#ThrowbackThursday: The Triangle Lab Wall at the Bruns

December 17, 2015

 Before they enter the Bruns amphitheater to watch one of Cal Shakes’ mainstage productions, we invite our audiences to interact with themes from the work on our Triangle Lab wall. Here is a look back at the exhibits from our 2015 season, and the stories our audiences had to share:

 For Twelfth Night, we invited audiences to consider ways, big or small, that they’ve been surprised by their capacity to love:

 “As a gay man, I never thought I could love unconditionally until I had kids. Thank you, Goddess!”

“I never thought I could love myself until I learned to embrace my flaws and forgive myself”

“I never thought I could love being difrent until I relised it’s all I’ve got” [sic]

“I never thought I could love after my divorce until I saw her in a mirror, dancing w/ me step for step!”

 For Life is a Dream, audiences voted for destiny or free will as the driving force shaping our lives (destiny beat free will four to one!):

 “Destiny due to genes – the rest we can choose (except for all the -isms out there)”

“my actions are my only true belongings”

“Destiny is romantic but I build my DREAM -SAF”

“‘LIFE IS LIKE A SONNET’ ‘freedom within a form'”

“The things that happen are random – the way I respond isn’t!”

“Because I’m a hopeful romantic.”

 The Triangle Lab wall for The Mystery of Irma Vep was built like a haunted house attraction, encouraging audience members to reach beyond it to feel “zombie brains” and other vaudeville horrors. We also asked audiences to suggest titles for the wall’s horror library, and their submissions ranged from the wildly imaginative to the terrifyingly everyday:

“If you ever find a trail of fruit loops…FOLLOW THEM!”

“night of th living pasta By Aiden” [sic]

“The Day the Adult Children Returned Home to Live! by Seymore Frustration”

“The Boy who cried and was reprimanded by his misogynistic Father by A. Feministe”

For King Lear, we invited audiences to examine their links to heritage and legacy—what we inherit from others, and what we hope to leave behind: 

 “I, Yousef, bequeath love, prayer and blessings to you and your family because everyone needs gratitude in their lives, prayer and an unconditional, loving heart.”

“I, Debbie Carter, bequeath my music to my students & my children because music should be played by many people, over & over again.”

“I inherited the word ‘strength’ from my mommy <3. That’s important to me because it was the morning of her last day on Earth. She gave me a bracelet with the word ‘strength’ on it as a good luck talisman before we headed to a casino she had a bad headache. It was a hemmohrage.” [sic]

“I inherited nothing and everything from my heritage. That’s important to me because you gotta be who are 100% but accept that you are everyone else at the same time. Oneness.” [sic]

On the Bruns stage, Cal Shakes shares stories with our community—and on the Triangle Lab wall, our community shares their stories with us. As valuable as it is for us to learn how audiences connect their diverse lives to the themes of each play, we most love that the wall helps these audiences connect to each other, right before they sit down together, gathered around a story.


#ThrowbackThursday: A Look Back at LIFE is LIVING

October 29, 2015

 For the last eight years, Youth Speaks has presented the LIFE is LIVING Festival in West Oakland, a free celebration of urban life through art, wellness, and environmental action. The festival has served as an incubator for a multigenerational community of local and national hip hop, spoken word, dance, and visual artists and is an exemplar of the work we wish to investigate: how to integrate the arts more fully, more vitally, into community life. This year, the Triangle Lab joyously partnered with Youth Speaks to curate LIFE is LIVING’s first ever theater stage.

We presented excerpts from our upcoming tour of The Tempestcomplete with a performance of music composed for the production by our Laney College collaborators and Olive Mitra:

Teaching artists Carla Pantoja and Carlos Aguirre from Cal Shakes’ Artistic Learning department engaged the crowd in interactive workshops on stage combat and beatboxing:

We also presented a diverse and inspiring line-up of local artists whose work spoke to the festival’s themes of life, community, wellness, equity, and action:

The Lower Bottom Playaz performed Wilson in the Afternoon, an homage to August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle charting African American experience through the twentieth century.

COOL (Congregation of Liberation) explored how queer black artists work together to heal themselves and their communities of internalized oppression and trauma with Black Don’t Crack.

 Campo Santo shared an excerpt from their newest piece, Babylon is Burning.

 Josh Healey performed a comedic story about the intersection of environmental justice and systemic racism. Carlos Aguirre shared his spoken word, rap, and beatbox adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart.

Dahlak Brathwaite and Dion Decibels presented an excerpt from Spiritrials, a personal exploration of the criminal justice system; the Triangle Lab’s own Lisa Evans explored family, legacy, and changemaking in “Lessons From Rivers” ; and Tova Ricardo, Oakland’s 2015 Youth Poet Laureate, opened the day with a powerful poem.

The State of Black Oakland poured libations and honored the lives of black folks slain by state violence.

This collaboration was intense—involving two very different arts institutions, and 10+ theater acts, at a day-long outdoor festival bustling with a range of activity across seven stages—and the result was intensely moving. Together we brought a vibrant and unique dimension to LIFE is LIVING and engaged community members with theater in a way we don’t often have an opportunity to—400 people over the course of the day! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Cal Shakes Theater Stage.

All photos by Sonjhai Meggette of Esoteric Images.


Announcing Call for Artist-Investigators

September 4, 2015

 The Triangle Lab is seeking applications from artists for our 2015-2016 Artist-Investigator program. Artist-Investigators help us discover how the tools of artists can be put to use outside the rehearsal room. If you’re passionate about applying your skills in community settings and interested in collaborative project design, we want to hear from you! Learn more and access the online application here.  The application deadline is September 25 at 5:00 pm.


The Land Home Hero Tumblr is Up!

June 4, 2015 | The Triangle Lab

 Here is a poem from one of the participants in our Artist-Investigator project with homeless vets at Berkeley Food and Housing. Read more on the project blog: http://landhomehero.tumblr.com/

Here it is in the darkest night, 
Streets lit with manmade light
It’s three AM and I don’t sleep
In the distance I hear that Machine Sweep. 
The night is mine and mine alone
Except the sound of the mechanical moan
The rest of the world is sound asleep 
The machine and I their souls to keep. 
The world is ours and ours alone
The cold of night makes us moan. 
And here it is, I am coming down.
The streets are clean, no longer brown. 
And here comes the morning now I can sleep 
Until tonight I can hear that friendly sweep.

– Alex “Shorty” Thorsen

 Alex shared that when being homeless one has to keep oneself awake, in order to not fall asleep in illegal public spaces or otherwise put oneself in danger. Many in the homeless community must resort to using amphetamines, to stay awake all night, only able to truly rest in the light, warmth, and safety of daytime.


Lab Report: My Experience as an Artist-Investigator

By Ayodele Nzinga

It’s hard to know where to start. I always like the beginning. I like big pictures and story/stories. So I think that’s where I will start.

Pictured: Ayodele Nzinga

As an artist it’s hard to find funding for work. The places that offer funding often offer direction as well as funding—thus they become collaborators in the project.

If the funders want you to collaborate with another entity, they too come to the table as collaborator.

When the work comes with a deadline and a set of collaborators, each invested from a different perspective and potentially representing different populations with divergent goals for a commonly derived project, a type of crucible is formed.

To imagine art coming from this crucible can be challenging.

Challenges include:

  • How to hold on to and serve the inspiration that brought you into the room
  • How to be open to not serving that inspiration as you envisioned or imagined it (can your Bird of Paradise seed grow a Meyer Lemon Tree?)
  • Reimagining how to find your inspiration (something of what brought you in the room), inside the things that brought the other collaborators into the room
  • Practicing leaderless/leaderful interaction that results in the production of knowledge that in turns supports action/doing
  • Investing fully and engaging soulfully with the Meyer Lemon Tree
  • Finding the way in which the Meyer Lemon Tree serves the Bird of Paradise seed
  • How to facilitate equal collaboration when collaborators are invested differently, and the acknowledgement that funders are unacknowledged collaborators as well, who influence the trajectory and the boundaries of projects, further complexifies the collaborative art making process

To imagine not making art when given a chance is inconceivable.   Especially if support is offered that facilitates your exploration of what might come of your interaction with Meyer Lemon Trees and you can negotiate the challenges above while engaging the process of making art.

As an artist, I find collaboration an interesting animal. I am not sure I like it, but I understand its importance. The things collaboration gifts are and are not art-making related. That is, the bigger lessons and blessing that come from collaboration transcend the art making process to live in how one addresses the world and builds community.

It is a space in which one must advance ideas as a part of showing up fully, at the same time one must hold space for the ideas of others and view them with as much value as ones own, while helping to facilitate the advancement of a project that in some way reflects our mutually derived vision.

In closing, the process of making art is always as interesting as the art that is the product of the process. The fusion of artist with the practice of research/investigation adds a layer on top of the complexity inherent in collaboration. I am looking forward to the soul of this endeavor which for me lies somewhere beyond the negotiation of the things I have written about here.

So far the experience has been very cerebral and that’s satisfying to my scholar soul – but the artist in me looks forward to painting with my fingers and getting clay beneath my fingernails.

Maybe next time I will blog about how collaboration invites you to be bigger than your dreams of Birds of Paradise.


Lab Report: Artist-Investigator Program Gets Rolling

By Rebecca Novick

Last month we launched a new round of our Artist-Investigator program, in which four distinguished artists partnered with four non-profit organizations to see how theater artists can help meet community needs.  (Read more about the artists and their partners here.)  We’ll be sharing regular “lab reports” on the progress of these experiments, as we find out what happens when the powerful skills of artists are deployed outside the rehearsal room.

Our early meetings have unearthed some exciting possibilities, like the conversation we had with the chaplain at Berkeley Food and Housing Project about creating theater-based rituals to help homeless vets struggling with “moral injury.” Or the proposal from Causa Justa::Just Cause—that their artist Paul Flores work with their clients to help them tell their compelling stories to decision-makers like government officials and funders.

Earlier this week, all of the artists and their partners came together for a day-long training with the dynamic Michael Rohd, whose Center for Performance and Civic Practice has pioneered a lot of the methodology we’re using.  He asked everyone to name assets that artists bring to the partnerships—not just in the “product” we might create, but in how artistic skills influences the process of the collaboration. Here is a portion of the inspiring list the artists generated:

What we bring to the table as artists:

  • my writer self
  • ability to collaborate
  • understanding when communication has not occurred
  • basing work in the body
  • making things happen, moving a process from A to B
  • seeing when things are stuck
  • seeing from multiple points of view
  • listening
  • getting people to tell their story
  • imaginative problem-solving
  • spirit-based work
  • using humor as a tool
  • articulating something for collective interrogation
  • fearlessly naming the elephant in the room
  • asking good questions at the right time
  • witnessing
  • surfacing emotional undercurrents
  • inspiring risks
  • making space for transgression

As exciting as artistic collaboration is, we’ve had to remind ourselves to hold off and be mindful of moving too fast. Our process asks artists and organizations to work off each other; but, speedy implementation is not always fruitful. As Dr. Ayodele Nzinga shared, “I always have a map, but I’m learning to make space for the emergent.”


The Love Balm Project: Form Follows Function

By Arielle Brown

In January of this year, after working as an artist-investigator with the Triangle Lab to explore site specific performances of testimonies from The Love Balm Project, I began a second residency with The Triangle Lab to consider how The Love Balm Project might come to have a more sustained community presence. At the time, Rebecca Novick at Calshakes had been talking with me about the idea of developing a Love Balm Institute. The Institute would be an opportunity for me to train other cultural workers in the methodologies of The Love Balm Project in order to implement them with mothers and other communities in the Bay Area. The inaugural Love Balm Institute took place in may of this year and was a powerful encounter and skill sharing gathering. Still the institute posed more questions than answers. Practitioners who attended the institute brought to light all of the other specific communities that needed work like what the Love Balm Project offered to mothers. As I moved into working on the run of the play at Brava Theatre Center, I filed these questions and concerns. I soon began to think more about the organizational structure of the Love Balm Project. I considered that perhaps I needed to look to other collective organizational structures to inform and get to the root of exactly how I wanted the Love Balm Project to continue on.   Continue reading


Announcing The Triangle Lab’s 2014 Artist-Investigators

Clockwise, from top left: Paul Flores, Elizabeth Gjelten, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, and Krista De Nio.

Clockwise, from top left: Paul Flores, Elizabeth Gjelten, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, and Krista De Nio.

In the Triangle Lab, Cal Shakes’ research and development wing, we experiment with ways to bring together theaters, artists, and communities to ignite change. We believe that through deep collaboration, artists and community members can lift up each other’s work—starting conversation, sharing stories, bridging difference, and activating deeper civic participation.

Our Artist-Investigator Project asks artists to lead our investigation into what the performances of the future might look like, and help us discover what happens when the arts are more deeply integrated into community life.

We are delighted to announce this year’s four Artist-Investigators:

Paul Flores working with Causa Justa::Just Cause

Elizabeth Gjelten working DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing)

Krista De Nio working with Berkeley Food and Housing

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga working with Green Life Project/Pathways 2 Resilience

In 2013, we invited ten artists into the inaugural round to conduct projects that investigated new locations for performance and new methods for community collaboration. You can read more about their projects here.

In the 2014 round of the Artist-Investigator program we will be creating partnerships between artists and non-profit organizations to investigate how the skills of theater artists can help address community issues.

Our Hypothesis: Theater artists have key skills that can be deployed outside the rehearsal room to help community organizations advance their missions

Our Desired Outcomes

1. Organizations can demonstrate specific impact from the project in a mission area they’ve identified.

2. This impact is possible with a relatively small budget ($5000) and investment of time by the artist (about 60 hours).

The Projects

Four artists with experience in performance and community engagement were selected via an open call. Each artist will work with one organization to develop a project together. These small-budget projects will be conducted over the course of one year, and documented carefully so they can serve as models for future collaborations between our sectors. Projects will be driven by the needs of the partner organization and will identify what theatrical skills, techniques, and processes will be most useful to that organization. Projects may or may not include public or invited performances.

We’ve begun exploring what kinds of skills these artists might share with their partner organizations, although we don’t know what will arise from these specific collaborations. For example:

As expert storytellers , theater artists can work with staff, clients or other stakeholders to gather, shape and share relevant stories in dynamic and powerful ways.  Stories – written, performed, or online – can animate public interest, influence key decision-makers, and activate public gatherings.

As skilled story coaches , theater artists can work with clients to find their own voices through training in writing and performance.  Clients can be prepared to advocate for themselves by claiming the power of their own stories and taking charge of their own narratives.

As rehearsal experts, theater artists know how to rapidly try, discard, and reinvent solutions to problems we discover.  Artists can work with staff to brainstorm new programming or to address places where discussion is stuck and work with clients to rehearse solutions to life problems.

As trained team-builders , theater artists can offer skill-building workshops in many areas such as team-building and meeting facilitation skills, public speaking, writing, etc.

As event producers, theater artists can help shape the structure and content of events, celebrations, demonstrations, and other public events, helping to make these events more powerful, enjoyable, and memorable.

We’re very excited to be working with these outstanding artists and this range of extraordinary non-profits.  Watch this blog for more updates on this project throughout the year.


A Night of Fairy Dust and Dancing Queens at the Bruns

This season at the Bruns concluded with a night of dancing, drag queens, fairy wings, and glitter! Friday, September 26th, Cal Shakes hosted a “Find Your Inner Fairy Dance Party” complete with pop-up dancers, gorgeous drag queens, and a costume dance party. Patrons, guest performers, and staff took over the forest grounds in what became a magical night to envelop our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The evening began with dance performances throughout the Bruns grounds. Pop-up dances were choreographed by Dream actor Travis Santell Rowland, with performances by Brianna Anthony, Eric Garcia, Melanie Elms, Parker Murphy, Strobe FEARude Growles, and Travis Santell Rowland (Qween).



Performance art by Diana Sauce in the plaza.

Some Cal Shakes Patrons even came dressed for the party!

Post show performances by some of the Bay Area’s finest Drag Queens, Kings, and a blessing by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence!

To round out the evening, the plaza was transformed into a magical fairyland complete with glistening lights, costume corner, wings, and magical umbrellas.

Patrons, guest performers, and staff fashioned glitter and wings, while everyone danced the night away to a Fairy Dance Party mix provided by Cal Shakes dancers/choreographers Travis Santell Rowland and Parker Murphy.

Thank you for helping make this a night to remember.

If you’d like to see more photos please take a peek at our Flickr stream. (All photos were taken by Sophie Spinelle.)

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the night. Please email rnovick@calshakes.org with any and all feedback.