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Showing posts from 2014

The Man Who Invented Christmas (with a Little Help)

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The Man Who Invented Christmas (with a Little Help)
By Michael Paller
Imagine a Christmas without carols or cards. No festive dinner. No presents under the tree on Christmas morning. No tree. No day off to spend with the family. This was Christmas in most places before A Christmas Carol was published on December 19, 1843. Charles Dickens has been called “the man who invented Christmas,” and while that’s an exaggeration, it’s only a slight one. He didn’t invent the modern holiday by himself, but for many people, his vision of Christmas is Christmas.
Christmas was grim in England’s cities during the Industrial Revolution. Factories and businesses were open on December 25, and there was no day off for employees like Martha Cratchit. Still, while Christmas wasn’t much celebrated in London or other large cities, some of the old customs were observed in remote rural villages.
When Dickens was 12, his father was declared a bankrupt. He and the entire family except for Charles were imprisoned…

A Very Real Woman

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A Very Real Woman An Interview with Testament Costume Designer Jessie Amoroso By Adam Odsess-Rubin
Costume designer Jessie Amoroso shares some of the images
that inspired his design. Fall is always a busy season in A.C.T.’s costume shop: the staff creates costumes for all Master of Fine Arts Program, Young Conservatory, and mainstage shows, in addition to renting costumes to people looking for special Halloween outfits. That doesn’t stop A.C.T. Costume Shop Manager Jessie Amoroso, who is the costume designer for Testament, from investing himself in the design process of the one-woman show. Amoroso gave us a look into the complex process of designing a costume for one of the most iconic women in history.
What research did you do for Testament? Mary is such a prominent figure that has been written about for centuries, so there is quite a bit out there to digest. Luckily, we have Michael Paller, who did an amazing job with the dramaturgy. But research starts with the script, and Colm Tói…

Clowning Around with Technology

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by Projection Designer Erik Pearson
I grew up in Santa Cruz and had the good fortune of seeing productions at A.C.T. as a kid. I became involved in the theater myself when I was very little and family visits to the city to see a play left a big impression on me. I live in Brooklyn now and work as a director and designer in New York and regional theaters around the country. This is my first time returning to the Bay Area for a project since moving east. Old Hats is just the sort of A.C.T. show that inspired me when I was young and I can’t imagine a more perfect project for my return.
I first became involved with Old Hats a couple of years ago at Signature Theatre in New York. Bill Irwin and David Shiner had started developing ideas for a new project that would be a follow up to their wildly successful Fool Moon. There was no show yet, really—no director, no title—but they had a lot of ideas. Many of these ideas involved the imaginative use of projections and video. I joined Broadway p…

A Heavy Dose of Liveness: An Interview with Director Tina Landau

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A Heavy Dose of Liveness An Interview with Director Tina Landau
Bill Irwin (left), Tina Landau (center), 
and David Shiner in rehearsal for 
Signature Theatre's 2013 production
of Old Hats, photo by Gregory Constanzo “The Coolest Project Ever” was the subject line of the email Tina Landau received from her agent, asking her if she would be interested in working with Bill Irwin and David Shiner on their new project at Signature Theatre. Landau, who had seen Irwin and Shiner in Fool Moon about twenty years earlier and was a huge fan of their work, jumped at the opportunity.
Although Old Hats is unlike anything Landau had ever worked on before, she was particularly well-suited to direct this physical show, as she coauthored The Viewpoints Book with Anne Bogart. Viewpoints is a method of theatrical composition that heavily focuses on physicality, movement, and gesture. “I feel very comfortable in Bill and David’s world, because I always think of my theater work in a physical way,” Landau…

ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG – PART 6

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ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG – PART 6 ELEMENTS OF THE DRESS REHEARSAL
By the end of Tuesday afternoon we indeed got through tech-ing the entire play, but there was no surplus time to rehearse anything additionally, let alone to run Le Whole Shebang before Tuesday’s dress rehearsal. This means that Tuesday night we will be running through the entire play for the first time. An invited audience will be present, which is good for finally gauging the response, but this of course means one’s adrenaline and stress are ratcheted up considerably due not only to the “unknown factor,” but to the dramatic placement of the process’s final puzzle piece—that long-awaited entrance of the actor’s cruel dominatrix: the audience and her judgment. It, of course, matters not whether the audience is made up of paying customers or your friends and family. The anticipation of judgment pretty much feels the same. There is a kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” phenomenon that often happens when you …

ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG - PART 5

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ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG PART #5 SECOND AND THIRD DAY IN THE THEATER: TECH-TEQUE
So we starts tech at the beginning of the play on Saturday morning and slowly work our way through every moment—the actors’ performances, the lighting cues, sound cues, scenery shifts, and costume changes (many of the costume changes are “quick changes” as there are a lot of actors doubling roles in this company)—gently folding them all together like ingredients in the batter of a soufflé. I believe the goal is to finish the play by the end of Sunday, basically one day per act, leaving time for revisions, a margin for error, and enough time for a proper dress rehearsal before the first preview performance. That is about eight-and-a-half hours to tech each of the two (approximately) sixty-five minute acts for each day. Why does it take so long?
The tech process is partly tedious because it is in a constant state of stopping and starting. Repeating a part of the show that hasn’t been e…

ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG - PART 4

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ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG - PART 4 SECOND AND THIRD DAY IN THE THEATER: TECH-TEQUE
Time management always baffles me. Time is so mercurial. We humans have figured out how to measure it, and we can predict somewhat how we can negotiate our way through it when faced with a time-sensitive task, but not much thought goes into how that negotiation actually happens. I suspect this is because if we do try to figure it out, our heads will explode.
So, you have a finite amount of time to tech a show. Tech-ing a show means that you take the performance of the play that the actors have rehearsed in the rehearsal room, bring it into the theater, and then spend that finite amount of time prior to the final dress rehearsal adding every remaining technical element that gives the production its physical identity. Months or sometimes years before a production goes into technical rehearsals, designers are preparing their work. Director Carey Perloff shared costume designer Linda Cho…

ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER - PART 3

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ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER (FRIDAY, MAY 30) PART 3 A PERSPECTIVE FROM THE HOUSE
On Friday, the day following our run-thru in the 30 Grant rehearsal room, we spent our first thrilling day in the theater. This experience is a little like Christmas morning. You start seeing the actual costumes that you’ve watched slowly materializing at every fitting (I believe most of the cast had three interspersed appointments with the inspired costume designer Linda Cho and her immaculate crew). You walk into the theater and actually see how the set looks on the stage in all its glory, and you can compare your reaction to it to the reaction you had when the set designer proudly presented his lilliputian model at the meet-and-greet on the first day. You go into your dressing room and start organizing the supplies you brought from the drugstore and from your personal arsenal and start picturing how your routine will go as you arrive every night. Gradually, you…

ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER - PART 2

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ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER (FRIDAY, MAY 30) PART 2 A WEEK THREE-STORIES UP
The third week of rehearsal was eye opening. This was the week Stage Management moved all of the props and personal items that had accumulated in the 30 Grant rehearsal room and transported them to the scene shop on Florida Street, where the entire set was already erected and ready for us to explore. Carey tells us that early in the planning of the production, she was rather despondent that the play could not be properly rehearsed in the Grant Avenue rehearsal rooms because of their lack of vertical space (Dan Ostling’s set is three stories high), and it was A.C.T. production manager Andrew Nielsen who introduced the inspired notion of pre-building the set with the goal of bringing the rehearsal to the actual scene shop, so the actors could become properly accustomed to climbing around on it.
This is not a generally common practice in my experience—the one place I reme…

The History of The Orphan of Zhao

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By Shannon Stockwell
James Fenton said of the process of adapting The Orphan of Zhao, “There seems to be nosingle text that presents the whole story from start to finish. It is a livingpiece of drama—continuously evolving and mutating.” Indeed, the tale has gone through many permutations, passed from country to country, translated from Chinese to French to English and back to Chinese again, leaving us with as many interpretations as there are adaptations. The origins of the tale reach back impossibly far, all the way back to the seventh century BCE.
The Orphan of Zhao is based on actual events that occurred during the Spring and Autumn era (722–481 BCE), which is a subdivision of the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BCE). The Spring and Autumn era is named after Chunqiu, or Spring and Autumn Annals, which record the history of the small state of Lu during the years 722 BCE to 481 BCE. The earliest known roots of the Orphan of Zhao story are found in the Zuo Zhuan, or Zuo’s Commentary, which was…

ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER - PART 1

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ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG
FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER (FRIDAY, MAY 30) PART 1 REMEMBERING THE BEGINNING
We’ve enjoyed an intense and productive rehearsal process: first, two weeks in the A.C.T. rehearsal spaces on Grant Avenue, with a modified uni-level rehearsal version of our multi-level set designed by Dan Ostling, and then for the better part of the third week rehearsing on the actual scenery in the A.C.T. scene shop in the Mission District. The rehearsal room on Grant Avenue that had a ceiling high enough to accommodate this particular set was recently relinquished due to a rent hike, and of course our director, Artistic Director Carey Perloff, misses that space with great nostalgic frustration—it compromises the comfort of her company, but I have no doubt that she will either get it back or acquire something even better, as she is quite the force of nature.
The actors were surprised when Ms. Perloff moved right from the first read-thru of the play to immediately…

The “Heartprint” of The Orphan of Zhao, How Ink Art Influenced the Production

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By Shannon Stockwell

“The centerpiece of this whole play is when Cheng Ying finally has to tell his son who he is. But it’s so painful and frightening that he can’t—so he paints a scroll. Cheng Bo looks at his life in the scroll and discovers who he is,” Orphan of Zhao director Carey Perloff told the cast and design team at the first rehearsal of in May. Costume designer Linda Cho agreed, “We talked a lot about this being a story that’s written down. It’s a legendary story.”
The crucial role that writing and painting play in The Orphan of Zhao led Perloff to an exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art called Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China. The exhibit, which opened in December 2013 and closed April 2014, was the first major exhibition of Chinese contemporary art at the Met, and featured about 70 works by 35 artists. Every piece of artwork was inspired by ink, which has been the principal medium in Chinese art for over two millennia.>

“It’s among the most amaz…

Remembering Sophiatown

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By Shannon Stockwell
Can Themba’s short story “The Suit” takes place in Sophiatown, a small suburb of Johannesburg, in the mid 1950s. The township was a tangle of contradictions during the middle of the twentieth century. It was one of the only places in all of South Africa where black people could legally own property. Although the location wasn’t great (it was near a sewer) and the township was small, the prospect of some freedom in a environment of oppressive apartheid laws was enticing for South Africans of color—including people with mixed and Asian heritage. This led to overcrowding and slum conditions, which led to violence and poverty, but Sophiatown’s unique diversity cultivated a vibrant community of art and culture; some of the best South African musicians and writers of the 1950s lived in Sophiatown.
With its need for total racial segregation, however, the Afrikaner National Party found Sophiatown’s existence unacceptable. The government declared that the majority of th…

A Brief History of The Suit

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By Dan Rubin

Can Themba’s “The Suit” was first published in the inaugural issue of a South African journal called the Classic in 1963. In 1966, while Themba was in exile in Swaziland, the South African apartheid government declared him a statutory communist and banned his work. It remained unavailable in his homeland until 1982. In 1994, Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon adapted “The Suit” into a play, which premiered at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre.

Director Peter Brook learned about Mutloatse and Simon’s stage adaptation of The Suit when he read about the play in a newspaper article. He requested the script, which he shared with longtime collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne. “Ah! Yes, this is remarkable,” he remembers her saying. “But it’s only like a first draft. We could do it in our theater in Paris,” she told him, referring to the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, home of Brook’s International Centre for Theatre Research, “so we’ll do it in French.” They put Le costume, as they call…

Nonhlanhla Kheswa: The Voice of The Suit

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By Dan Rubin

The incredible South African actor/singer Nonhlanhla Kheswa has been performing the role of Matilda in The Suit since it premiered in Paris in 2012. She has traveled the world with the show, to London, Madrid, Milan, Naples, Shanghai, Beijing, and New York, just to name a few places. She has loved meeting people everywhere she has visited, but her favorite city so far has been Tbilisi, Georgia: “They suffered a war recently. . . . It reminded me so much of Alexandra, the [Johannesburg] township I grew up in, because it’s a developing country. The people’s spirits are so lively. They are just thankful that they are alive. They are thankful they’re able to breathe. And they have such an immense love for theater and art, so I felt like I was at home.”
Kheswa never trained formally as an actor; in 1998, while she was still in high school, she was cast in the film Soul City. On the heels of that, she joined the cast of Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway; she stayed with the sh…