Last Chance to See Homefront

Thursday, August 17, 2017

By Taylor Steinbeck

Only four performances remain of the Young Conservatory’s evocative musical, Homefront. Playing at The Strand Theater until Saturday, August 19, Homefront tells the story of three siblings who flee from Germany during World War I to find new opportunities in America. Directed by Domenique Lozano, with a book by Craig Slaight and music and lyrics from Creighton Irons, the play sheds light on war’s damaging effects and the difficulties immigrants face.

The cast of A.C.T.'s production of Homefront. Photo by Jay Yamada.
The musical wrestles with weighty themes requiring maturity to perform, and the YC students have risen to the occasion. Made up of two casts with the lead actors rotating roles, Homefront has given the 26 students involved a chance to learn about a dark side of American history. Stage manager Joelle Hagen is especially impressed by how the youthful cast has taken on these complex, yet relevant issues. “It’s amazing to see the next generation of theater artists bringing us back to what storytelling is all about: education and communication,” she says.

Audience members have also been moved by Homefront. A patron said of the show, “My friend and I enjoyed all the performances, and I’d like to go again to see the other cast.”

The Kolemeir siblings (L to R): Else (Lyle Belger), Horst (Alex Cook),
and Emma (Ayra Demirovich). Photo by Jay Yamada.
Though Homefront is performed entirely by young people, Hagen believes that it will affect audiences of any demographic. “This is an incredibly timely piece, reflecting our country’s past on the current situation,” she says. “It’s an important conversation to be having with people of all ages.”

Homefront runs until August 19 at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Click here to purchase tickets. To learn more about the YC Program, click here.

Director Carey Perloff Takes on "The Hardest Play in the World"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

By Taylor Steinbeck

Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but the air in 30 Grant Avenue is alive with anticipation for A.C.T.’s 2017–18 season opener, Hamlet. Monday’s first rehearsal gathered the cast, crew, A.C.T. staff, and donors for a presentation on what A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff calls “the hardest play in the world.”


A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff at the first rehearsal for Hamlet. Photo by Brad Amorosino.
Having thought about Hamlet much throughout her education and many years of theater-making, Perloff is prepared and excited to dive deep into the consciousness of this notoriously complex play. “This is play about someone who’s thrust by circumstance into making an impossible choice” she says. “If he kills the murderer of his father, he immediately becomes a murderer himself. If he doesn’t, then he is forever the son who permitted this toxic crime to stand. There is no right answer.”

The production’s set design mirrors the murkiness of Hamlet’s ethics. Perloff and scenic and costume designer David Reynoso have envisioned a space where the political environment has literally been contaminated. “We want the atmosphere to feel dangerous and rife with weird toxic possibilities,” says Perloff. “The play is full of images of pollution. There’s this sense that everything looks good from the surface because the pollution has been paved over, but there are cracks and something rank underneath.”

Though there are ostensible parallels between the political upheaval of Hamlet’s world and our own, Perloff isn't interested in making easy equivalencies (in other words, Steven Anthony Jones’s Claudius will not be donning a blonde toupée). Instead, she hopes to capture that familiar feeling of unsettledness and let it permeate Hamlet’s climate. “We know emotionally what it feels like to live in a landscape where we’re not even clear why a leader was elected and what will happen subsequently,” Perloff says.

Actor John Douglas Thompson at the first rehearsal for Hamlet. Photo by Brad Amorosino.
In telling such a multifaceted narrative, it helps to have a world-class Shakespearean actor like John Douglas Thompson at its helm. “John has been such a beacon of excellence and commitment in the face of all odds,” says Perloff. “The chance to see this actor tackle this role is one that I just couldn’t say no to.”

Hamlet runs at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater from September 20 to October 15. Click here to purchase tickets. To see the rest of our 2017–18 season, click here.

A Farewell to Musical Theater Treasure and A.C.T. Performer Barbara Cook

Thursday, August 10, 2017

By Taylor Steinbeck

Tony Award­–winning songstress, Barbara Cook, died at 89 on Tuesday. Lauded for her crystalline lyrical soprano voice and emotional storytelling, Cook was Broadway’s star ingénue in the 1950s. From the mid-1970s, her solo shows and concert performances cemented her status as one of the leading interpreters of musical theater standards, with the New York Times naming her “the Mother Earth of the American songbook.”

Barbara Cook in 2009. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Cook appeared at A.C.T. in 2000 when her Tony Award–nominated cabaret act, Mostly Sondheim, was presented as a special New Year’s engagement. Playing at The Geary Theater for three nights, Mostly Sondheim showcased Cook’s rich vocals as she shared Stephen Sondheim’s classics with San Francisco audiences. Some of the numbers featured included “Not a Day Goes By,” “Happiness,” and “Losing My Mind.” In 2002, Sondheim told the Washington Post, “No one sings theater songs with more feeling for the music or more understanding of the lyrics than Barbara.” 

Cook’s prolific theater career spanned several decades, with her first gracing the Broadway stage for 1951’s Flahooley. She went on to win the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Marian the Librarian in the 1957 hit The Music Man. Other notable credits were Candide (1956), The King and I (1960), and She Loves Me (1963). After a 39-year absence, she returned to the Great White Way for Sondheim on Sondheim (2010). The veteran Broadway actress was honored as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2011.

Yesterday night, Broadway dimmed its marquee lights for one minute in Cook’s memory.

Teachers Go Back to the Source

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

By Simon Hodgson

The Rueff—a versatile performance space at the top of A.C.T.’s Strand Theater—is a blur of sound and motion. On a hardwood floor slightly larger than a tennis court, teachers are running and sliding. “Look at this, look at this!” yells one to her partner, pointing at a bank of cables behind a sound system. In the northeast corner of the room, another pair of teachers are racing toward the corner.


This year's Back to the Source participants discuss ideas with one another.
Photo by Thomas Moore.
The teachers are at A.C.T. for Back to the Source, a training program designed for teachers and teaching artists who use theatrical techniques in the classroom. The classes are intended to enhance teachers’ classroom skill sets, in part by reminding them of the thrill of learning. Today’s group is typically diverse, coming from as far away as Hawaii and as near as San Francisco’s Richmond district. A young guy in a green t-shirt with his hair in a bun is working with a man with side-parted, iron-gray hair. A lady in loose yoga pants and a bright pink cardigan gestures to her partner, an older guy wearing Nike shorts and a Wilford Brimley mustache.

This particular exercise is designed to practice how to capture someone’s attention and how to make anything fascinating. “One more minute!” calls instructor Matt Chapman. “You only have one more minute to share the wonders of this space.” The teachers rush pell-mell around the room, taking turns to share discoveries with their partner. Sixty seconds later, all is quiet. There are smiles from the 12 teachers, some with their hands on their knees, some gratefully exhaling. Chapman looks around at his class, eyes twinkling. “So what did you find?”

“Delight,” says one participant.
“Like I was transported.”
“It’s wonderful to get permission to feel this way.”
“Colors are brighter right now.”
“I like the idea of not know where it takes you.”

Chapman and his class sit on the hardwood floor and compare notes. “As a watcher,” he tells them, “it’s compelling. Each group that I saw was totally committed. There was an authentic quality to your engagement with your partner.”


Two teachers practice a theater exercise. Photo by Thomas Moore.
One teacher returning to Back to the Source says that she shared her new techniques last year with other educators at her school. She is not the only returning participant; several teachers in this group are on their second or third experience with the program. They come back not just to develop their classroom skills, but for the way the program revitalizes and rejuvenates them. Now they’re ready to take that energy back to their own students for the coming school year.

To learn more about Back to the Source or to apply for the program, check out our website at www.act-sf.org/backtothesource.
 
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