Showing posts from March, 2019

Sports or Theater?

By Simon Hodgson 

In a room deep below the bustling crowd, performers prepare for a great entertainment spectacle. They put masks over their heads, they cover their bodies with brightly colored outfits, they rub greasepaint on their faces. As they step out into the arena, the crowd roars. Is this a grand drama on the stage of The Geary, or the Super Bowl?

The idea of performance—sporting or theatrical—is full of crossover, and costume is just one shared element. While we are used to seeing actors transfigure to create three-dimensional characters onstage, the same transformation takes place in the world of sports. Think of football players, layering their bodies with helmets, shoulder pads, gloves, and mouthguards, or ice hockey goaltenders donning wire-mesh faceguards and throat protectors. These “costumes” are just as essential as those on a stage.

So too is the arena. Focusing the attention of the crowd, like a crucible, it also enriches the event with history and the glorious ghos…

Right in Front of Your Eyes: The Subtlety of Her Portmanteau

By Annie Sears

Obie Award–winning designer David Israel Reynoso has done a bit of everything: costume design and scenic design, regional theaters and dance companies, shows for stages and immersive experiences for museums. Last season, he brought his expansive toolkit to The Geary, designing costumes and set for Hamlet. This year, he returns to A.C.T. as scenic designer for Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau at The Strand. We sat down with Reynoso to hear more about infusing this thoughtful, intimate drama with subtle psychological cues.

Which aspect of the Her Portmanteau design was your favorite to conceptualize?
The entire stage is framed by a beautiful fretwork, a filigree design that’s inspired by a hotel in Lagos, Nigeria. I was struck by its basket-like, woven quality. Yet it felt very contemporary, industrial, and New York–like as well. There’s a duality there, looking through the lens of both cultures. I thought we could capture that by bringing in something that frames every lo…

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…