Berkeley Rep Blog

October 2008

Our girl robot...

posted by Cheshire Isaacs on Fri, Oct 31

One of my jobs as art director is to lay out the Berkeley Rep Magazine, which contains our performance program. I'm currently designing the Joe Turner's Come and Gone issue, and in going through the actors' bios -- making sure every play, movie, and television show they've been in is spelled correctly, italicized, etc. -- I ran across an unusual credit: one of our actors, Kenya Brome, listed a television commercial.

Now, lots of working stage actors do commercials to help pay the bills. (And boy, do they pay -- and keep paying.) I saw another Berkeley Rep actor in a commercial just last week. It's not, however, something an actor usually likes to highlight on his or her resume.

But I'm really glad Ms. Brome mentioned hers, because the one she mentioned happens to be one of my favorite commercials of all time:

If you've watched much television at all in the past few years, you've likely seen this commercial and/or one of the others in Citibank's identity-theft series. As a student of advertising and marketing for some 20 years, I think these commercials are really clever.

Do you know any actors you've seen on stage who've also starred in commercials? Post your links in the comments!

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It's curtains

posted by Megan Wygant on Wed, Oct 29

This post is on behalf of Prop Shop, who's in tech for Joe Turner and on deadline for The Arabian Nights at the moment.

If you flip through a Sears and Roebuck catalogue from the early 1900’s you actually can find a good portion of what you see on the set for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. If only we could still shop from those catalogues and get things at those prices! You’d also be surprised how little some things have changed and how impossible other things are to find today. This is one of the great challenges of my job. If we can’t buy or borrow something, we build it.

JTmodel1

When I saw scenic designer Scott Bradley’s drawings of the set, I was pretty overwhelmed by the level of detail he put into all of the prop drawings. He knows what he wants and he actually draws it into his scenery draftings -- not something every designer does (most tend to have a loose idea and we see what we can find). So, I asked Scott what the piece that appeared to be a lace curtain in the main archway was, and he said it was actually macraméd. Okay, that’s not something I had even heard of; to make it that much more difficult, he wanted the rope to be ¾” thick and magenta. You certainly can’t buy something that specific.

Curtain elevation

After searching all the local fabric stores, and on the web for a while with no luck on any cording that thick other than stiff marine rope (which would be a good color or something we could dye), I called a couple of big theatrical supply houses to see if they carried something like this rope. One flat-out said no. The other said they could shop in LA for me and call back in a week. I was super-excited, gave them all the important information, and thought I had it solved. The woman I talked to left for vacation in the meantime, leaving my info with her LA shopper. A week later she calls me to get the information again. And then a week later she sends me a couple of samples that are the wrong color and the wrong size and some tassels that were also the wrong size (because of course I need matching tassels for this thing too, and the tassels are of varying sizes as well). I believe this is the eighth time Scott has designed a version of this set, so I didn’t doubt this problem had been solved before...And I was wishing I could just borrow this thing from someone who had done it! I actually sent out a plea to the email list of prop managers across the country with no luck.

Defeated, I told Scott I couldn’t find anything like what he wanted. He was surprised and said that 20 years ago, when he did the show in NYC, there was tons of silk rope. And this sparked a thought in me—I hadn’t searched for “silk rope,” though I had thought I came up with every possible Google combination for braided cording. And, of course, the first link if you Google “silk rope” is a San Francisco-based artisan, Madame Butterfly, who hand-spins silk rope to specified sizes and colors. I should have known I would find a niche market for handmade rope in SF!

I was ecstatic. This was the beginning of a series of emails, snail mails, and drives to coffee shops in SF, in which we exchanged rope and dye samples. I soon found out that though silk rope was the key word I was missing, silk didn’t have that silky sheen we would have expected. However Madame Butterfly also spins rayon, which has the same softness and draping quality, takes dye, and is shiny.

Let me also say that Scott lives in New York, so most of our communication is via email and pictures and Fed-Exing samples. So there was a lot of back-and-forth through the whole process of creating this piece. Once we got the size and color approved by Scott, she made us some lengths of the rope.

Tassel sample In the meantime, I called Bruce Busby, who is an amazing local artisan, to work on this project -- which is a perfect fit for his talents. He just happened to be available while his wife was taking maternity leave and could look after their first daughter. He worked with the sample pieces while MB was creating the rope from scratch to figure out the layout of the curtain, how to make the knots look and work correctly, and how to make tassels out of the same material and integrate them into the rope. Bruce realized that we would need more fibers for the tassels than the ends of the rope created to get enough fullness for Scott’s liking. I went back to MB to get a roll of just the fibers dyed, and Bruce strategically added these into the knots of the tassels and created fringe out of them for the side pieces. 

Final lay out2 When he was done, the tassels actually had this really cool-looking tie-dyed quality because the rope had been dyed after it was spun, so the insides were still white. We knew this was going to happen and had already arranged for MB to re-dye the finished curtain once it was completely built. We were all optimistic it would turn out evenly colored. I took the finished curtain to be re-dyed the morning Bruce’s wife went into labor with their second daughter -- he finished it just in time! It only took a little more tweaking and tassel conditioning after getting it back, and we were able to make those adjustments without him.

So, many hours of work later, we have a beautiful macramé curtain in the set’s archway. There was one moment my heart sunk when the lighting designer asked if we could shorten the curtain so it wouldn’t cast shadows on the actors...but luckily, there were other solutions to that problem (and I didn’t have to go in a corner and cry!). I’m not sure, all-told, how many hours and how much money went into this (I might get a chance to figure this out once we actually open this show and The Arabian Nights, which is right on its heels).

I often wonder if people notice details like this curtain, and if they stop to think where it might have come from...though, really if something takes too much attention then we haven’t really done our job well. It should all look natural and the actors should look comfortable in their surroundings.

All photos courtesy of brtpropshop.

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Six degrees of me and Spike Lee

posted by Pauline Luppert on Mon, Oct 27

So, in my last job I produced a few short, casual interviews like this... just me, a camera and the person who would be interviewed. (Mostly I produced short video segments with indie fashion designers in NYC for a webTV show called threadheads).

When I produce an interview with a single camera -- and don't have a host-type person there to ask the questions -- there are a few directions I typically give the subject whom is about to be interviewed. First, I want them to be relaxed, so I chit-chat while I'm setting up the camera. I ask nice innocuous questions so that the subject gets used to the camera and warms up before I get to the juicy part of the interview. Second, I ask them to try and include my questions in their answers, like if I ask, "What's your name?" I want them to answer, "My name is Jane Smith," rather than just saying, "Jane Smith." This makes it a hundred times easier for me to edit my own voice out of the footage. If I'm interviewing someone who hasn't been on camera much before, I typically have to remind her or him throughout the interview, "Could you say that again, but this time include my question at the top?" Finally, I usually assure subjects that, if they don't like the way they answered the question, they can just start over. No pressure. That is what I do when I interview people who aren't used to being interviewed...

That is not what I did when I interviewed Delroy Lindo. He's clearly been interviewed and filmed in general many, many, many more times than I have interviewed. He didn't need to warm up for the camera. I'm sure it was obvious that I was a hundred times more nervous than he was. He naturally included my questions in his answers; he didn't need to be directed to do so. Seriously, I'm glad I didn't embarass myself trying to give him direction. I mean, come on, this man has been directed by John Woo, George C. Wolfe (my old boss; hollah!), and Spike Lee -- to name a few.

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Smiles, everyone. Smiles!

posted by Terence Keane on Fri, Oct 24

We're always looking for ways to let our audience peek behind the scenes -- and to help you understand how many people it actually takes to put on a show. So, even before we had this blog, we had staff photo day.

Staff PHOTO Day?

Ahhh!

Around here, those words are spoken with a particular emphasis. Some people dread them. Some people get excited. Some people speak them with disdain. Others spend all year dreaming up kooky ideas.

Run, Tofu, run! Every fall, we ask each department to pose for a picture. We suggest coming up with a theme that makes the shot fun to look at it, while also telling us a little bit about what that team contributes to the theatre. Then we post the photos in the lobby for everyone to see.

So I just spent the entire day on the Roda stage while our faithful photographer, Kevin Berne, snapped pictures of all my co-workers.

Sit, Tofu.This year the staff had a lot of fun ideas. But my favorite pictures came when Tofu, our box office mascot, ran wild while his co-workers set up for their photo. (Those stockings, by the way, belong to Christina Cone, our webmaster.)

Run, Tofu, run!

Thanks to Kevin for donating his time. To check out more of his work, visit kevinberne.com.

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Box office loves Lucy

posted by Elana McKernan on Wed, Oct 22

At times I'm shocked by how much working in the box office feels like being trapped inside a 1950s-1960s sitcom.

Most old-school sitcoms are based around dysfunctional families. Due to our close quarters, small staff, and the communal nature of our work, I often feel like going to work is entering into an established family dynamic. We have Christine Bond, the box office manager, who is the matriarch of the family. She really runs things, but her counterpart, Terry Goulette (box office supervisor), is our more immediate authority figure, and the man we go to with most of our trivial questions, comments, and concerns. Then there are Mark Blank, Woo (short for Mike Woo), Christina (not-so-short for Christina Cone), Destiny, and me. We are the petulant children, those who take phone calls day after day, have little faith in humanity, and have been known to shoot rubber bands at one another in between phone calls. Fellow Berkeley Rep staff comprise our extended family, and at times it feels like they are our wealthy, "big city" cousins.  We are the (rubber band) gun totin', squirrel-impersonating (don't ask), Box Office Hillbillies who done struck it rich and come to the Berkeley Hills.

We also have frequent (and hilarious) encounters with technology that would rival any of Lucille Ball's baking disasters from I Love Lucy. The speakers at our sales windows present us with persistent challenges. Firstly, they seem to pick up on ANY outside noise, so the most distant rumbling of a motor (or the not-so-distant earth-rattling sound of a garbage truck) will interrupt any conversation between patron and staff with a loud, ever-present KHRRRRRRRRRKCHHHHHCHHHCHH. Such encounters force us to adopt elaborate miming techniques, so we often look like we're playing charades rather than selling tickets. Secondly, the window is placed directly in between the speaker and the computer, so every attempt at selling a ticket at the window feels like a superhuman effort at splitting my mouth (which must be positioned directly in front of the speaker) from my eyes (which must be close enough to the computer to see where the available tickets are located) and stretching my arms (which must reach the computer to type) from my shoulders and neck (which must be back at the microphone with my mouth). I frequently find myself wishing that I were that stretch woman from The Incredibles. Who knew selling tickets could be so physically taxing?

Once I do succeed in selling the tickets, I must print them.  Our ticket printer has obstinately refused to consistently cut the ticket stock, so if we don't keep a watchful eye on it, it ends up spewing our tickets every which way.

To add some excitement to our daily grind, we have begun to compete to see who can make the most money in a day. Though we have not yet resorted to such measures (and will not--don't worry, Christine!), the opportunities for sitcom-worthy sabotage are endless! "Oh, you don't want to purchase tickets from Woo, he is easily confused and will put you in the wrong performance," etc.

To be fair, a great deal of the parallels between the box office and, say, I Love Lucy result from my general clumsiness. Such clumsiness includes but is not limited to:

  • My inability to refrain from spilling my water on the ground and/or myself.
  • My habit of standing up quickly to help someone at the window and being pulled abruptly back by my headset, which is still attached.
  • Standing up quickly while my headset is still attached, then trying to take my headset off only to find that it has become tangled in my hair, causing a long and painful extrication process (while the customer at the window watches impatiently).
  • Picking up pens quickly to have patrons sign their credit card receipts, and accidentally flinging them halfway across the room.

Also, did I mention that we have a possessed radio?  Lucy, you got nothing on us!

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"Be cool. Don't freak out."

posted by Robert Sweibel on Mon, Oct 20

The plot of Yellowjackets focuses on a news story published by the Jacket, the student newspaper at Berkeley High School. Well, to our dismay, we discovered during the run-up to the show that the real Jacket -- like so many other newspapers these days -- doesn't have enough funds to cover its expenses.

So we asked our audiences to help "Save the Jacket." We announced the problem during a curtain speech before each performance and encouraged people to make donations. After the show, our house manager stood by the door with a donation jar. It seemed like no big thing. Who knew that our audiences would contribute more than $6,600?

Berkeley Rep audiences literally saved the school newspaper!

Last night we welcomed eight teens from the Jacket staff to the final performance of the play. They came bearing a gift -- a beautiful card and letter to the Theatre eloquently expressing their gratitude. After the final curtain call, the cast – led by Ben Freeman, who played Avi -- toted out the donation jar and announced how generous our audiences had been. Then Ben invited the Jacket staff to join the cast on stage for a round of applause and a photo. Let me tell you, these young journalists were beside themselves. I even heard one say to another, "Be cool… Don't freak out." Of course, they were nothing if not cool when they joined our young cast on stage to celebrate the generosity of our community.

Nice all around. Personally, I thought it was incredibly generous of the cast to share their final moment in the spotlight and shine the light on others. What a great group of artists.

Check out this news story to learn more about the Jacket, our efforts to save it, and the paper's 50-year history as an independent reporter on Berkeley news: ibabuzz.com.

Berkeley High Jacket staffers receive donation from Berkeley Rep audiences

Photo by Abby Hanson

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Welcome to the world of Company Management!

posted by Jamie Caplan on Fri, Oct 17

Coffeeprettybl

 On weeks like this, it's all about the coffee.

I'm the company management intern here this year, which keeps me busy with lots of different tasks, one of them being arranging the travel and housing of our out-of-town actors and helping to plan and execute our first rehearsals for every show.

It is quite eventful around here these days, what with two shows in rehearsal, one of which is rehearsing offsite for the next two weeks. How busy, you ask? Let me answer that:

Day 1 (Monday, October 13) began at the office at 9:30 am, prepping to pick up the company for The Arabian Nights at the airport. Over the course of the day, we went to the airport four times to greet the actors, drive them to their housing, and make sure all their concerns were met and their questions were answered. Beforehand, I had made signs that said “Arabian Nights – Berkeley Rep” so the actors would recognize us.

Thankfully, the whole day went smoothly. You wouldn’t think it would be so exhausting just to drive around all day, but by the end of the day (about 9:30 pm), we were beat. And it wasn’t time to stop yet...

Because Day 2 (Tuesday, October 14) was even busier, beginning at 7:30 am this time. I drove around Berkeley in our trusty company van -- we call it Lola -- to pick up food and drinks for our official first rehearsal, and the company "meet & greet." We then set up all the food, made a TON of coffee, ran around to set everything up, and then celebrated when it was all over. Oh yeah, and in between we attended the introduction of the show by the director and the first read-through of the script, which was so enjoyable. It was a great experience for me to be able to sit-in on the read-through because I loved hearing the script I had read over a month ago come to life. It was also fun to see the actors I had just met act in this great play. We then shuttled the actors to the rehearsal venue and back again and finally ended our day at around 7:30 pm.

And now...the actors' boxes have just arrived, shipped from all over the country. So I'm off: it's time to deliver thei stuff to their housing in San Francisco!

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Yellowjackets on Yellowjackets

posted by Dave Maier on Wed, Oct 15


Actors from Performance Lab with three Yellowjackets cast members

On September 10, 14 classes from Berkeley High School packed into the Thrust to watch Itamar Moses’ play Yellowjackets. They were a lively audience, often audibly commenting on the scenes being played out before them. Of course, they had a special relationship to this play. They got the references specific to Berkeley High that the rest of us did not. However, as I moderated the post-show discussion it became clear to me that they also got a whole lot more. They saw themselves in this play.

Two weeks later, 568 students from Berkeley High School filled the Roda Theatre, not to see a Berkeley Rep production, but to watch their peers respond artistically to the themes of Yellowjackets. The performers and many of the audience members had participated in Performance Lab, a high-school residency program in which students see a Berkeley Rep production and work with a teaching artist to develop an artistic response.

Usually, these workshops close with a modest sharing of the work. This culminating event was far bigger then usual, with all 14 of the Berkeley High Performance Lab classes being represented. It was the first time that Berkeley Rep had hosted such an event — and I was nervous. The logistics involved with getting all the teachers, students, administrators, permission slips, photo waivers, production concerns, etc., on the same page seemed overwhelming.

In spite of the strong production team and competent teachers and teaching artists, I was sure this event would resemble a train wreck. But when the lights went down and the first student stepped on the stage to read an autobiographical poem about her experience as a Tibetan American attending Berkeley High, my fears were put to rest. I realized that we had succeeded because the spotlight was on the diverse and passionate voices of these young people.

Like the characters in Itamar’s play, these students had something to say about issues that are not just central to Berkeley High, but to our community and our nation. These students went on to fill the next two-plus hours with poetry, dance, music, and theatre—all of it original. Each student took the risk of speaking out in front of their peers. All of it inspired by something they had seen on stage in the Thrust just 19 days earlier.

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Back to School

posted by Heather Bradley on Mon, Oct 13

One of the tasks on the sound department's plate for Yellowjackets was to create a CD of pre-show music from the time of the play -- something that "hipper" high school students might be listening to. It had to include rock, hip-hop, and Latino infuences. I have a pretty large music collection, including lots of stuff from this period of time -- so I was able to make the CD entirely from my own stuff at home. How convenient!

So, with a little research help from our fabulous intern, Jocelyn, we put the following playlist together:

1. Cool LIke Dat / Digable Planets
2. Hispanic Causing Panic / Kid Frost
3. Let Me Drown / Soundgarden
4. Cut Your Hair / Pavement
5. Soul Flower (remix) / The Pharcyde
6. Violet / Hole
7. Ego Trippin' (Part Two) / De La Soul
8. Cherub Rock / Smashing Pumpkins
9. Steve Biko (Stir It Up) / A Tribe Called Quest
10. 100% / Sonic Youth
11. Dry / PJ Harvey
12. C.R.E.A.M. / Wu-Tang Clan
13. In The Morning / Built To Spill
14. Git Up, Git Out / OutKast
15. Friday I'm in Love / The Cure
16. 93 'Til Infinity / Souls of Mischief
17. So What'cha Want / Beastie Boys
18. Brother Sister / Brand New Heavies
19. Fat Cats, Bigga Fish / The Coup

What songs would make your mid-'90s playlist?

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Tony previews the 08/09 Season (and I learn where the stop button is)

posted by Pauline Luppert on Fri, Oct 10

My very first video assignment at Berkeley Rep was to record Artistic Director Tony Taccone and Associate Artistic Director Les Waters describing the season to Berkeley Rep board members and donors in a beautiful private garden.

Getting to know a new camera can be a bit bumpy. Every camera has different settings, and different buttons in different places, etc. Berkeley Rep's camera is a Canon XH A1, which is a truly sweet piece of equipment. However, I hadn't really gotten to know it yet... It has a "stand-by" button RIGHT next to the zoom. So, right in the beginning of Les Waters' description of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), I was adjusting my frame, and managed to bump the stand-by button. Recording suddenly stopped and I was baffled. I thought I'd run out of tape, or that my battery was faulty. Unfortunately, while fumbling around, I missed the meat of Les's description. He talked about how the play is surprisingly sweet and delicate, and still very funny and very bold -- with its giant old fashioned vibrators...

You'll have to take my word for it that it was really great.

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