Kelley’s Recommended Reading on CONSTELLATIONS

Although you certainly don’t need a background in astrophysics to enjoy Nick Payne’s Constellations, we asked Director Robert Kelley for a list of further reading for anyone interested in learning more about the subjects of string theory, the multiverse, or the genesis of this brilliant play. Here’s a short list of Kelley’s recs:

Books:

  • String Theory for Dummies by Andrew Zimmerman Jones with Daniel Robbins, PhD
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Videos:

Article:

And if you’re still eager for more, you can always hire a tutor! As Kelley says, “I also had a two hour individual session to review the play and its contents, including string theory, with physicist Dr. Richard Partridge, Senior Staff Scientist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford.”

For more information on our production of Constellations, running through September 17 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, visit theatreworks.org.

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Kaede describes the New Works Festival!

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Kaede / Photo by Kevin Berne

Hi, my name is Kaede and I am the Marketing Intern at TheatreWorks. I would like to announce that TheatreWorks’ 16th Annual New Works Festival is onstage now at the Lucie Stern Theatre!

What is the New Works Festival?

The New Works Festival is an annual theatre festival presented by TheatreWorks. This year, it’s made up of two musicals and three plays, plus some special events. In the festival, each show is seen in the early stages of development: more than a reading but not fully-directed. Therefore, TheatreWorks is able to introduce several newest shows to the community in the short period of the time.

I personally haven’t had a chance to join the Festival in past years. Producing three plays and two musicals at the same time sounds kind of insane to me. I know how much time and effort go into just one great show, from my experience working backstage at Foothill College. However, I have one strong piece of evidence that the Festival provides amazing benefits to both audience and artists: The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga.

The Four Immigrants: An American Music Manga just had a very successful world premiere at Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, after being a part of the 2016 New Works Festival. The tremendous success of The Four Immigrants is in part from appearing in last’s years New Works Festival.

The New Works Festival helps playwrights and directors to create the ideal show. Throughout the festival, they can see how the show would look like on the stage and how the audience would react to their work. They can change or add details and make the show better, based on the audience reaction.

The New Works Festival also benefits to the audience. The Festival is a great opportunity for the audience to explore new trends in American theatre. It is a chance to get familiar with the latest acclaimed shows and find the next level of their favorite shows, playwrights, directors, and actors.

I have read the scripts of the shows which are going to appear in the New Works Festival this year, and I will share a little bit about them.

What musicals will TheatreWorks present in the Festival?

PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE: The Shangri-Las is a musical about the Shangri-Las, an American pop girl group on the 1960s. Their hit songs included “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack.” The playwright, David Stenn, has written for television from Hill Street Blues to Boardwalk Empire, and has authored two biographies. His documentary, Girl 27, exposed one of Hollywood’s best-suppressed scandals. This musical reveals the Shangri-Las’ mysterious career and end with their timeless music. The musical will be directed by Lisa Peterson.

I had not known about the Shangri-Las, so I used YouTube to listen to their music. It’s sad and dramatic, and is not like any other hit pop song. People say they got popular as a bad girls band from teenagers back in 60s. I can easily imagine how teenagers got into them. I love the musicals based on hit songs such as ABBA’s Mamma Mia, and I am pretty sure this Shangri-Las musical is going to be another successful hit in musical history.

MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING is a comic and touching love story based on David’s mother’s true story. It is a musical valentine to a woman who changed everything in her life, including her family. Irene Sankoff and David Hein are a Canadian married writing team, and their show Come From Away was nominated for seven Tony Awards this year, including Best Musical. The musical will be directed by David Leon Lowenstein.

I loved this musical immediately when I was reading the script. At the same time, I still can’t believe this is based on a real story! The wedding is lesbian, Jewish, and Wiccan, and I have never heard of a wedding like that. Despite the fact that the wedding does not sound like it is going to happen easily, the story is full of fun details. The musical is never dark or sad, but touching and heartwarming. And the music is wonderful, too! No theatre fan should miss this musical.

What plays will TheatreWorks present in the festival?

3 FARIDS is a comic play performed by three Arab American actors. Ramiz Monsef is co-author of the musical The Unfortunates, which was produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and ACT in San Francisco. Ramiz himself is an actor as well, and will appear in this show, and he has appeared on TV and in theatres across the country. The show will be directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh.

Reading the script of 3 Farids was an interesting experience. It was clearly carrying a strong message of people who has suffered from being stereotyped. I had a chance to see Ramiz Monsef’s The Unfortunates, and it was very abstract and attractive. I loved the music, dance, set design, and everything—it was more spectacle than storytelling. I was surprised how the message was portrayed without traditional storytelling. I expect 3 Farids to be like The Unfortunates. I am just so excited to see this on stage.

DEAL WITH THE DRAGON is a one man play written and performed by Kevin Rolston, who has appeared onstage at TheatreWorks several times. The show is about a man who has a roommate who says he is a dragon. It is a dark comedy for mature audience. Deal with the Dragon is developed with and directed by M. Graham Smith.

Recently, the number of the actors on stage is generally getting smaller than ever, which means new plays often have fewer than four actors, who all play several roles in the same show. However, a one man show still sounds like a challenge for me. Although the characters are very charming on the page, I wonder how Kevin Rolston will perform two or three of them at the same time. I am ready to be surprised by Kevin Rolston’s Deal with the Dragon.

TINY HOUSES is a play about Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17which was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014. The play will show the human drama of people who are in the tiny houses around the glove. Stefanie Zadravec’s work has been produced/developed at several theatres across the country. She is a New Dramatists Resident and recipient of a Helen Merrill Emerging Writer Award, the Francesca Primus prize, and a Helen Hayes Award. Tiny Houses will be directed by Giovanna Sardelli.

The story is based on the true and tragic event of 2014. Although Stefanie Zadravec made it clear that the characters and story of the play is fiction, it is still shocking. The show is focused on normal people in tiny houses and their drama. This play is going to send the audience home with many questions—a great example of how live theatre, even in early stages of development, can impact the audience.

For more information on TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s 16th Annual New Works Festival, visit theatreworks.org.

7 Shows, 36 Actors, 10 Days: The 2017 New Works Festival

A conversation between Acting Marketing Director Syche Phillips, Associate Artistic Director Leslie Martinson, and NWF Casting Director Jeffrey Lo, in early June 2017:

Syche: The 2017 New Works Festival is nigh! So tell me, how is casting the New Works Festival different from casting anything else in the season?

Leslie: Casting for the Festival is completely different than casting for the mainstage because we don’t audition.

Syche: So you’re drawing from just a pool of people you already know?

Leslie: Not entirely. We have what we call the “shopping list conversation” with the director and the authors to find out what they’re looking for. We ask them a lot of questions about tone and style, because unlike with a published, established play, what’s on the page isn’t complete. You can’t draw the casting information we need from the page.

Jeffrey: Often we’ll ask them, If the piece has had other readings or workshops, what was something useful from the casting in those? What are useful traits other actors have brought in?

Syche: So like, “She has a sense of innocence?”

Leslie: Yes, or they’ll say, “Last time we had so-and-so play this role, and he was really tough and scary. So we’re interested in having someone less scary play this role.” Or someone scarier. It gives us character attributes and actor energy to work for.

Jeffrey: Sometimes it’s not who’s best for the part. It’s about what the playwright is interested in exploring. So they might say, “I wonder if this play works with an actor who is not sexy. Does it still work? Let’s try that.” By nature, the Festival is workshopping for the playwright, and we’re not trying to lock in a version.

Leslie: So we can ask a lot of “what if” questions.

Syche: So the casting provides another level of development to the trial and error process.

Leslie: Yes. Then we look at the pool of people we know, as you said, or, if there’s something specific they’re looking for, we’ll reach out to new people based on recommendations. And then we do what we call “pitches” back to the creatives. These are documents that include the headshot and resumes of our proposed actors, but also show shots, casual shots, any video we can find of people…it gives the creatives a sense of their personal energy.

Syche: What do you do when you’re casting a NWF reading, but you don’t yet have a director locked down? Is it just a conversation with the creatives?

Leslie: Yes. And then we hope the director is happy! The other thing that’s different about the Festival than a mainstage show is that you need actors who are super quick. All actors are smart; you can’t be a professional actor without being smart. But some actors have a longer process, where they go away and stew on it, or do their own research.

Syche: And there’s not really time for that here.

Leslie: Nope. We need smart people who will make bold choices right out of the gate, and who are willing to abandon those choices when the play takes a 180-degree turn from there, or if their character completely changes. We also do try to make sure the creatives have someone here that they know. It’s hard to come out here to a theatre company you may not already know, and show your vulnerable, in-process work to strangers. So if the creatives have an actor or two who has already been involved, or who they at least know, we do try to make that happen. We love it when that person is someone we also know, because then we can also say, “Oh well, if he’s playing the husband, you’re going to love her as the wife.”

Jeffrey: We’ve had plays in the past that were written for specific actors, and we’ve been able to bring in those actors, which is cool. We also had a play a couple years ago, featuring two couples, and the director and the playwright were looking specifically for local actors who knew each other and already had chemistry, but did not know the director and playwright.

Leslie: There’s some translation between playwright and director and casting, to figure out what the actors need to bring to the table.

Jeffrey: But the important thing is, it’s not about featuring the actors. It’s all in service of the play.

Leslie: There’s something fun in the Festival, in that some of the special skills you may need in an actor onstage can be accomplished through stage directions in a reading. You can state, “He dances an amazing hip hop solo,” and that’s how we’ll do it in the reading. Or in Man and Beast (TW NWF 2015), one of the characters frequently speaks Greek.

Syche: That’s just what came into my mind, was that exact example. Did the actor actually speak Greek?

Leslie: She learned how to pronounce it for the reading.

Syche: But it wasn’t a special skill on her resume.

Leslie: No, no. And it wasn’t necessary for casting.

Syche: Well, it sounded great.

Leslie: See? Super smart, super game actors. They’ll often go and learn the things even if you say, Oh, don’t worry about that.

Jeffrey: Another example of that “magic” of staged readings is my play Waiting for Next. We’re doing an open rehearsal for it during the Festival, with a small audience. I’ve had multiple readings of it, and it’s so easy for me to say “And now there’s a transition, and it’s six years later, and they’re wearing tuxedos.” But now Leslie, as the director, will say, “Hold up, how does the director solve that?” And we have to figure out what we’re looking at.

Syche: What’s the normal amount of rehearsal before the first performance of a Festival reading?

Leslie: The straight plays sometimes perform on Day 2, usually Day 3. The musicals usually perform on Day 4 or 5.

The first day of rehearsal is always interesting, especially for directors who are used to doing their own casting. It’s the first day everyone’s all together, and I usually check in at the end of the day, just to make sure everybody fell in love with each other. Occasionally we’ll have the cast all together, but the specific roles played by each person haven’t quite been nailed down. In Something Wicked This Way Comes (TW NWF 2016), there were two actors cast as the two character men, and until the first day of rehearsal there was a question of which actor would be which character.

Syche: For a lot of theatre companies, summer is their downtime. But for us, summer is the opposite of downtime. But it’s my favorite time of year—it’s the only time you see all the departments in the same meetings having conversations working toward the same thing. The rest of the year, the admin team meets, and the production team meets, and the departments meet individually…but during the summer we have full staff NWF meetings. It’s like a smaller scale version of the mainstage year, but it happens much faster. It feels very fulfilling in a creative way. Do you guys feel the same way?

Leslie: Yes, casting the Festival is fun in a different way from the mainstage season, because it’s so direct. The creatives say, “We need a person to do XYZ,” and then we say, “Here is that person.” And then the show happens. It feels direct and streamlined.

Syche: It condenses everything into a few months.

Leslie: Well, it condenses the timeframe, but not the scale of the whole thing. You still have to choose a season, contact the creatives, get the bios, get the headshots, get the Equity contracts—

Jeffrey: Same number of flights to pick up, same amount of own-of-town housing to figure out—

Leslie: It’s not a miniature season…it’s just a much faster season.

Jeffrey: What I enjoy about casting the Festival, the vibe of getting all these actors in here, is that it feels the way many of us started in theatre. Once you get to a professional level of theatre, you learn how far in advance you have to plan, how much money is involved, how many rules there are. And there are still rules and money, but with the Festival the vibe is, “These people wrote a play, it’s not done yet, but let’s get some actors and an audience and see what happens.” It’s like how Kelley describes Popcorn [TW’s very first play, a world premiere in 1970]. It’s creative and passionate and there’s talent and excitement and you just put everyone into a room and…see what comes of it all.

Syche: If you guys are good, I think that’s a perfect place to end.

Leslie: Sounds good. Okay Jeffrey, let’s go cast the Festival.

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Learn more about—or buy tickets to!—the 2017 New Works Festival.