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Showing posts from 2019

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…

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, …