Act One, Scene One: A.C.T.'s First Production at The Geary Theater

Thursday, January 19, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

Fifty years ago this Saturday, A.C.T.’s first production at The Geary Theater opened. And under those bright lights was actor Ken Ruta. Here are his memories of that magical evening, and the early years of A.C.T.

Ken Ruta as The Player and Larry Carpenter as Guildenstern in A.C.T.'s
1972 production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Photographer unknown.
When did you start at A.C.T.?
I was in the first play of the first season. Molière’s Tartuffe. I still remember opening night. Most of us were offstage at the beginning, and one of the actors was very nervous. He couldn’t stop stuttering. One of the great ladies in the company slugged him in the back. That cured him.

Since it was Molière, it was written in Alexandrines, 12 beats to a line. Not iambs, which are ten [He demonstrates by tapping on the table.] Well I was the first person opening night to forget his lines. I had to ad lib in Alexandrines! I remember the door opening and the wonderful actress Sada Thompson looking at me, as if to say “What the-?”


What other shows were you a part of in that opening season?
I was in Endgame. I was the blind one, and the other guy, Rene Auberjonois, was rehearsing in another show and was also playing the lead in Tartuffe, so I had to rehearse the Beckett play alone with the director. But since I was blind it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to see anybody anyway. The first time we rehearsed the show together was the dress rehearsal.
Ken Ruta and Rene Auberjonois in A.C.T.'s 1967
production of Endgame. Photo by Hank Kranzler.

Because the character was blind, I never opened my eyes through the whole performance. I remember one night someone was making noise in the audience, but I just kept talking. When the show ended, I asked the other actors “What was all that going on?” Rene, who was playing Clov, said “A guy had a heart attack in the audience and they were pulling him out of his seat and pumping him. The medics came in and took the guy out and you just kept talking. So we kept talking.” [He laughs.]

What are some of your favorite memories from those early years?

William Ball’s original A.C.T. production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in April 1969. It was heaven. It was a great treat doing that show, because the audience was filled with young people who were interested in theater coming to see the show again and again. It ran for three seasons at the Geary.

Stay tuned for upcoming events related to our 50th anniversary, including our birthday celebration on March 18th. 

A.C.T.'s Sky Festival

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

There is drumming on the roof of A.C.T.’s administrative offices at 30 Grant Avenue. For seasoned A.C.T. staff, that sound means only one thing: Sky Festival. This annual festival of plays, one-man shows, and collaborative productions are put together by the Master of Fine Arts Program actors. Last year’s festival included Annie Baker’s The Aliens, a brand new work called 2.5 Asians, and a comic smorgasbord entitled 25 Plays in 50 Minutes.

M.F.A. Program Actors Stephen Wattrus, Alan Littlehales, and
Patrick Andrew Jones in The Aliens. Sky Festival 2016. Photo by Jay Yamada.
For these hard-working actors, it is a unique opportunity. “Sky Festival gives us the opportunity to create art that we are truly passionate about,” says third-year M.F.A. Program actor Albert Rubio. “It provides us a space where we can—as Mrs. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus would say—‘take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!’”

Sky Festival is not just an exciting time in the Conservatory; it is a hotly anticipated event for everyone at A.C.T. “Sky Festival is one of the most exciting times of the year at A.C.T.,” says Curriculum & Training Specialist Jasmin Hoo. “It’s a whirlwind of creativity, passion, and community. It’s a chance for the M.F.A. Program actors to truly express their own unique artistic voices. For me, it was very meaningful to share about the Asian American experience in theater through our Sky Festival project last year, since our point of view is often underrepresented on the stage. Likewise, I learned so much about the M.F.A. Program actors by watching their pieces, hearing their stories, witnessing their aesthetic, and seeing their artistic passions come to life.”

Jasmin Hoo, Narea Kang, and Christina Liang in 2.5 Asians.
Sky Festival 2016. Photo by Jay Yamada.
This year's shows range from newly created one-man shows to classics of the modern American stage. To everyone involved in the festival, break a leg!

Lovely, Crazy Mirror: An Interview with Novelist Khaled Hosseini

Thursday, January 12, 2017

By Shannon Stockwell

“There’s a collective experience that you have with an audience in the theater that is difficult [to create] anywhere else,” says novelist Khaled Hosseini, whose best-selling work A Thousand Splendid Suns is being adapted for the Geary Stage. “There’s a sense of immediacy for theater, which simply can’t be created [elsewhere]. On the right night, the room is permeated with something that’s really tangible—very difficult to describe, but very, very powerful.”

Before rehearsals for A Thousand Splendid Suns began, we spoke with Hosseini about the theater and his writing.

Khaled Hosseini. Photo by Elena Seibert.
What has attending the workshops for A Thousand Splendid Suns been like for you?
I think, as an author, if you’re allowing your work to be adapted into another art form by somebody else, you should divorce yourself from the idea that anything you said or wrote is going to appear in the other format. Some things work in one format and don’t in others. And so, for me, to come to a workshop, I’m seeing my book through this lovely, crazy mirror. Its structure is different, but it’s the same soul, the same people.

For me, it’s fascinating to see somebody else’s take on a story that otherwise would just be static in my own head. When you write a book, you’re not just telling one story, because no one’s going to read a book and have the exact same experience as another person. So there’s no real version of the book anyway. Everyone has a different experience. People respond to different characters for all sorts of different reasons.

I think it’s far more interesting to get a peek into somebody else’s interpretation of your work, so I love the workshops. I love seeing the different actors breathing life into the characters, even if they’re just sitting and talking. I love seeing how [playwright] Ursula [Rani Sarma] has worked with structure. It was just so much fun.

Why do you think the story of it still remains crucial to tell today?
We’re living in a time when we are inundated, through television and social media and smartphones and everything, with stories from that region, and they all sound the same. They’re all stories about guys that behead people, that kill minorities, and brutality and suffering.

A story like this can remind people that these are human beings; that every person under a veil, every refugee walking across plains—every single one of those [people] has a universe inside them, a life, an entire history, and a long, long history of things that they wanted, of hopes that they had. I think that’s important to understand: you can’t just categorize people [under] self-serving umbrellas. These are individual human beings. I think that’s what any [art] form, be it theater or novels or movies, can do. They can bridge that gap and transport you into the shoes of somebody else. And through that experience, you begin to view the group in a richer way.

A Thousand Splendid Suns begins February 1 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Join us on January 17 at The Geary Theater for Khaled Hosseini In Conversation, where he will be chatting with A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff and playwright Ursula Rani Sarma. Click here to reserve a ticket through our website.
 
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