Berkeley Rep Blog

January 2009

Support the Arts in Economic Recovery

posted by Robert Sweibel on Fri, Jan 30

This just in from Americans for the Arts, the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the art in America...

"The legislative action surrounding jobs funding for the arts in the Economic Recovery Package in Congress is picking up speed, and we need you to take action! Americans for the Arts has been working with Congressional leaders to build support for this emergency funding for local and state arts organizations to prevent job losses during this recession.

As you recall, last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a plan that included $50 million in supplemental grants funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and a number of other provisions that can benefit the arts.  Starting tonight, and continuing tomorrow, the House will be considering the recovery legislation on the floor, and a number of votes are expected.

The Senate will be starting their debate on the bill on Friday and continuing through next week.  While the Senate Appropriations Committee did not include an arts jobs funding provision in their version of the bill, advocates still have several opportunities over the next few days to change the final outcome.  Amendments could be made to the Senate bill or the House arts funding provision itself could prevail in the final House/Senate conference bill.

Click here to send a message to our leaders in support of the arts and arts education. Americans for the Arts has supplied you with fresh research and key quotes that support this funding -- your help in communicating this information to your Member of Congress is critical.

Thank you for your support of the arts!"

I needed less than two minutes to act on this, and one minute more to forward the link to my family.

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The "Buzz" on 30 Below and night/OUT

posted by Elissa Dunn on Thu, Jan 29

Two actors from The Arabian Nightssmile
for the camera at our last 30 Below party

When I started 30 Below at Berkeley Rep last season I had two goals: to create an event to encourage young audiences to come to the theatre, and to sell 100 tickets to it. We sold over 120 tickets to the first young audience party, held in conjunction with Argonautika.  Now, with tomorrow's 30B, we've far surpassed that number, with 175 tickets sold!

I’m thrilled about the world premiere of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) and especially excited about this particular 30 Below event. For all those under the age of 30, tickets start at $13.50 and include:

ANDon Thursday, February 5th we'll be hosting our LGBT event, night/OUT, which includes a ticket to the show with:

Both of these events are part of our audience development program at Berkeley Rep. This program is a particular passion of mine. The survival of theatre depends on new and invested audiences, and it's important that they come out and show their support. I hope to see you at one or more of these events in the future!

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Episode Two -- In Which We Inform the General Public

posted by Stacy Ross on Tue, Jan 27

-- did you know that when electrical appliances were introduced into the home (circa 1889)
the vibrator was the 5th such 'appliance' to come along (no pun intended, but there ya go...)
in order of appearance:
sewing machine


yes, the vibrator preceded the electric iron and frying pan by at least 10 years....


vibrators were used medically, to cure what was referred to as 'hysteria' in women; a condition marked by 'nerves' -- 
'nerves' covering a broad spectrum of symptoms - sensitivity to cold, light, heat...drapes.......
looking at 19th century 'hysteria' (almost exclusively suffered by women -- men seemingly being immune) today,
it looks a great deal like depression/dissatisfaction -- 
and at the time there was a certain amount of heated medical debate about the condition itself...
and therefore the supposed cure -- 
(what seemed to be generally agreed upon
was that a woman's sexual organs were for procreation, not pleasure)


in any case, to the general public vibrators were widely known and advertised 
(in sears & roebuck, no less, among others--"all the pleasures of  youth...will throb within you")
as a wonderful home appliance which would provide 'health' and 'relaxation' 


well, duh...


so yes, vibrators and victorians co-existed

and apparently had a pretty 'healthy' (er..medical) relationship.
in fact it wasn't until the 1920's 
when some adventurous and innovative souls 
began making stag films showing  women pleasuring themselves
with these formerly 'household' appliances,
that the social veil around vibrators fell -- 
they were than regarded as purely sexual  - and thus unseemly and taboo.
they didn't re-surface in 'polite' society until the 1970's
and then exclusively as sexual instruments --
apparently, by the 1970's even those residing beneath rocks
recognized that a human had a sexuality --
evidently the difficult part has actually been convincing people 
that women are indeed human....(rimshot)....

i've been asked to share a bit more about the actual rehearsal process -- 
which seems, at once completely reasonable
and a (possibly) terrible breach of trust -- 
what i can say is that this cast is marvelous -- 
yes, indeed-y, as in 'full of marvels'
wonderful actors and people --
and that we are all anticipating tech
-- where we discover and try to shape the next layer of what we're doing...
we go into the theatre tomorrow
to stumble around for the next few hours before sunday
when we get to dive into costumes and wigs and lights and sound...
(actually we've had 'sound' in rehearsal in a couple different ways -- 
one actor plays the piano  -- yes!! live!piano!
and our sound designer bray has been on the scene,
so we've had a variety of...ermmm...'electrical' sounds to incorporate -- 
and build off of

i know you're not supposed to end a sentence with 'of'...or 'with'

but it has been an eventful week
and yours truly is ready to head off into wonderland, so...


stay tuned for episode #3


lord only knows what's comin' next...
(not 'comin' like that, i mean...oh get your mind outta the gutter --
you're crowding mine...)

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Meet the Vibrator Play...

posted by Pauline Luppert on Fri, Jan 23

I like shooting the design presentations...The one for In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) was a fun one to put together because Les kept blushing and everyone in the audience kept giggling. I discovered after posting the video that those of us at Berkeley Rep who use Macs (we that work with big multimedia files) and those that use PC's (most admin folks) experience the volume level of videos posted on youtube very differently. The first version I posted sounded fine on my Mac. Alas, almost no one else in the office could hear it on their PC's.  So, I went back to Final Cut, boosted the audio gain by many decibels, and re-posted it. This is the LOUD version. If you have a Mac: prepare to be blasted.  

Sidebar: It was a bummer that playwright Sarah Ruhl couldn't make it. Though I didn't include it in the final video, she sent along a letter for Les to read to the cast and crew. The letter was very sweet and encouraging.

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In the Next Room (Literally)

posted by Robert Sweibel on Thu, Jan 22

I've been working in the theatre for the better part of 20 years, and I've served as Berkeley Rep's marketing & communications director for more than four. I've seen and heard lots of rehearsals -- one of the fringe benefits of a life in the arts. Here at the Berkeley Rep annex a block from the theatre, I have a nice office overlooking the rehearsal hall. There's double-paned glass separating the office from the hall, to minimize the transfer of noise. I've been told it's to protect the staff from loud rehearsals (we were given ear plugs when Passing Strange rehearsals began), yet I'm pretty sure it's to protect the artists from the marketing / pr staff. 'Type A' personalities, almost all. The words sometime fly at high volume. So does rubber broccoli, but that's another blog post.

Anyway, the double-paned glass isn't exactly the dome of silence. We hear things. Bits of rehearsal, practiced over and over and over and over and over, that stick with us. For Argonautika, it was the roll call, rapped, culminated by Hercules inarticulate yelling, that routinely drew my gaze away from the onslaught of email. For Passing Strange, it was the show's fabulous opening riffs that distracted me from phone calls not yet returned. With Joe Turner's Come and Gone, the glorious jooba dance, punctuated by the rhythmic pounding of a bench on the floor, pulled me away from my spreadsheets.

Well, let me tell you something: Never in all my years in the business -- even at Berkeley Rep, where we play to an audience willing to be made uncomfortable, and for whom we regularly oblige -- have I heard anything come out of the rehearsal hall that made me blush. I had to look. 

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) begins previews Friday, January 30 at 8pm.

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Art in the Cabinet

posted by Cheshire Isaacs on Tue, Jan 20

In honor of the inauguration... Each weekday I receive an email that highlights a handful of arts-related stories captured from the internet. It's called, 'You've Cott Mail.' The stories are culled and distributed by Thomas Cott. Tom is a much-admired, New York-based arts administrator, currently director of marketing for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. When he was marketing director for Lincoln Center, I wanted his job (I'm a New York City native). Not so much anymore. I just want the email. Here's a recent story about a petition to President-elect Obama to establish a Cabinet-level arts czar.

"A call for President-elect Obama to give the arts and humanities a Cabinet-level post -- perhaps even create a secretary of culture -- is gaining momentum. By yesterday, 76,000 people had signed an online petition, started by two New York musicians who were inspired by producer Quincy Jones. In a radio interview in November, Jones said the country needed a minister of culture, like France, Germany, or Finland has. And he said he would "beg" Obama to establish the post. Listening in New York, Jaime Austria, a bass player with the New York City Opera, and Peter Weitzner, also a bassist, took his suggestion to heart and started the online campaign. Depending on how you define culture, the portfolio could cover many areas, supporters say. "We are not quite sure, especially in this environment, what the secretary of the arts could provide, but foremost is advocacy for arts education and awareness of the financial rewards the arts bring to a community," said Weitzner, the host of a chamber music series at the Brooklyn Public Library. Jones, who has been promoting the idea for at least 10 years by his count, said yesterday that he has specific responsbilities in mind for teh office. He wants an education system that teaches the history and personalities of the arts, particularly music. "I have traveled all over the world all the time for 54 years. The people abroad know more about our culture than we do," he said."
    From the Washington Post, January 14

Washington Post

Wouldn't it be great to replace the campaign against terror with the campaign for art? Where do I sign the petition? Right here: Petition for Arts Czar.

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Arabian Nights crowned Homecoming Queen of Berkeley Rep

posted by Elana McKernan on Fri, Jan 16

I come from a small suburb of San Diego where the biggest theatrical hit each year is the community theatre's production of Annie. Sure, the little orphan's rendition of "Tomorrow" sends dogs counties over into howling fits. Sure, Daddy Warbucks seems caught in a state of perpetual puberty--every year his voice cracks a little more, his patchy sprouting of facial hair grows a little more sporadic and awkward, and his baby fat cells seem to multiply voraciously...but there is something comfortable about going down to the old converted movie house, paying 10 bucks for a general admission ticket, and having my pick of a house that is, at best, two-thirds of the way full (counting small children, pets, the spirits of lost loved ones, and unborn fetuses).

That's why it is simultaneously heartwarming, odd, and even a little magical to see the popularity of The Arabian Nights in the wake of these troubled economic times. Not only did The Arabian Nights sell out completely nearly two weeks before the end of its run, but the fact that it is now completely sold out has only ignited people's desire to see the show. At the box office we field anywhere from 50 to 200 phone calls a day from people desperate to see the show. Not only do we get phone calls, but we have some particularly dedicated people who show up in person throughout the day to check in about tickets.

And while I sincerely wish that everybody who wanted to see the show could (because, well, it's a fantastic play), I can't help but smile inside at the extreme outpouring of support for Berkeley Rep, Mary Zimmerman, and good art. I feel lucky to be a part of a community that chooses to support the arts so avidly and gets so passionate about the opportunity to experience theatre.

There are some people who make dozens of phone calls a day on the off chance that somebody might have called in and donated back their tickets, and the crowds of theatregoing hopefuls outside our box office an hour before the show starts have grown so much that we had to make an impromptu Arabian Nights waiting line to keep fights from breaking out (ok, perhaps not fights, per se...more like very-tense-but-vaguely-polite disagreements). Megan Wygant of the marketing department even pointed out to me that there are currently 26 entries that come up on Craigslist when you search for Arabian Nights. Sorry, folks--all of the entries are from people asking to purchase tickets, not sell them. One guy even posted a request for an Arabian Nights "miracle" ticket.

If Arabian Nights were in high school, it would be, like, the totally popular girl who all the guys want to date and all the girls want to be friends with. Not the head cheerleader type who makes you feel bad about yourself and spreads nasty rumors about you, but the one who is so pretty and genuine that you would have to hate her if she weren't so darned nice. So: the polls are closed, the votes have been cast, and you the people have voted overwhelmingly to crown The Arabian Nights as homecoming queen of Berkeley Rep.  May she continue to succeed as she moves forward with her life (on to Kansas City and Chicago).

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Episode One -- Blogging Me, Blogging You...

posted by Stacy Ross on Wed, Jan 14

whoever: what're you working on next?
me: The vibrator play --
whoever: (giggling) that's a good one
me: yeah, it IS good one -- In the Next Room or the vibrator play...
whoever: oh, wait, really? i mean...(swallowing, clearing throat, usually looking downward)
                huh. is that uh, new?
me: yeah, it's the new one by Sarah's really cool
whoever: oh, great. that's good. huh. ...(reddening) is it really *about* vibrators?
me: well, there are vibrators in's not really *about* vibrators...
whoever: can't wait to see *that* one (giggling again)...heh heh...
                (stopping cold) hey, can you get me comps?

--sample of oft-repeated conversation since being cast in In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Les Waters, winter 2009.
well this my first blog entry...
it's also my:
first time working with Les Waters
first time working with these fellow castmates.
first time in a play with 'vibrator' in the title...*
and i have to say -- so far so good!
we're nearing the end of the 2nd week
and after spending the first week around the table (with the playwright -- her clever and sweet self -- in attendance for a couple days)
we were ready to spend this week on our feet in a rehearsal room increasingly filled with Victoriana.
ah yes, vibrators and victoriana in THE SAME PLAY...
i'm at a loss as to how much i can tell you about the play itself, without marring the experience of discovering it for yourself...
les says it is, at heart, about intimacy, and of course he's right (just in case he reads this... ) -- 
it's also about discovery: of love, of sexuality, of electricity...
but what i like best about this play, and Sarah's writing, 
is that she is unafraid of the hopeful/happy ending & smart enough to pull it off.
okay -- more in a few days...
perhaps i'll start dishing the dirt on my castmates...and the director...and stage management...stay tuned
* i just remembered that i have been in a play with a vibrator in it....but not in the title.... ;-)

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What's the future of the published program?

posted by Megan Wygant on Tue, Jan 13

Last week, Bay Area critic Chloe Veltman asked her readers whether they thought that the programs that theatre-goers receive when they visit a theatre are growing obsolete. With the internet offering a variety of  ways to access the same information (and more) she questioned whether the various expenditures--of labor, of ecologic resources, of money--were worth it.

It's something we're talking about over at Berkeley Rep, too. Everyone gets the program, of course, but if you visit the Theatre and we already have your email address, you get "liner notes" emailed to you the week before you come. Basically, it's like the "program plus": all the articles you'd read in the program--and more. Madeleine, our dramaturg, writes a note; sometimes we're able to include expanded versions of the articles that we had to trim due to space constraints in the printed program. We can't print videos in the program; online we can link to Les Waters or Mary Zimmerman introducing their show on the first day of rehearsal.*

VP cover But does a service like this supplement or supplant the role of the production program that you receive as part of your day-of-show experience? Among the many hats I wear here at the Theatre, I'm editor of the program. It's my baby, from running the editorial meeting to taking final responsibility for proofreading (I always wanted to be Lois Lane when I grew up). This week, as the one for In the Next Room heads off to the printer (that's the cover, at left), I gotta say that putting them together is no small task. We're effectively publishing a 40 to 50-page magazine every few weeks, and in many ways, it would be much easier to just put it all online and call it done.

So why don't we? Well, we have specific contractual obligations to the actors and the other artists which include specific credits in a printed program--but I'm sure that the day will come when those credits are renegotiated in such a way that budget-conscious nonprofits (like us!) could extend some form of equitable credit in an online forum. And then we'll have to make a choice.

I can tell you my perspective on it -- which is that even as a very small kid, I always felt that receiving a program as I entered the theatre was part of the experience. At the very least, it's what you do before the show. It's that thing you revisit at intermission, to see how many of the pieces hinted at by the dramaturg and the artistic director are now beginning to fit together. I can't imagine plugging in my iPod at the Theatre to listen to a podcast of the same. But, I recognize this is a topic for debate with many perspectives. So, I wanted to throw it open to you, the Berkeley Rep audience. What part does the printed program play in your experience at the Theatre? Do you think it should stick around? Why or why not?

I'm curious to hear what you have to say.

*If you get our emails, and for some reason you're not getting the liner notes, drop me a line, and I'll figure out what's going on.

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Happy new (book, film, comedy) year!

posted by Terence Keane on Fri, Jan 9

In my last post, I talked about the old year -- how the critics looked back at 2008 and praised our shows. Well, what about the new year? Let's look forward to 2009...

This year, Berkeley Rep is all over the place -- with new books, movies, comedies. It's not just shows here on Addison St. I think it's pretty cool all the things we're connected to this year:

  • We're gonna be in pictures! Spike Lee fell in love with Passing Strange, and saw it again and again in New York. So, at the end of the show's Broadway run, he filmed two performances. I flew back east to be in the audience for this, and it totally rocked! The theatre was packed, the cast was pumped, the band was tearing it up, and the audience was on its feet for much of the show. Next Friday, Spike debuts the film at Sundance -- the first time he's ever showed a film at the festival. Unfortunately I can't go to Park City for the premiere, but I'm dying to see the movie... and to sing along with a 30-foot-tall Stew on screen.

  • Berkeley Rep bestseller? If you enjoyed watching Carrie Fisher dishing dirt in Wishful Drinking last year (and lots of people did, judging by the box-office records she broke), then you'll want to know that she just released the script in book form. In fact, it's at #17 on the New York Times bestseller list! I think it would be phenomenal if a script from our stage topped that particular list, so consider buying a copy. If that show doesn't do it for you, other books with Berkeley Rep roots are on the way: this year, TCG will publish Culture Clash's Zorro in Hell and the stage version of Tony Kushner's Brundibar.

  • On the road again: Carrie continues her tour this year, taking Wishful Drinking to Seattle Rep in April. Danny Hoch is headed to Los Angeles this month with Taking Over, and The Arabian Nights is off to Kansas City and Chicago as soon as it finishes its run here. I really have to thank Tony (our artistic director) for simplifying my Christmas shopping over the last few years. With our shows traveling so much, I just pick up the phone and buy a couple of tickets to one of our plays as they pass through the places where my relatives live.

  • In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)Plug in: We're in the midst of our commissioning project, our pledge to create 50 new plays by 2013. It's a pretty bold goal, and one of the reasons I'm proud to work here. As our literary manager, Madeleine, says in the program for our next play, "It seems like a no-brainer. If you don't write any new plays, there won't be any new plays. And without them, theatre will get stuck in the past and lose its potency as a catalyst for contemporary dialogue." So don't miss our next show. It's a world premiere, and it's called In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). Sarah Ruhl and Les Waters -- the playwright and director, respectively -- also worked together on one of my favorite shows of the last decade, if not all time: Eurydice. I started here just before we opened that show, and it reassured me I was in the right place. (We just finished the photo shoot for In the Next Room yesterday. That's the campy image at right.)

  • Other new shows: I'm also eager to see two other comedies we've got on tap this spring: The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which is another totally twisted story by the guy who wrote The Pillowman, and You, Nero.

So it's a new year, indeed -- full of new plays and new ways of bringing our work to a larger audience. Who knows? Maybe the next big thing will be the Super Susie comic book about the business adventures of our boss, or maybe the Carrie Fisher action figure.

Um... wait a second...


Photo of Paul Niebanck and Maria Dizzia by

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