Revisiting the Melting Pot: Immigrant Perspectives in "The Jamaican Wash Project"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Posted by Selena Chau, A.C.T. Web Development Fellow

L to R: Darryl V. Jones, Kehinde Koyejo, Carl Lumbly, Halili Knox, Britney Frazier, Bert van Aalsburg, Edris Cooper-Anifowshe, Philip Kan Gotanda, Awele Makeba, and Steven Anthony Jones. Photo by Diane Takei Gotanda.

Learn more about upcoming performances at A.C.T.'s The Costume Shop
In January, as part of A.C.T.’s ongoing activation of San Francisco’s thriving Central Market arts corridor, A.C.T.’s Costume Shop theater hosted The Jamaican Wash Project, a staged reading of a new play about the failing marriage of two immigrants with previously compatible traditional values—and the opposing marital advice offered by their two adult daughters. The project united two longtime A.C.T. collaborators and Bay Area residents: playwright Philip Kan Gotanda and A.C.T. Associate Artist Steven Anthony Jones.

Jones, a former A.C.T. core acting company member and current artistic director of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (LHT), directed the reading. The cast featured Oakland-based actor Carl Lumbly, currently performing in SF Playhouse’s The Motherf**ker with the Hat, and included Bay Area notables Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, Britney Frazier, Darryl V. Jones, Halili Knox, Kehinde Koyejo, and Awele Makeba. Together, these stage artists helped develop this adaptation of Gotanda’s acclaimed 1985 drama The Wash, with the original Japanese American family reset as Jamaican immigrants.

Audiences will remember Gotanda from his many works illuminating the Japanese American psyche, including After the War, commissioned by A.C.T. and presented on our mainstage in 2007, with a script specifically written with A.C.T. core company members in mind, including Jones. In his role as LHT artistic director, Jones engaged Gotanda in LHT’s Developmental Lab, where a new script was developed, and the artists discussed both commonalities and differences in cultural traditions and experiences.

Gotanda told the San Francisco Chronicle that The Wash focuses on “old-school traditional values butting up against new American social values. The idea of adapting the play to another family of color was to look for areas of commonality, as well as areas of dissonance. “There has to be a specificity to it. This is not a melting pot or blind casting.” Jones added, “The strongly patriarchal traditions of the Japanese and Jamaican cultures are a common thread, but the rituals and routines that reinforce those traditions are what sets them apart, and that’s where the universality of Philip’s text was put to the test.”  After each of the two January readings, the audience joined the creators and cast in a thought-provoking Q&A session.

The Costume Shop, A.C.T.’s new Central Market neighborhood performance space, is dedicated to new works, innovative performance projects, and reimagined classics and welcomes audiences to engage with the art of theater through performances, discussions, and events. The Costume Shop continues its exciting lineup of events and performances this year with A.C.T. productions and works by local arts organizations featuring prominent Bay Area theater talent. Many performances are free of charge.

Gotanda shares the experiences he gained with The Jamaican Wash Project—including his explorations in cultural and racial adaptation—with a lecture at Reed College later this month. 

Dangerous Choices: An Interview with "A Doll’s House" Director René Augesen

Monday, February 4, 2013

Posted by Selena Chau, A.C.T. Web Development Fellow

René Augesen directs A Doll's House, February 12–16, 2013, at A.C.T.'s Hastings Studio Theater. Buy tickets now.
Beloved Bay Area actor René Augesen has been an A.C.T. core company member since 2001, and has appeared most recently in Endgame and PlayOnce in a LifetimeThe Homecoming, and Clybourne Park. In addition to performing in countless local productions, she is a teaching artist and peer to the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) Program students in the classroom and on the A.C.T. stage.

This season, she takes on an additional role as director of a new M.F.A. Program production of Henrik Ibsen's classic drama A Doll's House, which features actors from the class of 2013 and plays February 12–16, 2013, at A.C.T.'s Hastings Studio Theater. In this popular and often controversial play, conversations and interactions between Nora Helmer and her husband Tolvald present a complex dynamic of role-playing in marriage.

Although Augesen carries a Norwegian name, she grew up in west Texas. Still, she connects with Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen: "When I read him or perform him I feel the heartbeat of it, I feel the viscera of it, and I get it." She performed the role of Nora in A.C.T.'s production of A Doll's House during the 2003–04 season, but as a director working with her own cast of actors in this 2013 M.F.A. Program production, her goal is to push them as actors without being imposing. "I'm being very careful because I want this to be theirs," she said.

Augesen is also preparing to take on major roles in upcoming A.C.T. productions of the world premiere comedy Dead Metaphor and Tom Stoppard's masterwork Arcadia. She took a quick break from her busy schedule to discuss her approach to A Doll's House—and her facilitative role as the actors develop the characters' inner lives.
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