Berkeley Rep Blog

April 2009

Broadway, Baby!

posted by Megan Wygant on Thu, Apr 30

It's official.

Carrie Fisher, Broadway baby, best-selling author, musical muse, comedienne, and many many other things (including, oh, yeah, a pop-culture icon for the past 30 years), is heading to Broadway with her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking. Given the wild Hollywood ride that the story details, I find it particularly appropriate that the show will be staged at Studio 54.

It's directed by our artistic director, Tony Taccone, and will be, in essence, the same show Berkeley audiences saw here last year. Of course, since then, the show has been on a six-city national tour, the script has been on the New York Times bestseller list, and I'm sure Carrie has enjoyed many more adventures, which I'm sure will make some appearance.

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Two Little Men Out of the Chair

posted by Robert Sweibel on Fri, Apr 24

Inishmore chair 

The Lieutenant of Inishmore opened to the press on Wednesday night. So as you can imagine, we sat on pins and needles all day Thursday waiting for the reviews. The major daily papers would post them on their web sites. We'd bet they'd be good because we think the show's a riot. But you never know.

For Lieutenant, the reviews needed to be bloody good. We (the Theatre) set the audience / financial goal for this show very high. Based on past experience with the playwright, and other considerations, we took a calculated BIG risk. And that was before the economy got bled.

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The Irish National Be Nice to Cats Army

posted by Megan Wygant on Thu, Apr 23


I really enjoy watching The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which started previews last Friday and officially opened last night. Actually, I really like watching the audience. Does that make me a bad person?

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With, matter, cat

posted by Megan Wygant on Mon, Apr 20

I've always been fascinated with accents: how they're created, and how significantly one can change the assumptions you make about a person's character (See: Shaw's Pygmalion).

Since The Lieutenant of Inishmore is set in Ireland (Galway, to be precise), we had Lynne Soffer coaching the actors in dialects for the show. Lynne has served as dialect coach for several of our productions, most notably Homebody/Kabul and The Laramie Project.

Early in rehearsals, we had a great conversation about Irish dialects, particularly McDonagh Irish, which is a bit different. Check it out!

BTW -- My grandma thinks it's her birthday today. So, happy birthday, Grandma!

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Green Day Rocks the Fox

posted by Robert Sweibel on Wed, Apr 15

I’m a lucky guy. You probably know that Berkeley Rep is producing the the stage version of Green Day's platinum-selling American Idiot. Previews begin September 4. The Theatre is working closely with the band, its record companies (Warner Brothers Music and Reprise Records -- I’m still not sure how that works) to promote the show. The record hits stores on Friday, May 15; a world tour follows sometime after that. And before the band plays the big arenas, they play smaller gigs around the Bay Area to refine their show with the support of hometown crowds. So tonight Berkeley Rep’s PR director, Terence Keane, and I -- he with one of his friends, and me with my son Oliver -- went down to the Fox Theatre in Oakland to catch the show.

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Making an entrance. Or, If you're only in one scene, you'd better do something memorable.

posted by Daniel Kreuger on Mon, Apr 13

I must be out of my mind.

The stage directions for the beginning of my character's scene are as follows: "James, a bare-chested, bloody and bruised man, hangs upside down from the ceiling..." And let me tell you, in the Roda Theatre, that is one TALL ceiling.

But I did know what I was getting into. Sort of. I'd read the play a few years ago, and was lucky to see it performed on Broadway, upside-down hanging and all. It's a great scene, and I felt like I was up for the challenge. After all, if you're only going to be in one scene, you might as well do something to make the audience remember you. But I have to confess, in my entire career as an actor, I have never performed a scene upside down. Even offstage I've rarely spent more than a minute or two with my feet where my head should be. But when you're offered a role in a show as cool as this, little details such as the fact that you'll be hanging upside down for roughly twelve minutes sort of fade into the background. I figured I was ready. How hard could it really be?
Two weeks before our first rehearsal, I received a phone call from the production manager. "So, I just want to make sure you've prepared for the hanging as much as you can before we start. Have you ever spent much time upside down, like in gravity boots or on an inversion table?"  
"Um, gravity what?" I said. "Not really, but I'm pretty active and stuff. I think it'll be okay."
Turns out, there's quite a lot to think about if you're acting upside down for several minutes. From that first conversation I gathered that, among other considerations, I would have to start being very careful about what I eat, and when, on days that I'll be hanging. More recently, without going into too much detail, I learned that spicy foods and coffee, although delicious, are not my friends right now. Plenty of water and plenty of sleep, however, are.

Another thing I was told to prepare for was the fact that, when upside down, your mouth moves differently. Gravity is pulling your muscles in the opposite direction from what they're used to. And in this play, if you didn't guess from the title, we're Irish. Being a California native, my Irish accent is the product of practice and several sessions with our dialect coach. It's one thing to sit around a table and learn the sounds, the placement, and the inflection of a dialect, but when you're flipped completely over, your voice comes out drastically different. It was time to start practicing.  But how?

Thirty seconds at a time.  

In one corner of the rehearsal hall, a rig was built. And by a rig, I mean a rope hung from the high ceiling, some pulleys and carabiners, something called a swivel, and two ankle harnesses, the kind that are used for bungee jumping. We decided that the best thing would be to ease into the hanging slowly, starting at about four minutes, and then adding thirty seconds or so each day. So every day in rehearsal we would run the entire scene on the ground (with me seated on a comfy ottoman), and then "string me up" for four minutes of the scene, then four and a half the next day, then five the next day, and so on. Some days it was not as important to run the scene, so I would come in to rehearsal, put on the harnesses, hang, and we would literally just chat for eight or nine minutes, just to get me upside down for thirty seconds longer. It was actually quite pleasant.  But what about days off?  And how to train for two-show days?

Enter the inversion table. This is a device that people use in their homes to hang upside down and stretch out their backs. I suggest looking it up online. It's pretty crazy and seriously fun, and I know for a fact that some Berkeley Rep staff tried it out before they delivered it to my house. I also have to remain ever-vigilant to keep my curious roommates off of it. Basically, you strap in your feet, lay your back flat on the table with your head against the headrest, and let your body weight and gravity flip you slowly over backwards. Using this, I can practice at home, with the added bonus of being able to do ab exercises on it! (However, I must be doing them wrong, because I see no noticeable improvement). 
With all of this practice, I was beginning to feel very comfortable upside down, like Peter Pan in some sort of seriously messed up version of that story. We were making it through the entire scene inverted, and even adding some extra hanging time, to reach our goal of twelve minutes. Being upside down was practically second nature, and the height was certainly never an issue.
Then we moved into the theater, and everything changed. 
[To be continued...]

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Irish accents, cats, and blood

posted by Pauline Luppert on Thu, Apr 9

I rather fancy The Pogues; I was quite charmed when director Les Waters likened Martin McDonagh's writing to their music.

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...and SOLD!

posted by Lynn Eve Komaromi on Tue, Apr 7

On Friday night, we mounted what I affectionately call our “8th production.” The Narsai Toast, our gourmet gala fundraiser, might not be a play or have an extended rehearsal period, but it is certainly a production. Everyone in the theatre is involved in some way, and instead of emanating from the Artistic Department, this production is rooted in Development.

This was the 17th year of The Narsai Toast and a bit bittersweet as our host, Narsai David, decided this was the year to retire from all the toasting. Narsai was one of the founding board members of the Theatre and is an elder statesman of sorts. For the past 17 years, he has corralled teams of celebrity chefs to create one spectacular dinner, and our fundraising gala has become known as one of the finest in town--no rubber chickens served here!

This year, we introduced something new. Inspired by the rise in popularity of shows on the Food Network (personally, I am a die-hard fan of Top Chef, as is our art director Cheshire), we took video cameras into the kitchen at The Ritz-Carlton to see this year’s team at work. Guests got a backstage view of Michael Chiarello prepping his asparagus, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani searing their black cod, Jean-Pierre Dubray trimming artichokes for his barigoule, and Gerald Hirogoyen macerating some strawberries for his dessert.

While the food is what draws many to the event, raising money for Berkeley Rep is what it’s really all about. In this down economy, paying $600 a head is tough to swallow, but we were thrilled that we had nearly 350 guests in attendance. Tony Taccone spoke eloquently about the times we are living in. When the global crisis hit six months ago, many of us were forced to re-evaluate what was important in our lives. Of course, family comes first---but to see that the folks who came to The Narsai Toast placed value on Berkeley Rep, that this theatre is important to them and worth supporting, was deeply meaningful for all of us who work in the theatre.

That sense of value was particularly evident when the live auction got off to a rousing start. First up for bid was a VIP trip to Washington, DC, which included a private tour of the White House and Supreme Court with a DC insider. The bidding was fast and furious, and came to a crescendo when the last paddle was raised for $11,000. The auctioneer’s proclamation of “SOLD!” sent the crowd into cheers. Everyone wanted Berkeley Rep to win.

All told, more than $440,000 was raised to benefit the Theatre.  It wasn’t as much as we have raised in other years, but it is demonstrative of the incredible generosity of hundreds of people who believe in the power of theatre. It was a great night.

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Mmmm...shoe polish

posted by Megan Wygant on Thu, Apr 2

This morning, I stopped by the fridge to drop off my lunch and was brought up short. This is what I saw:

Shoe polish 

In case you can’t read the writing, the top of the plastic container reads “shoe polish.”

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is currently in rehearsal, and there’s a scene where two of the main characters try to put shoe polish on a cat (which is just as difficult as it sounds), so part of this makes sense…but I’d never heard of perishable polish before.

I was about to shrug this off as one of the oddities of working in a theatre when Leslie Radin, the show's production assistant, walked over, reached into the fridge, and grabbed the container in question.

So I had to ask: “shoe polish, huh?”

She smiled—and grabbed a spoon. “Want a taste?”

Turns out, since the polish gets everywhere during the scene—faces, eyes, mouths—it’s not shoe polish at all, but simply something made to look like it.

And the main ingredient is chocolate.

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