Real Live Theater

Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

The Mystery of the Unidentifiable, Invisible Actor with Two Left Feet

In Editor's Note on February 28, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Editor’s Note

Mystery photo by ThomasTroy

Mystery photo by ThomasTroy

Help me.

These two words are at the heart of my two cents worth of advise to anyone out there in the world who would like to get cast in a show.

If you are an actor, you may be thinking, “Help you what?”

If you are a director, an artistic director, a casting director or production manager, you may be thinking, “Yes, please help!”

If you are none of the above, consider this an insight into the world of theater and read on anyway, if for no other reason but to store the information in your brain to be disbursed at some later time during a conversation you may someday find yourself engaged in about casting shows.

What I need help with is to solve the auditors’ dilemma*.

The Auditors’ Dilemma

I attended a huge audition at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre a few weeks ago as an auditor at which I amassed a mountain of actors’ photos, headshots which are at present, piled all around me. I am sorting them: men go in this stack, women go in that stack and children go in the little stack on the corner of my desk. Some of the headshots have resumes printed neatly on the back (best), others have resumes stapled on (acceptable), others have resumes precariously paper-clipped on (less desirable) and others are missing resumes altogether (frightening). I search though the pile for the missing resumes and cannot locate them. I check again and to my dismay they are nowhere to be found. Some of these resume-less headshots have the names of the actors printed on the front, others do not. The resume-less headshots that do not have names on the front get thrown out.

Pretty face. No name. Unidentifiable. Goodbye.

Of the resume-less headshots that have the names of the actors printed on the front, I go to Google, type in their name and hit enter. If the actor has a website (agency page or personal), great! I can at least glean resume and contact information from there, print it out and staple it to the headshot myself for future reference. If I cannot easily find resume and contact information on a website or if actors have nothing but a Facebook or LinkedIn or YouTube or Tribe or Classmates or Plaxo or Twitter or some other cool new social networking tool presence where I cannot easily obtain the actors resume, email address (to send an email with an invitation to audition for a role) and phone number (to call and make a casting offer) I may not want to bother spending any more of my time doing detective work searching for contact information for these invisible actors who apparently do not want to be invited to auditions nor be offered any roles. If they did, their information would be readily available to those who need it.

Handsome features. No email. No phone number. Goodbye.

As for the complete headshots and resumes remaining in the three stacks of men, women and children, they will be sorted further, categorized and cataloged by age, type and any array of other attributes including Shakespeare experience, musicals, dramas and special skills.

Which brings me to dancing.

Please, if you are an actor, help me cast you:

  1. Please make sure your resume is securely attached to your headshot and that your name is printed on the front of your headshot. Also make sure your email address and phone number (or that of your agent) are included on your resume.
  2. Please get a website that includes your phone number, email address, resume and some additional photos of yourself. Be sure to keep your website  updated if you change your email address or phone number. (I might have a headshot and resume of yours from two or three years ago. If you have changed your email address or phone number since then I need an easy way to find your new email address or phone number so I can contact you.)
  3. Please take dance classes, any kind of dance classes. Tap. Ballet. Jazz. Anything. I see you can act. I hear you can sing, but what I want and don’t seem to be able to find enough of these days, are actors that can move interestingly across the stage and do a swing-dance-hip-hop-tango-till-the-lights-come-up-good-old-fashioned-boogie-woogie-cha-cha-simple-yet-elegant-waltz if called upon to.

While is is imperative to find great and appropriate monologues, and it is important to practice your monologues and songs to perfection, and while you may even enlist the assistance of an audition coach to help you prepare for your audition, remember the auditor’s dilemma and remember to help me.

Thanks.

*Having just had a discussion on this topic with Denise Stevenson from KZST at the press reception for La Cage Aux Folles at 6th Street Playhouse, and having just finished reading and thoroughly enjoying Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I decided to relay excerpts from my own experiences surrounding the basics of casting from the perspective of the auditor in this article. I adopted Michael’s theme of “the dilemma” and thus The Auditors’ Dilemma is born. Now on to In Defense of Food.

Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.

Other articles by Cheryl Itamura include:

The Spreckels Performing Arts Center

In Places and Spaces on February 27, 2009 at 8:57 pm

By Kim Taylor

Submitted photo of Spreckels banners

Submitted photo of Spreckels banners

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – Banners fly proudly for performing arts in the Sonoma County town of Rohnert Park.

Music, dance, theater and arts education thrive in its comprehensive cultural center, the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, located at 5409 Snyder Lane.

Built in 1990, the Spreckels Performing Arts Center is the only facility of its kind in Northern California. With its three venues, the center offers a variety of quality programming at affordable prices for residents of Rohnert Park and Sonoma County, Bay Area residents and those visiting the Wine Country region.

The Nellie W. Codding Theatre, featuring a classic proscenium stage with an orchestra pit cover that can be raised to stage height, seats 500. The Bette Condiotti Experimental Theatre, a classic “black box” theater, seats up to 125 patrons. The third venue space, an outdoor lawn and fountain area, is often used for outdoor events.

The Codding Theatre features a state-of-the-art sound system and control/recording booth; a complex lighting system and control booth; and an orchestra pit spanning the width of the stage, a 45 foot wide cyclorama. In addition, it features a hardwood sprung floor and dressing rooms with bathroom and shower facilities and comfortable green rooms. Although the Codding Theatre lacks is a fly system, the ample wing space helps to meet the challenge of multiple set shows. The Condiotti “black box” offers creative advantages with flexible seating that can be arranged in different configurations allowing works to be presented in the round, three-quarter or with traditional proscenium staging.

For the Pacific Alliance Stage Company (PASCO), the resident theater company at Spreckels, both theaters provide modern and interesting options for presenting captivating theatrical seasons.

A dominant player on the North Bay theater scene for over nineteen years, PASCO is an Equity Signatory company that offers a range of programming including American classics, Broadway musicals, the edgy and thought provoking plays; solo performance; and world premiere productions. PASCO has garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards for its artistic achievements in acting, directing, scenic and lighting design.

For enjoyment of performing arts in Rohnert Park, let the banners lead you to the Spreckels Performing Arts Center.

More information about Spreckels Performing Arts Center can be found at www.spreckelsonline.com.

Spreckels Performing Arts Center photo by Kim Taylor

Spreckels Performing Arts Center photo by Kim Taylor

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.

Additional articles by Kim Taylor include:

Developing Abilities in Theater Artists with Developmental Disabilities

In Behind the Scenes on February 23, 2009 at 11:47 pm

by Phil Gravitt

Lots of Bubbles photo by mrPliskin

Lots of Bubbles photo by mrPliskin

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – For four years, local actor Liz Jahren has been the drama instructor for adults at Theatre for Life, a program of Alchemia (al-ke-MEE-a), an arts and vocational day program for Sonoma county residents with developmental disabilities.

Her path to this position started long ago as the daughter of a minister.  “I grew up helping others,” Jahren says, “being of service, feeling the importance of community.  I read the gospel in church with my dad, and even gave children’s sermons.  Being so involved opened my mind to other places I could do that kind of work, to combine social need with theater.”

Jahren was also influenced by Polish Laboratory Theater.  “Being behind the iron curtain in Poland, actors couldn’t say some things,” Jahren explains, “so they found other ways to say what they wanted, like through puppets or humor.”

The North Bay Regional Center has transition programs for the developmentally disabled, to prepare them to live as independently as they are able, and to teach vocational and practical skills, and personal safety.  Social workers at NBRC refer artistically inclined clients to Alchemia.  Reinforcing NBRC programs, Theater for Life puts on “Lil’ Red,” a play about independence, safety, and predator awareness.

Jahren works with adults from age 22 to 65, although most are mid-twenties to mid-thirties.  A few have parents who are or were performers, dancers or actors.  One student learned swing dancing from age five.

Most, however, are acting for the first time. “Special needs students often don’t have access to theater in high school,” Jahren emphasizes.  “If they did, they were fringe players. In Alchemia productions, they are the leads, their own stars.”

Jahren keeps props to a minimum, so the effort can stay focused on the actors.

To develop a play or musical, Liz works with the original play to create a new version with her cast in mind.    “I rewrite it, and then we discuss it and run through an improv version of the play.  Then I transcribe it.”

“We build in safety nets, to feed lines, in case someone forgets.”  Liz quickly adds, “Part of the fun is letting each actor express their creativity, and missed lines are often funny and add to the enjoyment of the play.”

For each play to be performed, while Jahren works with the script, her partner develops songs, and works with the actors musically.  A choreographer has recently been added to create dances.

One type of performance is acting out poetry, as Theater for Life has done at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.  The ten-minute presentation portrayed a man having a poetic awakening to the world around him, while the actors danced and floated like angels.  A shadow screen, puppets and bubbles were also utilized by the actors, and music students built their own instruments for the piece.

Another performance is their annual rock musical, based on Pinnochio this year.

Jahren finds the actors inspiring.  She helps them find that, “yes, although there are limitations, we can still be what we want and find where that is.  It’s about joy and love of performing.  Our plays and musicals showcase the disabled actors so people can see them in a different way.”

More information about Alchemia is available at www.Alchemia.org.

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:


Ledoh: coloring the world-body-space of America with butoh

In Artist Spotlight on February 15, 2009 at 4:21 pm

by Ray Sikorski

Ledoh in Colormeamerica, photo by Katherine Balasingham

Ledoh in Colormeamerica, photo by Katherine Balasingham

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – When put to the task of writing an article about Ledoh, a practitioner of the performing art known as butoh, a question that naturally came up was, “What is butoh?”

“Well, you’re gonna ask ten different butoh performers, and you’re gonna get ten different answers,” Ledoh said.

I knew butoh to be a sort of dance form, although Ledoh disliked the usage of both “dance” and “form” when it came to butoh. He considered it a “movement,” akin to a literary or political movement. I knew it often involved white body makeup and incredibly slow movements… although neither of these are essential. Butoh appeared to be wide open to the performer’s interpretation.

I recalled a Thelonious Monk quote: “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” So it is with butoh. To experience it is to know… but even that would only offer insight into Ledoh’s own take on it.

Alas, what we have at our disposal are mere words – words about Ledoh’s journey from a refugee of the Karen hill tribe, who escaped from Burma with his family at age 11. Transplanted in the northeastern United States, Ledoh felt out of place, and had an itch to roam. Throughout his 20s he traveled, notably to Japan. There, he encountered butoh in the land where it was created – and not so long ago, a product of post-WWII dissatisfaction with defeat, occupation, devastation, and humiliation.  Ledoh had never danced before, but something about butoh resonated with him… was it a sense of kinship to the persecution placed upon his own people? Ledoh said it was an emptying of the body, a seeing of himself, for the first time, as a blank slate. And perhaps the two are related.

“My take on art, and my take on butoh, is from the angle or perspective of an indigenous person maneuvering through this world, and doing time in this body, and doing time in this space,” he said.

“It’s not just the movement is slow; it’s something else in it. It’s about participating in, and being interested in the movement. Of course, you have to condition and train our bodies in order to do movement, but once you’re performing and sharing with the audience, I have to be fully honest with myself. And I have to be interested in my movement. I cannot think about what they’re thinking. I cannot see myself from their perspective, seeing this person, me, moving. Because I have to see it from within me, and I cannot use my mind to do that. I have to be present, fully, in order to be interested in it.”

Since learning butoh in Japan, Ledoh, now 47, has taken it back to the United States. He and his Salt Farm Butoh Dance Company have performed throughout the U.S. as well as abroad, most recently in the nation of Georgia in the fall of 2008.

“Even the smallest, silliest gesture – I have to envelop myself in it,” he said. “And I have to fully be interested, of course. And then, there will be interest by the audience.”

Like dancing about the architecture of the Self.

More about Ledoh and his Salt Farm Butoh Dance Company can be found at www.ledoh.org.

Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana.

Additional articles by Ray Sikorski incude:


Theater vs. Theatre: food for more thought

In An Invitation for You, Editor's Note, Who's watching? on February 8, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Editor’s Note

Question

Food for More Thought

It seems as though everyone has a valid reason for choosing either theatER or theatRE to spell, well, to spell theatER or theatRE, usually based on: the context in which the word is being used; the country in or continent on which it is being used; which respected figure of some authority or expertise is consulted; and whether Wikipedia or some other dictionary is the reference guide of choice. 

In the case of Real Live Theater, the ‘er’ version was selected over the ‘re’ version simply for practical purposes — we wanted people to find us on the internet. In our attempt to discover which spelling people would most likely search for us under, we devised a survey, groundbreaking for its use of exceptionally low-to-no technology: we distributed paper towels and pens randomly around a crowed room and verbally instructed people simply to write ‘real live theater/theatre’ on the towels, without any further explanation or debate, and without any mention of the spelling variations to choose from. In fact, the participants were not so much as even informed why they were being asked to participate in this exercise. When all twenty-five paper towels were collected and the results were tallied, it was revealed with great astonishment, that ‘real live theater’ (the ‘er’ version) was written on all twenty-five paper towels. With the announcement of the final results, RealLiveTheatER.ORG was born, but the larger debate still raged on: when is theatER appropriate and when is theatRE appropriate to use?

We have looked though our lists of theaters (or theatres, as the case may be) and have discovered that roughly half of those on our lists use the ‘er’ version and half use the ‘re’ spelling.

In the theatER camp we find Alternative Theater Ensemble, Novato Theater Company, Theater Rhinoceros, Orpheum Theater, Gershwin Theater, Cinnabar Theater, Pegasus Theater Company, Roustabout Theater, Sonoma County Repertory Theater, theater4, id Theater, Boston Conservatory Theater, Open Circle Theater, College of Marin Theater Arts Department, The Kennedy Center Theater and North Bay Theater Group, among others.

In ther theatRE camp we find Magic Theatre, Actors Theatre of San Francisco, Goodman Theatre, The New Conservatory Theatre Center, Traveling Jewish Theatre, Porchlight Theatre Company, Marin Theatre Company, Mendocino Theatre Company, Ukiah Players Theatre, Willits Community Theatre, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group, Summer Repertory Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre and Theatre Bay Area, among others.

Please take a moment to complete the simple one-question survey below and let us know which spelling you use.

If you would like to share your reasons for choosing one spelling or the other, or would like to elaborate on the appropriate circumstances in which to use either spelling, please click the red ‘Comment’ button below and share your thoughts with us. (Click here to see previously submitted comments on this subject.)

Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.

Belrose Theatre

In Places and Spaces on February 3, 2009 at 2:43 am

by Kim Taylor

Belrose Theatre photo by Kim Taylor

Belrose Theatre photo by Kim Taylor

MARIN COUNTY, CA – The Belrose Theatre in San Rafael has to be one of the most charming venues in Marin County. The three-story building, which still features its original design as a church, is a multi-function building with a costume shop on the basement level, a Victorian style cabaret theater that doubles as a dance studio and school on the main level. Hidden from the main street entrance, is a charming two level apartment featuring a rooftop greenhouse.

In December 1913, 1415 Fifth Avenue in San Rafael was the site of the new church of the parishioners of St. Matthew’s German Church. It cost a mere $5,000 to build the church structure, which featured a bell tower and stained glass windows. In 1942, the Trinity Lutheran Congregation purchased the Fifth Avenue church which served their parishioners for 20 years.

In 1962, David and Margie Belrose, the owners of Belrose Studio Theatre School of Dance and Performing Arts in San Rafael, were searching for warehouse space that would allow them to expand their school. Instead, a church for sale caught their eye. After buying Trinity Lutheran Church, the couple transformed the church space into a dance studio, theater and home for themselves and their two children.

In 1971, her husband David Belrose died unexpectedly. Margie continued to run the dance and theatrical school, producing plays and expanding her business while raising her son and daughter. Over the years, a variety of youth and adult productions have been presented at the Belrose including Oliver, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan and The Lion in Winter, plus a variety of vaudeville and cabaret productions and a weekly Open Mic Night.

Today, Margie Belrose continues at the helm producing plays and cabaret dinner shows. She also operates a successful costume shop which she opened in 1977. After more than 50 years, Belrose continues to offer instruction in ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom and swing dancing and theater training.

Margie Belrose has established Belrose Theatre as one of Marin’s many blessings and a mainstay of its entertainment scene.

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.

Additional articles by Kim Taylor include:

Theatrical Interpretation for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Audiences

In Behind the Scenes on February 3, 2009 at 2:20 am

by Phil Gravitt

Link photo by kkgas

Link photo by kkgas

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – “An interpreter is not a translator,” says tadd cohen, a certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for Sonoma County theater productions and ASL teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College who intentionally prefers to use all lower case letters in his name.

“Many interpreters start out as a child of a deaf adult (CODA),” explains cohen, “and out of necessity grow up proficient in two languages, becoming interpreters for their families,”   Others learn ASL as a second language in high school or junior college.  tadd fell into it while teaching at Pierce College, which had several dozen deaf students, and playing roles there such as Helen Keller’s father in “The Miracle Worker.”

Theater groups offer interpreting services for one or two matinee or midweek shows that normally have a smaller crowd, then enlist certified interpreters through organizations the deaf community supports, such as Communiqué (CQ), The Nature of Interpreting, Bay Area Communication Access (BACA), Sign Language Interpreting Services (SLIS) and Eaton Interpreting Services (EIS).  The show date and time is communicated to the deaf community through organization newsletters and web sites such as www.ohsoez.com, a nationwide deaf community news and events site.

One reason a low turnout show is chosen, tadd says, is that “Deaf culture is a collectivist culture. If a deaf person is going to go to a play, they might contact twenty deaf friends to go as well.”

“ASL is not a code for English.  The interpreter needs to know every actor’s lines, what each character wants from the scene, their motivation, the point of their lines, and to convey that point to the listener,” says tadd.  That takes a lot of script study, extensive practice, and from two to five rehearsals, depending on the complexity of the show.

The interpreter is often behind the scenes, until the day of the show.  Depending on the ensemble, they may want the interpreter there more.  Tadd adds, “The actors may want to see what their part looks like in sign languages, what is going on with the interpreter.  They may want to merge our two talents into pieces of the character puzzle.  That added element brings the interpreter into part of the ensemble.  You can tell when a cast is open to an interpreter, and when one is not. It is exciting.”

Showing the intent of the author and each actor is a big challenge.  “What is the author trying to say, what does every character want?   During rehearsal, an actor may interpret a character’s intent different than what you thought.”  In addition to consulting with actors, tadd explains, “I don’t speak French, so I might have to consult with the music director if a song is in French or has some French lines.”

Other challenges are jargon and changes in language over time.  “With Shakespeare, you can’t use straight American Sign Language.  You have to go back and find old signs to illustrate ideas.  Smaller signs look modern.   A long time ago, people signed much larger, particularly on stage.  In comedies, people will often use puns, which are extremely difficult to sign.  You have to show the English base of the word, then the idea of meaning, intent, so it is funny in both languages.”

ASL uses handshakes, palm orientation, non manual behaviors (mouth movements, raised eyebrow, head tilts, etc), movements, eye gaze, and positioning to communicate, not just hand signs.

“Even though we know what’s coming,” tadd explains, “we don’t jump in front of actors.    Sometimes a prop might break, a costume might tear.  If an actor messes up a line, the interpreter must mess up the line too.  You have to interpret that moment in time.”

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Ryan Cassavaugh: humbly toiling in theater for applause

In Artist Spotlight on February 3, 2009 at 2:08 am

by Ray Sikorski

Ryan Cassavaugh's Waiting to be Taken photo by Brian Hayes

Riley Pittenger in Ryan Cassavaugh's "Waiting to be Taken", photo by Brian Hayes

BOZEMAN, MONTANA – Most 15-minute plays are slapdash affairs – spartan sets, shallow characters, simple plots. But playwright Ryan Cassavaugh takes his local one-act festival as an opportunity for vividness, texture, and depth.

“I like to come up with outrageous settings for my plays, because I find it’s more interesting to put real human emotion contradicted against something big and ridiculous,” says the 34-year-old Bozeman, Montana playwright. For example, Cassavaugh’s most recent offering, “Waiting to be Taken,” involves the subtleties of a forbidden gay relationship between a clown and a strongman in a Depression-era circus. “When you then get down to what’s really human about them, it’s more surprising than if you have two people sitting around a coffee shop table talking.”

Cassavaugh’s choice of 15-minute plays was not his to begin with – it’s a dictate of the Bozeman’s Equinox Theatre‘s annual one-act competition. In a city of about 33,000, there aren’t many opportunities for theatrical production, so a writer has to take advantage of any possibility. Along with the one-acts, he has written children’s plays, puppet shows, radio plays, sketch comedy, and full-length farces for the city’s annual Sweet Pea Festival. But the short one-acts is where his talent shines. In the five years of the competition, he has won Best Production, Best Script, Audience Favorite, or a combination of two of those for each of the five plays he’s entered. Cassavaugh has directed most the plays himself, with the help of his costume-designer wife, Sadie.

It’s easy to see why he’s done so well. His authentic-looking costumes and props have a tangible attention to detail. “I love the theatricalness of plays,” he says, hearkening back to the first play he saw as a child, a version of the Arabian Nights. He contrasts his own attention to the stage with that of minimalist one-acts, which may take place on a couch or at a coffee shop.

“They make really good scripts out of them, but that’s not what got me into theater,” he says. “I like being transported to somewhere else. I don’t want to go, ‘Oh, I recognize that couch,’”

But aside from the attention to visual detail, there’s the sheer effort Cassavaugh puts into writing, particularly expressing the human condition. Cassavaugh says he spent 2 ½ years writing “Waiting to be Taken,” stressing over every word. He overwrites, creating a 20-page script, then cutting it down to 12. He researches. He speaks of a strict hierarchy among circus people, in which a non-performer would never fraternize with a headliner – yet that hierarchy is never revealed to the audience.

“There’s a lot of tension there,” Cassavaugh says. “I don’t think people would understand where it comes from, but it helps me to know, and I think it helps make it more real, even if people don’t know why that tension is there.”

Other plays Cassavaugh has submitted to the festival have included “The Trifling Affair of an Ending, or the Ending of a Trifling Affair,” about Elizabethan-era actors on the run from an angry mob because their play had no ending, and “The Last Kings of America,” about two Civil War deserters who declare themselves monarchs.

“By the time I was done I had enough information to write a full-length play about these same characters,” he says of “Last Kings,” adding that he’s currently transforming that one-act into a full-length play.

That project, however, may take a while. After all, there’s no real outlet for it in Bozeman. He maintains a storage shed for his props and costumes in case there’s ever a call for a night of Cassavaugh one-acts, but that idea seems a bit far-fetched, too. He works in a record store, and his wife in a frame shop, to support themselves and their one-year-old daughter.

In a way, Cassavaugh is not unlike one of his characters: a curious sort living in a cold and unforgiving setting, toiling humbly for the sole reward of a hearty round of applause.

Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana.