An Award Fit for a Prince: Tony Award Nominee John Douglas Thompson

Thursday, May 25, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

Actor John Douglas Thompson in Long Wharf Theatre's 2012 production
of Satchmo at the Waldorf. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Our Prince of Denmark is nominated for a Tony Award! Before he returns to The Geary Theater to open A.C.T.’s 2017–18 season with Hamlet on September 20, John Douglas Thompson is up for a Tony for his performance as Becker in August Wilson’s Jitney on Broadway.

For Thompson, the preparation for a part is the same, whether it is written in Wilson’s lyrical dialect or Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. “I look for characters that have an Achilles heel that the character is conscious or unconscious of,” says Thompson. “Then I look for a catharsis that gives the character some evolution. Once I’ve found that, I start upon a course of rigorous research. If it’s a Shakespeare play, I read all the different editions and adaptations of that play, and I also study other productions to see what other people have done.”

Thompson’s preparation doesn’t just stop at studying the play. “During the process, I find some music that is what I would consider the character’s theme song. That’s a mysterious process, because I don’t actively seek it. It’s just something that speaks to me. I also set up situations in which I have the character that I’m working on talk to other characters that I’ve worked on: Tamburlaine, Othello, Brutus Jones from Emperor Jones. I try to imagine those conversations, even if the characters are from different centuries. It helps me find that particular character’s place in the universe of the play.”

Congrats John Douglas Thompson on your Tony Award nomination! We will be cheering for you on June 11!

Single tickets for Hamlet will go on sale in August. Click here to learn more about our 2017–18 season.

To Sir, With Love: A Celebration of Young Conservatory Director Craig Slaight

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

By Emily Hanna

Most people know Young Conservatory Director Craig Slaight as a director, producer, or teacher. I am probably one of the few that has known him solely as an administrator. Watching Craig at the helm of the Young Conservatory has been one of the greatest gifts of my career.

A.C.T. Young Conservatory Director Craig Slaight. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Sometimes seen as a ‘less glamorous’ role in the world of theater, administration is where the greatest demonstration of love and passion for your collaborators can be seen. In rehearsal, the work is instantly kinetic with the immediate rewards of artistic decision making. Running a program and thinking strategically for a community that is hungry for rigorous training and artistic expression takes discipline, perspective, and patience. Speaking as an artist, these are not instinctive but learned traits.

When I joined A.C.T.’s conservatory team, I quickly found the threads of the YC to be a carefully woven tapestry, the result of seasons of fine tuning. Classes, cabarets, new works, college prep, summer programming, local and international collaborations: I remember taking in the volume of opportunity for young actors and nearly being overwhelmed. It would take me more than a few months to understand the full scope of the program.

As I dived into the program, I watched Craig cycle through his rack of hats: taking the time to talk to a parent concerned about his or her student’s future or what class he or she should take, sitting down with a faculty member to offer advice and insight on curriculum and student dynamics, trading books with coworkers, and fortifying me with iced coffees and advice. One of my first and favorite nuggets from Craig was “We do not call them children or sheep to be herded about, they are young people.”

Craig’s championing of young voices extends beyond the landscape of commissioning new and unflinching works for this community. It is palpable in the culture of the program, from the language on our website to his investment in relationships with parents and students, to his faculty orientations and how he’s curated his office library. And what greater gift can a “grown-up” give you than to believe you, validate your experience, and foster your curiosity? As someone who constantly questions their adult status, my inner teenager lit up on my first day, settling into the gray chair in his office and listening to him count the ways of this program. No ego, no pretense. Just a man who put his heart into all the pieces of his work, stem to stern.

Thank you, Craig, for 29 years of enthusiasm, dedication, and passion. We will miss you!
Emily Hanna is the Young Conservatory and Studio A.C.T. Associate.

The Thrill of Connection: Battlefield and A Night with Janis Joplin

Thursday, May 18, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

As your fellow actor walks offstage, you turn and peer past the blinding stage lights. You take a breath, step forward, and do one of the most dangerous and thrilling things possible in theater: tear down the fourth wall and talk to the audience.

Artwork for Battlefield and A Night with Janis Joplin.
For Battlefield director Peter Brook, the connection between an actor and the audience is what theater is about. It has been the driving force behind his theatrical works for the past 40 years. It is what makes his plays work on a blanket on the streets of an African village, in his crumbling theater in Paris, and in San Francisco’s Geary Theater.

“We have performed for many different kinds of audiences on different continents with different cultures,” says Battlefield actor Carole Karemera. “What people have told us is that they enjoyed the shared moment, that they felt they had an intimate relationship with the text and with us.”

The same intimacy between performer and audience is also at the heart of the next show to play The Geary. In A Night with Janis Joplin, which runs June 7–July 2, Joplin tells a story about a female opera singer who receives a marriage proposal from an audience member. “She took him backstage after she had sung a real triumph, with all the people applauding for her, man,” says Joplin. “They were going crazy. That audience reaction blew her mind. And she asked him, ‘Do you think you could give me that?’”

Battlefield runs through May 21 and A Night with Janis Joplin runs June 7–July 2 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to learn more about the creation of these two plays? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.
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