Showing posts from February, 2019

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 …