The Return of “Ask Philippa”!

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on our 2011 productions.
Philippa Kelly and Joel Sass by Jay Yamada
Titus Andronicu
s, when it first hit the boards in the early 1590s, was a raging success, threatening to steal audiences away from the bear-baiting that was one of Elizabethan England’s favorite spectator sports. This bloody, fast-moving play is Shakespeare’s contribution to revenge tragedy, a formula of wrongdoing, revenge, and inevitable bloodshed that was as popular in the playwright’s time as Law and Order is today. But even in his salad days, Shakespeare succeeded in making this play more complex than the conventional genre from which it emerged: As well as a rollicking grisly ride, Titus Andronicus gives us questions about loyalty, statescraft, and the power of words to shape deeds and lives.

Our you going to see our production of Titus? 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.

Pictured above right: Philippa with Titus director Joel Sass; photo by Jay Yamada.

Posted in By Philippa Kelly (dramaturg), Main Stage | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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>Fireside chats, fundraisers, and the glory of new plays


Cal Shakes has been making inroads into the world of new plays for some time now, with our New Works/New Communities program. Last year, John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, written by Octavio Solis, directed by Jonathan Moscone, and developed in conjunction with Word for Word Performing Arts Company, became the first-ever work to have its world premiere on the Bruns stage. This summer, The Verona Project—Amanda Dehnert’s music filled romp inspired by The Two Gentlemen of Verona—will make its debut at Cal Shakes, as well.
So Artistic Director Moscone knows a thing or two about new plays; PlayGround, a new-play development organization dedicated to local playwrights, knows even more (just don’t tell Jon I said that). PlayGround has been holding monthly Monday night readings at Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage for some time now; gives grants to local theater companies in order to produce world premieres by PlayGround playwrights; and offers master classes and workshops to a variety of experience levels.
While we at Cal Shakes love our Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, Chekhov—even Marivaux!—there’s nothing quite like a new work to reveal the dizzying possibilities of theater. So we’re pleased to be able to invite you to PlayGround’s 15th annual Benefit & Awards Night, coming up Monday, April 11 at the Claremont Hotel. The evening features a fireside chat with Moscone, Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone, and local playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb—creator of BOB, T.I.C. (Trenchcoat In Common), boom, and Hunter Gatherers, to name a few. The party also includes reception, silent auction, and dinner; and the presentation of the 2011 PlayGround Emerging Playwright Awards, the June Anne Baker Prize, and PlayGround Fellowship.
Posted in By Stefanie Kalem, Main Stage, new works/new communities | Leave a comment

>An Artistic Learning Valentine: R & J in Suburbia

>Last week we heard from Eli Wirtschafter, a former Cal Shakes Conservatory student—that’s him on the right, playing Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2009, the summer after his senior year of high school. Eli is now studying at UC Berkeley, and he wrote us to tell us about the production of Romeo and Juliet that he’s directing.

We’ll let Eli take it from here.
It’s a Cal Shakes’ Artistic Learning success story!
Everything I know about Shakespeare I learned from my six summers at Cal Shakes, and the program inspired me to direct my own show. It’s with BareStage, a student-run theater group at UC Berkeley and it opens March 4. Susannah Martin, who I was lucky to have as my director four times, would always set Shakespeare’s plays in a specific period; as we engaged with the text we were also engaging with recent history and how we saw ourselves. It was a continuation of Cal Shakes’ mission of “reimagining the classics.” I’m directing my own production Cal Shakes-style, transposing Verona to an American suburb in 1953. I could go on endlessly, but it’s about disempowered youth, strict ideas about family, and distrust of people who aren’t so different after all.

Here’s some information about the show (and here’s the link to its Facebook event)
Location: Caesar Chavez Student Center
Friday March 4 at 8pm
Saturday March 5 at 8pm
Sunday March 6 at 7pm
Friday March 11 at 8pm
Saturday March 12 at 8pm
Sunday March 13 at 2pm
Students $8, General $10
Tickets available at the door and at
I am constantly grateful to Cal Shakes, and I wanted to tell you what I was up to!
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>More dispatches from Heaven

>Les Reinhardt, stage manager for the our staged reading of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven at the New Play Festival in DC, is blogging about the experience over at Be sure to check it out!

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>Dispatch from Heaven, DC


Amy Kossow of Word for Word and the cast of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven sent this dispatch from the New Play Festival at Arena Stage in DC, where selected scenes from Pastures are being performed alongside fellow inaugural selections of the National Endowment for the Arts New Play Development Program.

Hello from snowy DC. Pastures of Heaven cast and crew finally all assembled after much airport drama. Costumes and props had an easier time getting here than we did!

Walking into the stunning new Mead Center took my breath away. Immediately ran into six people I know! Nice feeling. Plus, the mural is here in a place of honor.
We rehearsed today in the Kogod Cradle. Round theater with lovely, basket-weave wooden walls. The new cast members have blown us away with how quickly they have gained ownership of their many roles. Surprising how we hear the stories anew in their voices. I feel like I am seeing how a new director and cast would do things differently… gives me the sense that the show will move on out of our hands…
Posted in #newplayfestival, By Amy Kossow (Word for Word company member), new works/new communities | Leave a comment

>Busting the Myth of the “Off-Season”


A little perspective from Box Office Manager Robin Dolan.

On those crazy days here at the Cal Shakes office when there are actors warming up with nonsense words in the hall or playing instruments and dancing in the parking lot, I’m reminded why I’m grateful to work in theater. Performers notwithstanding, I’m surrounded by wonderful, funny, creative people year-round; I don’t have to worry if I curse occasionally; and I frequently see hilarious things—donkey’s heads, giant swords, jewel-encrusted wigs—being carried in through the front door.
But working in the nonprofit sector is demanding. Our resources are stretched, and many of us are often doing the jobs of several people. Patrons frequently say to me, “You must be looking forward to the off-season, when you’ll be less busy.” In truth, I think there’s perhaps four days a year when I’m not busy. I believe they happen in November, but they usually go so quickly that I don’t notice them till they’re gone. I remember relating this to Ilsa, our graphic designer, a few years ago; she replied, “Me too! But I think it’s about two days for me.”
In the winter and spring, our education department is busy setting up school residencies and Summer Shakespeare Conservatories. Development is raising money for the annual fund, getting corporate sponsors, and planning our annual gala fundraiser—referred to internally as our biggest production of the year, since it all happens on one night. The Artistic department is working on our New Works/New Communities projects, working with at-risk youth through Creative Risk, hiring interns for the coming year, and planning the Main Stage season. Marketing is designing our beautiful subscription brochure, fine-tuning the website, working with the press, and beginning group sales for 2011.
I’m busy with subscription renewals and seat change requests. I also work with the Marketing department to plan promotions and sales campaigns, and support other departments with statistics needed for corporate sponsorships and grant applications and reporting. In the box office it’s mostly me holding down the fort, answering the phone and talking to patrons. I have been lucky to have great people working during the season, and I miss their contributions. But the phones ring less this time of year, so I’ve got it covered.
A big thing we do in the “off-season” (which, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is inaccurately named) is set objectives for the following year. We look at what worked last year and what we want to try again. This fall, our senior staff unveiled a three-year Strategic Plan for the company, spelling out Cal Shakes’ vision, mission, core values, goals, and strategies for the next three years. While this could be a very dry document, I’m finding it inspiring. For instance, how many companies include in their core values “humor, authenticity, and a sense of home?” Valuing all members of the Cal Shakes community is equally important to productive goals. Gotta love that.
When the final draft of the Strategic Plan was presented to us, staff members were invited to create a team—facilitated by board member Alan Schnur—that would come up with suggestions on how to implement it. This invitation to contribute allows us to feel included in the creation of everything that we do. A major concept we’re looking at here is “de-siloing”: making sure departments are not isolated from one another, and that pertinent information is shared. Most of all, de-siloing allows us to share our skills cross-departmentally; as a result, we’re learning more about each other’s talents.
During our well-earned break over the holidays—the office is mostly closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day—I often personally consider what’s happened in the previous year, and make plans for the coming year. So does Cal Shakes. So what do we do off-season? We plan. We review. We talk with patrons. We vision. And we laugh, and support one another. Just like we do all year-round.
Posted in Artistic Learning, By Robin Dolan (Box Office Manager), gala, Main Stage, new works/new communities | Leave a comment

>Big Ideas Fest Blog #1: Video Inspiration

>This week, Cal Shakes’ Artistic Learning Programs and Outreach Manager Emily Morrison attended Big Ideas Fest 2010 in Half Moon Bay. Big Ideas is a three-day-long conference that aims to immerse educators in collaboration and design with the focus on inspiring and modeling cutting-edge thinking in K-20 education.

For her first blog entry, Emily wanted to post this video The Roadtrip Nation Experience at Big Ideas Fest 2010, wherein students participating in the Roadtrip Nation Experience curriculum interviewed participants (including Emily!) at the conference. The high school students asked questions about how the participants got to where they are, what it took to overcome doubts and failures, what their high school experience was like, and more.

Video below. More blogging from Big Ideas to come soon!

Posted in Artistic Learning, Big Ideas Fest, By Emily Morrison (Artistic Learning Programs Manager), Roadtrip Nation | 1 Comment

>Ron Campbell blogs about his own workshop–with video!

>Recently, Nancy Carlin blogged about her fellow Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ron Campbell’s acting, clowning, and mask workshop here at the rehearsal hall. Late last week, Mr. King of the Kooza Clowns himself posted his own thoughts on the subject over at his blog, complete with new photos and three videos. Here’s an excerpt:

In accordance with the Fox Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement this was to be a sharing of my findings from the various trainings in Mask and physical theatre that I have received over the past two years in Greece, Japan, Scotland, Canada and the United States. It turned out to be so much more. Once again I was reminded that the best way to learn something is to try to teach it.

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>The last of the Carlin-Campbell blogs: Jumping away from conclusion

>Last week, Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ron Campbellwho has spent the last few years appearing as The King of the Clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s Koozagave a workshop on in our rehearsal hall as the culmination of his Fox Fellowship. The workshop covered mask, clowning, and other physical theater techniques, and was offered to Cal Shakes staff, teaching artists, and other members of our theater community. Nancy Carlin, a fellow Associate Artist, was one of Ron’s students, and has been blogging about the class. These are her last two entries; you can read the previous two here and here.

Sunday: Jump away from conclusion.

We did Buffoon Circles. Starting in neutral, you walk in a circle. You don’t

think, plan, contrive, just walk in a circle. Begin t

o notice something—a heavy foot, an imbalanced shoulder, a lopey gait, whatever—and as you continue around in this circle you let this gesture or attribute grow to its fullest, grotesque-est, extremest place. Voilà: your “buffoon” character. Wind them back halfway or more, and you could use this characteristic more “naturalistically”. At its most wound up, you’ve got a full-on extreme character. We then did two buffoon circles side-by-side. When each participant found their full buffoon, they

were then to see each other, circle each other observing carefully, and gradually take on the other’s characteristics—swapping buffoons. And all the while giving the audience their “arêtes”. Quite wonderful!

We then played on an emotional jungle gym. We imagined the floor of our playing space was divided into four quadrants: happy, sad, angry, and afraid. As we passed into that geographic area we instantly were in that emotion. The point being to be successive, not progressive. So often we assume in theater that we have to make this gradual logical evolution from one emotion to the other, when in fact, in life, we quickly switch our states of being. Another such exercise involved an actor, this time in a neutral mask, making her way from upstage to downstage, but on either side of the center line were territories belonging to a “devil” and an “angel”. So, as the character weaved in and out on her way down, she successively changed. Sharp!

The third of these spatial, territorial exercises (TWISTER for clowns), using random phrases of text from the newspaper. We imagined the rehearsal room’s space divided into three parts, successively, from left to right. Stage left was the “witness” box, or place for comment. In the center was the “speaker”, very clear and neutral. And on stage right was the “gesture”, the silent movement. So the player could go from box to box in any order, repeatedly or not, and simply read the text (without comment or movement) in the center, or display one or the of the attributes on either side. Really fun to see the effects of dividing all this out.

As with everything, economy of movement, business, what have you, is essential. To illustrate this, Ron had a great example: He took a blank piece of paper, put a pinpoint hole in the center, and held it up for us to see. We could all see this tiny speck quite clearly. H

e then took the paper and crumpled it up and held it up for us again. There was no hope in finding the pinprick now. Lost in the chaos.

Monday: Performance

The final night was our “show”. The first hour, we reviewed things and learned some new stuff, too (why not?), and at 8pm, our audience arrived. This was the night the Giants clinched the World Series; needless to say, our audience was small.

Suddenly, we motley bunch of adult-size children were a troupe! We all showed up our black clothes and went through many of the exercises we had learned. The last ten minutes were a free-flowing succession of various exercises wherein we’d jump in or sit out as felt right, and morph from event to event. Instant Twyla, and then some! We failed big, often, had a few moments of transcendence, and had the unique pleasure of being vulnerable to each otherof sharing humor and heart.

Ron offered to buy the first round at the Albatross. I felt really bad not being able to go out with the group, but I needed to get home right away to my teenage daughter and houseguests. Good thing, too, because the very second I walked in the door I was whisked into a room to work with my daughter on her impending audition for the high school production of The Vagina Monologues. (She got the part! When she works on her moans I’ll have to tell her to be sure to put in some arêtes.) (Now she’ll tell me I’m being “inappropriate”.)

Pictured above: Ron Campbell and class; photos by Jay Yamada.
Posted in Artistic Learning, Associate Artists, By Nancy Carlin (Associate Artist) | Leave a comment