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Showing posts from 2019

The Holiday Spirit: Fellows Decorate the Geary

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By Claire L. Wong
As you walk into the Geary Theater to experience the holiday magic of A Christmas Carol, you may marvel at the sparkling decorations throughout the theater. How did all those wreaths get up there? It’s an A.C.T. tradition that each class of fellows participate in decorating the Geary, and this year was jubilant as ever. With holiday cheer, boxes of glittering decorations, and a little elbow grease, the 2019–20 Fellows Cohort had the perfect recipe for trimming the tree in Fred’s Lounge and wrapping garlands around the stairwell railings.

Some of the 2019–20 Fellows in the Geary Theater. Photo by Amy Dalba. With fellows working in such varied departments throughout the company, gathering together to decorate, drink hot cider, and catch up is a welcomed winter event. Outside of decorating and their individual duties, the 2019–20 Fellows Cohort has also been hard at work preparing for the upcoming production of Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties by Jen Silverman Mar…

A.C.T.’s Prospero Society Creates New Award

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By Simon Hodgson
“They call year two the pressure-cooker year,” says Master of Fine Arts Program actor Allen Darby. “When you move from being a first-year MFA student to the second year, the gloves are off.” Dressed in loose-fitting clothes and with hair tied up with an elastic band, the second-year actor has just come from a dance class. With only 60 minutes to talk and eat lunch before class starts up again, the life of an MFA student is a hectic one.

“The first year was more exploratory,” says Darby. “Now we’re honing what we’ve learned. Our work is under a microscope.” Darby is the first recipient of A.C.T.’s Prospero Society Scholar Award, one of several awards given to MFA actors. “It means a lot because it was given for artistic talent and work ethic. It was a nice way to start the year.”

The cast of A.C.T.’s MFA Program production of Sense and Sensibility (2019). Photo by Alessandra Mello.
This new award is supported financially by the members of A.C.T.’s Prospero Society, a gr…

A.C.T. Teaching Artists Inspire Community

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By Claire L. Wong 

“Theater is really about connection,” says A.C.T. Community Programs Manager Stephanie Wilborn. “We can’t do it alone.” For over a decade, Wilborn has been working with community arts organizations, using theater and social justice as a platform to give voice to those who are often overlooked or underrepresented onstage. Wilborn’s work with Larkin Street Youth Services is just one of the partnerships A.C.T. is building with nonprofits throughout the Bay Area, not just this holiday season but throughout the year. 
A.C.T. teaching artist Radhika Rao and A.C.T. Community Programs Manager Stephanie Wilborn speaking at Larkin Street Youth Services' 2019 Performing Arts Night. Photo by Dace James.
Larkin Street Youth Services is the largest provider of housing, healthcare, employment, and education services to young people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. This summer and fall, Wilborn and teaching artist Radhika Rao (who has worked as a teaching artist with A…

Carol Celebrates the Geary Theater Family

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By A.C.T. Publications Staff
Coming home for the holidays is a multi-generational affair for the cast of A.C.T.'s A Christmas Carol. Since 2005, this adaptation of the seasonal classic has united actors from the Young Conservatory, the Master of Fine Arts Program, and professionals on the Geary stage. It is crafted to showcase a variety of experience, and has roles for actors from an elementary school student to an A.C.T. veteran like Ken Ruta, who was part of A.C.T.’s original acting company in 1967. 
To make the familial bonds as strong as possible, the YC and MFA Program actors spend a week working together before rehearsals for A Christmas Carol start. During this time, each YC actor is paired with an MFA actor who guides them through the ins and outs of a professional rehearsal room, the bustle of backstage, and the bright lights of the Geary Theater. 
The cast of A.C.T.'s 2018 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Kevin Berne.
“The MFA performers share great advice, a…

The Growth of Women’s Cricket

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By Simon Hodgson 

When cricket first took root in 18th-century Britain, women’s cricket was a popular activity. “The greatest cricket match that was played in this part of England,” recorded the Reading Mercury newspaper in 1745, was “between eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon, all dressed in white. . . . The girls bowled, batted, ran and catched [sic] as well as most men could.” In villages throughout the southeast of England, women’s teams—composed largely of middle- and upper-class players— competed in front of mixed crowds. 

Cricketer Mithali Raj batting for India against England in Truro, United Kingdom, July 8, 2012. Photo by Harrias. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
As the 18th century wore on, however, and the Industrial Revolution took hold of towns in the north of England in the 1800s, the game did not spread widely among working-class women. “The time and space requirements of the factory system and an increasingly strict moral attitude among the ‘better classe…

Spring into the MFA Program Season

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By Claire L. Wong

For the next two weekends, the MFA class of 2021 springs back to turn of the 19th century Germany with Spring Awakening: The Play, directed by Christine Adaire. “The main crux of the show relies on a culture where people struggle to communicate,” says MFA Program actor Allen Darby, who plays Moritz. “Spring Awakening asks us questions about tricky concepts that we have done our best to answer, but leave open for the audience to ponder after the show.”


The class of 2020 kicked off the MFA Program season with Derek Walcott’s Ti Jean and His Brothers, directed by Dawn Monique Williams. Catch the same actors this winter in A.C.T.’s seasonal favorite A Christmas Carol, which runs November 29–December 24. The third-years are onstage again February 20–29 for Passage by Christopher Chen, an Obie Award–winning Bay Area playwright. “It’s a fantastical examination of colonialism and xenophobia,” says Associate Producer Ken Savage, “and it’s in conversation with TestmatchPass…

Stories from behind the Curtain: The Accents of Testmatch

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By Claire L. Wong

“Accents help the audience understand where a character is coming from,” says A.C.T. Head of Text and Dialects Lisa Anne Porter, who is the voice and dialect coach for Testmatch. “Where a character comes from could be in terms of the physical location they’ve lived in, or their status in the world they live in. Status may be socio-economic, it may be how dark their skin is, it may be what they look like—all those elements may explain how they get that status.”

The Messenger (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) shares wisdom with Daanya (Avanthika Srinivasan), a talented village cricketer, in Kate Attwell's Testmatch. Photo by Kevin Berne. 
The ways the Indian and English characters speak in Testmatch provide reference points for the audience. And as this world premiere came into focus in the rehearsal room, shaping those reference points was a team effort, starting with playwright Kate Attwell. “In differentiating the characters of [the three English cricket players] England 1,…

Testmatch Mesmerizes Audiences

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By Claire L. Wong 
As the world premiere of Testmatch heads into opening night on Wednesday, the buzz about the show keeps growing. Kate Attwell’s new play is already lined up for a run at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2020, and while it’s attracting a lot of attention from East Coast theater-lovers, Bay Area audiences are loving the production.

“The play was super funny, insightful, and thought-provoking,” says one audience member.

India 2 (Lipica Shah) and England 3 (Millie Brooks) discuss which is the better team in Kate Attwell’s Testmatch. Photo by Kevin Berne.
“I loved it!” says another theater-goer. “I loved that it was an all-female cast and that it featured women of Indian descent in substantial roles, which we almost never see. I loved it that it was written by a woman and directed by a woman—yay Pam! And I loved the production’s sophisticated theatricality and the complicated and nuanced experience it presented. Brava!”

To hear from audiences directly after the performance, chec…

Playwright Kate Attwell on Testmatch (Part Two)

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By Simon Hodgson

As soon as director Pam MacKinnon read the script for a new play titled Testmatch, she fell in love with the writing of its playwright, Kate Attwell. Hear from the playwright and director about the journey from script to stage, and catch the world premiere of Testmatch at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater.


Left to right: England 3 (Millie Brooks), England 2 (Arwen Anderson), India 2 (Lipica Shah), India 1 (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), and India 3 (Avanthika Srinivasan) discuss which is the better cricket team in Kate Attwell’s Testmatch. Photo by Kevin Berne
Pam MacKinnon: There are many extraordinary theatrical elements in Testmatch: the way actors take on other guises to tell the story in different ways; the oversized British accents; the Memsahib character that echoes Ophelia [in Shakespeare’s Hamlet]; the clash of contemporary and classical language; the character of Abhi who goes in and out of the scene as both the beleaguered sepoy and the main character who straddles both worlds…

60 Minutes, 60 Plays

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By Claire L. Wong

“It’s a wild, thought-provoking, and fun hour,” says Director of the Young Conservatory Jill MacLean. For the next five nights, the Young Conservatory presents the Student One-Minute Play Festival, featuring 60 one-minute plays written and performed by young artists from around the Bay Area.

After going on an artistic writing retreat and working together as a community to produce the plays, this next generation of theater-makers and change-makers presents work that is reflective of the world they want to see. “There’s an immediacy and a relevance to the content of the plays,” says MacLean. “Because the students are writing the material, they’re invested in it, it’s their own.” 

This is the first time the YC has taken on this creative challenge, but these emerging artists have an excellent guide: Dominic D’Andrea, founder and producing artistic director of the One-Minute Play Festival (#1MPF). Additional direction by local directors Karina Fox, Jill MacLean, Nikki Meñez,…

Playwright Kate Attwell on Testmatch (Part One)

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By Simon Hodgson
As soon as director Pam MacKinnon read the script for a new play titled Testmatch, she fell in love with the writing of its playwright, Kate Attwell. Hear from the playwright and director about the journey from script to stage before catching the world premiere of Testmatch at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater.

Playwright Kate Attwell. Photo courtesy Kate Attwell.
Pam MacKinnon: As a South African–born playwright, you might be expected to draw on that experience in your work. What made you choose India as the focal point?
Kate Attwell: What I want to do with this play is challenge the notion of empire and the way it’s historicized. I want to confront the way people talk about empire—to take down the idea that “We British went all over the world, we took so much, we destroyed so much, but now we’re going to talk about it as this wonderful time when we built the railways.” Britain’s colonization of India had a particularly capitalist bent—it was fundamentally about wealth and the tr…

Time Warp to the Geary!

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By Claire L. Wong
There’s a reason San Franciscans identify so closely with The Rocky Horror Show. “It’s a haven for people of all stripes to be their most brilliant, strange, honest, fabulous, and terrifying selves,” says Tony Award–nominated director-choreographer Sam Pinkleton. “It’s been blowing minds and opening hearts in San Francisco and around the world for over 40 years and I am—yes—shivering with antici . . . . pation to assemble a community of Bay Area performers who will take over the Geary in 2020 to collaborate on a musical blowout that could only happen in and for San Francisco.”


For A.C.T.’s mainstage production of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show on the Geary stage this spring, we’re holding an open call for local Bay Area actors and performers. Auditions will be held October 31, 2019 from 10 a.m.–7 p.m. at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Auditionees of any ethnicities, body types, gender identifications, and ability levels are welcome.

The all-star creative t…

Fearless and Fierce: The Women of Top Girls

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By Simon Hodgson

Who were all these women, anyway? Get a glimpse of these historical and legendary figures’ lives beyond the stage in this breakdown of characters from Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls.

L to R: Top Girls actorsRosie Hallett (Pope Joan),  Summer Brown (Dull Gret), Michelle Beck (Marlene), Monica Lin (Lady Nijo), and Julia McNeal (Isabella Bird). Photo by Kevin Berne.
Isabella Bird  In 19th-century Britain, middle-class women were expected to lead lives filled with crafts, music, and church-related activities. But while Isabella Bird’s life began that way, this curious, intelligent woman chose a different path. When doctors prescribed outdoor activity as a tonic for her fragility, she took a trip to the United States to visit family. Traveling set Bird free—the letters she wrote home were full of quirky details, and she turned them into a travel book. In 1872, she toured Australia, Hawaii, and the Western United States, where she fell for a one-eyed trapper. Traveling in the 19…

Four Bay Area Theaters Present Caryl Churchill Plays

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By Claire L. Wong

Abuse of power. Feminism. Sexual politics. Experience some of today’s most pressing issues dramatized for the stage by Caryl Churchill, one of the greatest living English-language playwrights. This season, four Bay Area theaters collaborate in presenting three classic plays and one newer work. With the Caryl Churchill Passport, get one ticket to each show and the best available seats.

Shattering the glass ceiling doesn’t come without a few injuries in Top Girls. In Margaret Thatcher’s divided England, nothing will stand in the way of Marlene’s rise through the corporate ranks. But what of other women? In the race to the top, there’s no time for sisterhood. Top Girls, directed by Tamilla Woodard at A.C.T., is at the Geary through October 13.
Cloud 9 show art courtesy Custom Made Theatre Co.
Cloud 9 explores sexual politics in colonial Africa and modern-day Britain at Custom Made Theatre Co. This seminal work challenges assumptions about gender and sexuality, race, and str…

Doubling Down as Top Girls Begins Previews

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By Claire L. Wong
As Tops Girls enters previews this week, Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon discusses double casting and director Tamilla Woodard’s vision.

“With Top Girls, Tamilla Woodard has at her disposal the ability to double cast, meaning one actor plays multiple roles,” says MacKinnon. “Caryl Churchill wrote this play with seven actors, seven women, who played fourteen roles. Tamilla Woodard decided to do it with nine women to play those fourteen roles. She’s changed how some of those doublings have traditionally been done, because she’s pulling out a story.”

Left to right: Top Girls actors Rosie Hallett, Michelle Beck, Julia McNeal, and MFA Program actor Summer Brown (class of 2020). Photo by Beryl Baker.
“The teenage girl Angie isn’t double cast at all,” says MacKinnon. “There is something interesting about doing a play set in the 1980s largely about Angie’s aunt Marlene, a woman in her forties, cracking a glass ceiling. Forty years have passed since then. Angie would now be a …

Director Tamilla Woodard on Top Girls (Part Two)

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By Elspeth Sweatman 
A year after bringing the rip-roaring adventure Men on Boats to the Strand, Director Tamilla Woodard is back at A.C.T. with Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls.

Director Tamilla Woodard (left) and A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon (right) discuss Top Girls. Photo by Claire L. Wong.
What’s your process as a director? Do you like to do research?
Any play I do, I go as deep as I can. Of course, I think that’s simply part of the job. The more you dig, the more you find and the more you find, the more you need to keep looking. I want to surround myself with as many tools as I can, not out of studiousness but to communicate about the play. First and foremost, I need to satisfy my questions so I go until I run out of time [Laughs] which 99.9 percent of the time is what happens. All of that is fuel for my imagination and decision-making.
One of the things that I do with a play is I sit down and write just pages and pages of the things that are indisputable about the …

Director Tamilla Woodard on Top Girls (Part One)

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By Elspeth Sweatman
A year after bringing the rip-roaring adventure Men on Boats to the Strand, Director Tamilla Woodard is back at A.C.T. with Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls.

Director Tamilla Woodard describes her vision for Top Girls. Photo by Claire L. Wong.
Men on Boats, which you directed last fall at the Strand, upended stereotypes, and in a way, Top Girls is doing something similar. These are powerful female characters, but they are all still trapped inside the patriarchy. 
They are responding to the invisible presence of men. It’s like there are only women onstage but there’s a big man head hanging above them, looking down at them. [Laughs] Jaclyn [Backhaus] tackled stereotypes in Men on Boats by having no men and no mention of the fact that these female-identified bodies were playing men; men disappeared entirely. Here, no men appear onstage but man-ness is ever present. Masculinity is present. Patriarchy is present. These women are under the weight of that, even if they…

Theater Education with Larkin Street Youth Services

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By Claire L. Wong
“Theater happens everywhere,” says Stephanie Wilborn, the community programs manager at A.C.T. Wilborn has been involved in theater education and community arts organizing for over a decade. Her mission is to use theater and social justice as a platform to give voice to those who are often overlooked or underrepresented onstage. “Theater is really about connection, finding your voice,” she says. One of her roles at A.C.T. is collaborating with Larkin Street Youth Services, a San Francisco nonprofit helping youth to move beyond the street.
Photo Courtesy Larkin Street Youth Services.
California is home to the highest number of young people experiencing homelessness in the country (38% of the nation’s total). Each year, 2,500 youth walk through Larkin Street’s doors. There are many factors that cause youth homelessness: abuse and conflict with a parent or guardian; a worsening affordability crisis compounded by unemployment; and involvement in the child welfare and crim…

Journey to the Top: Cast and Creative Team Begin Rehearsals for Top Girls

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By Claire L. Wong

“Messy, messy women,” says A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. As the cast, creative team, and company members gathered at A.C.T. for the first rehearsal, MacKinnon addressed the company. “These are messy, human people. You’re not going to find a hero in this. It’s a messy world.”
Director Tamilla Woodard discusses Top Girls. Photo by Claire L. Wong.
This muck and mire and mess aptly describes the world of Top Girls. In 1980s England, Marlene’s rise through the corporate ranks is hard-won. As her ambition vaults her to the top, she isn’t concerned with bringing other women along with her. The opening scene in the play features historical and legendary women who gather for a dazzling dinner party to celebrate Marlene’s latest promotion. The production examines the generational inheritance of what women, and particularly women of color, experience in the workplace. Director Tamilla Woodard says, “There are a lot of women here and a lot …

Young Conservatory Actors Talk About Into the Woods

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By Claire L. Wong

Just as the set, lighting, and costumes conjure the story world of a show, so too do the narrators of Into the Woods immerse audiences in the lives of the characters. Director Ken Savage’s Young Conservatory production emphasizes the act of storytelling in making everyday life magical. The production features three narrators, actors Pablo Gracia, Keira Lally, and Samantha Resser, who guide the audience through the twists and turns in each tale.


LEFT: Pablo Gracia; CENTER: Keira Lally; RIGHT: Samantha Resser.
“I like that every narrator tells a different fairytale and how we respond and react to every story,” Gracia says. “The best part about being the Baker’s narrator is how I reveal his unfortunate life and help tie everything together.” The disparate threads that weave the stories together also reflect Resser’s favorite part of Into the Woods. “I love the details,” Resser says. “It’s a detailed play, and an addition to a line in the opening could almost completely c…

Rage, Spirit, and a Wink: A.C.T.'s 2019–20 Season

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By Claire L. Wong

Rules are made to be broken—and interrogated, rewritten, and overcome. The 2019–20 season at American Conservatory Theater features stories that examine the established rules of engagement, their violent and tumultuous histories, and the people chafing against these constraints. “Told with decorum, rage, spirit, and a wink,” says A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon, “this season’s offerings continue A.C.T.’s tradition of telling stories that provoke responses and lead to debates, dreams, and even action.”


Women are pushing back against the rules of oppression in A.C.T.’s first two productions of the 2019–20 season. Tamilla Woodard (Men on Boats) returns to A.C.T. for her Geary Theater debut directing Caryl Churchill’s acclaimed modern classic Top Girls. Audiences may remember returning actors Rosie Hallett, who worked alongside Woodard in Men on Boats (2018), and Michelle Beck, last seen at the Geary in King Charles III (2016). In Margaret Thatcher’s divided Engl…