The Public Theater in New York announced its next season, which launches with Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which played here in January and February. This marks the 24th show Berkeley Rep has sent to New York in the past 24 years! Currently, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is playing at Seattle Rep, which hosted a Steve Jobs look-a-like contest, with amusing results. While Mike was performing the show at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, he gave an interview on PBS’ NewsHour -- check it out!
When you come to Three Sisters, you may eventually catch a slight whiff of a particular scent in the air. Yes, that’s the scent of a candle lit by a real flame. These days, flames are often faked with electric light, but director Les Waters and the creative team wanted the authenticity of a real candle flame, often carried by Emily Kitchens, who plays Natasha. But what does it take to have fire on stage?
Well, it usually depends on what fire effect the play demands, notes Berkeley Rep’s properties manager. For The Glass Menagerie in 2006, the props team had to cut the candles to size so they burned out by the end of a scene. This was no small feat as air currents and temperature in the theatre all affect the length of time it takes a candle to burn. But Three Sisters has no special burning-time requirement, so getting a flame on stage mostly came down to bureaucracy.
Whenever you use fire on stage you must get a permit from the city. Permits vary depending on the type of the fire effect. Pyrotechnics like in this season’s Great Game required a fire permit, hiring a specialist, and obtaining an additional license. But for Emily to carry a candle across stage in Three Sisters, we just needed to submit a ground plan that shows the movement and locations of the flame to the city of Berkeley and to pay a nominal fee once the city approved the plan. If the blocking changes -- as blocking often does in tech the week before previews -- an amendment needs to be filed.
Of course, additional safety procedures are in place. Even for an effect as small as a candle flame, someone is nearby (usually in the wings) with a fire extinguisher. If the matches are extinguished on stage, the props team puts gel activator in the ashtrays to ensure the match really goes out.
Sure, it’s easier to use a fake candle with an electric flame, but for me at least, the real candle enhances the setting and feel of the play. I may have only peripherally noticed both the organic movement of the real flame, as opposed to an oddly static electric flame, and the subtle scent of a real candle, but suddenly I felt as though I were really in that old house. After all, we often associate a place -- especially home -- with a specific scent, be it mom’s cooking or, in this case, the faint scent of wax and flame.
In the fire, Fedotik loses everything. In reality, after they apply their firefighter makeup for the disastrous Act III of Three Sisters, actors David Abrams (Fedotik), Bruce McKenzie (Vershinin), Sam Breslin Wright (Solyony), and James Carpenter (Chebutykin) lose only the ability to perform simple tasks like opening pickle jars and answering text messages without a helping hand. So, for the folks back home, David and I have prepared a little behind-the-scenes, how-to Chekhovian firefighter makeup tutorial.
David prepares. The process is neither fast nor simple, so David downs a quick cup of water before we begin.
The secret to quick removal: stage soot can be a beast to wash off, especially in the short amount of time between exits in Act III and entrances in Act IV, so the men slather themselves in cocoa butter gel (found at your local CVS) that smells delightfully of German chocolate cake.
Sooting up. The soot is mixed from a top-secret formulation of powdered charcoal makeup and cocoa butter lotion, for easy, lung-friendly application. The actor strategically dabs it on and smears. David begins with his calves and works up.
The face, obviously, is the most important. A balance between too little and the inevitable Uncle Tom’s Cabin jokes is achieved through a gradient scale of light and dark smudges, and lots of room around the eyes for maximum expression.
Blood is key. Each man has a signature wound. Bruce loves his bleeding ear. Sam is committed to his forehead gash that resulted from Solyony saving a baby in the fire. Jim focuses on hands and knuckles, while David’s focus is on his calf gash and bloody nose. His theory is that when close to a fire for a prolonged period of time, one’s nose would most certainly dry up. Attention to detail is paid as they all trail fake blood from their wounds onto their clothing.
Sweat. While most would do anything they can to hide embarrassing pit stains, we enhance them for the audience’s viewing pleasure. A spray bottle full of water hits the pits, chest, and back, followed by a second coat of cocoa butter oil to the face for a sexy, glossy sheen, and a dousing and tousle of the hair to complete the look.
The finale. Smelling of cake, these hot messes of men are armed and ready to break hearts and (spoiler alert) clocks, just in time to ship off to Poland.
The new version of Three Sisters by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Les Waters, continues through May 22. Reserve your seats now.
More than 360 Berkeley Rep supporters gathered at the Four Seasons San Francisco last Saturday night for ONSTAGE, a gala celebrating the Theatre's 43rd birthday. Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, presided as master of ceremonies, and the evening raised $587,000 to support the Theatre, including $115K for our arts education outreach programs (see a video on how theatre changes lives). Here are some highlights from photographer Cheshire Isaacs:
The legendary Rita Moreno sang selections from her upcoming show.
Cal Shakes' Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone with Berkeley Rep's Artistic Director Tony Taccone and MC Daniel Handler auctioning off the Ghost Light lot.
After 445 performances to more than half a million people, American Idiot, the Green Day musical that premiered here at Berkeley Rep in September 2009, rocked its final Broadway performance last night, and our very own Managing Director Susan Medak was in attendance.
"The evening is ending with the band singing," she says in a message. "The old cast and the new cast were all up on stage in a total love fest and now it's just the band. Awesome."
Check out MeghanSmo's video of the curtain call on YouTube (also above).
Yep, even though Billie Joe performed the show twice that day, the band and cast did an encore sing-along of "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" and then Green Day offered up an hour-long concert of 10 songs. David Fricke of Rolling Stone provides a detailed report of the concert.
But it's not the end of the road for American Idiot -- it's just the beginning. The national tour kicks off from the Ahmanson Theatre in LA in March, and there's word that Universal is in negotiations to pick up the screen rights and hired Michael Mayer, who helmed the musical, as the director.
Susan wrapped up the final performance: "Such a gas of an evening. Loved seeing everyone. The original cast thinks of Berkeley as some kind of Valhalla."
Update, April 26: New tour dates have been announced -- it starts earlier than reported above. Here they are as of today:
Dec. 28-Jan. 15, 2012 Toronto, ON – Toronto Centre for the Arts
Jan. 17-22 Detroit, MI – Opera House
Jan. 24-29 Boston, MA – Opera House
Jan. 31-Feb. 5 Raleigh, NC – Memorial Auditorium
Feb. 21-26 Minneapolis, MN – Orpheum Theatre
Feb. 28-29 State College, PA – Eisenhower Auditorium
March 2-4 St. Louis, MO – Peabody Opera House
March 13-April 22 Los Angeles, CA – Ahmanson Theatre
April 24-29 Tempe, AZ – ASU Gammage
May 8-20 Dallas, TX – AT&T PAC
May 29-June 3 Costa Mesa, CA – Segerstrom Center
June 5-10 Seattle, WA – Paramount Theatre
Think teenagers and Chekhov don’t mix? Well, we wouldn’t blame you for thinking so -- truth be told, most of us probably thought the same.
And then there was that teenager who came to Three Sisters last week. We spotted him before the show, hoodie pulled up completely over his face, with all the body language of someone who just lost a big fight over where they would be going that night. (Or, over the fact that he had to go out with his parents at all.)
Well, he did emerge from the hoodie at the top of the show. And after the first 10 minutes he was sitting forward in his seat completely engrossed. He appeared to thoroughly enjoy the entire show. Was it Sarah Ruhl’s more colloquial version? The superb acting? The exquisite design? Or, did he really like Chekhov all along?
In any case, it’s been proven once again: Never underestimate teenaged audience members.
Sarah Ruhl's new version of Chekhov's Three Sisters, exquisitely staged by Les Waters, earns rave reviews and the Chronicle's highest Little Man rating! Read some excerpts and then reserve your seats!
“Luminous! Working with a crisp, breezy new English version by Sarah Ruhl (based on a literal translation), Waters' sterling cast brings Chekhov's masterpiece to life as if it were taking place today. And 110 years ago. The action is as firmly grounded in 1901 by the actors' behavior as by Ilona Somogyi's provincial Russian gowns and Annie Smart's exquisitely detailed doll's house of a set… This is Chekhov orchestrated with the immediacy of Waters' stagings of Ruhl's Eurydice or In the Next Room. Its fierce beauty suffuses every moment and reaches for immortality.” -- San Francisco Chronicle
Exhilarating! Ruhl doesn't call attention to herself here. Instead she lets the play breathe with a simple, unmannered approach to the drama that makes it seem shockingly contemporary. She's faithful to the master dramatist, but she also opens the play up so that these "Three Sisters" speak to us as directly as if they lived next door. Waters' production is remarkable for its lack of artifice. The ensemble brings a freshness to each moment, a sense of discovery that lets us hear the play anew. There's a naturalness to the way the drama unfolds, the ebb and flow of the emotional outbursts, that leaves you breathless.” -- San Jose Mercury News / Contra Costa Times
“Magnificent… Held the audience suspended in the liminal space between hope and despair; love and utter ambivalence as well as a bit of humor. Directed with consummate skill by Les Waters and performed by a splendid ensemble cast, Berkeley Rep's Three Sisters is a powerful adaptation of Chekhov's classic that captures the lyricism and ennui of his work in an accessible and compelling production that is sure to be talked about for years to come.” -- Broadway World
“Beautifully staged, deeply compassionate... When you walk into the Thrust and drink in Annie Smart’s gorgeous set, it’s the first indication that we’re in good hands… Waters’ production pulls you in from the beginning and doesn’t let you go.” -- Chad Jones’ Theater Dogs
“In Berkeley Rep fashion, it is a sensational dramatic presentation… classic drama at its very best.” -- KGO AM
Hey, y'all know it's National Poetry Month, right? We wanted to let you know about this really cool event on April 28 and 29: the Poetry Out Loud national finals. It's the nation's largest youth poetry recitation contest in partnership with the NEA and the Poetry Foundation.
This year the Poetry Out Loud semifinals and finals will be webcast live right here, so you can check out these 53 talented teens compete for $50,000 in awards. The California representative is Robert Marchand, a senior at Pacific Grove High in Monterey County. In fact, Pacific Grove High has sent a state champion to the finals for the past three years. Robert is active in his high school's drama club, and likened reciting poetry to performing a monologue. (Hmm, we wonder if he's destined for the stage.)
Break a leg, Robert!
After 125 performances in three cities, Ruined closed last weekend here at Berkeley Rep. Its run at La Jolla Playhouse earned numerous San Diego Critics Circle nominations and awards, and we just learned that the run at Huntington Theatre in Boston earned the following Elliot Norton Award nominations: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Ensemble, and Outstanding Actress (Tonye Patano).Congratulations all!
Photo of Tonye Patano with Joseph Kamal courtesy of kevinberne.com.