Meet our Earl of Kent: Aldo Billingslea

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

Aldo Billingslea as the Earl of Kent in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Aldo Billingslea as the Earl of Kent in King Lear. Photo by Jay Yamada.

“Aldo Billingslea brings down the house with a tour de force delivery of old Kent’s cavalcade of insults,” wrote Robert Hurwitt in his San Francisco Chronicle review of King Lear. Before Billingslea brought down the Bruns as the Earl of Kent, Lear’s closest advisor who epically hands Goneril’s servant his behind, he entertained Cal Shakes’ audiences in a wide-range of roles including, Sweet Back and Joe in 2012’s Spunk, and Polixenes and the Bear in The Winter’s Tale and Lord Windermere in Lady Windermere’s Fan during our 2013 season. Offstage he is a Professor of Theatre Arts at Santa Clara University where he teaches acting, directs plays, and is Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion. Plus it appears he knows a thing or two about raising chickens…

Where are you from?

Born in San Bernadino; lived in Istanbul, Michigan, and got to Fort Worth, Texas by second grade.

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Best: Loyalty

Worst: Lack of impulse control!

Favorite line in King Lear:

Calling someone an S.O.B.!

First experience at a play, or musical:

Third grade watching Hansel and Gretel as opera

First acting gig:

Pierre and the Lion in Carole King’s Really Rosie

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man

Favorite Shakespeare play:

Othello

Do you have pets? If so, what are they?

Beckwourth the 16 ½-year-old Lab/Chow mix; Ramon the turtle; Benjamin the cat; Rose, Daisy, Tulip, Buttercup, and Chrysanthemum the chickens.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

The New Jim Crow [Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander]

What is your pre-show ritual?

Driving

What is your line memorization technique?

I read the other actor’s part. A lot.

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Mark Rucker’s The Taming of the Shrew at South Coast Rep with Marco Barricelli.  Perfect, witty, sexy, Rat Pack, and everything rooted in the text.  I saw it three times and PAID TWICE!

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.

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Personalize Our Onstage License Plate!

In our upcoming production of A Winter’s Tale, travelling storytellers spill out of a vehicle to invite you into the story. And since we marketing folks have got connections with the props department (who are so much friendlier than the DMV), director Patricia McGregor has asked us to ask you to decide what goes on the license plate!

The entry the company likes the best gets put on the plate—and earns its creator two tickets to see A Winter’s Tale, and a photo with the vehicle.

Post your entry—no more than seven characters long—by 5pm PST on Wednesday, September 18, one of the following four ways:

Patricia and the cast would like it to have a nod to Spunk, our 2012 production that got so many of them together for the first time.  Here are some ideas that have been thrown around already; maybe they’ll get you thinking.

Mo-Joe
diddly wah diddy
D wah D
GT2GT
JOE CLRK(E)
JULY JAM
6BITS
ZORA
4ZORA
MI-C-MAY
VICE

A Winter’s Tale runs September 25–October 20, 2013.

 

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Season Artist Profile: Paloma McGregor

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 final installment of the 2013 Season Artist Profile series introduces you to choreographer Paloma McGregor, whose movement work on last summer’s Spunk helped make it one of the liveliest productions in our nearly-40-year history. This season, she again teams up with her sister, director Patricia McGregor, for our production of A Winter’s Tale.

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

Stefanie Kalem: What are your most recent, current, and upcoming projects?

Paloma McGregor; photo courtesy of Angela's Pulse.

Paloma McGregor; photo courtesy of Angela's Pulse.

Paloma McGregor: I rounded out last year with two exciting projects: 

In September, I directed a devised performance work about food systems at UC Berkeley, developed during a five-week residency with three dozen participants from across the Bay Area. In October, I was invited to show a work-in-progress development of my latest Angela’s Pulse project, Building a Better Fishtrap, at St. Mark’s Church as part of Danspace Project’s DraftWork series. Fishtrap, based on my father’s fishing stories and my memory of building a small fishtrap as a child, is a performance work that explores water, memory, and home, as well as examines what we take with us, leave behind, and reclaim. I have been developing the piece for more than a year. In December, with support from the Jerome Foundation, I traveled home to St. Croix to do more research for the project, including spending two weeks as a fisherman’s apprentice. I will continue developing the work this year, involving Patricia in the text development and dramaturgy, and plan to premiere the work in the 2014–15 season.

Also this year, Patricia and I are excited to spend time in June, July, and August at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, developing a new musical together (our latest Angela’s Pulse endeavor). The piece is based on the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case on mixed-race marriage. At a time when marriage rights are once again at a historical crossroads, we will revisit this political precedent, and the young black woman and white man who had to choose a quiet life apart or the fight of their lives.

I joined NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics as a yearlong Artist in Residence, researching embodied memory, agency, and cultural reclamation.

And…I’m still dancing, collaborating as a performer two works that premiere this Spring: How to Lose a Mountain, choreographed by Cassie Meador, artistic director of Dance Exchange, and last days/first field, choreographed by Jill Sigman. 

SK: Had you any experience with designing movement for an outdoor stage before Spunk? How was Spunk/Cal Shakes different? What were the challenges or advantages specific to choreographing for our stage?

IndomitablePM: I grew up in a culture of public performance. In St. Croix, formal parades and informal “tramps” at Carnival time are an integral part of community life. My first major performance as a child dancer was in an outdoor theater, Island Center, the same stage that Alvin Ailey and Dance Theatre of Harlem performed on. Two summers ago, I brought those experiences to my work as choreographer for Indomitable: James Brown, a show Patricia directed for SummerStages in New York. The show involved—among other things—a soul train line that the audience could join. With Cal Shakes, I was able to build on these experiences with the added gift of time: I had weeks to work in the actual performance space, during which I could consider the setting, stage, scenic design, lighting, and costumes in my movement development.

SK: What’s your experience with Shakespeare—watching it, working with it—in general, and A Winter’s Tale in specific?

PM: My first introduction to Shakespeare was the witches’ chant from Macbeth—”Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”—which I used to recite when I was maybe 5 or 6, as though it were a nursery rhyme! Later, in high school, King Lear drew me in with its tragic reflections of love, justice, and betrayal. I saw A Winter’s Tale at Shakespeare in the Park a few years ago, and delighted in its magic and wit.

SK: What can you tell me about your thinking about the Cal Shakes production this early in the game? What role will movement play in the story? What other early thoughts can you share?

Aldo Billingslea, Omoze Idehenre, and Tyee Tilghman in Cal Shakes’ SPUNK; photo by Kevin Berne.

Aldo Billingslea, Omoze Idehenre, and Tyee Tilghman in Cal Shakes’ SPUNK; photo by Kevin Berne.

PM: I often say that characters reveal themselves in their bodies first, before they ever say a word. I am excited to develop and differentiate the two worlds of this piece—Sicilia and Bohemia—by distinguishing the ways their people walk, stand, sit, revel, fume … and dance.

SK: I understand you were a journalist for a time. What kind of writing did you do? I’m thinking of that famous quote (attributed to everyone from Martin Mull to Thelonious Monk to Laurie Anderson) that says “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”—but is there any way that journalism and dancing intersect? The skills you use, the perspective you need? Or do they engage completely different parts of your brain and body?

PM: I like to think of the brain as just another important part of the body. So being a dancer allows me to use my full body to hone the skills I practiced as a journalist: listening deeply and to everything, obsessing over details, noticing subtle shifts, adjusting to what the circumstances require, being efficient and creative, thinking and acting fast, and synthesizing multiple layers of information to make a legible statement. Good storytelling, whether in the body or on the page, necessitates patience, persistence, and grace.

SK: What was the first piece of dance or performing arts that you saw that inspired you to think, “I want to be a part of that”?

Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun

Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun.

PM: As a young child in St. Croix, I saw Alvin Ailey perform. After the show, I took my autograph book back to have the dancers sign it. They were all so beautiful and kind, and I knew one day I wanted to be like them. Every time I sign a program for a child now, I think of that moment.

My first memory of going to see theater was Annie Get Your Gun, probably when I was 6 or 7. The lead character was so dynamic, funny, and brave, and I believe she shaped some of my early notions of what a strong, sassy woman was capable of—ideas that stick with me today. I remember that show when I think about the impact I want my work to have.

SK: What or who inspires you right now? Any particular writers, music, current events, people, et cetera?

PM: My mom and sister are always an inspiration when I think about working with purpose, integrity and compassion. My current project is tangling with objects and sites as containers of memory, so visual artists are inspiring me a great deal, particularly Theaster Gates and El Anatsui. The slow, powerful work that’s happening around developing, supporting, and perpetuating sustainable environmental practices inspires me each day.

 Secure the best seats at the best prices for A Winter’s Tale and the rest of the 2013 season: Subscribe today!

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SPUNK Makes Bay Area Top Ten Lists for 2012

Patricia McGregor by Matt Holliday

Patricia McGregor by Matt Holliday

So far, so good: Patricia McGregor’s 2012 Cal Shakes production of Spunk is number four on Chad Jones’ Theater Dogs top ten, and also made Sam Hurwitt’s Idiolect 2012 round-up. In addition, Jones named Cal Shakes Associate Artist Stacy Ross his MVP of the year, giving a shot-out to her fellow AA James Carpenter along the way.

Stay tuned: We’re certain to have more to list as the lists keep coming!

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Ask Philippa: Off-Season Edition

Philippa Kelly at Blithe Spirit Scoop 2012 by Jay Yamada

Philippa Kelly at the Inside Scoop for BLITHE SPIRIT, July 2012; photo by Jay Yamada.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about our 2013 season, which begins May 29. Subscriptions and FlexPasses on sale now.

Just because the Main Stage season closes, it doesn’t mean we at Cal Shakes are suddenly turned to marble, like Hermione in the fourth play of our 2013 season, A Winter’s Tale. Ask any questions you like and you’ll get an answer promptly. Are you reading the 2013 plays between seasons? Curious as to what we’re planning? Or do you have questions about Shakespeare—what is known about his life and writing process? Ask in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Dance Jamming with Traci Bartlow and the Cast of SPUNK

Artistic Intern Andrea Safar gives a report from inside the Spunk rehearsal room.

 

cast of Cal Shakes Spunk with director Patricia McGregor and choreographer Poloma McGregor.

Spunk rehearsals. How to even begin to describe them? They are a vortex of laughter, comfort, and warmth. The ensemble converts the chilly white-walled room into a home and there’s no way you will leave without a smile on your face! 

Luckily, I have been given the task of producing the Friday night dance parties—or Onstage Dance Jams— wherein local choreographer Traci Bartlow, will invite audience members onstage after the 90-minute show to learn a few moves and dance together. The audience will learn moves from the Lindy Hop, jazz dances, and even how to Charleston. Traci was invited to rehearsal to show the cast the same steps so that they can incorporate them in the performance.

They started their dance rehearsal with the same warm-up the cast always uses. We stood in a circle (I was lucky enough to be included) and we clapped and chanted “I am,” “I want,” “I need,” “I feel,” with all of us, one by one, completing the sentences. It was full of joy and L. Peter Callender, who plays Sykes and Slang Talk Man, finished it by saying “I feel … like I need to give everyone a hug!” and we all jumped around embracing and laughing and just being glad to be in the same room with one another.

Traci then turned on some music and had the group follow her dance steps. They barely stumbled, and were almost immediately in sync and having a good time. The jazzy and cool music—similar to the tunes in the show—filled the room and everyone felt the rhythm and flow within them. Even those of us who weren’t dancing were still moving a little in our chairs or tapping our feet. I can already envision the audience members feeling the music move them the same way when watching Tru Peterson, playing Guitar Man, make music on stage.

 

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Music Is Like Breathing: An Interview with SPUNK’s Guitar Man

Anthony “Tru” Peterson as discusses his views on life, music, and the extraordinary Cal Shakes production of Spunk directed by Patricia McGregor. Interview by Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt.

Tru

"Guitar Man" Anthony "Tru" Peterson in the rehearsal room for Spunk.

 I was seated in Jonathan Moscone’s office, anxiously waiting for Spunk’s “Guitar Man” Anthony “Tru” Peterson’s first strum on his lap steel guitar. “Music is another language that takes us to a different place,” he said, and then Marketing Director Janet Magleby and I sat in awe as he took  us on a journey home to the south. You could almost hear the laughter of children playing and taste the ice-cold sweet tea at your granddaddy’s house, swaying lazily on a porch swing hand-in-hand with a loved one. It seemed as almost though Tru went into a trance-like state, shutting out every distraction of the modern world, and just played. This guy really pours his heart out into his music; there’s no faking this kind of passion and ability.

The blues is a style of music that explores the not-so-perfect side of life, diving into something deeper and realer. The emotions I felt during this session rejuvenated my spirit…and the interview hadn’t even started yet! “What would you like to ask me?,” Tru began with a smile.

Tru’s kind demeanor and remarkable laugh made me feel like I was just talking music with an old friend. I asked about his “I Dare You to Make Music” concept where children get to explore the natural rhythms in their bodies, and turn feeling into action. Tru explained how he would take sheets of paper, and would tell the kids to do anything they felt to it, then rip it up himself. Music comes from a real and true feeling, he explained, and many of his unique exercises taught young students how to connect to art. “Every child and every story is different, and as much as they gain from you, you learn just as much from them.”

Tru lazily strummed his guitar, adding a mesmerizing background to his tales on music and life. We got to the root of what makes a musician when Tru said, “If the power went out and a DJ’s equipment got turned off, would they be able to pick up an instrument and play?” There are so many forms of music made possible by new technology, and accessible via the internet, making for a large variety of music; but also a large output of junk. It really is important for our generation to be able to weed through that junk, and to realize that we are capable of making music ourselves.

“Music used to be used as a herald for change,” Tru said, a tradition he calls upon with his melodies for the three remarkable short stories by Zora Neale Hurston that make up Spunk. Tru stated that the dark truth behind African-Americans’ journey in America is something that many people are afraid to discuss. If a person of color expresses feelings on that history, they’re sometimes stereotyped as a “ typical angry negro,” he said, or other hurtful assumptions. Spunk breaks those barriers; these stories are a part of our history that everyone needs to learn, regardless of background or color.

Onstage Tru’s music becomes the background of the story, like a soundtrack to a movie taking the audience through the twists and turns of the show. Tru described director Patricia McGregor as being a “rare find of a human being” and the entire cast as having a dedication to their art like he’s never seen. “Why would my character feel this way in this scene?,” actors ask each other at the picnic table during lunch. Tru described tremendous joy to come to work every day and work with the welcoming people of Cal Shakes.

As if picking his brain about music wasn’t enough, I even got to jam with this blues legend, singing my own version of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.” When I forgot the lyrics to the bridge Tru gladly joined in, making Janet and me glow. And as memorable as that was for me, these rehearsals have been just as much so for Tru. Asked what his most memorable project has been so far, he answered, simply: “I’ll tell you a secret. Spunk”.

Click here to listen to Tru’s original music recorded that day.

Anthony “Tru” Peterson began teaching music at age 14 and became one of the youngest members of the faculty a year after graduation from the Berklee College of Music. He has worked on songs for producer Andre Harrell on Atlantic Records, and director Spike Lee for Columbia records. He has performed and recorded projects with Peter Gabriel, Joan Baez, Janis Ian, and Cassandra Wilson. These alliances took him all over the world, on television, and on various recordings as well as his own debut CD, I’m Not Through Dreaming.

 

 

 

 

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Ask Philippa: SPUNK Edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes and production dramaturg for Spunk, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. Spunk runs July 4–29, 2012.

Spunk Inside Scoop by Jay Yamada

Philippa Kelly, Margo Hall, Patricia McGregor, and L. Peter Callender at the Inside Scoop event for SPUNK; photo by Jay Yamada.

To honor …  and adapt … Black southern dialect forms the living heartbeat of this musical theater piece, lovingly made by George C. Wolfe in 1982, in which the Broadway genius—already a significant star by the age of 35—adapted three of Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories to create Spunk. An anthropologist as well as an artist, Hurston used the language of her southern people—not the language of Dickens or Shakespeare or even of Richard Wright—to represent the world she came from. She saw oral culture as the key to the selves that slip down through the family tree: the spirits of parents and grandparents that live on in tongues, not texts.

Are you going to see our  production of  Spunk? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s music, cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Original Music from SPUNK

SPUNK costume sketches by designer Callie FloorHere are a couple of original musical compositions by Anthony Michael Peterson, a.k.a. Tru, who plays Guitar Man in our upcoming production of Spunk. These tracks, recorded by Will McCandless, are similar to the original music Tru is adding to Chic Street Man’s already smokin’ score.

Tru’s ukulele ditty
Tru’s acoustic number
Tru on slide guitar 

 

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Spunk Cocktail Contest

Spunk will grace the Bruns stage with joyous poetic language, powerful movement, and the wailing sounds of the blues this July. What similarly flavorful and fulfilling cocktail would you wish to sip while soaking up the Spunk experience?

Invent a bourbon-based drink, name it, and tell us about it no later than Friday, July 6 one of these ways:

  • Email marketing@calshakes.org with the subject header “Spunk cocktail contest.”
  • Post your recipe on Twitter with the hashtag #zoracocktail.
  • Share on our Facebook wall.

The creator of the winning cocktail will be rewarded with their choice of a Spunk T-shirt or free entry to our July 12 pre-performance Cal Shakers party at the Bruns. 

Click here for more information about the party.

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