Rereading the Book, Revisiting the Role: Actor Anthony Fusco on Preparing for A Christmas Carol

By Elspeth Sweatman and Annie Sears

The holiday season is a time of traditions: hot chocolate and candy canes; humming the same tunes and baking the same treats; feasting and exchanging gifts with family and friends. For some—such as actor Anthony Fusco—A.C.T.’s Christmas Carol is a large part of the holiday ritual.

Fusco is an A.C.T. regular, having appeared in over 35 mainstage productions. He’s been involved with A Christmas Carol for the last 17 years, first playing Bob Cratchit in the Dennis Powers and Laird Williamson adaptation. After A.C.T. transitioned to Paul Walsh and Artistic Director Emerita Carey Perloff’s adaptation, James Carpenter assumed the role of Scrooge and Fusco was his understudy. “That first year, I went on when Jim got sick, having never rehearsed the role onstage!” says Fusco. “That was exciting!” The role is demanding, as Scrooge never leaves the stage. So Fusco and Carpenter now share the part. We recently sat down with Fusco to hear about what it’s li…

Invention and Discovery: An Interview with Men on Boats Director Tamilla Woodard

By Simon Hodgson

For Men on Boats Director Tamilla Woodard, the audience’s experience is her benchmark. “When theater is successful,” she says, “we laugh, we cry, we forget where we’ve been. That’s what I’m after.” Woodard is rapidly developing a reputation as a director who really draws audiences into her stories, whether in immersive works staged in hotel rooms or on proscenium stages such as A.C.T.’s Rembe Theater. As Woodard prepared for rehearsals, we spoke with her about the voyage of exploration in Men on Boats.

What makes Men on Boats a show for a Bay Area audience?

The Bay is still a frontier, not only across the physical environment, but also the political and social justice environments. It’s a place of adventure, a place where people find unknown territory, and a place where movements start. It’s the perfect city for this play.

How is Playwright Jaclyn Backhaus shifting the audience’s perspective for adventure tales such as Powell’s?

Often, hero stories have been the terr…

When Truth Is Out of Fashion: Christine Adaire Directs M.F.A. Students in The School for Scandal

By Kayla M. Kaufman, Artistic Fellow and The School for Scandal Assistant Director

A world where truth is questioned, lives are manipulated by lies, and virtue is unfashionable—no, this isn’t today’s American society, but the 18th-century London high society of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. A.C.T.’s Head of Voice Christine Adaire is directing her own steampunk-infused adaptation, which our second-year M.F.A. students will present November 8–17. In this classic comedy, Lady Sneerwell and Joseph Surface spread lies to ensnare their loves, the Teazles fight for power within their marriage, while Sir Oliver uses disguises to reveal truth. But when society is built on a web of lies, can the truth be untangled? We sat down with Director Christine Adaire to hear more.

What drew you to direct The School for Scandal?

I’m very concerned about this moment in time, this post-truth era, with different versions of truth and alternative facts. A lot of this play is about gossip…

Reimagining Ourselves: A.C.T.’s Director of Dramaturgy and New Works Talks Men on Boats

By Joy Meads 

On the first day of rehearsal for Men on Boats, sound designer Kate Marvin played a sample of the music she was creating for the show. She had vividly captured the iconic sound of western adventure familiar from a thousand movies and television shows. The stirring rhythms and soaring strains called up memories I didn’t know I still held inside me: tales of audacity, strength, courage, and the heroic acts of rugged men. These stories helped shape my earliest ideas of leadership, tenacity, and the indomitable American spirit. I suspect many of you can relate.

The heroes of these stories were, of course, inevitably male and relentlessly white, and I later came to understand the narrow and contorted view of reality they offered. With a few, notable exceptions, people of color were erased, flattened, or vilified, and rigid, binary gender roles were scrupulously maintained. On the first page of the script for Men on Boats, playwright Jaclyn Backhaus challenges us to reimagine…

Dare to Rock the Boat

By Hannah Clague, Education & Community Programs Fellow

On the first page of her play Men on Boats, playwright Jaclyn Backhaus gives a note on casting: “The characters in Men on Boats were historically cisgender white males. The cast should be made up entirely of people who are not. I’m talking about racially diverse actors who are female-identifying, trans-identifying, genderfluid, and/or non-gender-conforming.”

In creating an event to accompany A.C.T.’s mainstage production of Men on Boats, we in A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs department wanted to reflect Backhaus’s vision. Just as the playwright created a world in which actors from a variety of genders are given voice to tell John Wesley Powell’s story, we wanted to produce an event that provided a space in which people of a variety of genders could tell their own.

I remember sitting in Mrs. Ross’s fifth-grade US History class, flipping through the pages of our History Alive! textbooks (cue my classmates…

Small Stage, Grand Canyon: How Did Men on Boats Scenic Designer Nina Ball Do It?

By Annie Sears

Men on Boats is a play in all senses of the word. It plays with traditional gender roles. It asks actors to play historical figures they’re not, and it asks audiences to play along. For Scenic Designer Nina Ball, it started by playing with paper. We recently sat down with Ball to hear about the challenge and triumph of transforming the limited Strand stage into the vast Grand Canyon.

What does your design process look like?

My design process follows a general shape that works for me, but has variations show to show. There is usually a lot of research followed by sketching, floor plans, and 3D modeling. A scale model usually follows, along with all the design drawings. But sometimes, like with Men on Boats, I go straight to a physical model. We wanted to play with the moving walls, so I did a lot of ripping of paper and playing.

For Men on Boats specifically, where did you find inspiration?

Much of my inspiration came from the Grand Canyon itself. It’s so amazingly beauti…