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2017 August 20

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 2017 reviews

In More recent theater events, I listed the 8 plays I’d seen in May and June, and reviewed Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s production of The 39 Steps.  Since then, I’ve seen the rest of the Santa Cruz Shakespeare season and a couple of other performances

Date title produced by
2017 July 18 Antony and Cleopatra Royal Shakespeare Company (broadcast)
2017 July 28 Measure for Measure Santa Cruz Shakespeare
2017 Aug 5 Split the Bill
2017 Aug 8 A Most Dangerous Woman (staged reading) Santa Cruz Shakespeare
2017 Aug 11 Shakespeare Conservatory showcase West Performing Arts
2017 Aug 15 The Night that Never Existed (staged reading) Santa Cruz Shakespeare
2017 Aug 19 Two Gentlemen of Verona Santa Cruz Shakespeare

Let me start with the non-SCS performances.

I won’t bother reviewing the Royal Shakespeare Company performance—it was worth seeing, but did not wow me. A workman-like production with nothing to excite particular interest.

Split the Bill was a combination of sketch comedy and improv with many of the same actors who were in the Dinosaur Prom improv troupe that my son used to act with, plus some younger comedians.  I suspect that he could have been in the Split the Bill shows if he had gone to the earlier ones this summer (this was their fourth of four), but his sleep-all-day schedule this summer has made it difficult for him to do anything involving other people.  The show was similar in quality to the Dinosaur Prom shows—amusing in the moment, but not particularly memorable.

The West Conservatory showcase was a little different from previous years, in part because they had different teachers this year.  The monologues and scene work were quite good, but the choral piece at the beginning was ragged and the clowning towards the end a bit clumsy. There are several upcoming actors in the WEST troupe who are good, so we’ll probably continue to go to the WEST teen shows, even though our son has aged out.  (Perhaps I should say “actresses” instead of “actors”, since only one of the actors in the conservatory was male, but I tend to use “actor” as a genderless designation.)

For transportation to the four Santa Cruz Shakespeare productions at the Audrey Stanley Grove, we did bus+walk to get to Measure for Measure, but walked the whole way (about 3.8 miles) for the other three productions.  For all of them we took Lyft home.  The walk takes us about 1:25, so is about the same speed as walking plus bus.  Lyft continues to be a fairly reliable way to get home (better than the taxicabs we tried last year).

The Measure for Measure production was the weakest one of SCS’s 2017 season.  Although there was some good individual acting, overall the performance was run of the mill.  The lower-cast characters were so ruthlessly cut that they added little to the play, the costuming looked like a low-budget high-school production, and the direction was lackluster.  They were deliberately working with a small cast so that the production could move to CalShakes after finishing in Santa Cruz, but the double and triple casting was not very effective.  In particular, I found that double casting Claudio and Pompey (and clothing both in the same prison outfit distinguished only by Pompey’s hat) did not work well.  I also did not care for dressing Angelo in high boots—it would have been better to dress him as a missionary than as a Nazi. The directorial choice of handling the problematic ending by converting the Duke’s marriage proposal into a job offer (with no changes to the lines) was reasonable for a 21st century audience, but it seems like so much of the director’s effort went into that choice that there was no time to make the rest of the play work well.

The two staged readings were an interesting experiment on SCS’s part.  They were expecting a fairly small turnout, but got around 200 for each of the readings. I don’t have cast lists for the two performance, though I recognized a number of the performers.  Julie James did a good job as George Eliot in A Most Dangerous Woman (by Cathy Tempelsman), and Mike Ryan was good in both shows.  I was expecting a little more blocking and gesturing in the performances, but quickly adjusted to the style of actors stepping up to the music stands with their scripts to indicate when they were on stage.  The story of George Eliot’s life made a good play, and it would be a good one for Jewel Theatre to produce (a better part for Julie James than many of the ones she casts herself in).

The Night that Never Existed is a play by Humberto Robles, translated from Spanish by Rochelle Trotter. It is a two-hander, with Mike Ryan playing Shakespeare and Patty Gallagher playing Queen Elizabeth.  The concept is a simple one: Queen Elizabeth asks Shakespeare to teach her about love.  Many of the lines are borrowed from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and are deftly arranged to support the scenes. Unfortunately, there are also a number of expository lines (Queen Elizabeth praising Shakespeare) that are leaden—I don’t know whether the fault here belongs to Robles, Trotter, or both.  It would require a really fine production by virtuoso performers to make this play worth producing, though with a little editing it could work well.

Overall, the staged readings were a good experiment, providing dedicated theater goers some extra entertainment and allowing the company to experiment with some different plays that probably could not command a big enough audience for a full production.  One big problem was the sound.  I was unable to hear one of the actresses in A Most Dangerous Woman (I don’t know her name), and even Patty Gallagher was hard to hear from the third row in The Night that Never Existed. I had no trouble hearing Patty in her roles in the main productions, so I think that the problem was more lack of rehearsal than inherent to the actresses.  The outdoor stage at the Grove does require more projection than most actors are used to, and it is particularly hard for the higher-pitched female voices (and it doesn’t help that I’m going deaf, losing the higher frequencies first). The sound system doesn’t help much, as it introduces echoes before it provides much support.  Perhaps the sound engineers could work on better speaker and mic placement for next year, and perhaps some filtering to produce more treble than bass boost.

Two Gentlemen of Verona is probably the best show this summer, though it is a toss-up with The 39 Steps. The costuming for Two Gents is some of the best I’ve seen from B. Modern (who is a great costume designer), directing was inspired, and the clowns Launce and Speed given full rein (they are too often cut drastically or underplayed).  This production was much better than the 1999 production by Shakespeare Santa Cruz (I still remember being disappointed that they had cut Launce’s “my cane understands me” joke in that production).  The conversion of Launce from a male to a female role worked surprisingly well, even if it did substantially change the sexual jokes in the milkmaid (changed to milkman) scene.  Doing that scene as a cabaret act was really impressive and gave the acting interns a chance to show off some of their skills. All the acting in this play was great (well, one muffed line by Speed, but it did not detract from his otherwise good performance).

Unlike Measure for Measure, the company did not come up with a reasonable resolution for the abrupt ending of Two Gents (the forgiveness for Proteus still seems wholly unnatural), but the rest of the play was so good that one could forgive them for not being able to fix Shakespeare’s clumsiness here.

Bottom line: go to see The 39 Steps and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  If you have time for a third play, Measure for Measure is ok.  If you can only afford the time for one play, choosing between The 39 Steps and Two Gentlemen of Verona is tough—you are unlikely to have an opportunity to see a better production of either play.  Much of the humor of The 39 Steps relies on the differences between film and stage productions (and it helps to have seen the movie—indeed to have seen several Hitchcock movies), while Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy that is intended to stand on its own.

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2017 July 15

More recent theater events

I haven’t been posting about theater I’ve seen since the post Recent theater events, which was back in April.  Here is a list of things we’ve seen since then:

Date title produced by
2017 May 13 Great Expectations WEST performing arts
2017 May 19 Avenue Q Santa Cruz High School
2017 May 20 Sylvia Jewel Theatre
2017 June 3 Zoot Suit UCSC Theater Department
2017 June 5 Two Gentlemen of Verona UCSC Shakes To Go
2017 June 10–11 Midsummer Night’s Dream UCSB Shakespeare in the Park
2017 June 17 Merry Wives of Windsor Silicon Valley Shakespeare
2017 July 14 The 39 Steps Santa Cruz Shakespeare

The WEST teen production for the spring, Great Expectations, was fairly well done, though there were a few actors who were too quiet, even in the small Broadway Playhouse.  The teen productions have a mix of first-time-on-stage actors and experienced ones, so can be a bit hit-and-miss.  Their WEST Esemble players are their more experienced teen troupe—I did not get to see their production this Spring, though my wife did—they had an adaptation of Robin Hood that they performed at some local schools, including the one where my wife is the librarian.

The Santa Cruz High production of Avenue Q was good—we went because it included an actress who has also performed (at WEST) with our son (she’s also the daughter of one of my former students—we found out that she was in the Avenue Q production when we ran into her and her father at a local eatery).  The biggest problem with the Avenue Q production was that the singers were miked, but the mikes did not work consistently. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but Avenue Q seemed better written than most.

The next evening after Avenue Q we went to see Sylvia by the Jewel Theatre. The acting and production were good, but the script was rather weak material, so the production as a whole was not very satisfying.  It was quite a contrast to Avenue Q the night before, which had much weaker production values but better material. It showed that even a professional production can’t rescue a weak script.

Zoot Suit at UCSC was an amazing production, combining first-rate acting, superb costuming, and a first-rate script. The script was updated by the author (Luis Valdez) last year for a production in Los Angeles, and this production was directed by his son, Kinan Valdez. Because Luis Valdez is a local author, he attended the performance the same night we were there and was available after the show for Q&A (we did not stay for that, because we needed to catch a bus home). This was probably the best student production I’ve seen, at UCSC or elsewhere.

My wife and I saw the Shakes to Go production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at the elementary school where my wife works, as I was unable to get to any of the performances that they did on the UCSC campus. As always, the Shakes to Go production was fast-paced and simplified for school children to be able to follow, but well done within the constraints of a production that has to be finished in 50 minutes and needs to be portable enough to be set up on in an unfamiliar location in about half an hour.

We traveled down to Santa Barbara to see our son in Midsummer Night’s Dream, where he played Peter Quince (the leader of the play within a play). I made a video recording of both performances, but haven’t yet rendered it to put it up on YouTube.  The play was difficult to film, as they had a lot of the action in the audience, and I had a hard time panning the camera fast enough to catch what was going on.  I liked the production, but I never know how much of that is just my bias towards anything my son is in.

After my son got home from Santa Barbara, all three of us took the bus to San Jose to see Merry Wives of Windsor in Willow Street Park. The performance space in Willow Street Park is quite nice—a very large stage area with a steeply raked bowl for the audience and a wooded backdrop. It was a fun production, but not quite at the high standards of Santa Cruz Shakespeare (more at the level of good student productions).  The performance was free (suggested $10 donation at the end), subsidized in part by the San Jose City Council, I believe.  We spent as much on getting to the performance as we did on the show. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to go to the other Silicon Valley Shakespeare productions this summer, as they are in Sanborn Park, which is inaccessible by public transportation. (We might be able to use Lyft to and from the Lawrence Expressway train station, but that makes for a fairly long trip, and catching the last Highway 17 bus home could be difficult.)

Last night we went to see Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s production of The 39 Steps, a farce based on Hitchcock’s movie of the same name. The production is amazing, with the 4 actors playing dozens of roles (well, one actor has 1 role, the actress has 3 roles, and the remaining roles are all played by the 2 remaining actors). The costumes and costume changes were perfect. The show was hilarious and has been getting good reviews—I was surprised to see that Grove had not been sold out and that there was a lot of groundling space still available.

All four actors in the Scottish inn scene, photo from the SCS media page https://www.santacruzshakespeare.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-39StepsPhoto5_300dpi.rrjones.jpg

Santa Cruz Shakespeare is doing only comedies this summer (the other two are Measure for Measure and Two Gentlemen of Verona). Their interns are doing Candide, and the company will be doing two staged readings: A Most Dangerous Woman and The Night that Never Existed. We, of course, are planning to see it all.

We took public transit to the Audrey Stanley Grove last night, which really meant about 2.4 miles by bus and 2 miles walking.  It would have been almost as fast to walk the whole way, as we could have gone a slightly more direct route. We took the newly built path from Park Way Trail (at the end of Park Way) up to the Audrey Stanley Grove. It is a very steep path that my wife was willing to do uphill, but not downhill—I’d be a little reluctant to take it in the dark also. The trail is definitely a hiking trail and not for bicycles. We ended up taking Lyft home, which for the three of us was not much more expensive than the bus and much more convenient.

2016 February 25

Santa Cruz Shakespeare announces 2016 season

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:21
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I attended the season announcement party for Santa Cruz Shakespeare tonight, at which they announced their line up for the season.  They really need a blockbuster season this year, to help pay for the $1,000,000 construction of the new “Grove at Delaveaga Park” performance space, for which they have a 2-year lease.  Naturally, they picked very well known and popular plays:

  • Hamlet
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream

For the Fringe play by the interns (which is often as good or better than the plays by the professional actors, except for the inevitable intern who can’t project well enough for outdoor theater—but they’ve had that problem sometimes with professional actors), they chose a less well-known play:

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, adapted as a play by Sarah Ruhl.

According to the play’s web site, it was first performed in 2010, so it is a relatively recent work.

Mike Ryan is continuing the practice of gender-balanced casting, which should work well for the couples in Midsummer Night’s Dream—that play is nearly gender-balanced as is. 

For Hamlet, the title role will be played by a woman.  I don’t know whether she will be “Princess of Denmark” or whether she will be playing a male role. I think that Hamlet could be a female role, though the parts of the plot involving Ophelia would change somewhat in tone.  If Hamlet becomes a female role, what about Horatio? Also, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could be male, female, or one of each, equally plausibly. I’m curious to see how they work this out.

I’ve seen an all-female production of Hamlet in Santa Cruz (April 2012, produced by San Francisco State University, and presented by Jewel Theatre), in which the roles retained their original gender, despite an all-female cast—it was a good production, particularly for student work.  I suspect that SSC will try a more challenging adaptation, in which some of the roles change gender, rather than cross-casting the actors.

Of course, the point of having this season-announcement party for “Producer’s Circle” donors was to ask people to give to the capital campaign, in addition to their annual giving for the operating expenses.  They’ve raised about 67% of what they need, but that still leaves about $330,000 to raise in the next month or two.  I think that they’ll be going public with the capital campaign soon, once they’ve got a few more big donors to make the remaining “ask” seem more feasible.

They are getting a no-interest loan, I believe, backed by donor pledges, so that they can start construction as soon as the money is promised.  The idea is that people can pledge money to be given over the next three years, and the loan makes the money available immediately for the upfront construction costs.  My wife and I have already donated to the 2016 budget and were planning to donate to the 2017 budget, and we’ll probably give something to the capital campaign, but we haven’t figured out how much yet.

The planning permits are approved, I believe, so they are ready to start work on the site as soon as the money is available. They had planning documents at the party, and I spent some time leafing through them.  They look pretty good, but it doesn’t seem like there will be any aisle lighting (though I supposed they could add non-permanent rope lights or equivalents).  There wasn’t aisle lighting at the Festival Glen either, and its lack did not seem to cause  any problems.

They’re starting their season a little later this year (July 12), with the hope that the delayed start will give them enough time to finish building everything.

2016 January 5

Santa Cruz Shakespeare asks for letters

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:25
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In Our Quest for Our New Home: A Call to Action!, Mike Ryan has requested that supporters of Santa Cruz Shakespeare write letters to the Santa Cruz City Council:

This summer from the stage in the Glen, I told all of you to make sure to follow us so that I could let you know when the time was right to reach out to the City Council in support of our move to DeLaveaga. I am extremely excited to announce that now is that time. A few of you have already written to the Council or spoken at our community meetings, and for that I am grateful. It would be wonderful, however, if everyone who read this blog took a moment to do the same. The letters need not be long; a few simple sentences requesting the City Council approve the use of DeLaveaga by Santa Cruz Shakespeare is all that is needed. There is a single email address that will reach everyone on the City Council: citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com

If you are interested and have the time to write a more detailed letter, all of us at Santa Cruz Shakespeare would be extremely grateful. Below, I have listed a number of questions that might help with crafting such a letter:

  • Why do you believe the city should provide space for arts organizations, and to Santa Cruz Shakespeare, specifically?
  • Why do you believe DeLaveaga is a great location for Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s performances?
  • DeLaveaga is designated a ‘community park.’ Would the Festival’s presence bring new faces to an old community space?
  • What has Santa Cruz Shakespeare meant to you or your family over the years?
  • Why does Santa Cruz Shakespeare improve the quality of life in Santa Cruz?
  • Do you believe that Santa Cruz Shakespeare provides other benefits to the city besides the obvious cultural/artistic ones?

These are, of course, merely jump-start questions. I’m sure each and every one of you has unique and articulate reasons for asking the City Council to support our move. Whether you use these questions, or write your own thoughts, or whether you write a long letter or a short one, please write! It is very easy to assume that someone else will write a letter, and it is sometimes more difficult to write in support of projects we love than against those we oppose. A groundswell of support for the festival and the move to DeLaveaga will remind the Council just how valuable Santa Cruz Shakespeare is to our entire Santa Cruz community.

I will write such a letter, and this blog post will be a rough draft for the letter.

I’ve been attending summer Shakespeare performances in Santa Cruz for about 30 years, and I regard the festival’s productions as one of the high points of the summer.  Santa Cruz Shakespeare (and its predecessor, Shakespeare Santa Cruz) have been an important part of my family’s life, and an important cultural event for much of the community.  Shakespeare Santa Cruz provides one of the most family-friendly theater events in the area—the average age of the audience at their performances is significantly lower than at most of the other theater troupes in the area (excepting the numerous groups that provide theater classes for children—theater is a very popular activity in Santa Cruz).

The liveliness and diversity of cultural attractions in Santa Cruz are largely what account for Santa Cruz being such a desirable place to live (compared to other cities in the area that share the climate), but that desirability drives real estate prices up, which makes it difficult for the artists, actors, and musicians who provide the culture to continue to do so—performance spaces are in short supply, housing even more so. In the past the City Council has recognized the value of supporting various cultural events and organizations, including some pretty big projects like the Tannery.  Providing unused space in DeLaveaga Park at a reasonable rent to Santa Cruz Shakespeare would continue this tradition of supporting the arts, without a major expense to the taxpayers.

For several years, the festival has partnered with West Performing Arts to provide a summer Shakespeare conservatory for training teenage actors, using the professional actors, dramaturges, and other festival staff to pass on the knowledge and love of theater to the next generation. My son has participated in this conservatory for six years running—it has helped enormously to cement his love of Shakespearean drama (not to mention the improvements in his acting skill).  This conservatory is the highest level of actor training that West provides (their other classes cover grades 1–4 through grades 8–12). Although West would survive the loss of the Shakespeare conservatory, it would diminish them.

The Festival Glen at UCSC was an ideal location for the festival, but since UCSC has short-sightedly cut themselves off from one of the best cultural events in Santa Cruz by refusing to allow the Festival to rent the Glen any more, it has become important for Santa Cruz to find an alternative site or risk losing one of the best theatrical events on the West Coast.

Although the proposed site in DeLaveaga Park (approximately 36.994386, -121.995820) is not as conveniently located as the old site at UCSC, particularly for those who use public transportation or bicycle, it is probably the best site available within the City limits—or even within several miles of the city.  I’ve not been out to the park to look at the site in person, but I’ve looked at the site with Google Maps and Google Earth—it seems to be space that is currently idle in the park (since the Stroke Center was moved to Cabrillo College) and that would work for Santa Cruz Shakespeare.  If they can solve the problem of inadequate transportation (perhaps by having low-cost shuttles from downtown Santa Cruz), it should work well as a performance site. It is certainly a better use of the space than expanding the already under-utilized and water-hungry golf course.

Of the various uses one could imagine for this piece of  the park, I can think of no better one than an outdoor theater, and of the organizations that could build and maintain the theater, I can think of no better one than Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

 

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