From Romance to Revenge

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly on Prospero’s and other’s journeys in The Tempest

The Tempest is a “Romance” play, best illustrated in relationship to King Lear, written six years before in 1605. Lear is a tragedy that leaves its audiences in a diminished Britain amidst the wasteland of loss, with only Lear’s brief reunion with his beloved Cordelia to comfort us—and even that reunion is made bittersweet, since both are dead by the time the curtain falls. The Tempest affords a more elegant wrap-up. Its fairytale structure—the power of Prospero’s magic; the mysterious setting somewhere in the Mediterranean; and the satisfaction of final redemption and of a wedding to close things—allows Shakespeare to tie up the play’s loose ends and to make what many have seen as his farewell to London and the stage (although he did write The Two Noble Kinsmen after this, as well as contributing to a few other plays).

Michael Winters is Prospero

Michael Winters plays Prospero in our 2012 production of THE TEMPEST; photo by Kevin Berne.

The Tempest highlights several prominent themes and conventions. It is one of Shakespeare’s most spectacular plays, with its apparitions (Ariel/Harpy); its storm and shipwreck to begin the play; and the dance, the vanishing banquet, the songs, as elements of scenic display. The Tempest is also underscored by journeying: There is the interrupted journey made by Milan’s Duke Antonio and Naples’ King Alonso, which brings them to the island; the journey that Prospero has made from Milan to the island; the journey that Shakespeare the dramatist has often been said to be making as he gives us an artist (playmaking as a form of magic?) who, by the play’s end, says goodbye to his art; and the journey from activity to age, signaled by Prospero’s transformation from an artificer at the height of his powers to one wearied by his art.

What is the relationship between art and nature? We experience nature through our bodies, but perhaps it is through art that nature is more truly understood. Nowhere is this juxtaposition between art and nature more intensely felt—and perhaps more challenging—than in the relationship between Prospero, master of the island via his mind and magical practice, and Caliban, who claims ownership of the island via his birth and breeding. “This island’s mine, by Sycorax, my mother,/Which thou take’st from me,” Caliban tells Prospero, “For I am all the subjects that you have,/Which first was mine own king.” Yet while Caliban declares ownership via his birth, Prospero sees this self-appointed “king” as a perverse wretch, an “abhorred slave” whose proclivities have abused the laws of “nature.” Who has more claim to authenticity? Caliban with his unchecked appetites, or Prospero with his history of Dukedom, his rage, and the sophisticated arts that he uses to check and arouse Nature’s tides? “This rough magic I here abjure,” Prospero says near the close of the play. “I’ll break my staff,/Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,/And deeper than did ever plummet sound,/I’ll drown my book.” Why does he ultimately disclaim ownership and authority on the island? The Tempest teases us with this question.

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.


Contest: What Does THE TEMPEST Look Like to You?

Shipwreck. Magic. Monsters. Loss. Illusion. Betrayal. Restoration. Oh yes dearest William filled The Tempest to the brim with motifs, themes, and symbols for us to grasp and mull over. With all these images and symbols to wade through, it is fascinating to see what image most captures the tale’s essence for each audience member.

The image that comes to mind for me is a dark sea full of beautiful glowing jellyfish. The jellyfish have a lovely delicate exterior like Miranda’s seeming meekness, but, like her, have a secret layer of defensive will.

Show art by Ilsa Brink

Cal Shakes recently revealed the upcoming Tempest production’s alluring show art designed by the fabulous Ilsa Brink. The poster art is surreal and provocative.

But enough about what we think. We’d rather know what YOU think.

What comes to mind when you think of Shakespeare’s The Tempest? Share a copyright-free image (your own or one found through Flickr’s publicly-held image archive The Commons) by either uploading it to our Facebook wall; tagging it “cal shakes tempest” on Flickr; tweeting a link to your image with the hash tag #calshakestempest; or emailing it to Be sure and include your name and, if you like, why this image says “The Tempest” to you, and we may publish it in our Tempest show program! DEADLINE: 5/9

-Marketing Intern Katie McGee


Fare thee well, Cal Shakes!

By Marketing Intern Anna Kritikos

My last day as the Marketing Intern at California Shakespeare Theater is quite nearly here—I leave tomorrow. And I will be sad to go. This summer has been fun, and challenging—a fun challenge, you might say—learning about a whole new company and trying to figure out how I could serve it best as an intern. Nearly all of my time this summer was spent with Cal Shakes: I worked in the office during the weekdays and I was up at the Bruns Amphitheater about three evenings a week, working in the Theater Store. Given this chunky time commitment, it is kind of amazing to me that I never grew tired of Cal Shakes. Not even slightly weary, even though most of what I did this summer was live and breathe Cal Shakes. I was happy to invest so much of my time in this company. I think this is because a) I love theater, and it’s good fun to be around other people who love theater too, and b) because of the energy and passion and friendliness of all of the people who work here. When I told people that I worked in the office for the Marketing Department, they all assumed it was a stuffy, boring work environment. But it is actually a lovely, vibrant office, filled with funny people with buoyant personalities. And not only were they fun people to work with, they are all passionate and talented. So it was a pleasure learning from them and doing tasks for them when I could. And even though they are all so busy, all the time, they always took the time to answer whatever questions I had.

One thing I really appreciated about my supervisors, Marketing and PR Manager Marilyn Langbehn and Publications Manager Stefanie Kalem, is that they always welcomed me into their various meetings, and filled me in and answered whatever questions I may have had. It was really interesting to hear ideas being expressed and discussed, and then see them cultivated and carried out into tangible products, like with the various social media marketing campaigns and development campaigns.

Having the rehearsal hall a stone’s throw away from the office was also awesome. I was able to watch (and help a bit when I could) the photo shoots for the past three shows, and those were fascinating and a lot of fun. I loved observing the collaboration between the director, the actors, the photographer Kevin Berne, Artistic Director Jon Moscone, and Marilyn. The final product always looked magnificent.

Publicity photo for THE VERONA PROJECT, taken by Kevin Berne. (I was there when this was taken!)

Just being around this office, being a fly on the wall, and doing my intern duties—helping with press releases, research, the organizing of archival lofts and A/V closets, aiding the social marketing campaigns and the Cal Shakes blog and so on, has taught me a lot about marketing and office life in general. At the moment, I feel very satisfied with my stint as an intern, and how I have grown from this experience. Granted, I am no fortune teller, but I’m sure that in the future I will come to realize just how much I’ve learned, as I move onwards and look back on my experience here at ol’ Cal Shakes.

So, in conclusion, I am reporting an excellent experience as an intern/Theater Store employee for Cal Shakes. I have grown quite fond of this lovely company, and I will miss it dearly.


Notes from the SHREW Meet & Greet

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? —Dr. Seuss

The Taming of the Shrew

Yesterday was the first rehearsal day for The Taming of the Shrew, the final production of our 2011 season. And though the last show of the season is always steeped in bittersweet, this one has a sense of triumphant closure to put the anticipation level right over the top. As Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone explained at the start of the traditional first-day meet-and-greet presentation, our 2000 production of Shrew (directed by Lillian Groag) was not just the start of Moscone’s very first season here—it was also the first show that his new Associate Artistic Director, Shana Cooper worked on.

Fast-forward to 2011, and a new Shrew is being created in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall, directed by none other than Cooper. It took some work to get her out here, said Moscone, but he kept a promise to Cooper that started the negotiations rolling: As he’d sworn to do when she left Cal Shakes in 2004, he want to see her MFA senior show at Yale, Ghost Sonata.

Love's Labour's Lost at OSF

Cooper's recent production of LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST at OSF; photo by T. Charles Erickson

“I wouldn’t be where I am today or be able to imagine worlds the way I do if it wasn’t for my time here,” said Cooper, fresh from a production of Love’s Labor’s Lost at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She went on to explain how she started 2011 with Romeo and Juliet at Yale Rep, and how she also considers Shrew to be a great love story as well—albeit from a far more adult perspective. In her Shrew, the extremities of violence in R & J‘s culture are replaced by extremes of seductive commercialism. Kate and Petruchio are untamed spirits, creatures of authenticity who stand out in sharp relief to the culture of Padua. And in this play, they begin an adult relationship, which is, by its very nature, a challenging journey.

SHREW set model by Scott Dougan; photo by Dave Nowakowski.

SHREW set model by Scott Dougan; photo by Dave Nowakowski.

Her challenge—and that of her cast and creative team—is to re-hear this play, so that they can give that fresh hearing to the audience. Cooper, herself, heard something in our current production of Candida, which she saw this past weekend, that director Moscone had not heard. In the final scene, Cooper heard Kate in the title character, particularly in this passage:

“Ask James’ mother and his three sisters what it cost to save James the trouble of doing anything but be strong and clever and happy. Ask ME what it costs to be James’s mother and three sisters and wife and mother to his children all in one. Ask Prossy and Maria how troublesome the house is even when we have no visitors to help us to slice the onions. Ask the tradesmen who want to worry James and spoil his beautiful sermons who it is that puts them off. When there is money to give, he gives it: when there is money to refuse, I refuse it. I build a castle of comfort and indulgence and love for him, and stand sentinel always to keep little vulgar cares out. I make him master here, though he does not know it, and could not tell you a moment ago how it came to be so.”

Bianca costume sketch by Katherine O'Neill

Bianca's costumes; sketch by costume designer Katherine O'Neill.

Cooper has no doubt that Shrew is a love story, one with a cost. Both Kate and Petruchio are changed by the end, but only Kate is asked to make her compromises public. Recalling a conversation she had with the freshly-married Erica Sullivan, who plays Katherine in our production, Cooper said, “This play is a testament to the great challenges and joys of marriage. At the end of the day, all we can do is turn to our partners and ask, ‘Is the cost worth it?,'” as the couples of Shrew all do at play’s end.

The world of the play, explained Cooper and set designer Scott Dougan, is one in which appearances are crucial. The whole thing is inspired by pop art, from Warhol and Lichtenstein to Jeff Koons and Banksy and beyond—beautiful colors and bright, graphic pieces that are seductive but ultimately prove themselves to be shallow, empty. “Part of what pop art is about,” said Dougan, “is that it’s not real. Everything is repeatable and sellable.” That is the world of Padua—Baptista’s Hollywood Hills-type home is decorated in the midcentury modern style and intersects with a garish billboard; Bianca (Alexandra Henrikson, currently buttoned-down to the nth degree as Prossy in Candida) is auctioned off using giant cardboard cutouts of herself, and rides something akin to a famous Koons creation into one of her lessons.

And this kind of world, said Cooper, “is what makes what happens between Kate and Petruchio even more miraculous.”


Midsummer’s Happy Days

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but right now—as the cast and creative team of A Midsummer Night’s Dream works overtime during tech rehearsals, in preparation for this Wednesday’s first preview—seems like the perfect opportunity.

Here they are: Some of the great minds and hearts behind Midsummer, attending a performance of Happy Days during less stressful times.

Left to right: Richard Thieriot (“Demetrius”), Avery Monsen (“Lysander”), Joan Mankin (“Snug/Philostrate”), Christina Hogan (Production Assistant), Aaron Posner (Director), Keith Randolph Smith (“Oberon/Theseus”), and Kate Jopson (Assistant Director); photo by Jay Yamada.


“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.


Presidents and Shakespeare

Last week, the New York Times ran an intriguing piece about Presidents and Shakespeare, moving from Obama–who cites Shakespeare’s Tragedies as a favorite book on his Facebook profile, but has yet to start quoting him directly–to the Bardophile Lincoln, and then giving the rundown on the Shakespearean proclivities of Reagan, Clinton, Jefferson, and others. Unsuprisingly, our nation’s leaders tend toward the histories and tragedies; but we’d wager that the man we saw singing “At Last” in his wife’s ear at the Inaugural Ball–and who participates fully in 21st-century technology–would get a kick out of the fresh, fast-moving, and modern take on Romeo and Juliet currently taking shape in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall.*

Read the NY Times piece here.

*Oh, and have we mentioned that single tickets are on sale?


Picture proof positive!

Your old friend Stefanie here, from the Bullpen, aka the Marketing department. As I sort through the many hours of video from our Steinbeck Project road trip and second workshop–with the intention of bringing it in multiple bite-size viewing portions to YOU, our beloved theatergoing public–I wanted to take a break and show you some pictures from the workshop.


I guess I should just let the photos (by Jay Yamada) do the rest of the talking. Maybe THEY know how to punctuate better than I do today.

In the Cal Shakes parking lot, Word for Word’s Patricia Silver, Nancy Shelby, JoAnne Winter, and Cal Shakes’ Ron Campbell work on acting out a section of The Pastures of Heaven‘s “Junius Maltby” story.
Cal Shakes’ Domenique Lozano directs Silver, Shelby, and Campbell. 
Silver, Shelby, and Winter as The Pastures of Heaven‘s townspeople. 
Word for Word co-Artistic Director Winter and Fox Fellowship recipient Campbell as Robbie and Junius Maltby, respectively. 
Meanwhile, inside the rehearsal hall, Word for Word’s Susan Harloe, Jeri Lynn Cohen, and Amy Kossow work on their interpretation of the Junius Maltby story (with Cohen as little Robbie Malby).
Cal Shakes’ Catherine Castellanos and Word for Word’s Cohen, Kossow, and Harloe being directed by Word for Word’s Stephanie Hunt. 
As the Whitmanesque Junius Maltby, Word for Word co-Artistic Director Harloe takes the plunge.

On collaboration, incorporation, and change

Stefanie Kalem here, Cal Shakes Publications Manager. First of all, you may have noticed that the name of this blog has changed from the Bullpen Blog to the Cal Shakes Blog. This is because, as the season nears, it’s not just the Bullpen* that’s full of bull–er, I mean, full of buzz. Almost immediately after our 13th annual gala, we swung full-bore into the next phase of our Steinbeck Project, a two-day research trip to Salinas. Along with playwright Octavio Solis, Cal Shakes Artistic honcho Jon Moscone, Word for Word company members, and sundry Cal Shakes staffers, I rode along to videotape, photograph, and otherwise record this momentous journey to the mysterious Central Valley.

So where’s my blog entry, you ask?

We-ell … about that. I was so busy videotaping and photographing, I didn’t really get to take notes. And as much as I’d like to tell you about our visits to The Farm, the Firehouse Recreation Center, Black Bear Diner, Markham Ranch (the gajillion-dollar housing development that now sits on Corral de Tierra, real-life setting for The Pastures of Heaven), and the Steinbeck Center (not to mention quaint downtown Salinas’ moving picture house) I’ve got to teach myself iMovie and FinalCutExpress this week in order to edit the seven-plus hours of video I shot.

It’ll be worth the wait, I promise–where else can you see and hear myself, Octavio Solis, Jon Moscone, and Word for Word Artistic Director JoAnne Winter singing along in the car to Billy Bragg? Or video of Word for Word’s other Artistic Director, Susan Harloe … hoeing?

The good news is that you can see lots of photos from the trip on the New Works/New Communities Flickr page (and pics from the first research trip back in February as well).

The even better news is also the reason this is no longer solely the Bullpen’s blog**–as the season draws nearer, there are many of Cal Shakes’ other voices that cry out to be heard. Our popular Main Stage actors’ blogs will return in April, as Pericles begins rehearsal. And, as we’re currently right smack in the middle of our second Pastures of Heaven workshop, playwright Octavio Solis and Word for Word charter company member Amy Kossow will be blogging in this space this week, as they tease to life one of the collection’s most fascinating tales, that of the filthy, charming, Whitmanesque slacker Junius Maltby.

This is a wild and unscripted process, as two very different Bay Area theater companies and one award-winning playwright grapple with how to take a collection of twelve interwoven, delicate takes on early twentieth-century farm life (told by, as Jon Moscone put it, “an omniscient narrator who is reticent to reveal”) and bring it to the stage.

Already discussed, in the first day of the workshop (which featured more Word for Word folks, three Cal Shakes Associate Artists, Moscone, and Solis):

The Bracero Program
Smeltertown, TX
John Steinbeck’s schoolteacher mother
Robert Louis Stevenson***
The meaning of the word “monstrous”
Junius Maltby’s resemblance to Michael Jackson
Mexican Corridos
Anton Chekhov
Nonallusionistic storytelling****

Stay tuned for Octavio’s and Amy’s debut blog entries later in the week. And don’t worry, I’ll still be around, with videos of raffle drawings and poorly placed photos and stuff. But in the meantime …he-e-eeeere’s the Cal Shakes Blog!

* The Bullpen is the combined Marketing and Development departments at our Berkeley administrative office, and it’s whence emanated all prior entries of this blog, begun during California Shakespeare Theater’s off-season.

** As I imagine you were wondering when, exactly, I would get to the point.

*** Particularly, this passage:
“There is nothing so monstrous but we can believe it of ourselves. About ourselves, about our aspirations and delinquencies, we have dwelt by choice in a delicious vagueness from boyhood up.” — Robert Louis Stevenson, from the collection Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers

**** Which I first heard as “Nonbeaujonistic storytelling.” But it’s more like “naked theater.” But without the nudity–no allusions, you dig?


Based on a Totally True Theatrical Experience

Back in 2006, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa helmed Cal Shakes’ second NewWorks /New Communities project, King of Shadows (originally known as Sweet Thunder), creating and developing a new take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the help of MFA students at American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco. This was before my time here at Cal Shakes, but this summer, I had the pleasure of going to see a workshop performance of Aquirre-Sarcasa’s Good Boys and True at the Marin Theatre Company. The tense, funny tale of how a private school’s legacy of secrets unravel–revealing the uneven seams of class and sexuality–really lept to life in the hands of the five actors (including Man and Superman‘s Hector Malone, Sr., Steve Irish, and Restoration Comedy‘s Berinthia, Marcia Pizzo), even though they remained seated on stools in a straight line at all times.

We went for drinks afterward, the actors and crew, Joy Meads, me, and some other assorted folks. And Aguirre-Sacasa struck me as a sweet and down-to-earth guy with a pretty deadly wit. It wasn’t till after we’d left the 2AM Club in Mill Valley that Joy told me the playwright also writes comics–like, big ones. X-Men. This may not impress you, but it does me. Superhero comics ain’t my bag, but underground comics are, as is certain strains of sci-fi. I’ve even been trying, off and on this year, to write a script for a comic book series of my own. So I was ticked off that I didn’t get to pick the brain of a pro, especially since, at the time, that brain had been addled slightly by alcohol!

Lucky for me, Aguirre-Sacasa’s got a show running now at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theater. And that play, Based on a Totally True Story, features a comic book writer who (and maybe I’m being too literal here) could definitely be based on a totally true playwright.

At least I can pick the actor’s brain, right?