Get to Know our new Artistic Director Eric Ting

Eric Ting helps plant a tree at the Bruns to commemorate his arrival at Cal Shakes.

Eric Ting helps plant a tree at the Bruns to commemorate his arrival at Cal Shakes.

From cold sesame noodles to The Taming of the Shrew Eric Ting talks about what he loves, what he’s intrigued by, and what he’s most looking forward to when he arrives in the Bay Area.

Where are you from?

I was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. My father was a geologist. He passed away between my junior and senior years of high school, which is why I ended up staying in Morgantown for college; to stay and help my mom who ran a Chinese restaurant for about 23 years. When she retired from the restaurant she turned the whole building into an arts complex with a ceramics studio and walk-in kiln, and a cafe where they exhibit art. She’s been a real inspiration to me.

What are you most looking forward to experiencing in the Bay Area? Other than joining the Cal Shakes team of course!

I’m looking forward to taking my daughter [the four-month old Frankie] to the ocean for the first time.

How did you originally get into theater?

Through puppetry. I was a biochem major at West Virginia University with minors in women’s studies and creative writing. I decided for my last year in school that I would only take classes that I would never ever think to take, and puppetry was one of them. Then I fell in love with it. Joanne Siegrist who was head of the puppetry program there at the time introduced me to all of the design faculty, because I had a visual arts background—I was a sculptor and a painter when I was younger—I ended up getting involved in all these other aspects of theater. I designed the lights for Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill and I was cast in a production of The Comedy of Errors that was directed by Harold Surratt, who is a graduate of A.C.T., and it just kept snowballing from there…

What is the directing accomplishment you’re most proud of?

I directed an adaptation of Macbeth at the Long Wharf that we called Macbeth 1969. It was controversial to say the least. At the time we were in the midst of bringing troops back from Iraq, and I was reading about PTSD and the experiences of soldiers coming home from the war, which Macbeth has all these allusions to. During our second workshop we brought a drama therapy group from a VA hospital to the theater and their responses to the reading… That was a very good moment.

What is your favorite Shakespeare play, and why?

I don’t know that I have a favorite Shakespeare play. I’m not coming here with a list of my top plays that I want to direct; I’m looking for plays that speak to who and where we are now. I love Richard II, Richard III, All’s Well. I love Midsummer. There’s a reason why it gets done all the time. It’s just really good. I’m super intrigued by The Taming of the Shrew. Partly because I don’t know how it lives in the moment today. It’s like throwing a gauntlet down for me when trying to understand how we would do a play like that when there is all this conversation around gender parity in this country. Is there a place for a play like this today? And how do we carve that place out for it? Oh, I love The Winter’s Tale. If there’s going to be something that defines my tenure here at Cal Shakes it will be the plays that I choose and the manner in which they speak vividly to the moment. I’m looking for ways to engage around these timeless works that simultaneously makes a case for: Why now? Why today? Why here?

If you were going to bring a picnic to Cal Shakes what would be in it?

It would have to be Chinese food! Cold sesame noodles, some steamed dumplings… There will definitely be some white rice. There might be some chicken curry… and maybe a Thai lime juice. So, not all Chinese. [laughs]

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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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The Illustrated SHREW

As anyone who does any kind of educational work can tell you, kids can be awfully cute. And the emails, letters, and surveys we get here at Cal Shakes from conservatory campers, residency students, and Student Discovery Matinee attendees range from the sweet to the surprising, the inspiring to the painfully adorable.

The illustration to the right, from an Oakland middle schooler, falls firmly into all four categories. Click on the thumbnail to see the detail with which the student depicts Shana Cooper’s 2011 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Anyone who saw that show—as this student did as part of a Student Matinee audience—will instantly recognize the scenes and the actors! My personal favorite is the caption “MEAN MEETS CRAZY!” (And she obviously knows what she’s talking about when she squeezes in “Cal Shakes iss [sic] the place for go [sic] theatre!”)

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SHREW Grove Talk Podcast

Philippa KellyDr. Kelly explains it all! Our resident dramaturg provides historical and theatrical perspective on Shana Cooper’s production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Music by production Sound Designer Jake Rodriguez. Podcast produced by Will McCandless.

 

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Ask Philippa: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts and answers your questions on our 2011 productions.

Shrew publicity by Kevin Berne

Erica Sullivan (Katherine) and Slate Holmgren (Petruchio) in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW; photo by Kevin Berne.

Written when Shakespeare was in his late 20s and first flexing his muscles for the stage, The Taming of the Shrew engendered both merriment and controversy from the very start, even in a society that was accustomed to the punishment of shrews via bridles and aquatic torture as well as with words. The induction scene that begins this play—both Shakespeare’s induction and the contemporary musical one with which our company has replaced it—firmly situate Shrew as a comedy to be raucously enjoyed. And yet there is cruelty, too—the sharpness of social rejection and the harshness of public humiliation—and, in Shana Cooper’s beautiful production, there are also mysterious and poignant glimpses of love.

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

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Joan Mankin blogs from the set of SHREW

By Associate Artist Joan Mankin

Joan Mankin, Doug Hara, and Danny Scheie in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (2009)

Joan Mankin, Doug Hara, and Danny Scheie (who she rejoins in Shrew) in A Midsummer Night's Dream (2009); photo by Kevin Berne.

I’m so happy to be back working at the Bruns! I missed last summer, so being in the gorgeous new green room and dressing rooms is wonderful. To say nothing of being able to work with such a magnificent cast and crew for The Taming of the Shrew.  I remember when Shana Cooper was an artistic associate at Cal Shakes in 2002—my first year performing there. She’s come back as the director of this show, and her knowledge of outdoor performance and working at the Bruns Amphitheater is incredibly helpful in putting up this complex piece.

We all have so many costume changes. Last night (Sunday) was our first run-through with costumes, and we were all running around backstage trying to figure out what to put on next. I’m really interested to see how this piece works for the student matinees. I can’t imagine that the kids won’t love Kate and Petruchio wrestling. Right now my hardest task is figuring out how many different mustaches I can wear.

 

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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.”

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Dancing Doors and Gossiping Trees at Two Week Summer Shakespeare Conservatory

By Katherine Goldman, Education Management Intern
Hello everybody! I’m Katherine, one of two education management interns in the Artistic Learning department of the California Shakespeare Theater. Working at Cal Shakes has been an amazing experience so far. Because I’m an arts administration intern, I spend most of my time working in our main offices, learning how to make all of our education programs run. We have  a bunch of programs, mostly for students (Summer Shakespeare Conservatories, Student Discovery Matinees, assemblies, and classes), but also a few for the life-long learners in our audience, such as Inside Scoops and pre-show Grove Talks.  With so many different programs, I’m always working on different projects, like running tech for an assembly or talking to parents about our summer conservatories. One of my toughest (yet most fun) projects was cutting The Taming of the Shrew down to a one-page version to be performed by our students before Student Matinees. It’s one of the ways we introduce the Main Stage plays to students—they perform the miniature version as fast as they can, get the gist of the major plot points, and then see the professionals do the show. Let me tell you, it isn’t easy to fit an entire play into one page, but  I can’t wait to see how the students react when they attend the play in the fall.

Even though I’m working in the office most of the time, sometimes I get to attend our educational programs. And the highlight of the summer so far has been working as a group leader at the Holy Names Conservatory. For two weeks, I escorted a group of 18 10- and 11-year-olds (known as the Riotous Knights) through busy days of classes and rehearsals. Although the camp was only two weeks long, the students were taught many acting fundamentals: improvisation, movement, voice/text, acting, Shakespeare history, and even some stage combat. They had a blast in the stage combat class—after all, what kid doesn’t love pretending to attack their peers? Especially when the fights were dropped into the wackiest scenarios:  stolen cookies, lost shoes, even a few ninjas who can only move in slow motion.

A good theater camp wouldn’t be complete without some crazy costume days. And crazy costume days we had, with Dress Like a Celebrity Day and Pajama Day. I loved Celebrity Day—of course we had several Justin Biebers (including a member of our staff), and a group of the eldest students came in full make-up as members of the band KISS. We had historical figures, musicians, even a cartoon character or two.

On our Master Class Monday, the Riotous Knights had some brand-new classes: They learned about the art of storytelling and they practiced applying some specialty stage makeup. My group of 11-year-olds aged before my eyes when they put on old-age makeup. It was surprisingly effective; an hour after that class, I spotted one of the Riotous Knights down the hall and had to do a double-take. She truly looked like she was in her 70s! But the surprise of the morning was the class about Professionalism, when L. Peter Callender came in and discussed with my students how to pursue acting as a career. Some of the Riotous Knights just wanted to do theater for fun, but others had really intelligent questions about the business of acting. I was impressed by how seriously they took the class. Having just graduated from an acting school myself, I’ve been asking many of the same questions that they asked. But don’t worry, parents: The number one point they learned was that school has to be the first priority.

After mornings of training, the afternoons were spent in rehearsals. Each of the five groups at Holy Names was working on a different play; the Riotous Knights were working on The Merchant of Venice with the amazing director Cat Thompson. Cat’s enthusiasm was contagious, and every Riotous Knight fell in love with her energy and love for the show. This production of Merchant was all about the ensemble, and every student was invested in the show and the story. The students came up with a bunch of innovative ideas for staging, and no ideas were impossible: We had doors that danced offstage, trees that giggled and gossiped, and caskets that sparkled with personality. The best part? The kids loved

Education management intern Katherine Goldman

playing those doors, trees, and caskets. The play was a complete success, and every student played a major role in the telling of the story. Our final performance went swimmingly and they had a ball being actors on the lovely stage at Holy Names High School.

Absolutely, without a doubt, the most amazing part of working with the Riotous Knights over the last two weeks was watching them grow. I saw the shyest kids become social butterflies. I saw how their work as an ensemble transferred to all their classes and break-time conversations. I saw them make interesting choices, collaborate, and produce a piece of theater that they understood and wanted to perform. And best of all, it was fun! Learning, growing, and having fun: It just doesn’t get better than that.

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It’s Almost Showtime at the Shakespeare Summer Conservatory!

By Sloane Henry, Artistic Learning Intern

The Bentley Five-week Conservatory is in full swing! We’re almost half way through and time continues to fly by. I have been stage managing for the Merry Kinsmen—the youngest group (third–sixth grade) and I am proud to say that they are well on their way to a very solid production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Heidi Abbott

The 3 witches of MACBETH take a break from rehearsing with intern Bristol Glass to strike a pose

and led by PIP Sam Coughlin, that sends a much more positive message than a traditional staging of the Shakespeare play. I am also anxious to see the oldest group, The  Queen’s Own, pull off their own rendition of Titus Andronicus directed by Susannah Martin, staged managed by PIP Cordelia Miller, and supported by their fearless leader, PIP Brett Jones. Cal Shakes just closed a powerful production of Titus on their Main Stage, so the Queen’s Own have been very fortunate to acquire many of its props this way. But it’s very clear how important it is to these kids to make this show their own, as they have set up multiple bake sales at Conservatory lunch to raise money for additional props and special effects.

The cast of TAMING OF THE SHREW decked out in pirate garb.

There is also a lot of buzz around the Fortune Artists’ modern take on The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Catherine Castellanos and stage managed by Caitlin Volz. From what I’ve heard in rehearsals, it looks like the second-oldest group has taken a cue from The Verona Project and is featuring the players’ musical talents in the show. I talked to some Noble Knaves (the second-youngest group) during a break and they seemed very confident in their progress with Macbeth, directed by Laura Lowry, stage managed by Sam Callahan, and headed by PIP Bristol Glass, declaring “We’re all blocked and almost off-book!”

The Riotous Knights leap for joy. HUZZAH!

And last, but not least, the Riotous Knights’ Twelfth Night, directed by Ryan O’Donnell, aided by PIP Jordan Reiff, and currently staged managed by Sophie Kreeger (while their other stage manager, Julia Van Broeck is working the Cal Shakes Main Stage production of The Verona Project) is looking like it’s going to be a wild ride complete with hippies, colored hairspray, disco, Ke$ha, and a live band.

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