High School Drama… Naughty or Nice?


In-School Residency student scene

Students reading scenes from Macbeth at our in-school residency at Dougherty Valley High

Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt sits in on her first in-school residency at Dougherty Valley High School’s drama class in San Roman, CA.

 As my second week at Cal Shakes began, I was antsy with anticipation for my first classroom residency visit. Thursday was finally here and, as I gathered my camera and notepad (feeling very official) I tried to imagine the atmosphere of a high school drama class. I automatically thought back to the ever so fond memories of my theater classes and the journey one takes from first warm-up to final performance. Everyone always seems a bit intimidated at first. (Hey, you try to articulate “If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…” ten times fast without any mistakes!) But as soon as I got to meet these wonderful students at Dougherty Valley High in San Ramon, I knew I was right where I should be.

 Talk about being “in the moment”: They embraced what Artistic Director Trish Tillman had to teach them as soon as we walked in. Trish started with a simple exercise and encouraged students who don’t usually step out of their comfort zones to get in there and “not be afraid of the ball.” It got the whole room to loosen up and begin to get out of our shells—the ones we all sometimes find ourselves hiding in. Being open to new experiences and letting it all go in a positive, healthy way is what makes performing special, and is something that, specifically, can benefit young adults. The class asked a lot of great questions and really embraced the exercises, even as they became more complicated. Trish chose a scene from Macbeth, leading the class through an exercise demonstrating how movement and proximity changed the way the actors felt. Someone yelled out “this feels intense!,” clearly showing the differences in dynamic as one actor moved physically closer to another.

 As these realizations and connections happened before my eyes, I stumbled around trying to get good photos of it all (let’s just say my picture taking skills aren’t exactly … professional). Out of all these moments I attempted to capture, the one that really sticks out were two students in the background looking really involved in the text. It just showed me how much Shakespeare can relate to us regardless of age, education, or status in our society. The kids really got a feel for the text and as Trish said making conceptual connections through the text improves students skills.

There were a lot of amazing, genuine surprises that I was fortunate enough to experience today. And isn’t that what theater is all about?

 To support student achievement and teacher professional development, Cal Shakes Classroom Residencies bring teaching artists into the schools with the aim of developing students’ minds, imaginations, and voices.




Volunteering by the Numbers

By Jamie Buschbaum, Volunteer Program Coordinator

A mother-daughter volunteer team hands out programs; photo by Jamie Buschbaum.

Volunteering at Cal Shakes came in many different forms this year. The one most visible up at the Bruns Amphitheater was, of course, ushering. Our ushers come from all over the Bay Area to hand out programs, help patrons to their seats, sell raffle tickets, andbonus!see our plays. In 2011 we had ushers from Berkeley, Orinda, Folsom, Campbell, Washington state, and even from as far away as Nepal. Many of our ushers are mother-daughter teams, representing the National Charity League. Together, our extended family of ushering volunteers helped out with nearly 4,000 hours of service during 100 performances, including the ever-important Student Discovery Matinees.

Some of the young people running around up in our Orinda hills home are also volunteersthey’re our interns. This summer, 30 people participated in our Professional Immersion Program, shortened around the office to PIP. The PIPs arrived, for the most part, in May, and helped out for a big chunk of our season, learning the ropes in our education, marketing, production, artistic, and development departments. You can read up more on the PIP program in these blog entries by the interns themselves. The summer PIPs worked 1,700 shifts, totaling more than 10,000 hours of work!

We have PIPs outside of the theatrical season, too, helping us prepare and put on our annual black-tie fundraiser in March; making the casting process go smoothly (it’s happening right now!); keeping the momentum going on the Triangle Lab, our New Works/New Communities partnership with Intersection for the Arts; assisting in our marketing and development efforts; and more. That adds up to another 500 hours that we couldn’t do without.

We’re so fortunate to have this help in making our different programs happen. More than 600 people so far this year have provided us, the theater-going community and the schoolchildren of the greater Bay Area with an irreplaceable gifttheir precious time and energy. We thank you! And if you’re interested in helping us out in the future, please drop me a line to let me know. or visit our Shiftboard page and see what opportunities are available at your convenience (you’ll have to complete a brief registration process first).


Occupy Theater with The Triangle Lab

The Triangle Lab is collecting and presenting performance responses to recent events at #Occupy Oakland. This is an open call for interested theater artists, musicians, dancers, singers, writers or anyone interested in contributing a story to be performed. Performances will take place in Oakland on Wednesday November 2, and will also be made available online.

Performances will be on the street, brief, unamplified,  and various; based on tweets, videos, and other stories coming out of the Occupy movement.

Share a story you’d like to see performed by actor:
Via Ustream
Via Twitter #OccupyTheater @Triangle_Lab
On our Facebook wall
Upload videos to Vimeo group

Meeting/Rehearsal Tuesday Nov 1, 6-10pm at Intersection for the Arts

Performance Wednesday Nov 2, 4-4:15pm
Meet at 3:30pm at It’s a Grind Coffee Shop and we will walk over to City Hall together. The performance will take place in the amphitheater in front of City Hall.

To participate live:
Please come to our artist meeting/rehearsal at Intersection for the Arts on Tuesday 11/1, 6-10 pm.  RSVP on our Facebook page

Please bring a 1-3 minute piece; feel free to incorporate any of the story resources collected on our Facebook page.  Please email a script or description of the piece to drasmussen@calshakes.org by midnight on Monday.

Actors wishing to perform assigned material are encouraged to come to the rehearsal as well or you can just show up on Wednesday.

The Triangle Lab: Intersection for the Arts + California Shakespeare Theater + Campo Santo
Experiments in making new plays with diverse communities


Oakland Tech Takes Orinda by Storm (almost literally)

Wow! What a night! Last night we hosted our largest New Works/New Communities (NW/NC) event to date. My name is Daunielle Rasmussen and I am, among many other things here at Cal Shakes, the Community Engagement Manager for the NW/NC program. I began fulfilling the responsibilities of this job title last December and have had an amazing year of discovering what our community engagement program is.

In the last week, we have opened the “doors” of our outdoor Bruns Amphitheater to the talented young actors of Oakland Technical High School to prepare for a one-night-only performance of their much celebrated production of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain. Since March, we have become close collaborators; upon hearing that they were selected to take Blood in the Brain (the first work created through NW/NC) to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, we knew we needed to send them off in style.

The company members of OakTechRep first set foot on our grounds last Monday when they came to rehearse in the space. We were immediately blown away by their professionalism and dedication. This is no mere group of teenagers—this is a well-trained team of actors who are giving, fun, and extremely talented. The process of putting on the performance last night went insanely fast. They had one four-hour rehearsal in the theater on Monday, July 19 to reset their blocking to our space. They had to use and work around the set that we currently have on stage for Mrs. Warren’s Profession—a play as different from this one in aesthetic tone as could be.

The second rehearsal was a technical rehearsal wherein we added in sound and light cues. In between the two rehearsals, members of our tech team—composed of interns from Cal Shakes’ Professional Immersion Program—and theirs feverishly worked to solidify what cues and lighting design could be done with what was already hung for Mrs. Warren’s. Sunday night, after Mrs. Warren‘s had ended, we tech’d Blood in the Brain from 7 to 11pm. The kids were released but we kept working on notes and adjusting the lights. Monday (yesterday) the OakTechRep cast showed up at 4pm for a speed-through of the play, took a short break for dinner, and went straight into the show at 7:30pm.

The house was almost full, which felt fantastic! We were so pleased to be able to share this special event with such a large group, many of whom were completely new to our Theater. The only disappointment was the weather. The wind was so bad it was hard to hear the actors from the back of the house, and it was sooooo cold! We were worried that the large standing mirror—one of the few props OakTechRep brought with them—would blow over. I had to run backstage at one point to ask one of the actors to stand behind it during the scene. Overall, though, the show was an amazing success: We raised $1,100 to continue and deepen the residency partnership between Cal Shakes and Oakland Tech.

This group is special, and I feel like I have gained so much just by being in their presence.

Photo of OakTechRep curtain call by Jay Yamada.


Hamlet in Juvy

This past Memorial Day weekend, a special group of teens came together to perform adapted scenes from Shakespeare for their peers. It’s not a traditional summer holiday activity for kids, that’s for sure; but these kids are in Alameda County Juvenile Hall, where neither beach trips, nor barbecues, nor performing Shakespeare is an everyday occurrence.

For several years, Cal Shakes has worked closely with Write to Read, a program of the Alameda County Library; Juvenile Hall’s head librarian Amy Cheney; and Associate Artist Andy Murray to provide Shakespeare workshops in the hall’s classrooms. This May, we expanded to our first evening residency: three hours per week over four weeks in which students took on selected scenes from Hamlet. With the guidance of new teaching artists Sean Levon Nash and Jade Raybin as well as Cal Shakes Artistic Administrator Daunielle Rasmussen, students read scenes from Hamlet and Hamlet: Blood in the Brain by Naomi Iizuka, then improvised the actions of the play to create performance pieces that recast Shakespeare’s characters in modern times.

On the final night of the residency, six students performed for an audience of fifteen peers and three staff members, a first in our three years of Shakespeare at the Hall. Plans are in the works for further residencies at Alameda County Juvenile Hall and, with the help of consultant Kim Nelson, we are pursuing new partnerships with other organizations and facilities serving juvenile offenders.

Pictured above: Jade Raybin, Sean Levon Nash, Daunielle Rasmussen, and Cal Shakes Director of Artistic Learning Trish Tillman in a curriculum meeting for the Hamlet residency; photo by Brianna Regan.

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Intern Eden Meets the Muralists

The following blog was originally published over at our Profesisonal Immersion Program (PIP) blog, Inside the Interns Studio.

My name is Eden Neuendorf; I’m an artistic department intern at Cal Shakes. I attended the Meet the Muralists event on Saturday, June 26, after the 2pm matinee of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven.

It was a very hot day, but quite a few patrons stuck it out to listen to Salinas’ José Ortiz (pictured below right in a photograph by Jay Yamada) and six of young muralists of Hijos del Sol describe the Pastures mural in the plaza, titled Las Pasturas del Cielo. People were very attentive while José spoke about the mural and his process, even applauding after the answer to a question from the audience. Many patrons stayed after the talk had ended just to ask more questions and to personally thank José and the boys. Patrons seemed very grateful of and amazed by the work.

What most interested me was to hear about the strong connection José and his students felt after reading Pastures of Heaven, and about how they felt a mural was the best way to present that connection to the stories. José gave a brief description of each story depicted in the mural, and also gave the illustrators a chance to say what part of the mural they had worked on. José said they all fought over the painting of Tularecito, because as painters they all connected closely with that story. It was also one of their favorite parts of the play. It was so amazing to hear how much these young artists connected to the story.

During the talk I was struck by the depiction of the sunset at the very far right side of the mural (photographed below by Paul Doyle). I’ve seen the mural so many times, but for some reason this was the first time I really saw the sunset. But Saturday afternoon, the picture and José’s description of the artist’s intent really spoke to me. The sunset was painted with different shades of grays, which aren’t the colors you typically think of when you think about a sunset. They were trying to depict the Salinas sunset, ending the mural’s story with lots of grays and just a glimmer of color and hope. This is how they interpreted the end of Pastures of Heaven. It’s beautiful; I’m thankful I was finally able to see it and to fully appreciate it.


Amy blogs the last week of PASTURES.

Nearly three years. That’s how long I have been involved in the collaboration which ends its first life this coming week. I have been immersed in Pastures for these last weeks, doing my work while performing, but also letting it have free reign through all my quiet time, my half-awake time, what I call my dream-time, when so many ideas come to me, things to try during the next performance. My body changed over these weeks. I am stronger now than I was on May 1. I know, because I can get up off that platform during the tantrums so much faster that I have time now to see Julie, to focus my rages at her, to send her scurrying out of my line of sight (whereas before…I was just working on getting the heck up off the floor!) Also, I know, because the pillows I fling seem to go so far sometimes if I am not careful…backstage crew says they are taking bets about whether or not I’ll heave the mattress off the platform after the pillows one night…well, maybe closing? Wouldn’t that be fun?!

My experience at the Bruns has been intimate, and expansive, and has stretched me in ways that feel so good, like oiling a creaky joint. And now comes the last week of sharing these stories with an audience. Here lies the rub. How to gently let it go. I always feel as though doing theater is like filling up the gas tank of my soul. I suppose because of my home circumstances, which only allow me to do theater work every so often, I may never feel that professional detachment I see in other actors, which I imagine they use most when the time comes to let the experience go. I will miss Cal Shakes in a personal way, all you in Admin, and Box Office, and backstage, and the interns, and the artists. Jon and Octavio. I will miss my castmates…all the love and chicanery…and most of all I will miss my characters. They have been my constant companions and now will have to be folded away and put in the memory box with the script, the book, the reviews, and some hairpins from Miss Martin’s wig. Phillipa Kelly asked if I would come back to work again at Cal Shakes; yes, I would. It is a truly special family, and I am grateful to have shared this experience with you all.


Pictured above: Julie Eccles and Amy Kossow as Helen and Hilda van Deventer, respectively, in John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven; photo by Jay Yamada.

Proceeding neck or nothing

Amy Kossow, Word for Word Performing Arts charter member, has been involved with the development of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven since the beginning. Now, as an actor in the forthcoming world-premiere production, she blogs from inside the rehearsal room.

Week One:
Day One was a revelation, in many ways. First and foremost was the huge community presence. I expected a table session with cast and director and was blown away by the participation of the extended family of Cal Shakes: tech staff, box office, admin, teaching staff, creative team members, board members, former board members, avid supporters, actors, writer, dramaturg, music, such awesome support and a wonderful reminder of the community nature of theater. Day One was also a revelation for the first hearing of the script. I have been dreaming about this moment for two years, imagining the book opening and the characters standing up and walking about. Octavio Solis has magically seduced the play from the book, and we can now release the book from the process and live in the Pastures of Heaven.

Week Two:
Rehearsals continue apace. The three-story set set showed up on Day Two and blocking commenced immediately. We are proceeding neck or nothing, have choreographed the best part of Act One and now have tackled Act Two. Today is the story of Junius Maltby. There is a goat. Dan Hiatt, JoAnne Winter, and Charlie Robinson are dipping their feet into the water discussing horse-happiness while a chorus of old biddies (me and Richard [Thieriot] and Andy [Murray] and Catherine [Castellanos]) peck and squawk at them. Costume pieces are beginning to show up, which inform our choices immediately. Jon is miraculouly inventive. There is a moment with sheaves of wheat. Honestly, so gorgeous. And the sheer fun of it all as we add a hat and instantly become a new character: a neighbor, a hen, a child, a baby, a farmer, a teacher, a ghost… all accomplished simply. Agghh! There are donuts! Mad stampede!


2010 Season Artist Profile: Octavio Solis

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 inaugural installment, we are introducing newsletter subscribers to playwright Octavio Solis, a Cal Shakes Associate Artist and occasional contributor to this blog. Since 2007, Octavio has been working with us and Word for Word Performing Arts Company to adapt John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, the first new play to debut at Cal Shakes in 25 years. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Octavio. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

Do you remember your very first piece of creative writing, or perhaps the piece that alerted you to the possibilities of the form?
Yes, a pair of poems I wrote in class when I was in the fifth grade. One was a tribute for my mother. The other was a poem called “Ode to a Prairie Dog” or something like that. I lived in Texas and we had these critters everywhere. I was very moved by a ballad I had read in class that practically sang to me: “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. It really made me want to be a poet. Then I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and I consumed everything he ever wrote. All his fiction, all his poetry, everything. I loved him.

Is there a work (literary, musical, or any other form) that would be your dream adaptation project?
I would love to attempt sometime an adaptation of the life of Eva Hesse. She was a beautiful German-born American artist who was one of the biggest influences on Abstract Expressionism. She led a troubled life, surrounded with tragedy and death, from the Nazis to the brain tumor, which eventually took her life. I think her life is compelling enough to warrant a play or film.

What inspires you right now? Any particular music, current events, people, et cetera?
Music is a chief inspiration. I listen to jazz from every epoch, particularly the bebop era, and the jazz-flavored world music coming from the ECM label: Anouar Brahem and Arve Henrikson and the Tomasz Stanko Quartet. Really dark moody stuff. The music takes me to other worlds.

If you could have written any play in history, what do you wish it could have been?
A Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe Our Town.

Who are your favorite writers (theatrical and nontheatrical, living or deceased)?
That changes from year to year and mood to mood. Right now I like the fiction of Roberto Bolaño and the poetry of Mark Strand. I am enamored of the works of Mary Oliver too. And Thomas Hardy. His poetry is as rich in story and nuance as his novels.

You’ve been so very busy these last few years. Do you have any plans to slow down in the next months or years? Or are you just building up momentum to keep going at a similar pace?
I have slowed down. My body has buckled under me and imposed a period of rest. So I am laying low at the moment. I like it. I have been working at a pace that was killing me, and now I don’t think I want to do that anymore.

Subscribe now to get the best seats at the best prices for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, and the rest of our 2010 season. Photo by Anne Hamersky.


Entering into The Pastures of Heaven

So folks, we just ended a full week of workshopping the first complete draft of Octavio Solis’ adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven. We’re premiering it next year on our Main Stage, and it was quite a week.

Octavio’s play is, simply, beautiful. On the path to making a play, you look for its DNA: what it’s made of. Changes will be made—cuts, rearrangements of scenes, additions, etc.—but what needs to be there at one point is the play’s DNA. Its self. Octavio’s Pastures has real DNA. It has a genuine theatrical life, blending Word for Word’s sensibility of translating literature into theater with my love of the nakedness of storytelling in the hands of actors (as we explored in Nicholas Nickleby). But more importantly, it has heart. And poetry. It’s also very very funny. And that’s all Octavio. He pulls Steinbeck’s quiet words off the page and finds the juxtapositions between humor and pathos in a way that makes me happy to feel like I am in the hands of a Chekhovian writer.

We assembled a group of actors, some of whom had been with the process since it started two years ago, and some new actors. And all were splendid collaborators, able to make characters distinct and alive in an extremely short time; also able to ask smart questions of the text that will inevitably inform our next steps in the development of the piece; and most of all, united, in just six days, into an ensemble. Which is what this play celebrates: the storytelling of an ensemble of actors. It’s sheer theater—authentic and alive.

We invited some funders, board members, staff, and patrons to the “window on the work” yesterday, reading abou half of the play. The feeling in the room was palpable—there was something special going on here. I was, to be quite sentimental, extremely proud, moved, and almost speechless (and for those of you who know me, that is no small feat) by the presence of a wonderful new American play, inspired by one of our great American writers—a classic writer if you will—at a Theater that is taking a big leap forward in defining who it is.

The great folks at Arena Stage sent someone out to chronicle the process. They, along with the NEA, were partners in selecting John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven as one of five NEA Distinguished New American Plays. This, along with support from the Irvine Foundation and other amazing foundations, is making it possible for us to do this piece. And our subscribers delight in the surprises we make for them. So their spirit was in the room as we made steps in the creation of this piece. And our staff, led by the great Jessica Richards, producer of the project, was there every step of the way.

Hence the pride, the being moved, and the almost-speechlessness. I couldn’t do this anywhere else but at Cal Shakes, and in the Bay Area, which is by far the best place in this country to take chances in theatrical expression.

There’s a lot of work still be done with the play, but Octavio knows where to go with it and what to do. Trust the playwright. Especially when it’s Octavio Solis, who listens more than he talks, takes in and thinks hard about what the actors and I are doing, and is open to the collaboration of the ensemble and myself.

I am genuinely happy about what happened last week, which is just a marker in the path of the making of this new American play. And our community engagement—with folks in Salinas, especially the young artists of Alisal Center for the Arts (whose mural inspired by The Pastures of Heaven will be on display at our Theater during the play’s run) as well as students in the Bay Area who are learning about Steinbeck and how to make literature come alive (via our excellent teaching artists)—makes this more than just a play-making process. It’s a community-building process. It makes it all bigger. It makes more impact. And it will forever change this Theater and, I hope, some of the communities we are reaching out to.

More anon.


Pictured above, from top: Jonathan speaks to project artists at the last Pastures workshop; Danny Scheie; Maya Lawson; Craig Marker; photos by Jay Yamada. View more at the New Works/New Communities Flickr page.