Stepping into Magic: an actor's journey…

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" ~William Shakespeare

Archive for the tag “OSF”

You Never Can Tell: Beginnings…

photo.jpgLook at this cast! Aren’t they all gorgeous? I am sure many of you theatre artists reading this are connected to one or more of these fine folks, because that’s how it works doesn’t it? We are all part of a huge, loving, hard working, kick-ass family of beings who live to tell stories… And here we are beginning a new adventure!

What a treat to be back in the Bay Area, creating some magic in a room with these artists! At the Helm of our Shaw Ship is Lisa Peterson, who was recently named Berkeley Rep’s Associate Director! Her Shavian knowledge, fantastic laugh and sharp eyes keep all of us on our toes as she sculpts our world and our words… This is my first time performing a G.B.S. play and I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone other than Lisa, and did I mention the jaw-dropping setting? The outdoor theatre in the golden Orinda hills and eucalyptus groves is a treat to the senses…

I’ve had many beginnings in The Bay Area… This sunny gray climate has influenced so much hunger and desire and excitement in my continued search for my role(s) as an artist in this world. Walking the streets of San Francisco, Mountain View, and now Oakland and Berkeley have informed my work and I have always been impressed with the tenacity and big heartedness of Bay Area artists, there is a truth that seeps from their every move…

My very first Equity gig was in San Francisco at The Magic Theatre, diving head first into Luis Alfaro’s adaptation of Medea with director Loretta Greco pushing me to the depths of the deep end, day after day. That show began my career as a professional Regional Theatre Actor. In fact, I was in rehearsals for that play when I self taped an audition that booked my first season at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Since then I have traveled to different states to tell stories, standing on various stages, forming lifelong bonds and connections. Two years ago this month, I met my love, Miles Gaston Villanueva in the Bay Area. We laid eyes on each other for the first time in a rehearsal room for the  TheatreWorks production of Water by The Spoonful. That show was the beginning of a creative and loving relationship with an incredible soul, a man who has challenged and loved me through our passion for art and who makes my heart smile…

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Sabina Zuniga Varela as “Yaz” and Miles Gaston Villanueva as “Elliot” in the 2014 Theatre Works production of Water By The Spoonful by Quiara Algeria Hudes. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

On July 26th our wonderful cast and crew celebrated Shaw’s 160th birthday with a potluck after rehearsal. The table was laden with homemade goodies and tasty treats. We sang happy birthday and toasted to the man whose words and thoughts we are beginning to taste and share…

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Happy Birthday! George Bernard Shaw                                                                                                   July 26th, 1856 – November 2nd, 1950 

Tomorrow we have our first run through!

We will begin to piece it all together using our words, bodies, hearts and breath on that rehearsal room floor as we struggle and swim through the four acts of You Never Can Tell. There are big ideas, quick wit, moments of giddiness, tension, desire, confusion and recognition. The language is fast and the thinking is deep. All three women in the play, a mother and her two daughters, are strong in their decisions, words and thoughts. It’s a thrill to begin to explore the complexity of my character Gloria, finding what reminds me of myself, what surprises me, what confuses. She is raised by a very progressive mother, Mrs. Clandon, and has been educated to challenge the norm at that time, as you can read in this exchange that happens in Act One:

McCOMAS. You hold to your old opinions still?

MRS. CLANDON. As firmly as ever.

McCOMAS. Bless me! And you are still ready to make speeches in public, in spite of your sex (Mrs. Clandon nods); to insist on a married woman’s right to her own separate property (she nods again); to champion Darwin’s view of the origin of species and John Stuart Mill’s essay on Liberty (nod); to read Huxley, Tyndall and George Eliot (three nods); and to demand University degrees, the opening of the professions, and the vote for women as well as men?

MRS. CLANDON (resolutely). Yes: I have not gone back one inch; and I have educated Gloria to take up my work where I left it.

While rehearsing this play I am drawing on the strong women that I have been exposed to and influenced by in my life: my mother Maria Varela, Gloria Steinem, Ella Baker, Sandra Cisneros, Winona LaDuke, Chavela VargasFrida Kahlo… the list goes on and on (Click on each name for videos to hear their words and see their faces.) Each of these women have challenged what was expected of them, they’ve created, they’ve fought, they’ve spoken up, they’ve resisted. Many of them have not stopped, they continue to shed light on issues at hand and persist in the struggle. They began and I must continue….

I thought of these strong women, and the women in our play, as I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton accept the nomination at the DNC this week. We are working on themes that are very timely with the historic nomination of the first woman as the presidential candidate for a major party in our country: Feminism, Marriage, The New Woman, Family, Convention, Relationships, Class, The Life-Force and Love. Regardless of any qualms with Hillary, this is a moment in history, or should I say Herstory…. (BTW, if you missed any of the DNC speeches check them out HERE on C-Span!)

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Center: Maria Varela Clockwise from top left: Frida Kahlo, Ella Baker, Chavela Vargas, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Winona LaDuke, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Steinem.

George Bernard Shaw wrote his women well, after all his mother Bessie was quite intriguing and his childhood was a trip to say the least…. I am learning more about his mother and the beginnings of Shaw’s search for his calling in a highly recommended biography by Michael Holroyd: Bernard Shaw, Vol.1:18:56-1898-The Search for Love, I am hoping to finish it by the end of the run…

So, on the last day of this month we begin the head-first dive into the deep end of our play with our first run through. It’s absolutely terrifying and thrilling at the same time, this work we do. We are traveling through an abyss of stakes, cues, props, music, dancing, connecting, entrances, exits, all in the search for what we love: telling stories.

And next week, we begin Tech…

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Goodnight Sweet Lizzy…

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1970 OSF Elizabethan Closing Ceremony

“…Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep…”

Prospero, The Tempest, Act IV Sc. 1

 On a chilly Sunday night, October 13, 2013, I was blessed to participate in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Closing Ceremony for the Elizabethan Theatre, a tradition that has been performed since 1952. Just before the final show of the outdoor season concludes with their curtain call, OSF company members gather in the green room. Eating cake, mingling and watching the final moments of Midsummer Night’s Dream I looked around and noticed some people who I had never met, others whose work I’ve seen on and off stage, and those with whom I shared dressing rooms and stages. There was a buzz in the air, mostly because we just witnessed OSF company member Brent Hinkley die at least a dozen times as Nick Bottom performing Pyramus for Hippolyta and Theseus. Finally we got the signal to quietly head upstairs to the backstage area of the Elizabethan, making sure we did not get in the way of the Midsummer cast who had to exit then re-enter for curtain call.

 I grabbed the arm of  Wilma Bonet, fellow cast-mate from Tenth Muse, and we were swept up in the crowd that gathered to collect little tea light candles placed in cups with sand. We awaited stage left to enter through the casement as soon as the actors exited the stage from curtain call. We entered as Nolan Peard played Greensleeves on the Cello, the stage lights on in a blue dim, the audience awaiting quietly. We streamed into the aisles, surrounding the audience with candlelight as the Midsummer cast filled the stage and left an opening up center for Tony DeBruno.

It is tradition that the actor who recites Prospero’s speech is a company member who has been with OSF for quite sometime and will not be returning the following season. Knowing this, and knowing I was not returning brought a certain weight to the ceremony for me. Hearing these words, looking out over the audience, looking up at the stars and looking upon the candlelit faces of my fellow members, I realized what an honor it is to be a part of this family. After Tony concluded the speech with a bow the company members hummed one last bar of Greensleeves with the Cello and on cue blew out all of our candles as the lights went out. Thus, we put to sleep our dear Lizzy for this season, the outdoor stage that brings wonder and awe to all who visit her, especially to we few who get to play on her stage.

Goodnight sweet Elizabeth, I will see you again…

To watch a video I made to commemorate this evening click HERE!

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