Berkeley Rep Blog

Category archive: General theatre talk

Berkeley Rep does Bay to Breakers!

posted by School of Theatre on Mon, May 21, 2012
in General theatre talk , School of Theatre

On Sunday morning, four Berkeley Rep employees took a break from preparations for Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men, and laced up their running shoes for Bay to Breakers.They joined over 23,000 other runners (dressed in everything from serious race attire to ball gowns, banana costumes, and birthday suits) in a race across San Francisco and came in 13,432, 13,433, 16,802, and 16,803 place. Not bad for a bunch of theatre geeks!    


Pictured above (L to R): Community Programs Manager Ben Hanna, School of Theatre Registrar Katie Riemann, Education Fellow Hannah Lennett, and Marketing and Communications Fellow Kyle Sircus

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A groundbreaking baker's dozen

posted by Kyle Sircus on Mon, Apr 9, 2012
in At the theatre , General theatre talk , News , Our shows

Get ready for some news that's going to really rock the foundation. This past September, we announced plans for the launch of The Ground Floor: Berkeley Rep's Center for the Creation and Development of New Work. Today, we're happy to announce the full list of participants (nearly 40 writers, directors, and composers) and their respective projects (a full baker's dozen of them) for the Summer Residency Lab, set to take off this July. 

Some of the names are familiar ones to Berkeley Rep fans -- Lynn Nottage, Itamar Moses, Leigh Silverman, and Greg Pierotti will all return to the Bay Area to take part in various projects, ranging from food politics to apology lines. What's particularly exciting is the addition of several names that are new to our audience members -- Dan LeFranc, whose Troublemaker will have its world premiere at Berkeley Rep in 2013, will workshop his play here this summer with director Dexter Bullard; considering The Ground Floor doesn't require a formal presentation of the work, playwrights like Amelia Roper can take full advantage of the Summer Residency Lab to continue to develop their work. It's a fascinating list and we're already gearing up to welcome them in just a few short months. 

To read what the press is saying about The Ground Floor, check out articles in today's New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and on If you're a Berkeley resident, it's almost time to break out your binoculars -- you may just spot one of these talented artists around town!

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Can't get enough of Les?

posted by Karen McKevitt on Thu, Mar 29, 2012
in General theatre talk , Our shows

A brief stint as a print model, a stop by Berkeley Rep to direct, what's Les Waters up to next?

Well, as the new artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, he already has big plans. He'll direct not only the wildly popular Girlfriend (which had its world premiere at the Rep with Les at the helm) there, but also the classic epic Long Day's Journey into Night

On top of that, he and playwright Sarah Ruhl reunite for the world premiere of her new play, Dear Elizabeth, based on the letters poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell wrote to each other. Dear Elizabeth plays at Yale Rep, where their production of Three Sisters landed after its run here at Berkeley Rep.

Rock on, Les!




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The shirt that dressed Yale

posted by Amy Bobeda on Thu, Mar 22, 2012
in General theatre talk , Our shows

Only Les Waters goes to New Haven an Obie-winning director and comes back a male model.

Allow me to extrapolate. Our story begins in the August of 2010, my first day at Berkeley Rep, and my first encounter with a staff member, who just happened to be the Les Waters. Knowing nothing about Les at the time, other than his working relationship with Sarah Ruhl, I will never forget the day we met. What he said in conversation may contain a few too many four-letter words to write here — though if you follow my personal blog, the quote can be found. From that day forward, I knew Les would be my favorite member of the Reptile family.

I soon learned that Les and I have common loves for expensive sweaters, orange snack foods, vintage clothing, vulgarity, and this industry that we refer to as “playing pretend.” Therefore, we have spent most of our time at work talking about man sweaters he can’t afford, and man sweaters I dream of my fictitious future husband wearing. Perhaps our best clothing conversation occurred in the fall, the day after his return from restaging Sarah Ruhl's Three Sisters at Yale Rep.

One night in New Haven, Les was at dinner with his wife Annie and Sarah Ruhl, when a gentleman approached their table asking if Les was a professor at Yale.

He replied in his charming accent, “No.”

The man thought that was unfortunate because Les had “just the look he was looking for.”

After further conversation where Les revealed he was directing a show at Yale, he was, within minutes, booked for his first modeling gig.

The next day, he went to Gant clothing — a shi shi Connecticut-based clothier that was once the official clothier of Yale. Think Ralph Lauren meets Tommy Hilfiger, but four times the price. Les spent the day posing moodily in beautiful sweaters, and took home a stash of merch at the end of the day.

When he returned to Berkeley, he immediately told me the story in his witty dry accent as he revealed the outrageously expensive additions to his wardrobe.

Fast forward to February, and Les’ return to the Reptiles to direct Red after beginning his new life in Louisville. After a production meeting he pulls me aside, busts out his iPad, and reveals that his model shot has gone viral. There he is, the Les Waters, moody as ever, with a caption reading “the shirt that dressed Yale.”


My response?

“Wow. Your children must think you’re so cool now!”

Les disagreed, but within 24 hours, his daughter Maddie had blogged the photo. But, that, my dear readers, is part of Les’ charm that captivates the camera: he has no idea just how cool people, including his teenage daughter, think he is.

So, dearest Les, here is to your future as a male model, your life ahead of you in Louisville, and many more wonderfully overpriced sweaters that will undoubtedly find their way into your life.

And Happy Opening!


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How to view a Rothko?

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Mar 16, 2012
in General theatre talk , Our shows

On the occasion of Red's first performance tonight, our Literary Associate Julie McCormick offers some thoughts on viewing Rothko's work:

One thing that postmodernism taught us (along with the fact that it’s possible to wear lobster claw shoes and meat dresses in public) is that the conditions in which we encounter something — whether it is a person, an idea, or a work of art — are as important to our understanding of the subject as the subject itself. Watching a film in a darkened theater is a drastically different experience than watching the same movie on your i-whatever or on the treadmill at the gym. A play performed in 2,000-seat proscenium with a well-curated program on your lap can evoke an entirely different response from the same play performed in a black box theatre, or as a site-specific work in some edgy warehouse. The same goes for a painting. How do you first approach it? Is it crowded, salon style, on a wall with dozens of other pieces of every shape, size, and genre? Or does it command an entire wall, like the Mona Lisa? What else can you see? Other paintings, sculptures, a view of the outdoors?

Rothko was excruciatingly specific in how his work was to be displayed, giving galleries headaches and detailed instructions on how high off the ground his paintings needed to go and how much space there had to be in between his canvases and those belonging to other artists. This is at least in part because Rothko viewed his works less as paintings and more as experiences. If a viewer was preoccupied with the painting as a painting, they would miss the deeper spiritual essence the artist sought to convey.

Some concerns, such as the amount of light in a gallery, are practical as well as aesthetic. Works on paper like watercolors, pen-and-ink sketches, and prints are usually placed in dimly lit rooms to protect the sensitive paper and ink. Art museums often have large collections of these fragile works that they rotate periodically so that no one piece gets too much exposure. (A little known fact: these print collections are often available to the public via appointment.) Paints are made of a variety of organic and inorganic substances that decay over time. Many of the pigments that painters use are extremely volatile, changing and fading over time. Van Gogh’s famous Bedroom in Arles, for example, with its iconic blue walls, was actually most likely a lilac color at the time it was painted. True to his agenda of elevating content over form, Rothko was not particularly concerned with the physical integrity of his canvases. He knocked together low-quality wood in rickety frames, haphazardly stapled on canvas, and smeared them with a noxious witches’ brew of glue, egg yolks, pigments, and other mysterious ingredients. Much to the consternation of art conservationists, many of his paintings have already started to decay and must be kept in dark storage. What to do with paintings that have altered over time is a question that won’t be answered anytime soon, but some have come up with intriguing alternatives.

If you really want to look at a Rothko, ignore the poster hanging over the cooler at work or the thumbnail on Google. Head over to SFMOMA and go up to the second floor. Rothko’s No. 14 will be waiting for you, a vivid red rectangle stacked on top of a deep blue, hovering over a dark plum field. Look at it from across the room, then move closer and let its edges overwhelm you. Blur your eyes, focus on the brush stokes visible at the edge, let the shapes start to vibrate and buzz. Take some time out of your busy life to just observe and experience. More difficult than it seems, but well worth the effort.

Here’s more about viewing a Rothko.


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Meet the directing fellow

posted by Karen McKevitt on Fri, Mar 9, 2012
in General theatre talk , Our shows

By Brandon Weinbrenner

2 actors. 3 stage managers. 1 director. 1 dramaturg. Me.  Small, simple, fascinating. Red.

As the Bret C. Harte directing fellow, I have been given the opportunity to be the assistant director on our newest production, Red. While I can't say that I am actually directing the show, I get to do something more valuable to me at this stage of my fellowship. I get to observe. Watching director Les Waters sink his teeth into John Logan's script is liking watching quiet, brooding genius at work. Oftentimes Les says nothing at all, but watches, fully open and fully committed to the process. The actors discuss their takes on the play's complex themes and countless art theories while Les listens and provides carefully selected feedback. His directing process seems so effortless that my observation of him inspires me to "Keep it simple, stupid."

So often I feel like we can overcomplicate theatre by worrying about political correctness, appealing to a select demographic, or over-philosophizing the subject matter. At the core of good theatre is sheer entertainment. It's the question of what entertains us as viewers that shapes a unique piece of theatre.  Red is about the relationship between Mark Rothko and his assistant, Ken. Together they discuss art, ethics, and basic humanity. We watch them work and paint, fight and yell, and ultimately define themselves. It's such a simple structure that it's easy to let the script speak for itself and allow the actors to run rampant. I have to say, I truly believe that Les is the perfect director to keep Red as simple and effective as its meant to be.


I feel so lucky to have this fellowship. I not only get to observe a fantastic staff run a giant theatre, but also get to apply what I'm learning to mentoring the teens at the School of Theatre. As the teens put on their own one-acts, I have to ask myself how I would approach directing their material before I can give worthwhile advice to the young directors. This is when you realize how much you've learned. I have more than a year left in my fellowship and as I get to assistant direct more shows, attend more staff meetings, help put on additional events, and basically deepen my experience in the Bay Area's theatre scene, I hope that I grab on to every kernel of knowledge out there for me to discover. By the end of this, I want to be able to lead a production to as great success as I think Les is ultimately leading Berkeley Rep's latest production, Red.


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Is the three-act dead?

posted by Karen McKevitt on Sat, Jan 28, 2012
in General theatre talk

By Kristin Cato

As Berkeley Rep’s new Ground Floor initiative revs up its engines, it’s a good time to talk about what makes new theatre. Is it contemporary stories, contemporary forms, or both? At a company meeting this fall, Artistic Director Tony Taccone declared, “Artists are moving away from the three-act structure. Not because it is a trend, but because the three-act no longer reflects how people think and feel.” 

This statement was one of the more interesting things I’ve heard all year and, evidently, I was not alone. When I posted this quote onto my Facebook wall, it attracted a whopping 82 comments, and an incredibly vibrant dialogue about the possibilities of new theatre. I thought I’d share a few of those thoughts here.

But first, what is a three-act structure? Very succinctly, a three-act play includes basic storytelling elements: character set-up, inciting incident (or catalyst), conflict development building to climax, and resolution. All these sound familiar. So could it be as Tony suggests? A centuries-old storytelling technique is now fading from the mainstream? 




A few of my friends begged to differ:

“The three-act structure is an unyielding orthodoxy for the vast majority of Hollywood films and a great many ‘independents’. And I would submit to Mr. Taccone that the staggering profits of the film industry suggest that the mass audience expects the three-act structure just as compulsively as the industry serves it up to them.” –Douglas Michael Massing, freelance writer

“I feel that there have long been many valid forms of narrative, and while a given approach may become more fashionable among certain types who fancy themselves taste-makers, the human need to convey stories will never die. I think it’s silly to say that one form of story telling has more of less validity than another. Different strokes for different folks.”  - Lisa Lazar, scenic artist

“I believe we simply reshuffle things in storytelling, add or remove things here and there, usually out of a sense of wanting to invent or improve something, to make our own ‘modern’ mark on the craft.  I truly doubt the three-act is going anywhere.” – Matt Turner, actor/writer 

But at least one friend embraced the idea:

 “And now stories might start in the center, go back, have the climax at the beginning, show the end and then delve into character exploration?”  -Nathan Bogner, actor

Amy Potozkin, Berkeley Rep’s casting director, weighed in. “My impression of what Tony was saying is that there are an increasing number of theatrical works that are incorporating more varieties of art forms and that, as we have become an increasingly more visual culture (with the obvious being technology), we are creating theatre in new ways.  That what we used to call ‘the well-made play’ is no longer the norm and that our imaginations are wired differently. I agree that we are seeing more theatrical works programmed that incorporate media tech, dance, etc.”

When I brought this discussion to Tony’s attention, he responded, “Eighty-two comments?! What’d they say?” I admitted a few people disagreed with his assertion. He replied, “Well, part of the reason why I like to say things like that, is to get people talking. It’s not that there’s no structure. It’s just that younger people these days are used to a more episodic format from growing up watching TV. But also I’d say that it’s not just about TV. It’s about seeing the world as a more fractured place, about not expecting ‘resolution’ of an easy kind. That easy resolution feels untrue to the size of the world’s problems right now. It’s about the fact that the planet is imperiled and is making its way into the worldview of everyone under the age of 40 in a different way than before.”

So I ask you, Berkeley Rep audience: Does the three-act structure satisfy? Does it frustrate? Is it time for something new?  What do you think?

Kristin Cato is the director of the episodic audio drama The Lighted Bridge.


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Happiness is...

posted by Kyle Sircus on Wed, Nov 30, 2011
in At the theatre , General theatre talk , Our shows

We've been vindicated! What we who work in the theatre have always known to be true is finally being supported with actual evidence. A new study from the UK charts, via smart phone responses, when people are at their happiest. No surprise to Berkeley Rep fans: theatre comes in third place (only after sex and exercising). 

When are you at your happiest? 

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Saying goodbye to one of our own

posted by Kyle Sircus on Tue, Nov 29, 2011
in At the theatre , General theatre talk , News

After a successful and vibrant eight years at Berkeley Rep as associate artistic director, it's time to bid Berkeley_Rep_Waters4_lr farewell to a local favorite. Today, Actors Theatre of Lousiville named Les Waters as their new artistic director. 

In Les' words, “For a director such as myself, whose career has focused on fostering new work, it has been a delight to be part of the team at Berkeley Rep. It is an extraordinary theatre staffed by extraordinary people dedicated to the highest quality of craftsmanship...It is difficult to leave Berkeley -- yet it is an honor and a privilege to take up the reins at Actors Theatre of Louisville...I am committed to making theatre there that is passionate and intelligent, funny and heartfelt, and look forward to leading Actors Theatre to new artistic endeavors.”

Check out the Actors Theatre press conference video. Les speaks about 8 minutes in.

All of us at Berkeley Rep wish Les all the best as he begins his new Kentucky adventure (where he'll certainly make a mark, just as he has on Addison Street)! We'll miss his charm, wit, and sweaters, but we're not ready to bid him farewell just yet. Les will be back in Berkeley to direct Red, which plays the Thrust Stage from March 16 - April 29, 2012. And we'll certainly have a few more blog posts before he departs.

What was your favorite Les Waters production at Berkeley Rep? Please share your thoughts with us below. 


Photo of Les Waters by Rebecca Martinez

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Adding a little more gold to Rita's shelf

posted by Kyle Sircus on Tue, Nov 15, 2011
in At the theatre , Events , General theatre talk

Rita's already won the Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony awards. This weekend, she's gearing up to put the last Midas touch on her extended run of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup. What more could our favorite leading lady want right now? A golden anniversary may just be the answer. 

This Tuesday, November 15 is the 50th anniversary of the film version of West Side Story in which Rita earned her Academy Award. George Chakiris (Bernardo to Rita's Anita) showed up at the show on November 6; dancer Ray Garcia snapped this photo backstage after Rita brought her former co-star onto the Roda stage for a bow.

Rita, Ray, George, & Sal

Rita Moreno, Ray Garcia, George Chakiris, and Salvatore Vassallo backstage after a performance of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup at Berkeley Rep.

Movie theatres around the country have been showing the film for fans all month. Symphony orchestras have added the score to their repertoire this season to play live alongside the film. There was even this flash mob that happened in Times Square today to commemorate the movie's big birthday:


After the show closes this Sunday (and if you haven't seen this stellar show yet, get your tickets before they're gone), Rita is heading down to Los Angeles to celebrate at a reunion of some of the film's stars.

Who knows what Rita will touch next that will turn itself to gold? 



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