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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.

2018 May 3

Season theater tickets purchased for 2018

In the past week, I have bought my season tickets for both Santa Cruz Shakespeare and Jewel Theatre. For both, we ended up buying three subscriptions—for my wife, my son, and me, although there is one of the Jewel Theatre performances that my son will not be in town for.

The SCS tickets are only available to “members” at the moment, but go on sale to the general public on May 15 (but for $50 you can become a member right away).  By buying tickets on the first day that sales opened to members, we managed to get ideal seating. We are going to everything:

  • Love’s Labours Lost
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Venus in Fur
  • Men I’m Not Married To (the interns’ production)
  • Doll’s House (staged reading—free)
  • The Taming (staged reading—free)

In fact, we’re going to Love’s Labours Lost twice, because my mother-in-law will be in town during the previews, when our son can’t go, so we’ll go with her to the preview and with our son to a showing later in the season.

Similarly, the Jewel Theatre tickets are only available to subscribers (they haven’t even posted the new season on their website yet), but you can become a new subscriber at no cost (other than tickets).  We are only going to 4 of the 5 shows, because we see no point to going to their musical.  (I don’t like musicals in general, and my wife likes some musicals, but not this year’s.)  We’re also not bothering with their non-subscription holiday show—again it is a musical we have no interest in. The shows we are seeing are

  • The Beauty Queen of Leenane
  • Red Velvet
  • Breaking the Code
  • The Explorers Club

The Jewel Theatre plays look like an interesting season, though I’m a bit worried about Julie James having cast herself as the lead in the first one—she has a habit of casting herself in parts intended for much younger actresses, and she is almost old enough to be playing the mother rather than the daughter in this play.  Still, it is less of a stretch than some of the roles she has tried to pull off in previous years.

We bought subscriptions to Actors’ Theatre at the beginning of the year, since they start selling in January.  We still have two plays to go in that subscription:

  • The Realistic Jones
  • Red

This weekend, we are going to a non-subscription theater event: WEST Ensemble Players’ production of Antigone. WEST Ensemble Players are the grade 10–12 invitation-only troupe for WEST Performing Arts, and they are usually pretty good.  We enjoyed the performance of She Kills Monsters that they did in February.

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.

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 January 7

8 Tens @ 8 in 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:13
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I just bought my tickets for the 8 Tens @ 8 shows for this year. I did not manage to get opening-night seats (sold out), but had no trouble getting other nights I wanted, even though the performances will be at Center Stage, which has a tiny house (89 seats).  They’re scheduled to perform from tomorrow 2016 Jan 8 through Sunday 2016 Feb 7, with six shows a week (a total of 26 shows).  The shows usually sell out, so the total audience will be about 2300.

This is an annual event for Actors’ Theatre, consisting of 8 ten-minute one-acts.  Each year they solicit scripts and produce the eight that they like best. A few years ago they started doing another 8 semi-staged readings of another 8 runners-up (“The Best of the Rest”), and last year they started doing two full sets of 8 plays each, as they are doing this year. So there will be 13 performances of the A set and 13 performances of the B set.

They started with 53 plays submitted in summer of 1999 and have grown to almost 300 submissions this year (so each entrant has over a 5% chance of their play being selected to be produced—not bad odds for a $10 entry fee). [Numbers from a Good Times article, info about submission fees from http://www.sccat.org/#!play-submissions/cxkq]

They’ve managed to get 17 different directors for the 16 plays this year (two directors for one of the plays) [http://www.sccat.org/#!auditions/c21ka], so the styles of each play will be rather different, though the sets can’t be very different, as they only have one minute to change sets between plays.  If it is like previous years, several of the directors will also be acting in other plays and many of the actors will be in several plays (probably just as well, as Center Stage has only a tiny backstage).

I understand that Jewel Theatre is still managing Center Stage, as well as the new Colligan Theater at the Tannery.  It’s good that they have two stages to manage now, as the 8 tens @ 8 performances are on some of the same nights as Jewel Theatre’s performances of Fallen Angels.

Picking 8 tens @ 8 performances we could go to was a bit tricky, because we had to avoid conflicts with Jewel Theatre’s Fallen Angels, with West Performing Art’s performance of Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard, and with the Santa Cruz Symphony’s performance of Mahler’s 1st. In order to fit everything in, we’re having to double up one weekend, with performances to go to on both Saturday and Sunday night.  (Weekday nights with work the next day are a bit tough for us.)

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