The beginning chord of a 'Circle'

Monday, June 29, 2009

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

A little over a week ago at A.C.T., we got together for an internal reading of a few scenes from Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, newly translated by our own Domenique Lozano. You may know her as the director of A Christmas Carol for the past few years, but “Domie” is also an important part of the M.F.A. program, where she directs and teaches and also helps the graduating land agents and dazzle casting directors by putting together the M.F.A. Showcase—which travels to New York and L.A.—every year. I had the good luck to co-teach a Shakespeare class with her this year, and suffice to say her students are very lucky indeed.

With the blessings of the Brecht estate, she is busily preparing Chalk Circle for production next season. It will be directed by John Doyle, and based on what we read, we are off to a fine, fine start. Her translation so far is very actable, very funny, and strikes a perfect balance between naturalistic phrasing and the formality or “distance” employed by Brecht. Those who saw Sweeney Todd in the fall of 2007 will remember Doyle’s use of this distancing effect, and I’m really looking forward to working with him on a play by the father of that approach. Also, Carey Perloff is a dyed-in-the-wool Brechtian, and I’ve always felt a bit outclassed by her first hand experience with old Bertolt. I’m super excited about getting some of that experience myself.

At the reading we had most of the core company, as well as a few M.F.A. students and some of our more beloved local actors all gathered in a rehearsal studio at 30 Grant to give it a read. I was immediately struck by and excited at the vividness of the work—the clear, strong characters, the scathing humor, the political urgency, the moral outrage, all held together by Brecht’s superb craft and abiding compassion for the little guy. My father is a well known photojournalist who has striven throughout his life to depict the plight of the oppressed and the sins of the powerful, so Brecht’s sympathies struck a familiar and welcome chord with me. And speaking of “chords,” figuring out just what to do with the many songs in the play is going to be one of the most challenging and exciting aspects of the production. Brecht, you see, wrote lyrics, but no music. Carey and her team have been listening to all types of stuff apparently. Should it sound folksy? Kurt Weill like? Soviet? Caucasian? Big decisions to be made.

Maybe the best part of the reading was the lively debate that followed as a few of us lingered afterwards. I imagine many in the audience will be caught up in debate as well. Folks, this is one to look forward to.

Planning while the Future Plays

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

posted by Dan Rubin, Publications & Literary Associate
Outside my window on the seventh floor patio are eight young girls playing catch while they finish their lunches before going back to their acting classes. Earlier, a couple practiced lines from a play I didn’t recognize and, on the balcony above, a group practiced “La Vie Boheme” from Rent. It is summer, and 30 Grant has been happily invaded by the young talent of San Francisco (and beyond!). But even though our building is infused with an energy only youth can generate, there is work to be done! And I have the calendars to prove it.

The publications office is upgrading. This past season we used Outlook’s calendar. Fine. Functional. Equipped with alarms that remind me when I should be where and, I’m sure, a number of other applications that I never taught myself. But its palette of five colors is lacking. Five colors for next season are not going to cut it, not with the number of overlapping deadlines already set with as much precision as I can manage. I would schedule lunch breaks for January if I could. So we are upgrading to a Google Calendar with its rainbow of 21 hues. (I can make lunch breaks that pretty faded charcoal color!)

In front of me, pinned to my corkboard, is an At-A-Glance calendar from Office Depot covered with pen and highlighter demarcating when certain colleagues are out of the office, as well as additional reminders that should and might be transferred onto my online calendars. Above me is an enormous color printout of our simplest production calendar, which includes the runs for the mainstage performances at the American Conservatory Theater (affectionately though erroneously still known as the Geary); the Garret, our lovely cabaret space on the top floor of the American Conservatory Theater; Zeum Theater, where our M.F.A. and Young Conservatory actors regularly wow Yerba Buena Gardens; our touring cabarets and Will on Wheels; and Hastings, recently zoned for public performances.

Behind me is a whiteboard that will soon have our most immediate deadlines drawn in dry-erase marker—the first will be the design deadline for the season’s Words on Plays covers, quickly followed by the program deadlines for Brief Encounter. On my desk to my left is a complete printout of our detailed month-by-month production calendar with performance dates and times, special events, etc. My department’s deadlines are written in. These deadlines have already been transferred to our Outlook calendar. Soon I will transfer them to our new Google Calendar, but only after I figure out the most practical and feng shui of color combinations.

I refuse to get a PDA. I would never sleep. I would be up nights updating when I should tie my shoelaces.

Does it really take six calendars to prepare for a season? Probably not. But our building is engulfed in the chaos of young creativity, and right now these calendars are a welcome tether. Otherwise, I might float out onto the balcony and play acting games all day.

By Any Other Name

Monday, June 15, 2009

posted by Anthony Fusco, cast member of Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo
In Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, my character, Peter, has a complicated relationship with his penis. In fact, he can hardly utter the word.

The same is true of me. Not because of shyness, but because the word itself is so . . . flaccid.

Penis. Pee-niss. Go ahead and say it out loud a few times right now.

It starts off okay, with that nice firm “p” sound. Lips pressed together, gathering energy behind them until that first sound just erupts. Then—sadly, disappointingly—the rapid decline into “niss.” The poor vowel, short and clipped as it is, rendered even weaker by the intrusive nasality of the “n” as the poor little word dies out in sibilance.

A name that sounds like a mild rebuke, a name invented by a disappointed assistant principal or the department of public health.

A name too meager for something so important. Important to ME anyway.

Not that the other names are much better: dick, cock, thing, wiener, weenie, doodle, joint, shaft, rod, trouser trout, peter (!) pocket mouse, blind cave snake, member, the list goes on and on—most of them sounding like guy’s names, inanimate objects, or small pets.

I’m going to suggest a new one: penax (or maybe peMAX!). Still in the ballpark, but at least with a bit of oomph at the finish.

“I’ve been to the zoo.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

posted by Manoel Felciano, cast member of Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo

“I’ve been to the zoo.”

These are the famous first words of Edward Albee’s explosive debut play, The Zoo Story, written in 1958. With this statement Jerry introduces himself to Peter, and what follows is perhaps the most riveting first encounter ever written for the theater. The Zoo Story, originally a one-act, is now paired with a prequel act, Homelife, which Albee wrote in 2004. The two together form Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, which opens at A.C.T. in June. I have the great privilege—and daunting task—of playing Jerry.

A few weeks ago, between leaving the cast of Ragtime at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and starting rehearsals for At Home at the Zoo in San Francisco, I found myself with an unexpectedly free afternoon back in Manhattan. My flight for San Francisco left at 6:55 p.m. It was 2 p.m. I set out from my apartment at 14th and 9th to retrace the pivotal journey Jerry makes just prior to the opening lines of The Zoo Story.

“Do you know what I did before I went to the zoo today? I walked all the way up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square; all the way . . . I took the subway down to the Village so I could walk all the way up Fifth Avenue to the zoo. It’s one of those things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.”

Why did Jerry do this? Why didn’t he just walk across the park from his room on the Upper West Side to the zoo? What was he avoiding? What was he looking for? What did he encounter on his ritualistic walk from the Village to the zoo? I decided to find out for myself.

I started at the bottom of Fifth Avenue, and briskly (New Yorker pace) tried following in Jerry’s footsteps. While the play was written in 1958, the text (except for a few minor updates) and its representation of the city remain unchanged, and Edward Albee insists that At Home at the Zoo takes place in the present. So no point in worrying about what Fifth Avenue was like 51 years ago. What might I find on a beautiful sunny spring afternoon in 2009, between 2 and 4 p.m., exactly when Jerry makes his pilgrimage, that might give me some insight into what makes him tick? I found plenty, and some of the discoveries and “coincidences” are nothing short of hair-raising. On a whim, I decided to document what I was experiencing with my iPhone’s little camera, and the resulting travelogue, with relevant captions, can be found here:

Jerry's Journey: A Picasa Web Album

What began at the arch in Washington Square Park ended with a gentleman (a real-life Peter?) reading on a park bench near Fifth Avenue and 74th Street. Jerry’s journey had become mine. Block after block my eyes were slowly opened to what Jerry might have experienced, particularly at the Central Park Zoo, and why he would need to start a conversation with the unsuspecting Peter. What happened next? A journey of a different sort: a dangerous, thrilling, funny, “heart-shattering” collision between two very different men, that will leave both of them irrevocably changed, and far, far from where they started.
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