Moving The Dial: The Women's Leadership Conference

Thursday, August 25, 2016

By Elspeth Sweatman 

“We are here today to dialogue, to create, to unearth the big questions and bold strategies for moving conversation deeper and further around women and men of color in leadership in the American theater,” said Erin Washington, A.C.T.'s Interim Artistic Producing Associate and one of the organizers of the Women’s Leadership Conference that A.C.T. hosted on Monday at The Strand.

Research from the Wellesley Centers for Women. 
Infographic created by A.C.T. Marketing Team.
The conference began with the presentation of research conducted by Sumru Erkut and Ineke Ceder from the Wellesley Centers for Women. It was followed by responses from a panel including Seema Sueko (Deputy Artistic Director at Arena Stage), Shafer Mazow (Senior Grants Manager at Exploratorium), Michele Shay (actress, director, and producer), Elena Chang (Associate Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at Theatre Communications Group), Anne Kauffman (Board Member at Stage Directors and Choreographers Society), and Rhodessa Jones (Co-Artistic Director at Cultural Odyssey).

The Women’s Leadership Project began over two years ago when A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff and former Executive Director Ellen Richard approached the Wellesley Centers for Women to examine why women are underrepresented in the highest artistic and administrative positions. It was made possible by grants from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the Valentine Foundation, the Wellesley Centers for Women, and individual donors.

The purpose of the project and of the conference was to discuss “how we change the image of who is trusted with leadership,” said Perloff.

Research from the Wellesley Centers for Women. 
Infographic Created by A.C.T. Marketing Team.
An in-depth look at the study’s findings can be found here on A.C.T.’s website, and here on the Wellesley Centers for Women website. To watch a recording of the event, click here.

For more information about gender equity issues in Bay Area, visit the San Francisco Gender Equality Principles website.

Director David Muse Prepares for King Charles III

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

By Shannon Stockwell and Elspeth Sweatman

Buckingham Palace has come to 30 Grant. Prince Charles, William, Kate, and Harry (or rather, the actors who play them) have arrived for rehearsals for A.C.T.’s 50th-anniversary season opener: Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III.

Addressing a packed room of cast, crew, staff, and A.C.T. subscribers for the show’s meet and greet, director David Muse—who refers to himself as “Bartlett’s biggest fanboy in America”—told the story of seeing this play for the first time in London. “I sat there in slack-jawed disbelief for two and a half hours. The play was sophisticated, it was complicated, it was balanced, and it was good Shakespeare.”

In King Charles III, Muse sees many of the conventions of Elizabethan drama. There is a main plot in verse and a subplot in prose. There are soliloquies, rhyming couplets, and extended metaphors. There are supernatural elements, stage directions written into the text, and minimal scenery.

“But there’s also a deeper Shakespeareness about the play,” says Muse. “The play is unironic. It’d be very easy with this subject matter to participate in parody, to participate in satire. But he takes all of his characters seriously, just like Shakespeare does. The play doesn’t take sides—again, just like Shakespeare. It’s a political drama that plays out in very human terms.”

Director David Muse at the first rehearsal for A.C.T.'s 2016 production of King Charles III.
Photo by Shannon Stockwell.

Having worked for seven years at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, (one of the coproducers for this production along with Seattle Repertory Theatre) and having directed a fourth of the Shakespearean canon, Muse knows the popularity of Shakespeare’s classics in the United States. “Americans have been drawn to Shakespeare’s history plays for centuries,” says Muse. “Why? Because they operate as much on the level of the human as the national, because the psychology is as interesting as the politics, and because we as audience members can take imaginative leaps. King Charles III operates like those history plays.”

“Americans know a thing or two,” says Muse, “about struggling to reconcile old traditions and ways of doing things within a radically changing world. We know about celebrities; many Americans are almost as tabloid obsessed with the royal family as the British are. And, of course, Brexit has put Britain on all of our minds.”

Muse concluded, “I think this the real response to the question of why do this play in America: if the play is just flat-out good, if it’s entertaining, and if it’s both emotionally and intellectually gripping, the question of relevance tends to fade pretty quickly in the audience’s mind. And I believe that this is a play that will do that.”

King Charles III runs at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater from September 14 to October 9. Click here to purchase tickets. 

Peter Pastreich Joins A.C.T. as Interim Executive Director

Friday, August 19, 2016

By Publications Staff

Interim Executive Director Peter Pastreich. Photo by Jamie Whittington.

Summer at A.C.T. has been busy, with back offices and backstages buzzing with preparations for our amazing 50th-anniversary season. As we raise the Geary curtain for the first show of the 2016–17 season, we’d like to welcome our new interim executive director, Peter Pastreich.

“I have known Peter since I arrived in San Francisco over twenty years ago,” says A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff. “I have always been inspired by his leadership, his kindness, and his immense wisdom about artists and arts management. It is with enormous pleasure and gratitude that we join forces with him at this moment in A.C.T.’s history, to help us celebrate our 50th-anniversary year, to guide us forward in all our aspirations, and ultimately to help us complete a successful hire of a permanent executive director.”

“The A.C.T. Board of Trustees is extremely fortunate to have Peter’s wisdom and expertise during our search for a permanent executive director,” says board chair Nancy Livingston. “His accomplishments, distinguished reputation, and deep understanding of the arts community will propel us into our 50th-anniversary season.”

Pastreich brings with him 50 years’ experience of managing arts organizations, notably the San Francisco Symphony, where he was executive director for 21 years. “I am honored that A.C.T. has entrusted me with the responsibility of being its interim executive director,” says Pastreich, “I very much look forward to working with Carey Perloff and A.C.T.’s effective and committed Board of Trustees and staff.”

Across orchestras and symphonies from Louisville to London, Pastreich has taken the lead on management consultancy, theater renovation, endowment founding, mediation for union negotiations, and training the next generation of arts leaders. During his tenure at SF Symphony, the organization raised its budget from $6 million to $40 million and expanded its endowment from $12 million to $120 million. We are fortunate to have his expertise and experience as we look forward to our own historic season. Welcome, Peter!

The Personal Story behind Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting

Thursday, August 18, 2016

By Simon Hodgson

On one level, Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting—which plays until August 27 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater—is a musical about the Amish coming-of-age rite known as rumspringa. But to creator and co-director Craig Slaight, researching the subject created a deeply personal story that mirrored his own. “It’s a metaphor for our late-teen years,” says Slaight. “It’s about finding a moral compass in that critical time in young peoples’ lives when they ask, ‘What did I grow up believing, and is it still right?’”

Through the research that Slaight did on the Amish, he developed an enormous respect for them. “They aren’t asking anyone else to become Amish,” he says. “They are interested in the simple life. They are not interested in being on the grid. All they’re really asking is to let them live the way they wish to on the land they have. It’s a wholesome, pristine, rural existence.”

Actor Michaella Kumli in A.C.T.'s Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting
Photo by Jay Yamada.
For Slaight, the idea of religious teens in the American heartland is close to home. “I was raised in a typical, conservative Midwestern family in Michigan, where we went to a Methodist church. At college, so many other things made me open my eyes. I thought: I am also a gay man. And I’m not real sure about church, which represented everything in my life that I found wounding.”

College, for Slaight, represented his own rumspringa—the spiritual journey that young Amish people take when they step outside of their community and see what life is like beyond their culture. As an undergraduate theater artist, Slaight investigated different religions: he went to synagogue, tried Catholicism, and looked into Christian fundamentalism. “All of these ingredients were my rumspringa,” he says.

The concept of that experimentation process, in which young people test the boundaries of their lives and themselves, was one that Slaight placed at the very center of the musical. “What are our tests? That idea was very important to me. Everyone has one.”

Slaight’s journey—from college in Michigan to becoming the director of the A.C.T. Young Conservatory in California—shows the reward of that testing. But, he says, the rumspringa has its own calculus: “The fascinating thing is that, after rumspringa, 93 percent of those young people become Amish for life.”

This particular rite of passage is specific to one community, but its pathway—with young people venturing into a world beyond their own experience—speaks to a more universal need. “I was drawn to it because of my own journey,” says Slaight. “You go from being under someone’s wing to growing your own wings.”

Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting runs at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater until August 27. Click here to purchase tickets.

Sting and the Amish Meet in Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting

Thursday, August 11, 2016

By Elspeth Sweatman 

Poster for A.C.T.'s 2016 production of  
Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting
“To stare into an uncertain future with strength, excitement, wonder, and fear.” That is the quest at the heart of Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting, A.C.T.’s  Young Conservatory show which opens next week. Using 30 years of the singer’s music, this play tells the unique story of a group of Amish and non-Amish teenagers coming of age in LaGrange, Indiana.

The music of Sting and the world of the Amish rumspringa—a period when Amish teens are freed from their strict religious rules—may seem like chalk and cheese, but to creator and co-director Craig Slaight these worlds address the same universal questions: What does it mean to be a modern teenager? How does our sense of personal identity and morality evolve during this time? How can we embrace the future with courage, faith, and understanding?

Just like the YC’s previous show Top of the Pyramid, Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting is about a specific group of teens in small-town America. But the themes it explores are larger than that. “Although my story is about a fictional mixed group of Amish and non-Amish kids,” says Slaight, “it could easily be about two groups of ethnically diverse teens, or teens from two different countries.”

Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting is the next installment in the Young Conservatory’s series of theatrical tributes to modern composers, following last year’s I’m Still Standing: A Celebration of the Music of Elton John (also written and directed by Slaight).

Fields of Gold: The Music of Sting runs at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater from August 16–27. Click here to purchase tickets.

The Women's Leadership Project Conference

Friday, August 5, 2016

By Rose Oser and Shannon Stockwell

The Women’s Leadership Project began in 2013 when A.C.T. partnered with Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), a Massachusetts-based institute devoted to gender-focused research, to do a formal study into gender disparity in regional theaters.

Now, after more than three years of research, A.C.T. and WCW are excited to share the findings of that study at the Women’s Leadership Conference at The Strand Theater (1127 Market Street, San Francisco) on August 22, 2016.

The morning session is free and open to the public (RSVP here to reserve your spot). The WCW researchers will share their findings, and Artistic Director Carey Perloff will lead a Q&A with a panel of arts leaders. In the afternoon, selected participants will proceed to The Rueff to discuss the research and create strategies for change.

By examining a broad range of potential factors, we want to determine the specific barriers that have prevented women from rising through the ranks to positions of artistic or executive leadership. Using the information from the study, theaters across the country may be able to develop theater leadership that better represents all of our employees and patrons.

The main goal for the conference is to share the findings of the study and facilitate a dialogue about this issue with a diverse group of academic, artistic, and policy leaders. In addition to increasing awareness of the current infrastructure, the conversation will consider concrete next steps to making our leadership more diverse.

While the research and the action items will be tightly focused on theaters, we believe the lessons could be applied to a wide range of arts organizations. We hope to identify ways in which access to the national community of performing arts could become a more open, inclusive process.
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