Little Girl Blue: The Rise of Janis Joplin

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

By Shannon Stockwell 

Kacee Clanton as Janis Joplin in A Night with Janis Joplin.
Photo by Mark and Tracy Photography.
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 returned to San Francisco and auditioned for a band: Big Brother and the Holding Company. The members of the band were blown away by her gritty, soulful voice. She was hired immediately, and within six days of arriving in San Francisco, she was performing with Big Brother.

With Big Brother, Joplin’s fame skyrocketed. The band played at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 and was the only act to get an encore performance. By the end of 1967, it was making $2,500 a show, which was unheard of for a band that hadn’t yet released a full album. Cheap Thrills, featuring “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime,” would be released in 1968.

A Night with Janis Joplin runs June 7–July 2. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to learn more about Janis Joplin and the Summer of Love? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

By Elspeth Sweatman

Actor John Douglas Thompson in Long Wharf Theatre's 2012 production
of Satchmo at the Waldorf. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
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. That’s a mysterious process, because I don’t actively seek it. It’s just something that speaks to me. I also set up situations in which I have the character that I’m working on talk to other characters that I’ve worked on: Tamburlaine, Othello, Brutus Jones from Emperor Jones. I try to imagine those conversations, even if the characters are from different centuries. It helps me find that particular character’s place in the universe of the play.”

Congrats John Douglas Thompson on your Tony Award nomination! We will be cheering for you on June 11!

Single tickets for Hamlet will go on sale in August. Click here to learn more about our 2017–18 season.

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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.

A.C.T. Young Conservatory Director Craig Slaight. Photo by Kevin Berne.
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, summer programming, local and international collaborations: I remember taking in the volume of opportunity for young actors and nearly being overwhelmed. It would take me more than a few months to understand the full scope of the program.

As I dived into the program, I watched Craig cycle through his rack of hats: taking the time to talk to a parent concerned about his or her student’s future or what class he or she should take, sitting down with a faculty member to offer advice and insight on curriculum and student dynamics, trading books with coworkers, and fortifying me with iced coffees and advice. One of my first and favorite nuggets from Craig was “We do not call them children or sheep to be herded about, they are young people.”

Craig’s championing of young voices extends beyond the landscape of commissioning new and unflinching works for this community. It is palpable in the culture of the program, from the language on our website to his investment in relationships with parents and students, to his faculty orientations and how he’s curated his office library. And what greater gift can a “grown-up” give you than to believe you, validate your experience, and foster your curiosity? As someone who constantly questions their adult status, my inner teenager lit up on my first day, settling into the gray chair in his office and listening to him count the ways of this program. No ego, no pretense. Just a man who put his heart into all the pieces of his work, stem to stern.

Thank you, Craig, for 29 years of enthusiasm, dedication, and passion. We will miss you!
Emily Hanna is the Young Conservatory and Studio A.C.T. Associate.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

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.

Artwork for Battlefield and A Night with Janis Joplin.
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 play The Geary. In A Night with Janis Joplin, which runs June 7–July 2, Joplin tells a story about a female opera singer who receives a marriage proposal from an audience member. “She took him backstage after she had sung a real triumph, with all the people applauding for her, man,” says Joplin. “They were going crazy. That audience reaction blew her mind. And she asked him, ‘Do you think you could give me that?’”

Battlefield runs through May 21 and A Night with Janis Joplin runs June 7–July 2 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to learn more about the creation of these two plays? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

Back by Popular Demand: Fatherville at the New Strands Festival

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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.

The cast of Fatherville. A.C.T.'s New Strands Festival 2016. Photo by Stefan Cohen.
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 artists Basil Twist, Pascal Molat, and Sheldon B. Smith, to A.C.T. favorites Gregory Wallace and Peter Anderson—will reprise their roles.

"After throwing much joyful spaghetti at the wall last year in our quest to plumb the depths of fatherhood, we've come up with a structure for our piece that takes these bewildered dads on a more specific journey of terror and discovery,” says Perloff. “Basil has now created puppets specifically for Fatherville, including a tiny Father to mirror the ├╝ber-Dad we created last year. We're hoping to make a piece that is both intensely personal and also universal. And heartbreaking. And absurd."

Fatherville will have two performances during the festival: Saturday May 20th at 12 pm and 7:30 pm. For more information about this year’s New Strands Festival, running May 17–21 at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., click here.

Full Immersion: New Musicals at The New Strands Festival

Thursday, May 11, 2017

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.

Composer Byron Au Yong. Photo by Joe Freeman.
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 of how technology shapes our lives. It begins with a Chinese woman arriving in Port City with a product she has created and transforms into a technological American dream.

“Chris and Byron as artists are interested in using the classic medium of live theater to say something about technology today, as opposed to making a movie, television show, or web series about it. There’s something special about asking an audience to come together for a live experience to talk about life on our screens,” says Donald.

Composer Casey Lee Hurt. Photo by Randy Taradash.
The second musical, Revival, comes from the pen of Obie Award–winning playwright Lucy Thurber and The Unfortunates composer Casey Lee Hurt. This epic story of family and first love is based on Hurt’s experiences growing up in a small town in Oregon, a world where the land was imbued with history and the power of the church was strong. As the characters discover in this epic tale, it takes courage to leave and strength to stay.

At the New Strands Festival, we will only get a small taste of what these projects may blossom into. Come discover and experience them with us!

For more information about this year’s New Strands Festival, running May 17–21 at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., click here.

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

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.

Artwork for A.C.T.'s M.F.A. Program 2017 Spring Performances.
“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 time. We spend all year working only with our classmates; we get used to their working styles. But working with the other classes keeps you on your toes as a performer because it is not what you’re accustomed to."

"There is something special about putting on a polished production with actors at different stages of training," says third-year actor Emily Brown. "Speaking as a third-year M.F.A. Program actor, it's really fun to look back and remember where I was in my own development at the end of my first and second years, and to be able to engage with that energy in the rehearsal process. It's also great that these Spring Reps come after our classes have finished. It's great to take a breath, focus on one project for a little while, put on a great show, and move into the summer months with a reminder of why we all started this crazy journey in the first place."

promiscuous/cities, The Good Woman of Setzuan, and Las Meninas run May 10–14 at A.C.T.’s Costume Shop Theater (1117 Market St) and at The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater (1127 Market St). Click here to purchase tickets through our website.

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

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.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

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.

Artwork for A.C.T.'s 2017 New Strands Festival.
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 sport.

Don Nguyen was also inspired by his parent’s story. A political thriller set in 1975 Saigon, The Man from Saigon tells the story of a South Vietnamese intelligence agent who forges a complicated friendship with Richard Armitage, a charismatic US officer who would later become George W. Bush’s deputy secretary of state.

The third Ma-Yi play, Snowflakes, Or Rare White People by Dustin Chinn, is set in a non-dystopian future in which the dwindling white American population is protected by the federal government. When two of the last White Americans are brought to Nueva York’s Museum of Natural History and are “freed” by a disgruntled activist, is America ready for their return?

“These are all writers who are zeroed in on today’s American culture—its contradictions, its divisive politics, its future,” says A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Andy Donald. “We could not be more thrilled to share Lauren, Don, and Dustin’s searing, often hilarious, deeply personal, and poignant work and watch it continue to grow with this esteemed group of directors and our San Francisco audience.”

For more information about this year’s New Strands Festival, running May 17–21 at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market St, click here.
Welcome to the A.C.T. social community blog!
Join in the conversation, engage with fellow theater lovers, and enjoy amazing offers throughout the season.