Commedia Class at A.C.T.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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.

M.F.A. Program Physical Theater class, 2015–16. Photo by Stefan Cohen.
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 December, the first-year student actors got their first taste of putting on a show, performing Rajiv Joseph’s Animals Out of Paper. This play focuses on the relationships between Ilana, an origami artist, and Suresh, a teenager who has been sent to her studio by his teacher. “It’s about how we deal with pain,” says M.F.A. Program actor Avanthika Srinivasan. “It’s about identity. These are things that are universal.”

For this group of first-year actors, Animals Out of Paper not only represented a finale to their first semester at A.C.T., but also provided an opportunity to find onstage answers to the challenges posed during their classes. “How do you listen? How do you live in the moment? How do you work with your scene partner effectively?” says Srinivasan. “Those questions helped us develop these characters. And the experience brought us even closer together as a class.”

For upcoming events in the Conservatory, click here.

A Stripped-Down Christmas: The Skivvies @TheStrand

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

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.

A.C.T.'s 2009 production of A Christmas Carol. From the left:
René Augesen, Gregory Wallace, James Carpenter, Calum John, and Philip Mills. 
Photo by Kevin Berne.
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 adaptation in collaboration with dramaturg Paul Walsh. The process started with Dickens’s original text; Perloff read the novella aloud to her own children and then, with the sound of Dickens’s language in her ears, set about the new adaptation. This version would have roles for every third-year M.F.A. student, plus many in the YC. Such a intergenerational Carol turned out to be exactly what Ball had meant by a conservatory theater: the veteran actors would instruct, mostly by example, the M.F.A. Program students, who in turn mentored the members of the YC.

James Carpenter as Scrooge and Tony Sinclair as Boy Scrooge
in A.C.T.'s 2010 production of A Christmas Carol
Photo by Kevin Berne.
Ken Ruta as Marley and Sharon Lockwood as Mrs. Dilber (a role that Perloff expanded from Dickens, as the original had no significant roles for women) have been regulars (Jack Willis played Marley from 2006 through 2011). And since 2006, the gifted James Carpenter has played Scrooge with the estimable Anthony Fusco doing several performances a season as well.

Just as Williamson and Powers were drawn to certain aspects of the story (including the dark nature of its world), so too Perloff’s own tastes dictated significant elements of the new version. She was struck by what she saw as Dickens’s conviction that the imagination can trigger empathy: Scrooge’s change of heart from an alienated miser into a caring human being occurred because he was willing to believe in the three ghosts (the last thing one would expect from a character like Scrooge). This, she thought, was an emphatic endorsement of the power of art. No wonder the story had appealed to theater people since the year the book was published in 1843.

John Arnone’s sets—alternating realistic windows and Victorian furniture with exteriors of houses in shimmering watercolors—lent the production a powerful sense of forward movement, and Beaver Bauer’s bold, bright costumes struck a playful modern note. The script, composed of two acts of 45 minutes, is more attuned to contemporary attention spans and, mindful of the many children in the audience, includes an intermission, which the previous version did not.

In the 40 years A Christmas Carol has been on The Geary stage, more than a million Bay Area theatergoers, young and old, have seen the show.

Come celebrate the holidays with us! A.C.T.'s production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

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.”

The cast of A.C.T.'s 1981 production of A Christmas Carol.
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 there’s a full articulation of the painful aspects,” Powers said, “the conversion of Scrooge has no meaning.”

Nicholas Perloff-Giles, Andrew Fleischer, Imaide Steverango, and
Steven Anthony Jones in A.C.T.'s 2003 production of A Christmas Carol.
Williamson had been impressed with the simplicity and elegance of a Russian adaptation he saw of Gogol’s story “The Overcoat.” The set that he and designer Robert Blackman devised for Carol reflected this approach and provided a metaphor for Scrooge’s move from darkness into light: a tower of safes, money boxes, ledgers, cases, and cupboards, representing the coffins in which Scrooge has buried his feelings. As he regains the feelings that he has locked away, the objects on the tower fall away. All that is left on Christmas morning is a bare framework on which Scrooge can erect a new life based on love and warmth.

For years, the production provided a vehicle for William Paterson and Sydney Walker, who alternated as Scrooge, with occasional appearances in the role by Ken Ruta and Raye Birk. In 1976, Magnin predicted this play would be “another Nutcracker,” and so it was, returning almost every year until 2005, when a new version continued the tradition.

A.C.T.'s production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

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.

A rack of A Christmas Carol costumes. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
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 Christmas Future sequence, and then quick-change back into the party dress. And there are also some wig changes too. So some people have four costume changes in the last twenty minutes of the show.

There are over 200 costumes in this production of A Christmas Carol. How do you clean all of those pieces?
Anything that is considered “skin layer”—socks, tights, dance pants, camisoles, bras, and t-shirts—gets washed every performance. A lot of the dresses have pit pads that are also washed on a nightly basis. Most of the costumes are dry-cleaned on a rotating schedule. If it’s only worn briefly at the top of the show, it might not get laundered until the end of the run. It just depends on how often a costume is worn.

"Bonnet Row." Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
How do you deal with the ultimate Scrooge of the holiday season: illness?
Because winter is the time for colds and the flu, we use a lot of sanitizing spray and wipes, especially for costumes that are worn by multiple people or understudies. We want to minimize the exposure. You don’t want to put someone who is healthy in a sick person’s costume, so we try and clean them as much as possible.

What happens when a costume gets damaged?
If it’s during previews, we take care of everything because wardrobe is just getting their hands into the show. Once the show is up and running, wardrobe takes care of small things like a button or a snap coming off. If it’s something really major, Mary Montijo—our wardrobe master—will consult with us about how best to repair it. Most things can be repaired at the theater.

A.C.T.'s production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

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.”

M.F.A. Program Actors, Dramaturg Michael Paller, and Martin Moran.
Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
As the Broadway veteran speaks, the student actors lean forward in their chairs. Many of them are in the process of writing their own solo shows for January’s Sky Festival. In the midst of this creative process, they are a bundle of nerves, doubts, hopes, and dreams. Now, they have the chance to pick the brain of a master. They listen, totally absorbed.

For Moran, creating a play is like being an actor. “Allow what wants to come through and trust it. Cultivate faith in your impulses as an artist. All of us are somehow called to this endeavor of provoking moments of mystery. Because who really knows? There’s a breath, and we connect.”

Martin Moran and the M.F.A. Program Actors. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
The best piece of advice Moran had for these young actors was simple: Be where your feet are.

“It goes back to A.C.T., to that beautiful training I had here,” he says. “Trust that the creature, the soul that you are is the essence of what you bring into the room. You make these transformations that add up to a character—they can be as simple as a lisp—but it’s still this human energy. It’s still the thrum of my own soul in my feet, in the room, with this breath, in this moment. And it’s enough.”

Martin Moran is performing his one-man shows The Tricky Part and All the Rage in repertory at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater through December 11. Click here to purchase tickets through our website.

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

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.

DHS Movement Class 2016. Photo by Stephanie Wilborn.
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 Movement Stephen Buescher. They discovered different types of theater, from poetry to clowning.

After months of building trust and knowledge, the DHS class was ready to discover and create its own works of theater at 826 Valencia, a non-profit organization striving to serve and support under-served youth through the creative outlet of writing. From there, the students put their words on their feet and rehearsed.

DHS student Jocelyn Lainez-Robles in 2015 exhibition.
A Mask I Do Not Fit is about gender and identity, topics that DHS senior Jocelyn Lainez-Robles believes are important subjects for teens to discuss. “It’s difficult for teens to talk about it. We hear it on TV and Instagram posts, but we ignore it. But we have a voice too. We’re teens, and we experience it on day to day basis. We may not be adults, but we are aware of what is expected of us by being a boy or a girl.”

Lainez-Robles has participated in more than four exhibitions with A.C.T., and attributes her academic and personal growth to this program. “I would have never thought I could write and perform my own words. I discovered that I do have a way with words and I am able to inspire others. I’ve had issues with others, but A.C.T. has helped me with that. I have learned how to express myself properly and see what I need to change within me. I see that my life does matter and from now on I channel that energy into positivity. I don’t think I could do that without the acceptance and love I have received from A.C.T.”

Please come and join us for Downtown High School’s free exhibition A Mask I Do Not Fit this Friday, December 9 at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. at The Strand. For tickets, please email education@act-sf.org.

Stephanie Wilborn is the Education Fellow at A.C.T.

Martin Moran Wins Over Audiences and Critics Alike

Monday, December 5, 2016

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.

Martin Moran in All the Rage. Photo by Joan Marcus.
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 earned plaudits for his onstage work, the actor’s innate warmth has won him plenty of admirers offstage. After every show, the Denver-born performer has joined the audience in the lobby to shake hands, sign copies of his books (available at The Strand), and make new friends. With Moran’s two shows closing on Sunday, December 11, be sure to catch this moving and meaningful work.

Click here to purchase tickets through our website. 

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

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.

Artwork for M.F.A. Program 2016 Musical Revue  
Sing, Sing, Sing. By Sara Morales. 
"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 music of the Andrews Sisters, to the heavier pre-Golden Age musical theater tunes of Cole Porter, to the heart-wrenching jazz of Billie Holliday, these artists really got us through dark times, specifically World War II.

"We don’t think of these singers—Bing Crosby, Irving Berlin—as political singers, but they were. Crosby was the voice of World War II; his music was patriotic music. Songs like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “White Christmas” were songs that soldiers would sing to each other, imagining a time when they would come home safely. This music played a really important role in bringing communities together to support the troops.

"This era of music is unconsciously ingrained into everyone. Especially the second-year M.F.A. Program actors; they are old souls. When we started rehearsals, they discovered that they had heard a significant number of these songs before, but they had no idea what the words were, who sang them, or when they were written. Because of later singers like Frank Sinatra, they didn’t associate these songs with the 1930s and ’40s.

"What’s fun about this music is that it gets revived every couple of years. New twists are put on these gems. This musical revue is our opportunity to put our own twist on them."

Sing, Sing, Sing runs December 7–10 in The Garret at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website.
 
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