Before I even moved to Berkeley to begin my fellowship, I had heard of Berkeley Bowl: it was spoken of with a holy sort of reverence, praised in quiet whispers and exuberant cries of gratitude. I heard how lives were changed when a second one opened. Somehow, in the haze of a hot Toronto summer, I managed to miss a very key fact about Berkeley Bowl. I arrived here wondering why everyone in the East Bay seemed to be so oddly enthusiastic about knocking over pins with a very heavy ball. Was this an American thing?
As it turns out, East Bay bowlers do have a mecca, not in Berkeley, but in Albany. It’s where I found myself last Friday morning, surrounded by co-workers, before I’d even managed to drink my morning coffee. The day marked the revival of Berkeley Rep’s company picnic, a chance to mingle and unwind with colleagues over some strikes and spares.
After trading in one of my boots for a pair of shoes (with Velcro, because apparently no one with feet as tiny as mine could possibly be an adult capable of tying laces), I joined a team comprised of artistic, marketing, electrics, and education staff.
As it turns out, there are some very enthusiastic bowlers in the East Bay, including Marketing Director Robert Sweibel. My fellow fellows and I had heard Robert speak of his prowess on the lanes -- but could we believe him (he is, after all, director of marketing)? As it turned out, he really could walk the hard-toed-shoe walk and would helpfully give pointers to anyone who wanted to improve his or her form. No one, though, could beat the School of Theatre’s Emika Abe, who posted a commanding lead over her team. An honorable mention goes to Master Electrician Fred Geffken’s toddler daughter who, with a little help from mom and dad, managed to roll a ball almost the entire way down the lane. She’ll be one to watch out for next year.
I did not fare so well. My hot pink bowling ball could probably tell you about all of the right gutter’s chips and scratches with astounding detail. No matter. After smugly and speedily tearing off the Velcro as others struggled with their laces, I turned the corner to find a large crowd gathering. I soon learned the cause for the mob: a Dance Dance Revolution faceoff between Development Associate Sarah Nowicki and Development Fellow Wendi Gross. If you’ve ever encountered one of our beloved "Devo Ladies" you know: these women are kind, classy…and tenacious.
It was a well-deserved almost-end-of-season break for a staff I’ve discovered to be among the most hard-working and most fun-loving folk around.
Oh, and then we had a potluck, a collaborative, gustatory production in true Berkeley Rep style: ambitious, eclectic, but altogether delicious. I wondered where everyone got the ingredients for their dishes. I hear there’s a guy named Joe around here that trades stuff for food? You Berkeleyans are so progressive.
Hot on the heels of yesterday's Chronicle interview, the Contra Costa Times publishes its interview with Anna Deavere Smith. If you think that when you've read one, you've read them all, think again! Karen D'Souza asks some insightful questions about her artistic process as well, and also about the health-care debate. Read on!
Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy starts tomorrow! Get more info.
Did ya catch the Chronicle's "Ovation" cover story today? Yep, that's Anna Deavere Smith, just in time for the first performance this Saturday of Let Me Down Easy. Robert Hurwitt interviews Anna about her past Bay Area performances and more, how Let Me Down Easy evolved, and of course, about her TV career.
What's that? Paper is passe? Well, check out the interview right here!
And, y'all heard we extended the show by two weeks even before it opened, right? So, if you're thinking of reserving seats, don't wait too long and be let down! Reserve your seats here.
Photo of Anna Deavere Smith by Mary Ellen Mark.
They have the top two advance sales in Berkeley Rep's 43-year history! Yep, Anna Deavere Smith's new show, Let Me Down Easy, is second only to the blockbuster premiere of Green Day's American Idiot.
So, we're extending Let Me Down Easy before it even opens! It now runs two additional weeks, from May 28 through July 10. Premium seats are now available, but going fast. Check out the buzz and buy tickets now.
As our critically acclaimed production of Sarah Ruhl's new version of Three Sisters enters its final week, Bay Area News Group published this glowing article about one of the members of the exemplary ensemble of actors. No stranger to regular Bay Area theatregoers, James Carpenter has been acting on local stages (and regionally) since 1984.
Here's a snippet:
"Carpenter, 58, estimates that he's been in nearly 100 plays in his 27 years in local theater. But he's whimsical about being perceived as a thespian treasure."
Following its success with Brief Encounter, Britain’s celebrated Kneehigh Theatre Company returns to the Bay Area for the American premiere of The Wild Bride. Then we debut Black n Blue Boys, a powerful world premiere written and performed by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dael Orlandersmith, which will be staged by Obie Award-winner Chay Yew. To top it off, Baryshnikov performs next spring in a special event: tickets for In Paris, a dazzling romance from visionary director Dmitry Krymov, will go on sale to our subscribers before they’re available to the general public. These new shows round out an incredible schedule that already includes three world premieres, a classic Molière comedy, and a remarkable script that won the Tony Award for Best Play.
2011-12 SEASON SCHEDULE
Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup
Main Season Play #1 – Roda Theatre
Written by Tony Taccone
Directed by David Galligan
September 2 – October 30, 2011
How to Write a New Book for the Bible
Main Season Play #2 – Thrust Stage
Written by Bill Cain
Directed by Kent Nicholson
October 7 – November 20, 2011
The Wild Bride
Limited Season Play #1 – Roda Theatre
Adapted and directed by Emma Rice
December 2, 2011 – January 1, 2012
Main Season Play #3 – Thrust Stage
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
Main Season Play #4 – Roda Theatre
Written by Molière
Adapted by Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp
Directed by Christopher Bayes
February 10 – March 25, 2012
Main Season Play #5 – Thrust Stage
Written by John Logan
Directed by Les Waters
March 16 – April 29, 2012
Special Presentation – Roda Theatre
Adapted from the short story by Ivan Bunin
Directed by Dmitry Krymov
April 25 – May 13, 2012
Black n Blue Boys
Limited Season Play #2 – Thrust Stage
Written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith
Directed by Chay Yew
May 25 – June 24, 2012
Photo: Emma Rice and Kneehigh Theatre Company return to the Bay Area for the American premiere of The Wild Bride. (Photo courtesy of Kneehigh Theatre)
Anna Deavere Smith comes to Berkeley Rep starting May 28 with her new show, Let Me Down Easy. She's racked up some terrific reviews for the show in San Diego. Check out what they're saying:
A "vitally important, wide-ranging and ultimately very moving solo piece." LA Times
A "captivating solo play about matters of body and soul." San Diego Union-Tribune
And be sure to also check out the NPR feature.
Or, hear about the show straight from Anna herself:
By Allison Whorton
The phone rang promptly at 5:15pm on Wednesday afternoon, and the 14 Berkeley Rep teens in the room jumped up and down with excitement and anticipation.
“Hey, this is Kal over at the White House,” said the voice over the speakerphone.
We were on the phone with the White House as a part of the President’s 100 Roundtables with Young Americans, started in an effort to have young Americans across the country engage in discussions about and brainstorm solutions to issues that are important to them. Members of the White House Administration were tasked with participating in at least 100 roundtable conversations with youth across the country. Information from each roundtable will be sent to the President’s Domestic Policy Council.
Through our Arts Advocacy Committee, which was started this year, the teens have been researching and reflecting upon the importance of the arts and arts education and they have already met with representatives about this subject. I registered our monthly Teen Council meeting for the White House’s roundtable initiative back in March, requesting that a member of the White House Administration join us. And, lo and behold, we received an email from Kalpen Modi, the associate director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and the White House’s liaison for Young People and the Arts (better known to the teens for his roles in the Harold and Kumar movies and the TV series House), asking if he could phone in on our conversation all the way from Washington, DC.
To start off the conversation, we went around the table and shared our names and where we’re from. When we were finished, Kal, who attended grad school at Stanford, said, “All of this talk of Berkeley and the Bay Area makes me miss Zachary’s Pizza” (to which everyone laughed).
Kal went on to say that he “is the product of public arts education,” hence his particular interest and investment in our conversation. “This generation of young people is particularly giving, intelligent, innovative, and civically engaged,” he continued. President Obama started the 100 Roundtables because he wanted young peoples’ voices to be represented in national dialogues, as Obama wants all Americans to have “a seat at the table.”
Teen Council members talked about their interests and concerns. The teens spoke personally about the impact the arts have had on them, and why they believe it’s essential that the arts are considered a core subject in Congress’ reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We spoke about the significance of the “STEM to STEAM” movement (adding the “A” for arts to our country’s current emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math in education). We discussed the innovative skills students gain from arts education, and how the divergent and creative thinking garnered from arts participation is vital for a forward-thinking nation.
As our hour-long conversation (that was originally only supposed to be 20 minutes!) came to a close, Kal wanted to make clear that while there have been cuts to government arts funding in recent months as part of overall government belt-tightening within this financial climate, it doesn’t mean that the government is trying to give up on an entire program. “Arts are critical to this White House,” Kal said. He went on to give us advice as Teen Council furthers its arts advocacy efforts, suggesting that we continue with our current initiatives and engage in grassroots conversations. “This is a very impressive group,” he said. “Celebrate the work you’ve done and don’t undermine the voices you have.”
Our conversation with Kal was the culmination of a lot of hard work throughout the year. After the call ended, the teens clapped and cheered. Emboldened and inspired, the teens relished this proud moment, and I did too.
This article first appeared in the Three Sisters program. The costume renderings are copyright of the artist.
Maggi Yule is unflappable. As the director of Berkeley Rep’s costume shop, she’s handled an eclectic season of all-day marathons, puppet orchestras, and solo shows without breaking a sweat. Her latest challenge was to pull together a staggering 43 costumes for Sarah Ruhl’s new version of Three Sisters, a coproduction between Berkeley Rep and Yale Repertory Theatre. For mere mortals, this would be a daunting endeavor. For Maggi and the Berkeley Rep costume shop, it’s just another Tuesday.
At 9am, the costume shop is already bustling with activity. Although it’s only been a couple of months since the shop moved to Berkeley Rep’s new Harrison Street campus, it already feels cozy. Sketches and reference photos cover a whole wall from floor to ceiling, a small crowd of headless dress-forms gather around the sewing machines, and handmade hats perch on every available surface. It’s still early, so Kathy Kellner Griffith, staff tailor and honorary DJ, keeps the music low until everyone wakes up. (Sometimes in the afternoon, when the volume goes up, the departments upstairs get to rock out with the shop.)
The role of Berkeley Rep’s costume shop is to turn abstract ideas into tangible products, and Maggi and her tight-knit staff pull it off with aplomb. Most of the team has been working together for so long that the shop runs like a well-oiled machine. In fact, between the two of them, Kathy and draper Kitty Muntzel have worked in the costume shop for more than 50 years. Together with Maggi, Costume Fellow Amy Bobeda, and backstage support from Wardrobe Supervisor Barbara Blair, they’re turning sketches by Yale Rep costume designer Ilona Somogyi into one of the most ambitious wardrobes of the season.
Les Waters, Berkeley Rep’s associate artistic director, is staging Three Sisters. He worked with Ilona to create a relaxed, timeless style that felt lived in, not formal. When Ilona’s gorgeous sketches arrived, Amy arranged them into the “bible” — an enormous reference book with contact sheets, headshots, and measurements for every actor, as well as costume sketches and research photos for every character in the show. Once that was done, Maggi looked at the designs and figured out where the costumes would come from: what we already had, what needed to be rented or purchased, what could be altered to work, and what we needed to make from scratch.
Maggi is so good that even a massive order like this one doesn’t rattle her. She has an answer ready for everything I throw at her. “Where are you going to find that fur coat?” Without even hesitating, she replies, “Oh, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has one.” Maggi’s encyclopedic knowledge of past productions, both at Berkeley Rep and at other regional theatres, is amazing. And when she needs a little help, she need only look as far as her own staff. “If I need menswear, I look to Kathy,” she says. “Womenswear, I ask Kitty.” Maggi knows who has the best 1920s apparel, where to get turn-of-the-century Russian boots (“Dance supply stores have a really surprising selection”), and how to find the perfect sweater for a disaffected young woman in the Russian countryside: have Pat make it, of course.
Pat Wheeler is Maggi’s go-to knitter when Berkeley Rep needs a custom piece. Although not a theatre artist by trade, Pat has knitted pieces for several Berkeley Rep shows including Heartbreak House and Passing Strange, and now she’s creating sweaters for Three Sisters. She’s not the only outside contractor working for the shop; when it’s crunch time, Maggi brings in extra hands to cut and stitch. But for most of the process, it’s just Maggi, Kitty, Kathy, and Amy.
Start to finish, it only takes about six weeks for the costume shop to go from sketch to stage. After the bible is done, Kitty drapes the muslin (an inexpensive cloth used to make rough drafts), and then the real costume is made in fashion fabric. As someone who can barely hem a pair of pants in six weeks, I can’t help but be impressed that it’s enough time for the shop to assemble every piece of clothing — including every coat, necklace, belt, and boot — that you see on stage. But for Berkeley Rep’s costume shop, turning ideas into reality is all in a day’s work.
When I was in grade school, the school had a monthly assembly wherein class awards were presented. The most important of these was Student of the Month. One lucky child from each class was paraded up in front of the school for a handshake from the principal and the approbation of their peers. The lucky kids were also presented with a certificate, their picture in the administration office, and an invitation to the holiest of holies -- the chance to eat lunch with the principal the day after the assembly.
For whatever reason, as a kid in first through fifth grades, I thought that being Student of the Month was the coolest thing ever. I wanted it so bad. And every month, I’d head into that assembly full of hope that this was the month that I’d get to eat lunch with Principal Gregory.
Let’s cut to the chase: I was never student of the month. Not once. In five years. Never. And I wasn’t student of the month in junior high (where you got a lollipop and a hearty handshake), either.
Looking back, I should have realized that hoping to become Student of the Month was a losing proposition for me. That’s because, in the months where I was convinced it was in the bag -- the months where I turned in all my homework, didn’t get my name on the board once, was a veritable angel, in fact -- those were the months that I received the Most Improved Behavior award.
One of my favorite books from this era, Skinnybones, by Barbara Park, explains why this is a problem.
Every single year that I’ve played Little League, I’ve received the trophy for Most Improved Player.
Now, at first, you might think that means I sound pretty good…which is what I used to think, too. But over the past six years, I’ve noticed that none of the really outstanding players ever gets the Most Improved Player award. And the reason is simple. The outstanding players are already so outstanding they can’t improve much. Let’s face it, the only players on a team who can improve are the ones who reek to begin with.
Clearly, I was a delinquent in the making.
In later years, I also didn’t receive Swimmer of the Month, Resident Advisor of the Month, or “Regional OTM Coordinator Of the Month” (OTM, believe it or not, stands for “of the month.” Because, you see, part of my college job actually required me to name and recognize other “persons of the month” within a nationwide student-life organization. And I still never got anything.)
So, yeah, me and “of the months” aren’t on the best of terms.
Until today. Because you see, Berkeley Rep also has a Person of the Month -- an award I gave up on long ago, for obvious reasons. But, as you probably figured out by now, guess what?
I’m April’s PERSON OF THE MONTH!
It took over two decades, but it was totally worth it.
What did it take to (finally) earn this high honor?
A lot of elbow grease. A lot of sweat. A lot of going above and beyond... A lot of this theatre holding a starring role in my life in recent months. But here's the thing: every point in the past five years that we've gathered for the "of the month" thing, I would always spare a second to think "gee, it would be cool if I got it someday," at which point my brain would supply four or five folks who worked harder, put more on the line, and overcame bigger obstacles than I did in the past month (this time, I was convinced that my colleague, Margo Chilless, would be the honoree -- which she was, a few minutes later).
One of the things that makes Berkeley Rep such a fantastic place to work is that it's not "just" a nine-to-five job for any person here. Not for the actors, crew, front-of-house staff, box office team, or anyone you'd find in the artisanal shops or administrative departments. We do this work because we love it; because we're passionate about bringing live theatre to a stage where we can share it with an audience (and hopefully engage in dialogue about that work afterwards). As a team, we work together to create something that is ultimately greater than the sum of our parts. And when that something comes together in the right way...it's awe-inspiring.
On its own, it's a better reward than being named person of the month.
Every month, I'm proud to work alongside the folks who win "Person of the Month," and pleased when their efforts are recognized. But it was pretty darn awesome to be the lucky one for once...I must do it again sometime. (Hopefully with a little less of a wait, next time.)