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Showing posts from April, 2016

A.C.T. Explores Shakespeare's Lost Play

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By Cecilia Padilla
As a part of the 2016 Spring Performances, A.C.T.’s M.F.A. Program actors present what scholars believe is Shakespeare’s lost play. Cardenio, a romantic farce about star-crossed lovers who find each other in a play-within-a-play, has a unique creation story. Literary scholars have traced the play’s existence back to 1613, when The History of Cardenio was performed by Shakespeare’s theater company, the King’s Men. Later evidence found in 1653 indicates that the play was about to be published, and this time it was attributed specifically to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, one of Shakespeare’s known collaborators. 

Then, in 1728, Shakespeare scholar, editor, and playwright Lewis Theobald published a play called Double Falsehood. He claimed that this play was based on three different manuscripts of TheHistory of Cardenio. Double Falsehood, Theobald said, was a mixture of Shakespeare’s, Fletcher’s, and his own writing. Theobald’s is the version of Cardenio read …

Lessons from The Lion—a Master Class with Benjamin Scheuer

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By Simon Hodgson

“Songwriting is a game of what you leave out,” says Benjamin Scheuer. “As Hemingway said, you write the 3 percent of the iceberg, but you’ve got to know the 97 percent that’s underwater.” Today singer-songwriter Scheuer took a break from his award-winning show The Lion (playing at The Strand Theater until May 1) to present a master class in songwriting at A.C.T.’s 30 Grant Avenue offices. Listening to the songs of five young performers—Danielle Frimer, Matt Herrero, Sydney Kistler, Andrew Fridae, and Lauren Hart—he offered technical advice ranging from melody to rhyme, structure to story.


“Danielle, tell us about this song,” Scheuer said after Frimer (a graduate from the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program) finished her poignant number, “The Guy Who Plays Guitar at Mission BART.” When she confessed that she thought the song was “on the sad side” and that she wanted to “get a few more colors in there,” he suggested that great art can sometimes come from a dark perspective. T…

Revisiting Top Girls with A.C.T.'s Fellows

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By Carey Perloff
In 1982, I was an intern in the casting office at the Public Theater in New York when Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls premiered in London. One of my first assignments during my internship was to set up general auditions for the American version of the play about to be held at the Public. So it was a surreal and wonderful experience, over 30 years later, to go to A.C.T.’s Costume Shop Theater to see our own A.C.T. fellows tackle the play for their annual self-produced project. 

Clearly, the ferocity, wit, and despair of Churchill’s feminist tale still holds, and seems to speak directly to young theater artists. I have to admit that when I first encountered the play at age 22, I was fascinated by the imaginative first act, in which intrepid women of many eras (from Pope Joan to Lady Nijo) meet for a celebratory dinner in contemporary London, and less enamored of the second part of the play, a condemnation of Thatcherite Britain. 
All these years later, Top Girls seemed more co…

The Secrets behind Benjamin Scheuer’s Tailored Performance in The Lion

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By Shannon Stockwell
For the entranced audience in The Strand Theater, Benjamin Scheuer makes The Lion seem simple—just seven guitars and a cornflower-blue suit. But there’s more to that suit than meets the eye. It’s actually tailored specifically for Ben to sit and play guitar. The sleeves are attached in two slightly different ways, so that holding the instrument feels natural. The left leg is looser so that it can move around, while the right leg is designed for supporting the guitar. “That actually comes from military and hunting tailoring,” Scheuer said in a talk with Broadway at Google. “The British tailors get it right.”
Clothing hasn’t always been so important to Scheuer. His love for sharp suits came from his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Scheuer said that, while he was receiving chemotherapy, “clothing took on this really powerful meaning for me [because] one of the only things that I could do on any given day that I had any control over at all was [getting] dressed.” At t…

Storytelling in Chester Bailey

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An Interview with Playwright Joseph Dougherty

By Cecilia Padilla 
When asked what he thought his play Chester Bailey was about, playwright and television writer Joseph Dougherty responded with a quote from Harold Pinter’s Old Times: “There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place.” This is the undercurrent of Chester Bailey’s vivid imaginings while recovering from a tragic shipyard accident that has left him blind and without the use of his hands. But he copes with it through imagination and what he chooses to remember,” says Dougherty. “I believe part of what makes us who we are is a mixture of what we remember and what we imagine.”

We had the chance to speak with Dougherty about the mysteries of the play, the imagination, and the fine line between memory and reality. 
How did you come up with the premise of Chester Bailey?
I saw a short article in the newspaper about someone who experienced cataclysmic injuries, including loss of …

An Interview with The Lion’s Benjamin Scheuer

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By Simon Hodgson  
Benjamin Scheuer was 31 years old when The Lion (then called The Bridge) premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013. The one-man musical ran off Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2014 and 2015, earning Scheuer the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance. The young New Yorker seemed like an overnight success, a charming musician with a winning smile, a gift for storytelling, and a wardrobe of sharply tailored three-piece suits.

The reality was quite different. Scheuer had endured a series of setbacks—from losing his father at age of 13 to being diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma—challenges that he transformed into The Lion’s story. “Being able to take the worst parts of our lives, then using those things as a means of communication, is a kind of alchemy,” he says. We caught up with Scheuer as he was preparing to bring his award-winning show to The Strand Theater.
How did The Lion come to be?
When I’m having a bad a day, I try to write a s…

A Sneak Peek of The Lion

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By Shannon Stockwell
Above all else, singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer loves a good story. But despite his own folk-bluegrass acoustic style, one of his favorite genres of music is hip-hop. “It’s the most advanced kind of lyricism. These guys and girls are doing things that I aspire to do. I would love to tell these dense and complex stories.” In The Lion, Scheuer’s moving, intricate one-man musical, his aspiration is reality.


Scheuer is a master storyteller with a sharp understanding of the structure of musical theater. Traditionally, every musical starts with a song that sets the scene, and the second song lets us know what the main character wants. Scheuer pointed out that the first lines of the first song in The Lion do that perfectly: “My father has an old guitar and he plays me folk songs / There is nothing I want more than to play like him.” “I don’t like to waste words,” Scheuer said. “Everybody’s time is valuable, you know?”

He also understands storytelling in a technical …

Accepting Death in The Unfortunates

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By Shannon Stockwell 
The Unfortunates is now playing at The Strand Theater and closes April 10. Get tickets here!
In The Unfortunates, Big Joe goes from being utterly terrified of death to accepting it with bravery. For human beings, learning how to accept our own death is one of the most difficult things we can do—so difficult, in fact, that some believe we are completely incapable of it. Freud said, “It is impossible to imagine our own deaths.” But there are those who believe that accepting death is not only doable, but the key to living the happiest life possible: “We cannot live authentically and meaningfully without embracing death,” says psychologist Paul T. P. Wong.

Several theories have been proposed about the ways in which humans approach death. Psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and acceptance. In The Unfortunates, Big Joe goes through all of these stages: He denies his feelings of grief by flexing his bi…

Rooks and Plagues in The Unfortunates

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By Shannon Stockwell 

The Unfortunates is now playing at The Strand Theater and closes April 10. Get tickets here!
Everybody dies. It’s a fact of life. Most of us can set aside this truth to get on with our lives and avoid despair, but eventually, we will all have a moment where we must come face to face with our mortality. The Unfortunates tells the story of such a moment: Big Joe must confront the inescapable reality of death—and he must come to terms with it quickly, because the enemy is aiming his gun at Joe’s head.


In the dream world of The Unfortunates, one of the most potent symbols of death is the plague. It is telling that, although Joe is in the midst of a war in the real world, his subconscious invents a pandemic. Wars and plagues are often thought of in similar terms; one is often used as a metaphor for the other. We talk about the “war” on AIDS, or an enemy’s ideology “infecting” our people. But the two are very different in significant ways, the largest being that war is hu…

Small Talk in The Realistic Joneses

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By Shannon Stockwell
The Realistic Joneses runs until April 3 at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. 
Jennifer and Bob Jones sit outside their house, talking to each other. Well, it seems like they’re talking, at least by the modern definition of “talking.” Their mouths are moving and their vocal cords are vibrating and one makes a sound that the other hears, interprets, and responds to. But despite the outward appearance that they are, in fact, talking, Jennifer remains unconvinced. “We’re—I don’t know—sort of throwing words at each other,” she says.

The characters in The Realistic Joneses throw words at each other for the entire play, and the other party often fails to catch them. Questions are asked and remain unanswered. Words are misinterpreted. Topics are dropped. Stutters and false starts abound. It feels as though, for all their existential dread, these characters can’t pull themselves away from small talk in order to get at the bigger fears that pervade their lives.
What exactly is small…