Scrooge on Ice

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The holiday season starts early at A.C.T.; we began rehearsing our annual production of A Christmas Carol at the beginning of November. As a sponsor of the Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square, we’re sharing our anticipatory cheer with the city. Below, Scrooge (A.C.T. Associate Artist Anthony Fusco) announces the opening of the rink on Wednesday, November 10. He’s joined by dignitaries, figure skaters, and . . . Mr. Peanut?
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

Photos by Randy Taradash

"The Secret of the Sweets": An Interview with Marcus's Richard Prioleau

Friday, November 19, 2010

Third-year A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program actor Richard Prioleau is a busy man: he’s in rehearsals for A Christmas Carol and going to class in A.C.T.’s studios each day, while playing the title role in Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet on the mainstage each night. Still, last week he found time to sit down with A.C.T. Dramaturgy Fellow Zachary Moull—who worked as assistant director on Marcus—over lunch (salad and noodles) to talk about the urgency of Marcus, the joys and challenges of acting in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, and the musical proclivities of its cast.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

Your lunch looks very healthy. Do you have any routines or strategies for keeping your energy up?
No, I just have to remember to drink lots of water. I stopped going to the gym regularly because of the time constraints. But Marcus is 16, and he shouldn’t look like a football player, anyway. I do have preshow rituals: get there an hour before curtain, make sure I shower and warm up, and then go and talk to Shinelle [Azoroh, who plays Osha] and Omozé [Idehenre, who plays Shaunta Iyun]. Talking and laughing with them is imperative for me. I usually make an excuse to go see them, but it’s just to laugh.

What was the first thing that grabbed you about Marcus?
The wonder, the seeking. He’s on a quest, an underdog Odysseus-like wandering. He’s trying to figure out the answer to something that is missing within him. I think anybody can identify with that.

Tell me about developing Marcus’s physicality. It was a gradual process?
[Director] Mark [Rucker] kept encouraging me to be freer. I knew that my weight was a little heavier than the Marcus I have in my mind, so I wanted to find the lightness in [the character]. [I’m telling the physical story of] Marcus trying to be free. I couldn’t do that work until I was off book [knew all the lines by heart], until I knew what the play was, until I felt comfortable with everyone in the room. I wanted to give myself the time to do that, and Mark was great about it. He let it arise, instead of having me forcing some physicality on the play before I knew what it meant.

You’ve been performing publicly for two weeks now. Marcus speaks his lines out to the audience a lot. Has the character changed now that you’re actually in front of an audience?
He’s more fun. I think I discovered the humor in it, in interacting with the audience, more than I ever did in the rehearsal room. Especially last night, when [Shaunta Iyun’s] sandwich rolled off the stage.

What’s it like to be onstage during a moment like that?
When the sandwich fell off the stage . . . [laughs] Those moments are the reason why we do theater. In that moment, nothing is planned. We just have to react to what the audience is doing. Because if we ignore the moment, there’s a falseness.

And you didn’t ignore the moment. You both thanked the gentleman in the front row who tossed it back up to you. And then Omozé changed her exit line to, what was it?
“Damn, boy, made my sandwich roll right off the stage.”

Killer line.
Audiences choose theater because it’s live. The audience and the actors are living and breathing together. [When these accidents happen], we become more attuned to the fact that we’re all doing the same thing, all seeing the same things. We’re all here in the same space, and nobody knows what’s going to happen. Nobody can control when a fake sandwich will roll off the stage.

Speaking of unpredictability, have you been surprised by any of the audience reactions you’ve seen so far?
They’re so different from night to night. Each audience is like a different person. So I’m having the same conversation, but with a different person. That makes it fun for us, because we don’t know how this “person,” as a whole, is going to react to the story we’re telling them. It means that I’m never the same from the afternoon to the evening performances, or from one day to the next.

Tell me about the stage directions that you speak to the audience.
It’s hard, because as an actor you want to be in the moment from moment to moment. But Tarell wants you to stop, face the audience, highlight the moment, and then go back into it. You tell the audience, “Hey, look at this! Look what I’m about to do!”And then you do it. The flow of that is jarring at first. You have to really stop and take your time. Now, because we have it in our systems, it helps us make moments land. And it makes us have to deal with the audience right away, which is scary for us and for the audience. But when we enjoy those moments together right from the start, it builds a connection.

A broader question now: Why is Marcus urgent?
I think it’s urgent in light of all the [recent LGBT-teen] suicides, the bullying, the crisis with Proposition 8. The lives of gay men, black gay men . . . they’re not brought to the surface at all. I think it’s important that everyone hears [Tarell’s] voice. Hears that there is a cry, that there is a need to hear and listen. People struggle with their sexuality because it’s not being talked about, and that can be traumatic. So Marcus challenges its audience to see things that they might not usually see or talk about. It also brings in young people, which is wonderful. That’s our next generation of theatergoers.

How would you have responded to this play if it had existed when you were 16?
Oh my gosh, just to have seen people that were like me onstage, it would have . . . I don’t know. It’s such a blessing to have right now. I spent a lot of time not knowing [that plays like Marcus] could exist, wanting to see more people who looked like me and behaved like me on the stage. Maybe I would have pursued theater more quickly? Maybe more people of color would be on the stage? I mean, I’m here, so something happened somewhere. But I think if more plays like this had been done longer ago, it might have changed how we see people.

You’ve been doing a lot of interviews recently. What questions would you like to be asked more about your work?
What it’s like to work with the other cast members. The ensemble is so important for this piece.

Tell me about that.
For me, this has been—by far—the most joyful experience I’ve had working on a play. By joy, I mean the laughter, the smiles, the insights, how we respond to each other. I trust that each person has me, so being Marcus doesn’t feel daunting. We’ve all taken on this beast together. It’s really easy to get up onstage when you have that kind of support.

You’re a very close group. I’ve noticed that you break into song a lot . . .

Why do you think that is?
Because there’s music in the show. But even if there wasn’t, we’d probably do it anyway. It’s useful, because you can listen to a song and it brings you back to when you were 12 and you first heard it. None of us in the cast are 16-year-old kids, but we all have those markers in our lives that we draw upon. Like in the play: Ralph Tresvant, Usher . . . music sets off a trigger, takes you back to who you were.

If the cast was a band, what would you sing?
We would be a Michael Jackson cover band. Old-school Michael Jackson. With harmonies. A cross between Michael Jackson and Boyz II Men.

What would you call this band?
The Sweet. The Sweets. No. Yeah. “The Secret of the Sweets.”

Marcus and his “best” backstage: (L to R) Omozé Idehenre, Richard Prioleau, and Shinelle Azoroh

An Actor Reflects: Living the Brother/Sister Cycle

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

posted by Jared McNeill, cast member of Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet

Jared McNeill’s role in Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet may not be huge, but his onstage presence is enormous. As Terrell, the obnoxious-but (in McNeill’s hands)-loveable dude who follows Osha and Shaunta Iyun around in the first act, McNeill has the audience in stitches, especially with his bit about white chicks in horror films. This is not McNeill’s first time charming audiences in a Tarell Alvin McCraney drama. In fact, he has appeared in all three of the Brother/Sister Plays. After playing Oshoosi Size in City Theatre’s production of The Brothers Size in Pittsburgh, PA, and Elegba in In the Red and Brown Water at Marin Theatre Company (MTC), McNeill has the unique perspective of having lived and breathed McCraney’s entire cycle. Below, he describes that experience for us.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

The Brothers Size was my first show coming out of Fordham University, and it came after a good deal of kicking around doing odd jobs and such in NYC. I remember I was having difficulty deciding what I wanted, where I wanted to go, and what I was gonna do when I got there. I say that not to imply that I’ve made any sustainable progress in those areas, but rather to say that the search for identity in a larger world—the desperate yearning that Oshoosi Size exhibits in that play—was very present for me then, so I was able to exorcise some very immediate demons in working on the piece.

The cast of The Brothers Size at City Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA: Jared McNeill as Oshoosi Size (seated, right), 
with Joshua Elijah Reese as Elegba (standing, left; he later played Ogun Size at Magic Theatre in San Francisco) and 
A.C.T. M.F.A. Program alum Albert Jones as Ogun Size (photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons).

What I loved about playing Elegba [in In the Red and Brown Water] was the challenge of growing throughout the piece, of vacillating between high comedy and dramatic work. I thought then, and now know, that it takes a lot of control and trust to play “unhinged” to any degree, and when I was at MTC I was ready to at least try to find that. I figure, if you know what challenges you want to conquer going after a role, it’s easier to come somewhere close to what you imagine, even if you never quite get there.

(L to R) McNeill as Elegba, with Dawn Troupe, A.C.T. M.F.A. Program alum Lakisha Michelle May, and 
Daveed Diggs, in Marin Theatre Company’s In the Red and Brown Water (photo by Kevin Berne)

It’s proven to be quite a remarkable opportunity to work on the third play [Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet at A.C.T.] and finish out my experience with the cycle, because, besides being part of an amazing and rare force of cooperation and collaboration here in the Bay Area, I find that these plays, in general, carry with them and inspire something very special that isn’t found everywhere: an inherent sense of community among the acting company, a sense of group and individual self-reflection, and a simultaneous sense of play and importance and immediacy. I say this because I’ve been able to work on all three plays, and all with different companies at different times, and the result has been that same magic of truth and poetry and dreamscape and hyper-realism. All of these things could, if crafted less expertly, present a mash of contradictions; but they don’t. It’s nice, as an actor, to sit back and relax into McCraney’s words. It’s almost like you don’t have to find them on any given night. You just let them funnel up and out as they choose.

I feel closest to whatever character I’m portraying at the time. I think we actors all have a bit of the folk we play inside us. Who we are today is just a collection of who we’ve been up ’til now, so whoever it is in me that speaks to a certain role at that time is what comes bubbling to the surface. I think that speaks to the power of these plays to evoke very human, very connected parts of ourselves.

Though the [theater] spaces are very different and present various challenges in staging and voice and intimacy, the directors I’ve worked with on these plays [Robert O’Hara, Ryan Rilette, and Mark Rucker, respectively] have been very aware of that. There are many ways that the three directors have been different, but where they all align is in their permissiveness in the rehearsal room with regard to experimentation and exploration. Basically, nothing is so damn dumb that you can’t try it once. Sometimes twice. That’s a really freeing and engaging way to work, and, especially working with language that can sometimes be very open to interpretation of rhythm and play, it makes for a unique show that really belongs to the company.

The best part of it all for me has been to watch and learn from amazing actors weaving action through the poetry of the language. You can do a scene from these plays 10 times in a day and come to 100 new revelations. The joy for me is definitely in the playing, but in the long run I think I’ve gotten more out of the watching.

McNeill (far right) as Terrell, with A.C.T. M.F.A. Program alum Tobie L. Windham (far left) and A.C.T. M.F.A. Program 
student Richard Prioleau as Marcus in A.C.T.’s Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet (photo by Kevin Berne)

Marcus: The Poster, The Process

Monday, November 15, 2010

posted by Amelia Nardinelli, Senior Graphic Designer at A.C.T.

You may not have seen A.C.T.’s production of Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet yet, but odds are that you’ve noticed a certain mysterious, enigmatic image following you around town. In your newspaper, on BART, or in a shop window, a young black man with an otherworldly glow about him and a heart-shaped explosion of water over his chest stares back at you. His eyes are full of something. Maybe his gaze unsettles you. The man is Richard Prioleau, member of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2011 and star of Marcus, and the poster design is by Amelia Nardinelli, senior graphic designer at A.C.T. The poster has such an iconic presence it takes a moment to remember that it was created by a particular person. But created it was, and below Nardinelli lets us into the world of her process.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

Mythical. Gritty. Sexual. Urban. Southern Gothic. Lyrical. Wet. Humor. Katrina. Raw. Louisiana bayou. Community. Dreams. Yoruba deities. Sweet.

I always begin the design process with a brainstorm, or in the case of Marcus, a brainhurricane, of things I associate with the play. What are the underlying themes, who are the characters, and what kind of environment do they live in? I speak with the marketing team and the director, I look at set and costume designs, and I do a lot of sitting and staring out the window, thinking about how I can get a three-dimensional world full of people, sounds, and shifting light onto a piece of paper.

For the design of Marcus, I decided to start by focusing on two elements: Marcus (the main character) and water. I imagined those elements coming together to tell the story of Marcus’s self discovery. I wanted to express shyness and vulnerability, mixed with intense release. I also wanted the viewer to feel a hint of discomfort, as if they’d walked in on someone experiencing a very personal thing, like praying or looking in a mirror. Tall order.

With New Orleans’s Rebirth Brass Band blowing through my headphones, I looked at paintings, photographs, textures, type, ephemera: anything that supported any of my keywords. I looked at Robert Mapplethorpe for his arresting, sexual, black-and-white portrait photography; Lewis Watts for his raw, documentary-style photos of African Americans in New Orleans. I looked at Kehinde Wiley’s urban, poetic paintings of young African American men in wifebeaters and stiff-rimmed baseball caps standing in front of delicate floral prints. I decided that a striking portrait of Richard Prioleau, the actor who plays Marcus, was the way to go. [Amelia gets excited, nervous.]

Images that inspired the Marcus poster design, by: (top row, L to R) Kehinde Wiley, Robert Mapplethorpe; (second row, L to R) unknown artist (, Robert Mapplethorpe, Brandon Nichols; (third row, L to R) source unknown, Lewis Watts (Treme 2008), Gaffera (; (bottom row, L to R) Brandon Nichols, and HBO.

Now, how would I incorporate water? Is he soaking wet? No, too sexy. Is it raining? No, too hard to photograph. Is he floating in water? Too morbid. Water, water . . . how else could I incorporate water? More sitting and staring out of the window ensued. I thought about vehicles that water travels in: hoses, buckets, balloons. A water balloon hitting his chest? With excitement, and a little skepticism, I looked up water balloon photographs on Flickr and was overjoyed to see that many people had captured water balloons mid explosion, giving the water a dynamic, ethereal quality.

I threw together the elements I had come up with so far and presented my concept to Janette Andrawes, A.C.T.’s director of marketing, and to the director of Marcus, A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Mark Rucker. They liked the tone and felt that it represented the integrity of the play. [Amelia exhales, smiles.]

First draft of the poster for Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet: portrait of a man from; frame and water balloon from

Janette and I art-directed the photo shoot. Richard Prioleau brought vibrancy, charm, and a photogenic quality that even Tyra Banks would appreciate. Kevin Berne, our photographer, lit the room perfectly and captured a wide variety of expressions and poses.

Actor Richard Prioleau and designer Amelia Nardinelli at the Marcus poster photo shoot. 
Photos by Kevin Berne.

Back at the computer, I purchased a water-balloon-bursting image from an Italian photographer on Flickr and manipulated it in Photoshop to look like a heart (a last-minute decision), echoing Marcus’s quest for self-acceptance and love. I laid it on top of the chosen shot, and there it was: Mythical. Gritty. Sexual. Urban. Sweet. Lyrical. Wet. Raw. Dreams. American. Ten out of fifteen ain’t bad.

Imagining Despair

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Last month, students in the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program classes of 2011 and 2012 took a dramatic step that would intimidate even the most experienced of actors: they publicly performed Chekhov. In The Three Sisters, Chekhov’s masterpiece about missed opportunities and dreams stifled by stagnation, the Prozorov sisters fervently dream of returning to the Moscow of their youth but somehow cannot manage to walk away from their small village and lives they cannot but see as dreadfully prosaic. Three Sisters director Marco Barricelli, former member of A.C.T.’s core acting company (he played Vershinin in Carey Perloff’s 2003 production) and currently artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, took on the challenge of helping these aspiring young actors—in their second and third years of A.C.T.’s three-year training program, respectively—tackle Chekhov’s iconic turn-of-the-20th-century tale of midlife misery. Below are excerpts from a conversation with Barricelli that took place just after rehearsals had begun.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

Marco Barricelli on The Three Sisters:

On the first day of rehearsal I told the cast: “Look, this is a mountain you’re never going to scale. You’ll never get to the top of this thing. Frankly, though, professional actors don’t ever scale this thing either; it’s about the journey, and the effort to get there.” I’m asking these students to imaginatively inhabit a frame of mind that they have very little connection to. I mean, these characters are stuck in a life they can’t break out of. All of the characters get to a certain point in the play—different points for each of them—when they say, “What happened to my life? How did I get here? This isn’t what I meant to do.” These kids [the M.F.A. Program students] are still early in their trajectory; when you’re in a training program, one of the top training programs in the country, and Bill Irwin is working in the company, it’s exciting! Everything is possible. They’re all “going to be stars.” So getting them to make the imaginative leap to these characters is really my challenge. You have to have been slapped around a little in your life to get this play. For an actor, you have to get to that point where you realize, “Gee, I’m not going to be the next Laurence Olivier or Leonardo DiCaprio or whatever, so what am I? Is this really what I planned to do?” But they’re young. Christ, there’s a 21-year-old kid playing Chebutykin, who is 60. I mean, come on!

My strategy for helping them do that? I’m going to be kind of . . . mean. [Laughter] Not in an arbitrary way. I told them yesterday, “You know, I’m really going to push you guys, because otherwise this is just bulls**t, all it is is a bunch of f**king acting M.F.A. students memorizing something that Chekhov wrote a hundred years ago and then getting up there and reciting it. That’s worthless. It’s got to cost you something, and you better put something on the line here, otherwise it’s a waste of time.” The point is for them to close this production just ever so slightly better actors than they were at our first read-through. If we can do that, then, okay, we’ve accomplished something. It’s a pedagogical experience for them. I’m using this play, which has a very unique force for actors, to teach them something about themselves as actors. It’s not even about them succeeding in their roles. It’s about: right now they can go from point A to point B, and maybe by the time we’re done with this process they’ll be able to go from A to B and a half. And that’s good. That’s what it’ll be.

There is something profoundly truthful about Chekhov’s plays that is . . . it’s raw truth. It’s different from the way Shakespeare is truthful. Shakespeare has a scope that is somehow more historical. Chekhov is . . . the detail of it, the nuance of the pain, the self-loathing and self-questioning and inability, the juxtaposition of having the real capacity to dream and imagine and fantasize about what should be while being utterly incapable of actually doing anything to get there. You get to a certain point in your life and you realize, “Oh yeah, I get that.” There’s an element to all of Chekhov’s plays—I’ve done The Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya as an actor—where there’s that “there but for the grace of God” feeling. The feeling, “Oh, that could so easily happen to me.”

The A.C.T. M.F.A. Program’s three sisters: (L to R) Irina (Courtney Thomas),
Olga (Christina Lorenn Elmore), and Masha (Jessica Kitchens).

Members of the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program classes of 2011 and 2012 in The Three Sisters

A Wild Ride with the YC

Friday, November 5, 2010

posted by Naomi Kunstler, A.C.T. Young Conservatory student 

A.C.T. Young Conservatory students are sharp. We’d heard it from everyone: YC Director Craig Slaight; Karen Hartman, author of Wild Kate (a new play commissioned by the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program and YC); the M.F.A. Program students who’ve worked with them on conservatory coproductions and in A Christmas Carol. So when we knew they were in the building rehearsing Wild Kate, we didn’t want to miss the chance to let them weigh in on young actor training and the dark hilarity of Wild Kate’s nautical adventures. Naomi Kunstler, a junior at Convent of the Sacred Heart high school, pulls us into the nitty gritty of rehearsal as only a true actor could.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

The first day of rehearsal I’m sitting in my chair during our line-through and I can barely stay in my seat I am so excited. The room is packed with the cast, crew, playwright, director, lighting designer, sound designer, choreographer, etc., and I am already so thrilled to be part of a production like this. I skip to the bus stop, and the second I get home blurt out to my parents all the exhilaration that I can no longer contain.

This may seem like the sort of enthusiasm that would be short-lived, but it has lasted through the whole rehearsal process. All of the students in the Young Conservatory cast have discussed our impatience every day as we sit in our classrooms at school and count down the number of hours, minutes, and seconds until we get to leave classes and go to rehearsal.

It is rare that young actors of our age are given the opportunity to work with older and more experienced artists. In addition to YC students, the cast of Wild Kate includes students training to get their master of fine arts degrees. Collaborating with the M.F.A. students and working with a professional director like W. D. Keith for the first time has most definitely boosted my creativity. Their professional and life experience has given them the ability to imagine ways to add to productions, ways that someone with less exposure would never come up with.

Wild Kate, based loosely on Moby Dick, takes place on a small boat. My character, Nia, is a pregnant 17-year-old. Pregnant and seasick is really not a pleasant combination. Giving the illusion that the whole play takes place on a moving boat may seem simple; however, this is in no way the case. First of all, you can’t just start moving along to the motion of the boat when you happen to think of it; you have to do it constantly, no matter how absorbed you are in the scene. One of the main struggles was making sure that everyone was swaying the right way. If even one person is off the viewer is no longer convinced that we are on a boat. So we spent hours rehearsing this, picking one person in each scene to lead the wave action and scaling the intensity of the wave action for every scene on a scale of one to five. We even had a choreographer come in and work with us multiple times, because in addition to staying in sync we also had to make sure that we weren’t anticipating the waves, but that they were really throwing us off balance.

In the peak scene of Wild Kate we are in the middle of a vicious storm. While staying in the intensity of the scene, we violently throw our bodies around and grab onto whatever we can find to “maintain balance.” This took a lot of work; however, the second that we got into the Zeum Theater and saw the set, everything felt real. I still feel the thrill we got when we first laid eyes on the mock boat that up until then had only existed in our imaginations. Like four-year-olds, the whole cast started jumping up and down, and we had to contain ourselves to resist running onto the set before we were permitted. We later found out that the set was even designed to make squeaking noises when certain planks were stepped on, in order to make it sound like an old boat.

Of all the shows I have been in, what makes Wild Kate unique is that we are the first people ever to perform this play. When I am asked what show I have been working on, shudders of excitement run through me as I say, “Wild Kate: it’s a world premiere.” Being the first ever to rehearse Wild Kate means that I am the first ever to play the character of Nia, as is the case for the rest of the cast and their characters. There is no way I could fall into the trap of being influenced by the choices of another actor taking on the same role, so my creativity is at its sharpest. At first glance one might see my character—as well as all the other struggling teenagers who have embarked on this boat because they can no longer handle their lives at home—as comical and shallow. In reality, though many of the characters have humorous sides, these teenagers are here because they are deeply troubled and unstable. We had the incredible chance to embrace and dissect characters that had never before been touched.

In the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program/YC coproduction of Karen Hartman’s Wild Kate,
Nia (YC student Naomi Kunstler, right) gives a report about navigation while Mariana
(YC student Anya Richkind, left) and Romare (M.F.A. Program student Joshua Roberts) listen.

A New Audience for Marcus

Thursday, November 4, 2010

posted by Zachary Moull, A.C.T. Dramaturgy Intern

A.C.T.’s dramaturgy intern, Zach Moull, one fourth of A.C.T.’s blog quadrumvirate, has been doing double-duty, serving as the assistant director for Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet in addition to his literary duties. He’s been privy to some of the amazing outreach events that a play like Marcus can facilitate, including a recent presentation to at-risk teens. Enjoy his description of the day, and check out the photos by former A.C.T. Marketing Intern Timothy Faust below!
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

A couple of weekends ago, the cast of Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet welcomed an audience into the rehearsal room for the first time since the production's opening rehearsal, when we welcomed a group of LGBT teens to an early read-through of the play.

Four weeks into the rehearsal process, the play was up on its feet and on its way to the stage. But Marcus is filled with moments that call for the actors to connect directly with the audience: the characters soliloquize, they announce their stage directions, they let the house in on private thoughts, jokes, and feelings. Such moments simply cannot become complete and meaningful in a closed rehearsal room. So the cast jumped at the special opportunity to play to a full house while the production was still taking shape.

The particular audience made the day even more exciting. Randy Taradash, associate director of marketing and promotions at A.C.T., arranged for five community groups to bring some 35 at-risk teens from all over the Bay Area to our rehearsal studios for the afternoon. For most of these teens, who face challenges like poverty, abuse, gang violence, and unstable living conditions, this was their first trip to the theater. They were shown the first act of Marcus up close in our cozy studio. Then they had a talk-back session with the cast, asking thoughtful questions about the creative process, the world of the play, and the emotional journeys that the actors had to travel. Afterwards, they met with Randy and their own group leaders to discuss what they had seen more intimately. (They’ll be back after opening night to see the whole show in the American Conservatory Theater.)

As the assistant director for Marcus, I'd seen the scenes that were performed on Sunday more times than I can count. But I hadn't yet seen performances so fresh, so detailed, and so alive. The cast opened up their performances to the whole room, engaging the audience and channeling their energy into the work. It made me excited to think about how the show would grow to fill our enormous theater space after we made the move down Geary Street to begin previews.

Marcus isn't only a coming-out story, though it certainly is a beautiful one. We've learned over the past weeks that Marcus deals with so many of the challenges of growing up: How do we sort through the influences that surround us? How are relationships redefined on the brink of adulthood? How do we find our place within a community? This is a play that speaks honestly about a difficult time in anyone’s life. So we were thrilled to have the opportunity to show Marcus to an audience that might understand it most.

Richard Prioleau (as Marcus) performs for at-risk teens.

The cast of Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet (backs to camera)
face high school students for a talk-back session.     

Ogun Size (Gregory Wallace, left) and Marcus (Richard Prioleau) 
share an intimate moment.

Osha (Shinelle Azoroh) and her best friend, Marcus (Prioleau).

Tobie L. Windham opens the show as Oshoosi Size.

Director Mark Rucker addresses the group (dramaturgy intern 
and assistant director Zach Moull sits at his right!).

Let's Go Giants!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


And welcome home! What better way to celebrate Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet day (as today was proclaimed by the Mayor’s office), than a citywide parade! Here are some photos of the festivities from the roof of our administrative offices/school. Unfortunately, it does not quite catch the uproarious hurrahing or the continuous horn blowing, but still . . .

Marcus opens tonight, and we’re all in quite the festive mood!

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