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2020 May 4

May the 4th be with you

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WEST Performing Arts is having a one-night-only Star Wars trivia event tonight:
https://www.virtual-west.com/special-event-star-wars

They are doing family trivia (all ages) from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Pacific time) and adult trivia (14 and up) from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

From a WEST Star Wars production (copied from their e-mail announcement)

2020 April 7

WEST performing arts going online

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The group that my son  learned acting with for 12 years, now called West Performing Arts, has taken a pretty hard hit from the shelter-in-place rules, having to first suspend their spring courses on March 11, then cancel them all.

Update 2020 May 4: Their online offerings are at https://www.virtual-west.com/

But, being the resilient and creative bunch that they are, they have come back!  They are now offering online theater classes (copied from their email newsletter):

This Week at WEST

What We’re Doing!

make a donation

What We’re Watching!

Peter and the Wolf
by The Royal Ballet
Ages: 5+
This is a Family Show
by Billy Kelly
Stand Up Comedy
for Kids!
Ages: Elementary

Given that parents with kids stuck at home are desperate for ways to entertain and educate their kids, I think that these online classes will sell out quickly.

They are hoping that the shelter-in-place rules will have relaxed by the summer, so that they can have summer classes more or less as usual (perhaps with smaller audiences, social distancing of the actors, and outdoor performances).

I recognize some of the names of their instructors as actors that my son trained with—now having finished (or almost finished) college and temporarily unable to find employment as theaters around the world have shut down.

2019 December 13

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 2020 season

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Santa Cruz Shakespeare announced their 2020 season to the “Producer’s Circle”—people who donate $1000 or more—last night. They have chosen the 3 main plays and their directors, but have not yet chosen the Fringe play for the interns, nor the staged readings.

Their non-Shakespeare play will be “A Flea in Her Ear” by  Georges Feydeau adapted by David Ives.  SCS has had good success with David Ives’s plays lately including “The Liar” and “Venus in Fur”.  Having a sex farce as the main non-Shakespeare play should be a box-office success.  I don’t remember who will be director for this play—someone who will be new to SCS, if I remember correctly.

The Shakespeare plays have a shipwreck theme: “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest”.

“Twelfth Night” will be directed by Paul Mullins, who has directed for SCS several times before.  The instances that stand out for me were “Hamlet” in 2016 (the best production of “Hamlet” that I’ve seen), “The 39 Steps” in 2017, and “Pride and Prejudice” 2019.  I look forward to his interpretation of “Twelfth Night” and I hope he includes a lot of the music that is referred to in the text.  (One of the best performances I’ve seen of “Twelfth Night” was by Berkeley Rep about 40 years ago, with Oak, Ash, and Thorn singing all the songs.)

“The Tempest” will be directed by Mike Ryan, who will be directing for the first time.  I hope he does a good job—I’m always a little nervous when an Artistic Director assigns himself a major task (a plum role, selecting his own play, or selecting himself as director).  I have a lot of respect for Mike and I think that it is likely he’ll do a good job, but I worry a little about the wisdom of choosing himself as director.

The event last night shared some information about the successful 2019 season (record attendance, very successful matinee program for students in the county, lots of first-time attendees—particularly at the pay-what-you-want previews) and kicked off a new capital campaign to raise money for a multi-purpose building at the theater (offices, stage shop, and dressing rooms) and for permanent restrooms to replace the rented trailers.

There should be a more public announcement of the 2020 season and the new capital campaign sometime in January.

2019 January 9

8 tens @ 8, 2019

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Last weekend, my wife, my son, and I went to the opening nights for the Actors’ Theatre one-act production 8 Tens @ 8, which runs through February 3.

This year (2019) is their 24th season for this festival, which has grown to 16 one-act plays (8 on A nights, 8 on B nights).  The one-act plays are submitted by playwrights, and a committee of five judges select plays from the submissions for production. This year each of the 16 plays had its own director, and there were 26 cast members each of whom played in one or two plays.  Three of the directors (Helene Simkin Jara, Marcus Cato, and Nat Robinson) were also serving as actors (though not in the plays they were directing).

The plays are performed at Center Stage, a small theater that seats 89 people (including the one wheelchair spot).  Both opening nights were sold out, but we counted 5 empty seats on Saturday night, so some people must have been no-shows.

I won’t provide any spoilers in this post, but I will say that both the A and B nights were equally good (sometimes they pack the best plays into the A night, but this year they seem to have distributed them more evenly).  The writing, acting, and directing were a bit uneven, as you would expect with 16 different playwrights, sixteen different directors, and sixteen different casts.  One of the good things about one-act plays is that if you don’t like one, it will be over soon and replaced by a different one. Overall, I think that the quality was pretty high this year, with at least half the plays being well worth seeing.

The plays are performed as two groups of 4 each night, with an intermission between the groups. In the past, we’ve noticed a tendency to put the best plays at the end of each group, but they don’t seem to have done that this year. Somewhat unusually, the three of us agreed on which one we liked best each night. We liked best Tempus Fugit by Greg Atkins (the first play on Night A) and The Rug by Brian Spencer (the 7th play on Night B).

2018 November 6

Back from Goleta

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Yesterday I came back from a weekend trip down to UCSB to see my son perform in a play.

Originally, I was going to stay in a bedroom in Goleta that I reserved through AirBnB, but the host cancelled at the last moment (Thursday, when I was taking Amtrak down on Friday).  The reason for cancellation was a good one—her mother had died and she had to fly to China for the funeral—but it left me scrambling for housing.  Weeks earlier, I had tried the UCSB faculty club and a few of the local hotels, but they were all booked up—they still were on Thursday.  I checked for other AirBnB listings, but the only ones within 3 miles of campus were all booked.  Finally, I ended up at the new Hilton Garden Inn at the corner of Storke and Hollister, at a much higher room rate than I would have had if I’d booked there originally, instead of trying AirBnB.  The AirBnB cancellation meant that trip ended up costing me $550 more than I had expected. The reason I had so much trouble getting a room turned out to be that last weekend was the “Parent and Family Night” for UCSB, so there were many more people wanting to be in Goleta than usual.

I took a different route to UCSB this time: Highway 17 express bus, Amtrak 4796 bus to San Luis Obispo, and Pacific Surfliner to Goleta, though the return trip was my usual Coast Starlight from Santa Barbara and Highway 17 Express.  The Amtrak buses are marginally more comfortable than Greyhound, and the King City stop and lunch break is at a MacDonald’s instead of a convenience store, but the bus part of the trip was still uncomfortable.  I had chosen the Surfliner because it has a much better on-time record than the Coast Starlight—even though my margin for getting to the Friday night performance was tighter with the Surfliner, I felt that there was a better chance of making it.

Indeed the Surfliner was only a few minutes late, and I caught a taxi from the Goleta train station directly to the UCSB campus.  The taxi was a bit pricier than I expected ($20 for the 3.2-mile ride), but I got to the Studio Theater on campus before the house opened.

My son was performing in the Fall 2018 One Acts, which are capstone projects for the five students in the directing concentration of the Theater Arts BA.  He was cast as Roderick in The Ballad of 423 and 424 by Nicholas C. Pappas, who is a faculty member at Moorpark College, a community college near Simi Valley, about 76 miles from UCSB.  It turns out that the director for the play, Stefan James, had been a student of Pappas at Moorpark and had pushed to have the play included in the fall lineup.

All five of the plays in the show were good—well directed and well acted, but The Ballad of 423 and 424 was clearly the best of them.  OK, I’m a parent and I’m likely to be biased, but it really did have the best script. I’m hoping I get a chance to see some more work by Nicholas Pappas—he packed more humor and more pathos into a 15-minute one act than I’ve seen in many full-length plays.

he Ballad of 423 and 424 was the last play on the program, traditionally the place for the strongest or funniest piece, so I was hopeful that it would be particularly good.  All I knew about the piece going in was the description of the parts that had been on the callboard and the description on the Playscripts licensing site:

When a new neighbor moves in next door to one of the most popular and reclusive novelists in the world, she knocks his entire obsessive routine out of balance. In this opening-and-closing-door ballet of love and loneliness, will either be brave enough to answer the other’s knock?

It turned out to be a nearly perfect part for my son—he was completely convincing as Roderick, and his body language and timing were just right. There were more laughs for the play than for any of the other comic pieces and more tears from the audience in the sad moments.  Even seeing the performance three times (Fri, Sat, Sun), I still teared up at saddest scene.

At opening night his performance was praised by several people after the show, including the head of the BFA acting program (Daniel Stein) and the playwright himself, who had come to UCSB to see the performance. After the second show, he also got praise on his comedic timing from a man who had been in comedy for 30 years (the parent of one of the other actors).  As a parent, I was very gratified to see his excellence recognized by others—I’ve not just been fooling myself that acting is something he has gotten really good at.

Of course, he’s been acting for 18 of his 22 years and has been in over 80 classes and productions, so he’s had some time to polish his craft.

I was not able to take videos or even still photos during the performances, but I did get a few posed shots after the performances were over, before the stage crew struck the set.

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