Berkeley Rep Blog

March 2009

Announcing American Idiot

posted by Terence Keane on Mon, Mar 30

As if sending a show to Broadway and announcing three world premieres wasn't enough news for one month, today we went public with a top-secret project we've been working on:

GreenDayThis September, we're collaborating with the Grammy-winning band Green Day and Tony-winning director Michael Mayer to stage the world premiere of American Idiot!

There's so many reasons this kicks ass. The album rocks. The band grew up here. Michael changed the course of musicals with his production of Spring Awakening. And, once again, Berkeley Rep is responding to tough economic times by taking on a high-stakes project rather than just playing it safe. I love working here.

Here's what the folks involved in the project had to say when we announced:

  • From Billie Joe Armstrong, frontman for Green Day: “We are really excited to be working with Michael Mayer on this project. We’d been thinking of bringing American Idiot to the stage, but knew we needed to find the right partners. After meeting with Michael to discuss the possibility, he invited us to see Spring Awakening. We were so impressed with that production, as well as his vision for American Idiot, that we knew we’d found the perfect collaborator. Plus, doing it in our hometown at Berkeley Rep was an obvious bonus. They’re an amazing theatre group, very adventurous, and their willingness to take chances is in keeping with the spirit of the album. The end result will be terrific, and we’re really proud."
  • From Michael Mayer: "When I first heard American Idiot, I was struck by its innate theatricality. Here was a new musical drama begging to be staged. Who would have thought that one of the most brutally honest, eloquent, passionate, funny, and poetic theatrical responses to the post 9-11 world would be a Green Day record? The connection I felt to American Idiot surprised me. I knew and liked Green Day, but had no clue that I would ever feel so inside their songs. This work of passion and vision and fierce intelligence seemed to me like the heartbeat of a generation of Americans who were fed up. I hear in these amazing songs the articulation of their frustration, anger, longing for a better world -– a journey from apathy to action. Collaborating with Billie Joe and the band is a mind-blowing thrill, and I can’t wait to begin production at Berkeley Rep, the perfect home for making a new kind of musical event."
  • From Artistic Director Tony Taccone: "Green Day is a band that we’ve long admired here in Berkeley and championed as one of our own. American Idiot is an iconic album, and having the opportunity to bring it to the stage is a bit of a dream come true. To preserve the original intention of the album while creating a stage-worthy experience is a challenge that we relish, and bringing a director with the skill and experience of Michael Mayer into our theatre makes it that much sweeter."

For more info, or to buy tickets, go to our home page:

Green Day photo by Phil Mucci

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New Business: The Lieutenant of Inishmore

posted by Lee Helms on Fri, Mar 27

Boy is this one a mess.

If you’re familiar with The Lieutenant of Inishmore, you may already know what I’m talking about. The script is so funny and poignant, but the particular style with which it achieves success as a play creates some… sticky challenges for the production staff.

There’s blood. And guts. And blood. And cats. And blood. And guns. And a scene that’s upside-down. Also, there’s blood.

As the stage management intern, one of my favorite parts of the show so far is something the audience will never get to see: our weekly production meetings. With such juicy agenda items as “Brain Matter,” “Cat Trap,” “Cell phone: Breaking and Exploding??” and (you guessed it) “Blood,” there’s never a dull moment.

In fact, we could probably sell tickets. The plastic chairs are surprisingly comfy and sometimes there’s even coffee!

Each week I watch in awe as the team collaborates by tirelessly combing through detail after detail with compassion for each other and the deepest respect for the play and its purpose. The cunning of McDonagh’s script has to be matched by the ingenuity and willpower of the Berkeley Rep staff, and while the play will ultimately have the effect of being messy, chaotic, and more than a little ridiculous, our goal is for the actual operation of the show to be anything but.

You’d never know, for example, that certain pieces of furniture on the set actually serve as strategically-placed storage units for blood-stained props that need to quickly appear on stage during scene-changes. Or that the "wooden" arms on an armchair have actually been replaced by steel replicas (not an easy feat) in order to accommodate a particular piece of blocking. Or that the intricate paint work on the set is actually a delicate balance between the scenic design and the need for every inch of every surface to be heavily sealed so that it can be cleaned between performances. Or that the appearance of an actor suspended upside-down several feet above the floor is the result of exhaustive planning, practice, rigging, re-rigging, and even our very own production stage manager spending some time in the air.  

Lee photo 

The list goes on and on, and we only started two weeks ago! I’m telling you, these folks are geniuses.

Production meetings can be serious business, but our business is a play after all. It’s fun! Highlights of the meetings usually come when someone (and by “someone” I mean Les Waters, our esteemed director) erupts into giggles because it becomes clear that a room full of 20 people matter-of-factly debating the merits of blood-rigged toupees and headless cat puppets is really quite hilarious in an appalling sort of way.

When the show opens on April 22nd, our beloved production meetings will be over and it will be the audience who gets to giggle at the absurdity and bask in the beauty of everyone’s hard work.

But to me, the real show is already well underway.

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More new plays?

posted by Terence Keane on Tue, Mar 24

Aurelia's Oratorio We've just announced five of the plays we'll be presenting next season, and it's a pretty ambitious slate. In this economy, we could play it safe. But we're doing what we do best: new plays. As the San Francisco Chronicle said this morning, "Never mind the downturn -- this theater looks forward, not back, in its upcoming season."

The Vibrator Play, which closed last week, was our 50th world premiere. And, even as that show moves to Broadway, we're planning more world premieres. The new season includes two directed by Les Waters, who also staged Vibrator: Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West by Naomi Iizuka and Girlfriend, a musical based on Matthew Sweet's amazing album of the same name (with a book by up-and-coming talent Todd Almond). There's also the world premiere of Five Questions, which reunites the team behind Broadway's Well: Obie Award-winners Lisa Kron and Leigh Silverman.

Taccone and Kushner Then we've got the West Coast premiere of Tiny Kushner -- which I like to call a tale of two Tonys because it's another collaboration between Tony Kushner and Tony Taccone -- and a cool circus-like spectacle called Aurelia's Oratorio, which stars the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin. Two more shows will be named later, and I suspect you'll see at least one more premiere on that list.

Tony probably put it best in that feature in today's Chronicle:  "It may seem counterintuitive in this economy, when many people think you should make the safest choices you can, but we've become who we are. As Kushner would say, 'The world only spins forward.' I'm not saying we're not interested in classics. We'll do classics again. But the contribution we're most excited about now includes a lot of new writers."

Read more about next season here. Meanwhile, we've got to get busy selling subscriptions.

Photo of Aurelia Thierree by Richard Haughton
Photo of Taccone and Kushner by Cheshire Isaacs

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Reader makes good

posted by Amy Potozkin on Mon, Mar 23


This is my first official blog entry in the history of my blogging life. Yes, I’m willing to lose my blogging virginity to tell the very cool story of how Tyler Pierce got cast as Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment at Berkeley Rep.

People have been asking how I “discovered” this wonderful actor. Not to put on a mask of false humility, but I’m not sure any casting director discovers any particular actor -– although I know what they mean. And here’s the story:

When we do auditions for shows, actors are given “sides" — scenes they need to read for the role or roles they are auditioning for. We also hire a “reader,” whose job it is to sit in the audition and play opposite the actors. The reader sits in a chair with their back to us, so that the actor auditioning has the focus.

So, after completing local auditions here in Berkeley for Sarah Ruhl’s play In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), director Les Waters and I went to New York to audition more actors for the show. I hired a New York casting director named Janet Foster to help put together a casting session for us, and after receiving submissions from agents and culling through her files she put together two days of auditions for various roles in the play.

Tylerpierceblog Tyler Pierce was hired to be our reader for the two days of Next Room auditions -— three days, actually, because we then did a day of callbacks. No wait -— make that four days, because after we completed the auditions for the Sarah Ruhl play, we also did a day of auditions for a couple of roles we still needed to cast in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which is also directed by Les.

We sat in the audition room with Tyler for four straight days while he read with other actors. He read all the other roles in all the sides -— both male and female. We were all struck by Tyler’s generosity while reading with the actors, and how keen his instinct was for what each actor needed to have a successful audition. He amped it up a little when necessary, toned it down when that seemed to be the right note for another person’s audition, and read Mrs. Givings with a fragility all his very own.

During the lunch break I got on the phone and called Paul Fouquet, another casting director, who was putting together our half-day audition session for Crime and Punishment a few days later. I asked for him to bring Tyler in to read for Raskolnikov -- he had a certain quiet intensity and authenticity that seemed very right for the role, and after hearing him read with many actors over the course of three days it was clear he was a very good actor.

He was also a pleasure to be around all day, and that’s a big part of casting -— finding out who a director wants to be in a room with for six to eight hours a day, every day, for four weeks. There are actors out there who may be very good, but who wind up on the “life is too short” list ... but that’s another story and a blog I will not be writing, even if it would make juicy reading.

When Tyler came in for his audition for Crime and Punishment, he was on fire. He gave a fantastic audition —- he nailed it. There was another actor who was also fantastic and who took a completely different approach to the character, who director Sharon Ott also liked; both were invited to attend “callbacks” a couple of days later. They were both great and yet completely different. At the callback auditions, Sharon worked with both actors individually -— giving adjustments to choices they were making and asking them to re-think preconceived ideas. She worked with them for about 20 minutes each and after the auditions, decided she wanted Tyler for the role. She was struck by his clarity of intention, his facility with language, his beautiful and flexible vocal instrument, and his intensity and passion.

The role was cast!

We offered it to him, he accepted the offer, and now we have the great pleasure of watching his moving and powerful performance through March 29.


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Vibrator Play goes to Broadway!

posted by Terence Keane on Thu, Mar 19

Bzzzzz It closed on Sunday, but the buzz continues for In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). Yesterday, Lincoln Center Theater announced that it will produce the script on Broadway this fall! We're all feeling a bit proud around here at the moment.

The show will mark the Broadway debut for our associate artistic director, Les Waters, who staged its premiere here and will helm the New York production as well. Playwright Sarah Ruhl will also be celebrating her Broadway debut.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's the third show we've worked on that's gone to Broadway in the last four years: Tony Taccone directed Bridge & Tunnel in 2006, which won a Tony Award for Sarah Jones, and last year Passing Strange won a Tony as well. Strange continued its weird journey this week: Spike Lee's film version of it played at the South by Southwest festival in Austin on St. Patrick's Day.

And the numbers game isn't over: In the Next Room is the eighth show we've sent to Manhattan in eight straight years, the 17th in the last 22 years. It was our 50th world premiere. I'm starting to feel like I should play the lottery today...

But, seriously, it's exciting for those of us who work here. It's wonderful to feel that the plays we create can reach a wider audience, and especially gratifying to see that shows like this -- which blend comedy with serious cultural commentary -- will succeed even in difficult economic times.

Who wants to fly to New York this fall?

Photo of Paul Niebanck and Maria Dizzia by Kevin Berne

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Food for thought

posted by Lynn Eve Komaromi on Wed, Mar 18

I just wanted to share with you a wonderful interaction I had with one of our donors last week. I was in the Mendel Room at intermission for In the Next Room and started chatting with one of newer supporters and her husband. Like many of the donors I've been speaking with lately, they wanted to talk about the economy, how was Berkeley Rep faring, etc. And then they said, "But it is so good to be here tonight...and to laugh. And not just to laugh, but to be with other people who are laughing. That's what theatre is about...that sense of community. You don't get this sitting in front of your computer watching YouTube."

It was a great reminder that especially in times like this, that the work that each of us does in this theatre is important and has meaning in people's lives. That's a great feeling.

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The Method and the Man

posted by Megan Wygant on Fri, Mar 13


Artist Anthony Holdworth's blog entry about Joaquin Torres and his research process for In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) is interesting reading. I hadn't realized how thoroughly Joaquin had researched the role until just now.

By the way, if you haven't seen In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), this weekend is your last chance!


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Patron Word Jumble: Vibrator Edition

posted by Elana McKernan on Thu, Mar 12

One would think that a title as distinctive as "The Vibrator Play" would stick in people's minds. Even if you forget that, Sarah Ruhl's new show has ANOTHER title for you to fall back on: "In the Next Room."

Apparently, though, double titles lead to double confusion for patrons. While "In the Next Room" may not be the most jumbled title in the history of the Berkeley Rep, it is certainly one of the most amusing. I have compiled a list of the top ten alternate titles for "In the Next Room," brought to you by your confused neighbors in Berkeley!

Want to join in the action? Call in for tickets! You only have until Sunday to share a deliciously awkward interaction with the Box Office employee of your choice. Don't miss out! Because, really, how many ways can you mangle "Crime and Punishment?" "Punishment and Crime?" "That Murder Show?"

Without further ado, read on for butchered vibrator goodness (one can only hope that Sarah Ruhl takes notes so as to better title her plays in the future):

10. The Room Next Door (A fairly accurate description of the location of the Roda Theatre in relation to the Box Office)

9. The Door Down the Street (Ditto)

8. Down the Hall (A bit less accurate, but I admire the creativity)

7. That Sarah Ruhl Play (Can't fault the logic here)

6. The New Play by that Eurydice Author (True, true)

5. The Vibrator Room (Sure, why not?)

4. In the Next Vibrator Room (One wonders where the "first" Vibrator Room is?)

3. That Play About Sex (Ok, now this is getting a little ridiculous)

2. That Vagina Show (I'm doing my best not to develop too many mental images of this one)

...and finally, winning the prize for the most amusing and uncomfortable interpretation of Sarah Ruhl's new masterpiece:

1. I WANT VIBRATORS (Emphasis was the patron's, not mine. At the time, I wasn't sure if she had mistaken us for a sex shop. In retrospect, I'm fairly certain she was just a little overzealous in inquiring about tickets)

I must give an honorable mention to the most awkward conversation of the year, though it illustrates a metaphorical, rather than literal, mangling of the Vibrator Play. The conversation went as follows:

Patron: What do you have playing this evening?

Leah: In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play.


Patron: What's a vibrator?

Leah: ...excuse me?

Patron: A vibrator. What's that?


Leah: It's...something...people use on their massage themselves.


Patron: Why is there a play about that?

Leah: Well, it's not just for massages. It's--um--women use it, vibrates, you know?


Leah: (continuing), women, they sometimes use it on other parts of their body...

Patron: What?

Leah: Down, you know...they, um, use it sometimes for...sexual pleasure.

Long pause.

Patron: (Smaller voice) I think I'll check online for information on your next show.

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Dostoevsky: The Cliffs Notes version

posted by Pauline Luppert on Fri, Mar 6

After the first preview of Crime and Punishment, I invited exiting audience members to talk on camera about how they liked the show. Despite bribes of free wine, I didn't have a lot of takers; most were very camera shy. However this woman, Tatiana, was very charming and eloquent. I thought it was rather fortuitous that she is Russian and clearly loves Dostoevsky.

I don't have my camera set up anymore, but if you've seen the show, what did you think? Don't be shy--share your opinions below, in the comments.

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posted by Megan Wygant on Wed, Mar 4

We all make mistakes--and this week, it looks like I made a doozy.

Actually, I didn't make it this week -- that train left the station in early February. But I found out about it this week, and that's what really matters.

As I've mentioned before, one of my main responsibilities is to edit the program you receive each time you come to the Theatre. It is a massive undertaking. (We're in the thick of things for The Lieutenant of Inishmore right now actually, which means that I'm convinced that this will be the time we don't make the deadline and all of you will be handed photocopied-and-stapled flyers when you come to see the show next month.) But, amazingly, we always do make it--and all the fuss is absolutely worth it in that first moment when I take the published program into my hand.

The first skim through the program is all about enjoying the ride. Our art director, Cheshire, and his sidekick, Abby, do a really good job of making the words of all the program writers look fantastic on the page--and seeing it in a glossy magazine is so different than the black and white printouts that I proof.

I've read these articles at least 10 times apiece; the writers and I have haggled over punctuation and phrasing (we all have very particular ideas about how a story should sound); and I've personally checked each i and t to make sure it's been dotted and crossed--but seeing the program in its entirety is like seeing it all for the very first time.

Unfortunately, seeing it for the first time means that I see the things that I missed. Usually it's a missing space, or a spot where "there" got mixed with "their." But sometimes, while proofing, I get so wrapped up in the trees that I miss the forest entirely. And it's in this first read-through that those errors jump out, hit me in the face, and then run around my head laughing about the futility of proofreading.

That's what happened this week with the Crime and Punishment program. The show opens tonight, and there's a pretty big goober on the title page (of course, it couldn't be some page in the back of the book that everyone skips over, oh no.)

So let's play a little game: what's wrong with this picture?

CP title page

I'm not the only one who spotted this error at the office, but let me just spell it out for those of you at home: the first production of this show was at the Writers' Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, in May 2003. That's five years ago. So, yeah, our show? Not the world premiere.

This is actually what we would call a Very Big Deal -- premiering a show is a huge risk for theatre companies. It's a massive investment of time and resources, and having the courage to take that leap affords a theatre certain perquisites going forward. Like, I don't know, not having another theatre jump on their claim.

I'm not the only one who missed it in the proof, but I'm the one who has final there's egg all over my face today (and signage admitting the mistake all over the theatre).

Hey, at least we spelled Dostoevsky's name right.

Anyone want to make me feel better? Share your most embarrassing work-related errors in the comments.

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