Showing posts from 2018

Old Friends, New Friends: Actor Sharon Lockwood on Returning to A Christmas Carol

By Elspeth Sweatman and Annie Sears

Christmas may have passed, but the holiday spirit is still thriving here at A.C.T. Many members of the A Christmas Carol cast and crew have made this performance an integral part of their holiday tradition, including actor Sharon Lockwood, who plays Mrs. Dilber and Mrs. Fezziwig. Lockwood has performed at A.C.T. for nearly 30 years, including 14 seasons of A Christmas Carol. We sat down with Lockwood to hear more about what it’s like to integrate a familiar role into an ever-changing cast.

How does it feel to return to the same role every year? Like getting in touch with an old friend? 
Old friends? Yes! It's so nifty to play two wildly different characters back and forth in the course of a show, even changing make-up in between. Dominique [Lozano], our director, is always coming up with ways to fine-tune and tell the story as if for the first time. With that, the show always feels vital. It's a life-affirming place to be for the holiday seas…

Bringing the Ghost of Christmas Past into the Present

By Mads Leigh-Faire

From the grid of The Geary descends a mirage in white—the Ghost of Christmas Past. Perched on a trapeze swing, this spirit almost appears to glow. What the audience in The Geary won't know is that, like the varying adaptations of Dickens's classic novella, the costume for this ghost continues to evolve for a new generation.

When A.C.T. mounted this adaptation in 2005, designing the costume for the Ghost of Christmas Past posed an unusual challenge. In the original book, says A.C.T. Costume Director Jesse Amoroso, the Ghost is described in an ethereal but contradictory way: old and young, worn-down and sprightly. The Ghost is depicted as androgynous, says Amoroso, and like a candle in constant flux. Their garb is described as wintry and yet light.

Costume Designer Beaver Bauer's vision for the character featured a Ghost in white and pale gray, wrapped in soft spring vines adorned with fresh flower bulbs. Atop their head sat a tall crown made of lights, …

Inspired by the Arts: Meet A.C.T. Prospero Society Member Anthony Alfidi

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

A call to action, to most magazine readers and television watchers, is a familiar sales technique—inspiring people to take the next step toward supporting a cause or campaign. But for 45-year-old US Army Reserve officer Anthony Alfidi, the call to action was literal.

It came in early 2009, when Alfidi was called up by the US Army for action in Iraq. Before being mobilized for nine months in the Middle East in a military logistics unit, the army officer put his affairs in order. The process prompted him to consider the organizations he valued most, including A.C.T.

Alfidi wrote A.C.T. into his will, becoming a member of the Prospero Society—a special group of theater-lovers whose members have committed to support A.C.T. either through a bequest or a living trust. “I’d like my estate to benefit as many people as possible,” he says.

For arts lover Alfidi, adding A.C.T. to his planning was natural. Born and raised in Sacramento, he was inspired by the perfo…

A Good Old Coat: Actor Cindy Goldfield on Returning to A Christmas Carol

By Elspeth Sweatman and Annie Sears

A Christmas Carol is a classic story, one many of us know well. But actor Cindy Goldfield may know it best. She's played or understudied all the adult female roles in A.C.T.’s adaptations—from Mrs. Fezziwig to Mrs. Cratchit to the Ghost of Christmas Present. She most often plays Charitable #1, a role she loves because of its dynamic story arc. As Goldfield prepared to return to this cherished character, she shared about how the often-told story retains its sense of newness.

How does it feel to return to the same role year after year?
It feels like a good old coat. It’s the same role, but it's magical how different it feels year to year. The sets, text, costumes, lighting, sound, people, and director may be close to exactly the same, but somehow it always feels fresh. Partly, it’s because this story is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago. The world is as polarized and troubled as it was in Dickens’s time. It also feels fresh because D…

How the Christmas Carol Team Create Indoor Snow

By Mads Leigh-Faire

If you find yourself in The Geary Theater anytime during the run of A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol, you may find yourself in an Arctic flurry (though you won’t need to bundle up to deal with this snow).

A.C.T. is lucky to host a version of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol where snow falls from the theater’s rafters. Do we cut a hole in the ceiling of The Geary and let actual snow fall on the audience? Do we hire Jack Frost?

As impressive as that would be, the real answer is even more magical. Four years ago, A.C.T.’s backstage crew took on a huge challenge for Carol: making snow fall onstage. The snow could not be made out of anything water-based, as it would make the stage slippery for actors and could damage costumes, set pieces, or lighting and sound equipment. Painting snow in a set would work but does not create the 3-D effect of real snowfall.

After researching how other theaters in the past had approached their blizzard of a problem, A.C.T’s scene shop found th…

We Broke Many Oars and Most of the Ten Commandments: The Famous 1869 Expedition Staged in Men on Boats

By Elspeth Sweatman

Four boats. Ten men. Ninety-nine days. One thousand miles. John Wesley Powell’s expedition through the canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers—which Playwright Jaclyn Backhaus has staged in Men on Boats—has gone down in history as one of the defining heroic narratives of the American West. Yet, when he and his crew set off from Green River Station in the Wyoming Territory on May 24, 1869, they were unknown, and more hodgepodge than heroes. No one—except for Powell—had any river-running experience. The expedition had no federal funding, and there was very little attention from the press.

As the explorers looked downstream on that first day, they wondered just what they had gotten themselves into. Would they encounter waterfalls taller than Niagara or boulders the size of houses? Would their days be filled with a never-ending onslaught of rapids or become a tedious slog through almost still water? And looming in the back of their minds was the question which no on…

Living in Extended Time: Second-Year M.F.A. Students Prepare a Musical Revue

By Annie Sears

“Music is living in extended time,” says Milissa Carey, who teaches singing in our M.F.A. Program. Music slows us down, demanding that we move at its pace and no faster. It cycles through choruses, asking us to reflect on repeated words and phrases. It activates our emotions in ways that spoken words can’t, and it unites us as we slow down and reflect together.

Our second-year M.F.A. students are immersed in this hyper-emotive world, preparing a musical revue entitled Fascinating Rhythms: Jazz and Blues on Broadway. Directed by acting instructor Darryl V. Jones, this revue explores how early-20th-century African American music changed the name of the game for musical theater at large.

Jones has selected pieces for each of his students that will both suit and challenge them. M.F.A. student Jeff Wittekiend will sing “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” from the 1930 musical revue Americana. “That show was very up-front about its pro-labor sentimentality,” says Wittekiend. “Th…

High Fives for Fifth Graders: Bessie Carmichael Students Perform at The Geary

By Annie Sears

Every year, 91 schools bring a total of 5,000 students to A.C.T. stages as part of our Student Matinee program (SMAT), which provides steeply discounted tickets to student-only performances. Local music and theater teacher Peter Sroka takes it a step further; not only does he bring 70 fifth-grade students from Bessie Carmichael PreK-8 School/Filipino Education Center to an annual SMAT, but he also leads them in a pre-show performance. At a Christmas Carol SMAT this week, students will stage one of these mini-musicals, which Sroka writes himself. He tailors the songs and comic scenes to the play’s themes. “It’s a chance for students to engage with the text,” says Sroka, “to think about the different layers of a show.”

Sroka combines many of his talents in leading these performances. He has a master’s degree in international education from Harvard and he’s acted on stages in Los Angeles and here in the Bay Area, including the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and 42nd Street Moo…

A.C.T. Welcomes Associate Conservatory Director Peter J. Kuo

By A.C.T. Publications Team 

Peter J. Kuo is a director, producer, writer, and educator focused on raising the visibility of marginalized communities. As social justice programs coordinator at The New School, he founded the NSD: Affinity Groups program and was involved with several EDI initiatives. He is the co-founder of Artists at Play, a Los Angeles Asian American Theatre Collective. As a director, he has worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, East West Players, South Coast Rep., Geffen Playhouse, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Leviathan Lab, Ma-Yi Theater Company, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, and others. He was recently named one of Theatre Communications Group's Rising Leaders of Color.

We are so excited to have you at A.C.T., Peter! What drew you to this role? 
I had just received my MFA in directing from The New School when I heard from A.C.T.’s new artistic director, Pam MacKinnon, who I’ve known for nearly six years. She knew that I…

Crew, Ensemble, Family: Actor Sarita Ocón Shares Her Men on Boats Experience

By Annie Sears

DUNN: So what should we name that mountain?

SUMNER: You have an idea?

DUNN: I have a few ideas! . . .
- Dunn Mountain
- Mount Dunn
- Craggy Range
- Volcano of Dunn

POWELL: So you want to name it after yourself?

DUNN: No, there’s Craggy Range, that has nothing to do with me.

Men on Boats is full of bold characters, including the strong-willed, recognition-seeking William Dunn, played by Sarita Ocón. “He’s an individual who strategizes, plans, and does his best to execute goals while keeping the greater interests of the group in mind,” says Ocón. “But sometimes his impatient nature gets him in trouble.” Ocón stepped in when another actor had to step out, and though she hopped aboard late, she’s found great joy in joining the crew. We spoke with Ocón to hear more about being a part of an ensemble.

What have been your favorite aspects of the Men on Boats experience?
I never could have imagined the opportunity to tell a Manifest Destiny narrativ…

A Mini King Lear: Actor James Carpenter on Preparing for A Christmas Carol

By Elspeth Sweatman and Annie Sears

The 12 days of Christmas? For actor James Carpenter, it’s more like the 12 years of A Christmas Carol. This will be his 12th year gracing the Geary stage as tightfisted Ebenezer Scrooge. Carpenter has frequented A.C.T. stages for nearly 20 years, from Glengarry Glen Ross (2001) to Rock ’n’ Roll (2008) to Heisenberg (2018), and he’ll be playing Charlie in Edward Albee’s Seascape this coming January. But first, he returns to Scrooge. We recently sat down with Carpenter to hear about his intimate knowledge of this iconic character.

How does it feel stepping back into the role of Scrooge? Does he feel like an old friend?
I don’t know that I’d call Scrooge an old friend. A mutual combatant, perhaps. A role I know I’m going to have to gird my loins for and ready myself to take on. This year, Anthony Fusco is bearing the brunt of the load because I will be in rehearsals for Seascape a bit after we open Carol. I know the kind of stamina and strength—with whi…

Behind the Scenes: Our Costume Shop Crew Prepares for A Christmas Carol

By Annie Sears

Fifty actors, more than 1,000 costume items, and immeasurable excitement. This will be the 42nd year that our Costume Shop crew has crafted the onstage kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, and textures that is A.C.T.'s Christmas Carol, and the process is well underway. Over the last few weeks, each actor has visited our Costume Shop for a personal fitting.

Actors may have begun developing their character psychologically, but with the addition of a costume, they get a sense of how their character feels physically. From dainty earrings to the intricate texture of the Ghost of Christmas Past’s sleeves, our costume shop crew makes sure everything fits perfectly and that the actors have the range of motion needed to portray their character.

The duration of each fitting ranges from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the actor’s number of costume changes. Some actors, such as third-year M.F.A. student Jerrie R. Johnson, will wear four entirely different costumes in a single perfo…

What You Won't See Onstage: A Conversation with Men on Boats Props Designer Jacquelyn Scott

By Annie Sears

Men on Boats is pure fun, asking actors and audience members to pretend, laugh, and play together—from dangling off the edge of a cliff to eating mealy apples around a campfire. Props Designer Jacquelyn Scott leaned into the sense of playfulness, deciding that some props would be physically present onstage while others would be mimed. “The lack of a physical prop really encourages the audience to use their imagination, and jump in on the action,” says Scott. “The swells and rapids on this daring journey down the Grand Canyon are created by both actor and audience member—it's melodramatic and exciting and fun!” We recently sat down with Scott to hear more about how removing something actually adds to the storytelling in Men on Boats.

How did you decide which props would be present and which would be mimed?
We wanted to find a balance between the set, props, and boats that gave just enough information, but really let the audience stretch their imagination. We introduce…

Rereading the Book, Revisiting the Role: Actor Anthony Fusco on Preparing for A Christmas Carol

By Elspeth Sweatman and Annie Sears

The holiday season is a time of traditions: hot chocolate and candy canes; humming the same tunes and baking the same treats; feasting and exchanging gifts with family and friends. For some—such as actor Anthony Fusco—A.C.T.’s Christmas Carol is a large part of the holiday ritual.

Fusco is an A.C.T. regular, having appeared in over 35 mainstage productions. He’s been involved with A Christmas Carol for the last 17 years, first playing Bob Cratchit in the Dennis Powers and Laird Williamson adaptation. After A.C.T. transitioned to Paul Walsh and Artistic Director Emerita Carey Perloff’s adaptation, James Carpenter assumed the role of Scrooge and Fusco was his understudy. “That first year, I went on when Jim got sick, having never rehearsed the role onstage!” says Fusco. “That was exciting!” The role is demanding, as Scrooge never leaves the stage. So Fusco and Carpenter now share the part. We recently sat down with Fusco to hear about what it’s li…

Invention and Discovery: An Interview with Men on Boats Director Tamilla Woodard

By Simon Hodgson

For Men on Boats Director Tamilla Woodard, the audience’s experience is her benchmark. “When theater is successful,” she says, “we laugh, we cry, we forget where we’ve been. That’s what I’m after.” Woodard is rapidly developing a reputation as a director who really draws audiences into her stories, whether in immersive works staged in hotel rooms or on proscenium stages such as A.C.T.’s Rembe Theater. As Woodard prepared for rehearsals, we spoke with her about the voyage of exploration in Men on Boats.

What makes Men on Boats a show for a Bay Area audience?
The Bay is still a frontier, not only across the physical environment, but also the political and social justice environments. It’s a place of adventure, a place where people find unknown territory, and a place where movements start. It’s the perfect city for this play.

How is Playwright Jaclyn Backhaus shifting the audience’s perspective for adventure tales such as Powell’s?
Often, hero stories have been the terr…

When Truth Is Out of Fashion: Christine Adaire Directs M.F.A. Students in The School for Scandal

By Kayla Minton Kaufman

A world where truth is questioned, lives are manipulated by lies, and virtue is unfashionable—no, this isn’t today’s American society, but the 18th-century London high society of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. A.C.T.’s Head of Voice Christine Adaire is directing her own steampunk-infused adaptation, which our second-year M.F.A. students will present November 8–17. In this classic comedy, Lady Sneerwell and Joseph Surface spread lies to ensnare their loves, the Teazles fight for power within their marriage, while Sir Oliver uses disguises to reveal truth. But when society is built on a web of lies, can the truth be untangled? We sat down with Director Christine Adaire to hear more.

What drew you to direct The School for Scandal?
I’m very concerned about this moment in time, this post-truth era, with different versions of truth and alternative facts. A lot of this play is about gossip, rumors, and people who spread lies for entertainment and …

Reimagining Ourselves: A.C.T.’s Director of Dramaturgy and New Works Talks Men on Boats

By Joy Meads 

On the first day of rehearsal for Men on Boats, sound designer Kate Marvin played a sample of the music she was creating for the show. She had vividly captured the iconic sound of western adventure familiar from a thousand movies and television shows. The stirring rhythms and soaring strains called up memories I didn’t know I still held inside me: tales of audacity, strength, courage, and the heroic acts of rugged men. These stories helped shape my earliest ideas of leadership, tenacity, and the indomitable American spirit. I suspect many of you can relate.

The heroes of these stories were, of course, inevitably male and relentlessly white, and I later came to understand the narrow and contorted view of reality they offered. With a few, notable exceptions, people of color were erased, flattened, or vilified, and rigid, binary gender roles were scrupulously maintained. On the first page of the script for Men on Boats, playwright Jaclyn Backhaus challenges us to reimagine…

Dare to Rock the Boat

By Hannah Clague, Education & Community Programs Fellow

On the first page of her play Men on Boats, playwright Jaclyn Backhaus gives a note on casting: “The characters in Men on Boats were historically cisgender white males. The cast should be made up entirely of people who are not. I’m talking about racially diverse actors who are female-identifying, trans-identifying, genderfluid, and/or non-gender-conforming.”

In creating an event to accompany A.C.T.’s mainstage production of Men on Boats, we in A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs department wanted to reflect Backhaus’s vision. Just as the playwright created a world in which actors from a variety of genders are given voice to tell John Wesley Powell’s story, we wanted to produce an event that provided a space in which people of a variety of genders could tell their own.

I remember sitting in Mrs. Ross’s fifth-grade US History class, flipping through the pages of our History Alive! textbooks (cue my classmates…

Small Stage, Grand Canyon: How Did Men on Boats Scenic Designer Nina Ball Do It?

By Annie Sears

Men on Boats is a play in all senses of the word. It plays with traditional gender roles. It asks actors to play historical figures they’re not, and it asks audiences to play along. For Scenic Designer Nina Ball, it started by playing with paper. We recently sat down with Ball to hear about the challenge and triumph of transforming the limited Strand stage into the vast Grand Canyon.

What does your design process look like?
My design process follows a general shape that works for me, but has variations show to show. There is usually a lot of research followed by sketching, floor plans, and 3D modeling. A scale model usually follows, along with all the design drawings. But sometimes, like with Men on Boats, I go straight to a physical model. We wanted to play with the moving walls, so I did a lot of ripping of paper and playing.

For Men on Boats specifically, where did you find inspiration?
Much of my inspiration came from the Grand Canyon itself. It’s so amazingly beauti…

The Blend for Blood: Behind the Scenes of Hookman

By Annie Sears

Stage blood: one of those special effects that’s entirely disgusting, yet entirely fascinating. The Young Conservatory’s production of Lauren Yee’s Hookman incorporates a lot of stage blood, and Devon LaBelle, head of the prop shop at San Francisco State University, has concocted the perfect recipe. LaBelle first made this mixture for Hookman’s world premiere at Z-Space in 2015, and Special Effects Designer Jenny Cedillos is resurrecting it for our production. Blood may be the result of injury, but this blend is entirely harmless—even edible! So how do they do it?

1/4 cup beet powder 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum 2 quarts of waterInstructions 
Sift dry ingredients together. Slowly add dry powder mixture to water, stirring continuously to avoid any lumps. Refrigerate for up to one week. If you’re looking for thicker blood sprinkle in more xanthan gum until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Incorporate it onstage! Want to “eww” over th…

Blood, Gore, and More: An Interview with Hookman Director Allie Moss

By Annie Sears

As Halloween approaches, the Young Conservatory is preparing something spooky: Lauren Yee’s psychological thriller Hookman. Director Allie Moss, who also serves as A.C.T.’s Literary Manager and Artistic Associate, describes the show as “a slasher comedy about trauma.” It’s a coming-of-age-story for Lexi, who has just moved away to college and experienced some pretty crazy events—like a lunatic running around and slashing girls’ throats. We sat down with Moss to hear about this thrilling and thought-provoking play.

What draws you to this script?
The story centers on a 17-year-old college freshman, and we don’t often see stories with a young woman as the central character. Her story is important, and it’s written in the vernacular of young women. It uses language that often gets dismissed or coded as informal or unimportant. That’s very attractive to me. The script also offers a really interesting perspective on trauma. It explores trauma as something that’s …

Sharing the Stage & Sharing a Home

By Annie Sears

It’s a big week for the Anderson-Gnapp family. Rod Gnapp is currently performing on The Geary as Stan in Sweat, which closes Sunday. His wife Arwen Anderson will soon grace The Strand as Goodman in Men on Boats, which begins previews tomorrow.

Both Gnapp and Anderson are A.C.T. veterans. You may have seen Anderson most recently in Heisenberg (2018) or Gnapp—a graduate of A.C.T.’s M.F.A. Program—in The Realistic Joneses (2016). They met while working on Magic Theatre’s 2009 production of Mauritius, directed by Loretta Greco, who also directed Sweat. Later that year, they were cast in another play at Magic called Mrs. Whitney. Gnapp started flirting with Anderson—who was playing his character’s fifth wife—during that show, and they’ve been together ever since. Last summer, they performed together in Marin Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet as Gertrude and Claudius, and their four-year-old son Rowan was a consistent rehearsal presence, romping through the outdoor amphitheater as…

Performing Their Authentic Selves: Third-Year M.F.A. Students Prepare a Cabaret

By Annie Sears

In crafting this year’s M.F.A. productions, Conservatory Director Melissa Smith promised “a panoply of theater that will challenge and grow our students.” Third-year actors are seeing that promise come to fruition. They recently explored complex, serious characters in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and next week, they’ll explore a different kind of performance, a performance that doesn’t require a character: musical cabaret.

“Music is so primal,” says Avanthika Srinivasan. “It’s ingrained in our human nature. It’s how we express emotions, communicate, and connect with each other. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking to be emotionally vulnerable, but as actors, we’re always trying to practice being vulnerable.”

“Preparing a cabaret is about coming forward with myself alone,” says Carlos Andrickson. “It’s a very exciting opportunity to show our audiences who I am outside my actor craft.”

Not only will M.F.A. students perform as their authentic selves, but they’ll also perform m…