Butterflies in “Calligraphy”

Monarch butterflies rush in around NORIKO, and EAMON exits.
Calligraphy stage directions

Butterflies are an integral part of the stage directions for Calligraphy. The central character, Noriko, sees them whenever she’s about to delve into her subconscious, particularly when she’s visiting memories of her late husband, Eamon.

Noriko is a woman facing the onset of Alzheimer’s. Director Leslie Martinson and the team of designers therefore had to decide how to portray her version of reality alongside the version experienced by the rest of the characters. The butterflies were the key. Incorporated in the physical world of the play by Scenic Designer Erik Flatmo and Media Designer David Lee Cuthbert, the butterflies become a touchstone for the audience, a way to help ground the viewer in Noriko’s world, so we travel with her, to whatever part of her life she’s currently living.

“The butterflies signify a change in the mental state of the lead character,” says Martinson. “And we were delighted to find them an inspiration for both set design elements and media transitions in the production design.”

Additionally, butterflies are evocative of transience, of the passing from one phase of life into the next. As the mothers in Calligraphy grow older, they find themselves moving from being the carers to being cared for, as their daughters assume the roles of caregivers. Butterflies are also a world-wide symbol of support for those whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s, whether as a patient or a family member.

For the playwright, Velina Hasu Houston, butterflies serve myriad purposes in this play:

My mother often talked about butterflies representing the spirits of the dead traveling to another world and to eternal life. For Noriko, there lives in her mind an eternal life that is free of the boundaries imposed on the physical world as we know it. My mother also told me that butterflies represent the discovery of one’s soulmate and the ability to find that person in the traffic of humanity. Noriko seeks to be reunited with her soulmate in the eternal life in her subconscious.

In my Cuban world, I also have been privy to the mythologies of many Latin cultures including the fact that, in Mexican culture, butterflies hold meaning similar to those in Japanese culture, tying their presence to ancestral spirits. I think the ethereal beauty of their flight speaks to something deep within many cultures, indeed within us all.

In respect of this vast mythology of butterflies, our AudienceWorks project will mirror the physical look of the scenic and media design. When you come see Calligraphy, visit the lower lobby and leave your own butterfly with your answer to the question “What brought your parents together?”

Kodomo wo cho yo hana yo to itsukushimu
To love a child as if it were a butterfly or a flower
–Japanese proverb


Butterfly elevations for the scenic design, by Erik Flatmo

Announcing TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s 2017/18 Season

Last night, at our annual Season Release party, almost 500 people gathered to hear Artistic Director Robert Kelley announce the 2017/18 Season. We are delighted to share it with you now!



The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga

Book, Music, & Lyrics by Min Kahng
Based on Manga Yonin Shosei by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama
Translated as The Four Immigrants by Frederik L. Schodt
Directed by Leslie Martinson

From a tumultuous earthquake to an exhilarating world’s fair, this broadly comic new musical chronicles the adventures of four endearing Japanese immigrants in a world of possibility and prejudice: turn-of-the-twentieth-century San Francisco. Driven by an infectious vaudeville and ragtime score, the quartet pursues their American Dream despite limited options in the land of opportunity. Don’t miss this runaway hit of our 2016 New Works Festival.

Jul 12–Aug 6, 2017
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto



By Nick Payne
Directed by Robert Kelley

London Evening Standard Award Best Play 2012
A time-bending romantic drama spun out of string theory, this unconventional Broadway and West End sensation explores the infinite possibilities of “boy meets girl” with intelligence, heart, and humor. A charming beekeeper and a Cambridge cosmologist are nerds in love, for better and for worse, their relationship an ever-changing mystery of “what ifs.” Who knew that honey and higher physics could be so touching—or so sexy?Contains mature language.

“Truly stellar. Five stars!”
London Evening Standard

Aug 23–Sept 17, 2017
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts


The Prince of Egypt

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Philip LaZebnik
Directed by Scott Schwartz

WORLD PREMIERE in collaboration with Fredericia Teater, Denmark
Join TheatreWorks as this inspiring world premiere musical begins its international journey towards a 2018 debut in Denmark. A soaring celebration of the human spirit, The Prince of Egypt features a dazzling, multi-ethnic cast in one of the greatest stories ever told: the saga of Moses and Ramses, his Pharaoh brother, and the indomitable people who changed them both forever. Inspired by the beloved DreamWorks Animation film and featuring a score that includes the Academy Award-winning “When You Believe” by the composer and lyricist of Wicked, this breathtaking journey of faith and family is the must-see event of the season.

Oct 6–Nov 5, 2017
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts


Around the World in 80 Days

Adapted by Mark Brown
From the novel by Jules Verne
Directed by Robert Kelley

Stampeding elephants! Raging typhoons! Runaway trains! Join fearless adventurer Phileas Fogg and his faithful valet in the original “Great Race,” circling the globe in an 1870s alive with danger, romance, and comic surprises at every turn. In the hilariously theatrical style of The 39 Steps, five actors portray dozens of characters in a thrilling race against time and treachery. Grab your family, and your passport, for an ingenious, imaginative expedition around the world!

“Action and hilarity to spare!”
The Boston Globe

Nov 29–Dec 23, 2017
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto


Our Great Tchaikovsky

Music by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Written and Performed by Hershey Felder
Directed by Trevor Hay

Brilliant composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky springs to life through the hands and insight of piano virtuoso Hershey Felder, whose time-bending tale of culture and repression explores the mystery surrounding some of the greatest music ever written. From the unforgettable ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, to the outrageous 1812 Overture and the brilliant symphonic works, this powerful musical tribute travels to Czarist times to ponder the inevitable enigma of genius. From the creator and performer of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin and Beethoven.

“Stunning! Potent! Brings beautiful life to Tchaikovsky.”
San Diego Union-Tribune

Jan 10–Feb 4, 2018
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts


Skeleton Crew

By Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli

A Coproduction with Marin Theatre Company
A makeshift family of autoworkers navigates the recession in this funny, tough, and tender American drama. Will their Detroit plant survive? Ambitious dreams and corporate deception interweave, pushing friendships to the limit. When the line between blue collar and white begins to blur, how far over the lines is each of them willing to step?
Contains mature language.

“Warm-blooded, astute. A deeply American play!”
The New York Times

Mar 7–Apr 1, 2018
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto


The Bridges of Madison County

Book by Marsha Norman
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Directed by Robert Kelley

2014 Tony Award Best Score
This sweeping musical romance about the roads we travel and the bridges we dare to cross recalls the unexpected affair of a devoted Italian-born housewife and a roving National Geographic photographer—four sensual, heart-stirring days that would never be forgotten. Set amidst the cornfields of Iowa in 1965, it is an intimate remembrance of love both lost and found, brilliantly adapted by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Tony Award-winning composer from one of America’s favorite novels.

“A breathtaking sweep of feelings.”
The New York Times

Apr 4–29, 2018
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts



By Joe Gilford
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli

Drama Desk Award Best Play Nominee
With the 1950s Red Scare in full swing, the House Un-American Activities Committee attacks “subversion” in the arts. When a romance blossoms between a rising comic and a firebrand actress, they face being blacklisted along with their friends and fellow artists. Will they lose their careers or betray each other and be branded forever as “finks”? Based on the true story of comedian/actor Jack Gilford, this stunning comic drama is written by his son.
Contains mature language.

“A testament to an indomitable spirit.”
The Huffington Post

Jun 6–Jul 1, 2018
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts


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