Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Diane J. Findlay

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Meet Diane J. Findlay, who plays Mother Mucca. Click here to read her official bio.

Check back next week to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Diane J. Findlay.

CHARACTER Mother Mucca.

HOMETOWN Suffern, New York. It’s about 25 miles north of New York City, up the Hudson River.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Hello, Dolly! on Broadway.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE That’s a hard one. There’s been soooooo many. You see, I love what I do and each project brings along something exciting and interesting and new; something to take home with me and remember, hopefully with laughter.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES My first audition for Tales of the City was a wonder. At first I thought perhaps I shouldn’t go to the audition because I felt our director Jason Moore would never buy me as Mother Mucca, and I knew I’d be disappointed, but my agent talked me into it. So I decided to go for broke and have myself a ball, which I did, and look what happened! The entire creative team was wonderful and they made me feel as if couldn’t fail. I felt safe, and that’s rare at an audition. My second audition was even better, because by then I really knew “Ride ’em Hard,” the dirtiest song in show business, and I couldn’t wait to dazzle them with my take on the song. And apparently I did. Lucky me!

HOW ARE YOU LIKE MOTHER MUCCA? Well, Mother Mucca runs a whorehouse, sooo how much am I like my character??? I’m afraid to think. However, and this is true, my apartment in New York, on the Upper West Side, was once a whorehouse for the 79th Street Boat Basin. Isn’t that funny!

FAVORITE MUSICAL A Little Night Music, Mame, The Spitfire Grill, Dear World. I could go on and on and on.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING “If He Walked into My Life.”

EDUCATION High school and then right into the business. I couldn’t wait to step foot on a stage. I’m HOPELESS but HAPPY.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL I start to settle down around 4:00 in the afternoon. Have a bite to eat around 5:00, take a little snooze, exercise, vocalize, and get to the theater an hour before curtain. This has been my routine from day one, and it has always worked for me.

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Who can remember?!!! I pass on that one.

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Andrew Samonsky

Friday, May 27, 2011

Meet Andrew Samonsky, who plays Beauchamp Day. Click here to read his official bio.

Check back next week to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Andrew Samonsky.

CHARACTER Beauchamp Day.

HOMETOWN Ventura, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE My earliest theater memories are when my parents would take me to see musicals at PCPA Theaterfest’s outdoor theater in Solvang, California. Great memories.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE In Verona, Italy, I got to see Rigoletto in an ancient 35,000-seat coliseum. I can only compare it to a Yankees game. It was the grandest production I’ve ever witnessed, and the voices were unbelievable. Those Italians love their opera.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Honestly, the first time I heard of Tales of the City was when I got an audition for this production. Now, I constantly see Armistead Maupin’s books everywhere!

HOW ARE YOU LIKE BEAUCHAMP? We’ve both lived in San Francisco. That’s all I’ll admit to with Beauchamp Day.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Sweeney Todd

FAVORITE SONG TO SING In the car? Anything on the Stranger album by Billy Joel.

EDUCATION B.A. in music from Cal State Northridge. M.F.A. in acting from UC Irvine.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: a cup of coffee before the show (lots of cream and sugar). Post-: a big bowl of cereal when I get home (currently Frosted Mini-Wheats).

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Do wide collars count?

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meet Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, who plays DeDe Halcyon-Day. Click here to read her official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone.

CHARACTER DeDe.

HOMETOWN Portland, Oregon.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Best Christmas Pageant Ever in sixth grade.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Coming home to Portland with the national tour of Legally Blonde. I loved performing for my hometown.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Reading the script for the audition.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE DEDE? I’m married :) and I would also eat donuts at a low point.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Not a musical, but I love August: Osage County.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING Anything country. Country music always makes it seem like its sunny outside.

EDUCATION B.A. in acting with a minor in musical theater from Marymount Manhattan College.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: work out and steam (pretty normal). Post-: depends on the night!

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM I have a bracelet I got at a shop in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I always think, “I would have worn this to Studio 54.”

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Richard Poe

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meet Richard Poe, who plays Edgar Halcyon. Click here to read his official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Richard Poe.

CHARACTER Edgar Halcyon.

HOMETOWN Pittsburg, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Playing Scrooge in the eighth grade (magnificent!).

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Hard to choose. Journey’s End on Broadway: nine guys in a dark World War I dugout talking for two and a half hours, and everyone dies . . . then winning every available award in New York, including the Easter bonnet competition. 1776 on Broadway: more guys, more talking, more light, same result. Cyrano de Bergerac at A.C.T. in 1973, playing Second Musician/Third Cadet, being a novice in the middle of all that wonderfulness. There’s more. Just ask me.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES I lived in San Francisco until about 1977 (graduated from the University of San Francisco [USF] and started acting at A.C.T.). I had never read the books until this show came up. What a walk down memory lane! I had no money then and was always scrambling for odd jobs, but what a city! It’s really exciting and a little unnerving to come back for a while—like I’ll see my old self passing in the street.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE EDGAR? Though I’m told in the business that I have a patrician quality, I’m pretty far from the manor born. But I like to think I can fake it when need be, and Edgar knows he’s been faking it when he realizes his number’s up and that he’s denied himself so much. I have lots of me that would like to bust loose in new ways. I just hope I don’t suffer Edgar’s plight before I do it.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Sweeney Todd; 1776; The Drowsy Chaperone.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING Whatever’s in my head driving me crazy at the time: “My One and Only Love”; “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)”; “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

EDUCATION B.A. from USF; M.A. candidate at UC Davis. Some acting gurus: Erich Morris, Milton Katselas, Lee Strasberg.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: stretch, vocal warm-up, speaking the entire first scene aloud (don’t ask me why—it’s a habit of 15 years that I can’t break for superstitious reasons). Post-: whatcha got?

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Having witnessed the ’70s, I once owned a pair of shimmering blue velveteen pants. Hell in the rain.

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Josh Breckenridge

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Meet Josh Breckenridge, who plays Jon Fielding. Click here to read his official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Joshua Breckenridge.

CHARACTER Jon Fielding.

HOMETOWN Fallbrook, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Circle Bar B Ranch Theatre in Santa Barbara, California . . . at age 14!

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE The Scottsboro Boys. From our very first reading to our closing night on Broadway . . . what a journey!

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Being cast in the original workshop at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE JON? I’m very focused and career driven, much like Jon . . . oh yeah, and I’m a hopeless romantic.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Crazy for You.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING “On the Wings of Love” (I sang it for my Tales of the City audition).

EDUCATION B.F.A. in musical theater at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: gym. Post-: food!

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Afro pick.

Touchstone the Teacher

posted by Anthony Fusco, A.C.T. core acting company member 

As You Like It, currently running at Zeum Theater, offers a rare opportunity to see A.C.T.’s core acting company members sharing the stage with the students of our M.F.A. program. The veteran professionals in our company have served as teachers and advisors to the students throughout their three years of training at A.C.T., and it is a fitting rite of passage for these master apprentices to share the stage with their mentors in their last A.C.T. production before graduating. The transition from teacher to colleague is always complicated, sometimes explosive, and often humbling. A.C.T. core company member Anthony Fusco reflects on the process below.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

So here I am playing Touchstone in As You Like It, with a cast made up mostly of the beautiful and talented members of A.C.T.’s M.F.A. Program class of 2011. Having taught these young actors on and off over the last three years, it’s a real pleasure to experience them putting their training to use as they—and I—wrestle with Shakespeare’s deceptively simple-seeming comedy.

As their teacher, I would of course step in and offer advice, criticism, and corrections whenever I wanted to. And I’m afraid I found myself in the early stages of rehearsal being a little too directorial in my new role as colleague and scene partner. More than I would with more seasoned cast mates, I barreled ahead with my own ideas, cavalierly expecting everyone to just follow along.

Which they did.

For a while.

Then little by little I began to notice signs of push-back. Polite, friendly, gentle push-back. But push-back nonetheless.

I asked one cast mate to bring a prop to me when he entered. He replied, “My character wouldn’t do that.” I tried a new piece of staging out with another, certain that it was a vast improvement. She didn’t like it.

Recovering from my own sense of affronted superiority, I realized that they were both right. But, more importantly, I realized that I was in a larger sense wrong. I am no longer their teacher. I am their colleague.

And sometimes their student. Just yesterday, I was onstage with one of them in a two-person scene. I was blathering away, thinking about my timing, my inflections, my gestures, my my my . . . and the young actor opposite me just looked at me. Present, accepting, available, “in the moment”—all those things I try to teach them to be, and all of which I was managing to forget about.

Brought me up short. Reconnected me to the world of the play. The scene went better than ever.

Thus men may grow wiser every day.

A.C.T. core acting company member Anthony Fusco (left) as Touchstone and A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Richardson Jones as Corin. Photo by Alessandra Mello.

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Wesley Taylor

Monday, May 23, 2011

Meet Wesley Taylor, who plays Michael “Mouse” Tolliver. Click here to read his official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Wesley Taylor.

CHARACTER Michael Tolliver.

HOMETOWN Orlando, Florida.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE I did a lot of theater when I was a child, but it’s hard to remember. My first professional experience in the theater was when I was 11 and played Kurt in The Sound of Music at this little Equity playhouse. It was an eight-week run, and when it was over, I was devastated and cried for days.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Playing Falstaff in Henry IV my last year at drama school.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES I was in the dark until I was cast, but then immediately read the books, watched the miniseries, and got hooked!

HOW ARE YOU LIKE MOUSE? Unfortunately, I’m also a hopeless romantic.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Floyd Collins.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING Sheesh, I don’t know. Any song that Norbert Leo Butz has already sung.

EDUCATION B.F.A. in drama from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Steam, push-ups, stretch, scales.

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM The high socks and short shorts . . . on men.

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Betsy Wolfe

Friday, May 20, 2011

Meet Betsy Wolfe, our Mary Ann Singleton. Click here to read her official bio.

Check back next week to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Betsy Wolfe.

CHARACTER Mary Ann Singleton.

HOMETOWN Visalia, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE At ten I played Kenickie in my church’s basement production of Grease, and Artful Dodger in Oliver! the following year. Apparently I played smooth-talking boys really well.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Having the rain pour down on me at the end of Act II in 110 in the Shade. It was freeing, healing, and my first time on Broadway.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Two years ago the casting director for Tales of the City came up to me at an opening night party and said, “There is this part that is perfect for you, but no one knows who the hell you are. You read the books and I’ll get you in the room.”

HOW ARE YOU LIKE MARY ANN? Let me count the ways . . . BUT I will say I’ve never dated a child molester.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Into the Woods.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING “Colors of the Wind.” My two-year-old niece is obsessed with Pocahontas. And it makes me the “favorite” when I sing it!

EDUCATION B.F.A. in musical theater from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

PERFORMANCE RITUAL The cucumber gimlet from Bourbon and Branch is delicious and will need to be a ritual while in San Francisco.

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM I have no clue, but I’m sure I’ll be wearing them all during the show!

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Judy Kaye

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We know you’re counting the days until Tales of the City officially opens on June 1, so to hold you over till then (and to whet your appetite) . . .

We are pleased to introduce to you the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!

Today, meet Judy Kaye, who plays Anna Madrigal. Click here to read her official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another Tales cast member!

—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate


NAME Judy Kaye.

CHARACTER Anna Madrigal.

HOMETOWN Phoenix, Arizona.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Seeing Damn Yankees with Gwen Verdon on Broadway.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE The first night I went on as the understudy for Madeline Kahn in On the 20th Century. I don’t remember every detail, but it was a magical night. An out-of-body experience.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES When my cell phone rang as I was about to tee off on a golf course in Phoenix, barely a month before rehearsals started!

HOW ARE YOU LIKE ANNA MADRIGAL? I love my life!

FAVORITE MUSICAL Oh, God. How could you ask that?! I have so many for so many different reasons. And, now I have a new one to add to the list—Tales of the City!

FAVORITE SONG TO SING I’ve a whole list of those, too. For every mood: “Simple Song,” “Desperado,” “Some Other Time,” “Move On,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “All the Things You Are,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” etc., etc.

EDUCATION UCLA on and off for five years. No degree. Showbiz was calling.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Rest—eat—workout—stretch—hum—paint my face—GO!

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM I had an M&Ms t-shirt . . . and bell-bottoms, of course.

The Creation of a Forest

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

posted by Liliana Duque-PiƱeiro, scenic designer for As You Like It

The Forest of Arden is one of the best-known and most-loved settings in the history of English dramatic literature. At once playful, mysterious, dangerous, and brightly generative, it provides a welcome challenge for any designer. Below, As You Like It scenic designer Liliana Duque-PiƱeiro describes her the creation of a Forest of Arden with a young, DIY feel.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate

The project started with the traditional meeting with the director, Mark Rucker. He wanted our Forest of Arden to be a warm magical place in a world that speaks of today, but without a modern look, necessarily. The world he wanted to create would be influenced by today’s San Francisco, a trend that permeates all levels—in his words: “Etsy” [for the artisanal crafts website www.etsy.com]. It would revolve around handcrafted, reused, and recycled materials, in stark contrast to new, hi-tech sleek modern design. I left our first meeting with a bag of ideas and two words: felt and cork.

Research began, and sketches took center stage on my table, as well as a big practical question: “How can we create magical woods out of felt and stay within budget?” Add to the puzzle a stage that is very wide compared to its depth, and steep audience seating that makes it tough for actors and spectators to connect easily. I love challenges, though, and this one, in particular, since I would clearly have to dig into my sculptor bag for some out-of-the-box solutions.

For the trees, we settled on sweaters of all sizes and colors: they had the warmth and textural qualities of felt, but would be cheap and easy to find. Half of the sweaters were donated by A.C.T. staff members, and the rest handpicked at the Salvation Army. The range we could choose from offered us a rich palette.

This project that had started as a normal design process quickly became very organic. Normally I would’ve drafted each element and submitted the drawings for construction to the [scene] shop. But in this case, the assembly and placement of each sweater was too specific. We started with some initial tests to see how the material would react when quilted and stretched. From then on, it was like painting big canvases with sweaters; every tree had its own personality, its own fungi, roots, knobs, and squirrel holes . . . all of them discovered by manipulating fabric, collars, turtlenecks, seams, buttons, and zippers.

The stage platforms also have their own story, as they are made of recycled material and finished with a thin wash of color to connect them to the trees. They were dressed with numerous toadstools that Mark Robinson, the technical director, created from old pieces of furniture. Add the other designers’ woodland bird-call echoes, mysterious lighting washes, a scattering of fireflies, and one could almost smell the forest.

What a joy this process has been! My hope is that each person discovers in this forest their own Arden; I know I certainly have.




A Safe Bet: The Value of New Work Development

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

posted by Beatrice Basso, A.C.T. Artistic Consultant

Preparations for Tales of the City are in full swing at the American Conservatory Theater on Geary Street, with the first audiences arriving for preview performances in exactly a week. Meanwhile, a few blocks away in A.C.T.’s offices and rehearsal studios, we’ve been working with a different time frame in mind. All through May, A.C.T. plays host to playwrights and directors from around the Bay Area and beyond, giving them the time, space, and resources they need to keep developing their latest works-in-progress. These in-house workshops, which range from a few hours to a few days, and most of which use our M.F.A. Program actors in their casts, are not intended lead to full productions. But, as Artistic Consultant Beatrice Basso explains below, they are still vital to the future of the theater in the long term.

For the artistic team at A.C.T., planning a season is as close as we get to high-stakes gambling. We want a thousand people to see our mainstage performance each night. With eight shows a week and month-long runs, we’re aiming to reach a lot of theatergoers.

There is no magic formula that guarantees a full house and an engaged audience, but there are steps we can take to increase the odds. One of these is spending time and resources on identifying and supporting artists we believe in or are curious about, so we can offer them the chance to explore new ideas in private and behind the scenes. This is one of the dichotomies of the theater. It’s a public art that’s meant to be shared, but it often needs to be nurtured in a safe and secluded environment, where there is room for embarrassment, vulnerability, and failure.

Over the course of the year (through colleagues, agents, festivals, and other means), we identify projects that we think might be a good match for this city, at this time, in this theater. Then we set aside time for an intense series of workshops that brings together A.C.T.’s core company and M.F.A. Program actors, our artistic staff, and—most importantly—those outside playwrights and directors who excite us.

This doesn’t mean that every project we spend time on will be seen someday on our stage. We might arrange a workshop because a certain play fits the pedagogical needs of our M.F.A. students, or because a great writer is in town and we just want the chance to experience his or her latest work. But every time we engage with a new playwright or director or adaptor, the experience expands our mind-set and gives us a richer palette of possibilities for seasons to come. And for projects to which we’ve already committed a fully staged production, workshops provide the safe space to grow that they need early on in the creative process, long before they arrive at Geary Street.

This year, we’re doing all these things. We’ve brought in Linda Gaboriau, who translated Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched from the French, to help us do dramaturgical work on the play in preparation for next season’s mainstage production. Our graduating students will be exposed to Teatr Zar, a Polish theater company performing at the San Francisco International Arts Festival, whom we are eager to learn from and (who knows?) even collaborate with in the future. We’ll hear from such new local voices as Lauren Gunderson, who is bringing a draft of a brand-new play that we haven’t even seen yet, and Christopher Chen, who is presenting a project that we read early in the year and are now intrigued to see on its feet. There are veteran voices in the schedule, too, like New York artists David Greenspan and Keith Reddin. A new German play recently took Europe by storm, but elicited a range of responses in our artistic staff. Simply put, some of us consider it a candidate for the mainstage, while others do not. The solution? Give the script to a strong director, along with a cast, a rehearsal studio, and a few days to work, so we can get a better sense of the piece’s potential. And then . . . discuss again!

From a certain angle, these workshops could be seen as a game of chance: we may gamble on ten new projects, hoping that one of them will reach the mainstage and be seen—and cherished—by our audience. And yet those nine other pieces also have great value for us, because they become intrinsic parts of our artistic conversation. They might provide fresh comparisons or contrasts for other projects in development, or expose us to new perspectives and aesthetics that influence our season-planning decisions in future years—even if the specific piece might not be a perfect fit for us. And in the end, each workshop is a chance to build a relationship with an artist. Really, it’s less a bet than an investment: today’s new voices might be creating tomorrow’s mainstage (or second stage) premieres.

Tales from the rehearsal room: Mary Birdsong

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical has brought a real cast of characters to A.C.T. this month. There’s Mary Ann, Mrs. Madrigal, Mouse, and Mona, of course; but there’s also Betsy Wolfe, Judy Kaye, Wesley Taylor, and Mary Birdsong (to name but a few), the characters behind the characters.

Click here to check out what our Mona, Mary Birdsong, has to say on her personal blog about baring her, um, soul on the American Conservatory Theater Stage.


Mary Birdsong (right) with Betsy Wolfe in a music rehearsal for Tales of the City at A.C.T.
Photo by David Allen Studio.
 
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