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Welcome to Backstage: The TBA Blog! This is the place for Theatre Bay Area announcements, info on upcoming events, grant deadlines, ticket giveaways, shout-outs and special profiles of featured members. Visit early and often!

 

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From the Executive Director: About to Bust in the Boom

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, October 20, 2015

By Brad Erickson

 

For years now—decades, even—arts advocacy has primarily meant beseeching government bodies (local, state and federal) to appropriate more money to their arts agencies, bureaucratic departments whose primary purpose was to dispense grants to artists and arts organizations. For advocates, the “ask” was simple: give more money to the arts. Why? So artists and arts organizations could better serve the constituents of the lawmakers by producing more art and art education programs in their communities.

It was easy to unite arts advocates around campaigns when the task was simply to wrest more public dollars for the arts from government coffers. When infighting broke out (and it did), the disputes were typically around where public dollars should be targeted: large-budget organizations or small? Multicultural groups or mainstream institutions? Urban or rural? Arts education or arts programming? Professional or community-based arts? Scarcity could make the debates desperately heated—and often worked to undermine the entire advocacy effort. When victories came, it was most often when the arts advocates themselves could lay aside the internecine disputes and speak with one voice—as we were able to do earlier this year in both Sacramento and San Francisco’s City Hall.

Today, as the Bay Area experiences a new tech-based economic boom, the issues facing the arts—and arts advocates—are more complex than simply seeking more money for public granting bodies. We’ll need plenty more of that, too, but the biggest challenge lies beyond the purview and the capacity of arts agencies.

The gravest threat to theatre and all the arts across the Bay Area is the skyrocketing cost of living and making art in this superheated economy. It is not news to report that artists and arts organizations are being forced out of their homes. But it bears repeating that in San Francisco the average rental rate for an apartment and the median price of a home have very nearly doubled in just five years. Prices in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties aren’t far behind. San Francisco now ranks as one of the top five most expensive cities in the world for commercial rents—right up with (if not surpassing) London, Tokyo and New York. And the ripple effects of those astronomical statistics are felt all around the region, as we saw when Uber announced the purchase of Oakland’s Sears Building and commercial rents in that neighborhood jumped by double-digit percentages in one afternoon.

Our public arts agencies cannot grant the arts out of this crisis. But something must be done. Activists have generated a welter of options, seeming at times to be following a strategy of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Initiatives are on the November ballot to build more housing—both market-rate and affordable—while others seek a moratorium on new housing in targeted neighborhoods, in an effort to cool down the market and create space for crafting long-range plans to manage development. Meanwhile, opponents say that curtailing construction will only exacerbate the problem—and both sides point to conflicting studies to back up their arguments. Other initiatives and new legislation seek to limit (or open up) short-term rental options (à la Airbnb), expand rent control, legalize alternative living spaces (mother-in-law units), strengthen “legacy” small businesses, establish “cultural districts” or “arts corridors,” open neighborhoods to megadevelopment, change zoning laws and increase set-asides for affordable housing, to name just some of the approaches being proposed.

For many of us arts advocates, navigating this new reality will mean boning up on unfamiliar and often complicated issues. It will mean finding new allies and participating in novel meetings and hearings. It will mean expanding our advocacy vocabulary and our minds.

Just this past week, I was impressed to learn what one Theatre Bay Area member, Peter Papadopoulos, and members of his company, Mojo Theatre, are doing in their Mission District neighborhood: rolling up their sleeves to understand arcane zoning codes; engaging with the city Planning Department; and meeting with City Hall staff to discuss potential legislation that could protect theatre companies, other arts groups and individual artists at risk of losing their work and living spaces. This kind of activism is not easy work. It’s certainly not sexy work. But it’s the kind of work in which all of us, as arts advocates, are going to need to engage if we’re going effectively confront today’s biggest threat to the arts in the Bay Area. 


Brad Erickson is executive director of Theatre Bay Area.

Tags:  advocacy  Executive Director's Note 

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Program Director's Note: Awards Buzz

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

By Dale Albright

There is hardly a more exciting time in the TBA offices than as we are gearing up for our now-annual TBA Awards Celebration: tallying and verifying the results, recording the videos announcing the finalists (watched by over 8,000 people so far!), having great social media conversations with excited finalists and, of course, getting our ducks in a row for a fantastic event.


 TBA program director Dale Albright.

But what I really love about the TBA Awards is that it is a year-round program recognizing excellence in the field and raising the profile of theatre in the Bay Area. There’s stuff to get excited about every week (heck, practically every night). Hundreds of adjudicators are seeing productions like clockwork and, in many cases, it’s at companies that they may not have attended otherwise. By virtue of this process, Bay Area artists are seeing the work of their peers in new and exciting ways…truly changing the conversation. And of course, every week TBA puts out a list of TBA Awards Recommended productions (those that have met an established threshold of adjudicating) so that we can spread the accolades of the peer adjudicator pool far and wide—and so companies can add the buzz to their marketing material while the show is still playing!

All of this is to say, we are looking forward immensely to November 16. What a great night to see old (and new) friends and celebrate the year that was in Bay Area theatre. Hope to see you there!

 

Dale Albright is program director for Theatre Bay Area, and a Bay Area actor and director.

Tags:  TBA Awards 

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Featured Member: Justin Gillman

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Interview by Sal Mattos

Our next featured member is actor and ArtistRepSF company founder Justin Gillman. As an ATLAS alumnus, Titan Award winner and TBA Awards adjudicator, he’s been one of our most active members since he moved to the Bay Area in 2011. Many actors dream of making it to L.A. or NY to work, but it was landing in San Francisco that really got Gillman’s career started. 


TBA featured member Justin Gillman. Photo: Lisa Keating

 

Tell us a little about your background in theatre.

My first week of freshman year in high school, I was a loner and had nowhere to sit for lunch. I found this little room tucked away at the edge of campus with some friendly and lively people in it, and soon realized that I had inadvertently crashed a Drama Club meeting. Sign-ups were going around for auditions for the fall production, As You Like It. I signed up simply so I could blend into the crowd, eventually got cast as Silvius, and the rest is history!

I love all kinds of theatre, and I make it a goal to always try to switch it up whenever I can—new works, modern, classical, musical, experimental, etc. I have a lot of really great training from UC Santa Barbara and Columbia University, and one of the best things I’ve learned is to always strive to build theatrical muscle and to never settle for the expected or the ordinary. Though acting will always remain my first love, this sensibility has also led me to branch out into other theatrical arenas (writing, directing and producing).

You’re an ATLAS alumnus, as well as a Titan Award winner. Tell us what that experience was like, and how it’s affected your career. 

ATLAS was an incredible experience for me on many levels. It was beautiful to see so many artists participate in the program, and to be able to feed off of everyone’s passion and love for Bay Area theatre. The program also allowed me to focus on what was truly important to me as an actor. Prior to ATLAS, I felt like I was just jumping from show to show, without any sort of goal setting or plans for the future. ATLAS helped me to create my career road map; I refer to it every day now as a rubric for all my theatre-related decisions. For instance, I didn’t know how important it was for me to join Equity until I actually wrote it down. Now, I have a plan and I’m sticking to it! Also, I am so grateful to have received the Titan Award. Money is always tight, and to be able to pay for new headshots (thanks, Lisa Keating!), business cards, and a website will allow me to make the next leap in my career. And getting to have Liam Vincent (an accomplished and fabulous Bay Area actor) as my mentor has been such an enlightening experience.

How has your journey this last year held up to the career map you devised in ATLAS?

Acting can be a frustrating profession, and a lot of my own personal frustration comes from the fact that there is so much that is out of my hands (getting through the right doors, having the right look, getting that part you think you deserve). What I can sometimes forget is how much is in my hands! Some answers to my daily frustrations: My headshot is five years old and doesn’t even look like me any more. (Answer: Get a new one!) There’s never enough time in the day to feel accomplished. (Answer: Wake up earlier!) Why am I even submitting for this audition? It’s not like they’re going to seriously consider me. (Answer: You won’t know if you don’t try!) I know these seem like logical answers, but it can get very crowded in an actor’s head. Especially mine.

You’re a fairly recent transplant to the Bay Area. What was the transition like, and what advice might you give to those just moving here, looking for work?

I moved to the Bay Area from NY in 2011. And even though NY was a nightmare for me in many ways, I was still worried that the Bay Area would not provide me with as many opportunities. Boy, was I wrong. 

I think the most important part of my transition to the Bay Area was that, in NY, I had been labeled as a recent graduate student with a particular set of skills taught to me by my university; the Bay Area simply treated me as an actor. While labeling and typecasting still go on, there is such a plethora of opportunities that are truly within your grasp here. And if you’re not getting the parts you want, put on your own play and rent out space at the Exit and do it yourself! I did that this past winter with a friend of mine, with a small but well-received production of Rabbit Hole (in a role I would probably never have been cast in, but was crucial for me to attempt for my own growth)—that quickly transitioned into a full-fledged theatre company, ArtistsRepSF! That never would have happened for me as quickly in NY. Here in the Bay Area, I can go from my day job to a commercial audition to an industrial shoot to a musical theatre audition to rehearsal for a Restoration comedy, and I never feel like I’m a particular kind of actor. I’m simply an actor. The Bay Area is here to help you find out who you are as an artist. 

What’s something you really like about the theatre scene here in the Bay Area? 

Everyone is doing great and daring work here—the huge companies, the midsize companies and the small-but-fierce companies. It’s a pretty incredible town if you’re able to see The Pillowman, The Mystery of Irma Vep, and Company all in one summer season. Also, word-of-mouth is an explosively potent tool here, so if you see a show and like it, scream about it on social media. People will listen! I know I do!

What’s one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?

I just played Katurian in The Breadbox’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman this summer, and it was truly the highlight of my acting career thus far. McDonagh’s play is one of the most vital pieces of literature on the topic of the importance of art. The production itself was hilarious, brutal, violent and pretty scary. And the process was guided by the firm, intuitive and graceful hand of Ariel Craft, one of the best directors working in the Bay Area today. It was a perfect storm of awesomeness!

What’s been your most memorable theatre moment thus far: good, bad, proud achievement or total embarrassment?

My family and my boyfriend’s family (who had not yet met) decided to come to the same performance of The Pillowman, and I had the pleasure of listening to them meet for the first time as they were taking their seats, while I was blindfolded onstage for 15 minutes during the pre-show. #OnlyInTheatre

Any upcoming projects to share with TBA’s members?

My next show, Aphra Behn’s The Rover, runs Oct. 15-Nov. 22 at Shotgun Players! I also highly recommend going to The Breadbox’s season-closer, Medea (directed by boyfriend extraordinaire Oren Stevens), playing Oct. 2-17 at Exit Stage Left.

A big shout-out to my theatre company, ArtistsRepSF, whose next show, Peer Gynt, runs Jan. 22-Feb. 6, 2016 at Exit Stage Left!

You can also see me later this season in Born Yesterday at Center Rep (Jan. 29-Feb. 27) and Will Eno’s Middletown at Custom Made Theatre Co. (Mar. 24-Apr. 23).

After that, I’m taking a long nap.

Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community. 

 

Tags:  Acting  Actor  Adjudicator  ATLAS Program  Auditions  career  Featured Member  TBA Awards  Titan Award 

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Grow Your Theatre Career: Intern with TBA!

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, September 15, 2015

By Laura Brueckner 

We here at TBA love our interns. Not only do they help us with projects large and small and lend their energy and smarts to our brainstorming sessions, they bring a fresh perspective to the office that reminds us on a daily basis why we do the work we do. Our most recent intern (and budding playwright) Megan McCarthy was kind enough to do a brief interview with us about her time in the eye of the hurricane that is TBA. Read and enjoy!


TBA internship alumna Megan McCarthy ponders the bright future that now lies ahead.
Photo: Alan Kline

 

So, Megan, can you tell us a little about your experience in theatre before interning at TBA?

I have been doing theatre since I was in middle school. My breakout role was Orphan Boy Number Two in Presidio Middle School’s production of A Christmas Carol. Since then, most of the productions I have been involved with were school-related. I studied theatre at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts High School and currently am a theatre major at Boston University. My last role was Puppy in Meg Morishnik’s The Tall Girls at BU.


Why did you choose TBA for an internship?

The first time I heard about TBA was in high school, when my theatre class volunteered at the TBA General Auditions. At the event, I remember thinking how wonderful it was that there is a place where theatre-makers and aspiring theatre-makers can come together to find each other and collaborate. Because most of my theatre experience has been related to school, I was not very familiar with the Bay Area’s theatre scene. After joining TBA as a member in September, I got an email about internship opportunities, which was thrilling because it seemed like a great way to not only get to know the local theatre scene from experts, but also work for an organization that I revere.


What is something unexpected that you learned by interning at TBA?

I expected to learn a lot about the local theatre scene—but, unexpectedly, I learned how amazingly accessible it is. Last summer, my Internet search skills were basic (to say the least). When I tried to find theatre without using TBA’s website or services, I found it difficult to find tickets that I could afford. Over the course of this internship, my Internet abilities have blossomed, but more importantly, I learned how to find incredible theatre all over the Bay Area that I could afford. The Bay Area is a rich, diverse fount of passionate artists; getting to see them firsthand has confirmed my desire to move back to San Francisco after I graduate.


Has your time at TBA helped you focus your artistic goals?

I think actually I've become less focused after this internship, but not in a unproductive way—rather, in a horizon-broadening way. I spent most of my life keeping myself in an “I am an actor” box because I felt like the only way to be successful is to focus on one thing and do all I can for that one thing. What I have been learning is that I am good at—and passionate about—a lot of things. Being multifaceted will aid me in my ability to make art, not hinder me. TBA hasn't helped me focus, but it has shown me that being a theatre-maker means a lot more than the one job title I had planned for myself.  


What about career goals? Has your time at TBA helped you further develop or define them?

I hope to move back to San Francisco after college, and had been anxious about my ability to find work. With all of the services that TBA offers, like General Auditions and ATLAS workshops, I am 100 times more confident in my ability to find work as an actor in the Bay Area and live a sustainable life. 


What is one thing you wish more people knew about TBA?

TBA does so much with a very small staff. I knew about all of the services and events that TBA offers, but I had no idea that they did so much with so few people. It is truly incredible to me how much responsibility each staff member takes on in service of TBA, as well as being productive artists outside of the office. Everyone at TBA does everything with so much regard for helping the artistic community and using every resource to do so.  I think that’s my favorite thing about working for this non-profit: that every decision is made with people in mind. I spent a fair amount of time looking at data and statistics for TBA and a beautiful thing to me was, where other corporations or companies measure success by how much money is made, all of the statistics I worked with revolved around how many people used or benefited from services. TBA to me is group of passionate people working really hard to help other passionate people.


Okay, give us one funny TBA story. 

The office is fairly small—which means you can hear every phone call anyone makes. Even though everyone in the office has performance experience, many of us are still anxious and uncomfortable leaving messages over the phone. To deal with this anxiety, everyone has a “phone voice’ that they drop into during phone calls. In general, people who are anxious on the phone may stutter more than usual, or say “um” excessively—but here, “anxious phone voice” translates into an eloquent, formal radio voice that is either an octave higher or lower than the person's normal speaking voice. Whether someone was recording the phone tree or leaving messages, I always paused my music to listen to the variations of the “post-Henry Higgins Eliza Doolittle” vocal pattern that everyone seemed to acquire when they were on the phone.


What are your next steps in your theatre-making path, now that your TBA internship is all wrapped up?

I have two more years at BU, including a semester at LAMDA [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art], so the upcoming future is about gaining all the experience and knowledge that college has to offer, but I have recently gotten into playwriting, too. Hopefully while I’m acting in plays and staying up far too late finishing essays, I can also start crafting plays of my own. The dream is to make theatre that inspires and changes the world—and after this summer, it’s seeming more and more attainable.


Theatre Bay Area offers its interns exposure to Bay Area's professional theatre scene, a free TBA membership for the duration of their internship, a travel stipend, college credit, access to free show tickets and an interning experience tailored to their interests. For more information, visit our “Get Involved” page (scroll down to “Intern with Us”) or email Sal Mattos, our members and events associate. 

 

Tags:  ActorTBA general auditions  internship 

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ATLAS Playwrights: Making a Craft into a Career

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, September 9, 2015

By Laura Brueckner

TBA’s ATLAS (Advanced Training Leading Artists to Success) program started in 2008 as a way to give actors crucial training in time management, goal setting and other professional skills necessary to turn a craft into a career. Seven years later, the program has expanded to address the needs of directors and playwrights as well—and a book on the ATLAS process, edited by TBA program director Dale Albright, is slated for publication soon!

The Summer 2015 round of the ATLAS program, for both directors and playwrights, is something special; both groups have been training together since Aug. 15, getting to know one another’s work as they refine their approaches to their own. For playwrights, whose work can sometimes be a little lonely, ATLAS provides an instant network of colleagues who share similar goals and struggles.

We asked the Summer 2015 ATLAS playwrights a few questions about their careers, and how ATLAS was preparing them to take their next steps. Check out the responses from five of our delightfully determined dramatists!


1. How long have you been writing plays?


E.H. (Elizabeth) Benedict: I have been writing plays pretty steadily for the past 10 to 12 years.

Tiziana Perinotti: Since 2008.

Lisa Sniderman: Three years.

E. Hunter Spreen (Elizabeth Spreen): 20 years.

Austin Zumbro: I think the first true stage play I wrote was Rudolph the Ugly Duckling and Other Cracked Up Holiday Tales for Bay Area Children’s Theatre in 2011. Before that, I’d written a few short screenplays and a few comedy sketches, but for these purposes, I don’t think they count.


2. What made you choose to participate in ATLAS training?

EHB: I chose to do the ATLAS program this year because I am sorely in need of the kind of psychological kick in the butt the program offers. It’s all too easy to let oneself off the hook, and ATLAS provides the time, space and tools to be proactive about the career, rather than moaning and being defeated. It helps me get back on my “front foot,” as the Brits are fond of saying. I have had readings of my work and two productions of short plays, but I really do want to go to the next step; for me, that would be having the full length plays produced locally and perhaps some commissioned work as well. My hope is to work in the Bay Area; I submit all over the country, but I really want to work here

TP: To learn about available resources, connect with the local theatre community [and] expand my artistic network; to find job opportunities, mentors, and supporters of my work.

LS: [I] wanted tools, training and resources to help me define my career path as an artist, including being a playwright; wanted to get immersed in the Bay Area theatre community, to meet and work with other playwrights and directors.


ATLAS playwright
E. Hunter Spreen.

EHS: It’s time to plan and dream for the next stage of my artistic life. Short-term, I want to create a plan that maximizes my residency with Playwrights Foundation. Long-term, I want a map out larger projects and goals that shift the course and scope of my work over the next 10 to 15 years.

AZ: I didn’t feel like I had a model of what it means to be a “successful” playwright in the Bay Area. Or anywhere, really. I had no examples of how people balance their writing schedules, what would be realistic goals and expectations for making a living as a writer. I didn’t actually know much about how new work is pitched or developed. ATLAS seemed like it would provide me with a skillset and a vocabulary to treat writing as a true career, and not simply “a fun thing I sometimes get to do for money.”


3. What are some of the best discoveries or insights you’ve had so far in the ATLAS program?

EHB: My number one realization so far is that I want Elizabeth Spreen’s career— she is being produced by smaller, scruffier (ATLAS uses the word “edgy”) theatres. She has had a play in the Bay Area Playwrights Festival (a goal of mine), where she is also a playwright in residence, and she has done commissioned work. Maybe she should be my mentor?

The other lightbulb insight has to do with the idea of success and what that looks like in my life. It has a lot to do with not finking out on my commitment to getting my work out there, which includes using all the current tools. I am not so good on anything technological; it’s baby steps for me. And I am a dunce about social media. All this I knew, but it was new to realize that, for me, success means doing everything I can do to get my work produced, and not backing away when I get anxious or frustrated.


ATLAS playwright
Tiziana Perinotti.

TP: 1. [ATLAS is a] good way to connect to other playwrights/artists;
2. [ATLAS is a] good way to learn how to apply for grants;
3. ATLAS uses a career map tool similar to what I have learnt as a student in ACT (American Conservatory Theater)’s music theatre program.

LS: Having dedicated time to work on my 80-year/five-year plan while in our session was such a gift and a blessing! During the session, I had insights into what I wanted (by [noting] what I didn’t include), and also realized I need to really start planning now financially to get to where I want to be in five years. Another insight was my biggest resistance for goals session and finding ways to keep that in check through my advisory board.

EHS: 1. My commitment to sustainable work/life practices has deepened and I have more clarity about how that translates into how, where and with whom I make work.
2. I’ve been slapped upside my head with the ways I sabotage myself (past and present). Just dealing with that has been difficult, and I’ve wanted to take time to absorb it before I try to develop tactics for dealing with it. 
3. “Where” is a big issue right now. [In] the last workshop, we focused on local theatre companies, identifying the types of work that gets produced locally, and where I fit into the overall picture. It’s a big unknown right now—and that’s also been something I’ve wanted to hang out with, instead of creating solutions in the midst of panic and fear.
Bonus: I’ve enjoyed connecting with other playwrights and directors. This isn’t a surprise or a discovery…it’s more of a side benefit of going through the program. 

AZ: Honestly, just increasing my awareness of grants and development opportunities has really opened my eyes. That kind of thinking—funding a project in chunks during the development process, rather than struggling through in my “free time” to create something that I could maybe sell to someone at the end—is a radical change for me. In addition to making life a little easier with some money behind it, that kind of development model also provides an external structure to the development process—one that isn’t just me berating myself for not working on something to meet a relatively arbitrary deadline.


4. What do working playwrights need most right now?

EHB: I consider myself a working playwright because I write every day. I am not, however a produced playwright. In my opinion, all playwrights need to find their “tribe.” And commissions and productions wouldn’t hurt as well.

TP: More opportunities for staged readings, easier access to directors and producers, mentorship, support networks and financing.


ATLAS playwright
Lisa Sniderman.

LS: Access to submission opportunities and someone to do footwork/a searchable database to identify all the theatre companies that do the kind of work we are doing to make the search less daunting and more purposeful—e.g., I would love a list of all national theatre companies who: 1. take original new work, 2. take musicals, 3. take full-length and 4. take youth or TYA.

EHS: Time and space to make work. Some kind of artistic home where we can be supported. Ideally, that involves getting their work onstage in some format (lab, reading, production or all of the above). 

AZ: For me, personally, I think what I need most is a sense of external structure, although one of the things I’ve been thinking about in ATLAS is how I can generate that for myself. That external structure would be timelines and goals dictated by programs outside the playwright with an eye towards development. So, things like grants, or readings, or workshops. We need both deadlines and the support—money, time and manpower—to meet those deadlines.


5. To which playwright, living or dead, would you most like to be compared?

EHB: A cross between Caryl Churchill and Bruce Norris—if my work could be compared to either of those writers I’d be thrilled.

TP: I don’t like to be compared to anyone. I write straight from my heart and soul, and strive to be my own original voice. 

LS: Dennis Kelly (Matilda) or Winnie Holzman (Wicked).

EHS: I don’t want my work compared to anyone’s. But if this is useful, two of my favorite living playwrights are Toshiki Okada and Kate Ryan.

AZ: Tim Minchin?

 

TBA’s ATLAS program offers several of training rounds per year. Check back often to see when the next round begins!






Tags:  ATLAS Program  career  Director  playwright  training 

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From the Executive Director: A Future for Hyphenated Theatre?

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, September 1, 2015

By Brad Erickson

 

Torange Yeghiazarian, founder and artistic director of Golden Thread Productions, has invited me to moderate a discussion at the company’s upcoming ReOrient Forum, where she asks a provocative question: “Is hyphenated theatre dead?” By “hyphenated theatre,” we mean theatre that is coming from and speaking to a specific cultural community. Looking across the Bay Area theatre landscape terrain, one could have reason to worry.

As Torange writes in the ReOrient Forum program, “The landscape of culturally specific theatre in the Bay Area has shifted dramatically. National models such as the Traveling Jewish Theatre have closed. Longstanding organizations such as the Asian-American Theater Company and the Lorraine Hansberry have been quiet. How will culturally specific voices be represented? Are the days of hyphenated theatre over? As we move towards an ever more multifaceted population, are artists and audiences reluctant to align themselves with one cultural identity alone?”

As a culturally specific theatre itself, Golden Thread has a lot riding on the answer. So do we all. For many years, a vibrant cohort of culturally specific theatre companies was a hallmark of Bay Area theatre. Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinas/os and women, as well as Jewish, disabled and LGBTQ populations—all of these communities had a theatre here, often multiple theatre companies, giving voice to their stories and opportunities for artists. While some of these groups are still thriving, others have been forced to cut back on programming, or gone dark all together.

With the current push in the field for full inclusion, it is important to remember that one of the reasons many of these culturally specific companies were formed in the first place was to counteract the exclusion of non-mainstream stories and artists, and, by extension, non-mainstream audiences. Now, with “diversity” on everyone’s lips, and with some high-profile hiring by mainstream companies of women and people of color into leadership roles, has sufficient progress been made in the area of inclusion that the need for culturally specific theatres to give voice and provide opportunities has been met? Framed in that way, the answer must be a resounding “no.”

Research confirms the need for ongoing attention to this issue. “Not Even,” a WomenArts report on gender parity in Bay Area theatre by Counting Actors Project author Valerie Weak, showed that opportunities for women artists in the Bay Area are in no way aligned with opportunities afforded to men. A quick scan across the stages and season notices of the region will tell you the same remains true for people of color, the LGBTQ community, the disabled. So long as exclusion in the form of a dearth of opportunities exists, there will be a crucial role for culturally specific theatres.

Even if—or let’s say when—we, as a field, reach the goal of full inclusion, will the need suddenly vanish for theatres that consistently speak from and to specific communities? My sense is that the answer again is “no.” There is an unparalleled power in artists and audiences united by a common cultural identity working together to unearth and explore their shared experience. It is a power of recognition and self-understanding, of personal and communal critique and celebration that speaks to a deeply human need. As long as we have a desire to know ourselves and know the communities that shaped us and share our identity, we’ll need theatres committed to uncovering our culturally specific stories.  

 

Brad Erickson is executive director of Theatre Bay Area.

For more on the ReOrient Forum (October 3-4 at Z Space in SF) visit goldenthread.org.


 

Tags:  Gender Parity  Golden Thread 

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Featured Member: Jon Wai-keung Lowe

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Updated: Monday, August 24, 2015

For our next featured member, we’re shining the spotlight backstage for some behind-the-scenes insight. Meet Jon Wai-keung LoweWhether he’s herding kids into a production of Cats or introducing audiences to the world of Chinese theatre, Lowe keeps himself one of the busiest people in the Bay Area. A director, designer, filmmaker and theatre founder, he most recently worked on TBA Editors’ Pick Breaking the Code at Theatre Rhinoceros, and will helm Tanya Barfield's The Call for Theatre Rhino in the spring.  


 
 Jon Lowe.
Tell us a little about your background in theatre and film.

I did a lot of different things in theatre before I became a director. I entered college as a writing major, but quickly realized that an uneventful, middle-class childhood wasn’t rife with source material. After school, I did rotations through props, scenic construction and painting, and design. (I did just enough stage management to respect and run away from it.) Directing came late, but it’s where I feel most stimulated and comfortable at the same time: coordinating different facets of production to embody a unified vision. As a director, I’m a nightmare for some designers because I’m very specific about what I want. The plus side is that I generally know if I’m asking for something insane.

I’m proud to have contributed to projects with big local companies; long-running groups like the Mime Troupe and New Pickle Circus; newer companies like Open Tab and Brickabrack, and design for twenty shows at Theatre Rhino, not including the remount of Breaking the Code, which plays through August at the Eureka. And thanks to Shotz and PlayGround, I’ve started writing again.

The Visible Theater has done three Fringe shows, a Bay One Acts show, and produced several short films. What about your other project, the Kunqu Initiative?

I’ve spent most of my life banging my head against traditional Chinese drama, trying to find a way in. In 2006, I saw Kenneth Pai’s production of Peony Pavilion, the jewel of Kun-style drama. Watching that show, my rudimentary Mandarin, my growing familiarity with Chinese instruments and the preshow seminars all came together for me. I finally got it. The Kunqu Initiative is an effort to consolidate the decades of research I’ve been doing so that other people can access the wealth of Chinese stories that are almost never performed in English. The Initiative is currently stymied by lack of a content management system, so if anyone wants to build my website, lemme know. Stipend: hugs and sammiches.

What’s something you really like about the theatre scene here in the Bay Area?

The walk-in exchange tradition. I’ve never heard of this happening in any other city, but it makes absolute sense that if there are unsold seats, other theatre practitioners should get in free. Theatres shouldn’t charge the people they’re underpaying. We should share our resources and learn from each other.

What advice would you have for artists looking to explore the behind the scenes side of theatre? And as a director/designer what might you say to those in front of the scenes?

Some of the absolute worst advice I was ever given was, “Don’t work for free” and “Don’t do community theatre.” Do work for friends. Do work at different levels, especially when you don’t have to. Experimenting and lending a hand will give you a richer spiritual life, despite the financials.

As a director/designer/producer, I ask actors to remember that tech week is when everyone else is trying to get up to the same speed that it took the actors three-plus weeks to achieve. Be a considerate collaborator. Bring treats.

What’s one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?

I once agreed to light a high school production of Cats just so I could watch people’s faces when I said, “I’m doing a high school production of Cats!” It turned out to be revelatory. I mean, the scenery looked like a cake left out in the rain, but the actors were all so happy to be there. No one worried about their legwarmers making their ass look big. This was around the time Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake came through town, and the critics were gaga over the soloist who turned 18 fouttés. In Cats, we had a kid who turned 25 fouttés on a point smaller than a salad plate. On the other end of the spectrum, our Bustopher Jones, in two dress runs and two performances, never quite found his key. Or any key. After opening, though, his little brother ran up and gave him the biggest, proudest hug in the history of ever. Priceless. I think that’s all any of us really want.

No rules. No restrictions. The ultimate Jon Wai-keung Lowe production: tell us about it.

I’m researching for my first full-length [play], Under Heaven. It uses a two-thousand-year-old Chinese legend about a treaty bride to examine issues surrounding international adoption and the repatriation of looted artwork. It’s going to make me the next Lauren Yee.

Anything else you want to share with the TBA readers?

My middle name is silent. It started as a way to make my name distinctive and memorable, but I can’t bear to hear any more non-Cantonese speakers butcher the pronunciation. It’s just embarrassing for all of us. Thank you.

 

Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community. 

Tags:  design  Director  Featured Member  Jon Lowe  Jon Wai-keung Lowe 

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Program Director's Note: South Bay Regional Auditions Recap

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Photo: "Speakers Auditions for TEDx Beirut 2012" by TEDx Beirut/Nada Zanhour on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

 

By Dale Albright

At the end of June, Theatre Bay Area held the latest South Bay Regional Auditions at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose. Much like the TBA General Auditions held in San Francisco, this was an opportunity for a large number of actors to do a short audition for a variety of theatre companies in one fell swoop. (If this sort of audition is interesting to you, please keep an eye on theatrebayarea.org/?page=GeneralAuditions for announcements of similar opportunities.)

Following these auditions, TBA surveyed audition participants, both actors and auditors. A few comments were repeated often enough that it seemed appropriate to share some thoughts on them with the greater community.

 


TBA program director Dale Albright.

Audition time limit. A few actors mentioned that they wished they could have had more time. This is one of the most common comments in all of our group auditions. Equity actors who get three minutes at the General Auditions wish it was four (I have even heard five). Speaking as an actor, I completely understand the desire to have more time for your audition for a variety of reasons. However, more time will not help answer the needs of the casting directors for the purposes of this kind of audition.

The purpose of a general audition is a virtual handshake: to introduce yourself to the auditors in such a way that intrigues them to call you back for a more in-depth audition, should they have a role for which you are a potential match. A large portion of the information that they need to determine whether/when to call you back is provided simply by you showing up (as in, whether or not you fit a “type” that they are looking for, based on what they see in you and/or your resume). The rest of what they need to know (Do you sing? If they are casting for a large, outdoor venue, for example, can your voice fill the space? Did you have a polished and prepared introduction that shows that you are someone with whom they’d be willing to work?) is generally supplied to them in the first 30 seconds of your audition.

Knowing in advance which auditors will attend. Another common question was “Why can’t we know which casting directors or companies are there in advance?” Companies often don’t know if they will be able to attend the general or regional auditions (let alone who their reps will be and at what time they will be there) until the relatively last minute. Since sharing advance information that is inaccurate or incomplete doesn’t help anyone, we don’t do it. We do publish a list of who specifically was at the previous year's year’s general and regional auditions to give auditioners a sense of who may be there this year. This is not the kind of audition to select a monologue for any particular company or show. This is intended to help you cast your acting net widely. Do the pieces that showcase you the best and let the specific monologue tailoring happen in that company’s own general auditions, if they hold them.

Knowing immediately after the audition which auditors attended. We’re also asked, “Why can’t we know who was there and what times they were there immediately after the event?” We always make this list available as soon as possible after any regional or general audition. A few days after this year’s audition, we emailed all participants that the auditor list for the 2015 South Bay Regionals was available online, at theatrebayarea.org/?page=GeneralAuditions. Check it out!

Side note: Even if you didn’t attend the auditions, we think this list would be of use to anyone interested in working in the South Bay and Peninsula. Which companies are looking for people? Which directors are working with the companies that were in attendance? This is all helpful information.

Not in response to any particular question or comment, but I would like to say that the South Bay Regional Auditions serve a range of purposes for a lot of different companies. Some are hiring now. Some will be hiring in the future. Some are just looking to expand their talent pool in general. Not being able to attend this year’s auditions shouldn’t preclude you from taking advantage of other opportunities throughout the year. Not all of our South Bay or Peninsula companies are able to attend this one-day event, and those that do often will have other auditions. Certainly no one should put all of the casting eggs in this (or any) general or regional audition. Stay informed of and rigorously pursue current auditions throughout the year—one great place for audition listings is TBA’s Job & Talent Bank (theatrebayarea.org/networking/).

Notes for actors from the auditors. We also asked the auditors in attendance: “If you could give just one piece of feedback to all of the actors who participated, what would it be?” The most popular replies were:

Enter confidently and with purpose
Take a moment between pieces
Time your material so you don’t go over your allotted time
Make clear distinctions between the characters you play if doing two monologues


We’d love to hear your additional comments about this or other regional auditions. Feel free to comment below, or email us at tba@theatrebayarea.org or dale@theatrebayarea.org.


Dale Albright is program director for Theatre Bay Area, and a Bay Area actor and director.


Tags:  Acting  Actor  Auditions  auditor  casting  casting director  Director  South Bay Regional Auditions  TBA general auditions 

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Welcome Kimberley Cohan, New TBA Staffer!

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, August 11, 2015

TBA listings editor (and trained singer!) Kimberley Cohan began her time at TBA as an intern in December 2014, assisting marketing resource coordinator Alan Kline. She began working as staff in March 2015, much to everyone's delight, and has continued to inspire (and sometimes confuse) the rest of us with her Olympic-class cheery disposition, no matter what crazy stuff is going on around her. Come meet TBA's resident songbird!

 

So, Kim, where are you from?

I grew up mostly in Los Altos, except for several years of cruising and sailing on the East and West Coast. So I guess you could say that I’m a California girl with a serious traveling tendency. 

How long have you been involved in theatre? Any specialized training or experience?

Some of my earliest memories are of running around the house singing at the top of my lungs (much to the chagrin of my parents, sister and neighbors). I found an outlet for all of that noise at music school, and fell in love with the performing arts. Although I was involved in endless shows, choirs and jazz groups growing up, it wasn’t until college that I became seriously involved in music and theatre. I visited the music department at UC Santa Cruz looking to take a couple lessons and maybe do a show, and came out four years later with a degree in music and way too many music theory jokes. The opera department at UCSC is small, affording many more opportunities to undergrads than most classical programs. Between amazing teachers, intense music theory classes and lots of performance opportunities, I found a new appreciation for opera, and my love of theatre increased tenfold. 

What do you consider your artistic specialty now? 

As I have spent the past four years studying music and vocal performance, I would certainly call that my current artistic specialty. However, I feel much more as though I have only begun my journey into the performing arts and theatre world, and would like to continue experimenting and dabbling in as many fields, styles and approaches as I can. 

What's the biggest performance catastrophe you've ever experienced?

Hmmm…so many options to choose from! I’d probably have to go with Into the Woods at UCSC. Milky White the Cow—basically a box on dolly that we all attempted to drag around—fell over as Jack was singing goodbye. Everyone stood there trying desperately not to laugh as I dragged the cow offstage. Or when Rapunzel let down her hair and half of the length fell off, leaving me to yank the piece off as I jumped off the set and grabbed the hair...it was a truly wonderful production. 

Who are some of your artistic heroes?

Again, there are so many artists I admire that it’s hard to choose just a few. I love Audra McDonald and Kelly O’Hara, as performers who began in the classical world but successfully broke into musical theatre (and straight theatre). I would love to get the opportunity to work with Ricky Ian Gordon (My Life with Albertine, The Grapes of Wrath) or Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza). But first and foremost, my artistic hero would be my first voice teacher, Patrice Maginnis. Legally blind, she never let her disability hinder her—helping begin and performing at Opera San Jose, becoming the most beloved teacher at UCSC Opera and giving me the best, most honest advice for four great years. (For example: “You’re not a dumb blonde. You’re not even blonde. So stop acting like it!”)

 

Do you have questions about job or show listings, BAPAS or “The Insider”—or just want to say hello?
Contact Kim at kim@theatrebayarea.org

Tags:  BAPAS  Kimberley Cohan  listings 

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From the Executive Director: The Good Life

Posted By TBA Staff, Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, August 4, 2015


By Brad Erickson


I’ve just begun a project working with the Arts Council Napa Valley to train their staff and board of directors on arts advocacy, with the goal of empowering the ACNV leadership to lead ongoing advocacy workshops in their community. It’s a terrific initiative, designed by the organization’s CEO Olivia Everett, and gives me a great reason to drive up to the wine country several times over the next few months.

In the initial meeting with the Arts Council’s board, I asked the group to share their personal visions of what the Valley could be and how the arts fit into making that vision a reality. Napa County is a complicated place. Technically part of the Bay Area, it can seem both a world away and a world apart. The Valley’s reputation is worldwide, and the county draws millions of visitors each year. They come for the wine, of course, and the food, the vistas and the nearly ever-present sunshine. They come for what many on the Arts Council’s board referred to as “the good life.”

Seemingly pulled from the glossy pages of Conde Nast Traveler, for me that phrase immediately conjured images of affluent (white) people sipping wine on a sun-drenched terrace overlooking an idyllic scene—exactly what the Napa Chamber of Commerce might hope! The phrase seemed, at first hearing, steeped in privilege. And yet, it came up again and again. Apparently in this particular community, soaked in natural beauty, an ethos that declares that everyone, not just the well-heeled, deserves a chance to enjoy a “good life,” feels not so far-fetched.

For Napa County, with a third of its population living below the poverty line, that’s crucial. If the vision for Valley is, as one board member put it, to be “where life is good,” then life needs to be good for everyone. And the arts, in the view of the ACNV board, must play a crucial role in enriching the lives of all the county’s residents—as well as its many visitors. Art in the county, the board asserted, must be for all.  

That’s a message that can resonate for the rest of us in the Bay Area as well. We know we live in one of the most affluent regions on the planet (there are now more “super-rich” people living in San Francisco than Los Angeles, despite the fact that L.A. is more than three times as populous as SF). And we know that the income gap between rich and poor in the Bay Area is more pronounced than almost anywhere in this country. Income disparity in the Bay Area is replicated in gaps in education, opportunity, health and public safety, as well as gaps in access to the arts.  

Bridging the gap in access to the arts is where arts advocacy becomes an issue of social justice—because the arts, as we have made the case to policy makers so many times, really do make a difference in people’s lives and their communities. Bridging the gap in access to theatre is where our work as theatre-makers (and theatre supporters) becomes an act of social justice, a way of making the entire Bay Area a place “where life is good.” For everyone.   

 

Brad Erickson is executive director of Theatre Bay Area. 

Tags:  Executive Director's Note 

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