Berkeley Rep Blog

February 2011

The impact of Agony

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Feb 23

What impact did The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs have on our audience members? We surveyed nonsubscribers who saw the show between February 9 and February 13, and here’s what they had to say.

51% of respondents “plan to tell everyone to see it right away,” while 37% are going to recommend it to friends they think would enjoy it. (Hurry, it closes on February 27!) A mere 2% are going to keep it to themsleves.

Will having seen the show affect your future purchases of electronic equipment?
Absolutely.        23%
I hope so.          23%
Maybe.              23%
Probably not.     26%
No.                     5%

Care to comment on that? [Here are some select responses.]

My work requires electronic tools and there is no way around buying them. Mike's show gave me a deeper understanding of the contradictions we live with. It was very helpful to give us handouts about ways we can express our views with corporate leaders. We have to speak up.

A devastating and timely message -- really made me think.

I already disliked Apple for many of the reasons Mike mentioned. One of my friends worked for Foxconn and had told me about much of what he described. Even though I avoid Apple products like the plague, I learned from the show that I also ought to be wary of other companies. It would be nice to inform people about companies that do not use these types of assembly techniques (if such companies exist).

It would influence my concern of practices and my choice of brand. I will still want one computer and one cell phone.

What can you do? Every single manufacturer of electronic equipment uses these factories in China. Apple is not alone. I think Mike is doing the right thing by picking on a high profile case and making an example of them. I will still buy apple products. I am locked in unfortunately, but I will agitate to get them to end their exploitation and especially their hypocrisy -- why tout the environmentally friendly qualities of their products when they use slave labor?

I think the best I can do is badger Apple. It was a great show -- smart, heartfelt, funny, disturbing.

Here are some other comments about Mike Daisey:

Mike is an amazing and deep reporter/performer and I hope I get to witness all his work going forward. Thanks Mike, for telling so much truth in such a vivid and honest way.

I truly enjoyed the presentation until Mike turned it into a call for action. I found it much more compelling as a discussion of the situation. Theater has an incredible experience to shift the conversation around it, but this is best done by giving people something to talk about, not by directly asking them to act on it.

I was mesmerized by both shows. I like the mixture of funny and meaningful.

Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey! What do you think? We'd love to read your comments too!

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Taking a bite out of Apple

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Feb 18

Have you seen the cover of Wired's March 2011 issue? Check it out:


Thanks to Cult of Mac for posting it.

Yep, it looks like the media finally caught up with the story -- at least, in a more substantial way. On Monday, Huffington Post reported on Apple's 2011 supplier reports, which revealed (shock!) "child workers, bribes, unsafe conditions," and quoted COO Tim Cook as commending Foxconn for, among other suicide prevention tactics, "even attaching large nets to factory buildings." Mike Daisey already pointed out in his show that anyone who goes to the length of throwing themselves off a building will probably climb out of the net. Mike, too, has seen the nets.

And the San Jose Mercury News published this AP article on Wednesday detailing the reports' findings and Apple's response.

It's interesting -- even, as Mike might say, "awkward" -- that these articles are surfacing the week that Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley gurus are meeting with President Obama to discuss "how to innovate," and a week before the Apple shareholders meeting, which is scheduled for February 23 -- not to mention Steve Jobs' birthday, which is February 24.

Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs plays for one more week, Tuesday, February 22 to Sunday, February 27.



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Room for thought: the arts funding discussion continues

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Feb 16

The perennial conversation about arts funding locally and nationally has really heated up over the last month, and NEA Chairperson Rocco Landesman’s remarks at Arena Stage’s new play convening was akin to firing up the flamethrower. It seemed only a matter of time before the economic argument turned to the question of supply and demand. The debate hit the New York Times, and Rocco herded the conversation back to the NEA’s blog with a post aptly titled #SupplyDemand – the Twitter hashtag that soon joined “#newplay” in the discussions. You could spend hours bouncing from Arena Stage’s blog to the Times to Twitter, and even to 2AMt – and all the assorted comments.

Our own Managing Director Susan Medak joined the conversation in her comment on the Times blog. Here’s an excerpt:
“Let’s be realistic about the issues, let’s be open to the discussion of these issues but not beat ourselves up for something that is about so much more than whether people do or don't like the arts. It is about large scale changes in social behavior.”

In the meantime, funding cuts threaten the NEA yet again, with the House Appropriations Committee calling for a $22.5 million reduction for fiscal year 2011. If you would like to tell your senators and representatives to support the NEA, the Performing Arts Alliance has a handy form letter that you can personalize and send.

In related news, in case you hadn’t already heard, the Republicans budget proposal includes zeroing out the budget for NPR/PBS. has an online petition encouraging Congress to protect public television and radio.

As we mentioned earlier, state funding for the arts is also under fire, and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies has posted a publication entitled Why Should Government Support the Arts?

Many of these debates and conversations are nothing new, but they’ve certainly taken on an intensity within the context of the continuing recession and high unemployment rates. Stay tuned.

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It's John Frum Day!

posted by Karen McKevitt on Tue, Feb 15

Perfectly timed to this week's run of Mike Daisey's The Last Cargo Cult, it's John Frum Day! How will you celebrate?

Here are some photos of the official celebration:





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The curious consequences of international success

posted by Rachel Steinberg on Mon, Feb 14

Just how popular is Ruined?

Well, this past weekend, a woman arrived at the Berkeley Rep box office to pick up two tickets for the 2:30 matinee of Ruined on February 5. Knowing Ruined wasn’t opening until March 2 (previews start February 25) and that our matinees are almost always at 2:00, never 2:30, the box office staff was flummoxed. 

I heard this story from a box office staff member over lunch. As the resident Canuck of this year’s fellow class, I had inkling as to what had happened. Far, far away in my northerly home nation is the friendly city of Toronto, and not so far, far away from its downtown core is a Berkeley Street. And right on Berkeley Street is a theatre called -- wait for it -- the Berkeley Street Theatre.

Berkeley Toronto 

Perhaps by now you see where this is headed.

As fate would have it, Toronto’s Berkeley Street Theatre is also home to a production of Ruined this year -- in fact, theirs is closing the same month (February) that ours begins.

After a Google search, Berkeley Rep’s staff figured out what had happened. The patron in question did have tickets for Ruined…in Canada.

I called the box office in Toronto. Apparently this was not the first such instance of confusion: “Yeah, we’ve definitely had people looking for you guys before.”

The lesson here, folks? Do make sure your tickets are for the right Berkeley. Not that Canada isn’t a lovely place, but take it from a native: it’s really, really cold up there right now.   

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Model employees

posted by Cari Turley on Fri, Feb 11

Here's a typical Wednesday at Berkeley Rep: Patron Services Manager Katrena Jackson and I are standing in the rain, pretending to tear some fabric, while Art Director Cheshire Isaacs takes pictures.

As it turned out, those photos were a proof of concept for the Ruined poster, and the real shoot took place a few days later with three different "volunteers": E.T. Hazzard, who's a carpenter in our scene shop; Samantha Budd, our graphic design fellow; and Kate Vangeloff, our marketing and box office fellow. Sam and Kate held the fabric up while E.T. "tore" it (those are his hands in the photo), and the result -- after much photo-wizardry by Cheshire and Sam -- is the poster you see below.


After my near-brush with stardom, I started wondering about the other faces (and limbs) in our other show posters. Were they not, as I previously imagined, trained models who sipped Evian and called their agents between shots? Or were they actually just the staff members sitting closest to Cheshire when he got his big idea?

Read the entire post

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Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep!

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Feb 11


The first time Anna Deavere Smith came to Berkeley Rep in 1994 with Fires in the Mirror, people were camped out on the sidewalk, hoping to get tickets to what became the first show in the Theatre's history to sell out before it opened.

Now, we're thrilled to announce that she's returning to Berkeley Rep with her new one-woman show, Let Me Down Easy, as part of Arena Stage's national tour of Second Stage Theatre's production. It starts previews in the state-of-the-art Roda Theatre on May 28, and plays through June 26. It's been 15 years since she's performed on a Bay Area stage, so don't miss out!

Tickets go on sale to the general public this Sunday, February 13 at around 10am, so check out the show page for the buzz and for the link to buy tickets!

Photo of Anna Deavere Smith by Joan Marcus.

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Composer fan art

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Feb 11

When Lamnho Gi saw Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead several weeks ago, he was so inspired by the design that he created this whimsical ink drawing and sent it to us!

Check out Lamnho's portfolio for more rad drawings -- and thanks, Lamnho, for sharing your work! You rock.




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Conceptual Cargo construction

posted by Kate Vangeloff on Thu, Feb 10

Cargo 015
So just how did they build the set for The Last Cargo Cult? How does it stay together? Where do the boxes go while Steve Jobs is being performed? Who owns the contents of the "iPig" box?

Excellent questions, my friends.  

Being unsure myself, I felt it was time to do some set-inspired sleuthing. I began my inspection by performing some very scientific data-gathering methods such as "sneaking into the theatre" and "gently poking the boxes to see what would happen." 

MD_CC4_lr (I think it is important to note at this point that this research is confidential, so please don't disclose my methods to Mike Daisey or Jean-Michele Gregory...or stage management...or anyone for that matter.)

Not much knowledge was gleaned from this first attempt other than the fact that sneaking into a theatre and gently poking cardboard boxes makes one feel like a bit of an idiot, so I decided to dig deeper. I had heard a whisper of a rumor that although I had previously enjoyed imagining that the Cargo Cult boxes spent their week off sight-seeing, carousing, and generally making merry, that the boxes were actually kept inside the now somewhat-abandoned prop shop at Addison Street. I accosted a hapless facilities crew member and convinced them to let me into the prop shop which, I might add, was ominously locked.

On the breathless verge of discovery, I slowly opened the heavy, creaking door. After a tense moment fumbling to find the light switch -- behold! Six mounds of corrugated consumerism materialized before my eyes along with the truth I was so desperately seeking. Why hadn't I seen it before? But of course: Box Tetris!  

Cargo 002 Let me explain. Each individual box is part of one of six larger units of boxes fastened together with hot glue. These “playing pieces” are stacked on large crates to add height and fitted together in a Tetris-like fashion to create the illusion of the mountain of materialism looming over Mike Daisey.

Case closed.

Now if I could only figure out who owns the iPig and why...

Photo of Mike Daisey in The Last Cargo Cult by

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Show in a box

posted by Amy Bobeda on Tue, Feb 8

Many things come in boxes -- presents, shoes, refrigerators, a man named Jack, and (more often than not due to our current economic state) plays. I’m not quite sure who coined the term “show in a box,” but when Berkeley Rep does a coproduction (Compulsion, and the upcoming Ruined), remounts an old production (The Arabian Nights), or takes on a travelling show (The Great Game: Afghanistan) we send and receive the show literally “in a box”.

Receiving shows in a box is a little like Christmas when you think you know what your mother bought you, but you’re not quite sure. You’re nervous that it’s not quite the right thing, or was too expensive. You worry that Santa broke it as he tossed it down the chimney. However, you’re ecstatic to open the box.

Like any other production, shows in a box require some preparation. The marketing department plans the cocktail menu and produces the signage. The electrics department receives the light plots in advance so they can efficiently hang the lights. The production departments pour over paperwork from the shows’ previous locations (in the case of Ruined we have had many conversations with the Huntington Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse in preparation for the show’s arrival), but mostly, we wait with baited breath for the truck of boxes to arrive.

In the costume department, we receive giant wardrobe boxes full of clothing, and we begin to play the “who wears what” game. The advantage to a show in a box is that usually the same actors travel with the show and help us get up to speed while we help them settle into a new town.

Sometimes things arrive broken. Maybe a pair of socks is lost in transit. Perhaps the scenery needs some touch-ups from the paints department. Often staging evolves from one theatre to another.

While the show in a box isn’t quite as exciting as building a show from scratch, there is something magical about being one of the legs on a play’s journey.


One of the costume boxes for The Arabian Nights.

Check out costume fellow Amy Bobeda's blog.

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