By Ivy Olesen, Teen Council member
Mark Wing-Davey has a firm handshake and booming voice with a
thick English accent. One could easily be intimidated by his presence and
achievements; he’s an acclaimed director, actor, and the chair
of NYU’s Graduate Acting Program. Instead, Mr. Wing-Davey is a disarming mix of wit and mischief. I had the pleasure of interviewing him as part of Teen Night, which allows high schoolers to see Berkeley Rep shows for only $10 and interview people like Wing-Davey -- it’s a deal that can’t be beat.
His gift for storytelling and inclination to talk with his hands makes him an engaging interviewee. I, along with the 60 or so other teens attending Teen Night, was immediately drawn in by his descriptions of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and his work in directing, acting, and teaching.
He began by describing a prank he had pulled on Berkeley Rep. In his production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre there is a (fake) baby onstage that is swung back and forth, sloshed with water from a fire hose, and (or so it seemed to me, as an audience member) almost lost to the sea. On April Fool's Day, Mr. Wing-Davey sent Berkeley Rep staffers an enthusiastic email to let them know that he had found a real newborn to play the part. This did not go over well for him, he explained gleefully.
I gasped in astounded laughter and was then compelled to turn the questions over to the other teens. Their queries yielded even more interesting answers from Mr. Wing-Davey. Like Aristotle said: “the more you know the more you don’t know,” and we all wanted to know more about him and Pericles badly.
I learned that there is a time for questions and then there is a time for the art to speak for itself. For this we all walked a block over to the Roda Theatre to actually experience the show. Mr. Wing-Davey had proclaimed that Pericles is a “work in progress” and that although we may not agree with all of the choices he made, he hoped they would be thought-provoking. Those provocative choices kept me at the edge of my seat, an unprecedented experience in my viewing of any Shakespeare play ever.
During intermission, I talked with my peers who were teeming with ideas, insights, and opinions about the first half of the show. Was it crazy nonsense? Insane genius? The most profound art that had ever been created? Pure silliness? Mr. Wing-Davey succeeded in leaving behind the stereotype of a boring Shakespeare play, creating something that felt immediate and even relatable to teenagers, which is no easy feat.
As I left the Roda I couldn’t help but smile. All around me audience members of all ages streamed out discussing the various things about Pericles that surprised, disgusted, and delighted them. This, I thought, is just how theatre should be.
Ivy Olesen is a senior at Berkeley High School. She directed the original play, Orpheum, written by Frances Maples as part of the 2013 Teen One-Acts Festival.
Teen Night is a staple of the School of Theatre Teen Council programming. The event allows Bay Area teens to see a Berkeley Rep show for a discounted price, enjoy a delicious meal sponsored by Phil’s Sliders and IZZE Sparkling Juice, and hear an exclusive interview from an artistic professional. On March 8, teens heard from Oskar Eustis, director of Lawrence Wright’s Fallaci, before heading to the theatre to see the show. Teen Council member Sophia Cannata-Bowman conducted the interview, and her reflections are featured below.
As artistic director of The Public Theater in New York City and director of Berkeley Rep's Fallaci, Oskar Eustis could be considered a sort of "hero" to the teens he spoke to at Teen Night. But Mr. Eustis doesn't strut like a hero, or drawl like a hero, or place any claim on being a hero. As he spoke us about his career and passion as a director, he exuded a great sense of modesty and told only the truth.
I had the great honor of being Mr. Eustis' interviewer that night, and he could not have made the job easier for me. His career alone lent itself to a great many questions already, but the stories he told in response to those initial questions left me teeming with many more by the end. When asked to share a moment of great passion that epitomized his love of the craft, Eustis provided a particularly poignant answer. Lighting up at the memory, Eustis recalled a moment working with Tony Kushner on Angels in America. They had been agonizing over a particular scene for ages, working and reworking it, but never getting it right -- as a writer, I know the feeling. Then one day, Kushner came into rehearsal with yet another rewrite. Eustis took a look, they tried it out, and he knew. They had gotten it. Perhaps that moment of satisfaction –- that gut feeling that this is right -- is why artists do what they do. Perhaps we young people dream so fervently for moments like that.
Toward the end of the interview, Eustis worked up a great passion as he gave the room full of aspiring directors, writers, actors, and designers advice on how to overcome the obstacles of the business. He urged us to fight for our passions and to not be afraid of failure. And when we do fail, he said, we must not take that as defeat.
The honesty with which Eustis trusted us, the passion he exuded -- a passion we all shared to the fullest degree -- was nothing less than inspiring. I am among the population of wide-eyed students who dreams of telling stories for a living. And listening to a man of so many accomplishments get excited about the same things I get excited about gave me, personally, a great sense of comfort as I strive to make a place for myself in this business -- to become my own kind of hero doing something that I love.
Sophia Cannata-Bowman is a senior at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco. Her original play, Story by Leonard Watts, will be featured in the 2013 Teen One-Acts Festival. For more information on the Festival, please click here.
By Emily Radler, Teen Council member
On November 4, Teen Council hosted its second CLAIM Conference in Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre. The Conference was part of the claimyourARTS ("CLAIM") initiative, which allows teens to speak out about the importance of arts in education. The CLAIM Conference gives dozens of Bay Area teens, including myself, a chance to raise our voices for the arts.
The conference started off with a teen-generated slideshow featuring facts and figures reminding us why arts in schools are a must, not a maybe. From the slideshow as well as events later in the day, we learned that student involvement in the arts is linked to higher academic performance, increased standardized test scores, greater involvement in community service, and lower dropout rates. These facts, among many others, were things I didn't know until I participated with my team, the Ferocious Watermelons, in a series of competitive CLAIM games. The games taught us that it is important to act fast when it comes to standing up for our arts, and we learned how to support our position with factual information.
By Amanda Spector, education fellow
So much of how we experience theatre has to do with what we see. Berkeley Rep's Teen Council was lucky enough to meet with Daniel Ostling, the Tony Award-nominated set designer, before seeing Mary Zimmerman’s The White Snake, which is now playing here at Berkeley Rep. Aesthetically, the set designer creates the playing space for the actors and is instrumental in bringing the show to life. Daniel has collaborated with Mary on a number of productions, and shared with Teen Council what it means to start with a book, a myth, or a simple story and to end up with a stunning work of art.
Teen Council member Emily Radler interviewed Daniel as part of Teen Night, which is a discounted night of theatre at Berkeley Rep for Bay Area teens. The event includes an exclusive interview and dinner before the show. Here's a video of the interview, where Daniel shares insight about the creative process.
By Frances Maples, Teen Council member
An Iliad, a powerful, provocative play based on Homer’s The Iliad was eye-opening for 75 Bay Area teens who attended the show early in October. Before the performance, Frances Maples interviewed acclaimed director and writer, Lisa Peterson, asking the artist about her creative processes and inspirations.
By Negi Esfandiari,Teen Council member
“I won’t keep you waiting,” I said with a grin, “here she is: Eve Ensler!” She thanked me and gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug. I was overjoyed -- was this really happening? It blew my mind that I was sitting in the same room as this incredible and inspiring woman listening to her wisdom and connecting with other teens from all over the Bay Area.
I had the honor of introducing the incredible Eve Ensler for a special Emotional Creature workshop just before our Teen Night. After sharing the genesis of this play, Eve asked us to form groups and create our own emotional creature. The outcomes were surprising. One group created a creature called Septipus, a seven-person wheel formation with each person portraying a different emotion. In contrast, my group had a more abstract creature that was vaguely based on a dragon that roared and also made gorilla sounds. After the exercise, Eve talked a lot about how girls all over the world feel pressured to please.
As we wrapped up, at Eve’s direction we paired with one new person in the room. Together we shared something we did only to please other people and vowed to stop doing that thing. This stranger then became the keeper of our promise to stop the cycle of pleasing. To conclude the workshop, Eve started a fabulous dance party, which resulted in the discovery of many talented on-the-spot choreographers.
When seeing the play, I reflected on the journey Eve had experienced with its development. It reminded me of Eve’s work on the City of Joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a special facility for survivors of sexual violence. In her own article Women Left for Dead—and the Man Who’s Saving Them, Eve describes how the women of the City of Joy used dance to help with their trauma, and portrays how beautiful it is to watch women who have gone through such atrocities dance up mountains.
The show closed with a musical rendition of the monologue Emotional Creature, and an awesome bow involving a dance circle. The joyful bow definitely encapsulated that strength of girls and left each of us with a beautiful sentiment to hold in our hearts. I left the theatre feeling the energy of the whole group rising. It was a feeling of empowerment!
Thank you, Eve.
By Hannah Lennett, Education Fellow
This past weekend, the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre hosted a 24-hour play-reading fundraiser extravaganza from noon on June 2 until noon on June 3. In celebration of the School of Theatre’s 10th anniversary, the teens chose to read plays from past Berkeley Rep seasons, including Teen One-Acts Festival winners.
Throughout the event, the 12 teens were joined by special guests from the Berkeley Rep family. These generous performers include Sarita Ocon (Ghost Light, School of Theatre teaching artist), Ben Freeman (Yellowjackets), Amaya Alonso Halifax (Yellowjackets), Rachel Lee (Teen Council alum) and Rethink, Marilet Martinez (School of Theatre teaching artist), members of the cast of Emotional Creature, Reggie White (School of Theatre teaching artist), Marissa Keltie (Bay Area actress), Beryl Baker (Berkeley Rep development associate), Katie Gucik (Berkeley Rep company management fellow), Anya Kazimierski (Berkeley Rep scenic paint fellow), and Taylor Edelhart (Teen Council alum).
Participants raised over $1,200 for Teen Council programming. Top fundraisers received Berkeley Rep gift bags, tickets to next year’s Teen Night, gift certificates to local businesses, and free lessons from Berkeley Rep School of Theatre staff.
To read a blow-by-blow account of the event, check out our Storify account of the live-tweeting.
Also, be sure to check out the blog post written by our visitors from Emotional Creature.
By Hannah Lennett, education fellow
If you saw a performance of Red, you probably encountered Teen Council’s young arts advocates on your way out. They stood with buckets full of bracelets, asking for donations to help fund their trips to Washington, D.C. and Boston to advocate for arts education.
Between their calls to “Claim your arts” and the generosity of Berkeley Rep’s patrons, we were able to raise over three times our goal for the campaign, give out over 1,000 bracelets, and learn the last scene of Red by heart!
Next on the fundraising docket in our effort to send our advocates from coast to coast:
A 24-hour teen play-reading fundraiser extravaganza. Stay tuned for more information about this wild and wacky day of theatre.
Interested in donating to #claimyourARTS?
Visit http://www.berkeleyrep.org/teenconferencefund/index.asp to make a quick and easy online donation.
In celebration of Arts Advocacy Day 2012, Teen Council's #claimyourARTS initiative has released a new Arts Advocacy PSA! See what Berkeley Rep teens and staff created together in support of arts education!
If you see Red in the next few weeks, you may see members of Berkeley Rep’s Teen Council in the lobby with buckets and blue plastic bracelets bearing the phrase: ClaimyourARTS. These bracelets are a fun gift for those who support the School of Theatre’s ClaimyourARTS initiative, which is sending 10 Teen Council members to Washington, D.C. and Boston to advocate for arts education.
The initiative began on February 12 when the School of Theatre hosted a teen arts-advocacy conference, which sought to excite and educate Bay Area teens about arts advocacy. Negi Esfandiari, one of the teens who will be traveling to Boston as a Teen Council representative, writes about her experience at the conference below.