Berkeley Rep Blog

June 2009

First we eat and drink...

posted by Elissa Dunn on Tue, Jun 30


If you happened to attend a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening performance this past season you may have had the pleasure of experiencing a Berkeley Rep Tasting night. This is a fairly new program at Berkeley Rep, one that works well for us, for our tasting partners and for you, the oh-so-lucky recipient of a stellar taste of wine, gelato, chocolate, salumi, or countless other offerings. We hosted 90 tasting events throughout last season, serving over 13,500 patrons.

Now we’re ramping up for the 09/10 season, and I’m reaching out to our past tasting partners and also some new ones to bring them into the theatre and onto your plate. I have a few favorite places in mind to reach out to, but I’m interested in hearing from all of you. Please leave a comment and let me know who or what would you like to see in our Tasting Series this season. If you have some ideas or have a local business and would like to participate, we want to know! Here are just a few of the tasting partners who have confirmed for Green Day’s American Idiot in September:


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Throwing limbs is not easy: I don't have good aim

posted by Sarah Moser on Thu, Jun 25

YN limbs

You may recall a moment during You, Nero in which newly severed bloody limbs come tumbling out of the sky, falling at the feet of the stunned Scribonius and Batheticus.  I hate to kill any theater magic, but these limbs aren't real.  They look eerily like severed limbs and are made out of super-cool, Nerf-like material.  They even have a steel rod or some other kind of skeletal substance inside to make them feel like real limbs.  It’s pretty rad.  These limbs get chucked from the back of the theater onto the stage by yours truly (and by the great Maggie Mason and Donnie Hill).  A seemingly benign task, we flitted through rehearsals without a care in the world, happily throwing our limbs onto the rehearsal room floor, hitting our target every time. 

But then we moved into the theater, and things changed.  We realized that not only do the limbs have to make a much longer journey to their target, but also there was the added obstacle of AUDIENCE MEMBERS’ HEADS to consider.  Sweaty palms yet?  Soon, we were each imagining situations in which limbs were ricocheting off of audience members, causing us to be banned from Berkeley Rep forevermore, never again able to work.  But our stage manager, the great Julie Haber, reassured us that we were up for the task. Were we?

Well, in the last week of the run, it seems like we’ve done fairly well – only a few missteps along the way.  I have very bad aim. When my P.E. teacher forced me to play kickball in elementary school, I nearly had a panic attack.  Inevitably, I would either miss the ball entirely (no matter how hard I kicked), or I would take out a kindergartener. You can imagine that all of my fourth-grade anxiety came tumbling back when I realized that my aim and athleticism were once again important. 

I developed several ways to combat this anxiety:

  1. Practice throws.  This is essential.  Warm up your arm, remind yourself what it feels like to throw a severed limb.

  2. Calisthenics.  Works every time.  Knee-high body twists remind my body that we’re about to do something athletic.  Gets the heart pumping.

  3. Take off the gold bangles, momentarily.  Rid yourself of any heavy jewelry that might get in the way of the perfect shot.

  4. Aim for Jeff McCarthy (Scribonius).  It’s like magic.  When I try to hit him, I always do.  He and Mike McShane (Batheticus) are really good at deflecting limbs.  I bet they were good at dodgeball way back when.

  5. Listen to Susannah Schulman (Poppaea).  She mentors us to get into a Zen frame of mind.  If you don’t think about hitting an audience member, you definitely won’t.

And that’s that.  Of course, Donnie Hill was on the varsity track team in college, so he throws the severed head (the coup d’etat, if you will) with incredible skill and artistry every night.  And Maggie’s all over that wee little severed hand that has a tendency to bounce.

Overall, a little anxiety goes a long way.  Or at least we hope it does, and not into your lap.

Photo by Kevin Berne
Mike McShane (left) as Batheticus
and Jeff McCarthy as Scribonius recoil
from the throwing of severed limbs in
You, Nero.

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Nearly everything's in Nero

posted by Terence Keane on Tue, Jun 23

As I watched You, Nero the other night, I was surprised to see that it unintentionally contains amusing allusions to the other shows in our season. What a perfect way to end the year:

  • There's the scene near the top of the show in which Scribonius watches the gladiators fight at the Colosseum. He gets pelted with bloody limbs, which are not -- but certainly could have been -- leftover props from The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
  • YNO_223

    Which one is Scheherazade?

    There's the scene in which, as he tries to write dialogue for his play, he speaks the lines at the same time that they're acted out on stage. It's almost as if he's Scheherazade in Mary Zimmerman's version of The Arabian Nights.

  • Then Nero explains how it's OK that he commited the most horrific of crimes because he's an important person and his family is "different." Isn't that the same philosphical argument propounded by Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment?

  • Finally, I'm pretty sure I glimpsed a gold bikini at the end of Act One, which makes me think of a certain princess named Leia. And right now we're preparing for the return of that particular Jedi... In July, Carrie Fisher reprises her solo show, Wishful Drinking, at Berkeley Rep before she and Tony take it to Broadway. She'll only be here for 15 performances, so get those tickets now.

I know that Amy Freed didn't mean to sum up our season in one script, but it was a fun game to play as I watched the show. I wasn't clever enough to draw connections to Yellowjackets, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, or In the Next Room -- but maybe you can find one? Let me know.

Photos by Kevin Berne:
Sofia Jean Gomez and Alana Arenas in
The Arabian Nights
Kasey Mahaffy, Lori Larsen, and Jeff McCarthy in
You, Nero

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Ad conformity!

posted by Pauline Luppert on Fri, Jun 19

You probably wouldn't guess it from looking at the final version here but this ad for the return of Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking went through several very different stages.

I began ambitiously with the concept. There was a version that featured various Carrie Fisher clips floating through the scene in little animated bubbles. (I gave up on that when I admitted to myself that I didn't have the time to execute it really well.)

There was a version that started with a parody of the opening sequence of the original Star Wars movie. (I gave up on that when I admitted to myself that I couldn't make it really funny without treading some delicate licensing/copyright issues.)

There was a version without my voice-over track. (I gave up on that when admitted to myself that my aesthetic aversion to voice-over tracks does not trump my boss's ad research that says: "you gotta tell viewers what to do -- `reserve your tickets today!'")

Oh, and there was a version with an animated martini glass. I had to cut that when I learned that certain cable networks regarded the martini glass as glorifying alcohol consumption... and then I got to put the glass back in for the broadcast networks.


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Beautiful and sad

posted by Megan Wygant on Wed, Jun 17

Abandoned theatres Our internal staff newsletter can contain wonderful things: announcements of art shows created by coworkers, invitations to plays at local theatres, the occasional good joke, staff gossip, and the like.

Occasionally, there's something beautiful that a member of our staff wants to share with others. Like this: a slideshow of abandoned theatres, found and shared by Ashley Dawn, our prop manager. Check it out.

Thanks for the link, Ashley!

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posted by Sarah Moser on Mon, Jun 15

Paradise. I'm pretty sure that's what Berkeley Rep is. Since the day that rehearsals began in early May, I've been wandering around in a magical stupor. Here's why:

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Page to Stage

posted by Mina on Fri, Jun 12

Theatre is not a passive art form, and no one knows this better than the Berkeley Rep audience.

As the house lights come up after a show, our audiences buzz in response to the art on the stage. And that is the way it should be. Why go through the Herculean effort of bringing a play to life (it takes a village, really) if it is stale and makes us listless? Let us question, debate, and assert!

Every season, Berkeley Rep expands this forum by offering a series of free discussions with the theatre artists creating the work. Did you know that it takes two to three years to create a new play that we, the audience, experiences for two to three hours? What passion drove the artist to dedicate their days and nights during those 2-4 years to creating this piece, for us, the audience? "Page to Stage" provides us a brief window into their perspective, their struggle, and the fulfillment of their vision.

As the Artistic Intern here at Berkeley Rep, I work with the development department’s Margo Chilless and Literary Manager / Dramaturg Madeleine Oldham, to put together three evenings of “Page to Stage” for the season. We begin planning well in advance (we're currently planning for next season). Margo starts the process by reviewing Berkeley Rep's events calendar to ensure that we are evenly peppering the season with a variety of events. Once we have a sense of potential dates, Madeleine and I discuss what shows and themes will resonate most with our audience. It's like planning a dinner party: we consider complimentary voices (artists matched to moderators) along with the representation of diverse perspectives and experiences through the season. Guests can include playwrights, directors, designers, actors, and musicians; past guest have included David Edgar, Tony Kushner, Mary Zimmerman, Rita Moreno, Salman Rushdie, and Charles Mee. Can you imagine enjoying your glass of wine while chatting intimately with these guests?

This Monday, we have our final “Page to Stage” event for the season with Amy Freed and Tony Taccone. What I love most about putting it all together is that I get to meet the artists before the audience arrives. Since I worked as the assistant director on Freed's piece, You, Nero, it will be a reunion and celebration of the hard work, commitment, and passion that went into the play! Following the discussion (open to the public...and FREE), there's a special reception where supporters of the Theatre will be able to speak with the artists in a more intimate setting.

Come join us!

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Inishmore Wardrobe Pt. 1

posted by A Susskind on Tue, Jun 9

During the final week of The Lieutenant of Inishmore at Berkeley Rep, I spent an evening with the wardrobe crew. Over the course of the show, 30 or so gallons of blood covered the stage and the actors. Here's a glimpse of what life backstage looked like:

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Berkeley Rep Blog 1.5: RSS, sharing, and more

posted by Cheshire Isaacs on Fri, Jun 5

In the past couple of days we've been working under the blog hood, and we've made some tweaks and introduced a couple of great features:

  • We finally have an RSS feed! The link appears on every blog page in the left column. RSS is an easy way of reading all the blogs you frequent. Find out more about RSS and how to access our feed here.
  • Want to tell people about something you read on the blog? Now it's easier than ever. On each page with a single blog post, you'll see a little button marked "Share." Roll your mouse over that button to find multiple ways you can share that story with your friends -- through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, and more.
  • The blog home page and monthly/category archives now show excerpts of long posts rather than the whole thing. This makes it much easier to scroll and find articles you want to read.
  • Comments are now enclosed in a grey box, which helps reduce visual clutter on the page. It's a minor tweak, to be sure, but we're always looking for ways to improve things.

Anything more you want to see us do with the blog? Let us know in the comments!

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Drama Obama

posted by Robert Sweibel on Tue, Jun 2

It would be too simple to compare the fact of President and Mrs. Obama's attendance last night at a performance of August Wilson's contemporary masterpiece, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, in New York City, with the patronage habits of his predecessor. I can only suppose that President Bush #43, were he a playgoer, would have attended only matinees. Hard to make it bed by 9pm if you've got an 8pm curtain.

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