PlayGround Launches Film Fest

PlayGround Launches Film Fest

Of particular interest to PlayGround alums:

PlayGround announced today the launch of its most innovative program for Bay Area writers yet — the inaugural PlayGround Film Festival, to be produced in association with Dances with Light and local filmmaker Barry Stone. The competition, open to teams of local filmmakers and playwrights, will award $1,500 in seed funding to each of six finalists to create short films adapted from the 103 ten-minute plays featured in the celebrated Best of PlayGround Festival.

‘THE WILD BRIDE’ at Berkeley Rep

Photos courtesy of

First of all, let me just say that I’m so glad this doesn’t have to be one of those ‘I saw this awesome play but it’s sold out and ending soon so you’re out of luck’ posts, because…I just got word that Kneehigh Theatre’s production of The Wild Bride at Berkeley Rep has been extended until Jan 22.

This is very good for you, because this play is freaking amazing, and you now have more than a month to get tickets. But don’t wait to get tickets, because it will probably sell out, because everyone I’ve read or talked to is in love with it, most especially people who are into theatricality and wit and indie theater sensibility, which I assume includes everyone who reads this blog, which presumably includes you.

Okay. Where to start? Well, how about with Emma Rice, artistic director of Kneehigh Theatre and the one who adapted (from a Grimm’s fairy tale) and directed this play. In an article she wrote for the program, she says:

The event of live theatre is a rare chance to deliver all these needs. We can have a collective experience, unique to the group of people assembled in the theatre. I don’t want the fourth wall constantly and fearfully placed between the actors and their audience; I want the actors to speak to their accomplices, look at them, to respond to them. I want a celebration, a collective gasp of amazement. I want the world to transform in front of the audience’s eyes and demand that they join in with the game.

Yes! So, the Cornwall-based theater company starts with that goal in mind, then develops work collectively, in some barns on the South Cornish Coast and in a giant tent called the Asylum, which makes it possible for their shows to travel around the world.

For this particular show, they started with a fairy tale, added in some actors who can also play Robert Johnson style blues, and came up with a stunning story about the Devil, a foolish father, an innocent girl, and the dangers of living in the forest with no hands.

Some of the visuals are so simple yet so perfect, still popping up in my brain weeks after having seen the show. In fact, some are clearly going to be moments that I refer to years from now, not unlike some of the most arresting images from a Mary Zimmerman play.

I won’t give anything more away. But I will urge you to check it out if you’re interested. I missed Brief Encounter, also by Kneehigh, when it came through the Bay Area a few years ago – and everyone talks about that thing being one of the highlights of their lives. So don’t be me!

(Disclosure: I was comp’d to this show. Captions: In photo 1, (l to r) Audrey Brisson, Stu McLoughlin, Stuart Goodwin and Éva Magyar, and in photo 2, (l to r) Patrycja Kujawska and Stuart Goodwin, performing at Berkeley Rep in the American premiere of The Wild Bride, a new show from the creators of Brief Encounter.)

Actors Theatre names Les Waters artistic director

Actors Theatre names Les Waters artistic director

Les Waters has been named as the new Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, and will begin transitioning into the position in January and assuming full-time duties later in March. He replaces Marc Masterson, who stepped down in May after 11 years to become artistic director of South Coast Repertory Theatre.

Waters has served as associate artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre for the past eight years, and has directed numerous productions there, including Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), which he subsequently directed on Broadway.

Berkeley’s loss is American theater’s gain.


I’ve been working on a draft of a new play (part of this Playwrights Foundation class) while prepping for a reading of a whole other play (part of this festival at Orlando Shakespeare Theater) — so I’ve been remiss in talking about a play I got to see at Berkeley Rep a while back: How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain.

It’s also taken me a while to fully digest how I felt about it. It was a heavily autobiographical piece, from an author with a similar background to my own, which made it kind of surreal to watch. I kept having the uncomfortable feeling of thinking, “Wait a minute, did I write this?”

It’s about a playwright, who wears glasses, who was raised Catholic, whose dad’s name is Pete, whose mom is dying of cancer — and there’s even a family friend named Paulette. Luckily, the main character also happens to be a priest, which was the only thing that kept it from feeling like someone was playing an elaborate practical joke on me.

It was interesting, though. Given all that, you’d think it might have really resonated with me. But I found myself strangely disconnected from it. (I say “strangely” because many, many people in the audience were completely into it: sniffling, crying, jumping up for a standing ovation…) At first I thought it was because I’ve rather recently dealt with the grief that comes from losing a parent, so the insights didn’t seem so insightful but more of a, “Yup, that’s what happens.”

But the more I think about it, the more I think my response is related to my approach as a playwright. The play was drawn, at least in part, from a journal kept at the time. I tend to think that sticking that closely to real life can be limiting, because you end up writing what really happened rather than saying, “What’s the best thing that I could have happen right now?” I imagine a lot of people who loved it were responding to the honesty of the telling. Ironically, that was kind of a drawback for me.

That said, I thought there were plenty of individual moments that were funny; the whole thing was designed and directed really beautifully; and the characters were endearing (especially the dad Pete, just like my dad Pete!). And obviously my reaction was pretty specific to me — unless you, too, are a nearsighted ex-Catholic dramatist.

Photo courtesy of

(Disclosure: I was comp’d to this show. Photo caption: Linda Gehringer, Leo Marks, Aaron Blakeley and Tyler Pierce star in the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Rep.)

Eat, Drink, and Talk Seriously About Theater →

Eat, Drink, and Talk Seriously About Theater →

From a goddamn brilliant article by Mark Jackson on HowlRound:

The next day Chloe [Veltman, critic for SF Weekly] ran into Rob Avila, critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, who said he’d just had the same conversation [about critics and playwrights mixing more] with director John Wilkins. Chloe got us all together, along with actor Beth Wilmurt and John’s wife, producer Kimball Wilkins. We ate, drank, and talked seriously about the theater. Mostly we talked about how talking about the theater is as vital to the theater as food is to the body, and that the various strands and strata of the local theater community could benefit from intersecting more often and directly….

Since then we have continued to throw salons roughly every four months….What is consistent from salon to salon is (1) we pick a specific topic or question for discussion, (2) ask our guests to arrive on time and bring a bottle of their favorite beverage, and (3) that it is a non-networking event where everyone is invited to (4) eat, drink, and talk seriously about the theater. We make a point of inviting a mix of past attendees and newbies, gathering at the table people from all corners of the community….It isn’t just the critics and artists who should talk to one another more, but everyone.

This is such a wonderful idea, and the article — which is so well-written that it’s almost impossible to excerpt — is beautiful and inspiring. You should most definitely read it!

Full disclosure: Way back in the day, Kimball Wilkins and I shared an office at our mutual day job. Wow, that seems like such a long time ago.

‘OF DICE AND MEN’ at Impact Theatre

 Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

Argh! I forgot to mention that I saw Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men at Impact Theatre last week, and it’s terrific. Really funny and a fantastic production. I’m super-busy on rewrites of my own thingy that I’ll talk about later, so here’s what Theater Dogs had to say (and I agree!):

Nerd-on-nerd love is something to behold. It’s sweet, it’s smart, it’s funny – at least it is in Cameron McNary’s sharply etched play Of Dice and Men, receiving its Bay Area premiere courtesy of Berkeley’s Impact Theatre. McNary boldly goes where no dramatist has gone before him (at least none I’ve ever seen). He takes his audiences into the world of Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game involving elves, fairies, wizards and the like….

One of the wonderful things about McNary’s play is that you don’t have to know anything about D&D to enjoy it. I’m sure there’s all kinds of verisimilitude that he and director Melissa Hillman have brought to this production -– authenticity in the game-playing scenes, wonderfully obscure, titter-inducing references for those in the know, and that’s as it should be. As a foreigner in this world, I feel like the play tugged me into a world I didn’t completely understand but fully recognized. One character describes this world as “like having rules for playing pretend,” and that’s all I really need to know.

I actually know more about nerd stuff than Chad, since I’m a nerd myself, but I agree with the sentiment that it’s wonderful. It’s also closing tomorrow and likely to sell out, so fair warning.

(No disclosure: Paid for this one! Photo caption: Jonathan Brooks, Maria Giere Marquis, and Jai Sahai in the regional premiere of Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men at Impact Theatre.)

Playwright at Large: Steve Yockey

From an interview of Steve Yockey on Theatre Bay Area, by Lisa Drostova:

The Bay Area has been so supportive in a number of ways. Audiences here see a lot of theatre and, as a result, have clear ideas about what they like and what they find resonant—which is incredibly refreshing and gives you a solid read on how a play is landing. You hear it from them. And any day of the week, I would rather have someone passionately hate one of my plays as opposed to walk out after, untouched, and talk about where to have dinner.

Steve Yockey is a great and prolific playwright. And the Bay Area loves him. As the article says, “Berkeley’s Impact Theatre introduced him locally with Cartoon in 2007 and has produced three more of his plays: Sleepy, Large Animal Games…and the world premiere Disassembly last year.” With the addition of Octopus, Skin and the upcoming Bellwether, that’s seven of his plays produced around here. This article delves into how it all happened, and it’s a good read.

Sidebar: I should be getting a chance to hang out a bit with both Steve and Lauren Yee soon, since we all have plays being developed as part of PlayFest at Orlando Shakes soon. I suppose I need to do a “what I’ve been up to” post to announce some of that stuff; it occurs to me that I’ve been mostly linking lately. Anyway…go read the article.

Literary Manager Pet Peeves

Over at LA FPI, the Literary Manager of Impact Theatre, Steven Epperson, is interviewed by Cindy Marie Jenkins for a nice long article about lit manager pet peeves. It’s filled with mostly common sense advice, but speaking as someone who used to be a lit manager and is now a reader on a literary committee, a lot of people need to read this. Especially the part about stage directions:

An overabundance of stage directions: If pressed, I’d say that this is my #1 most frustrating thing. Having line after line after line after line of stage directions interrupts the flow and rhythm that I’m trying to discern from a playwright’s writing. Trying to get into a playwright’s story, trying to find out if the playwright is creating characters with individual voices, trying to see if there is something about the writing that would be compelling on a stage all get ground to a halt when I have to constantly stop reading the dialogue and read stage directions.

I think that for some people, getting the action as they see it in their mind onto the paper or the computer screen is important because those writers need to have it written out in order for them to keep what’s going on organized. I understand that, and that’s fine. For writers who need that, I would strongly suggest removing those stage directions before sending their scripts out. Having massive amounts of stage directions in one’s script does nothing to help me decipher the quality of the story that the playwright is trying to tell. If no other information gets out from this blog post, I hope this does: have as few stage directions as is possible.

‘A DELICATE BALANCE’ at Aurora Theatre

Photo by David Allen

Okay, so, I’m biased.

First, I’m a sucker for Edward Albee. The rhythms of his dialogue hit my ear just right. I’ve read everything he’s written, and I’ve seen a bunch of his plays that have been done around here — from obscure one-acts in black box theaters that seat 29 to Bill Irwin blowing my mind as George in the ginormous Geary Theatre.

Second, I love the Aurora Theatre. Were I to design a theater space where all my plays would be produced for the rest of my life, I would send the architect to rip off the design of this perfectly designed space. (I wouldn’t name it after myself, because I’m modest, but I might figure out a way for its initials to be TB. Theater Bento? Theater Bialy? I don’t know; I’m not a namer. But I’m apparently hungry.)

For a play like A Delicate Balance — which I saw the day after Edward Albee was in attendance, probably sitting in the very seat that I sat in — it’s perfect. You’re no farther than four rows back, plus director Tom Ross knows the space as well as Tore Ingersoll-Thorp knows the Phoenix. (I’ll assume that you, as a long-time reader of this blog, know that’s a way to say “very well” while ensuring that I get a comment from Tore someday.)

Third, I already think A Delicate Balance (and Three Tall Women and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Zoo Story) is/are masterpiece(s).

So I’m biased. Astute readers figured out early that I’m going to recommend you check it out — especially if you’ve only read it, since it’s a story that’s compelling and theatrical, with dialogue you’d be tempted to close your eyes and just listen to — and skipped over to see what Hurwitt said. (He loved it. Chad Jones did, too. And Albee didn’t shut it down, so he must have approved, as well.)

(Disclosure: I was comp’d to this show. Photo caption: Agnes (r, Kimberly King*) tries to keep the peace between her family and friends (l-r, Charles Dean*, Anne Darragh*, Carrie Paff*, Ken Grantham*) in A Delicate Balance.)


Photo courtesy of

(Update: Check out this East Bay Express review by Rachel Swan for a great description of this show.)

A couple days ago, I got the chance to see Rita Moreno at Berkeley Rep. She’s performing in a show about her life, starting with her arrival in the U.S. from Puerto Rico and moving quickly to the more fascinating stories of her life in Hollywood and on Broadway.

The feel of the show is sort of like one of those interviews by the Commonwealth Club that’s recorded for public radio, except without the interviewer or the Linda Hunt introduction — but with a live band, two fabulous back-up dancers, and movie clips.

That’s right, dancers. Not only does Ms. Moreno give us the dish on things like dating Marlon Brando (and the surprising way she made him jealous) and getting typecast as the “utility ethnic” until a Life magazine story gave her a chance at stardom, but she also breaks into song and dance several times over the course of the evening. And yes, Gen Xers, there’s a clip of her and Morgan Freeman on “The Electric Company,” so feel free to wear your ironic T-shirt.

If all the theater bloggers who participated in the whole “what is theater?” thing a while back were to attend this show, I’m sure it would start the debate all over. Is this show theater, or is it more of a stand-up act? A cabaret show?

Who knows? It’s certainly charming, and it’s a chance to see and hear a living legend. When you get the chance to see a legend doing almost anything, you go.

(Disclosure: I was comp’d to this show. Photo caption: Legendary actress Rita Moreno performs with Salvatore Vassallo (left) and Ray Garcia during dress rehearsal for the world premiere of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup at Berkeley Rep.)