Berkeley Rep Blog

June 2010

Digging Scoop and his Crazy Wisdom

posted by Chad Jones on Wed, Jun 30

Wes “Scoop” Nisker is known for his decades of work as a Bay Area radio news anchor and commentator as well as for his teachings in Buddhist meditation and philosophy. But he has a secret: there’s theatre in his past.

Wes Scoop Nisker

Back in the day, he dabbled in stage work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and in the late ‘70s, he was part of a performance work called The Empire Strikes Out, which ran at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco and at the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley.

As his journey took him into the Buddhist community, Scoop performed some short pieces during workshops and at conferences until people encouraged him to go public. That’s when he started performing different versions of Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again at venues such as The Marsh and Freight & Salvage.

For the last few months, Scoop has been working on Crazy Wisdom with Mina Morita, Berkeley Rep’s Bret C. Harte Directing Fellow, along with Literary/Dramaturgy Fellow Rachel Viola, to transform Crazy Wisdom from a lecture piece to something more theatrical. This revamped, more theatrical version will have two performances as part of Berkeley Rep’s Fireworks festival July 2 and 3.

“It used to be very casual,” Scoop recalls. “It was me getting up and making observations, musing on life and the universe. Now the show is being given thematic and dramatic arcs than it never had, which is interesting and exciting. It’s also hard work!”

According to Scoop, the underlying theme of the show hasn’t changed, which is essentially him musing on stuff. “The new structure gives me freedom to get into the character that is me, to let the character come into it and let it be full-blown exposition,” Scoop says. “My main objective is to share my own wonder, my own excitement about the things that I am taken with – science, the universe, existence, what it’s all about. In the show I describe myself as kind of a cosmic journalist and a comic philosopher.”

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Leaving us In the Wake

posted by Chad Jones on Fri, Jun 25

In the Wake 5

As we head into closing weekend for Lisa Kron's In the Wake, we'd like to leave you with a few parting thoughts courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

Charles McNulty, in his essay "The Kushner effect, an Angel in American playwriting," celebrates the lasting legacy of Tony Kushner's epic Angels in America, a play that has inspired a generation of writers to bring national scope and creative imagination to the stage. He writes:

Three plays in recent months have pressed an awareness of the continuing artistic impact of Angels: Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Julia Cho's The Language Archive and Lisa's Kron's In the Wake...

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Today only! Great offer for Berkeley Rep friends from Hotel Shattuck Plaza

posted by Chad Jones on Fri, Jun 25

Hotel Shattuck Plaza

Now that it's officially summer, life is gloriously full of activity.

It's Pride Weekend, with events all around the Bay Area, and the A's are playing a triple header against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here at Berkeley Rep, it's closing weekend for Lisa Kron's In the Wake, and we see the final performances of Dan Hoyle's The Real Americans as part of the Fireworks festival.

To provide an oasis of calm amid the craziness, the Hotel Shattuck Plaza has a special one-day offer for Berkeley Rep's friends: 25% off already reduced room rates this weekend (Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27).

Call the hotel today (Friday, June 25) at 510 845-7300 to reserve a discounted room for this weekend. Say you want the "Friends of Berkeley Rep" rate. Reminder: this is a one-day offer!

Have a great (busy) weekend!

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Meet Dan Hoyle's secret weapon

posted by Chad Jones on Thu, Jun 24

Charlie Varon

Sure Dan Hoyle is a skilled journalist, a fascinating writer, and an incredibly talented performer. But he also happens to make savvy choices when it comes to picking his collaborators.

If you were a young solo performer seeking to develop new work, to whom would you turn for help? Dan went straight to Charlie Varon (Rush Limbaugh in Night School, Rabbi Sam), one of the country's best solo performers who also helps steer other solo shows — often at The Marsh in San Francisco — toward brilliance.

Charlie and Dan first collaborated on Tings Dey Happen, a show about Dan's experience as a Fulbright Scholar studying Nigerian oil politics on the Niger Delta. That show went so well they embarked on a second show, The Real Americans, about Dan's cross-country trip in search of "the real America."

Both shows had critics raving and audiences thronging. And both shows just happen to be part of Berkeley Rep's Fireworks festival. The Real Americans begins performances tonight and runs through Sunday, June 27. And Tings Dey Happen runs June 30 and July 1.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Rob Hurwitt sat down with Charlie to talk about his collaboration with Dan in today's newspaper. Read the interview.

Visit our online box office for Fireworks ticket information or call 510 647-2949.

Above photo: Charlie Varon, director and co-developer of Dan Hoyle's Tings Dey Happen and The Real Americans. Photo by Liz Hafalia, courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle

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An incisive peek into the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre

posted by Chad Jones on Mon, Jun 21


Today, the rehearsal halls were once again alive with the sound and fury of the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre's Summer Intensive. This is the start of the first of two Summer Intensives: middle-school students are here through July 16, and the second session, for high-school students, runs July 19 through August 13. The energy and enthusiasm of the students infuses the entire building, and it's thrilling.

But then again, the School of Theatre is a pretty exciting place most of the time. For proof, look no further than this new promotional video that focuses in on the School's outreach program to local classrooms, classes for youths and teens, and the incredible hands-on and behind-the-scenes work done by the Teen Council.

Click for information about the School of Theatre and more summer programs.

Above photo: Berkeley Rep School of Theatre's Teen One Acts Festival

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More Dan Hoyle and The Real Americans

posted by Chad Jones on Wed, Jun 16

When you hear the phrase "due to popular demand" it can seem like so much promotional hoo-ha. But when we say it, we mean it. Due to popular demand, we've added one more performance of Dan Hoyle's acclaimed solo show The Real Americans to the Fireworks festival. Dan has sold out his Real Americans performances June 24-26, so another one just had to be added.

Dan Hoyle 2
Tickets are $25. You can order them here. When they're gone, that's it!

While we're on the subject of the dynamic Mr. Hoyle, you should check this new profile from the San Jose Mercury News/Contra Costa Times. Karen D'Souza talked to Dan about bringing Americans and Tings Dey Happen to the Fireworks festival.

Karen had this to say about Dan:

"If his father, Geoff, has been dubbed the clown prince of the Bay Area theater scene, Dan is the Marco Polo of monologuists. The quick-witted performer scours the globe and then fills the stage with a menagerie of characters, from Alabama NASCAR fans to Nigerian warlords, with equal parts chutzpah and empathy. In show after show he etches quicksilver portraits of the people, politics and issues that make the 21st century such a beguiling time to live."

Karen also talked with Charlie Varon, who helped develop Dan's shows and directed them.

"`A lot of solo performers can run through a series of characters one after another,' says veteran director Charlie Varon (Rush Limbaugh in Night School). `Dan's work is so much more rich and complex than that. He can play everyone sitting at the table all at once. With his physical dexterity and his intellectual adventurousness, he can create an entire universe.' While many assume that Hoyle inherited his mimetic gifts from his father, Varon, who began collaborating with him back on Circumnavigator in 2004, is quick to point out that he has labored long to hone his skills.

`A lot of people think it's native talent, but he works very hard to make it look easy,' Varon says. `You can't overestimate the number of hours he will spend rehearsing a bit of business in the mirror.'

Read the whole article then order your tickets before they're gone! Dan's Tings Dey Happen runs June 30-July 1 and Wes "Scoop" Nisker's Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again closes the festival July 2-3.

Above: Dan Hoyle photo by Cheshire Isaacs

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Check out David Sedaris' recommended reading list

posted by Chad Jones on Tue, Jun 15

We're beyond thrilled to have David Sedaris with us this week as part of our Fireworks festival. The first performance of An Evening with David Sedaris took place last night, and it was, as expected, full of laughs and great writing. (David also mentioned his new mission: get people to buy tickets for In the Wake next door at the Roda — he may even have said something about "hot lesbian action with a message.")

Sedaris sketch
David read five stories from his forthcoming book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, and if you were at all concerned about David diverging from his series of bestselling memoirs, relax. The fables are an ideal vehicle for his humor, insight, and wonderfully macabre leanings. As if the evening wasn't enjoyable enough, David then read from his diary.

During the question-and-answer session, David was asked about books he's reading or recommending these days, and his answer was Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, a short-story collection by emerging author Wells Tower. He raved about the title story, which is about Vikings. Speaking of Vikings, David also gave a shout-out to the Viking movie Valhalla Rising.

David is often asked about his favorite books, so he has kindly created a virtually permanent recommendation list. Below you will find a few of his recommendations, and you can find the complete

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American Idiot wins two Tony Awards!

posted by Chad Jones on Mon, Jun 14


The Tony Awards have all been handed out, and the tuxedos and fancy gowns have all been put away for another year.

On Sunday in Manhattan, amid show tunes, high kicks, and gushing thank-you speeches, another show born at Berkeley Repertory Theatre was honored with theatre’s most prestigious and coveted prize: American Idiot, the thrilling musical based on Green Day’s Grammy-winning album that made its world premiere in Berkeley before bursting onto Broadway, nabbed two Tony Awards. Following a performance of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by the show’s cast (seen above) – and a shout-out to Oakland, CA paying tribute to their roots in the Bay Area – the beloved punk band kicked off the ceremony by rocking Radio City Music Hall with "Holiday" and "Know Your Enemy." (See a video of the performance below.)

Viewers of the national television broadcast – as well as artists, staff members, and volunteers from Berkeley Rep who joined the festivities in New York – saw Christine Jones from American Idiot accept the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. To make the evening even sweeter, Kevin Adams of American Idiot – who previously won two Tonys (and a nomination for his work on Berkeley Rep’s Passing Strange) – earned the Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Musical. This marks the fifth and sixth Tony Awards associated with Berkeley Rep.

“We could not be more proud,” said Artistic Director Tony Taccone, commenting from New York. “It is a tremendous honor to have two shows in the running in the same year – a play and a musical – and an extraordinary experience to see this work recognized by the Tony Awards. All of us at Berkeley Rep send our congratulations to Christine, Kevin, and all of our collaborators on American Idiot.

“At Berkeley Rep, we are committed to developing new plays – and we are lucky enough to have an adventurous and very smart audience. While our primary aim is always to create work that engages, entertains, and challenges our local audience, it also makes Berkeley a great place to launch new shows. So we’re pleased that the nation’s top artists choose to take artistic risks with us, and gratified that our work continues to travel on to wider praise.”

Though Kevin and Christine's awards weren't presented during the CBS broadcast, you can see their complete acceptance speeches here. Kevin even gives a holler to Fred Gefken and Stephanie Buchner of our electrics department. "Berkeley Rep is an amazing place to work," Kevin gushes. "Everyone there is so incredible." And Christine, in her enthusiastic, confetti-filled speech, declares that American Idiot director Michael Mayer is "the Jesus and Judy of Broadway."

Here are the cast of American Idiot and Green Day performances from the Tony Awards.

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Watch the Tonys Sunday night!

posted by Chad Jones on Sat, Jun 12


Win or lose, awards shows can be an awful lot of fun, especially when you know some of the nominees. That's what makes this year's Tony Awards more exciting than usual. Berkeley Rep audiences are well acquainted with a few of the major players whose names you'll hear on Sunday's broadcast (8pm, CBS).

Green Day's American Idiot, the thrilling rock opera that made its world premiere in Berkeley before bursting onto Broadway, is up for three Tony Awards including Best Musical. In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), the comedy Berkeley Rep commissioned from Sarah Ruhl that became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and marked the Broadway debut of Associate Artistic Director Les Waters, also received three nominations including Best Play.

Here's a complete rundown of our nominations:

  • Best Musical: American Idiot
  • Best Play: In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Maria Dizzia for In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)
  • Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Christine Jones for American Idiot
  • Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Kevin Adams for American Idiot
  • Best Costume Design of a Play: David Zinn for In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)

"Local folks have long known that Berkeley Rep is devoted to developing adventurous new work," remarks Tony Taccone, the Theatre's artistic director. "We are pleased that a much wider audience has had an opportunity to see and appreciate our work in the last several years, and naturally we're honored to see these shows nominated for so many prestigious awards. We are grateful for the trust placed in us by the many partners who helped bring American Idiot and In the Next Room to Broadway."

Green Day will perform, as will the cast of American Idiot.

Of course we'll be rooting for Berkeley Rep's nominees, but with the Tony Awards, everybody wins. This is, after all, the only national exposure given to American theatre by a major network. So tune in and show your support — not just for Berkeley Rep but for all the great theatre artists working on stages across the country.

Visit the official Tony Awards website.

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Tres Agaves Tequila warms up summer nights

posted by Chad Jones on Wed, Jun 9

Tres agaves
Audiences for Lisa Kron's In the Wake and John Leguizamo's Klass Klown are loving this week's free pre-show tequila tastings in the courtyard sponsored by Berkeley's own Tres Agaves Tequila. In fact, folks are enjoying the tequlia so much, they're heading over to the lobby bar and buying a Tres Agaves margarita.

Ah, summertime theatregoing can be such a joy!

And we're thrilled to share with you an article about Tres Agaves published this week on the Berkeleyside website. Read the article.

Here are a few things we learned reading the story by Frances Dinkelspiel:

  • Tres Agaves Tequila was launched in January by Barry Augus, former president of Cabo Wabo Tequila.
  • Californians consume 23% of the world's tequila!
  • Tres Agaves was started by Barry, Eric Rubin, and Chris Alvarez. Barry and Eric opened San Francisco's Tres Agaves restaurant but left the restaurant business to become spirit makers.

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