The Bay Area Teen Theater-Going Initiative

I just learned about this from Melissa Hillman’s twitter feed and it’s the highlight of my day so far: there’s a new group that…well, here. This is from their About Us page:

Up Next is a not-for-profit organization of Bay Area teens, by Bay Area teens, and for Bay Area teens. Our mission: to get our peers interested in attending live theater (specifically focusing on bringing teens to the smaller, more experimental and cutting-edge theaters in the Bay Area). This mutually beneficial relationship will allow teenagers to engage with and learn from the local theater community while building new audiences for the theaters.

Their upnextbayarea blog has reviews, announcements and articles about lots of theaters that I love — which surely speaks more to their exceptional taste than to my emotional maturity. Follow it!

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Ensembles and Artistic Associates

From “Consider Yourself at Home” by Jean Schiffman on the Theatre Bay Area site:

All around the Bay Area, more and more young troupes are structured to encompass a year-round ensemble. If you’re a theatre worker lucky enough to have an artistic home or homes, the benefits can be great.

An interesting article about local theater companies with ensembles or permanent artistic associates, including A.C.T., Word for Word, AlterTheater, Cutting Ball, Central Works, Shotgun Players, Actors Theatre, Off Broadway West, FoolsFury, SF Mime Troupe, Campo Santo, Impact Theatre and more.

‘LET ME DOWN EASY’ at Berkeley Rep

Photo by Joan Marcus

Last week, I got a chance to see Anna Deavere Smith in Let Me Down Easy at Berkeley Rep.

Here’s the thing: I’m a sucker for actors performing multiple parts in the same show. I’ve even written a play based precisely on that idea — a play that’s a fictional version of verbatim theater, with actors playing multiple parts and speaking in the actual words of characters they interviewed.

Of course, my interviewees are 100% made up and the situation they’re in is completely ludicrous, but the basic idea is the same: that there’s something amazing about watching an actor slip off a pair of glasses, slip on a scarf and utterly transform into another person.

And when the actor is Anna Deavere Smith and one of the characters is former Texas Governor Ann Richards, a woman I completely adored and whose cadences and rhythms and personality I know and love and actually got to see re-created onstage — wow.

I’m going to assume that you know Smith’s process of interviewing hundreds of people and then bringing the most interesting ones to life onstage using their precise words. But I’ll assume that you don’t know what this particular play is about, thus giving me a chance to add a few more paragraphs and one more photo.

The play is more or less about health care, although the official line from the press release does a better job of describing it: “a stunning story about the vulnerability of the human body, the resilience of the spirit, and the price of care.”

More importantly, it features fascinating interviewees like rich-enough-to-afford-any-doctor Lauren Hutton, a rodeo rider who broke all his bones and became an unlikely advocate for a single payer system, and world-famous cancer survivor Lance Armstrong — each seemingly appearing out of thin air whenever Smith shifts her weight, changes her voice and literally becomes these characters.

If you know me, then you already know I’m going to say I found this show pretty damn stunning, because it completely fits my aesthetic, which I always describe as “we’re in an office, take a step, now we’re on the moon.” 

This play doesn’t go to the moon, but I have no doubt that, had Smith interviewed a 7-foot-tall astronaut floating in zero gravity, she could have completely embodied him, too.

(Disclosure: I was comp’d to this show. Photos by Joan Marcus. Photo caption: The legendary Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep with her latest hit: Let Me Down Easy.)

SF Weekly Names PianoFight ‘Best Up-And-Coming Theater Co.’

From PianoFight’s blog. Also:

Shotgun Players won “Best Theater Company.” And SF Playhouse won “Best Experimental Theater Co.” And A.C.T. won the Readers’ Poll for like the 50th year in a row….

First and foremost, congrats to Shotgun, SF Playhouse and ACT – we’re stoked to be in the same sentence. And some even bigger ups to SF Weekly for risking precious column inches on not one, but FOUR theater companies. While most print media is cutting their arts sections in half or entirely, SF Weekly is covering MORE.

I was out of town and missed this (the issue of SF Weekly, the blog post, and the party at the Tempest), so belated congrats to everyone.

‘THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN’ at Cal Performances

Photo of Tadhg Murphy by Ros Kavanagh

I saw Druid Theatre’s touring production of The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh at Cal Performances over the weekend. One of the great things about paying full price for a show and then writing about it after it’s closed is that you’re under no pressure to say anything more insightful than this, which is what I posted on Facebook during intermission:

You know you’re seeing a proper production of The Cripple of Inishmaan when it stars Dermot, Dearbhla and Tadhg.

Great Post on Attracting the 18-40 Crowd

Lately, I’ve been posting links to interesting articles on the Odds & Ends section of this blog (directaddress.tumblr.com or the link above). Think of it as a retweet with a slightly longer shelf life.

But I wanted to highlight an awesome post by the awesome Melissa Hillman, artistic director of Impact Theatre, which, by the way, is awesome.

If you are involved in a theater company, and you want younger audiences, and you don’t do every single one of these things at the same time, you are failing.

‘RUINED’ at Berkeley Rep

Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Okay, so, I’d heard nothing but good things about Lynn Nottage’s Ruined back when it was winning the Pulitzer Prize. But, when I went to see the current production at Berkeley Rep, I still had that little voice in the back of my head that said, “It won the Pulitzer Prize; it’s probably politically correct and one of those ‘important’ plays that everyone praises because of the subject matter but ignores the fact that it’s preachy and dull.” Because the little voice in my head speaks in long, drawn-out sentences and overuses semicolons.

Well, the little voice in my head is apparently even less qualified to be a critic than I am, and I start every one of my posts with a stupid disclaimer about how I’m not a critic, so that’s saying something.

So I don’t know, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Some of the notes I made to myself afterwards, when thinking I might try to do more than a typical “this is awesome” kind of post, included words like “explosive” and “stunning” and “surprising” and “unexpected.” The last two because the play’s about the horrors of the Congo and yet the story has moments that are funny and hopeful and beautiful and transcendent.

The acting in this particular production is amazing; I’m pretty sure that’s what the whole “stunning” thing was about, from Tonye Patano (Heylia James on Weeds!) and Oberon K.A. Adjepong to Zainab Jah, Carla Duren and Pascale Armand, and really the whole entire cast.

I didn’t actually write down that it’s “highly recommended” and a “must-see,” but rest assured that it is and it is. You’ve got about a month; information is at berkeleyrep.org.

(Disclaimer: I was comp’d to this show. Photo caption: At Berkeley Rep, Oberon K.A. Adjepong (left) and Tonye Patano star in Ruined, a powerful new play by Lynn Nottage that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.)

Cool Development Process; Go See The Play

Saw this article in the East Bay Express about the development process behind Philip Gotanda’s latest play I Dream of Chang and Eng:

When Gotanda, a prolific and critically acclaimed playwright, finally finished the play, he took it not to a big-name repertory company or even a smaller black-box theater — although he certainly could have, with his profile — but to a bunch of college undergrads, scarcely older than the idea itself, at UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies.

It was a bit of a coup, according to show director and department chair Peter Glazer. “It’s the first time I’m aware of that a nationally known — and locally, very, very celebrated — playwright has brought the first production of his play here,” he said.

The collaboration, unlikely as it appears, offers a new model, one that’s mutually advantageous for playwright and school alike: While the students got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to collaborate with a big name in their chosen field, Gotanda — whose residency was funded by a $40,000 grant — was given a chance to work in a creative environment unencumbered by the typical financial and logistical constraints of the market.

As an independently funded theater company whose cast and crew receive class credit instead of a paycheck, Glazer said, he and his students have a rare opportunity to stage plays that might not make it in an increasingly shaky professional theater climate.

Sounds like a big, epic play, too: 19 actors, 130 costumes, 5 locations. There’s still one week left to see it, should you be so inclined. (It’s at Zellerbach Playhouse; tickets at TDPS.Berkeley.edu.) And I’d love to hear about it if you do.

‘COLLAPSE’ at Aurora Theatre

I had a great time at Collapse by Allison Moore, playing for another week or so at Aurora Theatre. I actually saw it way back about two weeks ago, but I’ve been so busy working, writing and flying across the country (for stuff I shall post about later) that I’m only now getting around to highlighting it here.

Of course, the beauty of that timing is that there are now about 17 reviews up on Aurora’s website, all of which I can steer you toward and quote from and generally agree with. Interestingly, most of them talk about comedy first and foremost, whereas the thing I liked the best was the shift in tone from comedy to drama, as mentioned by this chap (who I know I quote a lot but who I swear I’ve never met):

There’s more to Moore’s play than what first appears. This is a rollicking comedy with decidedly serious undertones, and before too long, it feels like a drama — a beautifully written and produced drama — more than it does a sitcom. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Jessica Heidt directs; Aldo Billingsea, Gabriel Marin, Carrie Paff and Amy Resnick amaze.

Oh, and I went with playwright/actor extraordinaire Sam Leichter, who I mention only because I suspect he googles himself. Hi, Sam.

(Disclosure: I was comp’d to this show.)

News Roundup

Some stuff seen around the web recently:

If you are that compelled to respond to something happening right now, then respond to it right now. Don’t ask yourself if you can afford to rent the space, if you can get the marketing strategy in order and whether you can get the awards committee to come see it. Take whatever pulsing, color-cycling energy is pushing at the inside of your skin and turn it into text, turn it into movement, turn it into a hammer and a nectarine and a furious drumming on the corner mailbox with a pair of restaurant chopsticks. Find one person unable to give you a dime but willing to pay you the precious gift of their attention. Show them the world and show them your reaction to it. …A single minute of blazing self-expression in front of any live audience is a work of legitimate theatre. Accept that, and you’ll find that the art form is more robust than you previously imagined.

  • Theater Pub Gets Political? “Personal Politics” director Stuart Bousel talks about the next Theater Pub, which is being presented on Presidents’ Day:

What is more appropriate to a bar full of drunken intellectuals and artists than some discursive, perhaps argument-inducing, political statements — especially if they didn’t all necessarily agree with each other and we were careful to not take an obvious side?

  • Aldo Billingslea is a major player. An article in the San Jose Mercury News by Karen D’Souza about one of the best actors in the Bay Area. I had the good fortune of having him in one of my very first PlayGround plays, and he was incredible. Just saw him in Collapse, too, which I’ll talk about shortly. If you don’t know Aldo, read this article:

One of the reasons he keeps busy is his versatility. The actor can skip from Shakespeare to hip-hop without missing a beat. In recent years he has garnered raves playing Othello (Marin Theatre Company), the Obama-like Harmond Wilks in “Radio Golf” (TheatreWorks) and the escaped slave Damascus in “Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi” (San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater). In “Collapse,” a new play inspired by the 2007 Mississippi River bridge tragedy in Minneapolis, playwright Allison Moore explores how people struggle to cope with chaos that spirals out beyond their control. He plays a comic fellow named Ted whom he describes as a “sex addict who’s impotent.”

  • The Ice Book. Marisela linked to this video of “a theatre experience that incorporates projection, puppetry, animation and sets made out of paper.” As she says, “It’s a gorgeous, magical performance hybrid.”