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Showing posts from 2019

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…

Into the Woods Without Delay: Five Facts about Sondheim's Beloved Musical

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By A.C.T. Publications Team 

Only two more days before we go into the woods! To get you prepared for the journey, here are five fun facts about the musical.

1. Book writer James Lapine wrote a script that interwove several fairy tales—Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood—and sent it to composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, saying “You'll never be able to musicalize this.” Sondheim accepted his challenge.

2. An early draft of the musical featured Rumpelstiltskin and the Three Pigs. In the 2002 revival, the pigs were put back in.

3. Sondheim doesn't like actors to make lyric suggestions, but when original Baker's Wife Joanna Gleason said that she felt like her character was in the wrong story when she meets Cinderella's Prince in Act Two, he made an exception.

4. The musical was (intentionally or unintentionally) quoted by President Barack Obama in an address on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he said, “You are not alone. No one is alon…

A Summer of Transformation: Two Student Perspectives on A.C.T.'s Summer Training Congress

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by Elspeth Sweatman

Week One:

How did you come to learn about A.C.T.’s Summer Training Congress?
Lauren Richardson: An actor friend of mine participated in the STC last summer and told me what she learned here changed her life so I knew I had to apply. And I have learned so much in this past week! Just one of the many transformative things is the importance of maintaining awareness of your breath. When you let the breath in, you are relaxed and are more present within your work.

Drew Olvey: A.C.T.’s Summer Training Congress attracted me with the promise of advanced technical training, personal growth, and a better understanding of my role as an actor within a community. And even in week one, the program is providing me with the acting technique I need to advance my career and the understanding of the power of theater as a tool for social, political, and personal transformation.

What has your STC experience been like so far?
LR: One class, my acting teacher assigned us the same neut…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Subscriptions Manager Mark C. Peters

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By Annie Sears

Meet Mark Peters, a master of repurposing thrifted fabric, auditioning for the Amazing Race (he’s submitted four video auditions and attended six open calls), and maintaining a morning routine: meditation, followed by yoga, followed by breakfast and a crossword puzzle—which is surprisingly similar to his work here at A.C.T. as our subscriptions manager. We recently sat down with Peters to hear about his 32 years here at A.C.T.

How would you describe your job to someone that doesn’t know anything about it?
It’s a giant puzzle, and I love puzzles. Our subscribers get to choose their seats, and keep those same seats for each show they attend. So when we get new subscribers or have subscribers who want to change their seats—that’s my favorite part. I have to say, “Okay, this person wants to move to Saturday night, so I can get this person into this space. And what if I shift this person here?” I do my best to take care of every subscriber. The biggest puzzles were after th…

Working Like Dogs

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By Kayla Kaufman

Which member of the Geary backstage crew is known to pee onstage, distract cast members (especially children), and nibble scenery? Much-loved dog Bibingka, who despite clocking in at less than a foot tall, has the whole of The Geary Theater under her paw.

Although A.C.T. has only a few furry coworkers, they are a mighty group, bringing joy, challenge, and inspiration to our work. After being scooped up from Macy’s holiday SPCA windows during a tech break for A Christmas Carol in 2018 by former head carpenter Miguel Ongpin, Bibingka has been a staple in the 1,040 seat space. She is known to rest in her stage-left bed, where she keeps one eye on Miguel, but willingly receives pats from anyone else.


The Artistic team offices are home to two of A.C.T.’s finest, Frannie and Eleanor. Though Frannie only began using public transportation when she first met human pal Janet Foster (our director of casting) a few months ago, she’s now become quite the commuter. Every Tuesday, …

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Wig Master Lindsay Saier

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By Annie Sears

You can tell a lot about a person from the way they style their hair. That’s Lindsay Saier’s area of expertise. After growing up in Redwood City, California, she studied at the Make-up Designory in Burbank before moving to New York, earning her barber’s license, and completing a wig and make-up internship at The Juilliard School. After working at some off-Broadway theaters, she returned home to the Bay Area to join the A.C.T. family as wig master. We recently took a trip to the Wig Shop to learn more about the process of creating a character’s look.

How would you describe your job?
Essentially, we give depth to characters. It’s something people don’t really think about because when it’s done right, you don’t notice it. For instance, if the character is supposed to be evil, we can play with their hairline, their part, and the color of their hair to really tell that story. Or in Rhinoceros, we have a character that is flippy and fun and French, but the actor playing the c…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Head Stage Manager Elisa Guthertz

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By Annie Sears

Elisa Guthertz has been stage managing at A.C.T. for 26 years, but as a third-generation San Franciscan, her connections to The Geary started long before that. Her father grew up seeing shows on that stage, and he encouraged his daughter’s love of theater as she grew up. After earning her BFA in stage management at North Carolina School for the Arts, she returned home to San Francisco in 1992 to intern at A.C.T. during Artistic Director Emerita Carey Perloff’s first season. In 2005, she took over as head stage manager. Guthertz has done shows all over the world—from Russia to Broadway, from Washington, DC, to Calgary, Canada. Most recently, she stage managed Rhinoceros at The Geary. We recently sat down with Guthertz to get a backstage glimpse into pulling off a production.


How did you first get into stage management?
When I was about 13, my brother was involved with a community theater. He said, “Hey, do you want to learn how to run light board?” It was a big, old-schoo…

10-Month Fellowship. 9 Major Takeaways.

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By Annie Sears

As the curtain falls on the 2018–19 season, our Fellows (including the author of this blog) are packing up their desks and preparing for their next adventure. Some will stay here at A.C.T., and others are starting jobs at other Bay Area nonprofits. Some are moving across the country to begin freelance careers, and others aren’t sure what’s next. We may be dispersing moving forward, but for the last ten months, we’ve been united in an unforgettable experience.

The goodbyes are hard, and I’m caught up in the nostalgia of it all. As I reflect on all I’ve learned through my Fellowship, I’ve distilled nine tidbits of advice I’d have offered pre-Fellowship Annie, nine tidbits of advice for the person who will sit in my seat next season:

1. Get to know the other fellows. You’re sure to have a lot in common—they’re theater people, after all! Having a support system of like-passioned people who truly understand the in-and-outs of your job will prove invaluable. Also, you’re th…

Rhinos 101

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By Annie Sears

As the title would suggest, Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros—playing through June 23 at The Geary—features some lumbering pachyderms. The play isn’t really about rhinos, but they’re a constant onstage presence. Characters are always talking about rhinos, gawking at rhinos, or in some cases, transforming into rhinos. Our marketing department visited the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens to learn some fast facts about these mysterious creatures.

1. A group of rhinos is called a crash. Does that make the Rhinoceros cast a crash? A crashing cast? A casting crash?

2. Their horns are made of keratin—the same protein that makes up human fingernails!


3. Some rhinos have one horn. Others have two. Gene and Berenger have a disagreement about this in Rhinoceros, so let’s break it down: There are five different species of rhinos. Two of those species, the black rhino and the white rhino, are African rhinos. The other three—Javan rhinos, Sumatran rhinos, and greater one-horned rhinos—are…

Catching Rhinoceritis

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By Annie Sears

Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, playing at The Geary through June 23, presents a series of challenges to theater-makers. How do you fill a stage with stampeding rhinos, wreaking havoc on a French provincial town? And how does one portray a rhino convincingly? Actor Matt DeCaro has figured out how to take the audience on “an imaginary ride,” says DeCaro. “I want it to be fun to watch.”


For many actors, the first consideration when stepping into a physical role is where the character’s energy emanates from and which part of the body initiates motion. To discover a rhino’s primary impetus, DeCaro took a trip to the zoo. “I looked at rhinoceroses for a while to try and see how they move,” says DeCaro. “Well, they didn’t move much, but I noticed a lot of it is from the shoulders.” So DeCaro leads with his shoulders, sometimes moving unilaterally—using only one side of his body—and sometimes bilaterally, using both sides simultaneously. No matter which way he’s moving, DeCaro si…

On to the Next Stage of Life

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By Annie Sears

The end of a schoolyear often brings a medley of emotions, a peculiar blend of nostalgia and the energizing promise of what’s to come. This is certainly true for the A.C.T. community as we say goodbye to the 13 members of our M.F.A. class of 2019. For the last three years, these citizen artists have enriched Bay Area theater with their desire to learn and their joy in the creative process. So where are these recent graduates headed?


Göran Norquist isn’t leaving—at least for a month. He’s on A.C.T.’s mainstage as Marcel in Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, playing through June 23 at The Geary. Several other classmates are also staying in the Bay. Caleb Lewis is getting married here next week. He’s a twin, and his fraternal twin is also getting married this summer. “But to be clear,” joked Lewis, “I asked my fiancé first, and we’re getting married first too!” Jerrie R. Johnson will star in her one-woman show A Crooked Room as part of the 22nd Annual National Queer Arts Festival…

Join the Crash, Embrace the Herd

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By Elspeth Sweatman


Like it or not, humans are herd animals. From the moment we are born, we crave interaction, communication, affection. To achieve these needs, we accept rules and traditions that help us to fit in, get along, and stay safe. Yet, we also know how dangerous going along with the group can be. Our news reels and Netflix queues are full of examples of innocent bystanders being duped, injured, or killed because they followed others. How can herd mentality be both the bedrock of our civilization and its undoing?

There are two types of herding: self-interested (when we copy the motivations and actions of others for our own gain) and collective (when we imitate others for the advantage of the entire group). When we go to a Giants baseball game at Oracle Park and follow the crowd to the entrance, that’s self-interested herding; we assume people know where they are going. When we stand on the right-hand side of escalators to let others pass on the left, that is collective her…