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Showing posts from 2009

A New Family

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posted by Omozé Idehenre, A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2010 
Omozé bonds with the Carol kids during the annual latke party.
The word carol is defined as “a song of joy” and/or “to sing in a lively and joyous manner.” When I think of A Christmas Carol, I think of the chance to perform this particular custom during this special and particular period of time. Caroling is an opportunity to let go of all the stress you’ve retained throughout the year and put it to something useful before the New Year. It is a joy one is fortunate to receive when people take the attention off of themselves and give it to others. How great it is to know that, no matter what, we all can get the chance to let our hearts sing in a joyous manner again and again.

Participating in A.C.T.’s production of A Christmas Carol has truly been an incredible experience. I’ve been saying this A LOT, but it has felt like a vacation of sorts. Much of this, I feel, has to do with getting the opportunity to wor…

Revisiting Phèdre

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posted by Claire Lautier, cast member of Phèdre

Claire Lautier plays Aricie in Phèdre, a new translation of Racine’s 17th-century French tragedy directed by A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff in a coproduction between A.C.T. and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. Presented at Stratford last summer, Phèdre arrives at the American Conservatory Theater in January. Lautier will travel to San Francisco along with many members of the original cast to revisit Racine’s classic drama at A.C.T.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a public place in the midst of squawking televisions, ringtones, a dozen cell phone conversations, background music, loudspeaker announcements, engines and horns, beeps and chirps, fluorescent lights, flashing screens, diesel fumes, and the rhythmic bouncing of my seat as the person down the bench from me jiggles his legs frantically while listening to an iPod and playing a video game. And I think to myself, I should write that blog entry for Phèdre. …

Christmas Produce

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posted by Shelley Carter, A.C.T. Artistic Intern
Two Turkish figs (Isabella Ateshian and Rachel Share-Sapolsky) in the 2007 production of A Christmas Carol.
“Too big to be a fig. Maybe an onion though,” says veteran A.C.T. Casting Director Meryl Shaw.
“Or even a plum?” offers A Christmas Carol Casting Consultant Greg Hubbard.

From outside the door of the casting office, I wondered what mystery fruit my two bosses could be discussing. Surely something exotic.

“Hey, Shelley, could you come help us with this produce?” Meryl called.

Expecting to see them peering over a small tropical fruit, I was surprised to see them huddled around the picture of a small adorable child. As the new artistic intern at A.C.T., I’ll admit there is a lot of casting terminology for me to learn, but I was highly perplexed by their farmers’ market vocabulary.

“It’s just that we have a zillion onions. I’m tearing up all ready,” says Meryl.

I furrow my brow and nod, playing along. Very pale and onionlike, I…

Holding Back My Tears as a "Carol Mom"

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posted by Susan Berston
Each year, A.C.T.’s annual production of A Christmas Carol features almost two dozen young actors as young as eight, who are all students in A.C.T.’s acclaimed Young Conservatory. Susan Berston, whose 12-year-old son, Samuel, appears as Ned Cratchit in this year’s production, writes about the rewards and challenges of being a first-time “Carol mom.”

Hearing the joy in my son’s voice, listening to him sing Christmas carols in early November, and noticing a pronounced bounce in his step, I have pondered whether being a “Carol mom” is almost as exciting as being in his shoes. My son, Samuel, has always loved to act both “on- and offstage” since the age of four, but it wasn’t until a year ago in Betty Schneider’s musical theater class in A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory that he realized there were other more serious, like-minded “singing, dancing, and acting” kids like himself. Ms. Schneider is a talented vocal and acting coach, with a magic and gentle influence unparal…

The Reality of Theater

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posted by Rusty Rueff, A.C.T. Trustee 

One night last month, Thursday, October 17, San Francisco was marking just another night of theater being performed on stages throughout the city and the Bay Area.

On that night the American Conservatory Theater was in an extended run of full houses for the Kneehigh Theatre production of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter. This fusion piece set in England during World War II told us of unfulfilled love and escape in a tumultuous time. Next door at the Curran Theatre, the touring company of Rent, with Anthony Rapp (original Mark) and Adam Pascal (original Roger), was sold out, with a raucous crowd watching the La Bohème story, told through Jonathon Larson’s characters, about poor, HIV/AIDS–infected, starving artists in New York City. They sang of the hope of dying in dignity with others caring about their plight. Across town another sold-out war-themed show was turning away people who wanted to see the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific—anoth…

A Winter Ritual

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posted by Michael Paller, A.C.T. Dramaturg and Director of Humanities
I miss the seasons in San Francisco. Growing up in the Midwest and then living for over two decades in New York City, the seasons were markers of time: a return to either school or work accompanied by falling leaves in autumn; holidays marked by singing and an abundance of lights and genuine good cheer all over the city, followed by what seemed like endless cold and snow in the winter that made arriving at one’s final destination all the more rewarding; warmth and greenery in the spring; hot days and long vacations in the summer. Each season heralded something both new and familiar. You could count on these things; there was comfort in the cyclical nature of the world and in the annual rituals we create to mark them.

As far as I can tell, there are no seasons in San Francisco. People tell me that they exist, but I don’t believe them, unless fog is a season, in which case there’s one. Eight leaves on the ground in f…

Inspired By Turkeys

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posted by Manoel Felciano, A.C.T. Core Acting Company member
When I learned I was going to play "A Representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey By-Products Manufacturers," I was a bit baffled at first. Who is this mysterious, bespectacled, mustachioed man with a few anger management issues? In David Mamet's play November, this hapless fellow has earned the great privilege of introducing the president of the United States to the two turkeys that ceremonially get pardoned every Thanksgiving. I imagined this was one of the highest honors that a "Turkey Guy" could get, and he's been preparing for this moment for months, if not years, and can't wait to shake hands and get a picture with the POTUS himself. Unfortunately for our intrepid hero, he can't even get his first words out before he is cut off, and things go rapidly downhill for him throughout the rest of the evening.

So how to find this character? I looked in the dictionary und…

A Unique Collaboration

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posted by Gillian Confair, stage manager of The Soldier’s Tale 
A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Marisa Duchowny performs with the New Music Ensemble of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Four members of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2011 are in rehearsal for Stravinsky’s groundbreaking theatrical piece The Soldier’s Tale, produced in A.C.T.’s first-ever collaboration with the New Music Ensemble of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. A.C.T. Associate Artist Giles Havergal and New Music Ensemble Artistic Director Nicole Paiement lead the unique joint venture. Stage manager Gillian Confair—who recently completed a year-long internship at A.C.T.—describes the unique experience of working on this unusual multidisciplinary project.

I find myself in the rare and difficult position of having to stage-manage a show that is not, by its basic definition, a show at all. If you were to call this piece anything, perhaps a “concert” would be the word to descri…

Who Wants to Be a Psychoanalyst?

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posted by Linda Lagemann, Ph.D., Wendy Stern, D.M.H., and A.C.T. Group Sales Manager Edward Budworth

The fifth season of the wildly successful Theater on the Couch program at A.C.T. started off running after the performance of Brief Encounter on Friday, September 18. Dr. Linda Lagemann and Dr. Wendy Stern of the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis were the panelists. Cast member Joseph Alessi joined in and brought many insights into the characters he portrays.

In this production, boundaries were broken. As cast members appeared in the audience and live characters entered movie scenes, the production created in us the feelings that the two protagonists, Laura and Alec, have as they breach boundaries. Fantasy and reality were also blended—aspects of the play were structured like a dream. The visual images projected on the back wall and the music expressed the unconscious feelings of the characters bubbling up. A perfect vehicle for a lively discussion!

From a psychoanalytic standp…

Diving into Williams's New Orleans

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posted by Brian Jansen, A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2011

There are so many positive changes taking place right now at A.C.T. I thought I’d blog about one improvement, which is the newly zoned performance space for the Conservatory. For years, A.C.T. M.F.A. Program students have staged wonderful productions in Hastings Studio Theater, but due to zoning regulations these shows were by invitation only and not open to the public.

This year we are excited that Hastings has been designated as a public performance space. It allows the public to come see the wonderful work going on in the Conservatory, and enhances student training by extending our run to allow more shows. Two plays are opening there this week featuring the 12 student actors in the M.F.A. class of 2011, and we hope you’ll come!

The plays are by two American legends—Tennessee Williams’s Vieux Carré and Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love. We’ve been working hard with our two directors—A.C.T. dramaturg Michael Paller and…

Taking "The Leap"

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posted by Anthony Fusco, A.C.T. Core Acting Company member

One of the challenges for artists working within institutions (no, not those kinds of “institutions”) is to be creative, imaginative, and even occasionally inspired . . . on a schedule. We here at A.C.T. are continually churning out work, from the mainstage to the classroom, and it all has to happen on time and on budget. Sometimes we capture lightning in a bottle; sometimes we get singed. Usually our plays are ripe for an audience at just the right moment, but sometimes we have an opening night because, well, that’s what it says on the calendar.

So how do we ensure that we’re always working at our best? How do we foster an atmosphere of continual creativity and invention, so that when those opening nights arrive we will be ready for them? Trying to find new answers to those old questions has been the focus of a lot of our energy lately, and has involved efforts ranging from informal hallway conversations to company-wide meeti…

You Know What I Did Last Summer . . . ? Part 3

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posted by Dan Rubin, A.C.T. Publications & Literary Associate

Please join me in welcoming the Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2012. In this third of three posts about what our students did this past summer, we offer you a first glimpse into the lives of the actors who will be spending the next three years with us.

Matt Bradley spent a month in Atlanta, Georgia, on his knees in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and doing his best Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer (the musical). He watched a lot of theater, read many books, spent a week in Sun Valley, Idaho, and, finally, moved into a little studio apartment on Pine and Hyde.


Alex Crowther: “My summer was busy getting ready for the big move to San Francisco. It was a mix of good (the excitement of meeting my new classmates and learning more about what the next three years have in store), bad (the never-ending visa applications, government assistance applications, and health care coverage applications), and sad (saying goodbye to fa…

You Know What I Did Last Summer . . . ? Part 2

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posted by Dan Rubin, A.C.T. Publications & Literary Associate

Our Master of Fine Arts Program students are back at school, and we could not be more excited. Find out below what the class of 2011 did the summer before they entered their second year at A.C.T.

A note of pride: all 12 second-year students were eagerto share their experiences with you and submitted posts—if you have ever tried to wrangle an entire group of students to do anything outside of class, you know that this is saying quite a bit. As one student said when we celebrated their responsiveness: “Honestly not surprised, we are overachievers.”

Stefannie Azoroh: “As soon as school was out I asked a few friends to do me this HUGE favor. I asked them to do a show for me in the apartment I share with Tobie [Windham]. I directed David Mamet’s American Buffalo in our apartment with a slightly different twist; let’s say I ‘renovated’ the play. I decided to make the two older figures, Teach (Tobie Windham) and Don (Richard Pri…

You Know What I Did Last Summer . . . ? Part 1

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posted by Dan Rubin, A.C.T. Publications & Literary Associate

Although the halls of A.C.T.’s conservatory and administrative offices are filled with the constant stream of actors taking classes during the summer, there is a definite (though indefinable) change in atmosphere when our Master of Fine Arts Program students return for the fall semester.

Maybe the renewed energy in the building is from the return of our new third-years. They’ve become our friends and colleagues—though they still feel a bit like our children (in the most adoring sense of the word!)—as they have grown as artists over the last two years. But many of them have been in and out of 30 Grant over the summer (some teaching and working; others just visiting), and they have all actually been “back” for a couple of weeks now, rehearsing their cabaret, Sweet Charity, which opened at Zeum on Friday, September 11. So maybe it is from the return of our new second-years, of whom we have seen less over the summer months an…

Noël Coward in San Francisco

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posted by Brad Rosenstein, Curator of Exhibitions and Programs, Museum of Performance & Design, San Francisco

The U.S. premiere of the Kneehigh Theatre production of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter at the American Conservatory Theater (formerly the Geary) marks a notable return by Coward not just to San Francisco, but to the same street where his work has been most frequently seen in this city and which The Master himself frequented in his lifetime.

In researching the Museum of Performance & Design’s recent exhibition Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward, I was delighted to discover that San Francisco was a very significant town for Coward, both personally and professionally. He first visited in 1926, staying at the Fairmont Hotel, and even though literally on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he fell in love with the city. He thought it was one of the very few great theater towns in America and returned many times on his visits to California or while en route to points across…

A Very Special Theater

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posted by James Haire, A.C.T. Producing Director

January 10, 2010, marks the 100th birthday of American Conservatory Theater’s historic home, originally known as the Columbia Theatre, later dubbed the Geary Theater, and finally renamed the American Conservatory Theater in 1996. James Haire, who has been with A.C.T. for more than 35 years, kicks off our online celebration of this unique and special building, which has been home to some of the most incredible theater artists of the last century.


In the early days of my career, I spent about ten years stage-managing on Broadway before coming to A.C.T. During that time, I worked on several national tours, traveling throughout the United States with various plays. We played most of the country’s larger cities, and during these treks I remember three theaters as being particularly outstanding due to their enlightened architecture, which made both performers and audiences feel somehow “special.” The first was the Colonial Theatre in Boston; …

Let’s Talk About Sets, Baby

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posted by Timothy Faust, A.C.T. Marketing Intern

The crew tries out the video projection during the load-in of the Brief Encounter set at A.C.T.
All photos by Timothy Faust. For more photos of the Brief Encounter load-in, visit A.C.T.’s Flickr page.
The dog-eared National Geographic on my bedroom floor offers evidence that Stonehenge, that ear-ringingly spectacular, eye-wateringly mysterious clump of rocks in Wiltshire, England, was built over the course of 500 years. The splendor of its prehistoric creation is matched only by its mystery, and words are insufficient for its majesty: Stonehenge was awesome back when “awesome” was a solemn, whispered word instead of today’s withered adjective, used for everything from sandwiches to skateboards.

On the other hand, the traveling Brief Encounter set, fresh from the production’s tour of the United Kingdom, needed only three days for its California construction—and it boasts two video projectors. National Geographic indicates that Stonehenge …

Getting the Word Out . . . with Flair!

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posted by Rose Marie Hogan, A.C.T. Marketing Associate

You are a lot more likely to attend an event that you know is happening, right?

In its most basic form, the job of A.C.T.’s marketing department is to make sure that the public knows that our shows are happening. We use all of the usual means of communication with our audience: ads, emails, radio and TV spots, stories in the press. In my very humble opinion, however, the BEST way to reach people is to do it with FLAIR!

What do I mean by flair? To get the word out with what A.C.T. does best: theatricality.

To open our 2009–10 season, A.C.T. is bringing Kneehigh Theatre’s production of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter straight from the U.K. I am crazy excited about this show. It’s terribly romantic, wackily funny; it’s got great music and an innovative approach to fusing cinema and theater; and it’s got BRITS! Seriously, if it had been in rehearsal here instead of across the ocean, I would have been playing hooky every day from work to…