In Memoriam: Joan Sadler

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

A.C.T. mourns the loss of Joan Sadler, one of our most energetic and beloved board members, who passed away on Sunday, March 26.

Joan Sadler and Carey Perloff at the
2013 A.C.T. Conservatory Awards Luncheon.
Joan has been a part of A.C.T.’s family since the beginning. Just after moving to the Bay area in 1966, she attended the opening night performance of Tartuffe, A.C.T.’s first production in The Geary Theater. She was so moved that she immediately began supporting the company, bringing her tireless creative energy and experience as a freelance actor, broadcaster, visual artist, and photographer to the company’s volunteer organization, the Friends of A.C.T. She then served as secretary and vice president of the California Association for A.C.T., a fundraising foundation that helped keep the company afloat as it established itself in San Francisco.

When founding artistic director William Ball retired in 1986, Joan was active in A.C.T.’s reorganization, serving as president of the newly formed A.C.T. Board of Trustees from 1987 to 1989. She helped guide the organization as it undertook the search for a new artistic director.

After her retirement, Joan served on A.C.T.’s Conservatory Committee. She was particularly inspired by the role the Conservatory plays in contributing to the strength of A.C.T., and the culture of San Francisco. In 2002, she established the annual Joan Sadler Award, given to a third-year A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program actor for his or her exemplary work, both as a student and as a graduate who will represent the highest standards and traditions of the theatrical art.

Joan Sadler, H. Harrison Sadler, and William H. Draper, III. 1967.
In 2013, Joan received A.C.T.’s Benefactor Award for her tireless support and nurturing enthusiasm for the next generation of theater artists.

“Joan Sadler was one of the true ‘founding mothers’ of A.C.T.,” says Artistic Director Carey Perloff. “It was she who always said that the most important thing about A.C.T. was its focus on the future. She was passionate about the M.F.A. Program and watched with incredible pride the success of our graduates. I think the reason Joan seemed vital and young to me well into her nineties was the joy she took in the new, in the risk-taking, in artistic dreams and bold adventures. She just delighted in watching the creative process. A week before her death, I had the most vigorous conversation with Joan about our 50th Anniversary Open House at the Geary; she was immensely frustrated she couldn't be there herself, and wanted all the gossip and all the news! I know now she is looking down on us with those sparking eyes and enormous grin, urging us to keep the great experiment alive. Bless you, Joan!”

Annie Baker's John and the Uncanny

Monday, March 27, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

In Annie Baker’s John, running through April 23 at The Strand Theater, the word “watch”—in all its derivations—is used 37 times: 22 in the dialogue, and 15 in the stage directions. But what does it mean to watch and be watched? What does it feel like?

A doll. Photo by Em Cecile, 2011. Courtesy of Flickr.
You walk into an art gallery. As you move from painting to painting, you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You become hyperaware of those around you. You react to every movement, every sound. Your brain is sensing a threat, but from where? Then, you realize: the eyes in the paintings are following you. You are being watched.

The reason some people feel this way in an art gallery is because the human brain is “designed to read faces for important information about intentions, emotions, and potential threats,” says journalist Linda Rodriguez McRobbie. As human beings, we look to the eyes for important social cues and information about our environment. By looking at someone’s eyes and following his gaze, say social psychologist Ilan Shrira and professor Joshua D. Foster, we can tell how he is feeling, what he likes or doesn’t like, and what might be a potential danger in our surroundings. So watching and being watched helps us to communicate and keeps us safe.

But why does our brain react to inanimate objects, like paintings or dolls? They don’t have preferences or emotions. The human brain responds like this because it cannot fully distinguish between a living person standing in front of us and the image of a person—whether it’s a doll, a painting, or a photograph. The brain continues to read faces for information and guidance as to how we should behave.

Because our brains take time to distinguish between the face of a human being and the face of an inanimate object, we view them in the same way: as a source of information and a potential threat. We attribute to objects human characteristics—like an inner life—and expect them to operate by human social codes. When they don’t, we become wary. We become caught between something that is familiar (it has a human-like face) and yet unfamiliar (it doesn’t speak or express emotion). “However much we know that a doll is (likely) not a threat,” says McRobbie, “seeing a face that looks human but isn’t unsettles our most basic instincts.”

John runs through April 23 at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to know more about Annie Baker, the uncanny, and being watched? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series. 

Walking Down Walls: The Visual World of Needles and Opium

Thursday, March 23, 2017

By Shannon Stockwell

A technological transformation is taking place on the Geary stage. Actors are putting on their harnesses and walking down the walls of a revolving cube in Robert Lepage’s Needles and Opium, which runs from March 30 to April 23 at The Geary Theater.

Needles and Opium is an exploration of creativity, addiction, and loneliness. It follows the lives of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, and a lovesick man named Robert (based on Robert Lepage). As these tales interweave, projections swirl, the entire set revolves, and the actors burst out of the walls and floor.

These technological and acrobatic feats are signature elements for Lepage, whose theatrical credits include two Cirque du Soleil shows. But they are not just for show. To Lepage, the spinning cube that makes up the main element of Needles and Opium’s scenic design reflects the vertigo caused by opium, heroin, and love. The way the actors (Wellesley Robertson III and Olivier Normand, both trained acrobats) have to clamber and adjust their balance as the cube spins evokes feelings of struggling to stay on one’s feet when love is lost or found. And being confined to that cube could mimic the claustrophobia and loneliness of being an outsider in a place that you do not call home.

Lepage believes the key to theater is transformation—not just of characters, but of the mise-en-scène. He says: “[I am] drawn to plays in which the characters are transformed, but also to plays in which the sets are transformed and matter transcended. It’s incredible to be able to travel through time and place, to infinity, all on a single stage.”

Needles and Opium runs from March 30 through April 23 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website.
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