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Showing posts from May, 2018

Meet the Actors and Characters of A Walk on the Moon

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By Taylor Steinbeck

In just a few weeks, A.C.T.'s world-premiere musical, A Walk on the Moon, will land on the Geary stage, and with it comes fresh faces, original characters, and new songs for San Francisco audiences to enjoy for the very first time. We caught up with some of the actors in Moon to get to know their characters.

Brigid O’Brien (Alison Kantrowitz): Alison is a fiery teenager. She's fun to portray because she has a lot of emotions—anger, excitement, passion—I feel like I can relate to her in that way. Also, she’s close to my age, which helps. Sometimes in stories with young people, writers try to dumb them down, but I think our book writer, Pamela Gray, has done an amazing job of creating honest human emotions for this character. Teenage angst is so real!
Jonah Platt (Marty Kantrowitz):
 Marty is the patriarch of the Kantrowitz family. He’s a hardworking TV repair man who lives for his family. His relationship with Pearl is very complicated. They got pregnant on th…

A Recap of the 2018 New Strands Festival

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By Taylor Steinbeck
Last weekend's third-annual New Strands Festival was four full days of exciting new works read aloud for the first time, festivalgoers mingling and moving to the sounds of female DJs, and audiences rising to their feet. The Strand Theater was packed with San Franciscans and theater-lovers ready to be wowed, and the artists behind the new plays rose to the challenge. From emotional coming-out stories such as Thao Nguyen's Bend with Me and Dipika Guha and Jeremy Cohen's Malicious Animal Magnetism to larger-than-life epics such as Ngozi Anyanwu's Nike, Or We Don't Need Another Hero, this year's festival was one to remember. Here are some of the highlights:



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A Walk on the Moon Lands at A.C.T.

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By Taylor Steinbeck
For the first rehearsal of A.C.T.'s world-premiere musical A Walk on the Moon, 30 Grant studios took a trip back in time to the summer of 1969. “This was a time when the world was moving,” said director Sheryl Kaller, addressing the room of Moon creatives and A.C.T. staff members. The musical tells the story of Jewish housewife Pearl Kantrowitz, who undergoes a personal transformation after meeting a free-spirited traveling salesman. With her newfound liberation, Pearl learns how to love freely, dance like no one’s watching, and defy society’s rigid gender roles. “Pearl was my mother. She has the look my mother had in her eyes,” said Kaller.
Fueling the revolutionary spirit of the era, music director Greg Kenna and Tony Award–nominated vocal arranger AnnMarie Milazzo immediately got the cast on its feet to record the musical’s big Woodstock number. The aim was to record a huge soundscape for The Geary to create the illusion of 400,000 Woodstock attendees rockin…

Getting to the Deep Stuff: The Music of Father Comes Home

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By Taylor Steinbeck

For playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, music isn’t just a medium she embraces in her art—it informs the very framework of her life. Growing up in a musical home, she and her siblings jitterbugged to their mother’s favorite jazz standards and belted out Puccini alongside their opera-loving father. These musical forms—along with the blues and show tunes, among others—have stayed with Parks and have influenced how she writes her plays. Embodying the playwright’s lyrical writing style, Father Comes Home from the Wars has a musicality that recalls the past while retaining emotional immediacy, making it intricately layered and deeply personal.

A blues musician herself, Parks composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the songs in Father Comes Home. Music is a part of Parks’s makeup as an artist; whether it lives in the rhythm of the dialogue or the construction of the narrative, it seeps into most of her work. “All my writing is more like songs,” said Parks in an interview wi…

Making Myths: An Interview with Father Comes Home Director Liz Diamond

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By Simon Hodgson
When the first time director Liz Diamond picked up a script by Suzan-Lori Parks, she was smitten. “I fell in love with her work,” says Diamond, “with the stories she was telling, with her voice as a writer, and with Suzan-Lori herself—this blazingly smart, fierce, funny, vibrant, young artist.” In 1989, Diamond directed Parks’s Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom at Brooklyn Arts and Cultural Association (BACA) Downtown, launching a partnership that has lasted 30 years. As she prepared to direct Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) at A.C.T., the chair of directing at Yale School of Drama spoke to us about the images that have inspired her design, her collaboration with the playwright, and why Parks’s play matters now.
What was your initial reaction to Parks’s work?

The playwright Mac Wellman sent me her play Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom. As I began to read, my understanding of dramatic structure was blown away. Here was a…

Bigger and Bolder: The 2018 New Strands Festival

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By Taylor Steinbeck

The Strand Theater is ready to rock. Next week brings the third annual New Strands Festival and with it comes pop music, Afrofuturist titans, and staged readings of fierce new plays. “The 2018 artists are new American voices with global visions and global appetites,” says A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Andy Donald. “The festival is still going to be about San Francisco, but this year, it’ll be about bringing the world to our city.”
This year, A.C.T. is partnering with SPACE on Ryder Farm to develop presentations of two new works for the 2018 New Strands Residency. Located on a working farm in Brewster, New York, SPACE is a nonprofit artist residency program that has become “one of the leading curators of the next generation of new work,” says Donald. Representing SPACE is book writer Emily Kaczmarek, who will be bringing the Untitled Tegan & Sara Musical to The Rembe, and playwright Ngozi Anyanwu with her epic play Nike, or We Don’t Need Another Hero. Kaczm…

The History Behind Father Comes Home: Black Americans in the Civil War

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By Elspeth Sweatman and Simon Hodgson
As soon as the first shots rang out on April 12, 1861, the American Civil War was classified, glorified, and romanticized as a white man’s war. The voices of the nearly four million Black Americans, more than 90 percent of whom were enslaved, were erased. It is their voices that playwright Suzan-Lori Parks re-earths in Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), bringing us face to face with a painful, complicated, and shameful aspect of America’s history, one with which we are still coming to terms.
Like Parks’s protagonist, Hero, many enslaved Black men were forced to accompany their owners from the cotton field to the battlefield. Up before dawn, body servants had to polish boots, mend uniforms, clean weapons, forage for food, and cook meals. Throughout all of this, these enslaved men had no agency. Even in uniform, their lives were a never-ending ordeal of surviving the cruelty, humiliation, and brutality of white men.

While it was the…

A.C.T.'s M.F.A. Program Performs Two Powerful Plays in Repertory

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By Taylor Steinbeck
Next week, A.C.T.'s first- and second-year M.F.A. Program actors take to the stage to perform two larger-than-life plays about resistance and vengeance: Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega and The Bacchae of Euripides by Wole Soyinka. Directed by Domenique Lozano and Stephen Buescher, respectively, these complex works were chosen to challenge the program's emerging actors. We spoke to some of the actors to find out how this experience has stretched their skills as performers and pushed them out of their comfort zones.
Avanthika Srinivasan (Laurencia in Fuente Ovejuna): This play is emotionally and physically challenging, but Domenique is great about making sure that everyone is safe in our conversations about rape and trauma. She makes sure that everything stays in the rehearsal room. If we’ve had an emotionally heavy day, she makes sure that we take collective breaths and check in, so that this story isn't weighing on anyone outside of the room. Initially, i…

The Life and Work of Father Comes Home Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks

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By Elspeth Sweatman
Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is a force that refuses to be contained. She is a lover of jazz and opera, William Faulkner and William Shakespeare, Roots and Downton Abbey. Her beaming smile, booming laugh, and rhythmic voice draw you in. She is fiercely intelligent, puckish, meticulous.
Parks was born on May 10, 1963, in Fort Knox, Kentucky. From an early age, Parks was an energetic storyteller, but it wasn’t until she was in a college writing class taught by novelist James Baldwin that the idea of being a playwright crossed her mind. Baldwin saw how animated Parks was when she was reading her work for the class, and suggested she try writing plays. “And I was like, ‘What the fuck? Plays?’ I hated theater,” said Parks. “Just fake people doing bullshit. But James Baldwin said try it, so there I was.”

In 1986, Parks moved to New York City, where she temped as a paralegal and searched for a home for her work. On a subway ride home, Parks approached Village Voice theater c…