Off to Ashland! A Weekend of Theater and Discussion in Oregon

This October 3-5, Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly will lead a trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Attendees will stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel and attend three plays during their stay, while enjoying dinners, cocktails, and conversation with Philippa and other guests. Philippa will lead discussions on each play and give her own insight. If you are interested in attending or learning more, please call or email Special Events Manager Shelly Jackson at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 12.

The Tempest

Dennis Arndt in The Tempest. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Why perform a play at this time, in this space, and for this audience?  What kind of play are we watching? These are some of the questions that a dramaturg asks, either when beginning work with a cast and crew or when leading a tour like the one we’ll be taking to Ashland this October. We’ll be seeing The Tempest, Shakespeare’s late work that explores revenge, relinquishment, aging, deep love, and indeed, the surrender that comes with such love. What do we know about Shakespeare’s life at the time when he was writing The Tempest? He wrote the play at the age of 47, yet themes of mortality had underscored his writing from quite early in his career, as with Sonnet 73: “That time of year thou may’st in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/ Upon those boughs which shake against the cold…”

Water by the Spoonful

Daniel José Molina in Water by the Spoonful. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

We’ll also see Water By the Spoonful, whose plot pivots on a returning Iraq War veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia. Haunted by his memories, and of one in particular, this literally crippled man interacts with various characters who have, each in a different way, been crippled within the alienating modern world. I’ve recently done a lot of research on the experience of war veterans—both in reading and by interview—and I look forward to integrating some of this knowledge into our pre-show session on Water by the Spoonful.

Kenajuan Bentley and Jack Willis in The Great Society.

Kenajuan Bentley and Jack Willis in The Great Society. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The third play we’ll see is The Great Society, the sequel to Robert Schenkkan’s remarkable play All the Way, which blew me away when I saw it in 2012. This new play is again about Lyndon Johnson, looking at the period from 1965 to 1968 when LBJ struggled to fight a “war on poverty” as the Vietnam War escalated out of control.

I love leading these tours because they challenge me to enrich the experience of play-going for all of us who meet up there in Oregon’s beautiful theater town, surrounded by lush walking trails. In addition, I bring in guest artists and dramaturges to chat with you over dinner—many of the OSF staff members have become my friends since I worked there last year, and they bring an intimate (and often humorous) knowledge to our table. I want to share it all with you.

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Additional Details on the Ashland OSF Tour with Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly:

WHEN: Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5, 2014

LODGING: The elegant Ashland Springs Hotel in the heart of downtown, just steps away from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

DINING: Your package includes Friday night cocktail reception and dinner, and Saturday night dinner at a restaurant in town; breakfasts included with your stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel.

ENTERTAINMENT

FRIDAY EVENING: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s classic tale as reimagined by Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone. In Shakespeare’s romance, sorcery and love transmute vengeance into humility and humanity, making it possible for all to return to a world made new by the power of forgiveness.

SATURDAY MATINEE: Water by the Spoonful, directed by Shishir Kurup. In this fearless, groundbreaking Pulitzer Prize–winner, worlds virtual and real unfold onstage, challenging our notions of family, forgiveness, community, and courage. A janitor. A software mogul. A college grad. An IRS paper-pusher. Although they live thousands of miles apart, these four people share a secret: They’re recovering addicts who’ve found a safe haven in an online chat room. There, with liberal doses of jokes and bullying, they help each other navigate the broken terrain of their lives. But when an Iraq War vet’s tragedy spills over into their cyberhome, everything changes.

SATURDAY EVENING: The Great Society, directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director), the tumultuous beginning of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency that Robert Schenkkan presented in All the Way (2012) continues in part two, The Great Society. This world premiere is an unflinching examination of the morality of power.

SUNDAY MORNING: We’ll come together to reflect on our experience of all three productions this weekend, facilitated by Philippa’s illuminating insights.

TRANSPORTATION: Transportation to and from Ashland is not provided. Short distances in Ashland (from hotel to restaurant, hotel to theater) are readily walkable by people in moderate health.

COST: $1,200 per person double occupancy, or $1,350 single occupancy (includes a $500 tax-deductible contribution to Cal Shakes). A deposit of $300/per person is required to confirm your reservation.

RSVP: Please call or email Special Events Manager Shelly Jackson at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 12.

2013 Ashland trip participants

2013 Ashland trip participants.

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The Tempest Brings Out the Best in Student Audience … and Local Cows

 

SMAT Pic

Pictured: The cast of The Tempest takes a bow for the Student Discovery Matinee audience; photo by Jay Yamada.

Director of Artistic Learning Trish Tillman gives us an inside look at the first Student Matinee of The Tempest.

We had our first Tempest matinee today, with a brand new group of Artistic Learning interns, and a really excited, well-prepared audience of students.  They came from many schools, including Willard Middle and The Academy in Berkeley, Oakland Charter and Joaquin Moraga from Oakland, and several private school groups.  We saw familiar residency teachers, some conservatory students, students who reeled off ALL the student matinees they had been to since 2009, plus students brand new to our theater.

The whole audience was admirably attentive, even when tempted to shriek as the clown Trinculo dove headfirst under the monstrous Caliban’s smelly cloak, and when the young lovers swooned over each other. I talked to several students I knew at intermission and several that I didn’t, and all were enjoying it very much.  There was a full forest of hands up when Clive Worsley, our inimitable Moderator, asked after the show what their favorite moments were.  The marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, the creation of the tempest itself (with only sound effects, actors in raingear, a rope and a stick) and the Trinculo-under-the-cloak moment won out for favorites.

The Question and Answer time after the show was attended by actors Nicholas Pelczar (Trinculo, Ferdinand), Catherine Castellanos (Antonio, Caliban), Erika Chong Shuch (Ariel), as well as sprites Travis Santell Rowland and Aaron Moreland.  They were ALL spectacularly articulate and respectfully serious in answering every question, ranging from “Is it hard to memorize Shakespearian language?” to “Was it weird being under the cloak?” to “How did you all decide to be actors/dancers?”  There was also a seriously playful moment when a student asked if Aaron was really singing the song when the marriage dance occurs, and he said no, but that he could sing and that it was a famous song by Nat King Cole.  He asked the kids if they knew Nat King Cole and (interestingly) a lot of hands went up (besides chaperones and teachers!).  Then they asked him to sing the song, and he sang the first two lines, very nicely, to thunderous applause.  They then asked him to sing a pop song (anyone know “One Direction?”) which he didn’t know, so an entire girls’ chorus from Willard sang a verse to him.  (Also to thunderous applause.)

Catherine ended the Q&A session by saying that being an actor really helped her as a person who is full of feeling to be able to deal with life by learning to express powerful emotions on stage.  There was a little hush in the theater after she said that it was a blessing to her to be an actor.  (And then more thunderous applause!)

The only rather sad note was that a very large group of students from one public high school were not able to attend due to their inability to get their school administration’s authorization in time, even though the teacher had reserved seats with us weeks in advance.  So the audience was somewhat smaller than what we’d like, to be able to serve as many students as possible.  If you are anyone who is close to an underserved school or want to build a relationship with such a school, I’d love to talk to you about becoming a special liaison.  Relationships are crucial to what we do and what keeps us going.  Sometimes just an extra bit of attention can keep schools feeling connected and excited to be with us, and that is a commodity that is really lacking in those communities.  And then they can keep their commitments and the students benefit so, so much.

A final note: the beautiful rolling hills behind the theater stage are home to a few groups of wandering cows, and for some reason during the Q & A today they were especially vocal.  Loud MOOs punctuated almost every sentence said by an actor; so much so that it seemed like the cows wished to answer the questions themselves.  There was a special round of applause for the newly named Cal Shakes Cow Chorus, after which a collective MOOOOO rose from the students and reverberated back into the hills. A Tempest remember.

 

The Tempest  opens at the stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA, Saturday, June  2, and continues until Sunday, June 24.

 

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The Inspiration for THE TEMPEST

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly reveals real-world inspiration for one of Shakespeare’s final plays.

The Tempest has an unclear setting: We know simply that it takes place somewhere in the Mediterranean, since Alonso and Antonio are on their way back from Tunis (where Alonso’s daughter has been reluctantly married off) to Naples. The Tempest is also one of the few Shakespeare plays not to have a clear literary source. It is thought to have been inspired by Shakespeare’s reading of a real-life event described by a voyager: On July 24, 1609 a fleet of nine English vessels was nearing the end of a supply voyage to the new colony of the Bermudas when it ran into “a cruel tempest,” presumably a hurricane. The vessels in the fleet couldn’t keep together, and two fared particularly badly. One of them, The Sea Venture, carrying the fleet’s Admiral, ran ashore.

The Sea Venture

"The Sea Venture in a Heavy Sea in 1609," painting by Christopher Grimes

How could they have survived such peril? Ariel conveys the amazement that Shakespeare probably felt in reading of the safe delivery of the sailors to the shore: “Not a hair perish’d,” he says to Prospero in wonderment. Exhausted by battling the tempest and suffering the effects of food deprivation, the sailors huddled on the battered ship in corners or, indeed, as one sailor put it, “wheresoever they chanced first to sit or lie.”[i]  This sailor’s account was most likely the basis for Ariel’s report to Prospero:

The mariners all under hatches stow’d;

Who, with a charm join’d to their suffer’d labour,

I have left asleep…

Moreover, Ariel herself (for whom there is no literary precedent) was probably inspired by what the sailors saw after the wreck of the Sea venture. The Virginia Company Secretary William Strachey, one of the survivors, reports seeing in the aftermath:

An apparition of a little round light, like a faint star, trembling and streaming along with a sparkling blaze,…shooting sometimes from shroud to shroud, tempting to settle as it were on any of the four shrouds:…half the night it kept with us, running sometimes along the mainyard to the very end, and then returning. [ii]

As you’ll read in my program article, what Strachey saw was a phenomenon called “St. Elmo’s Fire”—the luminous plasma created by an electric field emanating from a volcanic eruption or a storm. Ariel describes himself to Prospero, flitting around the shipwreck, “flam[ing] amazement,” “burn[ing] in many places: on the top mast,/The yards and bowsprit….” To the cramped streets of London, Shakespeare brought these images of a sparsely-populated island, a place whose existence had only recently been made known to Europe at all. Not unlike Prospero—whose art contracts the vagaries of life into his magically-controlled universe—Shakespeare contracted the far reaches of the known world to the perimeter of his dramatic stage, using the stage itself to infuse this world with its own far-reaching mysteries.

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.

[i] This account was given by Silas Samuel Jordan, whose job it was to keep a daily log of events on the ship.

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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.

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Where Are the Mothers in Shakespeare?

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly muses on maternal absences in The Tempest and other Shakespeare plays.

Pericles photo by Kevin Berne

A rare Shakespeare mother and child reunion: L-R, Sarah Nealis (Marina), Delia MacDougall (Thaisa), Ron Campbell (Cleon), and Christopher Kelly (Pericles) in PERICLES (2008); photo by Kevin Berne.

In Renaissance times the mother was the family member principally involved with her children’s education and upbringing. Yet in Renaissance drama older women were rarely represented onstage in what would obviously be one of their more sympathetic roles: that of the loving and nurturing mother. This lack is partly explained by the fact that women were not allowed to perform on the English stage: All of the female roles were played by young boys before their voices broke, so that a younger character part was obviously a better physical and vocal match. The lack of mothers in Shakespeare is notorious:  We have the noticeably absent Mrs. Prospero (of whom Prospero says merely that “thy mother was a piece of virtue”); the apparently nonexistent Queen Alonso; and the devilish witch Sycorax, Caliban’s dead mother.  Consider this lack of mother-nurturers in context with the three sisters in King Lear, Imogen in Cymbeline, Marina in Pericles, Portia and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Ophelia in Hamlet, Desdemona in Othello, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It, characters who are all deprived of mothers. Moreover, almost all of the older women Shakespeare does represent onstage offer negative images of motherhood: Volumnia in Coriolanus; Gertrude in Hamlet; and Lady Macbeth, who says that she would have been a terrible mother if she had had the chance to be one. And as for Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, we can infer that, having herself been married at age 13, she depicts a former girl-bride who learned principally to please her husband.

Why does Shakespeare exploit this idea of the older woman as largely absent figure, or an unsympathetic one if she must be present, except for those few rare mothers who, like Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and Thaisa in Pericles, are effectively buried alive, losing their children either forever or for most of the play? (Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, for example, is forced into a 16-year banishment so that her husband can undergo a process of personal moral regeneration.) We might hypothesize about the playwright’s own life, married, as he was, to a woman eight years older than himself who reached middle age well before he did. We know that William Shakespeare spent most of his married life living in London, while his wife Anne Hathaway lived in Stratford with their children. We also know that Shakespeare’s plays were written in an extremely patriarchal period. But we can also see how useful a mother might be to a girl as, at a very young age, she comes face-to-face with the complexities of love and life.

And this is where there emerges a structural and thematic reason for the absence of mothers in Shakespeare. Aside from helping to solve the difficulty of finding boys who could plausibly play the parts of mature women, this lack allowed Shakespeare to create an important dramatic pretext: By taking away the mother (either, as in Romeo and Juliet, as a figure of real guidance or, as in many of his plays, like The Tempest, as a presence onstage at all), Shakespeare creates a gap in the young female characters’ lives, compelling them to develop that extraordinary independence and character that makes them so attractive. It is the completely sheltered and yet wise Miranda, after all, who first sees inherent nobility in the King’s son, of whom she knows nothing at all except that “nothing natural/I ever saw so noble.” Prospero might shape events in the world through his magic: But it is this young girl, Miranda, who shapes her own destiny through her heart.

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.

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How many goodly creatures are there here!

Stage Management PIP Alex Kimmel offers a window into the Tempest rehearsal hall.

interns at Haight-Ashbury

Interns Katie, Jessica, Erin, and Alex at Haight-Ashbury.

I’m Alex and I’ve just completed my first week as an SM intern at Cal Shakes! Three cheers to Erin, Andrea, Katie, Jess, Kendall, and Jessica—all the other interns—for completing their successful first weeks!

And it has been such a fantastic first week. Just yesterday, we stumbled through all of Act I, and it looks fantastic. This comes as no surprise, but I am just overwhelmed by the talent and hard work everyone has thrown into this play. The play goes by quickly and is packed full of beautiful movement pieces, moving language, and lots and lots of charm and wit.

Since internships are about learning I thought I would use this blog to share the lessons I have learned at Cal Shakes so far.

Lesson 1: Cal Shakes folks are friendly folks! Smiling seems to be part of the dress code and everyone is extremely helpful (especially explaining how to properly use “Big Ricoh,” the printer).

Lesson 2: Percolators make weak coffee… I have yet to discover the ideal coffee- to-water ratio in a percolator, and for that I apologize to everyone who drinks the coffee I make. I’m working on it, and it’s getting better (I promise)!

Lesson 3: The nanosecond you take your eyes off the prompter’s script is the nanosecond that someone calls for line.

Lesson 4: Glitter is fun but it’s a bear to pick up. Folding the glitter makes it easier and faster to pick up (thanks, Corrie Bennett!).

Lesson 5: The universe—and Cal Shakes folks—are generous. If you mention that you are looking into buying a bike, someone may give you one for free (thanks again to Corrie!). That being said, the intern house would benefit from a vacuum …

Lesson 6: The songs in the play will get stuck in your head for three days straight. Singing Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” is an effective if unpleasant way to get the songs of the play out of your head (Thanks Catherine Castellanos!)

Lesson 7: Actors are creative, witty people (see Lesson 6), and if you give them a prop of a roasted rabbit on a spit, they will do creative, witty things with it … primarily when they are on their breaks.

Lesson 8: Scamels are delicious if you know how to cook them correctly.

I hope you have found these lessons as valuable as I have; if there are any that you don’t understand, I hope you take it as incentive to come see The Tempest opening in just two short weeks! It’s going to be a magical show!

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Ask Philippa: THE TEMPEST Edition

Philippa Kelly by Robert Friedman

Philippa Kelly by Robert Friedman

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes and production dramaturg for The Tempest, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. The Tempest runs May 30–June 24, 2012.

The Tempest is a “Romance” play, best introduced in relationship to King Lear, written six years before it 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 made bittersweet because 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. As Jonathan Moscone said at the Inside Scoop, the play is full of beautiful tropes—love, romance, loss, relinquishment—and we’re asked to open our hearts unguardedly to all of them via the production’s spectacle, movement, and beautiful poetry.

Are you going to see our  production of  The Tempest? 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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