Dance Jamming with Traci Bartlow and the Cast of SPUNK

Artistic Intern Andrea Safar gives a report from inside the Spunk rehearsal room.


cast of Cal Shakes Spunk with director Patricia McGregor and choreographer Poloma McGregor.

Spunk rehearsals. How to even begin to describe them? They are a vortex of laughter, comfort, and warmth. The ensemble converts the chilly white-walled room into a home and there’s no way you will leave without a smile on your face! 

Luckily, I have been given the task of producing the Friday night dance parties—or Onstage Dance Jams— wherein local choreographer Traci Bartlow, will invite audience members onstage after the 90-minute show to learn a few moves and dance together. The audience will learn moves from the Lindy Hop, jazz dances, and even how to Charleston. Traci was invited to rehearsal to show the cast the same steps so that they can incorporate them in the performance.

They started their dance rehearsal with the same warm-up the cast always uses. We stood in a circle (I was lucky enough to be included) and we clapped and chanted “I am,” “I want,” “I need,” “I feel,” with all of us, one by one, completing the sentences. It was full of joy and L. Peter Callender, who plays Sykes and Slang Talk Man, finished it by saying “I feel … like I need to give everyone a hug!” and we all jumped around embracing and laughing and just being glad to be in the same room with one another.

Traci then turned on some music and had the group follow her dance steps. They barely stumbled, and were almost immediately in sync and having a good time. The jazzy and cool music—similar to the tunes in the show—filled the room and everyone felt the rhythm and flow within them. Even those of us who weren’t dancing were still moving a little in our chairs or tapping our feet. I can already envision the audience members feeling the music move them the same way when watching Tru Peterson, playing Guitar Man, make music on stage.



Music Is Like Breathing: An Interview with SPUNK’s Guitar Man

Anthony “Tru” Peterson as discusses his views on life, music, and the extraordinary Cal Shakes production of Spunk directed by Patricia McGregor. Interview by Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt.


"Guitar Man" Anthony "Tru" Peterson in the rehearsal room for Spunk.

 I was seated in Jonathan Moscone’s office, anxiously waiting for Spunk’s “Guitar Man” Anthony “Tru” Peterson’s first strum on his lap steel guitar. “Music is another language that takes us to a different place,” he said, and then Marketing Director Janet Magleby and I sat in awe as he took  us on a journey home to the south. You could almost hear the laughter of children playing and taste the ice-cold sweet tea at your granddaddy’s house, swaying lazily on a porch swing hand-in-hand with a loved one. It seemed as almost though Tru went into a trance-like state, shutting out every distraction of the modern world, and just played. This guy really pours his heart out into his music; there’s no faking this kind of passion and ability.

The blues is a style of music that explores the not-so-perfect side of life, diving into something deeper and realer. The emotions I felt during this session rejuvenated my spirit…and the interview hadn’t even started yet! “What would you like to ask me?,” Tru began with a smile.

Tru’s kind demeanor and remarkable laugh made me feel like I was just talking music with an old friend. I asked about his “I Dare You to Make Music” concept where children get to explore the natural rhythms in their bodies, and turn feeling into action. Tru explained how he would take sheets of paper, and would tell the kids to do anything they felt to it, then rip it up himself. Music comes from a real and true feeling, he explained, and many of his unique exercises taught young students how to connect to art. “Every child and every story is different, and as much as they gain from you, you learn just as much from them.”

Tru lazily strummed his guitar, adding a mesmerizing background to his tales on music and life. We got to the root of what makes a musician when Tru said, “If the power went out and a DJ’s equipment got turned off, would they be able to pick up an instrument and play?” There are so many forms of music made possible by new technology, and accessible via the internet, making for a large variety of music; but also a large output of junk. It really is important for our generation to be able to weed through that junk, and to realize that we are capable of making music ourselves.

“Music used to be used as a herald for change,” Tru said, a tradition he calls upon with his melodies for the three remarkable short stories by Zora Neale Hurston that make up Spunk. Tru stated that the dark truth behind African-Americans’ journey in America is something that many people are afraid to discuss. If a person of color expresses feelings on that history, they’re sometimes stereotyped as a “ typical angry negro,” he said, or other hurtful assumptions. Spunk breaks those barriers; these stories are a part of our history that everyone needs to learn, regardless of background or color.

Onstage Tru’s music becomes the background of the story, like a soundtrack to a movie taking the audience through the twists and turns of the show. Tru described director Patricia McGregor as being a “rare find of a human being” and the entire cast as having a dedication to their art like he’s never seen. “Why would my character feel this way in this scene?,” actors ask each other at the picnic table during lunch. Tru described tremendous joy to come to work every day and work with the welcoming people of Cal Shakes.

As if picking his brain about music wasn’t enough, I even got to jam with this blues legend, singing my own version of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.” When I forgot the lyrics to the bridge Tru gladly joined in, making Janet and me glow. And as memorable as that was for me, these rehearsals have been just as much so for Tru. Asked what his most memorable project has been so far, he answered, simply: “I’ll tell you a secret. Spunk”.

Click here to listen to Tru’s original music recorded that day.

Anthony “Tru” Peterson began teaching music at age 14 and became one of the youngest members of the faculty a year after graduation from the Berklee College of Music. He has worked on songs for producer Andre Harrell on Atlantic Records, and director Spike Lee for Columbia records. He has performed and recorded projects with Peter Gabriel, Joan Baez, Janis Ian, and Cassandra Wilson. These alliances took him all over the world, on television, and on various recordings as well as his own debut CD, I’m Not Through Dreaming.






Original Music from SPUNK

SPUNK costume sketches by designer Callie FloorHere are a couple of original musical compositions by Anthony Michael Peterson, a.k.a. Tru, who plays Guitar Man in our upcoming production of Spunk. These tracks, recorded by Will McCandless, are similar to the original music Tru is adding to Chic Street Man’s already smokin’ score.

Tru’s ukulele ditty
Tru’s acoustic number
Tru on slide guitar 



Meeting and Greeting the Story Inside Us All

Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt offers a look into the Spunk meet and greet with Director Patricia McGregor and cast.

“There is no agony like hearing the untold story inside of you.”—Spunk

Spunk Costume Photo

Spunk costume design by Callie Floor.

The rehearsal space at Cal Shakes was abuzz with laughter and smiling, eager faces. I settled into my seat within the sea of interns, all excited to see what a Meet and Greet entails. The story of Spunk unfolded as director Patricia McGregor captivated the room with her moving language and an enthusiasm that everyone could feel. A key theme in Spunk is home, and Patricia began to connect her concept of what it was like to grow up in the South to the show. She explained how her hometown inspired a sense of community by focusing on the meaning of sharing and storytelling.

 She then began to bridge the gap of time by bringing everyone in the room back to the good old days. Her vivid descriptions of drinking ice-cold lemonade on your granddaddy’s porch was accompanied by Anthony Peterson, A.K.A. Tru, (Guitar Man and musical director for Spunk) improvising bluesy rhythms on his lap steel guitar. Everyone was rapt as Tru set the mood of the story, sculpting the emotions of the Deep South right there in front of us. 

 Patricia quoted an old adage: “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” There are bumps in the road in every person’s journey and one of the things that get people through is the simple feeling that someone cares; everyone needs to feel appreciated and loved and this is one of the beautiful themes of this show. The audience even gets to feel the love by actively participating and engaging with the actors just before the show begins, at the top of the first act.

 We got to hear from Paloma McGregor, Patricia’s sister and choreographer for Spunk, who gave her perspective on how movement and dance are incorporated in the show: The lively nature and movement mixed with dynamic character roles is definitely something to look forward to. The cast themselves sure had a lot of spunk, the type of actors whose chemistry you could see just as they sat around their table. The cast was sure not afraid to laugh, and this was just part of their magnetism.

 Patricia talked about how it was important for her to honor Zora Neale Hurston’s vision of giving a voice to the voiceless. This theme is something every person can relate to, regardless of skin color or age or any of the other categories designed to divide us. Everyone has their own personal story and should embrace where they have been in order to get to where they are going. I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to see these characters come to life and “git to the git with some pain n’ some spit n’ some spunk.”  

 Spunkthree tales by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by George C. Wolfe, music by Chic Street Manplays at the stunning Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA July 4-29, 2012.