Light in August
SAN FRANCISCO: “We’re kind of calling it Cutting Ball Theater’s ‘Ring cycle,’” jokes Rob Melrose, artistic director of the experimental-leaning troupe, which will perform five late plays by August Strindberg in repertory Oct. 12–Nov. 28, in celebration of the centennial of the playwright’s death.
In fact, the Swedish master, a pioneer of both realism (Miss Julie) and expressionism (A Dream Play), did have a musical model for the so-called chamber plays he wrote in 1907 for his Intimate Theatre in Stockholm, but it wasn’t Wagner.
Instead, Melrose says, Strindberg was inspired by Beethoven’s questing, surprising late sonatas to create “a kind of a distillation and summation of all the themes he’d done before.” Strindberg even nodded to this inspiration with one of his titles, The Ghost Sonata, which joins Storm, Burned House, The Pelican and The Black Glove in rotating rep under Melrose’s direction, and with the same cast.
Though Melrose says that each play has a distinctive style, there’s enough commonality in themes and motifs (another music-composition analog) that they naturally belong on a bill together. Patrons can catch them over several nights or in five-show Saturday and Sunday marathons that run from noon to 11 p.m.
“Having each play shift in style will keep audiences on their toes, and I think they’ll realize what an innovator Strindberg was,” says Melrose, adding a phrase too little associated with the playwright: “It’s going to be fun.”
Funding for the cycle comes from the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, which supports Swedish-related culture both in the U.S. and in Sweden, and which happens to be headquartered in the Bay Area. Go to www.cuttingball.com/strind
MINNEAPOLIS: When Jeremy B. Cohen took over as producing artistic director of the Playwrights’ Center two years ago, he reassessed a long-standing granting program called Many Voices, designed to show Twin Cities–based artists of color the playwriting ropes.
“I felt it wasn’t 100-percent reflective of the needs of writers of color in our field,” says Cohen. “It’s not that playwrights of color aren’t engaging with theatres, and vice versa; it’s that the distance between a playwright having a few readings at a theatre and getting a world premiere on the mainstage was huge, and not getting any narrower.”
So Cohen tweaked three things about Many Voices, funded since 1994 by the Jerome Foundation. First, the awards—two are given each year—will go to self-identified playwrights with no more than one professional production under their belt—and one of the two grants will be available to a national artist; previously both were available only to local artists. Second, the Playwrights’ Center will facilitate more connections between the grantees and professional theatres.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the award’s purse has doubled, from $5,650 to $12,500. “I want to serve the field with more money, not just with an artistic home,” Cohen says. The eligibility period for the next round of Many Voices grants runs through February 2013, with the granting year to begin next July. Go to www.pwcenter.org/fellows_voices.php.
A Geechee “Macbeth”
ATLANTA: When a 20-year-old Orson Welles was tapped by the Federal Theatre Project to direct its “Negro Unit” production of Macbeth in 1936, he made a significant leap of faith.
“He put 100 actors of African descent onstage and said we were good at this,” marvels Raelle Myrick-Hodges, a Bay Area–based director who will helm a new predominantly black production of the Scottish Play at Georgia Shakespeare Festival, in conjunction with the National Black Arts Festival.
It’s not that Welles had seen a lot of African-Americans doing Shakespeare, Myrick-Hodges concedes; his decision was more visionary than that, akin to “discovering gravity. Sometimes we have to give it up for artists to be moved like that. It’s one of those moments where an artist is touched, and thinks: ‘This has got to happen, and this is how it should be done.’”
Welles’s production has since acquired the nickname “voodoo Macbeth” because it employed a 19th-century Haitian backdrop and featured a whip-wielding male Hecate in a kind of shaman-like role. Myrick-Hodges preserves the often-cut role of Hecate but has changed a few other details or adjusted their significance.
“Yes, it’s set on an island, and Hecate is played by a stunning six-foot-seven dark-skinned male,” Myrick-Hodges says. But her island is going to look and sound a lot more like one of Georgia or South Carolina’s Gullah Sea Islands than Haiti, and the witches, led by Hecate, “take on a lot of the energy” of post-colonialism.
But this is no dissertation, Myrick-Hodges is quick to point out. “Our intention is to scare the shit out of people. It’s going to be really scary, sexy and complex.” Voodoo or Geechee, in other words, this Macbeth is red hot. Visit www.gashake
LENOX, MASS., NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., and RICHMOND, VA.: What’s in a name change? In the case of Massachusetts’s Shakespeare & Company, it’s about honoring a founder. Indeed, in renaming the 35-year-old company’s Founders’ Theatre the Tina Packer Playhouse, the company merely filled in the generic “founders” rubric by naming it for the company’s founding artistic director—Packer stepped down in 2009.
In the case of New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse, the rechristening of the main stage as the Arthur Laurents Stage was about honoring a frequent friend of the theatre. Famed Broadway baby Laurents, who died last year, premiered nine of his later plays at the playhouse, led by artistic director David Saint. The stage isn’t the only place the late playwright’s name is being honored: an Arthur Laurents Fund for New Work has been created at the playhouse.
And in the case of Virginia Repertory Theatre, the new name represents an artistic and organizational marriage: between Richmond’s historic Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, central Virginia’s first professional children’s theatre. By combining forces, the two theatres constitute the largest theatre in the area, with a budget upwards of $5 million, four venues and an audience of more than half a million. Go to www.shakespeare.org, www.georgestreetplayhouse.org, www.va-rep.org.
Rep It Up
MILWAUKEE: The word is right there in the middle of the company’s name: Milwaukee Repertory Theater has for years been one of the remaining U.S. theatres with a resident acting company. In August, the Rep announced that while it’s still committed to long-time artists, it wants to see other people, too.
The Rep’s new associate artists program will rehire most of its former “resident” actors (who, despite the name, were always on contract, not salary), including actor/director Laura Gordon and actors Jonathan Gillard Daly, Lee E. Ernst, Gerard Neugent, James Pickering and Deborah Staples. Also added as associate artists are actors Angela Iannone, Reese Madigan, Lindsay Smiling and Marc Kudisch; directors May Adrales, Timothy Douglas and Aaron Posner; actor/director/playwright Eric Simonson; designers Todd Rosenthal (scenic), Jeff Nellis (lighting), Todd Edward Ivins (scenic/costume); and composer/musicians Dan Kazemi and John Tanner.
In addition to employing them on specific productions on the Rep stage, artistic director Mark Clements plans to employ the associate artists as a talent pool and a brain trust, and will gather them together each year for an artistic retreat. Go to www.milwaukeerep.com.
Upgrade, Build Out
NEW YORK CITY and BERKELEY, CALIF.: It’s been a long time coming: Since it opened in the site of the former Astor Library in 1967, New York’s Public Theater has grown and changed, knocked down a wall here, put up a pub there. But it hasn’t had a facility-wide upgrade, until now: Ennead Architects has given the building a $40-million makeover that looks both backward and forward. The lobby area’s new mezzanine, for instance, will feature a lounge called the Library (itself designed by the Rockwell Group), in honor of the space’s origins. The entire renovation will hopefully earn the Public LEED certification, the mark of a drastically reduced carbon footprint.
Many of the other upgrades should make intuitive sense to anyone who’s ever attended either Joe’s Pub or the Public, or both: There’s now an entrance to the pub, also an important performance venue and development lab for the theatre, directly from the Public’s lobby on Lafayette Street, as well as a central box office for all events at the complex. Perhaps most crucially, the main entrance to the pub will no longer cross paths with the entrance to the Public’s men’s restroom, in an awkward if occasionally serendipitous intersection.
Meanwhile, on the other coast, another nonprofit powerhouse is expanding its reach. Berkeley Repertory Theatre has opened another arts center in the Arpeggio Building on Center Street in downtown Berkeley, with a flexible 200-seat space called the Osher Studio as its centerpiece. Two other studios are also now active with meetings, classes, rehearsals and performances, both under the auspices of Berkeley Rep and as subsidized-rate rentals to local nonprofits without permanent homes of their own, including Bay Area Children’s Theatre and Ragged Wing Ensemble. Visit www.publictheater.org and www.berkeleyrep.org.
NEW YORK CITY: This town’s League of Independent Theaters (LIT) has taken the saying “strength in numbers” to a new level. The league has decided to band together to create a new funding source. The 60-plus companies that are currently part of LIT—among them Dixon Place, HERE, Irondale Ensemble Project, the Civilians and New Georges, just to name a few—will donate a nickel per ticket sold this year to the LIT Fund.
John Clancy, LIT’s executive director, proposed the idea of a fund last December, and since then he and LIT members have worked to refine how exactly the funding source will operate.
“We’ve made a commitment that 20 percent of all money will go to an emergency funding pool, available starting Feb. 1, 2013,” says Clancy. Another 20 percent of the fund will establish an endowment for the independent theatre sector of New York City; 50 percent will go to unrestricted funding and community resources, such as marketing; and 10 percent or less will go toward administration of the fund.
Applicants to the LIT Fund must be a LIT member in good standing (www.litfund.org). Membership is free and open to companies, venues and individuals who have been involved with at least three productions in a theatre in New York City with 99 seats or fewer.
Says Clancy, “We believe that New York theatre is a circle, not a ladder, and we’re committed to keeping that circle strong and unbroken.”
NEW YORK CITY: Theatre education comes in many forms: teaching artists, school field trips and now…billboards. The National Corporate Theatre Fund’s Impact Creativity campaign, a $5-million fundraising effort to support theatre education in 19 cities across the country, recently announced the launch of 17 billboards, digital billboards and bus shelters throughout New York City courtesy of Clear Channel Outdoor, which has donated high-visibility spaces.
More than 10 million “impressions” are expected over the course of the campaign, which hopes to bring greater awareness and support for theatre education. A combination of business executives and artists will be featured on the billboards and be seen by commuters and passerbys on such thoroughfares as the Bruckner Expressway, the Long Island Expressway and the Williamsburg Bridge, with the message, “Theatre education changes lives.”
“It is critically important that corporate America step forward to support theatre-arts education, now only available in about 3 percent of our nation’s schools,” says Broadway producer Margo Lion and co-chair of the President’s Arts Policy Committee.
At a recent National Corporate Theatre Fund gala, another new media partnership was announced between NCTF and Creative Mobile Technologies. Together the two will roll out a series of public service announcements, created by NCTF theatres, that will be shown in 10,000 taxicab screens across the U.S. The Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., won the NCTF video competition and received a prize of $10,000.
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