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2014 August 17

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

I’m a little envious of my son—he’s gotten to go to Ashland twice this year to see plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  He’s seen nine different plays there this year, two of them twice.

For the first trip this year he went with Alternative Family Education, as part of their Dramatic Literature course in spring semester.  They teach the course each year around the plays that they’ll be seeing in Ashland—he’s taken the course three times and enjoyed it each time (except for some of the written assignments).  The first time he went, I was on sabbatical, so took the time to travel with the group as a “chaperone”—we’d had to fly to Ashland separately, rather than travel with them on the bus, because the trip left the day of the state science fair, though we both rode the bus home.  Since then he’s been able to travel both ways with the school group, but I’ve always had a heavy teaching load in the spring, and couldn’t justify skipping class for a pleasure trip to Ashland.

Last week, he traveled with a group from West Performing Arts.  This is the first time that WEST has done an Ashland trip, and it was planned at the last minute, so they were not able to get enough tickets or transportation for parents to accompany the group. It was a smaller group than the AFE—only ten teens and two adults. They were originally planning to see five plays, but while they were in Ashland they managed to get the last twelve standing-room tickets to Into the Woods, so they ended up seeing six plays—a pretty intense schedule with only three hotel nights!  They didn’t do as many workshops as the AFE group, but a lot of the workshops are aimed at general school groups, not at kids who had as much theater training as this group.  I don’t think that the teens minded not having a lot of workshops—most of them had just finished a two-week intensive Shakespeare conservatory, and all of them had done at least one of the Shakespeare conservatories (either this year or in a previous year).  It was an older group than the AFE trip also, as three of the teens were 18 or older and had graduated from high school.

I had some time this summer and could have gone myself, but arranging my own transportation and lodging at the last minute did not appeal to me, and my wife was not particularly interested in going there. She would travel to see world-class opera, particularly if the destination also had great art museums, but not for theater—the local productions are high enough quality for her and not much trouble to attend.  We had season tickets for Santa Cruz Shakespeare this year (as we did for Shakespeare Santa Cruz most previous years), and we’ve got season tickets for next year’s Jewel Theatre season.  We’ll also go to 8 tens at 8, an annual production of 8 new (or fairly new) ten-minute one-acts, and probably the best of the rest, a staged reading of another 8 from the pool considered for 8 tens at 8.  We also usually see the Shakespeare To Go performance, though not together—my wife sees it when they tour to her school, and I see the last performance they do, up on the UCSC campus. We’ll probably also go to the WEST Ensemble Players performances and the summer teen show by WEST. Though our son won’t be in them any more, we still know a number of the actors and they kids usually do a good job (tickets are cheap also).  If Santa Cruz Shakespeare puts on a holiday pantomime this year, we’ll probably go to that to, and possibly go to see the long-form improv group Freefall at one of their shows.

We’ll be going to one more WEST Performing Arts performance this year—a fund-raiser for their scholarship program this Friday.  This is not a rehearsed production—they’ve just requested a number of their more reliable actors to do monologues or sketches.  So my son will have one last chance to perform at West End Studio Theatre, though he hasn’t decided what he’ll do yet.

So with 14 or 15 theater events a year, and more available if we wanted them (UCSC stages several plays every quarter, but we rarely go to any of them), it isn’t as if I was starving for theater. My wife doesn’t get to anywhere near that number of operas (a few in San Jose and a few in San Francisco) and has to make do with broadcasts in the movie theater—and I wasn’t counting the broadcasts of National Theatre London that we see at the movie house, so I shouldn’t count opera broadcasts either. I’ve no cause for complaint.

Still, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a bigger budget than anything in Santa Cruz and produces some pretty impressive shows—I would like to see them again. Maybe next year.

2014 August 9

WEST closes

As I mentioned in End of an Era, the West End Studio Theatre had their last scheduled performance tonight, with the showcase for the teen Shakespeare Conservatory which they teach with the aid of Santa Cruz Shakespeare. The first week of the conservatory is acting classes, seeing all the Santa Cruz Shakespeare plays, talking with dramaturges, actors, and other creative staff from Santa Cruz Shakespeare and post-performance analysis of the plays.  The second week is intensive work on the showcase that they perform at the end of the week.

They named the show Villains and Braggarts, doing seven scenes and four sonnets.  My son was one of the 5 performers in Sonnet 133 (which they played as a courtroom scene), Malvolio in a scene from Twelfth Night (where he ends the party of Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Maria, and Feste), RIchard III courting Lady Anne over the corpse of her husband, and Theseus in the play within a play scene from Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This is the second time that my son has played Malvolio at one of the WEST Shakespeare conservatories—he did the cross-gartered and in yellow stockings scene in 2011.

I thought that they did a very good job of the scenes, but the sonnets were rather hard to follow when played as scenes—I needed for them to go at about half the speed they did to catch what was being said.  Members of the audience who were even less familiar with Shakespeare than me had trouble following some of the scenes also, as they were just snippets from the plays and rather heavily cut.

Although a couple of the actors have graduated from high school, most of the troupe were younger, so I think that West Performing Arts has a good crop of actors coming up, and I’ll continue to go to the teen performances for the next couple of years, even though my son will no longer be on their stage.

I think that the audience most appreciated the fight scene from Romeo and Juliet, where the students got to show off the dagger stage fighting they had learned a week earlier, and the play within a play from Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I overheard plans for  WEST doing a fundraiser (probably for their scholarship fund) in a couple of weeks, but I don’t know whether this will be at the West End Studio Theatre or at Broadway Playhouse.  Next week Terri Steinmann and John Pasha will be driving 10 teens up to Ashland to see five plays there and take a few workshops.  My son will be going, though he’s already seen two of the five productions from when he took the spring trip to Ashland with Alternative Family Education.

2014 July 14

End of an era

My son has his last performances at West End Studio Theatre this summer—his last summer before college.  He has had theater classes with Terri Steinmann and various of her staff members since the Wizard of Oz class in July 2004, and he has been performing on the WEST stage since they opened in 2007.  Between Pisces Moon (where Terri taught before founding WEST) and West Performing Arts, he has done at least 42 classes with them (I’m not sure how to count the Dinosaur Prom Improv troupe, which he performed with for two years—I counted that as only one class, though it probably should count as more, as there were weekly practice sessions for the two years).  Adding up all the course tuition over the 10 years he’s worked with them, I think we’ve paid around $20,000, averaging $2k a year—well worth it for the pleasure and the learning he has gotten from it.

This past weekend he performed as Otho (the interior designer) in Beetlejuice. After seeing the movie, I did not know how they would pull it off as a stage play, but they did quite a good job of it—particularly since they did not have the complete script until a few days before they performed (a long-standing WEST tradition of writing the script after rehearsals have started).  There were two casts (the morning class and the afternoon class), but I only saw the afternoon cast’s production—I understand that the interpretations of essentially the same script and set were quite different for the two casts (costumes had to be different, because the actors were very different sizes).

He has one more class with them this summer—the summer teen conservatory with Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which I believe still has room for another student or two (the conservatory is limited to about 12 students).  He’s done their Shakespeare teen conservatory for the past four years—it is quite different each time. The conservatory is probably West Performing Art’s most advanced theater class.

After this summer, not only will he be finished with West Performing Arts, but the West End Studio Theatre, where about half his performances have been, will be closed. We joke that they can’t go on without him, but the truth is that they are losing their lease.  They’ve been renting on a year-to-year contract for eight years, and the landlord has found a tenant (a beer brewer) willing to lease the space on a longer term lease.  The parting is amicable, but everyone will miss the W.E.S.T. space, which has been much more flexible and functional than any of the other spaces children’s theater has used around the city.

West Performing Arts will continue classes at the Broadway Playhouse and at schools, but they’ll need more space for classes than Broadway Playhouse can provide, especially for their popular summer classes, so they are looking for a new home. If anyone knows of spaces that might meet their needs (ideally, two large adjacent spaces that can be used for classes, one of which can be a flexible performance space, totaling about 10,000 sq ft, with storage, office space, and nearby parking and not needing a lot of renovation).  They don’t have a lot of money (they’ve been keeping the classes affordable), so the typical $15–20/sq.ft./year leases locally are probably beyond their means.  If anyone has any leads for them, their contact information is on their web site.

2014 June 9

Summer theater: Santa Cruz Shakespeare

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:25
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Tonight I went to a “Meet the Directors” event for donors to Santa Cruz Shakespeare.  (I’m a tiny donor, but I plan to give more this year, now that I know we can afford my son’s college expenses.)

The event was at Vino Cruz, a local wine shop that specializes in Santa Cruz Mountain vintners (there was wine served donated by Sones Cellars, local vintners who have been long-time supporters of Shakespeare Santa Cruz).  There was seating for about 20 people, with standing room for another 10 (I gave up my seat for some women who were less able than me to stand for the hour-long event).

Santa Cruz Shakespeare will have the Festival Glen at UCSC, and they’ll be doing two comedies: Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It (and the interns will be doing a no-budget production of the farce The Bard of Avon, which sounded hilarious as described by its director). I’ve already got my season tickets purchased (very nice seats), and I urge others to get theirs soon.  Anyone who will be in the Bay Area 2014 July 1–Aug 10 should try to get tickets for at least one performance.

The schedule and ticket sales can be found at http://santacruzshakespeare.org/  All ticket sales and donations go to provide the budget for next year’s shows—they are using a strict forward-funding model, with no borrowing.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare has been having some trouble getting the word out that there will be Shakespeare performed in the glen this summer and really wants as much word-of-mouth advertising as they can get.  So tell your friends about it!

Mike Ryan made some jokes about Santa Cruz Shakespeare having its first season, but having a 32-year history as well.  Many of the people associated with the productions this year (actors, directors, production staff, donors, dramaturges, …) have had long associations with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, some renewing associations that had lapsed.

There were no startling revelations from the directors, but I heard a little about how they viewed the plays and what period they were setting them in (roughly 1830s for As You Like It, and 1920s England for Merry Wives of Windsor).  The actor for Falstaff will be the same one who has appeared for the past few years in the Henry plays, and he’ll be great. Rehearsals have started (somewhere on Shaffer Road, on the far west side of Santa Cruz).

The costumes will be by B. Modern (who did a lot of the costuming for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, sometimes brilliantly and sometimes just a little too weird).

They couldn’t afford a large crew to reset the stage between plays, so they’ll be using a single set for all three plays (with minor modifications), to save money. The directors have discussed the set needs for each play and think that they have a workable compromise.  It won’t be quite the very elegant bare stage that I remember from a previous production of As You Like It (was it the 2006 production, or the 1997 one?), but it won’t be overly elaborate like the 2007 Tempest.

In any case, I’m very much looking forward to the summer season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

In other theater news, I also have ordered season tickets for the five shows that Jewel Theatre is doing: Saint Joan, Enter the Guards, Harper Regan, Complications from a Fall, and Woman in Mind.  We managed to select dates so that my son will be home from UCSB for 4 of them, so we got him a 4-play season ticket to go along with our 5-play season ticket.  (See http://www.JewelTheatre.net for more information.)

 

2014 April 27

Ridiculous excuses for canceling show

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:09
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One of the most ridiculous excuses from a school official I’ve ever seen was published this week in the Washington Post:

April 25, 2014

Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians,

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools, and, more specifically, to clarify, misperceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind is [sic] that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.

via Kindergarten show canceled so kids can keep studying to become ‘college and career ready.’ Really..

It seems that the kindergarten teachers at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, N.Y. did not want to do yet another kindergarten school play.  I can’t say I blame them—herding kindergartners and getting them to perform is a lot of work, and even kindergarten teachers can get burned out on it.  But the excuse they use, “preparing children for college and career,” is so ridiculous that it would be regarded as absurd if presented in a play or novel.

Kindergarteners are supposed to be being prepared for elementary school, not for college, and theater is excellent preparation for many careers (any that involve public presentations, for example), anyway.

My son started enjoying acting in preschool and has been on stage (or on film) in about 70 productions since then. The school plays were not as good, generally, as the ones he did in summer or after-school productions, but they were still highly valued parts of his education.  His senior year of high school alone has seen 10 different performances, and he still has another improv show and playing Don John in Much Ado to come—and that’s just during the school year, not summer theater.

Theater has gotten him through high-school English classes that he would otherwise had difficulty tolerating—about half his high school English has been dramatic literature classes.  Conventional literary analysis irritates him, triggering writer’s block, but he can work on fairly deep analysis to do character development for performance.

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