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  • Visiting the San Francisco County Jail

    “There are ghosts up there,” said our host, Angie Wilson, as we were waiting for the elevator.  Angie works with and oversees programming for Pod B in the San Francisco County Jail.  She is an extremely knowledgeable and generous resource.  When my three cast-mates, Loretta and I stepped out of the elevator into the “vertical” wing, which is currently empty, another employee greeted us and said the exact same thing.  Neither one of them said it to scare us, to be funny, or to get any kind of reaction.  In both cases, it was said in in a way that was simply matter of fact.  Apples are apples, and there are ghosts in the vertical wing.  Fact.

    Angie had taken us to this particular vertical wing, because it much more closely resembles what our characters might have experienced in a 1950′s prison. Bars, concrete, dim light, chipped paint, and long straight lines leading off into the distance– not like the brighter, bar-less panopticon style the jail mostly uses now.  In those panopticon style cells, you feel as though you’re in a fish-bowl more than anything else, since it is essentially a big round room in which everyone can see everything. As we walked past the empty cell blocks in the vertical wing, our heels echoing, Angie pointed out the places where the people who were confined there had eaten, slept, pissed, showered, been nursed, talked on the phone, and also, where some of them were probably murdered.  Ghosts.

    We walked past the “safety cells”.  Small, windowless rooms a person is sent to if they are being uncontrollably violent.  Angie said “Go, on.  Go inside.”  We did.  The tight, dark room was bare besides a small grate on the floor.  We were quiet.  “How long might someone stay in here?” one of us asked.  “Oh, a couple hours maybe.  Never overnight,” she replied.

    In And I And Silence, my character, Dee, is often sent to an equivalent room called “the Hole.”  Solitary. The hole was, and in many US prisons sadly still is common practice– inmates can be sent there to solitary confinement for days.  Months.  Years.  I have thought a lot about what effect this might have had on Dee’s own psyche. In my research, I was sobered to find an account from Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, whose research concludes that 15 days in solitary confinement (which constitutes torture) is the limit after which irreversible harmful psychological effects can occur.”  These effects are especially strong for juveniles.

    The thing is, I really don’t want to end my account of this visit, on that note.  Much like the aforementioned ghosts, it is also a fact that during our visit, Angie couldn’t wait to take us to the wing she currently oversees.  To say that she is invested in the women on her floor is an understatement.  Angie ensures there is robust programming for the women and also educational opportunities– we saw a group of women taking college midterms.  Angie seemed to have an incredible knack for seeing everyone there, inmate or staff, past or present, from a genuinely caring and nonjudgmental perspective. I appreciated Angie for her heartfelt and caring pragmatism.

    Throughout rehearsals for this play, with Loretta’s invaluable assistance, I am continually fighting the maudlin, sentimental impulse.  My job is not to wallow in feelings or sentiment about the injustices of the prison system on stage, but to deal honestly with the facts at hand– to create new “facts” in spite of the given situation.  At one point in the script, Dee describes to Jamie a peaceful imagined future, buttoning the hopeful dream with: “That’s a fact.”  It is not a luxury.  For these characters, living under such extreme circumstances, that kind of hope needs to be a fact.

    - Siobhan Marie Doherty, Young Dee

    Ryan uses similes to talk NEXTGEN

    What is a Magic Theatre NextGen Night?

    Magic Theatre has our NextGen Mixer for our upcoming show, And I and Silence by Naomi Wallace on Friday, November 7th at 8PM.  For those of you that don’t know about it, here’s what NextGen is:

    NEXT GEN NIGHT IS LIKE BIBIMBOP: It’s that thing you heard about at some point, and you were like, “I don’t know if I’d like that” and then finally you tried it and you were like that was awesome, how come I haven’t tried that before?” Unless you’re Korean, in which case you’re like, “I’ve always known about Bibimbop, what are you talking about?” at which point this metaphor breaks down. UNLESS you are Korean and have always been coming to NextGen night, in which case, you’re like “YES, NextGen night is like Bibimbop because I’ve loved them both since the beginning.”

    And I And Silence NextGen

     NEXT GEN NIGHT IS LIKE BURNING MAN: Art, cool people, someone often ends up naked (usually our General Manager, Michael Farrell).

     NEXT GEN NIGHT IS LIKE BRUCE BOCHY: This is just a shameless attempt to tap into positive feelings about the San Francisco Giants.

     NEXT GEN NIGHT IS LIKE OKCUPID: Full of attractive people that are 87% your friend and only 6% your enemy.

     NEXT GEN NIGHT IS LIKE EARLY MARIAH CAREY: Undeniably amazing. If you don’t think early Mariah Carey was amazing, watch this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfRNRymrv9k

    If you still don’t think Mariah Carey is amazing, I don’t know if you should be at NextGen night, cause you and me might have to go Mano a Mano in the parking lot because I will defend early Mariah Carey by any means necessary.

    Young People Have Fun At Next Gen!

    Young People Have Fun At NextGen

    NEXT GEN NIGHT IS AN AMAZING DEAL: Join artists, students, and young professionals for a great show and great value.  Open bar.  Hang out with the actors, plus the rest of Magic’s loveable gang.

    Drinks (mixed by yours truly).

    Dessert.

    Theatre.

    All for $25

    So come to NextGen night at Magic Theatre.

    It’s Friday, November 7th

    .Click here: https://magictheatre.secure.force.com/ticket#sections_a0Fi0000008r9DLEAY

    And use Discount Code: nextgen25 at checkout. Limited seats available.

    See you at the theatre.

    Ryan

    From the Actors: 5 Chances Left to See BAD JEWS!

     

    000100168I’ve always found the hardest part of working on a play that you truly love— a production that you are truly proud of—is letting go of it at the end.  From the first time I read BAD JEWS, I fell for the character of Daphna.   While she can be over-the-top, there is something about her intelligence, her conviction, her youth and vulnerability, her amazing sense of humor, the speed at which her mind works, her relationships to her family-how she teases them yet desperately cares about them, which made me fall for her-hard.  

    Having the opportunity to play this role, exploring the way in which she thinks, acts and moves in this production, among these brilliant actors — Max Rosenak, Kenny Toll, and Riley Krull – guided by this amazing director, Ryan Guzzo Purcell, and helped along by all the other talented peeps who worked on this show and the generous, supportive audiences we’ve had, has been one of the favorite creative experiences of my life.  When we got extended for these two weeks, all I could feel was relieved.  Relieved that I didn’t have to give her up just yet—that I could take care of her and bring her to life a few more times.

    This is our last week running BAD JEWS at the Magic Theatre.  We have 5 performances left, and I intend to make the most of them.  From our pre-show warm up of attempting to choreograph a dance to Matisyahu’s “One Day”, which plays in pre-show music (listen for it!) to having my hair expertly done by Emielia Put while I bop around to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” (my own personal warm-up) to stepping on stage for the very first moment, to hearing the first big laugh or gasp from the audience, to noticing every little change my fellow actors make in their performances, to the curtain call, and to having a drink after the show, I will be enjoying every last minute.  Come join us.  If you meet us at the bar afterward, we just might show you that dance we’ve been working on…

    - Rebecca Benhayon (Daphna)

    Costuming Bad Jews

    One of the most exciting aspects of costuming Bad Jews was the amount of detail we were able to infuse into each character.  Contemporary shows can be tricky: when not adhering to the strict rules of dress from a bygone era, each costume choice onstage shows the audience something very intimate about a character.

    Daphna Character Page

     

    Each of the college-aged characters in Bad Jews is on a quest to develop his or her identity.  Part of college is trying out different identities, and that was the story we wanted to tell with costumes for this show.  As an undergrad at Vassar, Daphna (shown here) is active in the campus community and recently had a fulfilling experience on her trip to Israel.  Ryan (the director of Bad Jews) and I believed she would fully embrace the laid-back, sweatpants-and-tie-dye-wearing campus life—something humorously at odds with her Type A personality. She owns her look from the “show-offy” hand-woven friendship bracelets to the way she rocks her natural hair. It provides great contrast to Liam’s “geek chic” grad school attire.

     

    I think we all knew someone a little like Daphna in school—I think maybe we all were a little like her in school. After seeing the show, a few people said to me, “Daphna looks just like this person I knew in college–” that element of recognition is definitely the goal when working with this level of realism on stage.

     

    – Antonia Gunnarson, Costume Designer

    Magic’s Vacation to Ashland

    This summer, an intrepid group of Magic patrons and artists journeyed to Ashland for four days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Over the next few years, Magic is thrilled to be collaborating with OSF and beloved playwright Luis Alfaro on his upcoming three-play California Cycle.  This summer’s trip was a celebration of sorts of that future artistic partnership—a chance for some of Magic’s most treasured family members to engage creatively with all OSF has to offer in their scenic Ashland home.

    The trip, which included five OSF performances, gave our Magic group unprecedented access to art as well as artists.  For participant, Shira Lubliner, “The highlight of the trip was dinner in a beautiful outdoor setting with our Magic group, actors, and directors of Ashland productions.”

    This meal at the beautiful and delicious Smithfield’s, was a chance for participants to talk with our own Producing Artistic Director, Loretta Greco, along with OSF company actors (pictured here left to right) Tobie Windham, Kevin Kenerly, Armando Duran and Danforth Comins, OSF Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy, Lue Douthit, and Magic playwright, Victor Lodato (Arlington).

    Tobie WindhamKevin Kenerlyduran.armandoComins_Danforth_130X160Lue DouthitvictorBio2

    Participant, Linda McFarlin sat with Danforth Comins at the dinner and found out some fun trivia:  Comins, who plays Bobby Kennedy in Great Society, studied Youtube videos to prepare for his role.  Danforth’s secret to the perfect Kennedy drawl?  The Kennedy family all have big teeth!  When Danforth concentrated on that distinguishing feature, he could speak like a Kennedy without consciously imitating.

    Bob Yoerg, another Magic group member, and Lue Douthit spoke about the importance of Audience Engagement. Yoerg was surprised and honored to hear how seriously Lue considers the audience’s thoughts and opinions when developing a new play.  That contract between artists and audience was strengthened in a unique way over the course of this visit to Ashland.

    For Tobie Windham, the experience of sitting in the audience of a theatre and being “lifted above everything” by a performance is what made him want to be an actor.  Toby and the wonderful OSF company definitely provided that experience for our group.  At Magic, we’re looking forward to a year of further developing that essential relationship of artist to audience, as well as to our partnership with Luis Alfaro and OSF.

    Thanks to all who made the trip happen!  Can’t wait for our 2nd annual OSF adventure in 2015!

    This Weekend: Magic @ Laney!

    Laney VisitLaney Group

    Hey Oakland/East Bay community! This Saturday 9/27, Magic is coming to Laney College for the free matinee of BAD JEWS. Did we mention that it’s FREE?! Last week, playwright, Joshua Harmon, and dramaturg, Dori Jacob, visited Laney’s script analysis class where we had a phenomenal conversation about this hilarious and powerful play that our Laney students have been studying since the beginning of the semester. The students are ready to come out and support Magic @ Laney and we hope you will join us at 2:30 on Saturday for the FREE performance and talkback to follow!

    Laney College and Magic Theatre have begun an unprecedented partnership where theatre students are given access to the new play development process start to finish. 2014-2015 marks our second year of this groundbreaking collaboration and we couldn’t be happier to continue building this relationship in our 48th season!

    Hope to see you there!

    Bad Jews Director, Ryan Guzzo Purcell: BAD JEWS IS OPEN!

    BAD JEWS is open.

    I first read this play on the 43 line, travelling from the Sunset into Fort Mason. In less than fifteen minutes, I was the crazy person you fear sitting near on the bus, laughing hysterically and talking to myself. It’s pretty normal for Muni passengers to hear voices in their heads, but the voices in this play were coming through so distinctly, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. They were so funny, so mean, so loving, and so YOUNG!

    This play is exactly what Magic is about: it tackles a serious question about modern faith, but does it with a huge heart and belly laughs, in a way that can only happen onstage. Brought to life right in front of us, the story becomes undeniable. It’s a play that sparks a difficult but vital conversation about tradition, faith, assimilation, and growing up. And it’s a conversation that truly comes alive when it occurs across generations.

    SO, with that in mind I want to mention an event we have coming up, the NextGEN mixer. If you are a student, artist, or young professional, you should check it out. For the low low price of $25, you can see the show, and then have cocktails and dessert afterwards to kvetch, schvitz, and get all verklempt (see what I did there, cause it’s Jewish!) with me, the cast, and other audience members. I’ll be making drinks. It’s Friday, September 26th, so if you come early, Off the Grid at Fort Mason is happening, so you can get some delicious food truck dinner too.

    You’ll leave feeling like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8WFJ3AeHzY

    Before I go, I want to give a shout out to my cast. Max Rosenak, Becky Benhayon, Riley Krull and Kenny Toll are FIERCE and fearless. They are putting it all out there, and I’m excited to have gotten to work with such amazing collaborators, hopefully it’s the first of many (we’ve already started planning a one-man show about Kenny Toll’s side job as an amateur pole dancer, called KT on the P.)

    Much love. See you at theatre.

    Ryan Guzzo Purcell

    Flying Blind – a First Preview Adventure

    One of the things that I can say, consistently across the board with every theater I work at, is that people are superstitious. There are plays you can’t mention, ladders to avoid, and wishing an actor “good luck” before a performance is a horrible faux pas. I should have remembered all that when people asked me if I was nervous about first preview. Instead of saying “I feel prepared,” or “This is a good bunch,” or “fingers crossed!” I said, “It’s an easy show. Everything’s gonna go well.” For fans of horror movies, this is the equivalent of saying, “What’s the worst that could happen.” Whether it was my poorly timed words, or just bad luck, at places the monitors in the booth died. For those unfamiliar with booth dynamics, monitors are small speakers in the dressing rooms and next to the stage manager’s console that broadcast the show as it happens. They are, quite literally, my ears for the show. My booth window was cracked, which means I got some sound, but not the finer points. Basically, I was flying deaf. With no intermission coming up to troubleshoot the problem, the only options were to hold and fix the issue, or keep running the show. “The show must go on” is a cliché for a reason, and one small glitch in a sea of complex lights, sound, and costuming wasn’t worth stopping for.

    I’m not sure if anyone else remembers the crazy Phelps Olympics where he took something like 8 gold medals. (It was one of the few times that I’ve obsessively watched the Olympics.) During one of the races where he won, I remember his frowning face as he came out of the water. Later the story circulated that his goggles came loose, and he was literally swimming the race blind. He said he was able to do it by counting strokes and hoping he remembered the dimensions of his lane.

    Tragically, I don’t have Michael Phelps’ ability to wear Speedos. But during first preview, I felt a sense of kinship for his gold medal winning blind swim. Calling a show is a bit like a dance, or an orchestra. There are rhythms and movements, and you have to be attuned to them to make a cue work with the show as it’s happening, instead of against it. A well-called show is something no one notices. That’s the goal – seamless timing in conjunction with the actors onstage.

    Up in the booth with a mostly silent show in front of me, I felt a huge sense of gratitude towards the actors down below. They are a phenomenal cast, led and shaped by an amazing director. They have worked so impressively hard to find the rhythms, the highs, and the lows of this play. I didn’t need to hear every word to remember where we were in the story. Their talent and consistency made it possible for me to metaphorically count my strokes. The actors didn’t miss a beat and, because of them, neither did I.

    That intrinsic feeling of support is one of the things that always makes me happy to return to Magic for another show. Working on a new, or relatively new play provides constant challenges. Without prior productions to look at, there’s no roadmap for success, so every question or issue that comes up doesn’t have a cheat sheet for answers. The directors, designers, and production team at Magic work overtime to find and fix problems before they’re even noticed. They work long hours, even on a tech-light show, to ensure that no one behind the scenes is unsupported, and that no one in the audience sees anything but the humor and caliber of the performance. By the time I get in to rehearsal today, the monitors will be fixed, likely along with five other things. That dedication keeps small problems from becoming big ones, and their hard work sets a bar that I gladly rise to, sound or no sound.

    I’ll never stand on a podium and accept a gold medal, but being surrounded by such driven and inspired people, having a great preview where the audience laughed and applauded, and the watching actors successfully transition into performances is the greatest achievement I could ask for in this hectic, superstitious, crazy theater world.

     

    Gillian Confair is the Stage Manager for Bad Jews.  

    A Bad Jew reflects on her Bad Jewishness

    I’m a Bad Jew.

    Yes: I’m definitely a Bad Jew.  Here’s the story, my Dad’s a self-proclaimed “Hebrew School Drop Out” and my Mom is a blonde “Shiksa” from Connecticut.  They’re lovely people, but couldn’t be more different.  As a result, I spent my whole life growing up vacillating between claiming a Jewish or “Half-Shiska” identity.  (My Father fondly refers to me as a Mutt).  Once, in the seventh grade, I triumphantly changed my religious views on Myspace to “Fifty Fifty,” in an attempt to share with my peers how cool I thought it was to occupy both spaces.  I always tried to pick and choose elements from both cultures that I could claim.

    When I was 13, I dyed my hair blonde with lemon wedges and Sun In and followed that with a Japanese Hair Straightening procedure that left my hair fried and yellow.  Even though it looked terrible, I remember feeling vaguely proud: I had successfully traded in my Jew curls for the stick straight blonde hair from the land of Connecticut.  In that moment, I was my Mother’s daughter.  I’ll also never forget watching my first Woody Allen movie- Bananas.  I was sitting on the couch with my Dad eating lox and bagels (not joking) and I remember watching Allen and thinking, “Wow.  He gets me.”  I, too, was (and am) neurotic, goofy, and totally Jew-ish.  In the years that followed I had bouts where I begged to get sent to “Jew Camp” (these institutions are located usually in Maine, and let me tell you they are the crème de la crème for Jewish thirteen year olds).  There was also one year when I got very involved with my Mother’s church’s youth group because the boys were so cute.  All throughout my youth I had moments of Jewishness and not-so-Jewishness.  Back then, my identity was fluid.  It changed with the occasion and I loved the flexibility of it.

    Today, I’m a probably a little bit like Liam Haber in Bad Jews, not only because he likes to call himself a “bad Jew,” but because he doesn’t claim his Judaism in a religious way like his cousin Daphna does.  I’ve never been to Israel, I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah, I’ve never even stepped foot inside a shul.    Like Daphna, however, I have the hair that often leads people to say, “Are you a member of the tribe?”

    I love this play.  I love how it makes me confront identity and legacy and reintroduces an essential question from my youth: Who am I, really?  Now, as a 22 year old, these questions don’t strike me like they did when I was in the midst of adolescence.  I don’t feel like I have to choose one or the other, because, after all, I’m 50% my Mom and 50% my Dad.    And I guess that’s where I’ll leave it for the time being.

    Ellie Sachs is the 2014-2015 Artistic Direction Apprentice.

    LAST VIRGIN READING OF THE SEASON!!!

    mark your calendars, this is not one you want to miss!

    VIRGIN14Webtile

    Monday, June 16th 6pm

    SOJOURNERS

    by Mfoniso Udofia

    Commonwealth Club

     the last, but certainly

    not least, of the

    VIRGINWebClick

    Abasiama Ekpeyoung came to America with high hopes for her arranged marriage and her future, intent on earning a degree and returning to Nigeria. But when her husband is seduced by America, she is forced to choose between the Nigerian or the American dream.

    Mfoniso

    Mfoniso Udofia is a 1st Generation Nigerian-American storyteller, actress and educator. She attended Wellesley College for Political Science and obtained her MFA in Acting from San Francisco’s award winning, American Conservatory Theater. Some of Mfoniso’s plays include, The Grove, Sojourners, runboyrun, and Lilyvine. Her work has been developed and/or presented by the Sundance Theatre Lab, Playwrights Realm, Makehouse, Soul Productions, terraNOVA, Page 73 Development Programs, The New Black Fest, Rising Circle’s INKTank, At Hand Theatre Company, The Standard Collective, Liberation Theatre Company and JJCEO Youth Programs in Birmingham, Alabama. Mfoniso has received a commission from Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theater to work on the 4th installation in the Ufot Family Cycle. She has been a finalist for NYTW’s 20/50 Fellowship, The Source Festival, Lark Playwrights’ Week and the 2013 Many Voices Fellowship. She has also achieved semifinalist status for the 2014 Cherry Lane Mentor Project and the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference [2012 and 2013] for her plays, The Grove and Sojourners. Please follow her at @mfudofia and check out her site www.mfonisoudofia.com for the latest news.

    FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!!! Bring your friends!

    Commonwealth Club of California
    595 Market Street (between 1st and 2nd avenues)
    Montgomery BART station on the corner

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