Newsletter — October 2015


Artistic Director’s Corner

Storm HS 1510 smallIt’s always so hard to figure out what I should write about in these Artistic Director’s Corners, but as I was leaving the theatre tonight I thought, “wait a minute, why don’t you ask the people who read the newsletter”. So if you have things about theater that you wonder about send those queries in to me at I could use the help figuring out what to write about.

The other thing I was thinking about tonight as I was leaving the theatre, is how good The Seafarer will be and the fact that we probably won’t have anyone from the press see it or write about it. It is a conundrum. I don’t know if all Artistic Directors have this problem (they probably do, but perhaps in different ways), but for a while I was trying to pick shows that the press would come to see. Because if we get that little man jumping out of his seat in the Chronicle it can and has (for certain companies) changed everything. Although last season I probably made a mistake with Escanaba in da Moonlight as the reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle laughed for 2 straight hours (five different audience members confirmed this fact) and then he wrote a review that said “it probably plays better in its home state”. Well if it does, people will be dying of laughter in Michigan whenever it is produced.

But I realized during Fire Work that it doesn’t matter if the press comes because they have such a difficult time understanding what we are doing here (and how well we are doing it) at TheatreFIRST and they don’t place any value in the fact that we are hanging with the wealthiest theatre companies in Berkeley and beyond, but we are producing on 1/50th of the budget and half the rehearsal time. I got tired of that. And even though it is risky for an Artistic Director to take a chance on upsetting the press I just felt a change was in order. So, this year we are doing a season “for the people” if you will. And I was struck by the power of that notion watching the lads rehearse The Seafarer tonight. While this production is, of course, not a TheatreFIRST show it has a lot of the same elements in play.

Our audiences are constantly growing at Live Oak Theatre and that is a wonderful thing. We are very lucky. This year I kind of went back to the model we had in Oakland, which was “we are going to produce shows that we know are great, with local actors (most of whom we know well, while still bringing new blood into the mix) and plays that we know are within our means. In other words, we would not pick a play just because we like it and then “hope” we can produce a good show. You would be surprised how many companies pick plays they like without thinking about whether they can do a good job and provide you with a quality night of theatre. Theatre can’t make a difference in people’s lives if it is not produced well. Unless, of course, you have a LOT of marketing dollars (which is why Berkeley Rep has 14 people in its marketing department, but shhhh…you didn’t hear it from me!)

I call it “stand and deliver acting” where it’s just a group of talented artists telling a great story and doing it well. The Seafarer will fit this bill completely and I’m so glad that TheatreFIRST agreed to provide start-up company, Hawkmoon Theatre Company, with a home for its first show. TheatreFIRST is proud to be helping new companies get their start, something those wealthier companies should be doing, but for some reason don’t.


Producers Read for Stop Kiss, by Diana Son

Our Producers Read for Glengarry Glen Ross was so successful we are doing it again for Stop Kiss. Mark your calendars, Monday December 14th at the Berkeley City Club. You won’t want to miss it! Unless of course you like to see the show fresh and with no knowledge of how the story progresses because the Producers Read is a reading of the full script. Additional details to be available soon.

Recommended Production, Arctic Requiem

Damon K Sperber as Luke, Gendell Hernandez as Raven, Photo by Vicky Victoria

Sharmon J. Hilfinger and Joan McMillen, creators of Hanging Georgia, which premiered with TheatreFIRST, have a new play with music, Arctic Requiem: The Story of Luke Cole and Kivalina, which opened on October 25th at Z Below. This is the true story of the first climate change refugees in the United States and San Francisco lawyer Luke Cole’s response to their plight. Michael Torres, who appeared in Glengarry Glenn Ross, stars as one of the Kivalina villagers.

The Seafarer, by Conor McPherson Produced by Hawkmoon Theatre Company

Hawkmoon Theatre Company is reporting that ticket sales are ramping up for its inaugural production, The Seafarer by Conor McPherson. One of Ireland’s hottest playwrights and Tony Award Winner for Best Play, Conor McPherson delivers a dynamite piece of theatre. And Hawkmoon has some Bay Area stars fleshing out the cast, two of which are Artistic Associates with TheatreFIRST, Clive Worsley (Stones in His Pockets) and Kevin Karrick (Stones in His Pockets, Escanaba in da Moonlight, Glengarry Glen Ross).

A hilarious comedy by one of Ireland’s best playwrights Conor McPherson, The Seafarer is set on Christmas Eve in Baldoyle, a coastal suburb north of Dublin City. The play centers on James “Sharky” Harkin who attempts to stay off the bottle during the holidays as he contends with his irascible brother Richard and his own haunted conscience, but Richard is committed to celebrating the season with a cast of quirky and endearing characters. One by one the party grows and the ensuing card game has life or death ramifications due to the addition of a mysterious stranger from Sharky’s past. Nominated for multiple Tony Awards as well as the Laurence Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Play, The Seafarer promises to be the high point of your holiday season entertainment.


“…dark and enthralling Christmas fable of despair and redemption…tingles with the author’s acute and authentic sense of what is knowable and unknowable in life…the pick me up play of the season.”
The New York Times

“…a midnight-black comedy, one that wrenches laughter out of the despair of frustrated men whose lives have come to naught… No matter what you expect at the halfway mark, you won’t feel cheated when the curtain falls.”
The Wall Street Journal

“A timeless classic.”
The Hollywood Reporter

Put a little Irish Christmas comedy under your tree this holiday season! Tickets are on sale now here.

Actor Interview With Don Wood of The Seafarer

How did you get started in acting?

In 1959 I was in the Cub Scouts. I was 8 years old. We did a skit. I was so shy I did it with my back to the audience. The in 1972 when I was in the Navy, 21 years old, I did a “Laugh In” type skit under the Pacific on the submarine U.S.S. Henry Clay. Later, in 1980 at Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts when I was 29 years old I took a beginning acting class.

What are some of the things you like most about being an actor?

You meet the nicest people and many of them remain friends. And I like that moment in rehearsal when the words start lifting off the page and you can start looking around and living in the story.

What are some of the strangest things about being an actor?

The act of stuffing words into my head frequently. Not remembering many of those words a month after a show is over.

What is the strangest moment you have had on stage?

I was in an Athol Fugard play at the Central YMCA in San Francisco. Every evening at the same time, a bat flew down from the rafters, circled around the actors for about 15 seconds, and flew back up into the darkness. Twenty five shows that bat never missed an entrance.

What is your most memorable moment on stage?

Acting in the first play in 1980. And it was theatre in the round. A heady mixture of excitement and terror. And fun.

Who are some of the people who inspired you to become an actor?

My mother. She took me to plays when I was a kid and let me stay up after my bedtime to watch Lee J. Cobb in Death of a Salesman. I was just excited to stay up late at the time. Another one is Howard Singer, who taught my first acting class and cast me in my first play.

Who are some of your favorite actors?

Too many to count. Here’s 10: Robert Duvall, Walter Huston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Murray, Grace Zabriskie, Toni Collette, Tom Hardy, Ray Winstone, Brenda Blethyn, and Timothy Spall.