...let it never be said that a passion for the arts didn't give you that opportunity.
Earlier this week, I was pleasantly surprised when an email from Oberon K.A. Adjepong arrived in my inbox. Oberon played Christian, the traveling salesman, in Berkeley Rep's production of Ruined last season and we've kept in touch on and off since then. Like the character you saw on the Roda stage, the real-life Oberon is gifted with a strong sense of humor, an instinct for mischief, and a singular ability to make you feel like a dear friend from the first moment you meet. I really enjoyed having him with us in Berkeley, and am always happy to hear from him.
Oberon was writing because he wanted to ask for my help. And, reading his request, I thought that it might be something that the greater Berkeley Rep community might like to jump in on as well!
Here's the deal:
At present, the role of Christian has not been cast.
Oberon would very much like to be the one tapped for that role -- and the first step is getting an audition. He and his agent are working the regular channels to make such a thing happen, but he recognizes that this is the time to think about nontraditional solutions as well.
Oberon is therefore asking his friends and family to launch a letter-writing campaign in support of his recent work with Ruined, and to recommend his being given the opportunity to audition for the role.
You see where you can help, don't you? The more, the merrier!
It's pretty simple: write a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell her that you saw Oberon in the recent Berkeley Rep production of Ruined (if you'd like, you can also mention that he played the role at La Jolla Playhouse and the Huntington Theatre in Boston). Tell Ms. Winfrey how much you liked Oberon's work as Christian. Be specific if you can. And ask her to consider casting him in the role of Christian for her film.
Again, that email address is email@example.com.
We all talk about how, in this business, being successful is a combination of talent, hard work, and luck. Sometimes, you just have to make your own luck -- and this is one of those times. Let's help him do it!
Photo: Oberon K.A. Adjepong as Christian and Tonye Patano as Mama Nadi in Berkeley Rep's production of Ruined (photo by Kevin Berne)
A few weeks ago I found myself going through all my books deciding which were ready to be taken down to Half Price Books (right here at the corner of Addison and Shattuck) and which were treasures worth keeping. I came across a few books that I consider to be bibles of mine. Books that I can still remember lines or passages from and that inspired my core values as a theatre artist. I was curious as to what books inspired our staff in their early (or late) days as theatre folk. I asked my colleagues here at Berkeley Rep to contribute the titles of the books they read for a list I was making. Some were quick to respond enthusiastically while others claimed they found books about theatre pretentious. With continued prodding I asked if perhaps there was a different type of book that inspired them in their creative lives, or even one moment of creative insight that would leave said book a treasure for them. Again some contributed and some pushed back. “No!” they cried, “no books! No books about theatre!!” Okay, I said. Perhaps a play or a videotape or …something? Anything? Hence the following list from a number of staff members, fellows, and one former intern.
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!
Inspired by and in response to the NEA debates, Artistic Director Tony Taccone penned a short play:
VINCENT VAN GOGH APPLIES FOR AN NEA GRANT
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
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. Okay.
It’s like this Van.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
“I did what I had to do
and saw it through without exemption/”
“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.
“And more, much more than this, I did it my way!”
Many things come in boxes -- presents, shoes, refrigerators, a man named Jack, and (more often than not due to our current economic state) plays. I’m not quite sure who coined the term “show in a box,” but when Berkeley Rep does a coproduction (Compulsion, and the upcoming Ruined), remounts an old production (The Arabian Nights), or takes on a travelling show (The Great Game: Afghanistan) we send and receive the show literally “in a box”.
Receiving shows in a box is a little like Christmas when you think you know what your mother bought you, but you’re not quite sure. You’re nervous that it’s not quite the right thing, or was too expensive. You worry that Santa broke it as he tossed it down the chimney. However, you’re ecstatic to open the box.
Like any other production, shows in a box require some preparation. The marketing department plans the cocktail menu and produces the signage. The electrics department receives the light plots in advance so they can efficiently hang the lights. The production departments pour over paperwork from the shows’ previous locations (in the case of Ruined we have had many conversations with the Huntington Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse in preparation for the show’s arrival), but mostly, we wait with baited breath for the truck of boxes to arrive.
In the costume department, we receive giant wardrobe boxes full of clothing, and we begin to play the “who wears what” game. The advantage to a show in a box is that usually the same actors travel with the show and help us get up to speed while we help them settle into a new town.
Sometimes things arrive broken. Maybe a pair of socks is lost in transit. Perhaps the scenery needs some touch-ups from the paints department. Often staging evolves from one theatre to another.
While the show in a box isn’t quite as exciting as building a show from scratch, there is something magical about being one of the legs on a play’s journey.
One of the costume boxes for The Arabian Nights.
Check out costume fellow Amy Bobeda's blog.
Berkeley Rep is looped into the national (and international) conversation about the arts, arts education, arts policy, and more -- and we want to share with you stories we find especially thought-provoking.
The LA Times “Culture Monster” reports on the Republican Study Committee’s proposed Spending Reduction Act of 2011. While the article focuses on the proposed cuts of the arts, the Act actually proposes cuts in many sectors.
In related news, the Huffington Post published this article about newly elected Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s planned executive order to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission. If he does so, Kansas will be the first U.S. state without an arts commission.
Do you think arts should be eliminated during a fiscal crisis? Tell us what you think!
Congratulations to Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day for their Grammy nomination for the Broadway score of American Idiot! The band scored two Grammys for their original album, so wouldn't this be a nice one to add to the collection?
This is the second time in two years that a Berkeley Rep show was nominated for a Grammy. Last year, Carrie Fisher was nominated for the audio book of Wishful Drinking.
In related American Idiot news, Billie's joining the Broadway cast on January 1 for another turn as St. Jimmy.
And yep, the show launches with what else but a movie! Says Tony Taccone, the show's director, "In order to introduce you to a live event — the magic of living, breathing theatre — we’re going to show you a movie. Right? It makes absolutely no sense, except it absolutely does makes sense in the world of Lemony Snicket, who is completely eccentric, wildly imaginative and clever and hysterically funny."
Read the entire interview with Tony on the making of the movie, The Magic of Living, Breathing Theater, here.
Hey, tonight's opening night! If we don't see you tonight, we hope to see you soon. Purchase your tickets now!
With the world premiere of Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead mere days away, Lemony Snicket himself has taken the time to send you a curious dispatch in which he shares with you why theatre is important – and how you may find a more or less everlasting joy and peace.
Is theatre important to you? Make a gift to Berkeley Rep today.
In one of my favorite quotes from a review of Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, The San Francisco Chronicle's Rob Hurwitt said scenes from the show "set the mind spinning about topics as varied as the art and commerce of photography, the ways in which humans love and use one another, a century of intercourse between Japan and America . . ." I love this concept of cultures having intercourse. It's sexy, and so much more dynamic than cultures "influencing" each other or "exchanging" with each other.
On that note, an upcoming evening event on Thursday, April 1 at The Asian Art Museum set my mind spinning about a century of intercourse between Shanghai and America.
Here's how the museum describes the event: "Dubbed 'the boy Billie Holiday,' Coco Zhao (seen right) performs an intimate set of original works and Shanghai jazz favorites in conjunction with the special exhibition Shanghai. Jazz thrived in Shanghai’s colorful cabarets and dance halls during the ’20s and ’30s. Suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, it’s enjoyed a renaissance thanks to a new generation of jazz musicians. Zhao cross-pollinates Mandarin vocals with distinct sounds of contemporary American jazz; his unique heritage (his parents performed traditional Chinese opera) is infused with youthful interpretations."
The event begins at 5pm and features a cash bar and various exhibit-related activities. Tickets are $10, but the museum is giving away some free tickets. Click here for a chance to win.
Watch a video of Coco Zhou performing at the Yokohama jazz festival: