Showing posts from 2019

Rhinos Roaming Through Our Psychological Savannas

By Annie Sears

At the first rehearsal for Rhinoceros, director Frank Galati reminded the cast, crew, and A.C.T. staff that during the 1930s and ’40s, playwright Eugène Ionesco watched his friends succumb to popular political beliefs. In his memoir, Ionesco recalls chatting with his friends—university professors, students, journalists, critics, and other intellectuals—to dismantle fascist propaganda. All but three of those friends eventually changed their allegiance, even those who had claimed to be fascism's firmest opponents. To Ionesco, these friends were “pseudo-intellectuals” because they didn’t truly think; instead, they regurgitated predominant systems of thought. “They were caught in the mechanism,” wrote Ionesco. “They accepted everything. They became rhinoceroses.”

Absurdist theater artists such as Ionesco believed that fascist ideologies were propelled primarily by language, which could be manipulated into propaganda. Those who spouted fascist slogans would do so …

Young Actors, Brave Activists

By Annie Sears

Who are we? What do we believe in? And how will we stand up for those beliefs?

These are big questions best explored through a big medium—a medium like theater. Our 2018–19 Fellows' cohort believes that theater is powerful because it’s not passive. Theater engages the full person: physical, emotional, intellectual, and relational. Theater is entertainment, and it's also immersive education, which is why we partnered with Bay Area nonprofit 826 Valencia to explore these big questions through theater.

826 Valencia is dedicated to supporting under-resourced students with their creative and expository writing skills through individualized attention. They kindly invited us to lead two workshops on writing and self-advocacy for 24 of their sixth-grade students, working on becoming actors and activists.

Students first identified their core values. Then, they created poems speaking their truths, detailing ways they’d previously stood up for those truths, and imaginin…

The Birth of a Play: New Work and the New Strands Festival

By Ariana Johnson 

75 artists. 6 projects. 11 performances. 1 week.

The New Strands Festival is a thrilling time. All our studios are packed with innovative new plays, brilliant artists are mingling, and there is plenty of good music, food, and discussion throughout. It’s a chance for audiences to see the wizard behind the curtain and be a part of the growth of new pieces of theater.

This is my first New Strands Festival, but as one of A.C.T.’s 2018–19 Artistic Fellows, I’ve been a part of three new play workshops at A.C.T. For one, I was tasked with constructing a giant timeline across the wall of the studio so the team could test permutations of scenes. For another, I stashed copies of the script (and reading glasses) all around the rehearsal room so a performer could improvise a dance and then pick their dialogue back up no matter where they ended up in the room.

That’s the key part of new play development: you support the artists, adapting the process to whatever best serves th…

M.F.A. Alums Return to Their Theatrical Home

By Emma Penny

“Welcome to Vanity Fair!” The cast of Kate Hamill’s Vanity Fair has slammed into The Geary, bringing some familiar faces. A.C.T. is thrilled to welcome back two alums of our Master of Fine Arts Program: Rebekah Brockman (class of 2013) and Vincent Randazzo (class of 2018). Before these actors made their way across the country, we chatted about their triumphant homecoming to the Geary stage.

As a co-production with Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, Vanity Fair first ran in STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. Did knowing that the show would end up at The Geary influence any of your acting choices in the rehearsal room?
Brockman: It didn’t influence the choices, but it will influence how I play those choices. The Geary is a very steep house, so it’s important to play things up and out so what you are doing reads to the entire audience.

Randazzo: I’m sure we’ll adjust accordingly in The Geary—playing “up to the gods,” as Carey Perloff said about that giant dome. But c…

Nobody Puts Medea or the Dashwood Sisters in a Corner

By Aaron Higareda

What could Euripides’s Greek tragedy Medea and Jane Austen’s 18th-century Sense and Sensibility possibly have in common? At first glance, not much. But our M.F.A. artists have made the connections, and they’ll present these shows in repertory beginning May 8.

Medea, which director Peter J. Kuo has set against the backdrop of 1930s New Orleans, features an immigrant with no means of returning home after leaving everything behind for her unfaithful husband Jason. Her only option? Vengeance. Sense and Sensibility, directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, is set in 1790s England, where the Dashwood sisters are left penniless, homeless, and vulnerable to gossip after their father’s death. Their only option? Set aside their differences and learn to rely on one another.

Despite their differences, both plays have strong female characters at their heart, and both are adapted—Medea by Robinson Jeffers and Sense and Sensibility by Kate Hamill (Vanity Fair)—to resonate with 2019 audien…

Seven Things You Didn't Know about the Kilbanes

By Annie Sears

Bay Area rock band the Kilbanes are creating imaginative work that leans into the “experimental” of “experimental theater.” They combine their indie sound with rock-concert lights and projections to create engaging, immersive spectacles focused on communicating timely, moving stories. Weightless is one of their most acclaimed rock operas. The premiere at Z Space last year was such a hit that it’s back by popular demand, this time in A.C.T.’s Strand Theater.

You’ll see the Kilbanes performing their own work next week on the Rembe stage, but here are some offstage details you won’t get from the show.

1. The two members of the Kilbanes—Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses—are married. In 2003, they met at a pizza joint in Brooklyn. “Kate was in line ahead of me,” says Dan. “She was looking overwhelmed at the slice selections, and I, a frequent solicitor of the establishment, offered some unsolicited advice about which slice I thought was best. Kate then invited me to sit down and …

7 Actors. 35 Characters. 8-Second Quick Changes.

By Annie Sears

Vanity Fair is a theatrical spectacle, a kaleidoscope of colors and costumes and characters—35 characters, to be exact. The seven performers engage the full range of their physical and vocal abilities to distinguish between Thackeray’s classic figures, from the stringent Miss Pinkerton to bawdy Rawdon, from slimy Pitt Crawley to his saintly son.

Costumes prove very helpful in defining each character, which means backstage hands are the heroes of these transformations. “When you’re watching from the audience, you’re seeing a well-oiled machine,” says actor Vincent Randazzo. “What you’re not seeing is the crew backstage working tirelessly to make it all seem seamless. They make the theater magic happen.”

Randazzo—an A.C.T. M.F.A. alum (2018) who has appeared on The Geary in Hamlet (2017), A Christmas Carol (2017), and A Walk on the Moon (2018)—embodies six different characters: Jos Sedley, Sir Pitt Crawley, Mr. Osborne, Miss Jemima, Lady Chesterton, and King George. This …

Cleats. Corner Kicks. Conversations About Global Genocide.

By Annie Sears

The nine players on soccer team The Wolves are warming up for their big game, and the pivots in their conversation are just as quick as their sprints up and down the field. Sarah DeLappe’s script (which our Young Conservatory actors will perform April 17–20) offers a glimpse into the real-life conversations high school girls share as they figure out what it means to be “a young woman in the multi-dimensional and complex world of today,” says actor Clara Dossetter (third from the left in the above photo). Dossetter is a high school senior who has been involved in the YC for “as long as I can remember,” including performing in The Life to Come in 2017. “The girls’ experience in the script reminds me a lot of my experience coming into my own as a woman surrounded by other young women.”

These characters talk about things high school girls really talk about, and they talk about them the way real high school girls actually talk. “In The Wolves, discussions about genocide happ…

What We ACTually Do Here: A Day in the Life of A.C.T.'s Production Fellow

By Lavine Leyu Luo (罗乐瑜)
Ever wonder what goes into the making of a show? What decisions are made before the reviews get rolling? What steps are taken to get the cast onstage, in front of a fully constructed set, wearing well-designed costumes, and accompanied with stunning visual and sound effects, all working together to bring the story to audience hearts?

The Production Department makes that happen; we’re the master cooperator that helps realize all the artists’ visions onstage. Our responsibilities range from small tasks, such as purchasing cough drops for the cast, to really large tasks—ensuring all aspects of production are efficient and safe, keeping everyone onstage and offstage alive and intact. There are so many small but essential details that need to be completed before a show can open. It’s only when the audience doesn’t notice any of these things that we know we’ve done a good job.

As the A.C.T. Production Fellow, I get to observe and participate in the production proce…

Sports or Theater?

By Simon Hodgson 

In a room deep below the bustling crowd, performers prepare for a great entertainment spectacle. They put masks over their heads, they cover their bodies with brightly colored outfits, they rub greasepaint on their faces. As they step out into the arena, the crowd roars. Is this a grand drama on the stage of The Geary, or the Super Bowl?

The idea of performance—sporting or theatrical—is full of crossover, and costume is just one shared element. While we are used to seeing actors transfigure to create three-dimensional characters onstage, the same transformation takes place in the world of sports. Think of football players, layering their bodies with helmets, shoulder pads, gloves, and mouthguards, or ice hockey goaltenders donning wire-mesh faceguards and throat protectors. These “costumes” are just as essential as those on a stage.

So too is the arena. Focusing the attention of the crowd, like a crucible, it also enriches the event with history and the glorious ghos…

Right in Front of Your Eyes: The Subtlety of Her Portmanteau

By Annie Sears

Obie Award–winning designer David Israel Reynoso has done a bit of everything: costume design and scenic design, regional theaters and dance companies, shows for stages and immersive experiences for museums. Last season, he brought his expansive toolkit to The Geary, designing costumes and set for Hamlet. This year, he returns to A.C.T. as scenic designer for Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau at The Strand. We sat down with Reynoso to hear more about infusing this thoughtful, intimate drama with subtle psychological cues.

Which aspect of the Her Portmanteau design was your favorite to conceptualize?
The entire stage is framed by a beautiful fretwork, a filigree design that’s inspired by a hotel in Lagos, Nigeria. I was struck by its basket-like, woven quality. Yet it felt very contemporary, industrial, and New York–like as well. There’s a duality there, looking through the lens of both cultures. I thought we could capture that by bringing in something that frames every lo…

Snail Slime and Other Skincare Secrets: Actors Reveal Their Pre-Show Routines

By Annie Sears

Being an actor means a lot of preparation: researching the play’s context and analyzing character motivations, attending costume fittings and spending hours in blocking rehearsals. Another important prep step not often revealed? Pre-show skincare.

Stage makeup is heavier than day-to-day makeup, often causing allergic reactions, breakouts, and dryness—which nobody wants, especially someone who stands under stage lights every day. So how are actors in The Great Leap (running through March 31 at The Geary) making sure their faces are stage-ready?

BD Wong (playing Wen Chang) is a fan of hyaluronic acid. Sounds a little scientific and sterile—like something you definitely do not want soaking into your skin, right? It’s actually entirely natural. Our skin cells produce hyaluronic acid on their own, but we could all use a little extra to even skin tone and decrease the appearance of lines and wrinkles. “It makes it possible for this character to be 24 years old at the beginning o…

What's in a Name? Everything.

By Annie Sears

In Lagos, we name our girls
Darling, Sincere, Precious, because
A name is a stake in the grave
—Omotara James
Names hold power. Our name is the word that will be connected to us for our entire existence, the word that shapes us the most, the word most explicitly tied to our identities. For that reason, the characters in Her Portmanteau—playing through March 31 at The Strand—don’t take the act of naming lightly. “One of the greatest things I ever did in this life was name you,” says Abasiama to her daughter Iniabasi. “You have that skill from me. How to name children. . . I am the most proud of the name I gave because when your father wanted to call you freedom? You were even more than that to me. You were right on time. In God’s Time. And if I named you, In God’s Time? . . . Then I too must understand my time.” Abasiama (whose name means “God’s love”) is careful when she names her daughter because she knows what a tremendous privilege it is.

Inabasi also n…

A Vanishing Breed: A.C.T. Bids Farewell to Roy Ortopan

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

Born in Kenmore, Ohio, as one of seven children, Roy Ortopan was a bookworm from the start. His Serbian-born father worked on the railroads, and his mother was a homemaker. Roy served as a radioman in the US Navy during World War II; as soon as he got out, he signed up for college, earning a BA in humanities at the University of Akron, along with an MA in English and a master’s degree in liberal arts from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

From the day Roy graduated, he never had a single day of unemployment. Although Roy was known by generations of A.C.T. acting students seeking plays or monologues, his career spanned employment at several other high-ranking educational institutions, including Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and UC Berkeley, from which he retired in 1992.

His specializations include the bibliography of African Studies, and he worked in multiple languages, including French, German, Italian, Norwe…

Game On: An Interview with Great Leap Playwright Lauren Yee

By Joy Meads

As The Geary Theater prepares for the opening night of Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, we caught up with Lauren (and her father Larry!) to learn more about the stories that inspired her.

Lauren, how did you take Larry's basketball stories and turn them into a story for the stage?
Lauren: Those basketball stories were a part of the family lore I never really investigated. It was only when I was thinking about what I might write for Denver Center for the Performing Arts that I really dug into these stories. And in going back to talk to my dad, I’ve discovered that I wrote some of these things in without even knowing it was in his story.

Larry, how did your relationship with basketball begin?
Larry: When I was about seven years old, I started playing at a playground in Chinatown. Then I played pick-up basketball at the local rec center , which is now called the Betty Ong Rec Center. They used to put on a Chinese New Year tournament. Well, I won a few tournaments, so …

Rules, and the Art of Breaking Them

By Mads Leigh-Faire

Everyone knows the old adage “rules are meant to be broken” . . . but when? And by whom?

Welcome to American Conservatory Theater’s 2019–20 mainstage season, where we’re exploring ideas of “rules of play.”

“What dictates how we behave?” “Who makes the rules?” “When are rules meant to be broken?” “Is the playing field ever level?”
Curtains up!

The season starts off on the Geary stage with a modern classic: Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Directed by returning A.C.T. veteran Tamilla Woodard (Men on Boats), Top Girls celebrates and challenges powerful women while examining power, gender dynamics, and what we are willing to do for “success.”

First at The Strand will be a world premiere (directed by our very own Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon) of Testmatch by exciting, rising writer Kate Attwell. Fresh as a summer mango, this plays dissects Britain's colonization of India through the lens of a rained-out cricket match, where tensions are quickly rising.


See Chinatown Through the Wong Family's Eyes

By Annie Sears

The Great Leap takes us from 1971 Beijing to 1989 San Francisco, where USF basketball coach Saul is whipping his players into shape to face the University of Beijing on their home court. Saul is running drills when he’s interrupted by Manford, a scrappy, 17-year-old Chinese American who wants to join the USF team on their tour to Beijing. Manford learned everything he knows on the asphalt courts in Chinatown.

Playwright Lauren Yee’s father, Larry Yee, grew up playing at the Betty Ong Rec Center in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and Lauren grew up hearing the stories. “Even today,” says Lauren, “people still stop me on the street and try to explain what a legend he was. They tell me his nickname (Spider), his position (center), and his signature move (the reverse jump shot).” Larry was a part of an American team that traveled to China in the 1970s to play Chinese professional teams. The Great Leap isn’t his story, but it’s similar.

William D. Wong—father of actor BD Wong, who…

No Lights. No Set. Just a Trunkful of Props.

By Annie Sears
Shakespeare. He’s a staple in English literature classes, and many of us might even be able to quote one of his plays or sonnets offhand. “But there’s a big difference between reading Shakespeare on a page and seeing him performed,” says second-year M.F.A. Program actor LeRoy S. Graham III.

“Shakespeare can be really intimidating on the page,” adds actor Jeff Wittekiend. “Especially when students are introduced to it in an academic and dry environment. But seeing it brought to life can help us realize that these are living, breathing words—not just fancy sounds in weird columns on paper.”

A.C.T.’s Will on Wheels program bridges that gap. Since 2007, the Will on Wheels tour has brought Shakespeare productions into Bay Area public and continuation high schools, community-based organizations, and senior citizen centers. As the capstone to their classical theater studies, M.F.A. students mount a Shakespeare adaptation, pack their props and costume pieces in a tru…

Bay Area Roots Run Deep with The Great Leap

By Miranda Ashland

On a crisp February morning, staff, faculty, students, producers, and board members filed in to William Ball Rehearsal Studio for the first rehearsal of The Great Leap. Red and gold decorations hung on the walls, and in place of the established bagels and schmear, the snack table was adorned with pink boxes filled with Chinese pastries: egg tarts, pork buns, and baked egg custard buns straight from Chinatown. This was not A.C.T.’s usual meet and greet.

“恭喜發財 (Gong hei fat choy), everybody!” said Associate Artistic Director Andy Donald, reminding us all that it was the Lunar New Year, a prominent holiday in Chinese and Chinese American culture. This first rehearsal coincidentally fell on this day, another reason why it stood apart.

Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap is a story deeply rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yee grew up in Chinatown. Her father played basketball in a Chinatown community league throughout her childhood, and the stories she heard from her fathe…

A Different Kind of Understanding

By Annie Sears

Wearing a light windbreaker and carrying a worn portmanteau, 36-year-old Iniabasi Ekpeyong shivers outside JFK International Airport. She finds a pay phone, dials an international number using a calling card, waits for someone to pick up, and says, “Uwem, mme yem itang iko mme Kufre.”

Her Portmanteau, playing through March 31 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, employs a storytelling technique that may be unfamiliar to some audience members: the use of multiple languages onstage—without subtitles. The characters in Her Portmanteau are Nigerian, and they alternate between English and Ibibio. Audiences may not be able to understand all of the characters’ words verbatim, but that’s part of the play’s charm. It’s possible to understand the heart of the play if one leans into other modes of understanding. Communication is not only what we say, but the way we say it; the volume, tone, and speed of our delivery are just as important as the words themselves. Embracing this different ki…