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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A WINTER’S TALE FAQ

A Winter's Tale by Alessandra Mello

Tristan Cunningham, Zion Richardson, Omoze Idehenre, Mackenzie Kwok in A Winter's Tale; photo by mellopix.com.

The top five commonly asked questions around the Cal Shakes offices about our current production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale—answered at last.

1. Is there going to be a bear onstage?

From Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone: Yes, but you’ll have to see it to find out how it appears.

2. Why is this play less performed/less well known/adapted into film?

From Production Dramaturg Cathleen Sheehan: The play certainly presents some truly daunting challenges in terms of story and staging. There is the dramatic shift in location and tone between Sicilia and Bohemia, the 16-year leap forward, a shipwreck off the coast of Bohemia (which, depending on which scholar you ask about where the  borders were, historically had no coastline), a statue which appears to come back to life, and the tricky business of Antigonus who must “exit pursued by a bear.”

In spite of these challenges and its shifting popularity, A Winter’s Tale has been staged fairly consistently since its inception. In the centuries following its first performances, directors handled these challenges in various ways—sometimes cutting huge portions of the play or allowing one tone to dominate—playing up the Classical themes, for example. In 1756, David Garrick presented Florizel and Perdita at Drury Lane, cutting the first three acts entirely. While 19th–century and early 20th–century productions reinstated Leontes and Hermione as the compelling emotional center of the play, the popular desire for elaborate spectacle meant that the more theatrical elements tended to overshadow the language, characters, and story—and cost a pretty penny as well.

More recently, directors have embraced a more balanced approach to the complexity of the play and accepted the story on its own terms—as a tale including divine, natural, and unusual elements, but one that is essentially human in its struggles and triumphs…with the occasional entrance of a bear.

3. Where in time and space does the play take place?

From Director Patricia McGregor: In this production, in the near future through a Narniaesque door to fantastical fertile lands and the labyrinthine interiors of the self.

4. How will music and dance be featured in the production?

Tristan Cunningham as Perdita

Tristan Cunningham as Perdita in A Winter's Tale; photo by Alessandra Mello.

From Director Patricia McGregor: A Winter’s Tale is performed by a group of traveling storytellers with many tricks up their sleeves. The actors playing Paulina and Autolycus are the ringleaders of this wild theatricalist journey and often use music and dance to transport and transform both the players and the audience. At times, the audience is invited to participate in celebrations and ceremonies through song and dance.

5. What about the play lends itself to a participatory experience?

From Triangle Lab Director Rebecca Novick: I think any play has the potential to be a participatory experience, if the director and the producing theater share that vision.  We like to say that any play could be enriched by “starting with a potluck and ending with everyone dancing on stage.” That said, those are specific participatory activities, and we like to work with directors to design the levels and types of participation that will work best for their production.  In this case, Patricia is particularly interested in how to use a play to build community with an audience, to help people see themselves inside stories that might feel strange or foreign to them, and to encourage people to find their own creative selves.  Seen through that lens, Winter’s Tale is particularly appropriate because it’s a play that asks us to believe that magic can unfreeze our stuck hearts and in Patricia’s production that magic is created collectively by the audience.

A Winter’s Tale runs now through October 20, 2013.

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