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Showing posts from May, 2017

Little Girl Blue: The Rise of Janis Joplin

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By Shannon Stockwell 


Singer Janis Joplin—the focus of A Night with Janis Joplin, opening at The Geary Theater on June 7—is often hailed as the first female sex symbol in rock and roll. She paved the way for female singers to break down barriers of sexism in the music industry. But before she became a feminist icon, her folksy, bluesy tone formed the soundtrack to the 1967 Summer of Love.

Joplin first heard of the San Francisco music scene while staying with her aunts in Los Angeles in 1962. But it wasn’t until music promoter Chet Helms passed through Texas and heard Joplin perform that she became determined to try her hand at singing professionally.

The music scene in 1963 San Francisco had not yet moved to the neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, which would have its heyday later; it was still largely in North Beach, which was populated by beat writers and folk musicians. Joplin performed at small gigs around the city and began to gain a fanbase.

After a brief return to Texas, Joplin re…

An Award Fit for a Prince: Tony Award Nominee John Douglas Thompson

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By Elspeth Sweatman

Our Prince of Denmark is nominated for a Tony Award! Before he returns to The Geary Theater to open A.C.T.’s 2017–18 season with Hamlet on September 20, John Douglas Thompson is up for a Tony for his performance as Becker in August Wilson’s Jitney on Broadway.

For Thompson, the preparation for a part is the same, whether it is written in Wilson’s lyrical dialect or Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. “I look for characters that have an Achilles heel that the character is conscious or unconscious of,” says Thompson. “Then I look for a catharsis that gives the character some evolution. Once I’ve found that, I start upon a course of rigorous research. If it’s a Shakespeare play, I read all the different editions and adaptations of that play, and I also study other productions to see what other people have done.”

Thompson’s preparation doesn’t just stop at studying the play. “During the process, I find some music that is what I would consider the character’s theme song. …

To Sir, With Love: A Celebration of Young Conservatory Director Craig Slaight

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By Emily Hanna

Most people know Young Conservatory Director Craig Slaight as a director, producer, or teacher. I am probably one of the few that has known him solely as an administrator. Watching Craig at the helm of the Young Conservatory has been one of the greatest gifts of my career.

Sometimes seen as a ‘less glamorous’ role in the world of theater, administration is where the greatest demonstration of love and passion for your collaborators can be seen. In rehearsal, the work is instantly kinetic with the immediate rewards of artistic decision making. Running a program and thinking strategically for a community that is hungry for rigorous training and artistic expression takes discipline, perspective, and patience. Speaking as an artist, these are not instinctive but learned traits.

When I joined A.C.T.’s conservatory team, I quickly found the threads of the YC to be a carefully woven tapestry, the result of seasons of fine tuning. Classes, cabarets, new works, college prep, s…

The Thrill of Connection: Battlefield and A Night with Janis Joplin

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By Elspeth Sweatman

As your fellow actor walks offstage, you turn and peer past the blinding stage lights. You take a breath, step forward, and do one of the most dangerous and thrilling things possible in theater: tear down the fourth wall and talk to the audience.

For Battlefield director Peter Brook, the connection between an actor and the audience is what theater is about. It has been the driving force behind his theatrical works for the past 40 years. It is what makes his plays work on a blanket on the streets of an African village, in his crumbling theater in Paris, and in San Francisco’s Geary Theater.

“We have performed for many different kinds of audiences on different continents with different cultures,” says Battlefield actor Carole Karemera. “What people have told us is that they enjoyed the shared moment, that they felt they had an intimate relationship with the text and with us.”

The same intimacy between performer and audience is also at the heart of the next show to …

Back by Popular Demand: Fatherville at the New Strands Festival

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By Elspeth Sweatman 

At last year’s New Strands Festival, six performers walked onto an empty stage in The Rueff Theater. The only sounds were the noises of a funfair, the only prop a tiny mannequin of a child. Suddenly, the child transformed into a gigantic, besuited wooden figure—the symbol of a father. Before it the other actors capered and cringed, by turns entranced or recoiling. Over the course of the performance, the actors shifted fluidly between playing boys and men, exploring the freedom and fear of each role. By the time the cast took their bows, most of the audience was in tears.

Fatherville, an elegiac, comic, and poignant ode to fatherhood, returns in a more developed state at this year’s New Strands Festival, May 17–21 at The Strand Theater. “What was organic last year,” says A.C.T. Assistant Producer Ken Savage, “we are now giving more structure.”

All the collaborators who helped create this project—from A.C.T. insiders Carey Perloff and Stephen Buescher to Bay Area ar…

Full Immersion: New Musicals at The New Strands Festival

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By Elspeth Sweatman

“Part of what’s so fun is that we don’t know what these artists are going to do,” says A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Andy Donald about two of the works-in-progress featured in this year’s New Strands Festival. “That’s exciting because it means that they are actually creating the work in the space that will eventually house it.”

Both of the musicals included in this year’s festival—Port City and Revival—were commissioned by A.C.T. specifically for The Strand Theater. But these playwrights are not only using the 283-seat mainstage as their template, but the whole of The Strand. “We wanted to create more experiential, immersive works where the audiences are not just passive consumers of art, but active, engaged participants in the physical journey of the piece,” says Assistant Producer Ken Savage.

Port City, written by Christopher Chen and The Orphan of Zhao composer Byron Au Yong, is a musical fable that investigates the psychological and philosophical questions…

Coming Together: M.F.A. Program Spring Performances

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By Elspeth Sweatman

In A.C.T.’s Conservatory, the end of the year is fast approaching. But before the first-, second-, and third-year M.F.A. Program actors scatter to summer festivals, workshops, and seminars, they are joining forces to put on three spectacular productions, collectively known as the Spring Reps. This year’s productions are: promiscuous/cities by Lachlan Philpott, The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht, and Las Meninas by Lynn Nottage.

“Spring Reps is one of my favorite times of year,” says second-year actor Peter Fanone. “It is so fulfilling to have the opportunity to see and work with fellow students from all three years. My fellow students always surprise me with aspects of themselves I had not seen or appreciated before, despite the fact that we are in class together 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.”

First-year actor Jerrie Johnson agrees. “Spring Reps are special because it’s the only time that all three M.F.A. Program classes are in production at the same ti…

Gratitude, Astonishment, and Humanity: Peter Brook at A.C.T.

By Elspeth Sweatman

When you reach director Peter Brook’s age, the distinction between useful and useless becomes clear. The argument about who Shakespeare really was? Useless. Using theater effects for their shock value? Useless. Stripping away until you are left with pure storytelling? Useful.

“Theater began with a storyteller,” says Brook. “It began with somebody often sitting in the open air or outside a temple, people gathering round and the storyteller beginning to tell his story.”

On Monday night, Brook sat down with A.C.T.’s Dramaturg Michael Paller to discuss the connection between Shakespeare and the Mahabharata, how he came up with the idea for his seminal work The Empty Space, and how to make theater that is contemporary.

Here is the full conversation.



Peter Brook’s Battlefield runs through May 21 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to learn more about Brook’s career and the Mahabharata? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A…

Creating Together: A.C.T., Ma-Yi Theater Company, and This Year's New Strands Festival

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By Elspeth Sweatman

At this year’s New Strands Festival—a week-long presentation of new theatrical pieces, works in progress, readings, and experimental works by innovative, multi-disciplinary artists—East Coast meets West Coast. A.C.T. is partnering with New York’s Ma-Yi Theater Company to present three new works by Asian American playwrights. Ma-Yi is one of the country’s leading incubators of new work shaping the national discourse about what it means to be Asian American today.

The three Ma-Yi plays that are part of A.C.T.’s inaugural New Strands Residency Program are: The Great Leap by Lauren Yee, The Man from Saigon by Don Nguyen, and Snowflakes, Or Rare White People by Dustin Chinn.

Inspired by events in her father’s life, The Great Leap by Lauren Yee centers on an American college basketball team as they travel to Beijing for a “friendship” game in the post-Cultural Revolution 1980s. Cultures clash as both countries try to tease out the politics behind this newly popular spo…