Student reviews of PRIVATE LIVES coming soon…

Things have been incredibly busy around here, what with the successful opening of Private Lives (see Kevin Berne’s photo below, and the reviews on the PL page under “In the Press”), the shooting and editing of this fun, short patron-reaction video, the beginning of rehearsals for Happy Days, and a dozen other things.

But I wanted to give you a heads-up about something very cool coming soon to this blog: Bay Area theater critic and blogger Chloe Veltman is teaching a master class in criticism to some of the older students in our Summer Theater Program; shortly after that class is through, I’ll be posting some of those campers’ reviews of Private Lives in this space. (Ms. Veltman makes reference to this process in her July 13 blog entry.)

So watch this space!

Pictured above: Stephen Barker Turner (Elyot) and Diana LaMar (Amanda); photo by Kevin Berne.


“Don’t Take Our Word for It!”(Or”Patrons on the Pavement”)

Before, during, and after the last preview performance of Romeo and Juliet, I wandered the Bruns Amphitheater grounds, camera in hand and Artistic intern extraordinaire Grace Vincent in tow, harassing patrons for their assessment of the current production. This video contains just a few of those assessments—the overwhelming response from our “man on the street” (or, as I like to think of them “patron on the pavement”) interviews was positive, enthusiastic, and occasionally even hilarious.

Coming soon: Notes from today’s Meet & Greet for Noël Coward’s Private Lives. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the video.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2009 Season Designer Profile: Private Lives’Annie Smart

In the months leading up to our 2009 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—Romeo and Juliet, Private Lives, Happy Days, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in our e-newsletters. For the second installment, we profiled scenic artist Annie Smart, known to our audiences as the inventive hand behind An Ideal Husband, Man and Superman, Othello, and The Tempest. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Ms. Smart. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

What have you been working on since An Ideal Husband? I know that you did Yellowjackets at Berkeley Rep; anything else since last summer? And what do you have coming up in 2009, besides Private Lives?

Danny Hoch’s show Taking Over opened in NY for an extended run this November and December. We rebuilt the BRT set with some refinements and reproduced the BRT costumes. That now goes on to LA this Jan so I’ll be down there for a few days.

Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room has taken most of my time since Yellowjackets opened, designing the set and props. A lot of design work for this one as it’s high Victorian period—1889-ish. It goes into rehearsal Dec 30th and opens early Feb at BRT. Les (Waters, Annie’s husband) directing. It will be great fun, a very witty piece, but it’s a lot of work.

Then comes sets for the Tiny Kushners for the Guthrie in Minneapolis. This is a collection of 5 very short plays that are being grouped together for a festival of Kushner’s work. Tony Taccone is directing this. I think it opens in May.

If you could have designed sets (or costumes, for that matter) for any theatrical production in history, what would it be?

No idea. But I’ve never designed a Chekhov and I just love all his plays. He’s the best. I didn’t get to see Timothy (Near)’s Vanya unfortunately though I heard some very good things about it. And Eric Flatmo’s designs always impress me so I’d have liked to see that.

I also love opera (I did my equivalent MFA at the English National Opera Design Course, back in the day) and don’t get to do that much.

I’ve been told that you’ve acted in Private Lives. When and where was this, and which role did you play?

No. This is me being sloppy and muddling my Coward titles. Which are all I think designed for publicists with deadlines to meet. (With a title like) “Hay Fever,” for example, the content really could be almost anything funny! I bet he hadn’t even written them when the posters had to be printed. I was in Present Laughter playing Joanna, who has to wear extravagant hats. It was fun pretending to be stylish and a sophisticate. I’m so not either.

But the following is a famous story in my family. First time I ever went on stage I was 3-1/2. My parents were involved in a production of Coward’s Blithe Spirit, which features Madame Arkadina, a medium, who has as her spirit guide a little blonde-haired girl. Unfortunately you are not supposed to see this child, but I was in the wings, saw my Mum across the way and crossed the stage, causing a sensation I’m told!
How do you think that experience will inform (or how is it already informing) your plans for the Cal Shakes Private Lives set?

No idea but Coward is meant to be lighthearted. If a Coward farce doesn’t at some point make you absolutely choke with laughter then you’ve failed. And then the really bitter, real-life, hard stuff is embraced with the frivolous and the artificial. I think you have to have a truly camp sensibility. (Tho I shudder to say that out loud in the Bay Area, it becomes a way more complex statement than it looks! A minefield of a statement for a designer!)

Your previous work at the Bruns Amphitheater has showcased your skill with creating interiors for an outdoor space. Do you have any early thoughts on what the specific challenges for Private Lives might be, and how you’ll overcome them? (I’m thinking the problems of destroying the Paris apartment in the latter acts, and making an effective balcony in the first—but then again I haven’t created so much as a shoebox diorama since elementary school.)

All things comedic and interior at the Bruns are predicated on the control of the scale. The stage is 80′ across. That’s as big as a very large opera house. And they put dozens of people on those stages. And they sing very, very loudly. And Jonathan and Mark have chosen this. The dramatic equivalent of a spun sugar dessert.

I have no idea how it will be made to work. None at all. But then I never do when I start working on something. And I haven’t yet talked with Mark R. So that will be the first little baby step.


In case you haven’t heard …

We’ve announced our 2009 season!*

Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
May 27 – Jun 21

Private Lives
By Noël Coward
Directed by Mark Rucker
Jul 8-Aug 2

Happy Days
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
Starring Marsha Mason**
Aug 12-Sep 6

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Aaron Posner
Sep 16-Oct 11

Read more about the productions on our website.

*But don’t forget about Twelfth Night, playing now to close out our 08 season. Check out the new trailer!
**This one’s making national news already!