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2017 April 16

Recent theater events

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I have been so busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to do a blog post about the theater I’ve seen lately. The electronics course has mostly been responsible for my being busy—from March 20 to March 27 I was grading the huge pile of design reports for BME 51A, and classes started again on April 3.  Two weeks into the new quarter, I’ve just finished grading the third set of homeworks for BME 51B, and I’m already tired of grading.  (There are still six sets of exercises and five 5–10-page lab reports to come.)  I have a non-course pile of “grading” to do also: I’m on a committee to evaluate 22 project reports from across the School of Engineering for Deans’ and Chancellor’s Awards.  I’ve looked at four of them so far, and I have about a week to finish them.  They are a bit bigger than the little design reports (7–67 pages), but generally better written, and I don’t have to read them closely—just rank them to figure out which are the most award worthy.

But since I have my homework graded, I’ll take a break to list some of the plays I’ve seen lately:

date title playwright theater company
March 25 Dance of Death Strindberg Jewel Theatre
March 29 Julius Ceasar Shakespeare Oregon Shakespeare Festival
March 29 Shakespeare in Love Norman/Stoppard/Hall Oregon Shakespeare Festival
March 30 Henry IV, Part One Shakespeare Oregon Shakespeare Festival
March 31 Hannah and the Dread Gazebo Jiehae Park Oregon Shakespeare Festival
March 31 Mojada: a Medea in Los Angeles Luis Alfaro Oregon Shakespeare Festival
April 15 The Nether Jennifer Haley SeeTheatre

 

The Strindberg play did not quite sell out the Colligan Theater, but it was well attended by the usual crowd of white-haired theater goers.  Julie James gave herself one of the leads (what’s the point of owning a theater company if you don’t get to play lead?), but this time she was well-cast in a part that matched her skills, unlike some of her earlier attempts to play parts for women 20 years younger. The play was well-acted, but the directorial decision to use MP3 players and laptops jarred with the text in several places.  The set was a bit generic, but the costumes were good. Overall, I think that we all enjoyed seeing the play, but have no particular desire to see another production of it ever—it just isn’t that gripping a story.

Over  Spring break, my son and I both traveled by bus with people from Santa Cruz Shakespeare (staff, board members, and donors) up to Ashland, Oregon to see 5 plays there, to get a backstage tour, and to get a tour of the new production facilities in Talent, OR. My wife was unable to go, as her spring break is a week later than UCSC’s and UCSB’s.

Of the five plays we saw, Shakespeare in Love was the most fun, Mojada had the strongest emotional impact, and Hannah and the Dread Gazebo  was the most thought-provoking.  The two Shakespeare plays were the weakest productions.

The Julius Ceasar was a rather lack-luster production, with little attempt to get inside the characters’ heads, just showing us the public faces.  I found the Brutus (played by Danforth Comins) particularly disappointing, portraying Brutus as a weak and vacillating figure, rather than a man of strong principles who was so moral that he attributed high principles to everyone around him.  The dance theater elements really left me cold—it felt like I was watching a poorly produced music video on YouTube. The kata at the end seemed endless and monotonous. Others in our group had much more positive reactions to the play, and the reactions seemed to split based on whether or not people liked to watch dance.  The dance fans loved the play, and the non-dance fans did not.

The Henry IV, part 1 had a good Falstaff (G. Valmont Thomas) who was an excellent physical comic, and they really played the Eastcheap tavern scenes for all they could milk out of them, but the second half of the play fell flat.  Some of the cross-gender casting worked well (Lauren Modica as Glendower, for example), but I was not thrilled by Alejandra Escalante as Hotspur.  Don’t get me wrong—Ms. Escalante did a superb job of acting, but the machismo of the part made it very difficult.  (Note: I’m not at all opposed to cross-gender casting—last year’s female Hamlet at Santa Cruz Shakespeare was by far the best Hamlet I’ve seen.)  I think it would have been more interesting (though even more difficult) to make Hal be the female character—the father’s disappointment at not having a worthy son and Hal’s subsequent attempt to live up to the father’s dreams could have worked quite well as a female role, though the desire to keep the same actor for Henry IV, part 2 and for Henry V would have required a much bigger commitment to a female lead.  Some of our party thought that Falstaff’s comic acting was too much like minstrel shows, with too much caricature of black culture.  Others were uncertain whether Mr. Thomas was being directed to this caricature, or whether it was just his style of comic acting—I’m sure that black comics actors are forever wrestling with the dilemma of how to be funny to a wide audience without being disrespectful to their peers.  I’d be interested in hearing how black theatergoers react to his Falstaff.

Shakespeare in Love is a delightful romp through a lot of Shakespearean references (as well as big parts of Romeo and Juliet), and the actors and actresses all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.  The play is pretty close to the movie (at least as I remember the movie), which is unusual in a stage-play adaptation of a movie.  I was impressed by the teen actor playing John Webster (Preston Mead)—he did a good job of portraying a particularly ghoulish character.I think that this play will have the widest audience appeal of any of the five we saw.

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo was the strangest play I’ve seen in some time, with a lot of dream sequences and non-linear story telling. All the money for the set was spent on a massive wall that tilted down to make a rooftop.  We were told that the counterweight for the wall weighed 8000 pounds, and that combined with the rest of the wall, the total weight was around 10000 lbs.  The counterweight was not taken out of the theater on the twice daily set changes, but the rest of the set was. I was particularly impressed with the lighting design (by David Weiner), as the set took on very different characteristics with no change in the set pieces, just from the lighting.  The only disappointing set piece was the “gazebo” at the end, which was symbolically represented by a chandelier—this felt like a we’ve-already-overspent-our-budget move, rather than an artisitic choice. The quick costume changes needed by the Shapeshifter (Jessica Ko) were also technically very challenging (some of the changes had to happen on stage, as there was only 5–10 seconds for them). The play had an emotional resonance for some of the Asian-Americans in our group and perhaps a few other second-generation immigrants, but I found it more of an intellectual puzzle than an emotional play (despite being a second-generation immigrant myself).  I really needed more time to ponder it, but we had Mojada to see the same evening, which rather cut short my time for rumination.

Mojada was definitely a gut-punching play (as you would expect from any adaptation of Medea). The script kept many of the elements of Euripedes’s play, though a number of characters were conflated to reduce the cast size.  The acting was strong, but I found the set rather distracting—trying to make an L.A. slum apartment look like Baba Yaga’s hut was a little too strained.  They might have been better off producing the play on a bare stage.

The high point of the trip to Ashland was not the five plays (though they were definitely worth seeing—or the 3 non-Shakespeare ones were).  The high point was visiting the production facilities in Talent, OR. The custom-built space is a Makerspace par excellence for theater lovers. They have all the usual tools: 3D printers, laser cutter, CNC router, CNC lathe, machine shop, two wood shops (props and scenery), spray paint booth big enough for a car, robotics workshop, … with huge amounts of space. One wall of the paint shop has a grid large enough to hang the largest flies that any of their theaters can use, with theatrical lighting for it so that they can paint the backdrops vertically, rather than having to lay them on the floor. Their scene shop has a full-size mockup of the theater stages, complete with a 14-foot-deep pit for testing lifts to the stage, and that mockup is a small fraction of the whole scene shop.

Almost half the building is taken up with storage for costumes and props. The costume collection is amazing, and they rent out everything to theater companies and schools (with a big discount for community theaters and schools).  Almost everything is photographed and indexed on the web (https://www.osfcostumerentals.org/OSF-Costume-Rentals).  The props are not so well indexed nor do they have a formal rental program, though they have occasionally rented out pieces on a case-by-case basis.

This wall of shoes is part of the shorter wall of the room—the long wall would not fit in any of my pictures, nor would the many rows of racks double-height racks of clothes.

I took a few pictures in the costume storage area, but none were able to capture the sheer magnitude of the space and the overwhelming number and variety of costumes. This picture shows just a tiny fraction.

The most recent play I’ve seen is Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, which is still showing at Center Stage (through April 29). The play is intended to be thought-provoking (about what standards should apply to online entertainments), but the themes are a bit tough for many audience members: child abuse and murder of virtual characters.  Like in many science fiction works, there was a bit too much exposition, but the actors managed to keep things moving despite that. The highlight of the play was the performance by Olivia Gillanders, a fourth-grade student who played the role of Iris, the child avatar that is abused and murdered (off-stage). Nick Bilardello as Mr. Doyle and Andrew Davids as Mr. Sims were also quite good.  I felt that the April Bennett (as Detective Morris) and Robert Gerbode (as Woodnut), did decent jobs, but were not up to the caliber of the rest of the cast—their delivery was sometimes a bit wooden, and the characters lacked the intensity of the others.  Part of that may be in the script—the characters didn’t have as good lines—but they could have done more with what they had to work with.

The set was very simple, being split between an interrogation room (stage right) and the virtual world called the Hideaway (stage left).  The interrogation room was done in greys and ultra-utilitarian furniture, while the Hideaway attempted to be a lush Victorian parlor (not quite successfully, as the theater company lacked the budget, but well enough to give the impression of a virtual-world Victorian parlor).

I felt a little sorry for the actors, as the house was only about half full last night (I don’t think I’ve ever been to a production at Center Stage that was not sold out before, as the house only seats 89 including the wheelchair spot). The play is worth seeing, and there are two more weekends (tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2729920). I recommend that people buy tickets, even if they can’t go, in order to keep small theater companies from going bankrupt in Santa Cruz.

In addition to these plays, other recent cultural events include Viva La Lehrer IV (April 8 @ Kuumbwa Jazz, a celebration of Tom Lehrer songs) and a visit to the crochet coral reef on display at the Porter Sesnon Gallery at UCSC (which my wife and I went to April 14).

The Lehrer songs were fun, though I could quibble with some of their selections and how much time they gave to the weaker performers compared to the stronger ones—I don’t feel any need to go to Viva La Lehrer again for about another 5 years.

The CO2CA-CO2LA Coral Reef exhibit runs at the Sesnon gallery until May 6.  I recommend it for kids as well as for adults (one part is mounted in a dark room that you explore with flashlights).

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2016 August 26

Santa Cruz Shakespeare last weekend for 2016

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This is the last weekend for Santa Cruz Shakespeare (one show tonight, two each on Saturday and Sunday). I’ve seen all three plays this year, and definitely liked the Hamlet best (see 2016 Santa Cruz Shakespeare season and Santa Cruz Shakespeare has released Hamlet photos).

Santa Cruz Shakespeare has just released the photo call for the intern’s fringe showOrlando, which we saw in the sold-out closing performance last Wednesday.  The intern’s shows are always lively, low-budget romps, and this one was no exception. The directing reminded me a lot of the directing that John Pasha has done for the conservatories at WEST—a lot of choral work and lines split among several actors.  I don’t know whether this is just currently trendy (perhaps to equalize the number of lines per actor) or whether it is a considered choice for actors who are not quite up to long monologues and dialogues. Either way, it worked fairly well, and the cross-dressing and gender changing played well to a Santa Cruz audience. (Note: Orlando is all about gender roles and gender changing, so this was not a Santa Cruz interpretation put uncomfortably onto the play, but integral to the original concept.)

My son went to Ashland last week with WEST to see six plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  OSF was also doing Hamlet this summer, but their take on it had heavy metal guitar music. My son reported that the OSF Hamlet was good, but not as good as the Santa Cruz one (which he saw twice, once with us and once with the WEST conservatory group). I can see heavy metal music as appropriate for Hamlet, but not for Ophelia, whose madness is of a gentler sort.

2016 January 21

Santa Cruz Shakespeare—Oregon Shakespeare

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Santa Cruz Shakespeare (SCS) is organizing a trip to Ashland to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) before the SCS season starts. It sounds like fun, but …

  • The trip is March 16–March 19, 2016, at the end of exam week, with grades due on March 22.
  • It costs $1250 a person (a bit high for a bus trip, 3 plays, and 3 nights of hotel—a lot more than the AFE trips my son took that saw 4–5 plays and several workshops).
  • Deposits have to be made before Feb 6.
  • They are going all that way by bus and then only seeing 3 plays.
  • My wife is not excited by the plays they plan to see:
    • an adaptation of Glibert and Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard
    • Twelfth Night
    • Great Expectations

I must confess, I’m not particularly excited by those choices either. Yeoman of the Guard is not the best of G&S, and I’ve no idea what OSF is doing in the adaptation. Adding country music does not sound appealing to me.

I think my wife and I both like Twelfth Night, but my wife is afraid that I’ll be comparing it to a performance that I saw in Berkeley when I was a grad student at Stanford (so almost 40 years ago). That performance included the a capella group Oak, Ash, and Thorn singing all the songs that are alluded to in the script (there are a lot of them), in addition to good acting and staging. I doubt I’ll ever see as good a Twelfth Night again. What amazes me is that the band is still together and still (sometimes) performing in the Bay Area.  (Hey, maybe Santa Cruz Shakespeare could hire them to do a great Twelfth Night performance!)

Great Expectations is not my favorite Dickens story (actually, I’m not sure I have a favorite Dickens story—it’s been a long time since I’ve read any of them).

Of course, so early in the season OSF only has 4 plays running (the SCS trip doesn’t include River Bride, which seemed the most interesting of the 4 plays running early.  Later on the OSF season gets more varied and more interesting, but SCS will be in rehearsal or production then, and unable to run a tour bus up to Ashland.

Maybe some year SCS will do the trip during UCSC’s spring break and OSF’s first plays of the season will be more enticing—then my wife and I might find the prospect more alluring (though going up later in the season, when it would be possible to see a wider variety of plays, is still more appealing).

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.

2012 May 8

Oregon Shakespeare Festival field trip May 2012

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:28
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In an earlier blog post, I talked about how busy my son and I have been lately and promised a post on the field trip to Ashland, OR for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with the Alternative Family Education home-school group.  Most of the students were high school students who had taken a dramatic literature class that covered Medea, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Animal Crackers, in preparation for the trip.  There were also a few middle-school students.

We did not take the bus on Tuesday, because of the California State Science Fair, and so missed the stop at Shasta Dam, which sounded like it was fun.  We also missed the swimming time in the hotel pool Tuesday night, which was one of the few open blocks of time in a rather packed schedule.

On Wednesday, we had 3 workshops, 1 “prologue”, and 1 play. On Thursday, 2 workshops, 2 prologues, 2 plays, and one post-play discussion with an actor.  On Friday, a discussion with an actress, a prologue, and a play. The adult chaperones participated fully in the activities that they attended—the same as the students. I can’t now remember all the details of everything, but I’ll give a quick rundown of the events.

  • The first workshop was in the community center, and was a “story-telling” workshop.  This consisted of improve theater games to warm up, a standard ball-pattern game which had rather clumsily added a “stages of a narrative” theme, and a couple of performance/writing exercises.  The first exercise was mainly a performance one, based on Medea, the second was writing and performance based on Romeo and Juliet.  For the second exercise, the class was broken into 10 groups (3 or 4 in each group), and each group was given a scenario describing a scene from R&J in rather generic terms. There were 5 scenarios, corresponding to the 5 parts of the narrative arc (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) that had been introduced in the ball-pattern game. The groups had 5 minutes to create a scene from the scenario, and then each group performed theirs.  The students had warmed up by this time and came up with some pretty amusing takes on the scenes.  Our group, which had the death of Romeo and Juliet, replaced Romeo with rooster Chanticleer, falling off the hen house and breaking his neck, followed by the hen he couldn’t find choking on a seed.
  • The second workshop was a theatrical make-up workshop (the students chose “black eye” and “scar”).  It was mildly interesting, but only 4 students got to do anything in the workshop, so it was less interactive and engaging than the story-telling workshop.
  • The third workshop was an introduction to stage combat (facial slaps and hair pulling).   For my son, it was a review of a small part of the material he had learned in a stage-fighting workshop he’d taken as part of the Shakespeare Conservatory through West Performing Arts two years earlier.  He thought it was a well-done intro, but he didn’t learn anything new from it.  I found it rather fun, as did many of the students, who ended up practicing the techniques for the rest of the trip.
  • Our first prologue (a somewhat academic introduction to a play we were about to see) was for Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella, a play that needs a lot of explanation, even for people who have already read the three plays that it is a mashup of.
  • The M/M/C play itself has an impressive set (3 stories high), good acting, and good lighting and sound, but I thought the script was awful.  The play was a lot like the “honey smoked Assam” tea that was the special tea at Sesame restaurant that day—the smoked Assam was a good tea, but the honey made it undrinkable.  At the restaurant, the waitress kindly offered to take the tea back and make it without the honey, which made a great drink.  Unfortunately, there was no way to get OSF to take back the M/M/C and remake it without Cinderella.  The syrupy musical did not fit at all with the dark, tragic themes of Medea and MacBeth.  Every time there started to be some emotional connection to the play, the author tossed in some Cinderella to break the connection and make the whole thing nearly unwatchable.  Suppressing the Greek chorus by overlaying it with Cinderella songs was also grating. I’m sure that the M/M/C concept was a great senior thesis, but it was not worth the effort they put into staging it.  Had it been written by someone other than the artistic director of OSF it would never have been staged there.
  • Thursday morning we had a little free time, then an “exploring design” workshop.  The person teaching the workshop had some interesting things to say about sound and lighting, but the exercises that we had to do seemed awfully hokey.  We had to draw some quick responses to a couple of lines (from R&J), then do a collage to try to design something for those quotes. If we had had more materials and 30–40 minutes for each part of the exercise, it might have been fine, but with only 5 minutes, it ended up feeling like a kindergarten exercise.
  • Thursday afternoon was a prologue for Animal Crackers (which I understand duplicated what the students had already learned in class) followed by the play itself.  The actors playing the Marx brothers did not quite have the physical mannerisms down, but they captured the spirit of Marx brothers comedy well.  The actor playing Harpo, Brent Hinkley, had the hardest job, since Harpo’s role relies entirely on physical comedy.  I don’t think that they had mastered the “leg thing” and a couple of the other bits fell a little flat also.  The silverware from the sleeves (which they’d moved to a different part of the play) was very successful, though.
    The ad libbed parts of the play were often the funniest.  One audience-participation part that went over well caused one of the actresses on stage to “corpse” (laugh when she wasn’t supposed to).  The term “corpsing” is particularly appropriate in this case, because she was supposed to be unconscious (in the chloroform scene).  The actors playing the Marx brothers teased her mercilessly about corpsing.
    This was also a close-captioned performance (though the person running the captions could not keep up with the ad-libbed lines).  At one point, the actor playing Groucho had done so much ad-libbing that he forgot where he was in the script, and made a point of going to the caption to get his next line.
    Overall, I’d have to say that this play was the most entertaining of the plays we saw.
  • After Animal Crackers, audience members who hung around in the lobby had a chance to chat with the actor who played Groucho, Mark Bedard.  This was fun, and our students did ask a reasonable number of questions.
  • After dinner, we had a prologue for Romeo and Juliet.  This was the best of the prologues, going into careful analysis of the play, assuming that the students already knew the basics.  The person doing the prologue clearly knew the material well and gave a very solid lecture with good answers for questions from the students.
  • The production of Romeo and Juliet was set in Alta California—a choice that allowed some gorgeous costumes and for the stage fighting to be reasonably done with swords.  The set was a bit too abstract and modern for my taste—the adobe wall should have been a square corner, not a round swoosh, and the walls that looked like wood shipping pallets seemed out of place also.  I did like the way they ended many scenes with a tableau that looked like an oil-painting.
    The actor playing Romeo, Daniel José Molina, was superb in the part, capturing the emotions excellently and portraying them in a way that was visible from the back of the theater—this was the best Romeo I’ve seen.  The actress playing Juliet, Alejandra Escalante, was good, but not spectacular.  I think she underplayed the part a bit, so we did not get the impression of the extreme mood swings of 13-year-old girl, but a much more measured response appropriate for a 25-year-old.  The nurse (one of the best roles in the play) was done excellently by Isabell Monk O’Connor.  I had a little trouble with way Don Capulet was portrayed, as he came across as an abusive husband and father, rather than merely a self-centered one.  It is a reasonable directorial decision, but one that struck me as a bit heavy-handed. Overall, it was a very good production, but I thought that the cast could have done a bit better.
  • Friday morning, we had a chat with Alejandra Escalante, who had played Juliet.  Unfortunately, I missed most of this discussion, as the schedule we had all been given was wrong.  The students almost all made it, since the teacher had set up a cell-phone tree and could reach almost everyone.  I did not have a cell phone and was wandering through Lithia Park by myself, so was not reachable to be informed of the schedule correction.  I caught the last part of the discussion, and thought that Alejandra answered questions well.
  • We had a final prologue discussing White Snake, which was pretty basic.  Actually, a basic intro to White Snake was exactly what I needed, since I was not familiar with the Chinese story on which the play was based.  The prologue also discussed the process for creating the play, which had no script when rehearsal started, and was created as a group effort with the playwright creating the script based on what had happened in rehearsal.
  • The White Snake itself was the most impressive stage craft of any of the plays we saw.  The stage was basically bare, but good use was made of animated projected backdrops, props, silk cloth, and one rather versatile set piece used for all the scenes set in the pharmacy.  I particularly like the character of the Green Snake, played by Tanya McBride (who had been one of the teachers for our first-day acting workshop). This production was the most most visually impressive of the plays we saw, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience during the sad bits near the end, but I felt that the script needed just a bit more work.  The parts for the narrator and the Green Snake were good, but Xu Xian’s and the White Snake’s lines needed to be a bit more poetic.  Xu Xian was supposed to be an aspiring poet, but his lines were pedestrian.  Given that he was supposed to be a sympathetic character (not a buffoon), the part would have been much better with just a little more meter and perhaps even some rhyme.  White Snake’s lines should certainly have been a little more refined.  I also thought that the actor playing Fa Hai (the villain) needed to a bit more forceful—more vigorous movement and perhaps red face paint might help.
    But this is minor carping—I think that this play was the one most worth seeing of the four.  It will be coming to Berkeley Rep this fall, and I’m considering going to Berkeley to see how it is adapted for a smaller stage with (most likely) a smaller tech budget.

When I wasn’t doing one of the many scheduled activities, I spent some time in Lithia Park, which is beautiful at this time of year, with the rhododendrons in bloom.  We had wonderful weather, with only light sprinkles of rain—just enough to keep the air clean and make all the flowers fresh.

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