In Memoriam: Alan Stein

Friday, February 16, 2018

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

A.C.T. mourns the loss of Alan Stein, beloved Chair of A.C.T.’s Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1997 and a consummate advocate for and supporter of arts and culture across the Bay Area. A theater-loving Columbia College graduate with a distinguished career in finance, Alan first became involved at A.C.T. in the 1970s, shortly after relocating to San Francisco from New York. In the early days, he worked closely with Artistic Director William Ball to stabilize the company and orient it toward the future.

Carey Perloff and Alan Stein at A.C.T.'s Producers Circle Dinner at The Geary Theater, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Drew Altizer Photography.
In 1988, with A.C.T. facing economic challenges, Alan returned to the board, becoming chair months before the Loma Prieta earthquake. In the wake of that disaster, with The Geary in ruins, Alan pointed the way forward with the words, “The show must go on.”

Alan’s energy, persuasiveness, and financial know-how, developed during a career that included leadership roles at Goldman Sachs and Montgomery Securities, was paramount to A.C.T.’s recovery in the 1990s. He played an active role in hiring Artistic Director Carey Perloff and nurturing her creative vision, and was instrumental in the campaign to rebuild The Geary. His courage, commitment, and irreverence ushered in a new era for A.C.T. and helped stimulate the enormous growth the company has witnessed over the past two decades.

As emeritus chair, Alan served as the campaign co-chair for A.C.T.’s first endowment campaign that secured more than $30 million. Today, Alan and his wife Ruth are remembered throughout A.C.T. in the conference room at 30 Grant that bears their name, and in the Christmas Carol characters Alan and Ruth—two of the jolliest guests at the Fezziwigs’ party.

A.C.T. owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Alan, a generous and visionary leader who worked hand in hand with three artistic directors, ensured the company’s long-term financial stability, and played numerous roles across five decades of A.C.T.’s history. We will miss him enormously, and we celebrate his remarkable life.

Held Close and Buried Deep: Vietgone Arrives at A.C.T.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

The Strand Theater is ready to rock. Playwright Qui Nguyen’s hip-hop inspired, action-packed  comedy Vietgone has arrived at A.C.T. At the show’s first rehearsal, director Jaime Castañeda introduced the play to an enthusiastic room of actors, staff members, and donors, calling Vietgone “raw, unbridled theater.” “I'm always amazed when I go to a rock concert and there’s this certain level of excitement in the audience that theater is rarely able to capture,” says Castañeda. “I feel like Vietgone is one of those special stories that has music that feels alive and exciting.”

Director Jaime Castañeda at the first rehearsal for A.C.T.'s production of Vietgone.
Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
Vietgone tells the story of how Nguyen’s parents met and fell in love at a refugee camp in Arkansas after fleeing their war-torn country of Vietnam. Made up of an entirely Asian American cast, Vietgone not only brings Asian representation to the stage, but also takes on some close-to-home issues. “The way Qui’s writing debunks and flips stereotypes is hella dope,” says Castañeda. “He executes it with such intelligence and cutting wit, which is a tricky thing to do.”

Composer Shammy Dee at the first rehearsal for 
A.C.T.'s production of VietgonePhoto by Elspeth Sweatman.
Through hip-hop’s versatile styles, the music of Vietgone will reflect both the 1970s setting of the play as well as its contemporary dialogue. “Hip-hop is a very complex musical art form,” says Castañeda. “When hip-hop first started, they were sampling records from the ’60s and ’70s, so a lot of the instrumentation that you’ll hear in the show calls back to ’60s and ’70s sounds. It still feels contemporary, but some of the songs will have an older vibe to them.” Composer Shammy Dee debuted two of his originally scored songs for the room, which were received with smiles and head bobs. He explained that he and Castañeda wanted the music to support the storytelling. “Some songs are more expositional and others are the characters’ internal monologues,” says Shammy Dee, “We wanted to make the music as simple as possible while still making sure it feels full of emotion.”

Vietgone is a memory play,” says Castañeda, “but it’s also not really a memory play because it’s not Qui’s memory. He’s making this shit up. The stories our parents tell us are only pieces of what they can remember from 30 years ago. And for many cultures, our parents don’t want to tell us what happened before we were born. These stories are held close and buried deep. This play is an exploration of what happens if we were to imagine our parents young, wildly in love, and attacking each other’s faces. We’re going to stage that version of the story.”

begins at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater February 21 and runs through April 22. Click here to purchase tickets.

A.C.T.'s 2018 Sky Festival Moves and Shakes 30 Grant

Friday, February 9, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

Each year, the Master of Fine Arts Program actors bring the studios of 30 Grant to life, with a week full of student-directed, student-written, student-acted performances called Sky Festival. This year’s Sky Festival was no different: everything from dramatic classics (Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) to contemporary comedies (Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Motherfucker with the Hat) to student-devised projects (third-year M.F.A. actor Kadeem Ali Harris’s Black Masculinity) were staged for A.C.T.’s staff and friends to enjoy. 
Leonard A. Thomas and the cast of Kadeem Ali Harris's Black Masculinity. A.C.T.'s 2018 Sky Festival. Photo by Jay Yamada.
Harris’s moving piece featured six black actors—Jared C. Manders, LeRoy Smith Graham, Edward Neville Ewell, Joseph Givens II, and Leonard A. Thomas—including himself, exploring the different facets of black masculinity through movement and monologue. In one of the show’s many powerful moments, the men led all of the black women out of the audience to center stage and washed their feet in tribute to their strength and beauty. Several of the women were brought to tears by this gesture. “I'm not sure how many other graduate schools across the country would give space and time for the black men to come together and create a piece,” says Thomas. “I'm very grateful not just for the experience of sharing this piece with an audience, but also for the rehearsal process with the cast itself. Black Masculinity is an experience that I will take with me through the rest of my career and my life.”

What makes Sky Festival so unique is that it presents M.F.A. actors with the opportunity to try their hand at something new or tackle a creative challenge. They can perform a work from the canon alongside a mentor (which is what third-year actor Oliver Shirley did with A.C.T.’s Head of Movement Stephen Buescher), or direct a work of their own, like second-year actor Göran Norquist did with Sweeney Todd. No matter the show, the offices below 30 Grant's 8th and 9th floors had the privilege of listening to all the sounds of live theater for an entire week.

Here are some pictures from some of this year’s great shows.

M.F.A Program actor Oliver Shirley and A.C.T. faculty member Stephen Buescher in Waiting for Godot. A.C.T.'s 2018 Sky Festival. Photo by Jay Yamada.
M.F.A Program actors Monica Ho and Göran Norquist in Sweeney Todd. A.C.T.'s 2018 Sky Festival. Photo by Jay Yamada.
M.F.A. Program actors Jennifer Apple and Matt Monaco in The Motherfucker with the Hat. A.C.T.'s Sky Festival. 
Photo by Jay Yamada.
A.C.T.'s Master of Fine Arts Program Class of 2018 will be performing Stephen Adly Guirgis's dark comedy, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, from February 22–March 3 at The Rueff at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater. Click here to purchase tickets.

Fueling the Resistance: The First Annual Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

This past weekend, The Strand Theater opened its doors to the Bay Area, welcoming in community members for a day of free movement workshops, panels, and performances as part of the inaugural Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival 2018. For Stephanie Wilborn, A.C.T.’s Community Programs Coordinator and the festival’s co-producer, it was an unforgettable day “filled with joy, laughter, tears, and healing.”

The cast of Every 28 Hours (2018). Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
For the past two years, A.C.T. has participated with theaters in the surrounding area in a reading of Every 28 Hours, the 72 one-minute plays created in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. This year, the Education & Community Programs team wanted to see the reading evolve into a larger, community-wide event. “We saw this as an opportunity to turn the reading series into a festival where we could celebrate Black arts, Black activism, and Black culture,” says A.C.T. Community Producing Fellow and festival co-producer Nailah Harper-Malveaux.

Throughout the day and into the night, The Strand’s lobby was bustling with activity. Many festival attendees were wearing t-shirts reading “The Black Woman is God,” which were sold in the lobby as part of an exhibit by the same name, curated by artist Karen Seneferu. Leading up to the climactic Every 28 Hours plays were powerful spoken word performances by the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, drumming from Nyree Young, and a spiritual dance by Dezi Soléy. “The musical and movement performances prepared the space in a way that really got the audience in the mood to tackle some large issues in the Every 28 Hour plays,” says Harper-Malveaux.

The plays themselves—performed by members A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program, Young Conservatory, and Education & Community Programs—were moving, devastating, and shocking. Several members of the cast were moved to tears by the show’s close when names of black victims of police violence were being read. After the show, the audience split into facilitated group discussions in which thoughts and feelings about the issues and themes explored in the plays were processed. Drummer Nyree Young returned to end the night with an uplifting drum circle rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” where she encouraged the audience to join her in song. The crowd did her one better: black audience members broke out into an impromptu praise dance, embracing the joy of the moment. “It was an incredible feeling to be in a room that was celebrating us as a people and celebrating our resilience,” says Harper-Malveaux. “Art has a great ability to fuel a culture’s soul and fuel our resistance.”

To find out more about A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs, click here. Interested in getting involved with an activist group in the Bay Area? Check out this list of local organizations compiled by SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice).

A.C.T.’s Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival to Empower and Heal

Friday, February 2, 2018

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

Happy Black History Month! Says A.C.T. Community Programs Coordinator Stephanie Wilborn, February “is a time to honor, pay respects to, and take pride in our history that made us and continues to make us the beautiful, strong and resilient community we are today.” In celebration, Wilborn and A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs team are kicking off the first annual Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival showcasing local black art, culture, and activism tomorrow, February 3, from 3 to 10 pm at The Strand Theater.

Artwork for the Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival. By Kim Rhee.
The theme of this year’s festival is A Healing Experience, which will focus on resilience and joy in the face of the struggle against police brutality and racial oppression. In keeping with this theme, the festival will feature free events that aim to be uplifting and empowering, including a movement workshop that will explore hip-hop as an act of social justice and a meditation workshop inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. Additionally, there will be performances by Bay Area spoken-word artists, musicians, singers, and dancers, as well as goods and food for sale from black-owned businesses. The Strand lobby will be adorned with art pieces in an exhibit called The Black Woman Is God: Divine Revolution, curated by Karen Seneferu.

The festival will come to a close with performances from Every 28 Hours, a series of one-minute plays inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Co-created by Dominic D’Andrea of the One-Minute Play Festival and Claudia Alick of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Every 28 Hours takes its name from a study that found that statistically, a black person is killed every 28 hours by law enforcement in the United States. These performances will be presented by members of A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program, Young Conservatory, and Education & Community Programs, under the direction of Bay Area theater artist and activist Elizabeth Carter.

“I feel truly honored to be performing at this all-day, fortifying healing experience,” says performer Cheri Lynn, “Let’s heal some of the hurt together.”

All events at the Every 28 Hours Black Arts Festival are free and open to the public. Due to limited space, RSVPs for the workshops and panel discussion are required; RSVPs for the evening performances are strongly encouraged. To view the schedule and reserve a spot, click here.
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