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.

The Edgerton Foundation New Play Award and “The Four Immigrants”

The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga has the rare distinction of having been an award-winning play before it even opened. The musical was one of 13 first-round recipients of the 2017 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award by the Theater Communications Group (TCG). The New Play Award was created in 2006 to encourage the development of new, enduring works of American theater. The award helps to alleviate the greatest constraining factors in the development of original theater: time and budget. Over the past 11 years, the Edgerton Foundation has awarded $10,244,900 to 348 separate productions premiering at theaters across the country.

The New Play Award was of enormous benefit to The Four Immigrants. The musical had originally been allotted two weeks of rehearsal, one week of tech, and one week of previews – a very tight schedule for a show with many song and dance numbers and a small company of actors who each play myriad characters. The award subsidized an additional week of rehearsal time. This allowed the performers to richly develop their characters, the technical staff to better formulate their designs, and the triple-threat composer/lyricist/scriptwriter Min Kahng to make the adjustments he wished to the show’s text and music.

Leslie Martinson, the show’s director, was thrilled to have received the New Play Award because it allowed her to build the show at a pace which would serve the creative process. “Normally, with a pre-existing script, you know what the ‘moments’ will be. Your job is just to build the moments and polish them,” she said. “The New Play Award allowed us to discover the ‘moments’ we wanted to create to tell this new story and then build them. We didn’t have to settle for the obvious answer.”

Choreographer Dottie Lester-White found the extra time the New Play Award made possible to be essential. Though she had choreographed most of the show’s dance numbers before rehearsal began, she had no knowledge of the actors’ ability to execute her planned routines. The extra week allowed her to teach at the actors’ pace while also making changes and cleaning the choreography as she went.

For actor Hansel Tan, who plays Charlie in the show, the additional time allowed him to develop his character more richly. “In a fast rehearsal process, actors miss getting to live with a piece and their characters,” he said. “It’s a special thing to be able to dwell within a show’s ecosystem for a while, and have it manifest the story it needs to tell.”

The Four Immigrants joins the ranks of many famous musicals and plays that were originally sponsored by the New Play Award, such as Hamilton, Next to Normal, All the Way, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Dear Evan Hansen, Water by the Spoonful, and Oslo. Nine New Play winners have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes (four having won), and 15 have been nominated for Tony Awards (five having won for Best Play or Best Musical). TheatreWorks has previously received six New Play Awards for The Loudest Man on Earth (2013), Upright Grand (2012), Clementine in the Lower 9 (2011), Fly by Night (2011), Auctioning the Ainsleys (2010), and The North Pool (2010).

By Holly Dayton, New Works Festival Intern

Bridging the Language Gap Onstage

In The Four Immigrants, the four main characters arrive in America speaking primarily Japanese, with a limited knowledge of English. Although they quickly pick up the language, we still need a way to show this language barrier and the characters’ overcoming of it onstage. In a book or movie, when dealing with different languages, it’s easy to include a translation or subtitles to make sure your reader or audience understands everything. In fact, when the original Japanese manga was translated from Henry Kiyama’s Manga Yonin Shosei to The Four Immigrants Manga, translator Frederik L. Schodt had to come up with his own way of dealing with this shift. The Four Immigrants playwright Min Kahng explains, “The original book was mostly in Japanese, and only had moments of English spoken when the main characters were interacting with Americans. So when it came time for Fred to translate it, he used a printed typeface for the Japanese portions of the comic strip, and he left the broken English in Henry Kiyama’s handwriting.”

But how does a playwright tackle this issue, making sure that the language shifts are clear, while continually drawing the audience in?


Sharon Rietkerk and Megan McGinnis in Triangle. Photo Kevin Berne.

It’s a challenge we’ve seen multiple times over the last several years. In Triangle (TW 2015), sisters Chaya and Sarah speak their first language (Yiddish) to each other at home, while they’re learning English with the New Yorkers around them. Director Meredith McDonough chose to differentiate between these two by having their “English” be broken and accented, while their “Yiddish” lines, although actually English onstage, are spoken fluently, in their regular, un-accented voices.

In The Loudest Man on Earth (TW 2013), the main character, Jordan, is a Deaf man who speaks only American Sign Language. His love interest, Haylee, speaks a bit of ASL at the beginning of the play, but becomes more fluent by the end. Although Haylee speaks out loud when she signs (a common practice—the combination of ASL and facial expressions/mouth movements while talking helps with communication), when Jordan’s speaking, we generally don’t have the benefit of accompanying verbal translation. In fact, there are scenes throughout the play where Jordan stands onstage, alone, and tells a story from his past, using only ASL and Visual Vernacular to get his point across. Although a great majority of our audience didn’t speak ASL, it wasn’t difficult to follow Jordan’s emotions, and find yourself immersed in the story.

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The Loudest Man on Earth was a risk, because we deliberately didn’t have a translation of what was being said. Playwright Catherine Rush intended for there to be moments of ASL that the hearing audience wouldn’t necessarily understand, and moments of spoken English that a Deaf audience wouldn’t necessarily understand. And in the middle, Jordan and Haylee bridged the two to create a story that all could connect with.

On a nationwide scale, in 2009, Broadway brought us a new version of West Side Story, which sought to become truer to life with its bilingual cast. The Sharks sang and spoke in Spanish, translated by then-up-and-coming Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Guardian said in its review of the show that the Spanish “helps to retain the artistic energy of the musical…When Chino tells Maria that Tony has killed her brother Bernardo, the original ‘He killed your brother!’ becomes the grittier ‘¡Ése cabrón mató a tu hermano!’ (‘That bastard killed your brother!’).” Although two songs (“I Feel Pretty” and “America”) had the translations printed in the playbill, for the most part the audience was left to gather the story and intentions from the acting, even if they couldn’t speak the language.



Karen Olivo (as Anita) and the cast of Broadway’s 2009 West Side Story

Back at TheatreWorks, in our 2016 New Works Festival, we presented the first full reading of the latest draft of Min Kahng’s The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga. Min chose to have his four main characters speak English onstage, with the conceit that they were actually speaking Japanese. “But,” he says, “the problem with that was how to let the audience know that when they were hearing the main characters speak, it was Japanese. Originally I had this whole vaudeville conceit where these four ‘presenters’ came out, and they just explained it to the audience. But, like any good musical theatre solution, the new fix comes from a song. The characters sing quickly, You may comprehend the words they say with startling ease / You’ll have to pretend they’re really speaking Japanese. By solving the problem that way, we clarify it in five seconds, in a way where the audience is in on the joke.”

To offset against that, the English-speaking characters onstage speak in a fast and fluent broken English, to demonstrate the way that characters unfamiliar with the language would pick out the words they know to try to piece together the meaning. These characters lose their broken English over time as the four immigrants become fluent themselves.

They say that the easier something is to read (or to watch), the more time and effort must have gone into writing it. The complications of having different languages spoken onstage, while keeping the entire show understandable and engaging to the audience, is a difficult challenge, but one that many writers and directors are rising to meet. Min says, “I’ve seen enough musicals and plays now that are doing this with outsider or immigrant stories, that it doesn’t seem so much of a leap for audiences to take anymore.” From where we’re standing, the more immigrant or outsider stories being told, and the more the audience is asked to stretch their experience and imaginations, the better!

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Hansel Tan, Sean Fenton, Phil Wong, and James Seol as the Four Immigrants. Photo Kevin Berne.

For more information on The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga, visit theatreworks.org.


Be a Theatre Beta Tester!

Software isn’t the only thing that gets developed here in Silicon Valley!

Attracting talent and theatre-lovers from across the country, TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival is a unique chance for creators and audiences to come together and help nurture developing work. This year’s lineup features two new musicals (including a piece by the Tony Award-nominated creators of Broadway’s smash hit Come From Away), three new plays, a keynote by world-renowned clown Jeff Raz, a hilarious late-night comedy event, and an open rehearsal of an in-progress play with TheatreWorks’ own Jeffrey Lo and Leslie Martinson.


For the full schedule of events or to purchase passes/tickets, visit theatreworks.org.

See it all with a Festival pass! Subscribers/Industry $49 / Non-Subscribers $65

Single tickets:
Readings/Meet the Festival Artists Panel $20
Blogologues $15
Keynote/Open Rehearsal $10

Beethoven: Composer Cliffnotes

Widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians the world has ever seen, Ludwig van Beethoven is the stuff of legend. Even those largely unfamiliar with musical history have heard of the brilliant composer whose genius could not be quelled, even when he lost his hearing. Few artists have had such an impact on the evolution of their art form.

BeethovenBeethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, into a musical family. He began rigorous musical training at a very young age, performing his first concert when he was just seven years old. At ten he withdrew from grade school to study music full-time, and by twelve he’d published his first composition.

Beethoven joined the court of Bonn in 1784 as the assistant organist, and made a name for himself as one of the city’s most talented musicians. In 1787 he traveled to Vienna, hoping to study with Mozart. Alas, after only a few weeks Beethoven returned home, his mother having fallen ill. Whether Beethoven ever actually met Mozart has long been a subject for musical history lore.

In 1792 Beethoven left Bonn for good, returning to Vienna to study under Haydn. He distinguished himself first as a virtuoso pianist, then as a composer.  His genius landed him at the center of the musical world, and won him many wealthy patrons. Beethoven’s compositions matured as he did, pushing boundaries and challenging the conventions of the classical era.

Around the turn of the century, even as he was turning out some of his greatest works, Beethoven lost his hearing. It was a great blow, but miraculously did not end his musical career. Indeed, he continued composing at a furious pace, his pieces becoming increasingly complex and emotional.

This change in Beethoven’s music mirrored both his tumultuous personal life and a change that was going on in the larger artistic and literary world—Classicism was giving way to Romanticism. Centuries later, Beethoven is acknowledged as an important figure in that transition. Furthermore, his body of work gave future composers permission to break the rules, and create art unshackled by convention.

Beethoven died in 1827, one of the most celebrated composers of all time.

-Katie Dai

For an auditory trip through Beethoven’s work, enjoy this almost-2-hours-long compilation of some of his most famous compositions.

For tickets to see Hershey Felder portray the Maestro, visit theatreworks.org.

A New Act for TheatreWorks and Robert Kelley


Dear Friends,

We are writing to announce the retirement of Founding Artistic Director Robert Kelley at the completion of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s 50th Season in June of 2020. One of the longest-tenured artistic directors in the American Theatre, Kelley founded TheatreWorks in 1970, and has been at its helm ever since, directing over 170 of the company’s productions. He has overseen our growth from an experimental youth troupe to national status as a fully professional regional theatre, the third largest in the Bay Area and part of America’s 72-member League of Resident Theatres. During Kelley’s tenure the company has produced 66 world and 164 regional premieres to date, established a nationally-recognized New Works Festival, and launched education programs that engage 25,000 students each year.

From our first production, TheatreWorks has been committed to diversity, innovation, and the confluence of drama and music onstage. Kelley has frequently described the company’s work as “a celebration of the human spirit.”

Under the powerful direction of ten-year Managing Director Phil Santora, the company is in solid financial shape, with a committed subscriber and donor base and a substantial endowment. We continue to enjoy the support of the Cities of Mountain View, where we produce five productions each year, and Palo Alto, where we produce three productions and our nationally acclaimed New Works Festival.

According to Board of Trustees Chair Barbara Shapiro, “The Board fully appreciates all Kelley has done for theatre in the Bay Area and across the country. TheatreWorks has always reflected the diversity, entrepreneurship, and humanity of our community, but also Kelley’s personal warmth and artistry. With our national reputation for artistic quality, our strong financial position, and the outstanding organizational leadership of our Board and staff, we are in an excellent position to attract new artistic leadership. Our announcement today will allow ample time for a successful transition.” The Board will begin a national search for a successor this year, with plans to have next generation leadership in place as Kelley’s final season begins.

As he launches a dynamic, premiere-laden 48th season in July, Artistic Director Kelley remains vigorously committed to the company, which he says has offered “an artistic home to thousands of exceptional theatre artists over the years. There is a joy here, a warmth to the creative process that many have found inspiring. For me, that joy has been worth a lifetime.” Kelley’s final three years will culminate in 2020 with TheatreWorks’ 50th Anniversary Season. Following his retirement, he hopes to remain active in the company and looks forward to supporting its future growth under a new artistic leader.

Thank you for being part of the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley family, for sharing in our art, and for your unwavering support of our artistic leadership in the past, the present, and the future.

Thank you to our volunteers!

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April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month, and we love to take this time to brag about our amazing volunteers! From ushering and hosting concessions at the shows, providing countless hours of administrative assistance, helping the artistic team run auditions, and much more, our volunteers are a powerhouse, working hard year-round. We couldn’t create the art of TheatreWorks without the help of our valued volunteers.

THANK YOU to our incredible TheatreWorkers!



“Thank You” artwork by Hans Cardenas

Kids Onstage: What does it take?

“We will treat them like adult cast members, but take care of them like children.”

According to Casting Director Leslie Martinson, that’s the TheatreWorks motto for having kids onstage in a show—we set the same standards for rehearsal behavior as we do for our adult actors, while making sure we’re not asking too much of them or wearing them out. But then, the child actors we’ve worked with have all been very bright and talented children, what Leslie calls “old souls.”


Kyra Miller and Jonah Broscow in “Rags” (Photo Kevin Berne)

The kids we work with rise to the occasion. Children’s theatre or youth theatre is often at least partly about socializing, about being with other kids. That’s not the case with a TW show. “We talk with the kids about how they may, you know, miss birthday parties for rehearsal,” says Leslie. “But if this is a kid who likes to be in a room full of grownups, who is curious about how professional theatre is made…that’s the appeal.”

There is only one child’s role in Rags: David Hershkowitz, who has come to America with his mother to try to find his father, and gets swept up in a life of hawking wares on the street and defending socialism. David is a weighty role in an already intricate musical, and actors Jonah Broscow and Nic Roy Garcia handle it with finesse, splitting the performances along a pre-determined schedule. “It’s imprudent to ask a child to go onstage eight shows a week,” says Leslie. “If they’re tired or not feeling well, you need to have coverage for that role.” In this case, we have Jonah and Nic as well as an understudy, Jake Miller, just to make sure we’re never left David-less.

All three boys were present through the entire rehearsal process, along with their studio teacher, which is a requirement by law, no matter what time of the year. The kids were tutored during rehearsal downtime, in a conference room in our administrative offices. A studio teacher is allowed to supervise up to ten kids total, of varying grade levels—in this case it was probably a relief that all three boys are about the same age.

What other special support staff is required with kids in the room? There’s also a child wrangler to help, well, wrangle the kids, for instance, during meal breaks. As far as other support, Leslie says, “It really takes the whole family to pull this off. Someone has to drive the kids to rehearsal and then to each performance. We have a ticket for that person for each performance, so they can watch the show if they want. The audition process with kids is basically the same as adults, except there is a lot more talking to the parents to make sure they understand what it will take.” We also remind the adult actors to please watch their language and stories in rehearsal and in the backstage areas…but we’ve never had a problem. The casts are gracious and welcoming, and the kids have a great and educational experience.

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Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in “The Kid” (1921)

California has a state law called The Coogan Law, named after actor Jackie Coogan, who worked with Charlie Chaplin in several of his films in the 1920s. As a child star, he earned an estimated $3-4 million, but discovered at age 21 that his entire fortune had been squandered by his mother and his stepfather. The 1939 Coogan Law, or the California Child Actor’s Bill, requires that 15% of each child’s paycheck be put into a special account, where it can’t be touched by anyone until the child turns 21. (It’s one of the rare instances that a law written in the 30s is still applicable and helpful today!)

Is there anything else noteworthy about working with child actors? Leslie says, “Kids memorize things more quickly. It’s not unusual for a kid in a musical to have learned not just his or her part, but the whole score, and everyone’s parts.” If only that came so naturally for everyone!

To learn more about Rags, click here.

Moms in Theatre: How Kyra Miller Is Making It Work

Kyra Miller

Kyra Miller

Actor Kyra Miller plays Rebecca Hershkowitz, mother of David, in Rags. In real life, Kyra is mother to two young girls: three-year-old Sami, who is still [as of March 31] back in New York, and nine-month-old Natalya, who has spent the last several weeks with her mother in rehearsal for the show. Associate Marketing Director Syche Phillips talked with Kyra about the intricacies of being a working mom in theatre.

Syche: So how’s it going so far?

Kyra: It’s good! Good. I’ve never done this before.

Syche: So this is the first time you’ve done a show post-Natalya?

Kyra: Post either girl, actually. So let’s see. Sami is almost three and the last professional gig I had at a theatre was in 2011. So yeah, it’s been a while. I’ve collaborated with the Woodshed Collective in NYC since then, and I was invited on board as a writer/creator for that, and I did a tiny bit of acting with them. And I wrote three one-person shows and performed them. So it’s not like I’ve been inactive, it just hasn’t been professional gigs.

Syche: How has it been keeping up with writing? It’s never easy under the best of circumstances.

Kyra: Sometimes it makes me more efficient. I do a lot of writing on my phone on the train. I’ll get an idea and start making notes. The whole concept of having a 3-hour chunk in the afternoon to write, or to memorize lines—that’s just gone out the window. So you get very good at accepting that and creating a long thread of writing in tiny little moments, and that has been my MO. That was my MO for Rags too. Pretty much as soon as I got this job I just started listening to the score, on breaks, or with Natalya. I had to learn it all in tiny pieces.

Syche: When did you find out you were cast?

Kyra: I found out, let’s see…in December. First of all, I was gobsmacked to have gotten the job off of a taped audition. That’s never happened to me in my entire career.

Syche: It wasn’t an in-person audition?

Kyra: They came to New York to do auditions, and I had gotten laryngitis from my toddler. I’ve never lost my voice before and it was the first audition that I felt like, This is a slam dunk for me, I’m really right for this part. There just aren’t that many that I’m so right for. I was so excited to do it. Even though I thought, Oh God, California, how am I going to swing that? But my agent said, “Let’s not worry about the logistics, you’re so right for this, you should just go to it.” And I didn’t think I would book it. I thought, Okay, I’m going to go in front of Alan Filderman [the NY casting director] and make a good impression, and it’ll be a great way to come back after being away for six years… And then I had to miss the audition because my voice wasn’t there. (Laughs) It took two weeks for my high notes to come back. I’ve never made a tape for a musical theatre audition before, just film and TV. So I made this tape, and I thought, they’ve cast this role a long time ago. And I sent the tape off assuming it would go into someone’s file.

Syche: And when you were offered the role?

Kyra: My husband and I had to sit down and have a serious conversation, because I’d been so sure I wouldn’t book it, but we were so excited. So we had to work through how it would even go with the children—like, could I take Sami out of school for seven weeks? No. Could I take her away from Jesse for seven weeks? No. Could I be without the baby for a while? No. So there were certain questions we had to answer, even before we started looking at the finances of it. In the meantime I was getting certified to teach the Alexander Technique, and I did that right before I had Natalya. I got my certification, applied for a job in November, but the same day that I got offered the Alexander job, [TW Casting Director] Leslie [Martinson] sent this beautiful email to my agent about how helpful TW would be in terms of dealing with a baby around. It changed everything. And because the role is so good and the show is so timely and it feels good and in a way politically active to do this—we figured it out and I turned down the teaching job and came here instead.

Syche: You keep bringing up the role of Rebecca—do you have any experience with the show in the past?

Kyra: I’ve always known I was right for Rags…in the same way that every Jewish girl grows up knowing she’ll be in Fiddler on the Roof someday. When I was younger, everyone told me I should learn Rags to play Bella. Then I aged out of the part and stopped paying attention to it. Until a teacher told me, “You should listen to this role because Teresa Stratas sang it.” In my voice lessons, she’s someone I’m told to listen to a lot. I have this opera background and I’m also a musical theatre singer, so roles that sit on that dividing line are the roles I pay attention to. They’re often roles that were played by Julia Migenes, an opera singer who did a lot of musicals. She sang Rebecca on the Rags recording (after Teresa Stratas originated it), and she sang Aldonza in an early production of  The Man of La Mancha,, which is the last role I played. There aren’t that many productions of Rags, so when it gets done somewhere, you jump at the opportunity. And it’s a beautiful score.

Also…I’m not a refugee, but my grandfather and great-grandfathers on both sides fled Eastern Europe in the same time period, for the same reasons, so this show feels close to me. One small thing that resonates for me is her name change. The reason my name is Kyra Miller is because twelve years ago a role came up that I was right for,  and I was having trouble getting an audition, because the role was for an Italian woman. I was told that casting couldn’t believe that I could play an Italian with my real name, Himmelbaum, on my resume. And I was horrified and angry, like, this is in 2005, aren’t we over this yet? This particular role had been originated by an actress with a very Irish last name. So after a lot of hemming and hawing I decided to just use my mom’s maiden name, Miller—against my better judgment, and I don’t know that I’d make the same decision today.

My mom’s family name was actually Gostkowski, but they took Miller at Ellis Island—the family story is that some guy pulled my great-grandfather aside and said, “You’ll have an easier time doing business if you have a different last name.” So he picked Miller.

So I sort of saw it as carrying on a horrible family tradition.


Natalya taking it all in

Syche: Can you describe how it is working with Mariah [the childcare provider] and Natalya being on site?

Kyra: First of all, I’m incredibly grateful to TheatreWorks, for everybody marshaling resources and willingness to have a baby—and a mom—around. People have donated childcare equipment, and we have use of two separate childcare rooms [in the admin offices] while in rehearsal. I’ve talked to [Stage Manager] Randall a couple times when I’ve been late coming back from break because I was nursing, and he’s been so willing to exercise a little forbearance in that regard. Stage managers have such a tough job, so to put another wrinkle into the mix could be a problem, but it hasn’t been. [Director Robert] Kelley stopped me the other day—I had had a 12-hour day because we had a photo shoot before rehearsal started, and he stopped me the next day and said, “You seem tired. You have to tell me when you’re tired.” He’s been so kind, and so willing to have Natalya around.

How it works is I pick up Mariah, and we come to the rehearsal space. I’ve already fed and napped the baby one round in the morning, because we usually start rehearsing early afternoon. Mariah takes her for a walk or gives her lunch, and then on my first break I will see her. When we go back in to the rehearsal room, Mariah and Natalya will go for another walk, or play in the classroom, or have a meal, and then as soon as we’re on our long meal break, I get her, nurse her, and I have to eat. Usually Mariah will try to feed her and change her while I’m rehearsing so I don’t have to do all those things in one little break. It’s only one hour but it’s about an hour and a half worth of tasks and bonding time.


Natalya and Kyra on dinner break

Usually we get our third break around 7:50, and I go get her, nurse her in the quiet office for about 10-15 minutes, and put her down in the pack ‘n’ play. That’s the break I’m usually a little bit late coming back from. Then right as we’re finishing up rehearsal around 9:30, Mariah will transfer her from the pack ‘n’ play into her car seat, which clicks into the stroller. And Natalya has learned to stay asleep through this whole maneuver. We get the car seat into the stroller, put her into the car, we drop Mariah off, and then I get home, get the car seat upstairs into the apartment, and transfer her to her crib…and she stays asleep through the entire thing right now.

Syche: That is amazing.

Kyra: Yeah, it’s incredible. I have a very amenable baby. She’s super social, she loves people, she’s about to crawl, she’s been working on that every day.

tummy time

Tummy time

Syche: You knew she was an amenable baby, right? I mean, if you had a difficult baby would you have even tried to do this?

Kyra: Probably not. I think if I’d had a really colicky baby from the get-go, or trouble nursing, or if it had been my first kid, I might have just been too overwhelmed to even consider this. I really was not auditioning when Sami was first born. I know moms who have, and who did, and when this offer came through, the first thing I did was contact every actress I knew who has a baby, and I asked, “What’s the longest you’ve been apart from your toddler? And have you been apart from your infant?” I got a bunch of different responses, all of them implying that it depends on the kid. But from the minute she was born, Natalya was an easy baby. I recovered from the delivery really easily, my milk came in, she started sleeping well, she didn’t have any stomach issues…it was all just easier than the first time. So I thought, Okay, I can do this. And knock on wood, so far it’s been okay.

Syche: When is your husband bringing Sami?

Kyra: This is something we talked about a lot, because from tech rehearsals [10 out of 12 hours a day] through preview week, I’m just not going to be around a lot. But he said he didn’t want us to be apart for more than 3 ½ weeks. So they’re going to arrive just as we’re finishing tech, and through preview week, I’ll still be busy but she’ll see me sometimes. They fly in on Sunday, and then I have Monday off. At that point, the babysitting will move to our apartment. The baby will only be at the theatre for a few hours a day. That’s the plan. We’ll see how it works in reality. And his job has been so great about letting him write from far away—he writes for The New York Times, so he’s going to be writing remotely for the month of April.

Syche: That is awesome that he can do that. How has Sami been doing, back in New York?

Kyra: She’s been amazing. We’ve had a lot of family support. Jesse has these two aunts who live in England, who we don’t get to see very much, but they decided to come out right before I left, to see me and the baby, and then help Jesse through these couple weeks. So they’ve been there since I left. And Sami is also in school for half the day, and she loves her school. They’ve been really supportive too, helping her get her head around it. It’s a Montessori program, so her teacher was like, “We’ll make a social story for her.” A social story is precisely for something like this: like a parent is going on a business trip, or some other major potentially disruptive event, and you write a story to help the kid get through it. So our story was, We’re all going to California! But Mama and Natalya are going first, and while we’re gone, you’ll hang out with Dada, and Cheryl will still pick you up after school, and you’ll still play with Essie after school every day. And there are pictures of all of this that got laminated and bound together. We started this a couple weeks before I left. And her school totally facilitated that. They helped make the book and they talk about it with her. It’s been really comforting for me too. I wouldn’t say it’s easy. She says things like “I miss Mama and Natalya. I’m going to go put on my shoes and socks and bring them back.”

Syche: Awwww!

Kyra: So it’s definitely hard. I’m probably more weepy than she is.

Syche: Don’t worry, it’s almost over.

Kyra: Right! But I’ve thinking about this. What if this role had come along three years later? It would have been impossible. There would have been zero reason for me to split up the family, and I wouldn’t see either child. And I couldn’t pull them out of school for a month because they’d miss something important, like reading. This is actually the easiest time to do something like this

Syche: Unless it was like, six years ago.

Kyra: Well, that too.

Syche: Will you keep looking for parts in New York? Is this a springboard back onto the stage, but staying closer to home?

Kyra: That was the idea. (Laughs) I really just wanted to work. I miss it. This is my joy. But going forward, it would have to be some pretty special circumstances to get me to leave town again. Leaving is really hard on a family. I’d never say never, but I don’t know exactly what it means going forward. But for now, I get to work again, and that’s great. I’d rather do a great role every few years than do what I believed I was supposed to do at the beginning of my career, which is keep working no matter what.

Syche: Quality over quantity.

Kyra: Exactly. Also, I really feel strongly that TheatreWorks is a model for how theatres need to react to actors being mothers to young children. Fathers too, but mothers more, because we deal with infancy and breastfeeding, and there are certain physical realities that can’t be gotten around. And just a little bit of flexibility on the part of theatre management has enabled this huge change to happen in my life…whereas if you’re adhering very strictly to every equity code and rule and corporate reality, there is no room for that.

The things that I care about as a parent are so different than what I cared about a few years ago. That diversity is important on every level: the people who write the plays, who produce the plays, who design and act in the plays…those people should also be able to have children and still be engaged, just as much as people without children. But I want to emphasize that TheatreWorks has been amazing. It didn’t occur to me to ask for leniency. I was about to turn down the job when I was told, “We have these resources for you.” And it’s partly on actresses to say, “Here’s what I need to be able to do this. And if you believe in me in this part, then maybe you can help me in these ways.”

It’s really important that moms get to participate in the theatre. The budget and people’s minds just need to widen a little bit to make room for us. Or else this whole group of women doesn’t get to participate. And then we lose out on certain kinds of stories that get told, or a quality of storytelling. The arts are about inclusion and exposure to all kinds of stories. If moms aren’t in the room, who knows what we could be missing out on?


For more discussion about mothers in theatre, check out:

Motherhood in the Theatre Part One: Hold My Baby, Homeless Man—I’ve Got An Audition

Where Are the Disappeared Women of the Theatre? (HowlRound)

Children in the Space: A Collaborative Photo Essay on Working Parents in the Theatre