Act Two, Scene One: A.C.T. from the '90s to Today

Thursday, February 23, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

As A.C.T. gears up to celebrate its 50th birthday, we are taking a trip down memory lane. For Subscription Manager Mark Peters, that’s 30 years of stories and subscription order forms, productions and puzzles.

What was the first show you saw at A.C.T.?
The first A.C.T. production I saw was actually while I was in college. In class, we watched tapes of Cyrano de Bergerac (1972). The first show I saw at The Geary was King Lear in 1987. It was the first season after Artistic Director Bill Ball had left.

You’ve been here almost 30 years. What have been some of your favorite productions?
I saw Angels in America (1994)—both parts—every time we changed a cast. I went to both parts six times. That’s a commitment; each part is four, four-and-a-half hours. But it was amazing. Our angel was wicked; she had these big metal wings that could open and close. The theater we performed in (the Marines’ Memorial Theatre) didn’t have any fly space, so we had to work with a company to create this trestle that she was moved around on. 

A.C.T.'s 2013 production of Stuck Elevator. Photo by Julius Ahn.
I also really loved Stuck Elevator (2013). It was a very simple set—just an open elevator in the middle of the stage—but they did fantasy sequences and flashbacks around it as the main character was going in and out of consciousness. The music was beautiful. The second night I saw it, I gave a standing ovation. I don’t usually stand for anything, but that night I couldn’t help it. I was ripped out of my seat, standing up, screaming and yelling. It was amazing. Nothing beats that feeling.

I understand you were actually in The Geary when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened.
My friend Red and I had just gone downstairs for our lunch break. Diana, the bartender, was just coming in and starting to load up the ice for that day’s performance. I remember her saying, “Oh, we’re having an earthquake.” We all laughed but then BOOM BOOM BOOM. We looked at each other, our eyes as big as saucers. We went to run up the stairs, but plaster was dropping from the ceiling. We crammed ourselves into the men’s room doorway. I remember sitting there and thinking, "I’m dying today."
The Geary Theater after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Photo by John Sutton.
When it stopped, I thought we were going to get up to the lobby and look out into the street and see all the buildings flattened. That’s how it felt. The box office manager Michael McCarthy went to open the doors into the auditorium to check if anyone was in the theater, and there was dust everywhere. It looked like smoke, so we thought the theater was on fire. Luckily, it wasn’t, and no one was hurt.

Who are some of your favorite actors that you have seen on A.C.T.’s stages?
Anika Noni Rose. She was in the M.F.A. Program and her first season away from A.C.T., she won a Tony Award and thanked A.C.T. in her acceptance speech. Also Rene Augesen. She was transformative. When I went to see Celebration and The Room (2001), I didn’t even recognize her. Afterward, I looked in my program and was shocked to discover it was her. She was so much fun to watch, and just the nicest person offstage.

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