Showing posts from 2016

Commedia Class at A.C.T.

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

It’s 9:30 a.m., a cold December morning, and in one of A.C.T.'s 8th floor studios at 30 Grant, the second-year Master of Fine Arts Program actors are preparing to show off what they’ve learned in this semester’s Physical Theater class. The Commedia dell’arte masks are lined up on the table. The actors check their props. Upbeat music blares from the speakers. And seated in the front row are two dozen M.F.A. Program actors.

As the second years don the visages of old men, young lovers, and dithering servants, their fellow student actors cheer loudly and eagerly provide whatever the improvisations need: encouragement, audience response, even coffee cups.

It is moments like this that show how closely knit the Master of Fine Arts Program actors are. No matter how many rehearsals, fittings, readings, and performances they have, they are always there for each other.

This close-knit family is a facet of the M.F.A. Program from day one. At the beginning of De…

A Stripped-Down Christmas: The Skivvies @TheStrand

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

The winter holidays are traditionally a time to dress up warm. But for Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley of The Skivvies, it’s a time to strip down. In their latest show, The Skivvies: Holiday Roadkill, this award-winning comedy-pop duo literally strip down to their underwear and perform musical mash-ups of all your favorites, like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” So grab your eggnog and holiday sweaters and join us at The Strand!

The Skivvies: Holiday Roadkill will be at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, on December 22 and 23. Click here to purchase tickets through our website.

The Evolution of a Holiday Classic: A Christmas Carol at A.C.T. Part Two

By Michael Paller

By 2004, A Christmas Carol was 28 years old, and the sets were showing their age. A significant investment would be required to refurbish them, which set Artistic Director Carey Perloff to thinking. Carol had more than served its purpose since 1976. Every year but 1994 and 1995, when the production was put on hiatus until The Geary reopened, many young Bay Area children—and parents—had their first theater experience watching Bill Paterson, Sydney Walker, Raye Birk, or Ken Ruta awake on Christmas morning a changed man. Now, however, Perloff wanted Carol to serve an additional purpose, featuring parts for students in the Young Conservatory, and roles for actors in M.F.A. Program who could add the mainstage experience toward earning their Actors’ Equity union card.

Perloff went in search of an existing Carol that told the story well while accommodating a full class of young actors. But after failing to find one, like Williamson 28 years earlier, she wrote a new adaptati…

The Evolution of a Holiday Classic: A Christmas Carol at A.C.T. Part One

By Michael Paller

In the mid-1970s, regional theaters around the country discovered that audiences wanted a Christmas story at Christmastime, and none more so than Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Adaptations began appearing, starting with the Guthrie (1974) and the Actors Theater of Louisville (1976). Artistic Director Bill Ball asked Company Director Laird Williamson to look at the handful of existing adaptations and choose one to direct. Williamson found them sentimental and clichéd. They were “sugar-coated Dickens,” he said. “Tiny Tim is not the leading character. Scrooge is the real story.”

Williamson was drawn to the tale’s psychological and social realism, to its “comment on poverty and the inequality of the classes.” He suggested that he and Dennis Powers, the company’s literary jack-of-all-trades, do their own version. Ball agreed. Determined not to produce an animated Christmas card, their version would hew to the story’s dark aspect, its “brutal, painful realities.” “Unless t…

Dressing Scrooge: An Interview with Costume Director Jessie Amoroso Part Two

By Elspeth Sweatman

Ever wondered how A.C.T.’s costume and wardrobe departments maintain over 200 costumes during the course of A Christmas Carol? We met up with Costume Director Jessie Amoroso for an inside look into the life of a Carol costume.

What is the path of a costume like during the run of the show?
Everything is labeled, down to the nth degree: every sock, shoe, glove, and bonnet. Everything is also listed on a dressing list, that shows where every costume should be at any given moment, whether it’s preset, put in a dressing room, taken off onstage, taken off stage right or stage left, or put in a basket to go back to a dressing room or down to be cleaned. It also lists the costumes that are taken off stage right but need to be carried over to stage left so that the actor can put it back on later in the show. The actors who wear the big 1860s hoop skirts change out of them and become a miner or gang member, then change into a pall bearer or poor wife for the Ghost of Chris…

Martin Moran Returns to A.C.T.'s Conservatory

By Elspeth Sweatman

“The more you dare to dive into what is deeply personal,” says OBIE Award winner Martin Moran about creating and performing solo work, “the more you just come out the other side. It’s not you at all. It’s just human. And it’s amazing.”

Moran—a former student in A.C.T.’s Advanced Training Program (the forerunner of the M.F.A. Program)—is currently performing his two one-man shows The Tricky Part and All the Rage in repertory at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. On a rainy afternoon, he sat down with current M.F.A. Program actors in The Costume Shop to discuss the thrilling—and sometimes nauseating—process of creating, editing, and performing your own material.

“There’s a real loneliness to writing, and there’s a great loneliness to solo work,” says Moran. “But in the form that I’m working with, the direct address, my partner is the audience, and that is incredibly joyous.”

As the Broadway veteran speaks, the student actors lean forward in their chairs. Many of them are in…

Finding Their Voices: DHS Students at A.C.T.

By Stephanie Wilborn 

In The Rueff, students from Downtown High School (DHS) are pacing back and forth, memorizing lines, and putting up lights in the rafters. After months of preparation and hard work, they are putting the finishing touches on their exhibition, A Mask I Do Not Fit, a collection of original works on topics of gender and identity.

Since 2012, A.C.T. has collaborated with DHS to explore educational opportunities through theater. The school’s Acting for Critical Thought project allows the students to learn and discover thought-provoking performances through acting, playwriting, and movement.

At the beginning of the semester, the DHS students came to A.C.T. once a week and studied acting techniques with A.C.T.’s Community and Artistic Director Tyrone Davis. Together, the students and Davis built a trusting relationship through improv and ensemble-based games. They learned theater terminology and were introduced to teaching artists, such as A.C.T.’s Head of Mo…

Martin Moran Wins Over Audiences and Critics Alike

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

A.C.T. audiences have taken Martin Moran to their hearts. The Broadway actor and writer opened his repertory performances of All the Rage and The Tricky Part last week, and theatergoers have risen to celebrate him both during the show and in the lobby afterward.

To give audiences a better opportunity to talk about the ideas and emotions which Moran’s work generates, we’ve added two Audience Exchanges this week. Moran will follow the performance of All the Rage on Wednesday, December 7 with an onstage conversation with A.C.T.’s Artistic Director Carey Perloff and will follow the performance of The Tricky Part on Saturday, December 10 by speaking with Associate Artistic Director Andy Donald.

The two shows have also had critics buzzing. While the San Francisco Chronicle picked out Moran’s “thoughtful and articulate” approach, Theater Dogs said, “You’ll be thinking about [Moran] and feeling his show long after you leave theater.”

While Moran’s charisma earn…

Raucous and Heart-Wrenching: The M.F.A. Program Musical Revue

By Ken Savage and Elspeth Sweatman

This time of year, the airwaves are filled with classic songs like Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” and Vera Lynn's rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” But for Ken Savage, the director of Sing, Sing, Sing—A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program upcoming music revuethese songs from the 1930s and ’40s are more than just a reminder of the holiday season. They highlight an important shift: in popular music and in the lives of US citizens.

"The music of Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Vera Lynn, Judy Garland: it’s the beginning of really simple but sophisticated storytelling through music," says Savage. "It’s the best music out there. It’s the music I grew up on. I learned how to sing through it.

"The period from 1933 to 1947 that we chose for this musical revue has a specific aesthetic sound, but the changes are remarkable. From the raucous big band and swing mus…

Finding Humanity in Our Brokenness: An Interview with Martin Moran

By Simon Hodgson

Growing up in 1970s Denver, teenager Martin Moran looked like a poster boy for Catholic school—a kid with good grades, clean fingernails, and a smile for everyone on his paper route. Inside, however, Moran was grappling with the conflicting shame and thrill of a relationship with his male 30-year-old camp counselor, Bob.

“Sometimes I felt scared and I liked it,” Moran says in his memoir, The Tricky Part. “All the concealment was a kind of strange power. An entire and buzzing inner life. A fourteen-year-old boy on a three-speed Raleigh, getting it every which way. I was getting away with murder, with pleasure, with crimes, and I was pulling A’s.”

Moran went on to become a successful actor, with Broadway credits including Spamalot and Cabaret, and television appearances on The Newsroom and Law & Order. He is also a writer, whose OBIE Award–winning show The Tricky Part (based on his memoir) describes coming to terms with his relationship with Bob, his own journey a…

Ghosts in The Geary: A.C.T.'s A Christmas Carol

This interview is adapted from the Christmas Carol edition of Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

Along with the curmudgeonly Scrooge and the adorable Tiny Tim, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are the most well-known and loved characters in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. But how do you translate these larger-than-life entities on to the Geary stage? Carey Perloff, A.C.T.’s artistic director and the co-writer of this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, offered her insight on Dickens’s seasonal spirits in this 2010 Q&A.

What was your inspiration for the three ghosts in this adaptation of A Christmas Carol?
I wanted them to be otherworldly spirits, filled with light, and not like ordinary humans. Their locomotion is different: they swing and rise up on elevators; they hang above like specters.

What can you share about the ghost of Christmas Present?
In the book, Christmas Present is described as a Bacchic spirit of fecundity, an image…

Dressing Scrooge: An Interview with Costume Director Jessie Amoroso Part One

By Elspeth Sweatman

For ten months of every year, A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol costumes are hidden away in the costume shop: all 200-plus costumes, including thousands of shoes. It is Costume Director Jessie Amoroso’s job to guide his team through the month-long sprint to get this Bay Area holiday classic onto the Geary stage once more. We caught up with him between costume fittings to get a glimpse into the preparations for this A.C.T. staple.

When does the process for Carol start here in The Costume Shop?

We usually have about four or five weeks once it’s cast to fit everyone and get everything ready. That’s at least fifty hours of fittings over two weeks.

Do you create any of the costumes from scratch each year?
We usually create one or two new pieces. This year we’re making two new dresses, which are always fun to make.

Are the costumes for our two Scrooges the same?
Everything is identical except for their coats and vests. Jim Carpenter wears the coat designed by Costume Designe…

Decking the Halls: A.C.T. Fellows Decorate The Geary

By Elspeth Sweatman 

Today, some of A.C.T.’s 2016–17 fellows participated in one of the most cherished rituals in the company’s calendar—decorating The Geary Theater for the holiday season and A.C.T.’s production of A Christmas Carol.

After fueling up on pastries and hot cocoa, fellows Emilianne Lewis, Karen Loccisano, Julia Ludwig, Joseph Reyes, Elspeth Sweatman, and Marcella Toronto donned their holiday hats, turned on the carols, and set to work hanging wreaths, placing garlands, and untangling yards and yards of lights.

Two hours later, The Geary had been transformed into a winter wonderland that even Scrooge would love. From Fred's Bar to the lobby to the Sky Bar, not an inch was left without a little holiday sparkle. "Decorating The Geary this morning with the other fellows definitely brightened my day and got me into the holiday spirit," says Special Events Fellow Julia Ludwig.

This tradition of decorating The Geary falls at a perfect time in the fellowship. …

Visualizing Consciousness: The Hard Problem

By Elspeth Sweatman

Not only does Tom Stoppard’s newest play The Hard Problem—now playing at The Geary Theater through November 13—delve into the murkiness of consciousness and brain science, but it also presents a unique challenge for the set designer.

How do you visualize consciousness? How can you represent it on the stage?

“What I said to scenic designer Andrew Boyce was that I wanted the set to look like consciousness, not neuroscience,” says director Carey Perloff. “So we looked at the most beautiful science building that I think has ever been built: the Salk Institute in San Diego.”

Built in the 1960s by architect Louis I. Kahn, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies is comprised of two mirror-image structures either side of a central courtyard. Made out of concrete and wood, these geometric structures create a temple of science on the shore of the Pacific.

One of the institute’s most famous features is the narrow water channel in the otherwise barren central courtyard, c…

Altruism versus Egoism in The Hard Problem

By Shannon Stockwell and Elspeth Sweatman

“Since the very beginning, Tom Stoppard has written about what is the nature of goodness and is there such a thing as value,” says The Hard Problem director Carey Perloff. “What are human values? How do we express ourselves as human beings? Is there such a thing as goodness, as altruism?”

Altruism is at the center of Stoppard’s The Hard Problem, running at The Geary Theater through November 13. The term altruism—from the Latin alter, meaning “other”—was coined by French philosopher Auguste Comte in the nineteenth century. He wanted to create a religion based on a belief in science, rather than God. To Comte, to be altruistic meant simply to live for others.

Since then, the concept of altruism and its counterpart, egoism, have become a hot topic of debate in a wide array of fields, from philosophy to biology to economics. The main questions are: Does altruism exist? Do any living organisms ever act solely in the interest of another organism,…

Strong Women: Hilary in The Hard Problem

By Elspeth Sweatman

During A.C.T.’s 50th-anniversary season, strong women are navigating their way through traditionally male-oriented spaces. In Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem, running through November 13, psychologist Hilary Matthews fights to find her place in a scientific world that frowns upon the “feminine” emotions of mother love, goodness, and faith.

Hilary is an oddity in neuroscience: a person who believes in the power of faith as well as the power of science. This worries her university tutor Spike, who fears that this will sink her chances of an academic career. “She has what he thinks are childish notions about the self, about consciousness, and about belief,” says director Carey Perloff.

But Hilary’s faith is grounded in a pivotal event in her past: when she was a teenager, she gave up her baby for adoption. To cope, she turned to her faith in the inherent goodness of others and in a higher power. “I missed her like half of me from the first day,” she says…

Breaking the Sound Barrier: An Interview with Voice Coach Nancy Benjamin

By Simon Hodgson

“Every single play that I pick up has its own accents,” says A.C.T.’s Co–Head of Voice and Dialects Nancy Benjamin. “The actors, the director, and the coaches have to figure out what that accent is and do it authentically.” Before she started working on Stoppard’s The Hard Problem—playing until November 13 at The Geary Theater—we sat down with Benjamin to talk about acting and accents.

How important are the accents in The Hard Problem as an identifier of character?

Accents and dialects help us understand the culture of the play, the environment, the status of the characters, their education, their place of origin, and how they identify themselves. Specifically with The Hard Problem, once I understand where the character comes from, their age, and their level of education, then the accent or dialect comes from that. Our accents, our way of speaking, is so integral to how we think about ourselves. Our word choice, our word order, the sounds we prefer, all of those rein…

Stoppard and Zombies: A.C.T.'s The Hard Problem

By Elspeth Sweatman

Imagine someone who looks exactly like you, dresses like you, walks like you. He says the same things you would say, answers questions with the same answers, and makes decisions using the same logic. His body is built in the exact same way. His brain is a mirror image of yours. The only thing he is missing is consciousness. Meet the philosophical zombie.

When philosophers talk of zombies, they aren’t thinking of shuffling Halloween humanoids that will eat your brain. They mean something much more frightening. Something that’s being debated every night at The Geary, in A.C.T.’s production of Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem.

If you met a philosophical zombie in the street, would you be able to tell the difference? Philosophers argue that you wouldn’t. But could these zombies be real? If they are real, then consciousness and the brain must be separate. And if that is so, then how did we get consciousness? Were we just lucky? Did it evolve? Were we given it by some …

Mr. Hard Problem: An Interview with Philosopher David Chalmers

By Shannon Stockwell 

Think of any modern philosophical theory about the mind, and Australian philosopher David Chalmers has probably had his hands on it. He is famous for coining the phrase “the hard problem” to describe the as-yet unanswered question of how a physical brain can create consciousness. 

Some aspects of consciousness are easy to explain. If you put your finger into the flame of a candle, your brain interprets that as pain, and you pull your finger away. But what about emotional pain, like sorrow, despair, and loneliness? What creates that?

So far, scientists agree that consciousness exists, because we all experience it. But no one has been able to figure out where consciousness comes from. Is consciousness some kind of stuff that you could theoretically hold or see, coming from actual things happening in the body (like neurons firing)? Or is consciousness something else, something separate from the body entirely?

Here are some of Chalmers’s thoughts on Tom Stoppar…