the period immediately prior to 1592? What were his preoccupations when the 35-year-old author wrote Hamlet, at the end of the 16th century? Why was The Tempest one of his very last plays, even though up to that time he was in still in the full vigor of his life and production schedule? Thoughts, questions, opinions about Shakespeare or about any of his plays (they need not just concern Hamlet and The Tempest), are welcome in the “comments” section below. Also welcome are questions about George C. Wolfe and Zora Neale Hurston, whose Spunk we’ll be doing next season, as well as Noël Coward, whose Blithe Spirit is third in the Main Stage line-up.

 


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Notes from the SHREW Meet & Greet

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? —Dr. Seuss

The Taming of the Shrew

Yesterday was the first rehearsal day for The Taming of the Shrew, the final production of our 2011 season. And though the last show of the season is always steeped in bittersweet, this one has a sense of triumphant closure to put the anticipation level right over the top. As Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone explained at the start of the traditional first-day meet-and-greet presentation, our 2000 production of Shrew (directed by Lillian Groag) was not just the start of Moscone’s very first season here—it was also the first show that his new Associate Artistic Director, Shana Cooper worked on.

Fast-forward to 2011, and a new Shrew is being created in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall, directed by none other than Cooper. It took some work to get her out here, said Moscone, but he kept a promise to Cooper that started the negotiations rolling: As he’d sworn to do when she left Cal Shakes in 2004, he want to see her MFA senior show at Yale, Ghost Sonata.

Love's Labour's Lost at OSF

Cooper's recent production of LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST at OSF; photo by T. Charles Erickson

“I wouldn’t be where I am today or be able to imagine worlds the way I do if it wasn’t for my time here,” said Cooper, fresh from a production of Love’s Labor’s Lost at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She went on to explain how she started 2011 with Romeo and Juliet at Yale Rep, and how she also considers Shrew to be a great love story as well—albeit from a far more adult perspective. In her Shrew, the extremities of violence in R & J‘s culture are replaced by extremes of seductive commercialism. Kate and Petruchio are untamed spirits, creatures of authenticity who stand out in sharp relief to the culture of Padua. And in this play, they begin an adult relationship, which is, by its very nature, a challenging journey.

SHREW set model by Scott Dougan; photo by Dave Nowakowski.

SHREW set model by Scott Dougan; photo by Dave Nowakowski.

Her challenge—and that of her cast and creative team—is to re-hear this play, so that they can give that fresh hearing to the audience. Cooper, herself, heard something in our current production of Candida, which she saw this past weekend, that director Moscone had not heard. In the final scene, Cooper heard Kate in the title character, particularly in this passage:

“Ask James’ mother and his three sisters what it cost to save James the trouble of doing anything but be strong and clever and happy. Ask ME what it costs to be James’s mother and three sisters and wife and mother to his children all in one. Ask Prossy and Maria how troublesome the house is even when we have no visitors to help us to slice the onions. Ask the tradesmen who want to worry James and spoil his beautiful sermons who it is that puts them off. When there is money to give, he gives it: when there is money to refuse, I refuse it. I build a castle of comfort and indulgence and love for him, and stand sentinel always to keep little vulgar cares out. I make him master here, though he does not know it, and could not tell you a moment ago how it came to be so.”

Bianca costume sketch by Katherine O'Neill

Bianca's costumes; sketch by costume designer Katherine O'Neill.

Cooper has no doubt that Shrew is a love story, one with a cost. Both Kate and Petruchio are changed by the end, but only Kate is asked to make her compromises public. Recalling a conversation she had with the freshly-married Erica Sullivan, who plays Katherine in our production, Cooper said, “This play is a testament to the great challenges and joys of marriage. At the end of the day, all we can do is turn to our partners and ask, ‘Is the cost worth it?,'” as the couples of Shrew all do at play’s end.

The world of the play, explained Cooper and set designer Scott Dougan, is one in which appearances are crucial. The whole thing is inspired by pop art, from Warhol and Lichtenstein to Jeff Koons and Banksy and beyond—beautiful colors and bright, graphic pieces that are seductive but ultimately prove themselves to be shallow, empty. “Part of what pop art is about,” said Dougan, “is that it’s not real. Everything is repeatable and sellable.” That is the world of Padua—Baptista’s Hollywood Hills-type home is decorated in the midcentury modern style and intersects with a garish billboard; Bianca (Alexandra Henrikson, currently buttoned-down to the nth degree as Prossy in Candida) is auctioned off using giant cardboard cutouts of herself, and rides something akin to a famous Koons creation into one of her lessons.

And this kind of world, said Cooper, “is what makes what happens between Kate and Petruchio even more miraculous.”

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CANDIDA Grove Talk Podcast

Philippa KellyPriceless dramaturgical insight into Jonathan Moscone’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. The music at the beginning of the recording is from “Racer” by Paul Dresher; the music at the end is from “Hallelujah Junction” by John Adams. Podcast produced by Will McCandless.

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