'A Christmas Carol' signals festive season - get your tickets now

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Omoze preparing for her stint as The Ghost of Christmas Present for A Christmas Carol. Photo by Randy Taradash.

Ban the humbugs and get into the festive season with the timeless production 'A Christmas Carol'. Sparkling lights on trees, cheerful music in department stores, love this time of year or not, Christmas is fast approaching and A.C.T. is playing its part to usher in the holiday season with A Christmas Carol. The inimitable Ghost of Christmas Present, A.C.T. core acting company member and M.F.A. Program alumna Omozé Idehenre, is getting ready to take Scrooge on the ride of his life. Recently she served as emcee for the grand opening ceremonies in the Safeway Ice Rink at Union Square. Here she welcomes the enthusiastic crowd to the ice rink.

Check out the buzz and get your tickets now: here.

Too Much Transparency?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Posted by Carey Perloff, A.C.T. Artistic Director

Did you know that A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff has been blogging for the Huffington Post about issues pertaining to the national theater scene? She recently wrote about the controversy surrounding Arena Stage’s decision not to allow journalists and the general public into their new plays forum, asking some interesting questions about what it means for artists and arts administrators to be transparent about their processes.

You can read her latest post here.

Race, Gender, Jury Selection, and David Mamet

Monday, November 7, 2011

Posted by David Newdorf, Business Litigator for Newdorf Legal

Effective lawyers understand the limits of juror fairness and their ability to put aside preconceived notions. David Mamet’s play Race, which I saw this week in San Francisco, is a perceptive look at how trial lawyers navigate the unspoken value systems of juries. The play unfolds in a law firm conference room as three criminal defense lawyers brainstorm how to defend their wealthy, white client against charges that he raped a young black woman.

Juries are generally good at deciding simple facts: whether a light was red or green, whether a promise was made or broken, whether a statement was misleading. Other cases have hidden landmines for the lawyers. Cases involving issues of race, religion, gender, power, or wealth are traps for the unwary. White cops versus black suspect. White male executive versus young female subordinate. Corporate manager versus Muslim employee. In such cases, the jury deliberations can easily get away from the evidence, arguments, and law—unless the lawyers provide an easy guide through the thicket.

When it comes to hot-button issues, jurors will bring to the deliberations not only their preconceived notions, but also an awareness of societal norms. For example, white jurors agree that racism is bad and may be persuaded to render a verdict that avoids tagging the juror as a racist. Most of these issues won’t be addressed directly at trial and may not even be discussed in the jury room. But these notions—some deeply ingrained even if never spoken aloud—will have an effect on the verdict that may be more profound than what transpired in the courtroom.

Lawyers can use these preconceptions to advantage or attempt to counter them. However, they ignore the hot-button issues at their peril. In an era in which a black man is president, some like to think society has transcended racism. In the words of jury consultant Doug Keene (from his blog The Jury Room):
The bottom line is this: do not assume race doesn’t matter in your case. Race always matters. The question is how and in what direction. Don’t go to trial without knowing.
In his book White Guilt, author Shelby Steele (who is a friend of David Mamet) provides an interesting explanation of the O.J. Simpson verdict that is on point:
In the O.J. Simpson murder trial, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran used the fact that Detective Mark Fuhrman lied on the witness stand about having ever used the N word to assert that the entire mountain of evidence pointing to Simpson’s guilt was likely contaminated with racism. . . .
Cochran succeeded in making the trial a contest between the empirical evidence and global racism, between fact and the reputation of racism for distorting and manipulating fact.
As the cynical senior lawyer of the play explains, it’s not about factual guilt or innocence. It’s about competing fictions put forth by the prosecution and defense. It’s not necessarily which story explains the facts better, but which one affirms a juror’s sense of justice. Hence, a jury exonerated O.J. Simpson (despite the forensic evidence linking him to the crime) because 50 years ago, a black man facing similar charges would have been convicted. Rough justice was done.

Race is smart and engaging. It tackles issues of race and gender bias without being preachy. And it has the pacing of a good legal thriller. Lawyers in the audience will appreciate the realism. It may not qualify for CLE credit, but it’s time well spent for students of jury behavior and trial strategy.

Photo by Shoey Sindel.

"Why Theater?": A Look into Theater of War

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

posted by Tyler Pugliese, A.C.T. Marketing Fellow

A poignant examination of the impact of war upon warriors, Theater of War has riveted audiences across the country. On November 13 and 14, A.C.T. will participate in this incredible event, which includes a dramatic reading of Sophocles’ tragedy Ajax, followed by a town hall discussion featuring a panel of local military community members, including a mental health professional. Admission is free, and reservations are recommended. Click here for details.

Marketing Fellow Tyler Pugliese had the opportunity to attend a Theater of War performance in Philadelphia before he started work at A.C.T.

“Why theater?” The question echoed in my mind. I wondered how theater could sincerely display the horror and depravation of war. What could theater accomplish that countless other mediums have not? Theater is often illuminated with human connection, while war is fueled by a lack of emotion and inner turmoil. I have participated in theater and have been obsessed with military history since I was a small boy, yet this combination perplexed me. I looked at the scratchy, chaotic font of the flyer. Theater of War stared back at my skepticism.

I first saw Theater of War performed in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I walked into the auditorium not knowing what to expect from a reading of a play and a town hall discussion. The play was Ajax, by Sophocles, a Greek tale of the decade-long Trojan War, in which the formidable warrior Ajax faces mental and physical challenges. The audience consisted of veterans, theater enthusiasts, families of soldiers, and dissenters of the current wars. David Strathairn (an Academy Award nominee who will step onto the A.C.T. mainstage in Scorched later this season) masterfully played the parts of Ajax and Agamemnon, and he was supported by other actors from local playhouses. The reading was voiced in a multitude of experienced and powerful vocalizations.

Bryan Doerries, a writer and director who founded Theater of War, led the postshow discussion, enthusiastically pacing the stage like a televangelist. He was as fervent as he was eloquent, and he carefully facilitated an enlightening dialogue between the panelists and the audience. There were opinions contributed from military personnel, the actors themselves, and engaged audience members. The talk was not about the justification of existing conflicts, but rather about the mental vulnerability of those who fight wars. We focused on the shared empathy between a community and its protectors. Although most of us were strangers, we all shared compassion for those with splintered honor and forgotten strength.

One line in particular resonated with me, spoken by Ajax:

“In his madness he took pleasure in the evil that possessed him, all the while afflicting those of us nearby. But now that the fever has broken, all of his pleasure has turned to pain, and we are still afflicted, just as before.”

This discussion could just have easily happened after any struggle, and in any place. The fact that the play was written over two thousand years ago held little sway. If anything, it demonstrated that a warrior’s suffering transcends both time and culture and must be acknowledged before it can be healed. The dialogue could have even transpired in an ancient amphitheater in Greece.

I am enormously proud and excited that A.C.T. is producing this event and bringing it to the Bay Area. The beauty of Theater of War is that it deftly ignores any moral debate on conflict and instead focuses on the combatants and their humanity. It is more than just a dramatic reading or a talk on a tense subject, it is the social embrace of a topic that has always been ingrained in society. It is shocking and cathartic, a perfect exhibit of the power of theater to transform a person, a warrior, and a community.
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