Seizing the Summer with Young Conservatory Classes

Thursday, July 27, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman 

Every summer, families pack their bags and head on vacation. For some, it's a chance to unwind and relax. For others—like fifth-grader Marcella Motilla from Los Angeles—it is an opportunity to further her acting training with A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory.

2017 YC Summer student Marcella Motilla. Photo by Veronica Motilla.
For two weeks, Motilla and her mother Veronica moved to the Bay Area while Marcella took the YC’s Junior Acting class, where she worked on storytelling, immersing herself in a character, and building confidence. “It was hard to be away from home the first day,” says Veronica. “But when I picked up Marcella and saw how excited she was and how much she enjoyed it, it was worth it.”

Under the tutelage of M.F.A. Program actor Charlie O’Rourke and teaching artist Naomi Sanchez, Marcella furthered her acting through scene work and excerpts from Newsies The Musical, a musical about the New York City newsboys strike in 1899. At the final performance, she played the great she-bear in “Bearskin” and sang the opening solo in the song “Seize the Day” from Newsies.

“I feel I am better at transmitting emotions and am more confident onstage,” says Marcella, who already has one eye on the 2018 classes. “I really enjoyed my two weeks here and if my parents would send me back next summer, I would gladly return!”

For more information about A.C.T.'s Young Conservatory, click here. The next YC production is Homefront, running August 8–19 at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market St. Click here to purchase tickets through our website.

The Butterfly Effect: An Interview with Black Butterflies Director Lauren Spencer

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

Artwork for 2017 production of Black Butterflies.
“We’re at a moment of true crisis. No one is really acknowledging the disappearance of our young girls of color,” says Black Butterflies director Lauren Spencer. “They are the fastest growing population in juvenile hall. An entire population is disappearing behind walls. And it’s not that people aren’t doing anything about it, but the girls are so hidden and forgotten.”

Black Butterflies, which runs through July 29 at The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, aims to bring those stories into the light. This world premiere production centers on three young girls of color who find themselves caught in a stifling web of educational neglect, calcified courts, and an overwhelmed incarceration system. Pushed out of society, they must fight to survive with their humanity, dignity, and individuality intact.

Written by award-winning playwright Darren Canady, Black Butterflies is the latest play commissioned for A.C.T.'s Collaborative Youth Arts Project. Now in its third year, CYAP brings together a diverse group of young actors from the Bay Area to create a play articulating the needs and challenges of youth in today’s world. The project supports the cultivation of new work and serves young actors from three arts communities: A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs, the Young Conservatory, and Destiny Arts in Oakland.

During rehearsals for Black Butterflies, we spoke with director Lauren Spencer about the production and some new developments to CYAP.

This play deals with weighty topics. How have you approached these in the rehearsal room?
A lot of the cast have family members who have dealt with incarceration or with the judicial system. Many are dealing with being girls of color in school and the expectations around that: being told that you need to be good, keep your mouth shut, dress appropriately, don’t be too opinionated, don’t be too free. My approach has been to honor and acknowledge that they have a wealth of experience that they can bring to the rehearsal room which will make the piece more alive. It’s my job to create space for that, to create as much freedom and permission to use their own experiences to inform their performances.

The cast and creative team of Black Butterflies.
One thing new about CYAP this year is the scale of community engagement surrounding the production. What organizations have you partnered with?
We reached out to community organizations that work with system-involved girls and their families, like Each One Reach One and the Young Women’s Freedom Center. After one of the performances, there will be a panel where representatives from these organizations will talk about their work.

We’ve also partnered with youth artists to approach this topic from different artistic mediums, not just theater. We have two poets from Youth Speaks who came to rehearsals and created poems that they'll perform on opening night. We also have some student artists who have designed work for the show that will be displayed in the lobby.

Why this story now?
This nationwide problem is not going to change unless each individual takes responsibility for raising our youth. We need to be present for our young girls and figure out creative ways to do that.

Black Butterflies runs July 25–29 at The Rueff at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater, and at Destiny Arts Center in Oakland August 4–5. Click here to purchase tickets. Each show will be followed by a short additional performance, panel discussion, or Q&A. To learn more, click here

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Head Carpenter Miguel Ongpin

Thursday, July 20, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

It’s easy to spot Miguel Ongpin, A.C.T.’s Head Carpenter. Just look for his signature orange baseball cap or listen for his booming laughter. When in doubt, head towards his shrine: a collection of posters—including John Sayles’s Lone Star—that Ongpin brought to liven up his backstage kingdom.

Head Carpenter Miguel Ongpin. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
Before a performance of Battlefield, we sat down with Ongpin to get some insight into the life of a theater’s stagehand and carpenter.

How did you get into theater?
I had fun doing the productions in high school, whether that was being in them or helping backstage. So I thought, “Oh, that’s a good way to meet people in college.” So I did it in college at UC Berkeley. I acted—ha!—in a couple plays, and then I stage-managed a bunch of plays. The guy who ran the theater told me, “If you really want to make money and do theater, you become the stagehand. At least we always work.” [laughs]

So after college I started working as a non-union stagehand at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, and at California Shakespeare Theater and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I did that for a couple of years to build up my skill set. Then Ed Raymond [A.C.T.’s former technical director] told me to join the union so I could work at A.C.T. I began as a flyman until the 2005–06 season, when I became the head carpenter.

What has been the most challenging show to work on?
The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets (2004). There was not a lot of automation in that; it was all manual stuff. It was a lot of what I call “stupid theater tricks.” It wasn’t like the last show we did, Needles and Opium, where it was projection. This was making a tree spring up. But it was fun because everything had to be done manually and still be spot on.

A.C.T.'s 2003 production of Urinetown. Photo by Kevin Berne.
The hardest shows set-wise were Tales of the City (2011) and Urinetown (2003). They were bears. For Urinetown, there were these two towers downstage. It took a couple of weeks to put them up. The show had just come from Broadway and they hadn’t pared down the set for the road. But it was fun, and that was a good show.

What are you looking forward to in A.C.T.’s upcoming 2017–18 season?
Hamlet with John Douglas Thompson. That guy’s awesome. He’s such a nice guy and so hard-working. It was a pleasure to work with him when he was here with Satchmo at the Waldorf (2016). I can’t wait to work with him again.
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