To say Jeffrey Lo wears many hats would be an understatement. Not only is he the casting director of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, he’s also the director of The Language Archive and a playwright in his own right. “I’ve been fortunate to hold many roles at TheatreWorks,” Lo said, “and the joke is by the time my new business cards get printed, I’ve already changed titles.” I had the pleasure of speaking with Lo over the phone as he headed into tech rehearsal for The Language Archive, which opened July 10.
Danielle Mohlman: Can you share a little bit about The Language Archive? What drew you to this play initially? And why this play now?
Jeffrey Lo: You know, The
Language Archive is a play that I have actually been trying to get the
chance to direct for about ten years.
Yeah. I find this play to be one the most beautifully written
pieces of theatre I have ever come across. It’s a play about both the beauty
and possibility of language, but also the limitation of language. It’s about allowing
human beings, as messy as we are, to express ourselves and share how we’re
feeling with one another.
And I find that to be so beautiful. So much of this play lives in this world of beautiful coincidences and things happening for a reason. And I think that me getting the opportunity to do The Language Archive now, as opposed to any other time in the ten years that I’ve been chomping at the bit to work on this play, lands in line with that “everything happens for a reason” theme. The first time I ever saw a staged reading of a play was a workshop reading of this play—while it was still in development.
I was still an undergraduate aspiring playwright and director at
UC Irvine. And I just found myself in awe of the language and in awe of the
process of a stage reading. I had never seen that before. There was a
playwright in the back, Julia Cho, who was taking her notes and revising things
as she was going. And there was a group of actors who had three rehearsals
beforehand and were just beautifully performing this intense language on stage
for us. And I was just in awe of it.
After I finished college, I had my directing apprenticeship at the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival and they were doing The Language Archive. So I ended up getting to observe and
assistant direct that play and Julia Cho was in the room there. And I fell in
love with that play all over again. This was in 2011, maybe my first or second
professional theatre job out of college. And it was a time where, outside of
school, I had interacted with very few artists of color. That experience working
with Laurie Woolery, who is a Latinx director, and the way she mentored me, the
way she spoke to me really made me feel like I belonged.
It’s one of those things where everything about The Language Archive has just made it so I have to direct it. And to be able to do that as the first show of the 50th season at TheatreWorks—the final season of Robert Kelley, who I have worked for basically my entire professional career—it’s a real honor.
I rambled. I’m so sorry.
No, that’s really beautiful. All of that was so wonderful. You have such a long history with this play. I’m like, oh my god, can I come see this play?
Oh, please do. Please do.
What is it about TheatreWorks that keeps you coming back? I don’t want to put the words “artistic home” in your mouth, but you did say that like you’ve been there your whole professional career, so what is it that keeps you engaged in TheatreWorks and excited to come to work every day?
I’ve learned that TheatreWorks’ culture is rare. I didn’t know this until I started to work as a freelancer at other theatres, but so much of what draws me to TheatreWorks is the culture that our Founding Artistic Director Robert Kelley has created. I don’t think he ever imagined TheatreWorks was going to become as large as it is today. I don’t think that he ever imagined that, fifty years later, he was going to be on stage at Radio City Music Hall holding up the Regional [Theatre] Tony Award. He really runs this company as just a group of friends just wanting to put on some plays. And as the company has continued to grow, although there’s a lot more paperwork, that feeling of we’re just buddies trying to put on some art that we feel passionate about is still tangible within the room. And I think that’s what keeps me coming back. Because I now know that that’s not how it always works out.
I’m sure people ask you this all the time, but it’s easy to think about Silicon Valley as this tech magnet. But I know that it’s so much more. How do you marry the startup and tech culture of Silicon Valley with the artistry and exploration of theatre in your work?
I’m born and raised in the Bay Area and it’s pretty wild
to see how quickly it’s changed. I think once we’re able to engage folks who
work in the tech and startup industry, that’s going to allow our art to
flourish even more than it already is. But having said that, I like to think
that I run my rehearsal room in a way that the most exciting—and safest—tech
startups seem to work. I want all of my artists [to] feel like rehearsal is a
safe place to take your biggest risks, to be as creative as possible. That way,
we can find the most interesting ideas together.
Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American Theatre, The Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.
For their summer
concert, the Seattle Men’s Chorus (SMC) commemorates Stonewall’s 50th
anniversary with pop music of the 1960s and a commissioned work. Executive Director
Steven F. Smith promises the Summer of 69
concert will be full of chart-topping
and culture-defining songs to send its audience dancing out the door.
Rosemary Jones: The summer of 1969 may have been called “The Summer of Love”, but it was also a summer of profound social change. What do you think were the most pivotal events that summer?
Steven Smith: Music events like Woodstock might have been part of a culture of love and openness for certain folks, but I think 1969 was about the distillation of righteous anger and action. Stonewall was a flash point for the simmering rage and frustration against discrimination in the LGBT community but it did not happen in isolation. At the same time, Vietnam War protests and rampant racial discrimination were roiling the country. The country was angry. What was pivotal was the need for change from the status quo.
How do the songs selected for this concert
reflect what was happening beneath the surface, as well as the headline-making
We wanted to
explore the sense of division and “coming-apartness” in the country at that
time. In addition to Stonewall, you had “hippies” and war protesters descending
on Woodstock, Nixon’s law and order campaign, and the unifying wonder of the
first moon landing. If you turned on the radio in 1969, the “Top 40” pop music
of the day reflected that culture clash in a way that you don’t hear today.
We’ve got the funk of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” juxtaposed
with Frank Sinatra’s old school “My Way.” And Neil Diamond’s ultimate
sing-along “Sweet Caroline” and Marvin Gaye’s iconic “I Heard it Through the
Grapevine.” The music reflects the convergence of culture, sex, identity and
politics in a way that began to redefine America.
The concert also includes the new musical
work “Quiet No More.” Can you describe this piece?
It’s a suite of
music theatre style songs commissioned by more than 20 LGBT choruses around the
country, including SMC, for this 50th anniversary of Stonewall. It’s a bit of
history and a bit of forward-looking inspiration to continue the fight for
equality. Because the patrons of the Stonewall Inn (who became victims of
police brutality during the uprising) were gay and lesbian and trans folk and
people of color, we found diverse composers who reflected these identities to
create a collection of songs about what happened during the riot, what it felt
like and how it has inspired and reverberated in our community since then.
What’s the one song that you can’t get out of your head after listening to rehearsals?
For the finale we
wanted a sense of celebration and unity, so the classic Edwin Hawkins’ gospel
song “Oh Happy Day” has had me dancing and swaying all week. It’s timeless and
Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish Magazine, Capitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.
Dammiel Cruz, Miles Pertl and Kiyon C. Ross aren’t yet household names, but they will be. Cruz joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 2016 and was promoted to the corps de ballet later that same year. Pertl joined PNB as a corps de ballet dancer in 2015 after being a corps de ballet member at both Stuttgart Ballet in Germany and Het Nationale Ballet in the Netherlands. And Ross joined PNB in 2001, the very same year he created his first piece of choreography. He’s been the NEXT STEP program manager at PNB since 2012, a position he held simultaneously with his career as a soloist at PNB before retiring from dance in 2015.
these three represent the past, present and future of choreography at the
Pacific Northwest Ballet and beyond. And because we have sunshine on the brain,
we wanted to talk to them about their experience choreographing for the
outdoors and how performances like Sculptured Dance (2016–2017) and NEXT STEP: OUTSIDE/IN
(2018–present) affect the way they choreograph.
Danielle Mohlman: How does choreographing for an outdoor performance compare to choreographing for a more traditional theatre space?
choreographer for the 2019 NEXT STEP: OUTSIDE/IN: Choreographing for an
outdoor setting can be very different. Luckily a lot of the movement involved
in my piece can be easily performed outside. Sometimes dancing on concrete or
grass can limit one’s ability to turn well. Either way, I believe dancing outside
is a great way to get more of the community involved in the arts!
choreographer of Riding the Wave for
the 2018 NEXT STEP: OUTSIDE/IN: Dancing outside
offers the dancers and the choreographers a completely different experience.
The audience is so close that you can hear every “Oooh,” every sigh, every
chuckle. This is a stark contrast to dancing on the stage at McCaw Hall where
the audience appears as a black void, only making themselves known by their
applause at the end of the performance. Before OUTSIDE/IN, I had danced in both
of the first two years’ iterations of Sculptured Dance and fell in love with
it. I was exposed to choreographers I had never worked with, met amazing
dancers from our city and got to dance outside and mingle with those watching.
It was so cool!
Kiyon C. Ross, choreographer of Do.
Not. Obstruct. for the 2016 Sculptured Dance: When choreographing
for traditional spaces, I know generally what
I have to work with. There’s usually a square space with a number of wings for
entrances and exits. Sometimes there’s a space for dancers to cross over behind
the cyclorama. And usually there’s a curtain—and at the very least top lighting
and side lighting. Creating a site-specific work requires the same level of
planning, preparation and creative process as choreographing for the stage. But
being in a space already occupied by art (like the Olympic Sculpture Park) and
using that art as an inspiration, is unforgettable. I certainly had to approach
the site-specific commission with flexibility. But that flexibility allowed me
to find new ways of expressing movement. It forced me to consider bodies in
space in ways that were completely unorthodox to me.
What was your most
joyful experience choreographing for Sculptured Dance?
Ross: The most joyful
experience for me was being able to share my art with so many people. Making
art accessible and approachable is extremely important—especially for an art
form like dance. Sometimes going to the theatre can create barriers for people,
both economically and socially. Having art in your community where you live and
being able to access it with your friends and neighbors is a meaningful
experience. Seeing the faces in the crowds—and seeing people take a moment from
riding their bikes, walking their dogs or their evening strolls to appreciate
dance in a space that is meant to be shared by everyone—is certainly a
cherished memory from this experience.
PNB’s outdoor performances
are free to the community. Talk to me about the importance of accessible art in
Cruz: I absolutely love
that PNB’s outdoor performances are free of charge. I believe it’s incredibly
important to have accessible art not only in our community, but communities
everywhere because it gives the opportunity for all minds to be inspired. Art
provides an outlet for people to express themselves.
Pertl: Art doesn’t need to feel high-minded or elite. By providing accessible art,
we provide a place where our entire community can gather. Each one of us gets
bogged down with work, school and personal drama. But when you come to an event
like OUTSIDE/IN or any of the other events around our city, you are entering a
place of community and shared experience. You get a glimpse into the artists’
lives and their experience might mirror your own. Many of the artists I know
are creating art not for the money, but for the opportunity to share it with
This Dialogue has been
excerpted and lightly edited from three separate interviews, all conducted in
Danielle Mohlmanis a nationally produced feminist playwright and arts journalist based in Seattle. Her play Nexus is among the 2015 Honorable Mentions on The Kilroys list. She is an alumnus of the inaugural class of Playwrights’ Arena at Arena Stage and the 2018 Umbrella Project Writers Group.
For her debut at
Book-It Repertory Theatre, Anjelica McMillan plays Neni Jonga, a recent
immigrant to the United States, in Behold
know McMillan from her work at Theater Schmeater, Annex Theatre and The Horse
in Motion, among others. We talked to her about what it was like to portray
both the character and the text of Imbolo
Mbue’s award-winning novel.
Rosemary Jones: How would you describe
Anjelica McMillan: I’ve
seen a lot of Book-It
plays and always really enjoyed them. I thought they did good work and
especially work that addresses controversial topics. It’s important for a theatre
to open new perspectives. I saw the recited narrative as a Brechtian device*,
not to take you out of the play but to remind you that you are watching a piece
of theatre and that what is happening isn’t necessarily happening. That can be
a comfort if something is intense.
Has acting in a Book-It show changed
Now that I’ve been working with Myra [Platt, the director and adapter for Behold the Dreamers], I know that she thinks of the narrative as an inner monologue. That’s new for me—to be speaking my inner monologue out loud. Also having to find a specific object to give that narrative to, not necessarily talking to [the] audience and breaking the fourth wall for them.
This novel seems like it addresses
issues that we’re all discussing now.
It is very timely
because of the immigration issues in our country right now. I think back to Welcome to Braggsville (2017). That was
the show that made me want to work with Book-It. Because that dealt with the
controversy of racism in such an interesting way.
Does the characters’ race or status as
immigrants matter the most in this story?
I think the piece
speaks more to immigration than it does about race. The big question is whether
or not Jende will achieve his green card and they will be able to stay. There
are some interesting parallels to some black experience in this country—they
end up working for a wealthy white family, which could happen to any black
family. Beyond those parallels, you do see some micro-aggressions from the
How would you describe your character?
Neni is fearless. She
is somebody who sees the world as her oyster. She sees anything is possible
because she is no longer living under the burden of her family telling [her] what
she can do. She’s also changed by what happens. She gets to the States with
this innocence and that changes. She also gains an inner strength.
Would you describe yourself as a
similar person or different from Neni?
I am kind of a shy, reserved person. I would be much more likely to see myself as not qualified for a job. I can shortchange myself. Neni never does that! She doesn’t have any sense of why couldn’t she do that. She’s exuberant and full of life and energy. In preparation for playing someone like that, I obviously re-read the book and continue to re-read and highlight certain passages. I’m learning to be more free in my body, to embody that youth and exuberance that she has. I’m having a lot of fun playing her and being able channel that energy.
What do you want the audience to
understand about Neni?
That Neni is a strong
woman, and that she wants to be an independent, strong, interesting African
woman. To have a glimpse of what people in Cameroon are like. People assume
that everyone in Africa is poor and think of Africa as one nation. There is so
much more to Africa. Also to see that certain truths are universal. As they see the characters, they
will find something in common with these people. It’s important to
consider issues of immigration and how we treat immigrants in this country.
What’s your favorite moment as Neni?
I really enjoy
playing her right after Jende gets hired. She is so excited about him starting
a new job and just peppers him—she showers him with questions like confetti. It’s
a fun scene to play. They’re just recently married so there’s this joy that
comes from being in a new marriage and living a dream—it’s fun to play that
scene with Sylvester [Foday Kamara, actor who plays Jende Jonga].
*A Brechtian device is
a technique to distance the audience from emotional involvement in the play
through reminders of the artificiality of the performance. Coined by German dramatist
Bertolt Brecht. Also called the alienation effect or distancing effect.
Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish Magazine, Capitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s final show of the
season, Themes & Variations,
marks the return of Price Suddarth’s Signature
to McCaw Hall. The PNB soloist created this piece for PNB’s mainstage
repertory in 2015, and it conveys the same fabulous energy that Suddarth has
brought to his dance performances in Seattle since 2010. It’s also a highly
personal piece crafted from the friendships and knowledge of the company’s
dancers that only a true insider could have.
Jones: How does your career as a dancer influence your choreography for Signature?
Price Suddarth: As a choreographer my movement
style is extremely physical—likely stemming from my own similar movement
quality as a dancer currently. In the studio, I begin within the confines of
the classical ballet vocabulary, then begin to operate beyond it by developing
and “stretching” the physicality within each step. Through this extreme
physicality it is possible to research notions like kinetic energy—how it flows
through the body and how to demonstrate that to an audience. In the end the
desired effect would give the viewer a sense that the dancer is both fighting
hard to shape their movements while also being blown through the air like a
leaf in the wind.
Signature gives every
dancer a distinct movement—their signature style as it were—and you spoke at
the time about how connected the choreography was to your work with these
dancers in the past. Did you need to adjust anything in the choreography for
the 2019 presentation?
In the creation of Signature every section had its own specific theme, largely
influenced by the original cast. Coming back to it now I’ve been adjusting and
tweaking to tailor these sections to the current dancers while also preserving
the original intent. I always say there are 16 members of the cast—15 dancers
and myself. While some dancers are new, there are some returning as well as
myself. The changes in the piece correspond with those that have happened in
the dancers themselves as well as in myself as a person and choreographer over
the past few years.
The music is
gorgeous and references Vivaldi while actually being an original composition for
Signature. How did you work with
composer Barret Anspach to achieve this?
Barret Anspach and I corresponded over a two-year period brainstorming how to incorporate Vivaldi music into a new composition and also how to tailor it to dance. Barret is the brother of a former PNB company member so luckily the language of ballet was not an entirely foreign concept to him.
it important for the music to sound familiar to the audience?
was my first introduction to the larger Seattle audience as a
choreographer, I wanted to make a statement of who I am. I wanted there to be elements of the whole
show that were easily recognizable, demonstrating a common starting place where
I would jump from. My movement goes
beyond classical ballet vocabulary thus the music needed to start from a place
of understanding and then push past.
Where do you
see your career as a choreographer going?
I can’t exactly be sure what’s next. Over the last
five years since the premiere I’ve been working with various companies around
the country as a choreographer. I’ve been greatly influenced by many different
styles and many different voices in various environments. As a result, I’ve
found a strong push to develop a very specific choreographic voice to call my
own. I’d love to bring that back to
harder: standing in the wings waiting to dance or sitting in the audience waiting
for a piece that you choreographed to be performed?
I’m one hundred percent more nervous waiting for a
piece of mine to be performed than preparing to dance myself. There’s something
terrifying about giving up all control—even just for 30 minutes between
curtains. No matter how much trust you have in your dancers there will always
be that brief moment where you can’t do anything and are forced into a passive
role while you watch your very personal idea be placed on display for 3,000
people to see.
Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish Magazine, Capitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.
During a workshop
of Kiss My Aztec! in New York City this March, Artistic Associate and Assistant
Dramaturg Katie Craddock huddled up with John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone in a
wee writing studio to learn about the inspiration for this show, the political
function of comedy, and their creative partnership.
Katie Craddock: John, where did the idea for this piece
John: I wanted to create a space for our Latin stories, in the same humorous way I’d seen on Broadway with shows like Spamalot and in movies like Blackadder. The general public doesn’t know a lot about Aztec history—for instance, the Aztecs had libraries full of extensive codices, but many were burned by colonizers. Erasing history was (and is) a means of controlling a people.
Tony: When we were auditioning actors for this show, it
was really depressing to me how many people had the same two or three shows on
their résumés. It was a clear reminder of the paucity of Latin work, and it’s
horrifying—there’s no established assumption yet that this work should be done.
So you find yourself carving a new pathway, and John’s obviously done a
brilliant job of insisting on that—in an inviting way. His genius is that he
has found a voice and built a comic relationship with people across many
backgrounds that wanna hear from him.
John: And Tony’s been my accomplice. I love working with
Tony because he’s a beast for storytelling and narrative; there aren’t too many
people on the planet as passionate and obsessed about proper storytelling as Tony.
Also, he’s half Puerto Rican. That is so exciting for me—I wanna reach in there
and grab that Puerto Rican in him, and tell him that he’s okay.
Tony: That’s a real thing for me. I started unconsciously pursuing Latin work about 15 years ago. Susie [Medak, Berkeley Rep’s managing director] pointed it out—she said, “Do you realize how much Latin work you’re doing? Your dormant Puerto Rican genes are blooming here.” But it was working on Latin History forMorons that drove me to make a conscious effort to examine my past, and actually research it. I went back to my mother and relatives and took their oral histories. It’s part of my heritage that could be lost—I need to recapture it and understand where I’m coming from. The pressure on my mother to assimilate was immense. She’s 92 years old and teaches Spanish to this day, but her upbringing was about trying to get in there with white people to succeed.
John: That’s what happens. I grew up in the hood, and
all my friends were Latin and Black, but then when I got to college I was like,
“Oh my God, I sound different than everybody, I talk different, I have
different vernacular, and slang. I need to un-ghetto myself if I’m gonna
succeed. ’Cause obviously I rub people the wrong way, and I just stand out too
much.” But then I went to auditions and I’m like, “Wait a minute. They want me
to be a gang leader, a drug lord, a janitor, or the killer in the episode.” And
I’m like, “Wait a minute! I just went through this whole process of
assimilating as hard as I could.” So quickly I learned that it didn’t matter
how hard I worked, I would not be cast as lawyers or doctors.
Tony: Is that how your solo shows were born?
John: Absolutely. I thought, “Where are the Latin stories?
Why aren’t we anywhere?” I needed to make material for myself. ’Cause I knew we
were funny, I knew we were intellectual. I knew we had great stories to tell: present,
past. So that became my life’s work. You ask yourself, “Why does this matter?
What am I doing to change culture?”
This is a piece you are writing but not performing in. Is
that something that you knew early on?
John: No, I was writing it for myself originally,
about 10 years ago. It was a play then, not a musical. It wasn’t gaining traction.
They said it was “funny, but, Aztecs?” They just didn’t get it. I had a lot of
stories like that. Stories about Latin culture had no traction in Hollywood or
TV. They just couldn’t get it.
How did you decide to not act in it?
John: Well, when it became a musical I was like, “I’m
out.” I mean I’ve got an amazing voice, except for pitch or melody; otherwise
you’d love to hear me.
Why did you make it a musical?
John: I think the impetus was Spamalot. The
way they turned Holy Grail into a musical made me think, “Wow, maybe I
can do that with my Aztec piece.” But then I realized I can’t write music, and
started working with Benjamin [Velez] and David [Kamp], who can.
Tony: But the sensibility of a lot of the music comes
from John—the comic spirit we’re tapping.
John: And you. Tony wants songs to move the plot
forward. When I first started writing the musical I thought songs were like in
an opera; they could just reveal the unconscious, or just be about emotion that
you didn’t see. But it can’t—
Tony: In a musical you have to keep the momentum.
It’s a difficult art form. The many elements have to feed each other…and we are
trying to write a nontraditional musical. It’s a crazy new hybrid. There’s more
book than usual, and we’re doing this Elizabethan/urban slang combination—this
colliding of worlds. ’Cause it’s set in the 16th century.
What do you find exciting or useful about that
combination of period and modern language?
John: I wanted to create an Elizabethan patois. A Shakespearian language with ghetto slang. I love it in my ear—that juxtaposition. I’ve always loved slang, American vernaculars, and urbanisms. I grew up with that, and love hearing it combined with the Elizabethan language.
Are you hoping bridging that linguistic gap will make
people draw parallels between the 16th century and now?
Tony: We never lose the sensibility that we are in the present day watching a theatrical event.The frame of the show breaks the fourth wall; it’s a company of actors saying, “We’re both sharing this same world with all its contradictions, challenges, fucked-up-ness, and beauty. And we are all gonna now look at what happened back in 1540.” We’re always trying to make the audience connect it to their own experience today. A lot of the contradictions and injustices are the same, which is depressing.
John: I mean, yes, things haven’t moved as far as
we’d like, but we have to remember that progress is never linear—it goes
backwards and forward, it’s not steady.
Tony: Yeah. I’ve only been alive in this period of
time, but it seems to me from studying history that—
John: Oh you’re much older than you let on, come on. Didn’t
you actually polish Cortés’ helmet?
Tony: What a bastard.
John: Yeah, Tony’s drawing from personal experience when
we’re talking about the conquest.
Tony: Exactly. Oh, the horses were brutal. What was I
You were talking about history.
Tony: Right. We tend to fall victim to mini cycles of
our experience. Trump is elected, so we think, “Oh my God, there’s been no
progress. We’re back to square one.” But that’s not really true historically,
as John was saying. There is a war going on now. But our sensibility tends to
be dominated by the present moment and we forget that if we look back at
history, there’s always a struggle.
John: We progress and we regress.
Tony: It’s an ebb and flow. But hopefully the ebb
doesn’t take us so far back that we can’t return from it.
On that rather dark note—this piece is full of outrageous
humor, but it’s about a murderous oppression and attempted erasure of a people.
It’s relentlessly silly, but makes powerful assertions about identity and resilience.
Why is it important for you to be telling this dark story with humor?
how I grew up, so that’s my sensibility. I had a very difficult upbringing, and
humor was the thing that saved me and my family. And I think part of why I grew
up that way is a consequence of the conquest. Like when I even look at some of
the violent games that we played in Queens—Hot Peas and Butter, Manhunt, and Knuckles—they’re
all games brought on from the conquest. There was such abuse of people, and
abuse of families and children. So, I wanted to create this dark world, but
also assert that there’s always hope. No matter how dark it is, no matter who
the president is, and how much he’s trying to destroy decency and respect of
others, it’s still a great time where women are rising in power and Latin
people are getting their due. We elected many women, including Latina women,
into office in the midterms. A lot of great things are happening even in this
a perfect answer, John. The more personal answer for me is that I was the class
clown because I had a massive speech impediment. I could not talk in complete
sentences until I was in seventh grade. Being funny was the way out—the way to
be liked. So I married that personal experience to a worldview. I realized comedy
could invite people to look past their own prejudices, and that became part of
my aesthetic. Look at Dario Fo—an amazing, political Italian comic who won the Nobel
Prize [in 1997 because he “emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging
authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”]. Read his acceptance speech—it
was very controversial that a clown won the fucking Nobel Prize, but he was a
major political thinker using comedy to make people pay attention.
Tell me about the show’s range of musical genres.
wanted a broad bandwidth of Latin music—the salsa, Latin freestyle, merengue,
reggaeton, cumbia, as many of the beautiful aspects of Latin music as we could
squeeze in, and the dances that come with them. We even throw a tango in there.
Our music is everywhere these days. Cardi B is Dominican, and she’s the highest
selling female rapper in the world. You got Bruno Mars, he’s Puerto Rican, and
he’s doing the pop thing. And then you got Camila Cabello, she’s Cuban and
she’s doing a more Latin R&B sound. Latin music goes everywhere, and so
that’s what we try to cover, though it’s impossible to completely achieve—the A
to Z of Latin music.
What are each of your favorite genres of Latinx music?
John: There are many styles that I love, but in
particular la Sonora Matancera. They’re a Cuban/Afro-Cuban group that started
in the 1920s—they made Cuban music that permeated Latin America. They were
incredible crooners and wrote beautiful love songs.
Tony: Salsa, ’cause of my mom. Tito Puente was my
John: No! Oh my God, you’re illustrious.
What would your mothers think of this show?
Tony: Well, our mothers get along famously. My mother
loves everything I do because I’m doing it.
John: I’ve been a huge pain in my mom’s ass trying to
get her to understand the culture she came from, to help her understand her
indigenous roots. Every time she sees my pieces, she learns something about
herself and the culture she came from, and it’s great ’cause then she
influences her friends.
Which character in the show do you most identify with?
John: It’s gotta be Pepe; he’s the artist saying,
“Look, we matter, we count.”
Tony: Yeah, it’s the guy who’s trying to be funny and
popular, but he’s doing all the wrong things.
John: We don’t win at basketball, we don’t win at
football, we don’t win all the fights, but hey, we’re funny and interesting.
While the musical School of Rock centers on a wannabe rock star posing as a substitute teacher, the showstoppers come from the crowd of child actors playing the students. A performer since age 4, the now nine-year-old Mystic Inscho plays the role of Zack in the tour of School of Rock.
This triple threat performer loves being able to shred on stage, dance and sing in musical theatre’s first-ever kids rock band that plays live on stage. But he also enjoys visiting zoos and aquariums across the United States and Canada, as well as being a star. Inscho will be stopping in Seattle in May as part of Broadway at The Paramount’s series. So, we caught up with Inscho and talked about what he liked best about the show and how he keeps up with real school while on tour.
Mystic Inscho: School Of Rock is so cool! Also, it is
the only musical which requires kids to have serious music instrument
skills. The show has inspired me to practice my instruments. And I have
been training in dancing, singing and acting since I was five. I was so
fortunate to get this chance.
Singing, playing an instrument, dancing or acting—what’s
the hardest part of your job?
All of these things are performing and I love to perform. But the hardest thing is to do the show over and over with little time for other things. I love drums and piano but don’t have much time to play them. We perform eight shows a week over six days and then travel on the seventh day. We try to be energetic and make every performance the best.
You’re playing a kid going to school but how do you keep up with your lessons in real life?
We are required to
have 15 hours of school a week. I have online courses for fifth grade and
there are three tutors with us. Also just visiting all of these cities is
a great learning opportunity.
What’s your favorite moment in in School Of Rock?
That would be when I
play my guitar solo and rock out on the stage in “Teacher’s Pet” (one of the
last songs). That’s when my dancing and guitar solo come together and the
audience responds to me.
If you were a rock star, what position would you want to
play in the band?
Definitely the lead
guitarist and singer.
Your Instagram account shows a lot of traveling for this
show. What’s been your favorite stop so far?
I loved Ottawa and
Washington DC. But every city has had great experiences. The
American and Canadian capitals are especially fun for visitors. And the
people have been so kind to us.
Anything special that you want to do while you’re in
Our family has friends in Seattle and I will get to meet them. The Space Needle seems very cool to visit. Also, I like zoos and aquariums. I have been visiting different zoos and aquariums along the way.
What musical would you like to do next?
Billy Elliot would be a great musical to do. I auditioned
for it in a local theatre. But I was too young to be considered. I would
love doing the singing and dancing.
Francisco Ballet’s 2019 season closer, Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy, is one of the heavyweights of modern ballet.
As gorgeous as the dancing is, there’s multiple thrills to be found aurally as
the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra performs Symphony
#9 based on opus 70 from 1945; the Chamber
Symphony set to an orchestration of the composer’s String Quartet No. 8
from 1960; and Piano Concerto #1 based
on the neo-baroque Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra
from 1933. Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West will be
discussing the history behind Ratmansky’s selections during a May 12 “Meet the
Artist” event but here’s a little preview of what the musicians bring to the performances.
compositions are not necessarily what we think of as “ballet music.” What do
you do in the orchestra to bring to life the composer’s music and the
West: There are challenges to taking a symphonic work and layering on ballet
but luckily Alexei is an incredibly musical choreographer. Sometimes people
think that conducting for ballet would be constricting or an extra burden on
the conductor, but in Alexei’s case you can be free. It’s wonderful to play the
pieces as you want. It’s a very satisfying evening musically.
You’ll be addressing some of this in your talk on May 12 but how do these works mark different eras in Shostakovich’s life and how does Ratmansky’s choreography reflect that?
The ninth symphony is big and quite extroverted. It came right after the end of the war and [Shostakovich] chose to do something quite humorous. The 28-minute piece is almost a joke. It was an interesting piece for him to do and caused him to be censored for a second time. In the ballet, the set has these Soviet symbols high above the dancers. Alexei’s work is always full of clever references and he does his own humorous take on the music. I really enjoy watching that one.
Symphony is an earlier work expanded into a full string orchestra and it is a
massive work. Alexei took this and created a ballet dealing with Shostakovich’s
relationships with women. Quite a stroke of genius, creating a remarkable
ballet for a remarkable piece of music.
On May 12, I’ll talk about all three pieces, concentrating on [each] tie to Shostakovich’s life and what to listen for, the material hidden within the music. We are lucky in San Francisco to have an audience that appreciates the orchestra and wants to understand and appreciate the music.
Do you think it makes a
difference to the dancers to have the live music?
We have 60 to 70 people in the pit willing the
dancers to look good. They are playing to propel them to higher and higher
levels. That’s something that you can’t achieve with recorded music. You can’t get that visceral feeling from a
pair of speakers. What we try to achieve for the dancers is to enhance that
symbiotic relationship. If you dance to recorded music, you know what to
expect. You know exactly how high you can leap and still come down on a
specific note. But when you dance to live music, you can leap higher, you can
take risks. If a dancer just wants to take a little more time on a turn, or do
more on the acting side, [in the orchestra] we can react to it and add to it.
What’s a typical rehearsal schedule like for
the orchestra and for you?
[At the beginning of May] I will be going into the studio with dancers to refresh my memory of the choreography. I will start discussing the pieces with the dancers so I know the parameters when I start rehearsing the orchestra. Ballet music sometimes is criticized for changing too much for the choreography but if you set it off on the right track, you can make it so it sounds like it was always going to go that way. Typically we’ll do six to nine hours, sometimes 12, of practice. We get one stage and tech run and then one dress rehearsal, and then we are playing for performances. We’re quite lucky that we get that much rehearsal here. Some dance orchestras don’t get that tech run. Everyone in the orchestra is a professional and they come to rehearsals knowing what they need to do.
The end of this season
marks a couple of big retirements for the orchestra?
yes. My timpani player is retiring after only
30 years [James Gott, principal timpani,
joined in 1989]. And the last founding member of the orchestra is retiring.
When Steve [Steven D’Amico, principal double
bass] leaves, he will have done 45 years of service for the company.
He’s been a wonderful advocate for the players. I contribute a lot of the
goodwill in how management and musicians get along to Steve’s calm and wise
words over the years.
So, do you have any orchestra
traditions to mark the end of a season?
expect this year’s potluck will be bigger [due to the retirements]. Also,
whenever we finish a run, as soon as the audience starts to clap, we do a cheer
for the orchestra.
For those who want a little more of San Francisco Ballet Orchestra’s long serving musicians, D’Amico can be heard on the Orchestra’s Grammy Award-winning album Ask Your Mama and will be doing a Meet the Artist talk on May 10. Both D’Amico and Gott have performed on many of the orchestra’s other 18 albums and four DVDs.
Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for Cornish Magazine, Capitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.
One of Seattle’s most prolific
directors and actors, David Hsieh is well known for bring diverse work to the
stage as the founding artistic director of ReAct. His many credits also include
performances in Book-It’s productions of The
Brothers K and Hotel on the Corner of
Bitter and Sweet, as well as in The
Happy Ones and The Best Christmas
Pageant Ever at Seattle Public. Co-directing Kim’s Convenience with Taproot Theatre’s founding artistic director
Scott Nolte, Hsieh is realizing a long-held ambition in bringing Ins Choi’s
warm-hearted comedy about a Korean family and their friends to local audiences.
Rosemary Jones: Kimbits, as fans of the series Kim’s Convenience are known, largely come from watching the Canadian television sitcom starting in 2016 or streaming on Netflix since 2018. Did you first encounter Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience as the stage play or online?
David Hsieh: When the published version of the script was first printed in 2012, a copy of it landed on my desk. (I was the drama book buyer at a local bookstore at the time.) I knew nothing about it but being a play with Asian themes. I added it to my huge ever-shifting pile of plays to read. I didn’t actually get to it until a few years later after hearing Ins Choi being interviewed on the radio one night. He was talking about the play and its great success at the Toronto Fringe and subsequent Soulpepper tour as well as the new series in the works. I dug my copy out the pile and read it, and immediately fell in love with the script. I don’t have Netflix or anything but when Scott first asked me to help with the production, I binge-watched [the series] on YouTube and am now a huge fan of that as well.
Who is your favorite
character in the Kim family?
I’m not one who likes to pick favorites. I actually like them all…and that’s what I find intriguing about the play and how it’s written. I think everyone can relate to each of the four family members in different ways, as well as the variety of other characters that visit the store. Growing up second generation in an immigrant Asian family, I can definitely relate to both [the Kim’s adult children] Jung and Janet’s characters and what they are going through in the play. But the parents of course are also so wonderfully written, in particular the part of [the father] Appa, who is such a fun role and an amusing take for the audience. On a personal level, I don’t have a strong relationship with my own father, so the storyline between Appa and Jung is particularly affecting for me.
What are the
differences you see between the Canadian series and the original play?
Well the TV series was inspired by the play, but there are differences. While the family and basic plot is similar, and there are some scenes and sections of dialogue from the play peppered into various episodes of the series, particularly the first season, there are many differences. For instance, in the play, Jung left 16 years ago and in the series it’s only been about nine years, so the characters are all younger and at a different point in their lives. As each season has unfolded the series has expanded and grown and diverged more and more. There are some things in the play that are quite different, and probably can’t happen in the timeline of the series any more, almost becoming an alternate reality. I think TV audiences will be intrigued to see the play and these differences and what inspired the TV show.
Scott Nolte notified me over a year ago that they were hoping to get the rights to do this American West Coast premiere and asked if I’d be interested in working on the project. I immediately and enthusiastically said yes and a few months later, the rights were confirmed.
How does co-directing
work with Scott Nolte?
I think it works really well. This is my first chance to work at Taproot, a theatre that I’ve admired for decades. Scott and I have known each other for many years. We have the same sensibilities and appreciation of theatre as well as the same take on Kim’s Convenience. He obviously knows the space really well, and of course I have a unique perspective for this play and we make a good team.
As co-director, what’s your biggest challenge in preparing for opening night?
Well, as with any production I’ve helped direct, our biggest challenge is to create and present the best production of the play as we possibly can. We have an amazing cast. I think Seattle audiences are really going to enjoy this production. You know it’s going to be a good show when you’re still laughing and being moved to tears by the play deep into the rehearsal process, another testament to the brilliant script created by Ins. Our greatest joy will be to see Seattle audiences enjoying this timely and universal story of family love. It’s been so well received at every place it has been produced. I hope this show will be one of Taproot’s biggest successes.
Taproot Theatre’s production of Kim Convenience runs May 15 through June 22.
Convenience opens, Hsieh will be directing the West Coast premiere of Salty by AJ Clauss, a play about
penguins and zookeepers, for ReAct Theatre at 12th Ave Arts.
Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for Cornish Magazine, Capitol Hill Times,Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.
This is part two of two of Johanna Pfaelzer and Lisa Steindler in conversation, in which they continue their discussion of intergenerational leadership in theatre and supporting artists in the Bay Area.
Johanna Pfaelzer is
the incoming artistic director at Berkeley Rep Theatre and Lisa Steindler is
the executive artistic director of Z Space.
Lisa Steindler: Hopefully we’ll have young
leaders running mid-size organizations sooner rather than later and, in ten
years, they will be running the regional theatres with so much more expertise
under their belts. With so many people leaving the field after many years in
leadership roles, I’m not sure we have adequately developed or created
opportunities for the next generation to take up the reigns.
Johanna Pfaelzer: I think for women, especially,
figuring out how to balance parenthood and these jobs is a real issue that we
must pay attention to. How can we retain women as leaders and create the
flexibility in our structures that will enable them to stay within these
organizations? I was really lucky to be working for a working mother—Carey
Perloff—when I became a parent.
Steindler: One hundred percent agree. I feel
most excited about that right now, in this moment in my career, to foster and
mentor three incredible millennial women who are all way smarter than me. They
have a lot more knowledge about the world of twenty-year-olds and the
technology that goes along with that, and I believe that is crucial to the
relevance of an organization. That merged with the historical knowledge of the
organization and the field that I bring to the table, we have a pretty robust
Pfaelzer: I also think different generations of
theatremakers are thinking about what theatre can do as an art form in really
different ways. I don’t think it’s solely generational but I do think there’s a
reason that, when we look at the twenty-year-olds and the thirty-year-olds in
our field, they’re thinking about collaboration, about the process of how and
why and you make work together, in a much broader way. They’re going to demand
that of the institutions, and the structures are going to have to adapt to
their vision, and they should.
Steindler: Absolutely, they should. Here at Z
Space we’re all about failure in a good way, being able to take artistic and
organizational risks without fear of failure. Taking on a leadership role
involves a steep learning curve and the navigation of multiple relationships,
during which myriad risks are encountered where one might potentially fail. But
if we’re intentional about creating this new leadership model, supporting young
leaders, and building from within the Z Space family to engage and invest in
new and diverse leadership, we can quite possibly achieve much greater
milestones while taking risks and minimizing failure.
Pfaelzer: Indeed! And that question of failure,
not like I’m obsessed with it right now as I’m in the middle of season planning
or anything, but the model of New York Stage and Film is based on the idea that
you get to take huge risks. And that we as an organization can turn to a body
of artists in any given year and say: “Go big. We’ve got you and we can keep
the stakes low.”
One of the challenges for me, going into an institution with Berkeley Rep’s scale, is to make sure that some piece of me can keep that notion alive. For myself, for the artists in the building, and to bring an audience into that as well, to help them understand that the task of an artist isn’t to give them polished perfection. Because theatre is this ephemeral, living, breathing thing, how do we let that notion of transformation and risk and change and attempt and failure be part of the process, delight, and specificity of how the show is then experienced?
…failure can become a very nourishing aspect of the creation of great work. If we’re afraid of failing, we will get a certain type of work that can be calcifying…
Steindler: Once you put it into a context of
process, people are super excited about that. They’re generous. And failure can
become a very nourishing aspect of the creation of great work. If we’re afraid
of failing, we will get a certain type of work that can be calcifying,
potentially. That frightens me. You and I have both dedicated our lives to new
work and to creating space where these things can be explored and then actually
We’ve been looking at a strategic plan and one of the
classic questions that came out of it was: “Who are we serving?” And my answer
was very different than the answer of these younger women leaders I am working
with at Z Space now. My answer was: “We’re serving the artists.” And their
answer was :“We’re serving the audience.”
Pfaelzer: The younger people working in your
organization said serving the audience?
Pfaelzer: Wow, that surprises me.
Steindler: It surprised me too, it’s
fascinating. But they’re really clear about, “If we don’t have a fully
inclusive audience, we don’t have an institution.” And I said, “If we don’t
have artists creating excellent work, what are we serving the audience?” It is
chicken and egg, but it exemplifies one of the many benefits of distributed and
Pfaelzer: One thing you mentioned, which I
thought was really interesting in these moments of transitions, was about new
work, because it can take a company so long to partner with an artist to make
something new. From first conversation through commission through early drafts
through development, to realization in whatever form that is… When a transition
happens at some midpoint along that trajectory, what happens to the piece? What
happens to the institution? What is it for an artist who has a deep
relationship with the artistic leader who first made that commitment to them
and a real, honest expectation of realization within that structure? What is it
for the incoming person to say: “Oh, great, here’s a bunch of stuff I get to
fall in love with” or “The pipeline has been primed for me in fantastic ways.”
That’s not an entirely hypothetical thing, given where I sit
right now, because the Berkeley Rep team has been so extraordinarily generous
in saying: “Let it be a clean slate for you.” And, on the other hand, there are
decades of relationships with artists that Tony Taccone, the outgoing artistic
director, has established that I want to make sure I’m aware of and honoring in
appropriate ways, and, frankly, can avail myself of.
Steindler: I think it’s tremendous that Berkeley
Rep has handed you a clean slate. It’s a little scary to have that
responsibility in a relatively new community for you, in which all those
relationships already exist. But the blend is potentially so rich. And because
you’ve been doing this for quite a long time, especially with new work in New
York, and now again on the West Coast, you’ve got really established relationships
with a vast roster of great artists. I imagine there’s a lot of crossover from
those relationships. But the question is what do you inherit and what do you
blend in of your own to open those doors wider to achieve your aesthetic.
I’ve always thought about creating pipelines and working in concert with other organizations here. So if an artist begins working at Berkeley Rep, moves to a project at the Magic, comes to Z Space, and then goes on to A.C.T., we’re really working in concert with one another, and together we make it possible for these artists to actually make a meager living. And hopefully we are creating a pool of artists who will stay and see a viable career here in the Bay Area.
Pfaelzer: That also provides the opportunity to
marry an idea or a particular piece to the organization that would best serve
it at a particular place in its lifespan.
Steindler: That’s true.
Pfaelzer: I think of the vibrancy of what Campo Santo does in a space that is inherently smaller than at the Geary Theater, which is part of A.C.T., for instance. If we can all be thinking a bit more collectively, one of the things to consider is what stories demand to be told in which mode? What is it to sit outside at California Shakespeare Theater and experience the story in that environment?
…I do think that there is a way that we as organizations can be better, do better, at creating those opportunities and being thoughtful about how we build and sustain a larger, more diverse pool of artists creating great new work.
Steindler: When Mark Rucker first got to A.C.T.
as associate artistic director, I remember he was very interested in how we
keep the Bay Area artists here, how we create an environment they will invest
in, so they stay here and don’t go to LA or New York? An idea he had that I
loved, but we never got to bring to fruition, was to sit down as six, seven,
eight organizations and say, “Let us create a season for these actors. Let’s
look at these fifteen actors and make sure that six or eight of us can find
roles for them.” It’s a challenging idea, but it’s something we could revisit.
Because there really is an issue here.
The pool of artists has shrunk over the last decade plus,
and it’s not being replenished to the degree it should be. I think it’s largely
due to the cost of living. And I do think that there is a way that we as
organizations can be better, do better, at creating those opportunities and
being thoughtful about how we build and sustain a larger, more diverse pool of
artists creating great new work. Which in turn will serve our audiences… Back
to the interests of my younger colleagues.
I can’t wait for you to be here, to play with you and
support you in any way I possibly can.
Pfaelzer: That makes me so happy and so reassured.
The only thing that’s making this transition not entirely terrifying is that I
feel like I am walking back into a place I know and love, one where I have such
admiration for the people who are there, doing the work.