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Showing posts from June, 2017

Beehives to Bra Burning: Women and Music in the 1960s

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By Elspeth Sweatman

Janis Joplin, the musician at the center of A Night with Janis Joplin, “belonged to that select group of pop figures who mattered as much for themselves as for their music,” says music journalist Ellen Wills. “Among American rock performers, she was second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator–recorder–embodiment of her generation’s mythology.” But how did the female artists who came before Joplin pave the way for her unique, iconoclastic music and image?

At the beginning of the 1960s, the airwaves were dominated by the distinctly female pop sound of girl groups. An estimated 1,500-plus groups were formed between 1958 and 1963, largely composed of young women aged 11 to 18. On the surface, it would appear that many of the songs in this genre upheld the traditional feminine values of the previous decade (chastity, modesty, demureness), but upon a closer look, there is a subversive undercurrent. Doo-wop language was often used to cover up references to sex an…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Flyman Colin Wade

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By Elspeth Sweatman

Among all the ropes and wires hanging backstage at the Geary Theater are two cords with rubber stoppers on the end. Their purpose: keep flyman and rock climbing enthusiast Colin Wade in shape. On a maintenance day between productions, we sat down with Wade to get a glimpse into the life of a flyman, the person in charge of raising and lowering (known as "flying") the various elements of the set design (curtains, walls, swings, etc).

What’s your favorite thing about being the flyman?
I love being a part of the arts and the whole tech process. It’s nice to have the responsibility of running a crew, calling my own shots, and figuring out the best way to do things. It’s great to watch everything come together and to make it all happen. Flying something in and out is its own kind of art.

One of the things that you fly in and out on a regular basis is the front curtain.
That weighs 800 pounds. And no matter how many times we do it, it’s always a challenge. Whe…

The Skivvies Are Back!

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By A.C.T. Publications Staff

Following their sold-out run this past holiday season with Holiday Roadkill, the Skivvies are bringing their unique brand of sexy and satirical musical performance back to A.C.T.'s Strand Theater for two performances on June 23 and 24. 

The Skivvies—Broadway stars Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley—are an award-winning comedy-pop duo who perform musical mash-ups of all your favorite songs on the ukulele, cello, and an array of quirky instruments . . . while stripped down to their underwear.


For Bay Area audiences looking out for the next generation of musical theater stars, check out the guests who'll be joining the Skivvies on the Strand stage: Broadway up-and-comer Matt Doyle (The Book of Mormon, Spring Awakening), Ray of Light Theatre's Courtney Merrell (The Rocky Horror Show), Marissa Joy Ganz (national tour of High School Musical), and A.C.T. favorite Lauren Hart (The Unfortunates, A Christmas Carol).

“We are thrilled to return to San Fran…

Strong Women: The Women Who Influenced Janis Joplin Part Two

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By Allie Moss

During A.C.T.’s 50th-anniversary season, strong women are navigating their way through traditionally male-oriented spaces. In A Night with Janis Joplin, running through July 9 at The Geary Theater, legendary singer Janis Joplin is joined onstage by five women who inspired her iconic voice: Bessie Smith, Odetta, Nina Simone, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin. Here is a look at the lives of James and Franklin.

Etta James’s (1938–2012) influence on America’s musical landscape is clear. Artists such as Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, and Janis Joplin all emulated James’s vocal style: rich, earthy, brassy tones that stretch from delicate high notes to bellowing low ones. James's most famous songs include “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “If I Can't Have You,” “At Last,” “Tell Mama,” and “I'd Rather Go Blind.” James won six Grammy Awards, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.



Strong Women: The Women Who Influenced Janis Joplin Part One

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By Allie Moss

During A.C.T.’s 50th-anniversary season, strong women are navigating their way through traditionally male-oriented spaces. In A Night with Janis Joplin, running through July 9 at The Geary Theater, legendary singer Janis Joplin is joined onstage by five women who inspired her iconic voice: Bessie Smith, Odetta, Nina Simone, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin. Here is a look at the first three.

Bessie Smith’s (1894–1937) distinctive throaty and full-bodied voice, knack for improvisation, and penchant for unexpected rhythms stand out as a clear precursor to the work of Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin. Joplin was so inspired by Smith that in 1970, she had a headstone made for Smith’s unmarked grave which reads “The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing.”






Janis Joplin first realized she could sing after expertly belting out a song by folk singer Odetta (1930–2008). Odetta studied opera and performed in the touring productions of Finian&…

Our Sister Janis: An Interview with Laura and Michael Joplin

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By Simon Hodgson

Among the thousands flocking to San Francisco for the Summer of Love in 1967 was the Joplin family. They had driven across the US from Port Arthur, Texas to see 24-year-old Janis perform with her new band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. For Janis’s siblings, Laura and Michael, the trip was life-changing.

As San Francisco kicks off its celebration of the Summer of Love—featuring A Night with Janis Joplin at The Geary Theater—we look back on the events of that summer from those who knew Janis best.

What was it like when your family went to San Francisco in 1967 to visit Janis?
Laura Joplin: That was the first time we’d been out of the state. We weren’t a family that traveled and we hadn’t really been out of Port Arthur, so to travel all the way across the West was incredible. To go to San Francisco and hang out with Janis was special.



What do you remember about the city?
LJ: Everything was so different: the music, the sound, the styles, the city itself. In Port…

The Summer of Love and Janis Joplin

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By Shannon Stockwell

The Monterey International Pop Festival was the event that truly kicked off the Summer of Love in 1967 and launched the career of soul singer Janis Joplin, the focus of A Night with Janis Joplin, running through July 9 at The Geary Theater.

The festival proved to be a turning point in Joplin’s career, but the organizers struggled to get her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and other San Francisco bands (including Jefferson Airplane) to agree to perform. The groups were infused with the culture of Haight-Ashbury and were against stardom, fame, and profit. They only agreed to play the festival after intense questioning about where the money was going. In the end, the festival was a huge success. A reported 90,000 people enjoyed the music and the perfect weather.

The rest of the summer was one long celebration filled with spontaneous concerts, protests, and public performances. “Every day was a parade, a procession,” says Stanley Mouse, an artist who beca…

A Revolutionary Rock Star: Janis Joplin

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By Elspeth Sweatman

Janis Joplin—the bluesy singer at the center of A Night with Janis Joplin, which opens June 7 at The Geary Theater—“belonged to that select group of pop figures who mattered as much for themselves as for their music,” says music journalist Ellen Wills. “Among American rock performers, she was second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator–recorder–embodiment of her generation’s mythology.”

Janis Joplin rejected the accepted norms of how female musicians were supposed to behave and appear; she wore her hair naturally instead of perfectly coiffed in a beehive, and wore informal clothing instead of tailored, sequined gowns.

And, most importantly, she adopted a sexual persona onstage, acting as a woman who put her own pleasure first. Through songs such as “Get It While You Can,” Joplin became the figurehead of the second-wave feminist movement. In this song, Joplin discusses the prevailing view that women should postpone pleasure (i.e. sex) until they are married…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with A.C.T.'s Head of Sound Suzanna Bailey

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By Elspeth Sweatman

Walking backstage to interview Suzanna Bailey, A.C.T.’s Head of Sound, was like entering a living room on Christmas Eve. New microphones had just come in for A Night with Janis Joplin, and Bailey was excited. Janis is an opportunity for Bailey to return to her roots in sound design. While studying theater in college, she ran sound for a punk band that brought her to the Bay Area.

As A.C.T. prepares to rock The Geary like it’s 1967, we caught up with Bailey to talk about running sound for a 1,000-seat theater, collaboration, and sweat-outs.

Is there a typical sound setup or is sound different for every single show?
For many productions, we use our rep system [the layout of a theater’s main microphones and speakers], and supplement it with specials [sound elements which are required to implement the design for a particular production]. The rep system is built around the idea that you need to be efficient with cost and time as you go from one show to th…