Associate Artist Roundup: Scrooge, the Circus, and a Baby

It’s time for our annual shout-out to the theatrical antics our talented Associate Artist company is up to during the winter months.

Dan Hiatt as Jacob Marley

Scrooge (Richard Farrell) is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley (Dan Hiatt) in San Jose Rep's A CHRISTMAS CAROL; photo by Kevin Berne.

L. Peter Callender is in the midst of directing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which opens January 26 at his African-American Shakespeare Company. Then, in February, he will be headed to Virginia Stage Company to play Simon in The Whipping Man, directed by Marin Theatre Company’s Jasson Minadakis.

Ron Campbell is still playing the King of the Clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza; the show will be performed January and February at the Royal Albert Hall in London before heading to Madrid, Bilbao, Moscow, and Paris. Back here at home, he’ll be doing readings of Yorick’s Last Laugh, a one-man-show written for him by Mark Leiren-Young.

Nancy Carlin just directed Honk!, Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s holiday show. She’ll be teaching acting at UC Santa Cruz this winter, and will appear, alongside fellow Associate Artist Danny Scheie, in their groundbreaking production of Peer Gynt, as part of their Guest Artist program.

James Carpenter is, of course, in his seventh year as Scrooge in A.C.T.’S A Christmas Carol, directed by fellow Associate Artist Domenique Lozano and featuring its usual slew of Cal Shakes and Bay Area favorites; Carol runs through December 24. Carpenter will play Pozzo in Waiting for Godot at Marin Theatre Company, and then on to as-yet-to-be-determined roles in Berkeley Rep’s Pericles.

Dan Hiatt is currently playing Jacob Marley and others in San Jose Rep’s A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by Rick Lombardo, running through December 23. In January he starts rehearsals for Old Wicked Songs at Center Rep in Walnut Creek, directed by Jessica Heidt; it opens in February. From there, Hiatt goes straight into rehearsals for Max Frisch’s The Arsonists at the Aurora, directed by Mark Jackson.

Taming of the Shrew at OSF

Nell Geisslinger as Kate in OSF's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, with costumes designed by Meg Neville.

Jennifer King will direct The Bandaged Place for Aurora Theatre’s Global Age Project in February; from there she’ll direct The Sound Of Music for Napa Valley Conservatory Theater.  She continues to head the Theater Program at Napa Valley College, where she founded Shakespeare Napa Valley.

Joan Mankin has been keeping busy teaching physical comedy at A.C.T. Studio; she’s now directing Crackpot Crones for Stage Werx Theatre, running December 15–30.

Meg Neville will design costumes for a rockabilly-inspired The Taming of the Shrew at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, directed by David Ivers, opening in February; Pericles at Berkeley Rep, directed by Mark Wing Davey, opening in April; Krispy Kritters at Cutting Ball, directed by Rob Melrose, opening in May; and our own Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, opening in August.

Danny Scheie will be appearing in Troublemaker at Berkeley Rep, written by Dan le Franc and directed by Lila Neugebauer; it opens in January.  As mentioned above, he’ll be playing Peer Gynt (the elder) in UCSC’s multidisciplinary production, directed by Kimberly Jannarone. He is also directing a touring production of Henry V for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and then directing playwright and actor Colman Domingo’s new play Wild with Happy at TheatreWorks for a June run; it is fresh from a run at the Public in New York (and Cal Shakes alumnus Domingo can be seen onscreen in the first scene of Lincoln).

And finally, Susannah Schulman has, as she puts it, “only one event to report for the upcoming few months, and that is that I’m gonna have a baby! A boy, due January 8. The proud father is another Cal Shakes alum, my husband Reg Rogers.”


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.


Cal Shakes in the New York Times

Late last week, Cal Shakes was included as one of four California theaters mentioned in this Sunday’s “Summer Stages” feature in the print edition of the New York Times; the article shows Jay Yamada’s gorgeous photo of our 2008 production of Pericles, along with a brief summary of our season, focusing mostly on celebrated stage and screen actress Marsha Mason’s starring turn in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (Aug 12-Sep 6).The web version of the article is headlined by a big, beautiful version of the photo, taken by Cal Shakes board member, volunteer extraordinaire, and unofficial staff photographer Yamada. The web article contains the same text as the print edition, and includes more of the Bay Area theaters; you can view it online here.


Guess who ran off to join the circus?

Did you know that our beloved Associate Artist Ron Campbell has joined Cirque du Soleil? It’s true. Here’s a snippet from his fascinating blog, which you can access from our “Relevant Linkage” list (to the right, further down on this page):

“Among clown circles (rings?) the exacting process of ‘finding your clown’ is given a lot of lip service. It always struck me as a little touchy-feely but I was wrong.

The clown discipline:

(yes, it is a discipline. Just as much a discipline as the trapeze artists, hand to hand balancers and tumblers that I see every day here at Cirque headquarters practice.)

–requires one to find a nakedness and a naiveté that my traditional theatre work has only rarely asked of me. It is no longer my job to create a character and put him on like a suit of clothes. Indeed I must unlearn everything I know.”


Pictured: Ron Campbell in Pericles (2008); photo by Jay Yamada.


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.





Two Best Ofs, two Honorable Mentions.

Cal Shakes productions got the nod from area theater wags this week–Chad Jones named Pericles his number 2 production of 2008 at Theater Dogs, Sam Hurwitt lauded Uncle Vanya as his number 4 in the East Bay Express, and both critics named An Ideal Husband in their lists of honorable mentions.

Stay tuned for the Chronicle‘s faves. And happy holidays from Cal Shakes! (And from this blogger, who’s actually blogging from home in her bathrobe, like a REAL blogger.)


Main Stage 2008 polls-a-poppin’—what’s your favorite??

OK, so, don’t try to deny it: We’re halfway through November already. Some people have finished shopping for holiday gifts, while the rest of us are just starting to feel the guilt of not having started. (Or, if you’re like me, you’re thanking your lucky, lazy stars that you never got around to mailing those birthday presents to the east coast.)

Here at Cal Shakes, we’ve just finished general auditions for the 2009 season. Our esteemed graphic designer has already designed a number of attractive choices for Romeo & Juliet art, and will be working in earnest tomorrow on the show art for Private Lives. Our Spring Classes brochure will go to the printer in the next few weeks, and, perhaps most importantly, I think I saw the receptionist Administrative Project Manager preparing the bowl full of Secret Santa name choices yesterday.

But the 2008 season still looms large over all of this next-season preparation and year-end festivity: The Development department is preparing “Return on Investment” reports for all of our sponsors, filled with impressive numbers and beautiful pictures from the most reason Main Stage productions; and, in fact, this time of year we’re constantly reviewing the photos from all of our 2008 activities—Main Stage plays and Audience Enrichment events, Summer Theater Programs, adult classes, New Works/New Communities workshops, and more—for use in various brochures, web pages, and other marketing materials.

As a result, I find myself in my usual state of mind for this year—much like that phenomenon wherein you can’t discern which childhood memories are legitimately yours, or which have been created by looking at photo albums and home movies, I’m currently so overwhelmed and impressed by the visuals generated by Kevin Berne and Jay Yamada this season that I can’t recall which 2008 Cal Shakes productions and individual performances were my favorites.

Can you? I’m curious as to what Main Stage stuff that folks who read this blog liked best in 2008—not just overall productions but also individual performances, costumes, set and lighting design, even specific moments from Pericles, An Ideal Husband, Uncle Vanya, and Twelfth Night. If you’ve got opinions, please express them in the comments section!

Pictured, from top to bottom: Delia MacDougall and Sarah Nealis in Pericles, as photographed by Kevin Berne; Michael Butler in An Ideal Husband, as photographed by Kevin Berne; Barbara Oliver and Annie Purcell in Uncle Vanya, as photographed by Jay Yamada; Andy Murray and Dan Hiuatt in Twelfth Night, as photographed by Jay Yamada.


The Great COWdecott Tunnel Incident of 2008

Cal Shakes Associate Artist Jessica Richards makes her blog debut with this tale of the news story chronicled here.

Never a dull moment at the Bruns Amphitheater! Early yesterday morning, a visitor took up residence at the bottom of our hill, working hard to clear some overgrowth from the parking lot. We at Cal Shakes always appreciate volunteers. He or she (though I prefer to think she) displaying a definite penchant for the dramatic, spotted a stage with much wider audience exposure, and mooooved on to Highway 24.

With the CA Highway Patrol and Animal Control Officers out in force, there was only one thing to do: drive her back to her pasture above the Bruns. I can’t imagine how they got that cow off the highway with no fatalities (of the bovine variety) but she definitely takes direction well. We in the Bruns lobby had heard that a shuttle was on the way up the hill from BART, so we readied ourselves to welcome a school group from Claremont Middle School in Oakland to this morning’s performance of Pericles.

No shuttle.

We waited.

No shuttle. Emily Morrison, intrepid Artistic Learning Programs and Outreach Manager, was radioing to the bottom to find out what happened to the school kids when our visiting cow appeared at the top of the shuttle road, leading a parade of two highway patrol vehicles, one animal control truck, and a Ford F350 (belonging to her owner perhaps?).

The shuttle was waiting patiently at the bottom of the hill for the cow and company to pass.

She didn’t make it to the stage (highway patrol cars herded her back to the pasture) but this cow had a nice tour of the Bruns, and will hopefully remember the brief time she was a star in the eyes of Cal Shakes staff, Claremont Middle School students, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of unfortunate commuters.


Pericles opened this weekend to rave reviews!

Everyone and everything got a nod–from the set designer to the composer, the Amphitheater to the ensemble.Contra Costa Times: Cal Shakes turn oft-dismissed Bard play into gold.

Mercury News: Theater review: Cal Shakespeare opens summer season with fantastical ‘Pericles.’

SF Chronicle: Pitch-perfect ‘Pericles’ by Cal Shakes.

Theater Dogs: “Presented as a gorgeous fairy tale for grown-ups, California Shakespeare Theater’s first show of the season, Pericles, reminds us that in a seemingly horrible world, faith, love and integrity will receive its just reward.”

Pictured: Shawn Hamilton (Gower) and Christopher Kelly (Pericles); photo by Kevin Berne.


The King of Comedy

This interview with Cal Shakes Associate Artist and Fox Fellowship recipient Ron Campbell was excerpted in an article of the same name that is running in our Pericles program. The complete interview text below is exclusive to the blog.

The interview was conducted by Artistic Learning Programs and Outreach Manager Emily Morrison and Publications Manager Stefanie Kalem.


Cal Shakes: So you taught seventh and eighth graders this past spring for the Art of Comedy. We were wondering how do you get kids at such a self-conscious age to break out of their bodies and take risks?

Ron Campbell: A lot of the exercises that I do to start the ball rolling with seventh and eighth graders are the same exercises I do with adults at Berkeley Rep. One of the things is that I tell them how interested I am in two things: One is failure. They will fail big and ugly and awfully and have wonderful failures. I celebrate failure as a weapon because failure is kind of a—it’s what we do most of the time. And the other thing is that I say is that I’m very interested in them from the chin down; how expressive they can be from the chin down. So believe it or not, what I do is put a shopping bag on their head.

CS: We saw that in the pictures.

RC: But if I tell them I want to see them express a question mark or an exclamation point or a comma, from the chin down, they start to have that kind of freedom, and they get celebrated for that. Even though they’re under a bag. I feel that a great part of the fodder for comedy is failure and things that go wrong. No one has a comedy routine—no stand-up guy has a routine about how great a day he had. Never. It’s all the bad stuff. Part of my introduction to that group was that they each state their name and the most embarrassing thing that they’ve had to do. It does take a little time to get them to know that failure is their friend, and that they’re going to get more laughs and get more built up the more they reveal the bad things that happen to them.

CS: Did your personal kind of physical comedy, your style of comedy work as a way to get kids to respond to you more easily?

RC: One of the things that I say at the very beginning is, “Welcome to my church.” I’m an actor. I don’t do this because I want to, but because if I don’t, I’ll die. It’s as important to me as breath. And so they see this grown man who’s willing to fail, look stupid, trip and fall. I give homework, and one of the assignments I gave this last group is to trip in public. Then I develop with them the technique of tripping effectively so it’s realistic; and then the response to that, noting other people’s response to your own tripping. So clumsiness is another weapon. We hate to be clumsy but that’s where the comedy lies.

CS: Do you think that gets the kids to connect to you more easily?

RC: They can tell I’m fully in it. I’m very into nervous fingers and calm eyes—when you make a combination of things. Shy chin plus bold eyes, that coy; there’s juxtaposition there and that to me is interesting. So I’ll be talking with my students about why we laugh there and all of a sudden they’re using my terminology: They’re saying “well, there was great juxtaposition, he had scared elbows but he had proud chest.” And those things have really affected how I have to believe what I’ve said. And now I have to apply what I’ve said to my own work. I get so much more out of teaching.

CS: What do they teach you?

RC: I used to teach “acting from the outside in.” And that’s kind of the direction that I play with. The other day, one of the students in the Art of Comedy class had to do an exercise where you show what you are on the inside and what you are on the outside. On the outside he was a real estate agent showing a house. And on the inside he was an evil killer of people. Again, juxtaposition—those two things going on at the same time. You see an actor engaged in the art of deciding which one wins. Does the psycho killer win or does the smooth real estate agent?

I also do a character exercise where there’s a large circle. In the center of the circle is one quality, say smart or democrat or whatever and on the outside is, somehow, its opposite. So, stupid or republican. And I want them to take a very specific route. So they know there’s a time when they’re fully the smart, total brain center, and then they walk a little farther out. Their IQ goes down. That place where they’re kind of both can be very interesting to me.

CS: So you’ve been teaching these kids The Art of Comedy for eight weeks; but in the summer you’ll be offering one-hour Master Classes to the kids in our Summer Theater Programs. How do you cull all that information down into an hour? How do pick what you’re going to do into such a short period of time?

RC: Well, if I haven’t worked with them before, I have some of my greatest hits. One exercise involves anger: You know your anger can go from one to 10 where 10 is the angriest you’ve ever been. Two is kind of irritated, pissed off and you have all the things in between, so let’s use that. You make them get specific, and they think it’s taking away their freedom as an artist, but actually it’s given them a cleaner scale.

We have all that power in our brain to do that, to use our experience to act. So that’s a weapon we all have—we learned it back when mom was shaking you and saying, “Come on, it’s time to go to school.” And you said, “I don’t feel good, I’m sick. I don’t want to go”

CS: Our marketing director says her three-and-a-half-year-old has already figured out that she can whine about school, act like she’s not feeling good because she wants to stay home and play. How old were you when you started acting?

RC: As the story goes, my grandmother Campbell started reading me stories very young, and she took me to see Man of La Mancha at the Old Vic theatre in London. Richard Kiley was Don Quixote. And he was dying in front of all these people and no one would do anything, and it was the most awful thing! My grandmother started pointing out things like that it wasn’t a castle, it was a flat. As my grandmother told the story at Thanksgivings, a kindly usher, seeing that I had gone berserk, took us backstage to meet Mr. Kiley with his makeup and everything. So I was about 8.

At my house we’d act out The Mayflower and my little brother would play Plymouth Rock. Little brothers have to do things like that

CS: Did you have a comedic mentor? Or an acting mentor?

RC: Before I was an Associate Artist at Cal Shakes, I was an Artistic Associate at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, where the great actor Tom Rosqui took me under his wing. He was great.

CS: When was this?

RC: This was before the (one-man) Buckminster Fuller show brought me to the Bay Area. I was about 22. I was very fortunate—I started as a founding member of The Actor’s Gang and went (Actor’s) Equity shortly thereafter.

CS: How do you act funny without becoming flip or cartoony? How do you get the laughs without forgetting the fundamentals of acting—finding the foundation of the character that makes them a real person and not just a goof?

RC: There’s a Japanese concept of Kokoro, which is sometimes referred to as “heart,” though it’s much more involved than that. It also refers to “giving your all” and “not saving anything for later” and “cherishing the present moment.” It’s kind of like commitment. We know some of those performers that are able to keep that sense of commitment on a balance with the same thing. Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey are in clown world and they trip over into absurdity, but they have commitment. The Cable Guy is a little scary because this guy actually exists.

I think maybe it’s down to something that has come up with my students a lot, and that is to erase the apology working in the back of their minds. A lot of actors work like that, not having an apology in the very corner of their minds. They should erase that. They feel some gum underneath the table and try it. Don’t apologize.

CS: What do you think the main difference is between clowning, like when you were the Chef at Teatro Zinzanni, and comedic acting?

RC: I don’t know if Teatro Zinzanni was clowning or something else. I think at the root of it the tools we need to be a great clown and the tools we need to play, for example, Charlie in (Larry Shue’s) The Foreigner, are the same. Clowns see the world as the jungle; comedic characters may not have that.

Ron Campbell and California Shakespeare Theater are participants in the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships, funded by William & Eva Fox Foundation administered by Theatre Communications Group.