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TBA Online: News & Features: Top News

Crafting the Next Phase at Cutting Ball

Wednesday, June 20, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Emily Wilson

When she was in high school, Ariel Craft directed her first play—Harold Pinter’s Betrayal about a wife’s long affair with her husband’s friend.

“It’s so funny because what does a 16-year-old have to say about marital infidelity?” Craft said.

But Craft did have something to say even then, and Rob Melrose, her drama teacher at Marin Academy, encouraged her. Now Craft has become the artistic director of the theatre Melrose and his wife Paige Rogers founded 20 years ago, The Cutting Ball, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

Ariel Craft. Photo courtesy Shotgun Players.

After high school, Craft went to study theatre at New York University. She came back to the Bay Area and started her own theatre, Breadbox, and when Rogers became artistic director after Melrose stepped down, Craft was the assistant artistic director, and in the last season directed The Mineola Twins and Phèdre.

Craft says sometimes when she’s at Cutting Ball, which focuses on experimental theatre and re-envisioned classics, she thinks about coming there on field trips when she was in high school. It’s a special place, she says.

“It’s a place of ingenuity and ‘why not’ rather than ‘why’. We risk embracing a sense of not knowing,” she said. “I think our work at our theatre is vastly different show to show—there is no Cutting Ball aesthetic. I often say we’re not going to give you the most standard version of A Doll’s House, but we will give you A Doll’s House you won’t see anywhere else.”

Melrose and Rogers will both stay on the theatre’s board and continue to be involved. Melrose recently directed Timon of Athens for the Cutting Ball, and Rogers will direct Uncle Vanya in the coming season. Melrose says some people told them if he and Rogers left, they should just close the doors, but he disagrees.

“I feel her vision of a directors’ theatre syncs with ours, and I hope we’re hanging around in a way that helps Cutting Ball,” Melrose said. “We’re introducing Ariel to donors we’ve cultivated and paving the way so it doesn’t feel like the theatre slips back a step.”

Melrose says he and Rogers feel confident Craft will do a wonderful job.

“I’ve got to say handing it off to Ariel has been really easy,” Melrose said. “She’s super good with people and really easy going and she’s a hard worker and ambitious and nice and funny.”

Craft will need to be a hard worker with the year coming up. The season kicks off with Rogers’ Uncle Vanya, followed by a two-week festival of experimentation,The Cutting Ball Variety Packs. The company will put on a truncated version of its 2012 documentary play, Tenderloin, then Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde and the season will close out with Ionesco’s Bald Sopranowhich Rogers starred in and Melrose translated and directed in 2009.

Next season includes a remount of 2012's Tenderloin. Photo by Rob Melrose.

The plays chosen represent the different facets of Cutting Ball, Craft said.

 “We feel so much kinship in the Tenderloin and the play shows that,” she said. Uncle Vanya and La Ronde are the meat and potatoes of who we are. And the festival is a big, honking love letter to experimentation.”

That experimentation is part of the company’s ethos, Craft says, and at the Cutting Ball there is a lack of pressure to be sure everything will work out perfectly before you start.

“I’m really aware of the gift I’m inheriting,” she said. “The company is built around being challenged and trying things.”

Craft says they take scripts and put up the best version of that play, moving from the ground up. What she wants to do, she says, is to blur the boundaries between new work and classical work. The 28-year-old Craft says her work has a feminist focus and she’s interested in having new framework for classics.

“I try to be mindful and inclusive,” she said. “My most core interest is how do we de-problematize the canon.”

Craft is the perfect person to do that, Melrose thinks, since she loves the texts and is thoughtful about how to best present them.

“She asks what kind of production would best serve the play,” he said. “With Phèdre, the stage was a three quarter thrust like the Greeks had and it had this Chanel 50’s style of womanhood that is classic and beautiful but restrictive as well. She makes bold, exciting choices in service to the play as opposed to just doing some kooky thing.”

Emily Wilson writes for print, the web and radio. She also teaches at City College of San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ehw415