Help Us Complete the Story at A.C.T.!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Theater is an art form where everyone in the room plays a part. Watch the video and learn why people who work and study at A.C.T. love the art of theater and the way it affects the world around us.

We want to hear your story too. Check out our website to tell your A.C.T. story. All gifts made before June 30 help us meet our $100,000 Complete the Story Challenge and will be matched dollar for dollar. How will you contribute to A.C.T.'s next chapter?

Hear A.C.T.'s Untold Stories—Albert Rubio

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Theater is an art form where everyone in the room, especially the audience, plays a part. Albert Rubio, a third-year student in A.C.T.'s Master of Fine Arts Program, tells his story.

We want to hear your story too. Check out our website to tell your A.C.T. story. All gifts made before June 30 help us meet our $100,000 Complete the Story Challenge and will be matched dollar for dollar. How will you contribute to A.C.T.'s next chapter?

Preparing for Crack. Rumble. Fly.: The Bayview Stories Project

Monday, June 13, 2016

By A.C.T. Stage Coach Fellow Ariella Wolfe

Police brutality. Gentrification. Marginalization. For some, these are political buzzwords, but for many residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, they are a daily reality. The play Crack. Rumble. Fly: The Bayview Stories Project, by Aleshea Harris, premieres this month on A.C.T.’s mobile stage unit in Mendell Plaza and gives voice to these struggles as well as the beauty, joy, and pride of this community.

Two years ago, A.C.T.’s Stage Coach began building relationships with community members in Bayview-Hunters Point and commissioned Harris to write a script based on their stories and inspired by a classic Greek play. The thoughts, dreams, and questions shared by community members during A.C.T.-coordinated story circle workshops ultimately informed Harris’s creative decision to adapt Sophocles’s Oedipus the King. The cast of Crack. Rumble. Fly. is made up of professional and community actors from Bayview-Hunters Point and the greater Bay Area, ranging from 13 years old to 85 years young; one cast member is a student in the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program, and the lead actor is a graduate of A.C.T.’s residency at Downtown High School.

Cheri Lynn Miller and the cast of Crack. Rumble. Fly.: The Bayview Stories Project
warming up with an improv exercise. Photo by Ariella Wolfe.

The rehearsal and production process has brought together many people and has already left a profound impact on A.C.T. as well as the greater community. Between rehearsals, cast member and Bayview resident Cheri Lynn Miller shared what she hopes audiences will walk away with after seeing the performance:

With the recent deaths of Mario Woods and Jessica Nelson Williams, and young people struggling to live within the fullness of themselves, I would hope that a sense of urgency is rumbling within each of the audience members. Even if they don't live in the Bayview, there is so much work to be done to love our children whole again.

One of the main characters is named Jessa. She, bold and fearless, sacrifices her life for her community to have a greater awareness of their worth and the need to make their voices heard in opposition to those in authority that would silence them. This character is played by an amazing young actress, named Jessica. Jessica Jones having the same name as the young woman expecting a child, who was shot and killed in Bayview last month, was a significant coincidence. The timing of the presentation of
Crack. Rumble. Fly. makes me truly believe that there is a greater force of awakening coming to the community.

It’s up to the cast to make the emotions within the play—the urgency and the connectivity of the pain the community is breathing in every day—come to life in a way that the audience can see themselves in us. They should see the truth as well as feel entertained. The playwright, Aleshea Harris, has ensured that every line, every piece of the story, is connected to the truth of who we are and what we are experiencing within Bayview. I want it to be the start of a beautiful revival within the community. Within us. For our children's sakes.

Join us at the Bayview Arts Festival on June 18, from 12 to 3 p.m. at Mendell Plaza (3rd and Palou), including a 1 p.m. performance of Crack. Rumble. Fly.: The Bayview Stories Project. This festival, featuring art, food, and family entertainment, serves to honor the legacy and continued work of African American artists and activists in this neighborhood and across the Bay Area. For details and information about a preview of play excerpts at 3rd on Third and an additional Sunday performance at Laughing Monk Brewing, check out our Facebook event page or the A.C.T. website. Stage Coach is made possible by the generous support of The James Irvine Foundation.

Hear A.C.T.'s Untold Stories—Arnie Glassberg

Friday, June 10, 2016

Theater is an art form where everyone in the room, especially the audience, plays a part. Arnie Glassberg, a board member of A.C.T.'s Master of Fine Arts Program, tells his story.

We want to hear your story too. Check out our website to tell your A.C.T. story. All gifts made before June 30 help us meet our $100,000 Complete the Story Challenge and will be matched dollar for dollar. How will you contribute to A.C.T.'s next chapter?

Understanding Understudies

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

By Shannon Stockwell

The longer you work in theater, the more you gather tales of dramatic disasters, and the more you realize the resilience of theater makers who rally under the old adage: “The Show Must Go On.” Some problems can be anticipated, however, and that’s where understudies come in.

For A.C.T.’s production of The Last Five Years, a two-person musical by Jason Robert Brown, we had two amazing understudies, but no one expected them to have to go on because the run was so short—only three weeks long. But illness struck, and both understudies ended up having to perform at different times. And, if you were at the performance on Saturday, May 28, you would have gotten to witness a special moment in theatrical problem solving when Margo Seibert, who was recovering from illness, was struck by a coughing fit in her first song and an unscheduled fifteen-minute intermission was called while her understudy, Kelsey Venter, prepared to go onstage as Cathy.

To get the scoop on the mysterious life of the understudy, we talked to Venter—a graduate of A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program—about her experience working on The Last Five Years.

Actor Kelsey Venter

What preparation do you do as an understudy?

For The Last Five Years, I was at an advantage because I’ve loved the show since I was a kid. Because I came in already knowing the music, my preparation was mostly focused on learning the blocking and understanding the acting intentions that Margo, who played Cathy, and Michael [Berresse], the director, had developed along with Zak [Resnick], who played Jamie. One of the most important parts of being an effective understudy is the ability to maintain the integrity of the production as created by the director and actors.

What does an understudy’s rehearsal process look like?

It’s a little bit different for each actor and each show. We came into the process right before the show went into tech—which means we had about a week and a half of watching rehearsals and runs and taking lots of notes. For this production, Jeffrey [Brian Adams, the male understudy] and I had two “official” rehearsals; one where we got to sing through the show with Matt (the production’s music director) and one where we got to run the show in real time with all the props, moving set elements, and a few costume pieces. It was during that second rehearsal that Margo called in and said, “I’m out.” Zak came in about an hour before curtain and we ran through the few moments Jamie and Cathy have together. And then I did the show!

It’s funny, you always hear about actors having anxiety dreams about having to go on last minute, but it really happened to you!

It’s happened to me a few times now! I sort of lived the actor’s nightmare in one of my first professional jobs, when I was about nineteen years old. I got a last minute call from a theater I’d worked with to go on for a show I had understudied but never actually performed at a completely different theater eight months earlier. Their actress was out of town, and their normal understudy was too sick to perform. I ended up relearning the show in about three hours, having a very fast costume fitting at the theater, and then jumping into the show that night. So, having gone through that at such an early age, I knew that I could make it through The Last Five Years. I thought to myself, “I know this show, back to front. I just have to make sure I’m in the right place at the right time, and everything else will work out.”

You must have relied on the people backstage, as well.

I literally could not have done it without them. Megan [Q. Sada], the stage manager, was wonderful. She was so supportive and helpful. But especially the incredible people backstage, the assistant stage managers, the deck crew, the dressers and hair department and sound engineers—they all pushed me in the right direction and made sure I had everything I needed when I needed it.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I have great respect for understudies. I think it’s a valuable experience that every actor should get to have early in their career—it makes you appreciate the work in a different way. That’s certainly been the case for me. It’s a hard job, but it is so rewarding when you succeed. It was a dream come true to get to play Cathy on the Geary stage in such a beautiful production, having loved the show for so long. It was thrilling.

The Story behind The Last Five Years

Friday, June 3, 2016

By Shannon Stockwell

Composer Jason Robert Brown.
Photo by Maia Rosenfeld.
After writing the music and lyrics for Parade, a musical about the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, Jason Robert Brown was burnt out. “I had been working on [it] for five years and [it] ran for three months,” Brown says. “It was too exhausting and too hard and the therapy cost more than the royalties.” His first instinct was to get out of show business, but as he was planning where to go, Lincoln Center Theater (LCT) called him and said they wanted to commission a piece.

He began to explain an idea he had been working on: an intimate song cycle about the relationship between a man and a woman (the polar opposite of Parade’s 30-odd cast members). And as Brown was explaining, he came up with the idea of the two timelines crossing and meeting in the middle. LCT approved his idea. But Brown found that he couldn’t create something that belonged only on a concert stage, like Songs for a New World. “It was at that point—when I was writing about these two people who literally and physically and metaphorically could not get together—I said: ‘You know what? I think it’s a show and I didn’t mean to be doing that, but I guess I am now.’”

In 2001 The Last Five Years opened to rave reviews at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois, but when it moved to off Broadway, it didn’t do so well. After it closed, Brown became frustrated. “I really didn’t want to be in the business anymore,” he said. “I thought that if this town didn’t know how to support that kind of work, I didn’t need to be here.” He left the city and moved to Los Angeles. It wasn’t until 2008, and the Broadway premiere of 13, that he would have another show in New York.

Despite New York’s reception of The Last Five Years, the show was extremely successful during its national tour. And, although it’s 15 years old, it has remained popular across the country. Brown is not surprised by its success. “I actually did sort of foresee [the success of The Last Five Years],” he says. “It’s a show with two characters, so I knew that people would want to do it. There was no guarantee, but I hoped . . . that it would go out into the world, be shared, and become part of contemporary musical theater vocabulary.”

A.C.T.'s production of The Last Five Years runs until June 5. Click here to purchase tickets!
To read a complete biography of Jason Robert Brown, click here to purchase a printed or digital copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series. All proceeds go to our ACTsmart education programs, serving teachers and students throughout the Bay Area. 
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