Berkeley Rep Blog

March 2011

Anna Deavere Smith goes to Washington (again)

posted by Karen McKevitt on Thu, Mar 31

She'll be here at Berkeley Rep with her new show, Let Me Down Easy, at the end of May, but on Wednesday Anna Deavere Smith was invited to the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of a Women's History Month event.

Read more in the Chicago Sun-Times -- here's an excerpt:

"Mrs. Obama will bring together more than twenty accomplished women, each paving their way in a variety of fields, to serve as mentors and share their experiences with students in the Washington, D.C. metro area. These women will showcase the important role mentoring can play in the lives of young people as they encourage all students, particularly young women, to pursue their dreams."

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Teen One-Acts Festival: Oscar learns set design

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Mar 30

By Margot Leonard, scenic art fellow

The Teen One-Acts Festival is an annual event in which a panel of students selects two original plays penned by Bay Area teens to be performed, directed, and produced by their peers. These teens are then mentored by Berkeley Rep staff at each step of the process to help them hone their craft.

Margot Leonard is the 2010-11 scenic art fellow at Berkeley Rep. As part of her fellowship, Margot helped mentor Oscar Peña, this year’s teen scenic designer, through the entire One-Acts process.

About a month ago I was sitting in the lobby of the School of Theatre, teaching a teenager to draft his set design. I’ve spent semester-long college classes on this subject (and that’s not including the grad school that exists somewhere in my hazy future), but I had to give Oscar a crash course in half an hour. We covered the basics as he tried to conceal the apprehension in his eyes, and I assured him he could email me with any questions. Considering how much I threw at him during that brief meeting, he absorbed an incredible amount.

Oscar’s drafting turned out great, and provided us with everything we needed to know to build the set as he intended it (which is, after all, the point of drafting). Fast forward to last Saturday, which marked the beginning of build for the One-Acts. For one week, Lindsay (scene shop fellow), myself (scenic art fellow), and Oscar (teen set designer) worked in the old prop shop, building and painting the set that Oscar designed. Highlights from that week include “crash course in color mixing” and “how to make paint dry faster using a hair dryer.” Much fun was had by all.

Now, just a few days before the show, the sets and lights and props and costumes have been loaded into the School of Theatre and tech week has begun. The actors are figuring out their costumes and props, the stage managers are writing their cues, and everyone’s getting excited as it all starts to come together. Tech is one of my favorite times because, as a set designer, the majority of the work is already done, and it’s a time for making small tweaks to get everything just right. It still means long days, but there’s generally more sitting involved than during build.

IMG_1136 Oscar paints a "stained glass window."

I’ve been amazed by Oscar’s attention to detail and maturity throughout this process. True, he would still have a lot to learn before becoming a professional set designer (for that matter, so would I), but he designed two great sets that really work for these teen-written one-act plays, and he successfully communicated those designs to the rest of his collaborative team. That’s more than can be said about some professionals in this business. And he’s only 15!

Come see the Teen One-Acts Festival! Shows are April 1, 2, 8, and 9 at 8pm.

Want to learn more about the fellowship program? Click here!

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Playing with PlayGround

posted by Karen McKevitt on Tue, Mar 29

Pg PlayGround, a new-play development organization dedicated to local playwrights, has been holding monthly Monday night readings at our Thrust Stage for years. It’s an awesome organization that’s ushered critically acclaimed new plays and even offers grants to local theatre companies to produce a world premiere by a PlayGround playwright. (Full disclosure: my husband is one of those playwrights.)

Well, their annual Benefit & Awards Night is coming up on Monday, April 11 at the elegant Claremont Hotel -- and it features a fireside chat with none other than our own Artistic Director Tony Taccone along with Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone and local playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (who currently has the most produced play in the country save for Shakespeare and Charles Dickens).

The annual benefit also features a reception and silent auction, dinner, the presentation of the 2011 PlayGround Emerging Playwright Awards, the June Anne Baker Prize, and PlayGround Fellowship. Learn more about the benefit and about PlayGround itself!

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Carrying a piece of the Congo in our pockets

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Mar 25

By Chloe Christman, Enough Project

Kate Vangeloff highlighted a short passage from Lynn Nottage’s Ruined in her blog post on coltan in eastern Congo, “The troublous columbite-tantalite,” which reminded me of what Mama M told me last October during my visit to the region:

We are aware now that we are victims of our minerals.

Mama M -- a human rights defender working to change perceptions and educate communities on rape in the North Kivu Province -- is not alone in this sentiment. Similar thoughts were echoed repeatedly by survivors of sexual violence, doctors and lawyers, men and women living in displacement camps, community leaders, all of whom had been touched in one way or another by the conflict that has claimed nearly six million lives in over a decade of fighting.

As Kate points out, coltan, or tantalum, abundant in eastern Congo, is central to our electronics products, together with tin and tungsten (making up what we call the 3Ts) and gold. Eastern Congo is home to the minerals that make our cell phones vibrate, laptops power on, and MP3 players function. They are also used by jewelry, aerospace, automotive, and defense industries, making them central to the technology that drives our businesses and communications infrastructure, our social engagement, and our national security.

The illicit trade in these conflict minerals is fueling today’s violence. The conflict stems from long-standing grievances, a state failing to protect its citizens, and the proliferation of multiple armed groups who thrive where rule of law is weak, but armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the minerals trade, and employ brutal tactics, including the widespread use of rape to control the population and destroy the social fabric of society. In fact, some of the worst attacks on communities take place near the largest mines, including a widely reported incident last summer of over 300 cases of rape within a period of just a few days in Walikale.

But where there is demand for conflict minerals, there can also be demand for minerals from eastern Congo that are not sourced from mines controlled by armed groups. And that is where we, as the end users of Congo’s conflict minerals, can actually play a role in helping end the violence. If we raise our voice to electronics companies demanding conflict-free products, they will respond by tracing, auditing, and certifying their supply chains to ensure conflict minerals do not end up in our products. This is consumer pressure worth using.

One way to voice this demand is visiting to learn the steps electronics companies have -- or have not -- taken on conflict minerals and send them a message that you as a consumer of their products demand more. Together, we can help eliminate the economic incentive to wage war in eastern Congo, and work to create a space where Congo’s resources are not fueling the deadliest conflict since World War II.

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Vincent van Gogh Applies for an NEA Grant

posted by Karen McKevitt on Mon, Mar 21

Inspired by and in response to the NEA debates, Artistic Director Tony Taccone penned a short play:

By Tony Taccone

(Two men behind a large table, one seated in a large, imposing chair, the other standing. The man in the chair wears bejeweled cowboy boots, a fantastically embroidered leather jacket visible under his voluminous robes. The man standing is dressed impeccably in a dark blue, three-piece suit. He holds a little notebook. On the desk is a portfolio of some kind, open. Behind the desk is a flag. The artist they are talking to is unseen. They speak rapidly, in sync with one another.)

It makes no sense.

No sense whatsoever.

I’m not saying for you.

We couldn’t say that.

It’s a free fucking country.

In God We Trust.

I’m saying for us.

For the public.

The general population.

For the people at large

It makes the wrong sense. Forget no sense. It makes the wrong sense.
(looking at the portfolio) You call this a


Perhaps a nightscape.

Who can tell?

Cowboy (to the Suit)
He’s painted a nightscape.

I’m not so sure.

There’s no doubt about it.

Suit (to Cowboy)
Since when does a moon?

Plain as fucking day

I don’t quite see it

Cowboy (to artist)
Ah ha! You see! And that’s my point.

The point we’re making.

The point we keep making and re-making

Ad nauseum

And when I say “we”, I’m talking “we” in the larger sense

The largest sense, the purest sense

The “who gives a rat’s ass” sense

The market sense

The common sense of the marketplace sense.
Because the question, Mr?

Van Gogh

Van Gogh. Okay.
It’s like this Van.
Ruthlessly simple.
Let me pose a question.
Can I pose a question to Van?

You’re the question man.
If you can’t pose a question then

Here’s the question then Van.
If a piece of art doesn’t sell, does it really exist?


This is not a koan.

Suit (still laughing)
It’s certainly not.

I’m not being clever.
Am I not being clever?

Suit (unsure)
Well… in a sense.
Everyone knows you’re a clever man.

I’m dead serious now. Van, you listening?

Suit (to the Cowboy, confidentially)
Try the side with the ear.

Listen up, Van.
If your shit doesn’t sell, then it’s worth nothing.

The gospel according to.

Nada. Zero. Less than zero if you add the labor.
Have you added up your labor?
I bet you have.
The Theory of Surplus Value inverted.
Am I not right?

The god’s honest and highest truth.

Let me repeat.
If no one wants to buy your shit, then there is no value.
Supply and demand. An immutable law. Handed down from above.

From Moses to Reagan.

The word made flesh.

And dwelt among us.

And so, Van, for these and other salient reasons, the Agency, Van, is rejecting your proposal.
Christ!…He’s crying. The man is crying.

Suit (offers him his hanky which is rejected)

Don’t get me wrong.
Personally, I like the work.

Even if we don’t completely…

One of these would go great
In one of my bathrooms

The den. The mantle.

Hell, I’d even put one in the kitchen.
The big flower.
Might brighten things up.
Because that’s the question, Van.
How to get one of these into every kitchen.

Or the bath, nothing wrong with the bath.

Then you’re talking.
You’re more than talking

Then you’ve got something

Then you’ve got product.
You’re Branding, Van.
Are you listening to me?

Suit (confidentially to Cowboy)
Try the side of the head with the hole in it.

Cowboy (shouting)
It’s sell or die!
You hear me Van!
Which one will it be?!

For God’s sake man,
stop with the shouting!
I’ve got dozens just like you
bangin’ down the door.




Cowboy (irritated)
Thousands okay, thousands!
I’m trying to nice here!

Sorry, I didn’t….
It’s just that the inventory

Exactly. Exactly with the inventory. The Board President here of one of the greatest if not the greatest arts institutions in the country is here telling you, Van, that his vaulted vaults are overflowing to bursting with thousands of pieces of worthless art! Hundreds of thousands ad infinitum. None bereft of craft, mind you. None without hard evidence of more than a modest degree of talent, no! Some even border on the unspeakably spectacular, unthinkable worlds that in a single instant of a single breath can suck the air right out of your windpipe, connecting every atom floating in the helioscope of your body to the translucent universe without, and that some way, somehow, when you look at them you feel that they hold within their tiny frames the boundless sensation of some desperately mysterious sublime… truth.

And yet, there they now sit, huddled in exile, confined to the damp, corrosive air of this great man's basement, steeped in the profitless dust of eternal sadness because no one fucking owns them. No one understands them. No one will buy them.


There it is.

But we’ve got some good news. Sit up straight, Van, and pay attention!
Because we care deeply about art
because we do not want you to suffer the ignominious fate of those with less talent

There’s a real shortage of talent out there

We have a proposal.

A challenge.

An opportunity for you.

Very very good, it is indeed.

There’s a program designed to support small businesses,
you know, start ups,
for people who show the right kind of initiative.

Some get up and go.

Some real creativity.

Some real currency.

So here’s the deal.
You move to the Third World, it’s a Third World Program,
plenty of good places, just stay out of Thailand, too many teak harvesters,
you move to say, Kurdistan, or Micronesia, or pick almost any place in Africa,
and you set up shop and we give you some cash. It will look small on paper, but do not despair, the cash amount will not impress but I am telling you Van, you play your cards right and you can go global, viral, YOU, Mister Van the Man Gogh, can fucking blow up.
Are you hearing me there?

Sit up now, son.

You study the market. The market that wants to know you, to touch you, to get a little taste

a little piece of genius.

The market is not your enemy, Van. You find out what people want, right?

Not so bad!

You do your demographics, some quantitative analysis

Maybe some focus groups!

Rethink the possibilities. Re launch yourself. Advertising metrics, linking networks, affiliate marketing

Do I hear product placement?

You set your price points vertically, package the hell out of your inventory, exponentially increase production and voila…they’ll be living replications, patented, royalty-wielding, authentic copies of sunflowers or nightscapes or even these one-eared heads of yours mounted in a place of prominent distinction in every other house on the planet.

“A single spark can start a prairie fire”

Cowboy (laughing)
Listen to him, Van. From Mao to Moneyball.

With more than a nod to Adam Smith!

So think it over and let us know soon.
I don’t have to tell you that these are prized grants, Van. Hundreds of applicants

Thousands of artists

Lots and lots and lots and lots. So buck up, pal! Think positive! Don’t think of this as a defeat!
Think of this as an opportunity.

Suit (singing)
“I did what I had to do
and saw it through without exemption/”
(sotto voce)
 “I planned each charted course, each careful step, along the byway”

It’s a new day in the arts Van. Time to grow up. Time to get real.

Both (singing)
 “And more, much more than this, I did it my way!”



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Tricks of the jungle

posted by Karen McKevitt on Thu, Mar 17

By Megan McClintock
Production Assistant

It’s supposed to rain all week in Berkeley, but I don’t mind. I’ll be spending most of my week backstage running Ruined (we have nine shows in six days), and the Roda Theatre feels like the Congo these days. Did we pump up the heat? Not literally. The Ruined design team created this jungle atmosphere, and they have covered all the bases.

The jungle vibe starts the minute you walk into the lobby, where the sound designer has provided some great Congo tunes that are underscored by a collage of jungle sounds. The rustling of leaves, coos of birds, and calls of other exotic animals continue throughout the show.

Inside the theatre you can feast your eyes on the jungle itself. Though most of the play takes place inside Mama Nadi’s bar, the walls are indicated mostly by vertical posts and posters, behind which the jungle is lush and green. Tree trunks spring up amongst thick greenery, and the actors must rustle through the leaves in order to enter and exit the stage.

RUpre4_lr Mama Nadi's bar, with the jungle in the background. Pictured: Wendell B. Franklin, Carla Duren, Zainab Jah, and Tonye Patano. Photo by

We even have a parrot onstage, which is written into the script. Our grey parrot is remote controlled -- parrot operator Janny Cote jokes that Rerun (as she has named him) is just one career step away from the Tiki Room. Rerun blinks, flaps his wings, moves his neck, snaps his beak, and even bites an actor on cue in the first scene. Rerun’s voice is provided by the sound department; he has a small speaker hidden right behind his cage so the sound is directionally correct. He is a little star -- he even has the last line of the play!

Janny and ReRun Janny and Rerun.

Even the smell backstage is jungle appropriate. I don’t know if it wafts into the audience much, but the scent of coconut fills the air. Why? Because coconut oil makes the cast look hot and sweaty. The glistening sweat is applied backstage, where warm coconut oil in spray bottles is applied liberally to exposed skin. To get an even sweatier look some cast members start with coconut oil then spritz water on top of it, creating a dripping-in-sweat look. Highly effective and simple, and this is the best-smelling cast I have ever worked with!

Coconut Oil

Since they have to tromp through the muddy jungle to get onstage, some cast members apply “mud” to their feet and hands. The mud and the coconut oil are both costume department tricks. The mud is simply a thick body lotion colored with powder foundation makeup. While most of the mud gets wiped off with baby wipes backstage, any that gets left behind just keeps the cast well moisturized.

So if you need an escape from the rain, it’s warm in the Congo and the tunes are groovin’. You can buy a Fanta from the café counter to round out your sense experience, and if you catch a whiff of coconut in the air, now you know why.

Ruined runs through April 10. Read the buzz and reserve your seats now!

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Beads, beautiful beads

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Mar 11

Our Hoag Theatre Store boasts some new items exclusively for the run of Ruined, and they’ve proven so popular we can barely keep them on the shelves! What are they? Handmade necklaces and bracelets featuring beads hand-rolled from recycled paper. This stunning jewelry is made by members of the Acholi tribe in Northern Uganda.

New Photo 1

When the staff first saw photos of the necklaces and bracelets a month or so before Ruined opened, we went crazy for them. I’ve been nearly fanatical about handcrafted items, so I especially couldn’t wait until the first shipment came in. And being nearly fanatical, I wanted to learn about how the beads are made, and about the women and men who make them.


First the beaders select their paper from recycled magazines, posters, and the like. They consider the color of the paper as well as the pattern. Color and pattern may not seem important, but consider how many beads it takes to make a triple-strand necklace with one dominant color and a few contrasting colors. The beaders then cut the paper and place thin wire across one end. Then they start rolling, very very tightly. They finish off each bead with a coat of varnish. A piece of jewelry can take up to two weeks to make.*


Berkeley Rep hooked up with Alliance for Africa to sell this jewelry to our patrons. While many different groups make beads and jewelry to sell, the ones in our Theatre Store are made by the Alliance’s five-member beading group named Lacan Pekum (a poor person never gives up in the struggle). Each member has survived kidnap and torture; through their work with the beading group, they can support their families.

The people who make this jewelry are indeed artists, and we can feel good about supporting a worthy cause -- and showing off such a striking necklace or bracelet. I’ve already purchased an earth-toned double-strand necklace, and I can’t wait until the next shipment comes in!

The Hoag Theatre Store is open before and after each performance of Ruined, and during intermission. Come see this beautiful jewelry!

* has a page describing the process of bead-rolling, which was my source for describing it here.

Photos: The people in these photos aren’t necessarily members of Lacan Pekum. The photographer of the second and third photos is Charles Steinberg (©csteinberg2007).


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Collaboration and creation at Summer Theatre Intensive

posted by School of Theatre on Thu, Mar 10

By Allison Whorton
Education Fellow

Berkeley Rep School of Theatre’s Summer Theatre Intensive is entering its 10th year. Over the last decade, middle- and high-school students have spent their summers at our School, and from June to August our building is abuzz with lots of learning, creating, and laughing. But why not hear it from the source? I talked with some Summer Theatre Intensive experts (a.k.a. the teens themselves) and here is what they had to say:

“Spending my summers at Berkeley Rep helped me realize how amazing it can feel to spend my entire day getting to do something I love surrounded by people who feel exactly the same way. You get the opportunity to spend all day building almost every aspect of your acting skills, and then create a play that demonstrates how much everyone, regardless of skill level, has learned. There’s a tremendous amount of community building involved, and two days in everyone could swear they’ve been friends forever.” -- Sierra Baggins, a junior at Berkeley High School

Sot-session1-lr-2823 cropped

“My favorite part about the Summer Theatre Intensive is creating and performing the final group production, but also getting to watch the other groups perform. Everyone’s show is always so diverse and creative.” -- Bowen Bethards, a sophomore at Albany High School

Here are some of the words that the teens said “first came to mind” when they thought about their Berkeley Rep summer experience:


Sunday sampler pic

Our expert Bowen says it best: “you just need to take it once, and then you will want to come back next year.”

If you know a teen looking for a fun-filled theatre experience this summer, send them to Financial aid is available.

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The troublous columbite-tantalite

posted by Kate Vangeloff on Thu, Mar 10

Mama Nadi:  “Six months ago it was just more black dirt.  I don’t get why everyone’s crawling over each other for it.”

Mr. Harari: “Well, my darling, in this damnable age of the mobile phone it’s become quite the precious ore, no?  And for whatever reason God has seen fit to bless your backward country with an abundance of it.”

From Ruined by Lynn Nottage, now playing through April 10.

Coltan close up 
So just what is coltan?  What sort of substance could possibly instigate so much violence and conflict? Could something as simple and seemingly innocuous as a mineral really be at the heart of a civil war?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

Coltan is a black, metallic mineral found mainly in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is mined by digging craters into river basins and sifting through the mud to find settled ore. This work is all done by hand. Coltan’s unique ability to store an electrical charge and withstand high
levels of heat makes it an indispensible ingredient in the production of electronic capacitors, which, in turn, are vital to the production of first-world, consumer products such as cell phones, DVD players, video game systems, and computers. In other words, no coltan means no electronics. The exportation of coltan has been cited as a main source of financing for the civil war in the Congo, which has claimed the lives of over 5.4 million people.

Coltan mining pic 
 It appears that the plight of the Chinese workers at Shenzhen depicted in Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs doesn’t represent the only “blood between the keys” found in our beloved electronic devices.

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Announcing our 2011-12 season

posted by Karen McKevitt on Wed, Mar 9

What has three world premieres, some Rita Moreno and some Moliere, and is topped off with Red? Why, Berkeley Rep’s 2011-12 Main Season! Yep, we officially announced it this morning, and here’s the skinny:

Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup
World premiere

Written by Tony Taccone
Directed by David Galligan
September 2 – October 30, 2011

How to Write a New Book for the Bible
World premiere

Written by Bill Cain
Directed by Kent Nicholson
October 7 – November 20, 2011

Ghost Light
World-premiere production

Conceived and developed by Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone
Written by Tony Taccone
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
January 6 – February 19, 2012

A Doctor in Spite of Himself
Written by Molière
Adapted by Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp
Directed by Christopher Bayes
February 10 – March 25, 2012

Written by John Logan
Directed by Les Waters
March 16 – April 29, 2012

And, we have two Limited Season plays that we’ll be announcing soon!

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