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.

Playwright Lauren Yee and actor Tim Liu at the first rehearsal for The Great Leap. Photo by Miranda Ashland.

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 father and his friends inspired The Great Leap. In 1981, her father Larry Yee, along with a group of pick-up basketball players from Chinatowns’s Betty Ong Rec Center, traveled to China to play local teams. “I remember hearing about these games growing up,” said Lauren Yee. “I always wondered what that experience would be like—of being Chinese American and having never been to the country where your parents were from.”

Roots run deep for others involved with the project too. Actor BD Wong, who is reprising the role of Wen Chang, was also raised in San Francisco's Chinatown, where his father grew up playing basketball. Director Lisa Peterson revealed that this is a hometown project for her as well. Peterson grew up in Santa Cruz. As a kid, she visited The Geary; as an adult, she now has the chance to work on that same stage. Scenic Designer Robert Brill, who grew up in the Monterey area, also visited The Geary and the Curran Theatre during his years in junior college.

Even the play itself has ties with A.C.T. The Great Leap was first workshopped as part of A.C.T.’s New Strands Festival in 2017. It then made its premiere at the Denver Center of the Performing Arts in March of 2018 and has since been seen at Seattle Repertory Theatre and Atlantic Theater Company before making its way back to A.C.T., this time on the Geary stage.

Scenic Designer Robert Brill presents his designs at the first rehearsal for The Great Leap. Photo by Miranda Ashland.

For this basketball play, Brill is taking advantage of a theatrical technique familiar to The Geary: a raked stage. The floor will be a basketball court, and the rake will allow the audience to really see it. “We know it sounds crazy,” said Peterson. It could be tricky for the actors to play basketball on an incline. “But as Robert reminded me, every kid in America has played basketball on a raked driveway!”

See for yourself, and join us for The Great Leap, running March 6–31 at The Geary. Wear your favorite sports jersey for the March 6–12 performances, and get a free drink at one of our bars!

Miranda Ashland was the 2017–18 Marketing Fellow, and she is now A.C.T.’s Marketing Assistant.

Popular posts from this blog

“To Be or Not to Be”: The Iconic Speech’s Origins, Interpretations, and Impact

The American Sound: The Evolution of Jazz

Purely Pinteresque: The Elements of Pinter's Language