Showing posts from 2020

Uncovering a New Dimension: Director Peter J. Kuo on the Making of In Love and Warcraft (Part Two)

By Allie Moss
Click here to read Part One of this profile. 
Originally, In Love and Warcraft was conceived as an in-person production to take place with A.C.T.’s MFA students in May 2020. But in the midst of the pandemic, A.C.T.’s Conservatory was forced to “pivot” and mount the show online instead. The May production did much more than fulfill the curricular need for student performance; it inspired a remount co-production from A.C.T. and Perseverance Theater, and it birthed a new medium that Kuo calls “live video theater.” 
“Live video theater” is exactly what it sounds like: theater, happening on video, streaming live. And that live element is key; it’s what makes this form distinct from recorded videos of past theater productions. “When you’re watching something live versus recorded, the brain activates in a way that goes, ‘okay, something can happen,’” Kuo says. “That’s what I think liveness does; it allows us to be more forgiving, and lean into theatrical convention.” To facilitate…

Uncovering a New Dimension: Director Peter J. Kuo on the Making of In Love and Warcraft (Part One)

By Allie Moss

Madhuri Shekar’s In Love and Warcraft is a play for our times. While there’s no mention of a pandemic, it expertly draws out questions of intimacy and relationship-building in virtual space. The play centers on Evie, a college senior who is navigating a budding in-person romance alongside an online relationship with her long-distance gamer boyfriend, with whom she plays World of Warcraft. By rehearsing and presenting the production on Zoom, life mirrors art as six of A.C.T.’s MFA actors are tasked with reaching through the screen to create deep connections. Peter J. Kuo, the production’s director, is profoundly aware of this overlap. “It’s not just that [the show] translates well into the online medium,” he says. “It actually shows that internet relationships have meaning and are palpable.” 

This play resonates for Kuo in part because he has personal experience building relationships over the internet. “My main introduction to the internet was through an online game,” Kuo…

Envisioning the Future: An Interview with Peter J. Kuo

By A.C.T. Publications Team 
Peter J. Kuo is a director, producer, writer, and educator focused on raising the visibility of marginalized communities. As social justice programs coordinator at The New School, he founded the NSD: Affinity Groups program and was involved with several EDI initiatives. He is the co-founder of Artists at Play, a Los Angeles Asian American Theatre Collective. As a director, he has worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, East West Players, South Coast Rep., Geffen Playhouse, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Leviathan Lab, Ma-Yi Theater Company, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, and others. He was recently named one of Theatre Communications Group's Rising Leaders of Color.

We are so excited to have you at A.C.T., Peter! What drew you to this role? 
I had just received my MFA in directing from The New School when I heard from A.C.T.’s new artistic director, Pam MacKinnon, who I’ve known for nearly six years. She knew that I w…

Learning to Trust Yourself: An Interview with Kimberly Hollkamp-Dinon

By Livian Yeh

Hailing from Jeffersonville, Indiana, Kimberly Hollkamp-Dinon attended A.C.T.’s Summer Training Congress after graduating from college. “I immediately fell in love with the learning and training environment, and with the community here at A.C.T.,” she says. “I knew it was a place in which I could thrive.” Three years later, Hollkamp-Dinon has grown in technique, confidence, and artistry. We caught up with her to chat about her time in the MFA program, embracing her weirdness, and her love of The Great British Bakeoff.

What's your favorite part of the MFA Program?
Definitely my classmates. I have learned so much from my fellow ensemble members of the class of 2020. I’m so grateful to work with them and learn from them. I have found lifelong collaborators in this group of artists. One of my favorite projects was when we all worked on a production of The School for Scandal directed by [MFA Program Head of Voice] Christine Adaire. We worked rigorously on our script analys…

The Negro Leagues: Toni Stone in Historical Context

By A.C.T. Publications Staff
Have you ever heard of the New York Black Yankees? What about the Homestead Grays, Baltimore Black Barons, or Cincinnati Tigers? From the 1880s until the 1950s, there were two professional baseball systems in the United States: one for white players, and another for Black Americans. Both contributed to the development of the modern game and baseball industry. This year, 2020, marks the centennial of the Negro Leagues, which was founded by Andrew “Rube” Foster,  retired pitcher and owner of the Chicago American Giants, in February 1920 to “create a profession that would equal the earning capacity of any other profession . . . keep Colored baseball from the control of whites . . . [and] do something concrete for the loyalty of the Race.”
The 1943 Homestead Grays lineup included several future Hall of Fame players: Cool Papa Bell (back second from left), Josh Gibson (back fifth from left), and Buck Leonard (back second from right). Photo courtesy of the Negro L…

Seeking the Magic: An Interview with Lily Harris

By Livian Yeh

After graduating from Reed College with a degree in English, Lily Harris entertained career paths in teaching, academia, and horseback riding, but ultimately landed on acting. Learning about A.C.T.’s MFA program from a friend and eager to improve her craft, the Los Angeles native auditioned and was accepted as part of our class of 2020. She talks to us about her time in the program, her inspiration, and finding joy in life as an artist.

How have you grown in your artistry in the past three years being in the MFA Program? I am so much more confident in sharing myself with others. I think I started acting because I felt it gave me permission to show parts of myself I didn’t feel comfortable sharing in everyday life. Although that is definitely still true, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the only person who can give you permission to do or be something is you. I am much more conscious of when I am hindered by fear or the desire to do something “right” i…

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Subscriptions Manager Mark C. Peters

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 the …

Leading with an Open Heart: An Interview with LeRoy S. Graham III

By Claire L. Wong and Alejandra Maria Rivas
LeRoy S. Graham III was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up, he first got into the arts through dance and musical theater in school. He studied theater and psychology at City College of New York, and after graduating, explored acting outside of life as a student. He started auditioning for graduate acting programs at 25 and was accepted into A.C.T.’s MFA Program when he was 27.

“I felt like I knew what I wanted to go in and pursue that time,” he says. The thought of moving to San Francisco away from family was daunting at first, but he was drawn to A.C.T.’s training. “There’s the focus on developing the artist as a whole,” Graham says. “From the callback weekend I felt at home. I felt this could be the place for me for the next three years.”

LeRoy S. Graham III. Photo by Deborah Lopez.
What has your experience in the MFA Program been like? One of the biggest things that I’ve gained from being at A.C.T is developing my voice and b…

Snail Slime and Other Secrets: 'Great Leap' 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 beginnin…

Preparation and Play: An Interview with Jeff Wittekiend

By Claire L. Wong and Alejandra Maria Rivas
Before moving to San Francisco for A.C.T.’s MFA Program, Jeff Wittekiend had lived in Texas his whole life. He grew up outside of Austin in Burnet (population 6,000), studied theater at Baylor University in Waco, then moved to Dallas to continue acting. “I was doing bigger and bigger regional shows, working on my craft, observing people in the world,” he says. “I was trying to figure out what kind of artist I wanted to be.” After deciding to hone that artistry in graduate school, he made the journey to San Francisco. Wittekiend recently graduated from A.C.T.’s MFA Program, and we spoke with him about his experiences.

Jeff Wittekiend. Photo by Deborah Lopez.
What inspired you to pursue A.C.T.’s MFA Program? When I came to the A.C.T. callback, I felt good about the teachers I met and the classes we had during that weekend. I got to see A Thousand Splendid Suns when I was here. It was a book I’d read in high school and just adored, and I was plea…

Producing Live Content in the Age of Uncertainty

By Beryl Baker

Since San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 19, A.C.T. Digital Content Producer Beryl Baker has been keeping busy. In addition to turning live productions of Gloria and Toni Stone into streamed films and editing A.C.T.’s InterACT-at-Home videos, Baker also produced Spring Forward, the smash-hit virtual fundraiser that helped sustain our artistic and education and community programs. Baker shares tips on how to produce a successful, virtual, live event in a pandemic. 

Find out what technology can do for you
Talk or reach out to video production experts and trust their advice. Dig deep into understanding what is and isn't possible. Most people don’t realize that technology isn't as ahead of its time as we’re told. While FaceTime and Google Hangouts exist, those are patented products produced by two top tech companies: having video be sent out and received live requires incredibly fast data processing. Comparing a phone call to a FaceTim…

The Full Her: An Interview with Dinah Berkeley

By Claire L. Wong and Alejandra Maria Rivas

Dinah Berkeley (she/they) grew up in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb outside of Chicago. After graduating from Ohio University, Berkeley studied in a professional training program at Actors Theatre of Louisville, then moved to New York for a few years. There she became involved with mime, physical theater, and clown, and joined the Broken Box Mime Theater troupe. Berkeley’s focus narrowed to sharpening her acting skills, and after auditioning for graduate programs, she came to A.C.T.

Dinah Berkeley. Photo by Deborah Lopez.
Can you describe your experience being in the MFA Program? It’s challenged me about what kind of artist I want to be, how I want to present myself. What kind of work I want. I’ve had to be open to things that I might feel resistance to and trust that if I do the work and if it’s not serving me, I can put it aside. But I won’t know that answer until I commit to fully trying.

What’s your favorite part of the Program?
Sky Fest hand…

It Wasn’t a Party—It Was a Riot

By Beryl Baker and Livian Yeh

San Francisco Pride is turning 50 this year amid a global pandemic and worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. In response to questions about the upcoming virtual celebration and rally, San Francisco Pride board president Carolyn Wysinger expressed support of the protesters and highlighted the especially vulnerable Black trans community. “Stonewall was started by a Black trans woman. Stonewall was a defense of Black bodies,” says Wysinger. “In honor of this, San Francisco Pride will use this moment to lift up and center our Black LGBTQ+ community members.” The woman Wysinger referred to was Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender activist and performer credited with throwing the first brick at Stonewall. As the saying goes, Pride didn’t start as a party—it was a riot, and members of the LGBTQ+ community have long fought back against police harassment and discrimination. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the transgender and …

Jennifer Bielstein Joins Mayor Breed’s Economic Recovery Task Force

By Simon Hodgson

Congratulations to A.C.T. Executive Director Jennifer Bielstein for her appointment to San Francisco’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force. “We are looking for ways to keep businesses and organizations afloat and prepare San Francisco for recovery,” says Mayor London Breed. “This Task Force will help us get there.”

Bielstein is one of a select group of arts and culture leaders joining the task force. Given the diverse economic challenges facing San Francisco and the Bay Area, the Task Force draws its talented members from many areas: elected officials, representatives from multiple unions, city planning administrators, Chinatown community leaders, prominent local business owners (representing many sectors including the restaurant and construction industries), chamber of commerce leaders, as well as executives from California-based multinationals including Google, Gap, and Salesforce.

A.C.T.’s executive director is well suited for this participation—Bielstein bring…

Our Commitment and Resources to Anti-Racism

Last week we shared a message with our community in response to the trauma our country and individuals are experiencing with the continued horrific and unnecessary deaths of Black people.
Over the past two years, A.C.T. has undergone tremendous change as an institution. We have owned and learned from our history, including significant input from a departing Black MFA faculty member in 2018, and recognize ongoing systemic challenges. We continue to evolve our organizational culture and work toward making meaningful changes that reflect our values of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

In our efforts to be an anti-racist organization, American Conservatory Theater is taking or committing to take the following actions:
Serving as community advocates by ensuring our programming reflects and represents the diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area communityEnsuring the diversity of creative teams (including playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, and designers) to better tell stories and mak…

Empowerment and Happiness: An Interview with Teaching Artist Radhika Rao

By Claire L. Wong

The first teacher Radhika Rao encountered was her grandmother, and she saw how far a teacher’s love and influence can reach. “She loved education and her students so much,” says Rao. Growing up in New Delhi, India, Rao remembers being in an elementary school play. But it wasn’t until college that she sought out the drama club. Her first job out of college was teaching theater, and she’s continued acting, directing, and teaching theater ever since.

For the past eight years, Rao has been working as a teaching artist and arts integrator in the Bay Area. She uses theater tools and techniques to further conversations about topics including family, the environment, vaping, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Rao works with people of all ages to engage them creatively, emphasizing empowerment and happiness in their art and daily lives. Her local work has included A.C.T., San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, TheatreWorks, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Stanford University,…

Finding Voices Within: A.C.T. Joins Forces with Community Works

by Livian Yeh

Led by our Community Programs Manager Stephanie Wilborn, A.C.T. has started a brand-new partnership with Community Works, an Oakland-based nonprofit that provides programs for people impacted by incarceration throughout the Bay Area, both in-custody and in the community.

“I’ve always wanted to collaborate with them,” says Wilborn. So when a colleague forwarded an email from the organization, she leapt at the opportunity to connect. The admiration turned out to be mutual. Her counterpart at Community Works, Lynn Aylward, happens to be a longtime A.C.T. fan. The two met for coffee, and Stephanie offered A.C.T.’s support of their theater program.

Rising Voices, the initiative managed by Aylward, is the brainchild of CW Founder and Executive Director Ruth Morgan. It focuses on young women (ages 18 to 25) who are currently or recently incarcerated, and fits within the nonprofit’s broader program for transitional age youth who are at risk of incarceration or in the process of …