Showing posts from 2019

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…

A Taste of Her Portmanteau

By Annie Sears

A culture has many defining characteristics: language, social structure, traditions, values. These elements draw people together, helping us understand our own humanity by understanding the group we belong to. One element of a culture is especially human—food.

No matter who you are or where you come from, you need to eat. And when you share a meal with others, you slow down, sit together, and converse. Food quickly becomes more than food. “In Nigeria,” says Dr. Awam Amkpa, a theater professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, “food is a peacemaker at the core of inventing community—not just the communities we have, but as a way of producing community. When even total strangers come to your home, we use food as the foundation for that relationship.”

In Her Portmanteau, playing at The Strand through March 31, characters share two traditional Nigerian foods onstage: afang soup and fufu. On February 24 and March 3, Eko Kitchen—a Nigerian pop-up kitchen here…

The Offstage Presented Onstage

By Annie Sears

Thirteen actors. Two theater companies. One ambitious production. A.C.T. and Crowded Fire Theater co-commissioned playwright Susan Soon He Stanton to craft a piece specifically for our M.F.A. class of 2019, and beginning February 21, their collaborative work will be presented in The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater.

Directed by Crowded Fire’s artistic director Mina Morita, Both Your Houses puts the backstage world of a regional theater center stage. Luis is trying to come out as gay, but what if he loses his family? Nate is producing his own film, but what if it doesn’t succeed? Emma wants to start a romance with Reggie, but what will happen when the run concludes? And the primary conflict: the artistic director has questionable relationships with several actresses. But this is the only theater in their area. If they don’t work here, they don’t work anywhere. What will it cost them to speak up, and is it worth it?

Tackling such complex issues has been a grou…

I Am Nigerian. I Am American. I Will Not Choose.

By Elspeth Sweatman

A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program alum Mfoniso Udofia is taking the American theater by storm. Her current project is the Ufot Family cycle, a series of nine plays exploring a family of Nigerian immigrants in America. The cycle has been workshopped at leading new-play incubators, including SPACE on Ryder Farm and Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre. Three of the plays—Sojourners, runboyrun, and Her Portmanteau—have been produced at The Playwrights Realm, Magic Theatre, and New York Theatre Workshop. Now, she is back at A.C.T. with Her Portmanteau. After 22 years apart, Nigerian-born Iniabasi Ekpeyong—bearing a worn portmanteau—reunites with her mother and half-sister in Manhattan. This coming together isn’t easy. The women must sort through their literal and figurative baggage as they uncover their personal and familial identities. We chatted with Udofia about the Nigerian American identity and the importance of having Black bodies onstage.

A big theme in…

An Actor's Director: James Carpenter on Collaborating with Pam MacKinnon

By Annie Sears

Edward Albee’s Seascape—playing through February 17 at The Geary—is a story of transition. Nancy and Charlie have recently retired. Energized by the possibility of change, Nancy wants to explore the world, but her husband Charlie is reluctant. As a character, Charlie is fearful of the unfamiliar. The same is not true of the actor playing Charlie.

If you’ve seen a show at A.C.T. in the last 20 years, its likely you’ve caught actor James Carpenter. In addition to 12 years as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Carpenter has performed in A.C.T.’s Heisenberg (2018), Rock ’n’ Roll (2008), Tis Pity She’s a Whore (2008), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2005), A Doll’s House (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2001). Now, he’s back as Charlie in Seascape.

This familiar face is excited to be collaborating with the newest face of A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon is making her A.C.T. directorial debut with Seascape, exploring this story of transition as she transitions into her new leadersh…

Welcome Home: Her Portmanteau Rehearsals Begin

By Aaron Higareda

The coffee is hot, the bagels are warm, and the cast and crew of Her Portmanteau are meeting and greeting inside The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. Every show here at A.C.T. begins with a meet and greet, where designers share their vision for the show and the cast completes an initial read before diving into rehearsals.

To begin a journey, you have to leave home. But what exactly is home? Is it a location? A sensation? A memory? After you’ve left, what is it like to come back? This is a theme explored in Her Portmanteau, and it’s also a theme in the playwright’s life. Mfoniso Udofia, a graduate of A.C.T.’s M.F.A. Program (class of 2009), returns home to A.C.T. with Her Portmanteau, an independent chapter from her sweeping nine-part saga about a family of Nigerian immigrants and their American-born children. “It’s about what it means to be an immigrant in America,” said Udofia during the meet and greet. “Specifically, an immigrant who has aspirations of going bac…

The Body as a Template: Seascape Movement Coach Danyon Davis on Lizards

By Annie Sears

For actors Seann Gallagher and Sarah Nina Hayon, getting into character involves more than putting on a costume; it involves putting on the entire physical life of a lizard. Edward Albee’s Seascape—playing through February 17 at The Geary—features two couples. One is human; the other is lizard. Portraying an animal presents unique challenges, which is where A.C.T.’s head of movement Danyon Davis offers his expertise.

Davis comes to A.C.T. after serving as head of movement at Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and he’s a former faculty member at the Neighborhood Playhouse, Circle in the Square Theatre School, and HB Studio’s Hagen Core Training program. Davis also assisted Moni Yakim, founding faculty member and head of movement at the Julliard Drama Division, for many years. We recently sat down with Davis to learn about bypassing one’s human physicality to access something more reptilian.

Where did your process start?
You have to look at the human body as a template. You …

Learning from the Inside Out: Hear from the 2018–19 Fellows

By Annie Sears

Every year, each department here at A.C.T. welcomes a Fellow for the season, providing mentorship to young professionals as they transition into the theater industry. For ten months, we Fellows are immersed in the world of San Francisco’s premier regional theater, learning how a nonprofit runs from the inside out. Some of us are on our feet in the rehearsal room, and others are writing for Words on Plays. Some are working with local youth in classrooms, and others are working with needle and thread in our costume shop. Within our respective fields, we’ve been growing both personally and professionally, acquiring all sorts of random and useful skills. Here’s an authentic peek into what we’re learning here at A.C.T.

Hannah Clague, Education and Community Programs Fellow: I learned when to wear sneakers to work (when you’re rolling around of the floor teaching a group of sixth graders to act), and when to wear heels (when you’re in a board meeting trying to secure fundi…

The Art of Producing: A Conversation with Tom Ross

By Mark Jackson
Did you know that you can take classes here at A.C.T.? Whether you’re already working in the theater industry, hoping to get your foot in the door, or simply want to stretch your creative muscles, we have a Studio A.C.T. class that will pique your interest. Our winter session is underway, but it’s not too late to register for a special master class—Zen and the Art of Producing, Directing, and Artistic Directing—with Tom Ross, artistic director of Aurora Theater Company.

Ross first learned about producing from Joseph Papp, the great impresario of New York’s Public Theater, where Ross produced his first two shows. For the past 27 years, Ross has been growing Aurora Theatre Company—initially as its managing director, then for the past 15 years as artistic director. He’s also produced the legendary Solo Mio Festival. I recently sat down with Ross to hear more about his philosophy of producing.

We’re very excited to be hosting this master class with you at Stud…

Learning What Living Was All About

By Elspeth Sweatman

Born on March 12, 1928, and adopted by Reed A. and Frances C. Albee—two members of the elite in Larchmont, New York—Edward Franklin Albee III had a coddled but lonely childhood. His parents bought him everything he could have ever wanted: Grenadier Guard toy soldiers, electric trains, a smoking jacket. He went to see Broadway shows and spent the winter months in Palm Beach, Florida. But material possessions and a lavish lifestyle could not hide the fact that his parents were unloving. “Whenever his mother became angry with him, she reminded him that he was adopted,” says biographer Mel Gussow. “The inference was in the air that, if he did not behave, if he did not measure up, he could be returned to the orphanage, like an unwanted possession.”

From an early age, Albee knew he wanted to be a writer. He began drafting poems at six, plays at 12, and novels in his teens. Albee’s dedication to his writing, however, got him in trouble at school. “On the surface he was a…

Three (and a Half) Pulitzer Prizes

By Elspeth Sweatman

“You either affect people or you leave them indifferent,” said playwright Edward Albee (1928–2016). “And I would loathe to leave an audience indifferent. I don’t care whether they like or hate, so long as they’re not indifferent.” They weren’t. Albee’s unique, provocative brand of truth-telling did not always sit well with audiences and critics, but it secured his place in the American theatrical pantheon. In fact, Albee earned three—or as he was fond of saying, three and a half—Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.

1963: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Albee made a splash with his first full-length play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and its iconic, warring couple: George and Martha. Showing off Albee’s wit and bite, the games that George and Martha play to entertain their guests are amusing at first, but we quickly see that they are designed to put everyone on edge, including the audience. Reviews were mixed. Richard Watts of the New York Post declared it “the most s…