Friday, December 30, 2011

59 Shows of 2011


A Bay Area Teen Theater-Goer Reflects on Her 2011 Show-Going

This year, I tried something new – I made an Excel spreadsheet of all the shows I went to see. The purpose of the list was to try to deter me from spending too much on theater-going (last year, I may have gone a little overboard money-wise, and my parents may have been a bit mad, which may have ended up badly for all parties involved, except the theaters). Looking over the spreadsheet at the end of this year, I wanted to share some statistics from the list, not because I feel I'm representative of teen theater-goers (I'm not, at all), but because I want people -- most importantly, other teens; but also theaters, arts administrators, and older ladies in the audience who give me withering glances when I take a seat next to them because they're afraid I'll text and chew gum loudly for the duration of the show (no exaggeration; these glances happen with frequency) -- to know that there are indeed teens who go see theater and enjoy it very much. In this overview, I'm going to leave off the money section, because despite the spreadsheet plan, I still spent way too much on show-going to admit publicly – so I suppose my spreadsheet failed in that respect. However, it did allow me to keep track of every single show I saw this year, and that not only allows me to share some (possibly interesting) statistics, but also share some of my excitement about Bay Area theater with other teens. So here goes!

Some assorted observations/notes:
- At most of the shows, I was conspicuously the youngest person in the audience (unless a younger sibling or friend came with).
- Most of the shows I saw were in venues easily accessible by public transit (bus, BART, Muni).
- This list doesn't count any show that I was part of.
- Readings are wonderful inventions.
- Most importantly: the Bay Area has some DARN awesome theater going on.


Of Dice and Men (Impact Theatre). Photo
by Cheshire Isaacs.
Here are some 2011 stats:
Total Shows Seen: 59
Non-Youth Productions: 50 
School (elementary, middle school, high school, and college) Productions: 4 
Other Youth Productions: 5 
Shows Seen More than Once: 4 (each counted only once in "Total Shows Seen") 
Readings: 13 
Shows Seen via #NewPlay TV Livestream: 2 
Shows Seen at "Big Name" Theaters: 6
Non-Musicals: 44
Musicals: 15
New Works: 26

Subscriptions to Theater Companies: 2 (PlayGround and Shotgun Players)

Farthest Traveled: Twelfth Night (Hebrew translation) – Khan Theater – Jerusalem, Israel

Shows Seen for Free: 22 (from comps, ushering, discounts for students, etc. – and just plain and wonderful free theater)
Average Cost per Ticket: $8.49

New Theaters Patronized: 12
Total Theaters Patronized: 27
Favorite Two New-for-Me Theater Companies: TheatreFIRST and Marin Theatre Company
Favorite Two Already-Known-to-Me Theater Companies: PlayGround and Shotgun Players (hence the subscriptions), with Crowded Fire close behind


Most Discouraging Teen Theater-Going Moment: getting handed the “Teen Discount Ticket” with my name on it from a box office person (who I didn't know) before giving them my name, and being told that they knew who I was because “How many teens do you think are coming to see this show?”
Most Encouraging Teen Theater-Going Moment: going to see The Verona Project at Cal Shakes with 10 other teenagers just in our group!

I thought this statistic was interesting:
Number of shows seen where I knew no one in the cast: 6
(I'll work on this for next year...)

Looking back and looking forward...
The Companion Piece (Z Space). Photo
by Pak Han.
Top Five 2011 Productions I Most Wish I Could See Again
1) The Companion Piece (Z Space)
2) Seven: A Documentary Play (TheatreFIRST reading)
3) Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter (TheatreFIRST)
4) The Verona Project (Cal Shakes)

3 Top “I Missed This Show” Regrets
1) The Lily's Revenge (Magic Theater)
2) Pelleas and Melisande (Cutting Ball)
3) A Delicate Balance (Aurora Theatre Co.)

Top 6 Plays from 2010 that I'm Still Thinking About
(Is it cheating to include this category? I figure I spent enough time thinking about these shows this year that I had to mention them somewhere.)
1) Safe House (SF Playhouse, Sandbox Series)
2) God's Ear (Shotgun Players)
3) Hamlet on Alcatraz (We Players)
4) Forever Never Comes (Crowded Fire)
5) Tennessee Williams in Rep (Cat, Glass, Streetcar) (Boxcar Theatre)
6) Salt Plays: Part 1 and 2 (Shotgun Players)

5 Shows I'm Looking Forward to Next Year
1) Anything at Shotgun (especially Tom Waits' musical adaptation of Woyzeck)
2) Little Brother (Custom Made Theater Co.)
3) The Hundred Flowers Project (Crowded Fire)
4) Future Motive Power (Mugwumpin)
5) Sam Shepard in Rep (Boxcar Theatre)

 That was 2011. Can't wait to see what 2012 brings.

If you have questions about any of the stats above or want to see stats for a different catergory, I'd be happy to share -- just drop a comment below!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

God's Plot


Company: Shotgun Players
Written and Directed by Mark Jackson
Original Music by Daveen Digiacomo


If I had to summarize God’s Plot into one sentence it would read: “Sexually frustrated teenagers will destroy your town.” In 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and various other youth-led revolutionary movements, this play seemed oddly fitting. It serves as a much-needed reminder that history repeats itself and that human nature never really changes.

God’s Plot is set in a fictional Virginian colony in 1665 (think Salem Witch Trials). As the play opens, Tryal Pore (Juliana Lustenader), the daughter of the town’s chief judicial officer, is preparing to confess her blasphemous thoughts and ask the town and God for forgiveness.

It is immediately apparent after the confession that Tryal repents nothing. She refuses to fall in line and play the part of the devout and chaste daughter of her well-respected Puritan family. She is on a mission to speak her mind. To make things even more interesting, Tryal also has fiery feelings for her tutor, the actor William Darby (Carl Holvick Thomas). The clandestine lovers embark on a journey that will change the town forever.

Mark Jackson wrote an ambitious play, and he largely pulled it off. It lacked a little in human emotion the night that I went, but that was the Preview. The simple yet beautiful staging and the live music more than made up for it.

WARNING: This play is not graphic but is most suited to older teens (16+)

You can see God’s Plot at the Ashby Stage through January 15, 2012:

Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 5pm
More information can be found at Shotgun’s website.

-Saskia Levy-Sheon

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Teen's Perspective: Monday Night PlayGround

Monday Night PlayGround has to be one of my favorite Bay Area theater events. Ever. Luckily for me, it happens almost every month.

Here's how it works: at the beginning of each season, PlayGround selects a group of 36 local playwrights for their Writer's Pool. Each month, from October through March, the writers receive a phrase or word as a prompt (some of my favorites in the past have been topics like “It Gets Better”, Vaudeville, Kingdom of Number, and Origin Story). Then, the writers have less than five days to write an original 10-page play based on the prompt. And THEN, from all of the 10-page scripts submitted, six are chosen to be performed as staged readings (which basically means that, among other things, the actors will hold scripts as they act). On Monday of the performance, actors and directors gather with the playwrights at Berkeley Rep and have a mere 90 minutes to stage, rehearse, and tech their show. Crazy. But that's part of what makes it so exciting. (For a more in-depth description of the process, look here.)

After this whirlwind of a process, what we get to see as an audience is a very mixed bag of plays. You get funny ones, serious ones, deep ones, playful ones, political ones. Sometimes there's one play in particular that blows you away, and sometimes there are a few. And you never know what to expect...

This month's topic was “pipe dream”, in a partnership with the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, and it gave rise to a hugely diverse and thought-provoking group of plays. Here's a very brief overview of the six “pipe dream” plays:

You Eat What You Kill, by Cleavon Smith, was voted the People's Choice favorite of the night and can be read about here.
Siren, by Daniel Heath, was about a painter, his wife, a surfer...and a mermaid.
The Heartbreak Horse, by Lucia Jacobs, was based on the true story of a horse called Clever Hans.
My Time Has Come, by Jonathan Spector, started as a hilariously melodramatic play-within-a-play, but was then disrupted to reveal the true characters of the people on (and off) stage.
Wasting Away, by Mercedes Segesvary, was about the bleak life of three...er...“waste”-shovelers in the sewers.
The Occupants, by Ignacio Zulueta, was a play about (what else?) the Occupy movement.
And, in addition to the six plays based off of the “pipe dream” prompt, we got to see an excerpt from one of the plays that PlayGround commissioned this year – Drive Thru – Open till Midnite or Later, by Mandy Hodge Rizvi.

The Monday Night PlayGrounds are cast from the same actor pool each time, so you get to see a lot of familiar faces playing very different roles – sometimes even in the same night. Last Monday night, for example, actor Patrick Russell played a small-town teenage boy in Drive Thru – Open till Midnite or Later, and later played the horse, Clever Hans, in Lucia Jacob's The Heartbreak Horse. Mick Mize (who played one of the sewage-shovelers in Wasting Away) has also played a wide variety characters in past Monday Night PlayGrounds, not just limited to humans – I still remember his hilarious performance as an old lady's dog in Leah Halper's No More, Too Late, Adieu last November. And both of Up Next's Focus Actors, Elena Wright and Reggie White, are also part of the PlayGround actor pool and appear frequently in the Monday Night PlayGrounds (this past Monday Night, Reggie appeared as Jamie in Cleavon Smith's You Eat What You Kill, and Elena played Cassandra in Ignacio Zulueta's The Occupants).

Though the entire night was enjoyable, and all six plays (and the commission) well written, acted, and directed, the audience's favorite part? “Mick Mize's expression when his nose plug fell in the poo”.

Next Monday Night PlayGround is on Monday, December 19th, with a topic TBA. It costs $10 for students ($15 for general) and will take place at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Pre-show talk begins at 7:10pm; show begins at 8pm. More info at www.playground-sf.org

Like the PlayGround on Facebook and follow them on Twitter to hear more directly about their process and performances!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Internationalist (part 2)

My (heavily edited) interviews with Lauren Bloom, Harold Pierce, Michael Barrett Austin and Nick Sholley (+ their favorite plays). This is the last weekend to see The Internationalist at the Ashby Stage!


Lauren Bloom; photo by Jay Yamada
LB: My name is Lauren Bloom, and I play Irene and Anonymous Woman and Anonymous Old Woman (laughs).

UP: What was your favorite part about this show and what do you think makes this show special?

LB: The people have been really really fun to work with. It’s challenging material and it’s been great to have a group of people who are really skilled and really talented but also really fun and willing to play around and be crazy. The language makes it definitely different. That’s a really different and interesting experience for an audience: to relax to accept that they’re not supposed to understand what’s happening.

UP: When and how did you become involved in theater?

LB: (Laughs) I was twelve, and my mom insisted that I would like it and sent me to an audition for The Sound of Music, a choice she has regretted ever since.

UP: And what has it meant in your life? What keeps you going with it, because it’s not always easy.

LB: Because I can’t stop. I have tried, and it doesn’t work. I don’t know why exactly. I guess it sounds cheesy but I’ve been doing it since I was twelve, so it has become a lot of who I am. The people in my life and my community are all based in theater, so I don’t want to leave it.

******

Harold Pierce; photo by Jay Yamada
HP: I’m Harold Pierce and I’m involved in the show as an actor [he plays Nicole], and I also wrote the song that Lauren sings.

UP: So what was your favorite part about working on this show?


HP: Finally having it memorized! I’ve never had a harder time learning my lines. So, aside from the pleasure of performing this show, honestly my favorite part was being done with the memorization part of the show and getting to just step up and do it.

UP: I’m curious, were all those gibberish lines written into the script?

HP: Yeah.

UP: Wow.  

HP: When we started the show I wondered why Anne Washburn didn’t just give us a rough framework of what was happening and just let us play together. I think she was right in her choice. Now that we’re performing it, I think it could have gotten sloppy with different audience reactions, because we’ve had very different houses. I think it would really affect how the show ran. But when I was trying to sit down those first couple times and memorize just an endless string of syllables, I thought there was no way.

UP: I am curious about your character work because your personality is very different from your personality in the show.

HP: Well, I’m acting, now (laughs).

UP: It’s hard for me to believe that you were that person [Nicole], because now you seem so different and soft spoken.

HP: Yeah, he’s a very different dude. I don’t know, I don’t work too hard. Seriously, the work on this show was whether I was going to memorize the lines or not. And I think she wrote great characters.

UP: Was it like getting to play with an alter-ego?

HP: I suppose so. I have dark, angry tendencies inside of me that I choose not to play out in my life. I don’t think back to a time when I was angry and use that on stage. I just release it. And so at the end of the night there’s a cathartic experience.

UP: So, what do you think makes this show relevant to young adults?

HP: I think this is a play about politics: the politics of this guy showing up in this strange place and trying to negotiate his way through it. And there’s nothing more hierarchical or more political than high school. I think back to being in high school and it was just a maze.

UP: So, can you give me the one sentence version of how and why you got involved in theater?

HP: I love Jon [Jonathan Spector] and Molly [Aaronson-Gelb]. Period.

UP: And what has it meant to you, in your life. What has kept you going?

HP: I’ll echo something that Lauren said, it’s just the thing I can’t put down. I can’t leave it, and I tried for a long time. I went to a college intending to become an actor and after the first year I decided that I didn’t want to do that, so I left and did everything else under the sun. Then, three years out of college went to this show and I saw this actor on stage, and I thought she was doing a great job and everyone else sucked. I thought, I could do better than those people, and I want to do what she’s doing. And so I started doing it again and dammit I can’t stop. It’s actually something I was thinking about this morning, “This is the last one, right Harold? Because you really need to move on with your life.” But I don’t think I ever will. I think in whatever capacity, I will always be an actor. It’s the thing that you are and the thing that you do, and it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it on the stage or in the middle of the street, it is what you are.

******

Michael Barrett Austin; photo by Jay Yamada
MBA: I’m Michael Barrett Austin and I am Paul and Simon.

UP: What do you think makes this play special? You helped select it, so what drew you to it?

MBA: Right! Well, the nonsense language thing is really interesting. The playwright went so far as to make up a language and carefully script it. It’s written out word for word, and they’re supposed to memorize it exactly. She even came in during our rehearsals and re-wrote parts of it. To her it was very important how it sounded, and yet she didn’t translate it. So she left it up to the actors to decide exactly what it is they were saying.

UP: So what do you think would make this play relevant to young adults?

MBA: Well, I think that it’s really great when theater tries to do something new. The world of theater, unfortunately, worries a lot about where its audience is going.

UP: When and how did you become involved in theater?

MBA: My first play was when I was ten. It was Peter Rabbit, but it was sort of a class thing that we all had to do. I was the narrator, so I thought I’d be a star. The narrator had a lot of lines, but it turned out that there were a lot of narrators and I was very disappointed. Anyway, I got into it in earnest freshman year of high school and I really don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t found this world. I did OK in high school, but I just didn’t really find people that I thought were like me, that I could connect with and communicate with well at such an awkward time. And [through theater] I was thrown in with these people and we got to work together towards a common goal.

UP: Great. What has kept you going through all of it?

MBA: It’s the feeling that you’re making a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s that ensemble thing. What I love about it is putting all these individual ingredients together and coming up with this thing that’s so interesting, that wouldn’t be the same without any one person.

******

Nick Sholley; photo by Jay Yamada
NS: I’m Nick Sholley and I played Lowell.

UP: And what was your favorite thing about working on this show?

NS: I loved the process of working with other people and watching what they did with the language. They inhabited the world and I got to sort of play in it and be lost in the language. It’s always changing in the way that it affects me. I find that each night it’s a different performance because I come in with a different emotional baseline.

UP: What do you think makes this play special?

NS: It captures, in essence, what it’s like to be in a country where you don’t know the language and you’re kind of left out of the jokes, left out of the stories, left out of what essentially makes for a human relationship in a world of words. Clearly, if it were all in gibberish it wouldn’t be a play, but the fact that it’s written the way it is kind of straddles both worlds.

UP: What do you think in this show would make it relevant to young adults?

NS: It’s about finding your way in the world. That’s sort of a huge part of coming into the world as a person. I also think that, in addition about trying to fit in. It’s also about trying to make your mark in the world.

Plays They Recommend

Lauren Bloom: Measure For Measure. It may be Shakespeare, but it is some edgy, edgy stuff when done honestly. And from a dramaturgical perspective it’s very interesting because of when he wrote it and what the change in the head of state did to art. Just in its bare bones it is a fascinating and really provocative play and it is four hundred years old and it’s all about the Church and sex.

Michael Barrett Austin: I love Amadeus, by Peter Shaffer [he played Mozart]. He’s a really fantastic, smart writer. I also love the play Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard. It’s maybe a little too smart for it’s own good. People make that complaint about Arcadia, but I think with that one he really got the balance right. There is a lot of heart under the intelligence, and it is just so smart.

Harold Pierce: American Idiot! No, I’m just kidding. I thought it would appeal to the high schoolers. I was in a play that no one will ever read or see again and it was called The Hermit Bird. I got to play this podunk kid who may or may not have had a mental disability. The character was completely ambiguous. On the page you just didn’t know what was going on with him. And so I just got to make a human being.

-Saskia Levy-Sheon

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Internationalist (part 1)


Play: The Internationalist
Written By: Anne Washburn
Directed By: Jonathan Spector
Company: Just Theater
Where: The Ashby Stage in Berkeley, CA
When: November 4-20

This play is a must-see, whether you prefer funny plays, deeply insightful plays, or plays that make you want to pull your hair out in frustration and scream at the characters onstage. (A review focusing on the plot can be found here).

The Internationalist touches on complex, dangerous, and frightening themes, including class, power, and gender politics. Sarah, the secretary, is alternately ridiculed, screamed at, confided in, and objectified. My favorite moment in the show was when one of the men in the office corners Sarah, accuses her of being schizophrenic, comes on to her, gets turned down, and then screams: “You are so beautiful. So I care about you... Men would be less violent towards women if they had more violence to rescue them from. That’s my theory [long pause] Ok.” He then exits, slamming the door behind him.

The Internationalist beautifully and effortlessly illuminates societal problems without dryly telling us about them. We are left pondering the hard truths of what power does to your mind and how Americans today think of themselves and their place in the world. It’s also hilarious and beautifully written.

I had the opportunity to interview Molly Aaronson-Gelb, the co-founder of Just Theater, and four of the actors in the show. Molly’s interview is below, and the other interviews will be posted separately.

Up Next (UP): Can you tell me briefly about Just Theater and what makes it unique?

Molly Aaronson-Gelb (MAG): Oh, that’s a great question. I think every theater company has something that it brings to the community. Cutting Ball has beautiful set design, and that’s where their focus goes. Aurora: everyone loves working there. They pay all their actors the same, so there’s a lot about the ensemble. Just Theater puts its focus on playwrights and getting new voices heard and doing plays that put some demands on the audience in terms of following the story telling; not to mention relating to the characters.

UP: What do you think it is that makes this play really special? What’s your favorite part about it?

MAG: I love the specificity of Anne Washburn’s writing and the way in which she so easily blends utterly hilarious turns of phrase with greater themes. I think a lot of people leave this play with little quips and then other people are thinking about America’s role as an occupying entity. I like that it plays both ways.

UP: Briefly, how did you get involved in theater and why is it important to you?

MAG: I didn’t really get involved in theater until after college. I always thought I’d be a civil rights and anti-poverty lawyer, and I realized late in the game that maybe I wanted to reach more people and have more discussions than being a lawyer would allow me to do. Education and theater spark dialogue.

UP: Why do you think it’s important for teenagers to be involved in theater and to see theater?

MAG: Well, when I was in high school I started a group called Advocacy for the Arts, where I became a granting body in my high school for people who wanted to go to museums or symphonies, and I would use the money to take my friends to go see plays. I think that in spite of how much information we can get on the internet, it’s narratives that drive how we think about the world and the schemas that we make. I think that theater, as a very visceral story teller, has a lot of potential to help people organize other thoughts. It also has the potential to be messy, and to give people the opportunity to think about what is conflicting in life. And most importantly, when you’re watching a play you suddenly understand the world from someone else’s perspective. And I believe that that empathy is key to social justice.

UP: What’s your favorite play?

MAG: Oh my gosh. Well, how about this. When I was a teenager, the play that blew my mind was Pentecost, by David Edgar, put on by OSF and Berkeley Rep, and that is what made me realize that theater is political. And then one of the first shows I wanted to direct was Far Away by Caryl Churchill. And I still don’t understand it. And I love that one. And then last year with my students I directed The Visit, [by Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt,] which is a 1950s German expressionistic play that really questions the way in which we feel the influence of others in society and the compromises we make with our own morality.

UP: Thanks so much.

You can find more information on the Internationalist and Just Theater at www.justtheater.org

-Saskia Levy-Sheon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Focusing In on ELENA WRIGHT

Elena Wright
Introducing the second of our two 2011-2012 Focus Actors -- Elena Wright! Elena is a Bay Area actress and company member of PlayGround. You may have seen her as Thuria in The Verona Project at Cal Shakes or Athena in Salt Plays Parts I & II at Shotgun Players. We asked Elena a few questions about her experiences in the theater, and here's what she told us: 

NAME: birth name - Elana Wright, equity name - Elena Wright, it causes lots of confusion...

HOMETOWN: Wareham, MA

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE: playing Eve in a church play when i was 4. i still remember how much i loved having a part and getting to hold my favorite stuffed cat while onstage.

Elena in Salt Plays Part II: Of the Earth (photo by Pak Han)
FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE: being in Oleanna in college. it was a two person show and the other cast member was my teacher. i learned so much by working with someone who was so committed and professional. The subject matter was incredibly intense, and every night the audience would audibly react to the ending. That was one of the first times I realized how powerful theatre could be, and that i could be a part of something that moves people.

BEST TEENAGE MEMORY: Meeting my best friend. Growing up, i had always felt a little out of place and unique, and it wasn't until freshman year of high school that i met someone who taught me that you don't have to be like everyone else, and in fact, being yourself is way more fun. 19 years later, she's still my best friend.

WHAT KIND OF THEATER EXCITES YOU? Good theatre. Of all kinds. Theatre that requires risk and passion, which can mean anything from new works to Shakespeare, contemporary dramas to farce, classic award winners to experimental physical theatre.

WHAT'S COMING UP NEXT FOR YOU? The season of Playground, where I'm a company member. And looking for the next gig, which is what a professional actor spends the majority of their time doing....

Elena as Una in Blackbird (photo by Pak Han)

CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE PROJECT YOU JUST FINISHED? I just closed Blackbird, which is another two-character play with an intense theme. What was interesting about it for me was realizing how much harder acting can get the more you do it and the more you know about how to do it well. When I did Oleanna, I was a very young and inexperienced actor. I used my intuition most of the time, and "felt" my way through it, but in Blackbird, I used equal amounts of skill and sensing. This actually turned out to be much harder, since sometimes, those two things cancel each other out, and are hard to do at the same time. It proved to me that the more you know, the more you have reason to stay humble.

To learn more about Up Next's Focus Actor program, visit our website: www.upnextteens.org


Monday, November 7, 2011

Please Don't Cut the Arts

Some of you who are high school students or recent graduates probably remember the day last year when thousands of California teachers received pink slips. The majority of the teachers selected for the chopping block were the newest and least experienced (i.e. the younger ones that we could actually relate to). At Oakland Tech, one of the teachers given notice was our beloved advanced drama teacher, Ms. Jessa Berkner. Those of us in her class were stunned. Luckily she did not lose her job and she is still inspiring and educating all of her students.

I made this video in an attempt to capture my fellow classmates' heartfelt and poignantly emotional reactions to the news that the arts programs at our school were facing serious cuts. I am sure that many Up Next teens can relate to the feeling that theater is not merely an extracurricular activity but a lifestyle.

The struggle to remind politicians, school board members and principals of the vital importance of the performing arts in schools is ongoing. Feel free to comment and share your stories.



I am far from a professional videographer. This was shot in a classroom with my phone. Please pardon the irregular sound quality and shaky transitions. Enjoy!

-Saskia Levy-Sheon

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Focusing In on REGGIE WHITE

Introducing one of our two 2011-2012 Focus Actors -- Reggie White! Reggie is an actor, singer, and dancer around the Bay Area and a company member at Impact Theatre and PlayGround. We asked Reggie a few questions about his experiences in the theater, and here's what he told us:


HOMETOWN: Upland, CA
 
FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE: A Christmas pageant at my school in 2nd grade. It was....interesting.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE: "Exit, Pursued By A Bear" at Crowded Fire Theatre Company in 2011. From the script to the production team, to the cast, everything about the whole experience was EXACTLY the reason that I got involved in theatre in the first place. We loved what we did, and the audience loved watching us do it.

BEST TEENAGE MEMORY: High School Graduation. I've always been a nerd, and accomplishing a huge goal like that, even though it was never really in doubt, was just a huge moment of pride. I knew that once I finished high school, even though I didn't know much about the world, or life, or myself, for that matter I somehow had a feeling  that I could make it as a grown-up in the world. 

WHAT KIND OF THEATER EXCITES YOU?: I love new works. It's so great to see plays that no one's seen/heard before. There's something very special about seeing something brand new. It's like getting a new toy for your birthday. 

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW? In addition to the scattered readings, here and there, I'm playing Rooster in a production of Annie at Berkeley Playhouse. I'm really excited about being the bad guy. They have all the fun sometimes :)

Andrea Snow, Reggie D. White, Erin Gilley, and Patrick Jones in
Exit, Pursued By A Bear (Photo by Dave Nowakowski)

To learn more about Up Next's Focus Actor program, visit our website: www.upnextteens.org

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Come Unto These Yellow Sands

On Sunday I went with my family to see The Tempest at Marin Shakes, directed by Jon Tracy. This was unusual because:
Sarah Gold as Miranda.
Photo by Eric Chazankin.
a) I rarely get to see theater with my family. 
b) I rarely take the trek to San Rafael.

But.

It was worth it.

Very much so.

We went on Family Matinee Day, which was wonderful because it meant that my three siblings and I got in for FREE. I couldn't help thinking that was a bit of a steal, but hey – it would have been too expensive for a family outing otherwise (and I do love seeing theater without feeling like I'm falling into financial ruin). There was a pre-show speech directed at some of the younger kids in the audience who didn't know the story of The Tempest. “Prospero got very mad because Caliban wanted to have babies with Miranda,” the Managing Director explained, and a few children let out nervous giggles. (A few parents did, too.) And then the show started. 

Those of you who have seen Jon Tracy theater before may have some idea of what to expect when coming to watch this Tempest. Certainly you wouldn't expect straight Shakespeare. You'd expect some crazy re-imagining that, somehow, against all odds, would work. And you would not be disappointed. But before I elaborate on that (without giving too much away, I promise), I need to quote from the Director's Note included in the program. I rarely laugh at Director's Notes, but this one got me (and my brother) in a big way.
I hate wizards.
Specifically, I hate one type of wizard; those guys with the big beards and the purple gown and hat with the silver moons and stars embroidered on them. Oh, and these wizards always have a magic wizard staff. Dumb.
No, not dumb. Boring. Really boring. Why? Because they always win. Why else? Because they know they will always win. They are wizards and you aren't. Really, the battle is over before it ever began. We're left with a bunch of fun magic spells to bide our time but really, that dude in purple is going to be just fine.
You protest. “What about Gandalf?” you say. “When I used to play Dungeons and Dragons my wizard character was totally killed by the Rancor Monster!” I reply in these ways: first, Gandalf didn't do so bad for himself, second, the Rancor Monster was in Star Wars but I get what you're saying and third, I'm obviously not talking about those wizards. I am instead really talking about one wizard. His name is Prospero.
But –” you continue to argue. I cut off with this addition: “It's my Director's Notes, not yours...back off.”
...
Jeremy Vik as a Quality.
Photo by Eric Chazankin.
Oh yes. So Tracy moved the action to 1901, and Prospero, instead of being a wizard, is based on the scientist Nikola Tesla, an electrical engineer and inventor famous for his work with alternating currents. Instead of brandishing a magic wizard staff, he fiddles with electricity, invents, fixes, works, and plays chess (in cluttered workspaces that are beautiful and interesting and designed by Nina Ball). Ariel is not one sprite but The Ariel Coil – with six goggled-and-suited beings called “Qualities” who move around the stage mechanically, as if on a grid, in a classic-ly creepy Tracian way. The production is full of sounds and surprises and Qualities popping out where you least expect them. (We saw it in the daytime so we missed whatever magic was happening with the lights, but I bet they're awesome at night [and probably raise the creepy level a couple of notches].)

There was one particular GREAT payoff for the electric transposition of the storyline: I have never appreciated the line: "My Ariel, chick / That is thy charge" as much as I did in this production, where the word “charge” becomes electrically punny. And, though I'm sure this is not what happened, I got a laugh imagining that Jon Tracy reimagined this whole show electrically primarily because of that great pun, and only secondarily because of the numerous and interesting reasons he outlined briefly in his Director's Notes.

Then my father pointed out to me that the pun was funny, but not that funny.

I have also never seen such a tough Miranda, and I like it. In most productions of The Tempest, Miranda will be played innocently, with a naivete and overpowering sweetness. Not that Sarah Gold's Miranda wasn't innocent or sweet, too. But when you see Miranda furtively lighting a cigarette when her father isn't looking, tucking her hair beneath a beanie, and sporting suspenders and breeches...suddenly she just becomes more interesting. Real. And yes, most certainly more of a teenager.

One caveat: this wouldn't be the Shakespeare show to go to if you were looking to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the Bard's work, because (to me, at least) the text was a bit underwhelming next to the synchronized mechanical Qualities and the shifting and surprising set. But if you:
a) know The Tempest (anywhere from “vaguely” like my brother to “almost-by-heart” like my father) and are interested in seeing a new interpretations of it, OR
b) you usually dislike Shakespeare because you find it boring, OR
c) you like Tracian takes on classics, OR
d) you're intrigued by anything mentioned above,

...you should probably go. Or, in other words: if you miss this show, you probably will never get to see another one like it. Ever. No pressure.

The Tempest plays through Sept. 25th at Marin Shakespeare Company. More info here.

>> Still curious? Read a review of the show here

Set design by Nina Ball. Photo by Eric Chazankin.
(The Teen Perspectives blog post series comes from teens around the Bay who have seen a piece of theater that made them think. Have you seen a show that you want to respond to? Write it up! Short, long, medium, three words. It doesn't have to be a review; it can be [and is encouraged to be!] just reactions, thoughts, musings. Email it to us at upnextbayarea@gmail.com to have it featured on our blog.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Teen's Perspective: Of Dice and Men at Impact

Up Next teens attended the first preview of Of Dice and Men at Impact Theatre in Berkeley. Here's one teen's (a self-professed proud nerd and occasional roleplayer) response:

I must confess, I was kind of setting myself up to be disappointed by Of Dice and Men. I mean, bringing my D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook might have been a bit overboard. A bit.
Amazingly, however, the show managed to be what I wanted it to be -- and more. The completely impossible expectations I had set up were resoundingly Sneak Attacked and critted. The actors were obviously having a fun time, and did a wonderful job of bringing the audience into the joking, arguing and fighting. A thoroughly enjoyable show. (Plus, they have ├╝ber cool swords!)

Of Dice and Men previews August 25 & 26 and opens August 27, playing Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm through October 1 at La Val's Subterranean Theater in Berkeley.

Tickets and information at: http://impacttheatre.com/

The cast of Of Dice and Men. Photo by Impact Theatre.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Month in Review(s): July 2011

One month in and our teen theater-going initiative is off to a great start! Here are some of the shows we've seen in July and what our members thought about them.

The Verona Project. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Tales of the City (ACT) – “I'd forgotten what high-budget theater can be like. This show is great. The actors are great. The music is great. The sets and costumes are great. Betsy Wolfe's voice is beyond great. Fun all around!”

The Verona Project (Cal Shakes) – “I am actually in love with the person playing Sylvio.” “I like the person playing Thuria and the person playing the various moms – they're my favorites!” “I really like the array of instruments and how they're using them to tell the story.” “It has a really good energy.” “The blend of play and concert is definitely working. I love it!”

Metamorphosis (Aurora) – “The direction of this show was amazing. I loved the stylized movement.”

Jesus Christ Superstar (YMTC) – “These teens are crazy-talented!” “It's loud. And awesome.”

Seussical. Photo by Larry Abel. 
Seussical (Berkeley Playhouse) – “What a fun show. I love Seussical in general but this production was especially full of surprises and laughs. (Also, the sets, props, and costumes made me feel like I was actually in a Dr. Seuss book. Actually.)”

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Woman's Will) – “I've never seen a Woman's Will show before and I really liked this one. There's something wonderful about all-female Shakespeare in a park – I can't describe it.”

Lend Me a Tenor (Livermore Shakespeare Festival) – “My side were hurting so badly at the end of this show because I was laughing so hard.” “All the actors were great (and it didn't hurt that the story was ridiculous and hilarious). So. Much. Fun.”

Lend Me a Tenor. Photo by Kenneth Alexander.
Rock Creek: Southern Gothic (Bay Area Playwrights Festival) – “Lauren Gunderson's script was funny and tragic (and sometimes both at the same time). Most of all, it was just wonderful. I can't wait to see where this play goes.”

Korczak's Children (ACT Young Conservatory) – “It's been a few days and I'm still thinking about this show. The cast's ages spanned from elementary school to ACT MFA students, but they all worked well as an ensemble to tell a really heartbreaking story.”

The Road to Hades (Shotgun) – “A very interesting look at war, theater, gender roles, and Walmart. (I know what you're thinking: 'Walmart?' My response: 'Yes. Walmart. Go see it.')”

Tell us about the shows you've seen in August – at big theaters, small theater, community theaters, school theaters – any and all theater! Write a sentence or two (or three) about what you thought of the show and email it to upnextbayarea@gmail.com to be featured in our August “A Month in Review(s)” blog post. (Or, if you can't fit it all into one or two sentences, write a review!)

...And if you saw one of the shows above, drop a comment below and let us know what you thought about it!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Focusing In: Lamplighters

Morgan gives us a teen's perspective on our penultimate 2011 Focus Theater: Lamplighters Music Theatre!

QUICK FACTS:

NAME: Lamplighters Music Theatre
NICKNAME: Lamplighters
LOCATION: Centralized on Bryant Street in San Francisco, but performs in theaters throughout the San Francisco and elsewhere, including in Walnut Creek, Livermore, and Napa.
WEBSITE: here
FACEBOOK: here

LAMPLIGHTERS IN THREE WORDS:
Hysterical, extravagant, classic (mmm, what more could you ask for?)

FAVORITE LAMPLIGHTERS PLAY:
Such a tricky question! The Mikado, with their rendition of The Secret Garden coming in at a close second. Any production of Pirates of Penzance is incredible too, as well as their yearly satirical Lamplighters Gala fundraisers.

PEOPLE TO KNOW AT LAMPLIGHTERS:
Baker Peeples, the incredible resident musical director of the Lamplighters. A man of extraordinary musical talent, Peeples manages to maintain the traditional opera/operetta musical format while still keeping his productions sounding clean, precise, and fresh. He is also always dressed impeccably; expect him to be looking sharp in a tuxedo during every performance!

FAVORITE THING ABOUT LAMPLIGHTERS:
The Lamplighters is like witnessing a tiny piece of history. It focuses mainly on the productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, seasonally rotating their classics such as The Mikado, Yeoman of the Guard, and HMS Pinafore, and occasionally interspersing them with other operas/operettas such as The Secret Garden. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote their pieces in the mid to late 1800s. At that time, these pieces were considered to be the most edgy, scandalous works of the day. Going back and witnessing them in the 21st century is like examining history: not only is it incredible to witness just what things were considered "raunchy" during the 1800s, but it is also fascinating to contemplate just how relevant so many of these issues remain today.

WHO WOULD YOU TAKE TO A "CLASSIC LAMPLIGHTERS" SHOW?
Probably Gilbert and Sullivan themselves! I'm sure it would be fascinating for them to see how their works are still being produced and discuss with them how timeless these pieces really are.

ONE IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT LAMPLIGHTERS:
Don't be intimidated by the concept of opera/operetta! While it may seem slightly out of your comfort zone if you aren't used to the format, don't be scared! Baker Peeples stresses the importance of diction like no other music director, so you will without question hear all of the words-and thus hear all of the jokes-without any problem. Also, the Lamplighters often provides supertitles projected above the stage, just in case anyone has trouble deciphering the story line. So just sit back, relax, and enjoy!

A press photo from Lamplighter's production of H.M.S. Pinafore.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Focusing In: Cal Shakes

QUICK FACTS
NAME: California Shakespeare Theater

NICKNAME: Cal Shakes
LOCATION: The Bruns Amphitheater, in Orinda
WEBSITE: here
FACEBOOK: here
CAL SHAKES IN THREE WORDS:
Get season tickets. Beautiful, wacky, intelligent. (Or their motto: E pluribus theatrum!)
FAVORITE CAL SHAKES PLAY:
This is a mighty tough question. I’ll go with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they put on in 2009. It was so good that I saw it twice. The acting was superb, the set and costumes were magnificent, and I’m still extremely upset that I can’t buy it on DVD.
PEOPLE TO KNOW AT CAL SHAKES:
Jonathan Moscone is the Artistic Director, and has been for the past eleven years; this guy knows what he’s doing. On a less permanent scale, Cal Shakes actors (90% of whom are excellent) tend to cycle through the company, and it’s always a pleasure to see a familiar face, especially when they play a completely different role than you’re used to.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT CAL SHAKES:
Every show they do is clever. I know what you’re thinking: they put on plays by guys like Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, and even Steinbeck—aren’t they already clever? You’re right, of course, but if you go see a Cal Shakes production, you’ll know what I mean. They take the classics and shift them a little bit; not so much that you have to squint to see the original work, but enough that you are blown away by their sheer creative genius. Whether they set the show in an unexpected time/place or add pop songs, the amazing actors, designers, and directors at Cal Shakes know exactly how to show you a good time. So before you head to your first show at the Bruns Amphitheater, be warned: you’re going to be hooked.
WHO WOULD YOU TAKE TO A “CLASSIC CAL SHAKES” SHOW?
Everyone I know! I’ve been to Cal Shakes performances with fourteen-year-olds and eighty-year-olds, with Shakespeare buffs and people who’ve never read a single word by the Bard. The audience at any given Cal Shakes show will mostly be an over-fifty crowd, but the crew over there would love to have younger attendees. The best thing about Cal Shakes patrons is that there are always enough of them in attendance to create a sense of community, and no matter your age or background, you get the feeling that that community is something you’d like to be a part of.
ONE IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT CAL SHAKES:
Bring a sleeping bag! The Bruns Amphitheater is one of the most spectacular, breathtaking outdoor theaters you’ll ever go to, but let me stress that it is outdoors. Yes, folks, we are in California, but when that fog rolls in you’ll be wishing you had about three more layers on. A cup of lovely, warm Peet’s coffee or tea at intermission will only get you so far.

(Profile written by Clio.)

Below, a production photo from Cal Shakes' Pastures of Heaven. And yes, those hills (and the sky) are real!