Showing posts from 2018

History with the Play, History with Each Other: M.F.A. Students Present Three Sisters

By Annie Sears

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) is one of the most well-known theater-makers of all time—from The Seagull (1896) to The Cherry Orchard (1904) to Three Sisters (1901), which our third-year M.F.A. students will perform next week. Rehearsals began three weeks ago, but their excitement was sparked long before that. Our M.F.A. students have a special history with this play, and their history with each other makes it the perfect selection.

Students first tasted Chekhov’s complexity their first year. In a course with former Head of Voice Jeff Crockett, they explored several Chekhov plays, but Three Sisters was their favorite. “There's something about this particular mixture of loneliness, desire, and humor—iconic traits in all of Chekhov's work—that resonated with my class,” says Caleb Lewis. “So over the last two years, we’ve subtly campaigned to put on the full show.”

“When the topic of shows came up in meetings or over email,” says Jerrie R. Johnson, “a…

Insight into Sweat: The Dramatic Appeal of Bars

By Elspeth Sweatman

Whether writing a slapstick comedy, a sci-fi action flick, or a tense family drama, writers for both stage and screen have been drawn to bars. The bar in Lynn Nottage’s Sweat (which starts previews at The Geary on September 26) is an excellent example. Most of the play takes place in a bar; it’s where mill workers spend their time between shifts. So why would Nottage—and so many other storytellers—choose this setting? What does the presence of alcohol add dramaturgically to a story?

Often nicknamed the truth-telling serum, alcohol affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex, where rational thought and decision-making occur. For storytellers, this creates moments of incredible humor—take actors Stockard Channing, Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, and Dianne Wiest howling with laughter and calling each other “witch” after downing too many midnight margaritas in the film Practical Magic (1998)—but also moments of unforgettable drama. Think of the suspense as James Bond prepare…

Upcoming M.F.A. Season: A Breadth of Genres, Styles, and Cultures

By Annie Sears

Our M.F.A. students joined us at 30 Grant three weeks ago, and they've already hit the ground running on their upcoming season. From tragedies to comedies, from classics to new works, from Russia to the woods outside ancient Athens, students will explore a wide variety of genres, styles, and cultures.

“It is a panoply of theater that will challenge and grow the students in each year of the program,” says Conservatory Director Melissa Smith. “We are especially pleased to have a lineup of five accomplished and innovative directors—all of whom identify as women, artists of color, or both—working with our students.”

M.F.A. students are equally thrilled by the season’s leadership. “It’s always great to collaborate with new artists who bring freshness to your work,” says third-year M.F.A. student William Hoeschler. “That’s why Lavina Jadhwani, Mina Morita, and Susan Soon He Stanton are amazing additions to this year.”

Jadhwani will kick off the season later this month …

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Usher Joe Mac

By Annie Sears
Joe Mac came to the Bay Area on a spur-of-the-moment road trip. It was 1978, and Joe had just completed undergrad in his home state of Pennsylvania when a friend called and said, “Pull $200 together. We’re going to Santa Cruz.” So Joe, who had never been west of the Mississippi River, spent two weeks sleeping in the back of a Volkswagen with his friend and a husky. When he first glimpsed the Pacific, Joe said, “I’m not going back. I’m starting my life here.” And he did.

For 40 years, Joe has been active in the Bay Area theater community. A member of the Actors’ Equity Association, Joe’s performed on several regional stages. He’s also house-managed at Beach Blanket Babylon and 42nd Street Moon. Most notably, he was the managing director and producing associate at Marines’ Memorial Theatre for 18 years. Now—in addition to decorating local bars and manning the Coca-Cola Fan Lot at AT&T Park—he’s an usher at the Curran, the Palace of Fine Arts, and here at A.C.T.


Insight into Sweat: Camaraderie in a Company Town

By Elspeth Sweatman
Lynn Nottage’s Sweat is set in the nonfictional town of Reading, Pennsylvania, a town built around a single steel company. These tight-knit communities have a distinct rhythm. Dominated by one industry, their days are punctuated by shift bells and post-work drinks, and their years by the economic wheel of fortune: prosperity followed by layoffs, strikes by compromises. From this rhythm comes a unique psychology that pervades the community, impacting the lives of mill workers and non-mill workers alike. Every business and every resident has some connection to the industry. Everyone is part of the cycle of boom, bust, and boom again. It is this aspect that has made the mill closures in America’s Rust Belt over the past three decades so devastating.

Riveting, jacking, stoking, drilling: these are dangerous, labor-intensive jobs. At every plant, there are the folkloric (and true) stories of someone on the job who got seriously injured—like Stan was before he began mana…

Starting to Sweat for Sweat: Cast and Crew Begin the Process with a Meet and Greet

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

Last Monday, A.C.T. took an exciting first step for the first production of our 2018–19 season: the meet and greet for Sweat. For the first time, the cast, director, and creative team gathered in the same room to celebrate the work about to begin. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon and Director Loretta Greco articulated their vision for the script, and designers explained their plan to manifest that onstage.

Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, Sweat depicts the unraveling of a small-town community built around a single steel company. In the wake of the 2008 depression, many steelworkers were laid off, and the effects were devastating on both a corporate and a human level. “The play asks how a small American city can go from being a beacon of economic prosperity to a place where 41 percent live below the poverty line,” said MacKinnon. “That’s a big, messy social science question. But it’s also a question for theater.”

Playwright Lynn Nottage spent many months in Rea…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Head of Security Oliver Sutton

By Annie Sears

Meet Oliver Sutton: US Navy veteran, published poet, competitive power-lifter, hat collector, father to three, and A.C.T.’s head of security at The Geary Theater. You can’t miss Oliver. For 20 years, he’s been at the front door, sporting a smile and sometimes a top hat. If you say hello, you’re sure to hear a story, complete with bubbling chuckles and impersonations of each character involved. We recently sat down with Oliver to enjoy some of those stories.

When did you first start working security?
When I was 16, I worked security for a music club in Annapolis. I was running around and James Brown said, “Kid, what exactly is your job?” I said, “Well, Mr. Brown, the owner says I’m a gopher. He means that I go for this, and I go for that! [Laughs] Then James Brown said, “Stop right here, son. Go back and tell the owner that James Brown said you are no longer a gopher. From now on, tell him Mr. B says you’re a glorified gopher.” Now I’ve worked lots of places—max security …

Home Improvement: A.C.T.'s 30 Grant Offices Get a Facelift

By Annie Sears

Turns out, even watching paint dry can be fun.

The hallway walls of our 30 Grant offices are usually decorated with posters from previous productions. But last week, they were stripped to prepare for a new coat of paint. With an infinite number of paint colors in existence, selecting a single shade was no simple task. It required everyone.

Staff members voted on their favorite shade by signing their name to the piece of paper below their favorite swatch. A few days of playful bickering ensued. After all, each color carried implications. Yellow, for example, is peppy and potentially inspiring, but blue might do a better job calming the stress of a busy season. Some ideas were more bold. Maybe we should paint a mural, or do a collage of colors. Why limit our fun?

But in the end, Celestia Blue proved the clear winner, earning a whopping 20 votes. The runner up only earned eight. In that sense, this was a paint-by-number project—one that proved a success.

M.F.A. Students Learn by Teaching

By Annie Sears

Mistakes may be our best teachers, but for A.C.T.’s M.F.A. students, teaching is their best teacher. Our M.F.A. students graduate not only with a degree in acting, but also with a certificate in citizen artistry—integrating who they are as artists with who they are as people and exploring ways to comprehensively impact their communities through theater.

“In choosing an M.F.A. program,” says third-year M.F.A. student Katherine Romans, “I knew I wanted the capacity to teach, to maybe direct, and to be a part of my community. So this citizen artistry is a huge part of what drew me to A.C.T.”

M.F.A. students hone their citizen artistry through teaching. In their second and third years, students develop and execute lesson plans for A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory classes and other Bay Area arts programs. These classes range from physical acting to improv to musical theater. Each course has a specialized curriculum, but they all strive towards the same goal: giving students to…

Upgrading The Geary

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

There are changes afoot at The Geary. While the theater is dark this summer, our production team is upgrading a vital but mysterious piece of infrastructure: the stage management panel. Unseen by theatergoers, this panel controls many important systems that keep our shows up and running. Its communication system enables stage managers sitting up in the booth at the top of the balcony to talk with crew members backstage and cue scenery changes. Its paging system lets them call actors to the stage in preparation for their next entrance. And its cue system provides stage manager with control of all the lights in the theater; they can dim the houselights and cue all light changes throughout the performance.

When you arrive at The Geary for Sweat—the first show of our 2018–19 season—that opens on September 26, you won’t notice anything different. But the talented artists working on our stages this season will now have the latest theatrical technology with whi…

A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon on the 2018–19 Season

By Simon Hodgson
Last month, Pam MacKinnon took the reins as A.C.T.’s artistic director and she has hit the ground running. Before the opening of the 2018–19 season, she gave us an insight into her thinking behind A.C.T.’s upcoming season.

What are you looking forward to with the season opener, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Sweat?

Sweat is a theatrical testament to the phrase, “The personal is political.” Set in the once prosperous Reading, Pennsylvania, and based on weeks of interviews by playwright Lynn Nottage, this play is about what happens to friends, family, and co-workers when the unions roll up and the American dream seems at an end. I’m excited for Loretta Greco, a director whose work I have admired for more than 20 years, to bring this future American classic to life at The Geary.

Why are you drawn to Men on Boats?

As soon as I picked up this play, I was pulled into the world created by playwright Jaclyn Backhaus. Men on Boats is based on the 1869 travelogues of John Wesley Powel…

Offstage and Outside the Theater: Reflections on YC Students’ Field Trips for Urinetown

By Annie Sears 
It’s not every day that you get to see a musical about pee, but the Young Conservatory’s current production of Urinetown provides just that. Characters dance across the stage with their legs crossed as they harmonize about their “privilege to pee” or lack thereof, having audiences howling with pee-your-pants laughter. This satire is hilarious, but it’s also deeply political and requires intellectual engagement. Characters break the fourth wall, directly asking audiences to reevaluate their views on economic disparity, police brutality, and environmental sustainability.
Director Jessica Bird wanted actors to grasp the musical’s relevance firsthand. So A.C.T.’s Education and Community Programs team organized several field trips to help students make ties between their real-life community and the community portrayed onstage.

Students partnered with GLIDE, a church that maintains several community service programs aimed at breaking the cycles of poverty and marginalizat…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Accounting Manager Sharon Boyce

By Annie Sears

Sixteen years ago, Sharon Boyce applied for a finance associate position at A.C.T. She didn’t get it, at least not right away. The general manager promised he’d call if something opened up. Boyce said, “That sounds great!” But she was really thinking, “Yeah right.”

Sure enough, six months later, A.C.T. offered her a different position: donor systems coordinator. She accepted. Having constructed props and sets throughout high school and college, she knew she wanted to be a part of a theater. Three years later, the finance position she’d originally applied for reopened. This time, she was hired.

Boyce, who was recently promoted to accounting manager, has now worked at A.C.T. for 15 years, which grants her a unique perspective on where A.C.T. has been and where A.C.T. is going.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I enjoy reconciling our accounts. It’s a lot of work because there’s so much to look through, and it sometimes takes three or four days to complete. But I…

More Than a Musical: An Interview with Urinetown Director Jessica Bird

By Taylor Steinbeck

Urinetown: The Musical—the Young Conservatory show opening at The Strand this week—is not your typical night at the theater. This Tony Award–winning musical takes place in a city controlled by the corrupt Urine Good Company where you have to pay to pee. Urinetown lampoons everything from capitalism to big industry, while backed by the sounds of Broadway-spoofing songs. We sat down with director Jessica Bird to further crack open this clever comedy.

How would you describe this show?
Urinetown is comedic satire. It hits you in the gut with how real it is and how it speaks to the state of where we are right now in this country, but it also makes you laugh about it.

What's your vision for this production?
This show will be set in a dystopian San Francisco since a lot of the themes are relevant to what’s happening in this city. There's so much economic disparity—just walk outside The Strand Theater and you'll see it. There's also the issues of water scarcit…

A Personal Connection: An Interview with A.C.T.'s New Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon

By Simon Hodgson

This month, Pam MacKinnon officially took the reins as A.C.T.'s artistic director. As she plans for our upcoming 2018–19 season, we sat down with MacKinnon to talk about her own story and what's ahead.

What are you looking forward to at A.C.T.?

Having an artistic home. I have always been a freelance director and that is a wonderful thing, hopping from project to project, accruing an artistic family along the way. But I’ve never been part of an institution, let alone a leader of an institution. So to dig into a place and really get to know an audience is very exciting to me.

What attracts you to San Francisco?

San Francisco is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city, a seat of innovation and higher learning, and a crown jewel of this country. Like a lot of American cities, it’s learning how to deal and manage and live with great new wealth next to people who are struggling and desperate. There is something very alive and thrilling in San Francisco.

You’ve been a freelan…

The Cast of Suns on Why This Play Matters Now

By Taylor Steinbeck

Over the past year, A Thousand Splendid Suns has moved audiences across Canada and at San Diego's Old Globe. But this story of three resilient Afghan women has also captivated the show's cast, some of whom have been a part of this production since its world premiere at A.C.T. in February 2017. Before Suns's limited two-week run at The Geary Theater this month, we spoke to three of the cast members to hear what this moving story means to them.

Nikita Tewani (Aziza): The stories of the country, culture, and people portrayed in A Thousand Splendid Suns are largely untold. If they are in the media, the representation is more often than not a negative one. Every time I step on that stage, I am honoring these people: women who normally don’t get to share their stories. This play shows the humanity of what’s really happening in these countries—why refugees become refugees and why they need our help. Our world needs stories like this right now. As an actress of…

A Summer of Discovery at A.C.T.: A Place to Belong and Urinetown: The Musical

By Stephanie Wilborn

The young actors in A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory (YC) and Education & Community Programs have been working hard, both inside the rehearsal room and out. Over the past few weeks, the talented casts of A Place to Belong by Marisela Treviño Orta—this year’s Collaborative Youth Arts Project, which begins performances today at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater—and Urinetown: The Musical have teamed up with organizations throughout the Bay Area to explore the complex issues in these plays and in their lives.

One of these organizations is Urban Displacement, a nonprofit research and action initiative of UC Berkeley, the University of Portland, and UCLA that maps displacement in California. In a workshop during rehearsals for A Place to Belong—which explores gentrification through the eyes of Bay Area teens—the young actors from A.C.T.’s YC, Education & Community Programs, and Destiny Arts Center created poems based on their neighborhoods and talked about their own experien…

Walking in Their Shoes: An Interview with Suns Cultural Consultant Humaira Ghilzai

By Elspeth Sweatman

For everyone on the team at A.C.T., accurately portraying Afghan culture onstage is an essential part of telling the story of A Thousand Splendid Suns. “True-to-life characters and scenes are forged from an understanding of why people act in certain ways: how their geography, culture, upbringing, and history drive their thoughts and actions,” says cultural consultant Humaira Ghilzai, who joined the Thousand Splendid Suns team for the world premiere in 2017 to help A.C.T. achieve their goal of authenticity. “The main role of a cultural consultant,” she says, “is to bring cultural literacy to a project in order to create an authentic portrayal of Afghan people, their customs, and their languages.” During the development of A Thousand Splendid Suns, we spoke with Ghilzai to get her insight into Afghan culture.

What does a typical Afghan family look like?
In general, an Afghan family consists of two parents (divorces are not very common), their children, and the childre…

From Hecuba to Suns: Director Carey Perloff’s Most Memorable A.C.T. Productions

By Michael Paller
The following blog uses excerpts from A Five-Act Play: 50 Years of A.C.T., by former A.C.T. dramaturg Michael Paller.

A.C.T. Artistic Director Emerita Carey Perloff has directed more than 50 productions that have moved, challenged, and thrilled San Francisco audiences throughout her 25–year tenure. In anticipation of her world-premiere theatrical adaptation of A Thousand Splendid Suns returning home to The Geary this week, we took a look at a few of her most memorable A.C.T. productions.

Hecuba (1998)

When Perloff asked her friend and colleague Olympia Dukakis which Greek tragedy she’d want to do at A.C.T., the answer came back quickly: Euripides’ Hecuba. In this production, Dukakis gave an overwhelming performance as the Trojan queen who exacts terrible revenge on the king of Thrace for killing her son.

A Doll's House (2004)

Paul Walsh's taut translation of the Henrik Ibsen play continued the A.C.T. tradition of new American translations of Ibsen. Perloff was…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Head Librarian Joseph Tally

By Taylor Steinbeck

Searching for a text on the Meisner technique? Wanting to read the latest Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner? Familiarizing yourself with contemporary women playwrights? Look no further than A.C.T.'s Allen Fletcher Library. Located on the 7th floor of 30 Grant Avenue, A.C.T.'s library is a hidden gem packed with books, scripts, theater-related magazines, and more. Head Librarian Joseph Tally has manned its shelves for nearly twelve years while juggling a position as director of development at San Francisco's Theatre Rhinoceros. We sat down with Tally to talk about the ins and outs of running a library for both a theater company and a graduate school.

How did you become A.C.T.'s librarian?

I was taking acting and auditioning classes at Studio A.C.T. and was making use of the library since Studio students get access to the books. A.C.T. was looking for a librarian and it ended up working out perfectly since I studied library science. 
How would you describ…

The Cast on the Radiant Return of A Thousand Splendid Suns

By Taylor Steinbeck
Since A Thousand Splendid Suns’s dazzling world premiere at The Geary Theater as part of A.C.T.’s 2016–17 season, director Carey Perloff’s production has continued to shine across the globe. This epic and heart wrenching story has emotionally affected audiences of all kinds from Canada's Grand Theatre London and Theatre Calgary to San Diego's The Old Globe. Before Suns makes a return to its theatrical home this week, we spoke to three members of the original cast about taking the show on tour and reprising their roles at the place where it all began.

Jason Kapoor (Abdul Sharif, Jalil, Wakil): The response we got in Canada and San Diego was very positive. In Calgary, there is a large refugee population and in San Diego the military presence was very apparent, but in both locations there was an understanding that the story cuts across culture, race, and region. The story may be set in Afghanistan but everyone can relate to it.

It feels surreal to be back. I ha…