Showing posts from May, 2016

The Summer Stock Experience in The Last Five Years

By Shannon Stockwell  The Last Five Years runs until June 5. Get your tickets  here ! In The Last Five Years , Cathy regales us with horrid stories of her time at a theater in the Midwest with the song “Summer in Ohio.” She spends the warm months of the year at what is known in the business as summer stock theater. The practice of staging summer theater in rural areas, sometimes referred to as the “straw-hat circuit,” stems back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, when urbanites would escape the stifling heat of the city by traveling to the countryside. Some theater companies fulfilled the city dwellers’ need for entertainment by setting up stages in barns and tents. The tradition of summer stock theater is still going strong, although most summer theaters today have actual performance spaces. Berkshire Theatre Festival, a summer stock theater in western Massachusetts. Photo by John Phelan, 2010. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Cathy’s summer is clearly a miserab

The Psychiatric World of Chester Bailey

by Allie Moss and Shannon Stockwell Joseph Dougherty’s new play Chester Bailey , starring David Strathairn and Dan Clegg, takes place in a very particular world: a psychiatric hospital on Long Island in the 1940s. Psychiatry back then was very different from what it is now. The play’s Dr. Philip Cotton both reflects and refutes that milieu. The 1940s was a time of transition for psychiatry as a discipline, because advances in the field transformed it from a stigmatized profession to a respectable one. In the United States, many of the psychotherapists at this period started their careers working with World War II veterans suffering from combat fatigue (now called post-traumatic stress disorder). There were two main branches of psychiatric study and treatment during this time—operational psychiatry and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis (talk therapy). In the 1940s, operational psychiatry was comprised of experimental procedures that were believed to cure patients of mental illness. T

The Challenges and the Joys of Directing The Last Five Years

An Interview with Director Michael Berresse By Cecilia Padilla Michael Berresse came to A.C.T. in 2012 while performing in the national tour of The Normal Heart , and he is delighted to return to the Bay Area—this time as an accomplished director. “Looking back at my directorial career,” says Berresse, “I see that a number of shows I’ve worked on have had complicated or nonlinear structures. There’s something about the puzzle of them and the way my own mind works that draws me to that kind of material.” With its unique structure in which one character’s story is told from ending to beginning, and the other’s from beginning to end, The Last Five Years has been another puzzle for the director to solve. We sat down with Berresse to talk about the challenges and the joys of directing. Director Michael Berresse in rehearsal for A.C.T.’s 2016 production of The Last Five Years . Photo by Shannon Stockwell. What’s it like being both an actor and a director? I love them both for very

The Music of The Last Five Years

By Shannon Stockwell For musical theater actors, there’s something magnetic about the music of Jason Robert Brown. “If you studied musical theater any time after 2000, chances are you memorized the original cast recording of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years ,” says Huffington Post journalist Suzy Evans. The composer’s work has such a gravitational pull on this peer group of musical theater enthusiasts that Evans refers to it as the “Jason Robert Brown generation.” Just what is it about Brown’s music that has defined a generation? “Jason is a master of making pop-song forms work in a musical theater context,” says Matt Castle, music director for A.C.T.’s 2016 production of The Last Five Years ,   now running until June 5 . “To me, pop music feels like a suspended, single feeling. But a theater song can’t be that, because there has to be something at risk in a scene, something that changes over the course of the song.” Brown’s music, Castle explains, has all of the infe

An Interview with Actor Dan Clegg of Chester Bailey

By Shannon Stockwell Marisa Duchowny (left) and Dan Clegg in A.C.T.'s M.F.A. Program production of Once in a Lifetime  in 2010. Photo by Kevin Berne.  We are thrilled to welcome actor Dan Clegg back to A.C.T., where he will play the titular role in Joseph Dougherty’s Chester Bailey , premiering at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater on May 25. Clegg graduated from the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program in 2011, and he’s delighted to return and have the opportunity to portray this multifaceted and inspiring character. “The first time I read Chester Bailey , I just loved it,” says Clegg. “I thought the writing was excellent, and Chester Bailey is such a great role. The play really stayed with me.” Just after Clegg got out of rehearsal, we spoke to him about his work on Chester Bailey and the challenging questions the play poses.   How have rehearsals been going? Rehearsals have been going well. We had a number of readings before we started, and David [Strathairn] and I had both done a

Twitter Volunteers at A.C.T.

By Rose Oser Last Friday I met my new best friends, a group of Twitter employees who signed up to volunteer at A.C.T. Their visit was part of “Friday for Good,” a Twitter-wide effort to give back to the community. According to one Tweep (their word, not mine), nearly 50 percent of Twitter employees participate, with volunteers at about a hundred different community sites worldwide. Twitter Staff Software Engineer Nick Morgan volunteers to paint A.C.T.'s rehearsal studios. Photo by Rose Oser.   This fine group of Tweeps had their own reasons for volunteering at A.C.T. Some like the arts, some have enjoyed A.C.T. shows, and some were hoping that volunteering at a theater would be less strenuous than raking leaves. We spent a few hours painting the rehearsal studios above A.C.T.’s administrative offices at 30 Grant Avenue and sewing at The Costume Shop. When I greeted the group of Tweeps at the rehearsal studios, I was only planning on being there a few moments. B

Black Orpheus Brings the Beats to the Bay Area

An Interview with Director Stephen Buescher By Ariella Wolfe Stephen Buescher, head of movement and physical theater for the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program, has been waiting for the opportunity to create a theatrical adaptation of Black Orpheus . While studying theater in Brazil, Buescher developed a strong connection to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice after seeing Marcel Camus’s 1959 film, Orfeu Negro ( Black Orpheus ), an adaptation of the myth which takes place during the Brazilian festival of Carnaval .  The cast of Black Orpheus in rehearsal. Photo by Beatriz Miranda-Torres.  This week, Buescher gets the chance to bring Brazil to the Bay Area. Black Orpheus: Una Historia de Amor marks the first time that A.C.T. Stage Coach and the M.F.A. Program have collaborated on a production created specifically for a community tour. The relationships fostered between A.C.T. and the larger Bay Area community through the Stage Coach initiative have allowed for

Backstage Pass—Dance Class at A.C.T.

By Simon Hodgson  “One, two, three, four,” calls out Corrine Nagata. “High parallel. Heel. Toe. High lateral!” A compact Japanese American in a sleeveless turquoise shirt and rubber-soled boots, Nagata pads around the rehearsal room, encouraging the dancers and watching calf muscles shake. Eleven students from A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program are approaching the end of their first year. Last Friday, in a dance class open to the whole A.C.T. company, they completed a series of exercises as well as a prepared ensemble piece they’d been working on for a few weeks. “You’re stretching like a beautiful rubber band,” says Nagata as the students execute cross-lunges. By the wall, A.C.T. staff and other M.F.A. Program students clap and click their fingers in admiration. On the floor, the black-clad dancers are sweating. “Long dancer’s necks,” says Nagata, exhorting now. “I need to see a dancer’s diagonal. Both shoulders!” When the music—Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”—cu

Jason Robert Brown Talks About The Last Five Years

By Simon Hodgson Today, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop revolution Hamilton broke a Tony Award record with 16 nominations. Jason Robert Brown, composer of The Last Five Years , is encouraged by Hamilton ’s success. “[American musical theater] feels like it’s branching off in (at least) two different directions,” says Brown. “There is the very corporate ‘entertainment’—musicals painted in broad strokes and designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, such as Aladdin and Finding Neverland . Then there is the very personal and cheerfully idiosyncratic approach, which brings us work like Fun Home and Hamilton . I don’t care a whole lot about the first branch, but that second branch is very exciting and that’s the kind of work I’ve been trying to do all along.” This intention is apparent in The Last Five Years , which has its roots in Brown’s personal experiences of love and heartbreak. The result is a unique musical with an exuberant score that has remained in the hearts a