Seeing’s Believing!

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

by Philippa Kelly

How can we know our minds when appearances keep on changing? And how can we judge appearances when our minds keep on changing?

How we speak is as unreliable as what and how we see. This is one of the great mysteries of living that Shakespeare addresses repeatedly in his plays, sometimes (as with Othello) with dark intensity, and at others (as with Much Ado) with somersaulting levels of hilarious confusion. In Much Ado, characters are forever mishearing each other from behind hedges, not to mention mistaking each other’s motives from under bedroom windows. And when the lower-class Dogberry and his associates try to inform Duke Leonato of a gulling trick that has awful consequences, Leonato dismisses them as mistaken, well-disposed fools. Not for the first time, Shakespeare shows those unversed in the niceties of language as nonetheless possessing a truth that their so-called “betters” fail to understand. This theme reverberates in the tale of the soldier Benedick and Leonatos’ niece Beatrice (surely Shakespeare’s most expert wordsmiths!), who nonetheless find the truth of their love when their friends use words to trick them. Yet, much as our ears and eyes might fool us, the paradox of living is that we have only these same ears and eyes to rely on.

“Give me the ocular truth,” we’ll hear Othello cry in the fourth play of our season, as he monsters his imagination with the very same Cassio on whose behalf Desdemona advocates so fervently: ‘if he be not one that truly loves you… I have no judgment in an honest face’. Desdemona’s pleas ring out with dramatic irony: she knows nothing of Othello’s fears that a two-faced Cassio has made him a cuckold. It’s the human mind, it seems, that shapes what we see and how we judge – and there’s a perilous [eye]rony in that.
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Ask Philippa: Life Is a Dream edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Like Shakespeare, Spanish Golden Age playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca, wrote about very human ways of dealing with some of our biggest emotions. Life Is a Dream, one of Calderón’s most famous plays, is about a prince whose father is told at his birth that he’ll become a vicious ruler. In order to protect the kingdom from this terrible monster, his father locks him away in a tower. Twenty years later, the prince is given a chance to rule, but he goes on a rampage and is locked up again, persuaded that his brief spell of freedom was only a dream. Life Is a Dream became famed for its questions about what makes us human and what, in life, can be counted as ‘real’.

In his translation and adaptation, Cuban-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz has distilled Calderón’s immense canvas—with its poetic rhythms and captivating questions—into a contemporary story, brought to Cal Shakes by one of America’s most important directors, Loretta Greco.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this season’s production of Life Is a Dream. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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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.

Buy tickets for Life Is a Dream, or subscribe to the 2015 Season, by clicking here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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Ask Philippa: Twelfth Night Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s last and darkest comedy, written in 1601. Director Christopher Liam Moore calls Twelfth Night his favorite Shakespeare play, treasuring its capacity to soar to the heights of mirth and delve to the darker parts of humanity. Set on the tiny island of Illyria, the play takes its characters on a huge emotional journey, in which they question who they are, mourn losses, entertain big dreams, and discover parts of themselves that they didn’t know where there.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this season’s production of Twelfth Night. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

—-

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.

Buy tickets for Twelfth Night, or subscribe to the 2015 Season, by clicking here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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From Twelfth Night to Life Is a Dream: Fate Works in Mysterious Ways

Get Tangled Up In Love show art for Twelfth NightThe first two productions of our 2015 season—Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night about falling in love with mistaken identities and Life Is a Dream, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1635 drama, translated and adapted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nico Cruz, which examines the relationship between fate and reality—couldn’t seem farther apart at first read. But it turns out Olivia, Viola, Orsino, and Sebastian have more in common with King Basilio, Segismundo, and Rosauro then one might think. Here our Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly explains the link between these two wildly different productions.

The question: Where character comes from and where it can lead? is at the core of both Twelfth Night and Life Is a Dream. Twelfth Night’s characters have their dreams, but they end up with fates they never dreamed of. In Life Is a Dream, Calderon’s 17th century Spanish masterpiece, translated and adapted by Nilo Cruz, the question grabs us from the very start and chills us with its development. Does a person have any real power to change the fate that’s written for him or her? And if not, why not? Malvolio struggles with this idea in Twelfth Night and we’ll see in Life Is a Dream the vengeance that is wreaked by a son who is imprisoned for the first 20 years of his life. Was his father right to lock him up? Was he wrong to release him, given that he’s done exactly the monstrous deeds that were predicted at his birth? Or is his vengeance created by his father’s actions? (Who wouldn’t want to go on a rampage after being locked away since birth?) Do we have the power to change our fates and to change the way we adapt to experience? Come judge for yourselves.

Twelfth Night starts Previews on May 17 and runs through June 21. Life Is a Dream starts Previews on July 8 and runs through August 2. Click here to learn more and buy tickets. Hear more about the link between these two shows from Philippa herself at the Life Is a Dream Inside Scoop, June 22 at the Orinda Library. Reserve your spot here.

 

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Happy 451st Birthday Shakespeare!

By Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

“With Shakespeare’s depth of humanity as our touchstone, we build character and community through authentic, inclusive and joyful theater experiences.” This is Cal Shakes’ mission, and today we celebrate the 451st birthday (399th death day) of our bard. William was born in 1564 to John Shakespeare (leather merchant turned prominent alderman and town bailiff – equivalent to town mayor) and Mary Arden (local heiress). No birth records exist for William, but the records of the local church in Stratford-Upon-Avon indicate that a “William Shakespeare” was baptized on April 26 of that year. From this we deduce that he was born on or about April 23: infant mortality at that time was very high (25% of children died before the age of 2, and, indeed, three of Shakespeare’s siblings died in early childhood), which meant that children were baptized a few days after their birth.

William was the third of eight children. The very sketchy records of his early life have caused endless speculation as to how he obtained the immense breadth of education demonstrated in his plays. Historians surmise that William was able to till his naturally gifted mind by virtue of being a public official’s child, entitled to attend the King’s New School in Stratford, which afforded a classical education. As was the case in all Elizabethan grammar schools, Latin was the primary language for learning. Although Shakespeare likely had some lessons in English, Latin composition and the study of Latin authors like Seneca, Cicero, Ovid, Virgil, and Horace would have been the focus of his literary training. (Just as an extra point of interest, during the years that Shakespeare attended the school, at least one and possibly three headmasters stepped down because of their devotion to the Catholic religion proscribed by Queen Elizabeth.) William’s father’s fortunes declined when young William was about 14, however, and he never got to go to university.

In 1582, when William was 18, Anne Hathaway, a 26 year-old woman of some family means, became pregnant with his child. They married late in that year, before the birth of their first daughter, Susannah. William soon deposited his wife and family in Stratford – including the couple’s twins, Hamnet and Judith, born in 1585 – and the playwright went to London to build his theater company and pursue his craft, returning to Stratford only when onslaughts of the plague forced the closure of the theaters in London. It was in these fallow years that he wrote most of his sonnets as well as his longer poems. Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died at the age of eleven, and, given that it took three days to get a message from Stratford to London, and the contagion of the plague so great that by the time Shakespeare received news of his death, his son had already been buried.  Judith and her father were not close, and Susannah remained William’s favored child until the end of his life.

Over a period of 18 years, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays (give or take two recently discovered and believed to be his and a couple of collaborations) and 154 sonnets. He stopped writing about three years before his death in 1616. Some scholars have speculated that this was because he had nothing left to say: however, I think this theory is highly unlikely when applied to a man of 47 who wrote a late play as gifted as The Tempest. It’s much more likely that he developed Scrivener’s Palsy, a degenerative disease that impeded his capacity to write. If you look at the range of his signatures, they markedly change as his physical state deteriorates. He could barely sign his final will, made in March 1616 (altered to convey his displeasure at his daughter Judith’s marriage to a man who had at the same time got another woman pregnant).

Shakespeare, registered as “Will Shakespeare gent”, was buried on 26 April 1616 at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford Upon Avon. His tombstone is inscribed with the unlikely quatrain said to have been prepared by him:

Good Friend for Jesus sake forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blest be the man that spares these stones,

And curst be he that moves my bones.

FUN FACTS:

  • Vegetables discovered in Shakespeare’s day: cabbage and carrots
  • Households made their own beer and ale
  • Flush toilets were a long time coming: families deposited their waste matter in mounds outside the house.

 

 

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Cal Shakes in Ashland with Philippa Kelly

Please join us for Cal Shakes in Ashland with Philippa Kelly, a three-day, Ashland 2014_4two-night theater adventure in Ashland, Oregon, from October 2–4, 2015. Immerse yourself in theater during a weekend at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the company of Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly.

We’ll stay at the elegant Ashland Springs Hotel; see three Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions (Much Ado About Nothing, Antony and Cleopatra, and Sweat); dine together at a top-flight local restaurant; and enjoy surprise guest appearances by Oregon Shakespeare Festival company members.

Philippa—an accomplished scholar and beloved Cal Shakes Grove Talk Speaker—will give us unparalleled entrée into the fascinating world of these productions. You’ll gain indelible memories in the good company of an intimate group of your fellow Cal Shakes supporters while simultaneously benefiting California Shakespeare Theater’s work on stage, in classrooms, and throughout communities.

Reservations are filling fast for this exceptional experience so please reply soon to secure your space. Contact Special Events Manager Zoe Westbrook at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 15.

2014 Ashland guests; photo by Cal Shakes.
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Grove Speakers 2015

As the gateway to our theater, the Grove is a place we’re very proud of. This year Philippa Kellywe are mixing the familiar with the new—and yet the thing that everyone has in common is dramaturgy! Almost all of our speakers have served as dramaturgs in various theaters. A love of dramaturgy is what makes us all so interested in speaking in the Grove—the desire to share knowledge and to nurture conversations about the stage.

Returning this year are Philippa, Joanie, Cathleen, Robin, Ciara, Keith and Molly. New faces include Amelia Furlong, fresh from a degree in theater at Middlebury College, where she wrote her senior thesis on The Two Noble Kinsmen. This summer she is interning with Cal Shakes as well as speaking in our grove. Sonia Fernandez, dramaturg for Life is a Dream, recently completed her doctoral thesis on race and humor at UC San Diego. She has dramaturged at many theaters, including the Magic, Crowded Fire and Cutting Ball. Patrick Kenney, associate dramaturg for The Mystery of Irma Vep, is a student at UC Santa Cruz and has experience in acting, directing and dramaturgy. Laura Brueckner is a recent PhD graduate and a long-time expert in dramaturging new works. She is a writer for Theater Bay Area and works intensively with Crowded Fire Theater. Rebecca Ennals is Artistic Director for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. Julian Talamantez Brolaski is a poet, teacher, musician, and Medieval and Renaissance scholar, holding a PhD in English from UC Berkeley.

Pictured: Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly giving a Grove talk; photo by Jay Yamada

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Artists Dish at Inside Scoops

Our popular Inside Scoops are back at the Orinda Library!Inside Scoop

Our Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly facilitates these lively discussions between directors, artists, and other key artisans from our main stage productions. As always, we’ll begin at 7pm, with complimentary sweet treats and Peet’s Coffee & Tea available beginning at 6:30pm. Did you know that seats will be reserved for our Support Cast Champion Donors ($250 and up)? To learn more about becoming a Champion, call Ian Larue Annual Fund Manager at 510.548.3422 ext. 107.Inside Scoops Dates and Production Discussion:

Monday, May 11—Twelfth Night, directed by Christopher Liam Moore
Monday, June 22—Life is a Dream, directed by Loretta Greco
Monday, July 27—The Mystery of Irma Vep, directed by Jonathan Moscone
Monday, August 31—King Lear, directed by Amanda Dehnert

(Artists to be announced.)

Pictured: Jonathan Moscone and Shana Cooper at an Inside Scoop, 2012. Photo by Jay Yamada.

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Twelfth Night: Love, Death, Contagion

Great Plague of London

Historical image of the Great Plague of London (1665).

In Shakespeare’s time, with its high mortality rates, most twins were split apart by death—as were the Bard’s own 11 year-old twins Judith and Hamnet in 1595, with Judith living on to be her father’s un-favorite child. Unlike Twelfth Night’s Viola and Sebastian, Shakespeare’s twins were not identical, but their fate, and its residual presence in the playwright’s imagination, very likely had a connection to the play’s central miracle – that the sea, long seen as a metaphor for death or the great unknown, delivers its dead safely back again. (By the way, here Shakespeare made one of his few famous factual mistakes – boy and girl twins cannot be identical as they are in his play.)

Despite the joyous restoration of the twins to each other and their eventual celebration of a different kind of pairing (the rites of marriage), Twelfth Night was to prove Shakespeare’s farewell to comedy. Indeed, the play itself has many dark notes: not least all the references to the plague that had killed young Hamnet and, in Shakespeare’s own childhood, had also killed one of his sisters. Duke Orsino refers to Olivia, for example, as having “purged the air of pestilence”; Sir Toby objects to “contagious breath”; and Olivia says of love, “Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” How did people protect themselves from catching the plague in those days when people rarely bathed, and, on the occasions where they did, shared the same bathwater with up to ten members of the family? On a daily basis people washed their hands as often as they could with water, vinegar or urine. They avoided crowded indoor places—meetings, including church sermons, would be held in the open air during onslaughts of the plague, and the theaters were shut down altogether (this is how Shakespeare got his sonnets written). The wealthy would often evacuate their homes when the illness came uncomfortably close, prevailing on great estates elsewhere to take them in. But many people died (one third of Europe’s population had been wiped out in the 1300s, and many thousands died in London during the repeated waves in the 1500s).

Questions about Twelfth Night, or other Shakespeare plays? Click over to Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s Question of the Fortnight. 

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Ask Philippa: 2015 Pre-season Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

The 2014 Season has just barely ended, and already we’re preparing for 2015. We have an incredible array of artists and plays lined up for the 2015 Season, and I can’t wait to see you all tumbling out of the grove next season with your digestibles and into our beautiful amphitheater.

While Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has written a letter about the 2015 Season, here’s a brief overview of the Main Stage season:

Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
May 27–June 21

Director Christopher Liam Moore (Cal Shakes’ Lady Windermere’s Fan) is renowned for being able to delve into comedy, romance, and language with humanity and élan. Now he’s opening our season with Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece of mistaken identity, in which shipwrecked twins navigate across a strange island to find love—and each other.

Life Is a Dream
By Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Translated and Adapted by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Loretta Greco
July 8–August 2

This stunning Spanish Golden Age classic that’s been called “the Spanish Hamlet” tells the tale of a prince imprisoned by his father at birth because of a prophecy. Magic Theatre’s Loretta Greco directs a brilliant translation and adaptation by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Nilo Cruz, who brings urgency and accessibility to Calderon’s mythic, poetic play, where reality and dreams collide in a story of human will battling fate.

 The Mystery of Irma Vep
By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
August 12–September 6

Lady Enid is haunted by the spirit of her husband’s ex-wife, Irma Vep—but that’s just the beginning of her problems. Mummies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other surprise guests pursue the numerous characters played frenetically by only two actors, including the fabulous Danny Scheie in a gender-bending tour-de-force performance. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone (Pygmalion, American Night) takes on Charles Ludlam’s outrageously ingenious comedy.

King Lear
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
September 16–October 11

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s King Lear, an old king asks his daughters to deliver love in return for slices of land. A cataclysmic scene ensues, at the end of which Lear (via hubris? Naivity? The foolishness of age?) is thrust out into the world with almost nothing that’s ever had value to him—without his land, without his familiar duties and prerogatives, and, most importantly, without his most precious daughter. He goes on an epic journey to finally (and fleetingly) experience the redemption of love, and, indeed, the redemption of a self.  Nationally renowned director Amanda Dehnert—whose credits include the groundbreaking 2011 production of Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—directs two-time Tony award nominee Anthony Heald as Shakespeare’s profound tragic hero.

As 2015 draws near, I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for next year. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

—-

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.

Subscribe to the 2015 Season by clicking here, or call 510.548.9666.

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