Flashback

Under the scorching sun at Petaluma Adobe, We Players built a play in the dusty streets of our Wild West Verona...

Have you met Romeo?

Meet the gallant Mohammad Shehata!

Q) How has working with We Players changed your perspective of theater, or of the world at large?
A) We Players emphasizes all of those things which make theatre unique and separate from any other form of art or entertainment. I’m reminded of the great potential for intimacy and awe in theatre which can only come from the kind of communion that We Players aims so clearly to establish.

Q) Describe We Players in four words.
A) Community. Brave. Mysterious. Now.

Q) Any funny or memorable We Players moments, anecdotes, quotes/metaphors you'd like to share?
A) We went to dinner as our characters one night, and were given special missions to accomplish while at dinner. One of my tasks was to be in disguise, so I put on a Russian accent. It made no sense but it was crazy fun. It was like a version of Romeo and Juliet put on by 5 year olds who just stole and devoured Mama’s cookie batter. That’s what we get up to in rehearsal… what the hell are we doing?

Q) Tell us about some new favorite of yours, whether it's a lunch dish, a singer, movie, color, or something else entirely. What is it about this new thing that's rocking your world?
A) I’ve seen the film A Separation (written and directed by Asghar Farhadi) about 8 times now. Talk about flawless filmmaking. I require all of you to view it. You’ll be reminded of what it’s like to be nourished in every way a story caught on camera is supposed to nourish you.

All photos by Lauren Matley

Howard Levitt, 35 years with the Park Service

If you're not yet receiving the newsletter from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, we want to share with you a recent post celebrating one of our favorite, most valued and visionary park stewards we know: Howard Levitt. Howard has been a champion for We Players in the parks for nearly 10 years and we are so grateful to know him and honored to call him a friend. Thank you Howard! Here is the post from "The Gateway" newsletter...

"After 35 years in the National Park Service, Howard Levitt - the director of communications and partnerships for Golden Gate National Recreational Area- is retiring in October. As the NPS liaison to the Parks Conservancy, Howard is also one of our closest friends and most admired rangers. His visionary leadership has helped transform park sites, promote parks and places of health, and welcome new and diverse visitors to the parks.

Gateway's question for him was simple: What will you remember most about your 30 years at Golden Gate?

"Golden Gate is in my heart and soul. I have far too many park memories to count, but a few come to mind. In 1983, my wife and I decided to get married while we were walking in Tennessee Valley. I have gone with dear friends on dozens of full-moon hikes over the ridge to Muir Beach. I've traced the perimeter of the Presidio on foot many times while visiting the Andy Goldsworthy artwork scattered throughout the post.

"I've seen marvelous Shakespearean performances at Fort Point, Alcatraz, and Sutro Heights Park. I've watched tearful visitors writing postcards to political prisoners after viewing the powerful art installations by Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz.

"I've seen proud new Americans sworn in as citizens at Immigrant Point Overlook. I witnessed a United States Army general (Lt. Gen. Glynn Mallory) welcome a former Soviet president (Mikhail Gorbachev) to the Presidio. I've seen San Francisco kids from the Mission District glimpse the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

"I partnered with the Conservancy in the genesis of that powerful change-maker, the Institute at the Golden Gate. I watched the greatest fireworks display I will probably ever see from the vantage point of Crissy Field, while celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

"I've been filled with hope as I watch the next generation of park leaders step up from Crissy Field Center and Park Stewardship programs and student internships into career positions with the National Park Service. And through it all, I have had the privilege of working with the greatest colleagues and partners anyone could ever have."

Howard, it has been the great privilege of this park - and the entire park community- to have you as our staunchest supporter and wisest friend. Thank you."

Romeo & Juliet at Villa Montalvo featured!

We're in the September edition of Modern Luxury Silicon Valley!

The article is a little difficult to read online as it's overlaid upon an image of Juliet, so we're sharing a copy of it here in plain text.

___________________________

SETTING THE SCENE

On a sprawling 175-acre landmark estate, a classic Shakespeare play is given an interactive twist. 

By Kate Evans

IN A FORTHCOMING production of Romeo and Juliet, Montalvo Arts Center promises to take the concept of audience participation to another level. A series of performances by We Players, the innovative theater troupe formed by Ava Roy at Stanford University in 2000, will capitalize on the magnificent setting in Saratoga: theatergoers will follow the Shakespeare characters throughout the grounds, immersing themselves in the scenery and storylines— from donning masquerade masks at the Capulet's ball held in the Italianate mansion Villa Montalvo to surrounding the sword-fighting action that takes place on the Great Lawn to witnessing the heartbreak in the Love Temple, where Juliet's tomb will be on view. 

"The first time I saw Villa Montalvo, it was talking to me— screaming at me," recalls Roy, whose company famously presented an islandwide staging of Hamlet on Alcatraz in 2010. "I'd been looking for a home for Romeo and Juliet for years. I had to get out of the fog and mist of San Francisco and, here in the South Bay, I found Italy." Nestled within acres of wildwood and sculptured gardens, Villa Montalvo— built in 1912 as a country home for former U. S. Senator and San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan— sits on a gentle hill, overlooking the Great Lawn, which stretches down a slope to the cypress tree-lined formal garden below. "Because we create depth of perspective and a larger sphere of performance," Roy continues, "the audience is encouraged to look around them at all of the multidimensional elements: what other characters are doing over on that hill, or watching a servant set up for the ball." 

According to Angela McConnell, Montalvo's executive director, "[this] is is unlike anything we've ever staged here," she says. A production that involves open-air sets, as We Players' does, comes with its challenges— including seemingly simple logistics such as where to store costumes and props— as well as its rewards. "We will experience this classic in a new and intimate way," McConnell adds. "Where we, as the audience, are usually removed, here we will see every expression, share experiences and feel a connection to the artists." 

Oct. 6-16, Thu.-Sun., tickets $40-$80, 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga,408. 961.5858, montalvoarts.org

ACTING OUT In We Players' site-integrated production of Romeo and Juliet, Maria Leigh portrays the title female protagonist. 

ACTING OUT In We Players' site-integrated production of Romeo and Juliet, Maria Leigh portrays the title female protagonist. 

We Players Takes Textiles Faculty Sasha Duerr and Soil to Studio to the Stage

CCA students from the spring 2016 EcoTAP Soil to Studio course, taught by organic dye expert and Textiles Program faculty member Sasha Duerr, are seeing their work -- in the form of costumes made from natural dyed fabrics -- performed on stage by Bay Area site-specific theater company We Players. Read more at California College of the Arts!  

In addition to our collaboration with Soil to Studio (for both our 2016 production of Romeo & Juliet and our 2015 production of Ondine at Sutro), We Players is celebrated as a "valued community partner", recognizing our multiple offerings with undergraduate and graduate students at CCA. In addition to multiple in-class workshops led by Artistic Director Ava Roy, We Players has enjoyed several meaningful partnerships over the past 5 years...

Fall 2014
We Players served as the outside experts for a cross-listed Community Arts and Diversity Studies course, "Activating Public Space," taught by Center for Art and Public Life (the Center) Director Shalini Agrawal and Diversity Studies and Center scholar-in-residence Chris Treggiari.

Fall 2012
We Players, California State Parks / Angel Island, Angel Island Conservancy, and CCA collaborated to present site-specific student work in an island-wide public art installation on Angel Island.

The installation served as the central project of an MFA elective course, ENGAGE: Gatekeeping Nation, taught by CCA alumnus and We Players Visual Arts Director Patrick Gillespie (MFA 2009) and CCA First Year Program and Community Arts faculty member Aaron Gach.

Thanks CCA for your incredible role in our greater Bay Area Community!

OZY Interview & Video with our Artistic Director, Ava Roy

“Imagine standing next to Hamlet as he delivers the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy … beside the rusted bars of an Alcatraz prison cell. Or imagine breaking bread at a table next to the murderous Macbeth. These are the kind of immersive experiences that theater director Ava Roy believes will awaken your senses, and make the Bard’s words relevant in a new way.”

Click through to see the full interview!

Lana Richards- Production Spotlight

Meet Lana Richards, Production Assistant and Intern.

Prior to joining We Players, Lana just wrapped up a semester at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, CT, where she studied directing 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for three months. She-Ra is real!
 

Lana.jpg

Q) Describe We Players in four words…
A)Sensory, curious, personal, expansive

Q) How has working with We Players changed your perspective of theater, or of the world at large?
A) As a theater-maker and a human being, working with We Players has encouraged me to think about space in multi-dimensional and emotional ways. We Players lets you ask questions of the space just as you ask questions of the play–and in turn, ask yourself how you belong in the play, the space, this world, and beyond.

Q) Any funny or memorable We Players moments, anecdotes, quotes/metaphors you’d like to share?
A) The Petaluma Adobe is home to three lovely sheep named Barbara, Princess, and Frida. Maya and I like to greet them in the morning, and whenever we say, “Good morning ladies!” they usually turn to stare at us, and then they pee a little bit. It’s one of life’s little miracles.

Q) Tell us a little sumthin’ about you:
A) I just finished up a semester at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, CT… It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done and certainly the most rewarding.

Q) What is it about this new thing that’s rocking your world?
A) Earlier this summer I read 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl. It’s been influencing the way I think about theater and life in general, and I have no doubt I’ll read it again soon!

a life long love affair...

“The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet”

This is the show that began my love affair with Shakespeare... I played Juliet my freshman year of high school. Changed everything. Sports turned into iambic pentameter in an instant.

Flash forward! Spring of 2000, freshman year in college, We Players is born with a beautiful, ragtag array of friends in all the roles - actors-cum-doctors, engineers, scientists, social anthropologists in training - playing all the parts in, you guessed it, Romeo & Juliet.

It was set sprawling across the campus from the student union, through pedestrian thoroughfares, under archways, across courtyards, and finally arriving at a collection of iconic sculptures - Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais. We bit our thumbs and brawled in the cafeteria at high noon, were married in front of the stunning facade of Stanford’s Memorial Church, fought to the death in the center of the quad and were buried, by way of red ribbons that tied the dead bodies to the sculptures. The audience followed along, growing bigger, a great parade, and the fire-eyed fury and soaring love story of Juliet and her Romeo swept us along throughout the landscape. The concept and practice of We Players - this transforming of public space into immersive performance venues - was ignited.

Zoom into the future once more! Here we are, the summer of 2016. 16 years since the first We Players’ performance, our patchwork garb now converted to costumes dyed with the native plants of the land, our homemade cookies transformed into fine organic cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, our shopping cart full of props is now become a team of talented designers and devoted production crew members, our studious friends respectfully replaced with some of the finest actors in the Bay Area, and our impromptu takeover of public spaces grown into a unique and very special partnership with both our State and National Parks. 

It is with great honor, humility, and joy that I share this production with you, dear audience members! This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The works are as vital and relevant as they ever have been. It has been a great pleasure to delve back into this familiar story to be nothing less than astonished with the multitude of new perspectives and discoveries packed into this year’s exploration of it. 

Of course, this is always one of the great joys of the rehearsal process: the discovery, the breathing of life into it, the responses to what the actors bring, the questions asked, and then even more questions, the flashes of insight, and then back on the trail, searching again…

I hope that when you join us on this performance adventure - at this historic adobe, immersed in this stunning slice of northern California landscape - that you will be rewarded for paying attention, that your senses will be activated, and that you will find something in the story and the place to carry with you in the years to follow.

-Ava Roy
Artistic Director

The National Parks Centennial & Art's Integral Part

As part of the National Park's Centennial celebration this year, the Park Service has shared four short videos about the important part artists can play in creating new park experiences that are more welcoming, meaningful and relevant to a wider range of visitors.

A bonus feature for We Players fans: stills of our events can be spotted here and there in each of the segments!

Actor Spotlight: John Steel Jr.

"Part, fools!
Put up your swords! You know not what you do!"

Meet John Steele Jr. as Benvolio!
(He's also a playwright and fervent tea enthusiast!)


Q: Describe We Players in four words.
A: Challenging, engaging, immersive, enlightening.

Q: How has working with We Players changed your perspective of theater, or of the world at large?
A: I have really reconnected with nature during this rehearsal process. I'm a city boy by choice, but I have never felt so at ease and at home in the elements as I have delving into Romeo and Juliet. Also, I have always been a fan of theater that doesn't occur in an actual theatre, but the idea of using the art form to bring awareness to the stories that are already a part of our cultural history is exciting. And having performed in a few state parks before, I am so proud to be working with a company that makes it their mission to bring attention to those natural gems that our country must continue to protect and value.

Q: Any funny or memorable We Players moments, anecdotes, quotes/metaphors you'd like to share?
A: One night when hopping from studio to studio [at our Romeo & Juliet Montalvo artist residency], a few of us began singing a basic choral chant in the round, but it slowly evolved into a bizarre choral chant version of the Sir Mix-A-Lot classic "Baby Got Back." We all took it so seriously, and sang through our little version, and once we had finished and we fully registered what we had created, we burst into hysterics.

Q: Share with us something about your process for creating your character thus far.
A: One of my favorite things about finding Benvolio has been discovering what a skilled fighter he is and has to be. Verona is a place where everything is in turmoil. Benvolio doesn't enjoy violence, but he understands the need for self-protection so he has learned how to fight with the best of them. Our brilliant fight choreographer approached the fighting styles in the play as a means of understanding the character, so I got to have a lot of input into what makes the way Benvolio blocks an attack different than how Tybalt or Mercutio would do it.

Q: Anything fun you'd like to tell us about yourself? Something that your audiences might never get the chance to ask about?
A: I have a red-nose clown persona named Scooter who has a panic disorder. But he tries his best, bless his heart, and he's usually okay if he has his safety goggles. When I was young I learned how to do balloon animals and basic juggling, so of course Scooter learned too. It's quite a process though. It usually takes him a few (maybe more than a few) tries to get it right.


Romeo & Juliet rehearsal photos by Lauren Matley

Actor Spotlight: Rush Rehm

Here's Romeo & Juliet actor spotlight #3!

Rush is an actor, the artistic director of Stanford Repertory Theater, a professor of Theater & Performance Studies and Classics at Stanford, and a published author in the areas of Greek tragedy and contemporary politics (phew!)-you’ll meet Rush in Romeo & Juliet as Friar Laurence.

 Q: Describe We Players in four words.
 A: Fun, Intimate, Engaged, Ava! 

 Q:How has working with We Players changed your perspective of theater, or of the world at large?
 A: I’ve lived too long and seen too many things for anything in the theater to change my view of the world. As for the theater, there are many ways to make it, and many of them are valid, rewarding, and effective. We Players is one such way.

 Q: What’s your hometown? How has it shaped you? 
A: No hometown, I traveled as a child. I like Greece, Paris (duh), Australia, New Zealand, Cuba, Berlin, London, Istanbul, I could go on. 

 Q: What would you be if you weren’t an actor? 
A: Few people (me included) are just “an actor.” What /who else would I be? Depends on the day. 

 Q: Tell us about some new favorite of yours, whether it’s a lunch dish, a singer, movie, color, or something else entirely. What is it about this new thing that’s rocking your world? 
 A:  Joseph Conrad. 

Photos by Tina Case Photography

Actor Spotlight: Libby Oberlin

Drum roll, please! Here’s our Romeo & Juliet Actor Spotlight #2! 
Meet Libby Kelly Oberlin as CAPULET (Lord and Lady) 

Q: Describe We Players in four words. 
A: Profound, extraordinary, meaningful, purposeful 

 Q: How has working with We Players changed your perspective of theater, or of the world at large?
 A: Shakespeare got it right when he said, “All the world’s a stage” and We Players takes that quite literally. Working with We really makes you realize that art can and _is_ happening all around us- and it does not have to be confined to a theater. I’ve worked on non-traditional stages and locations but the thought, research, and care that We puts into deriving meaning from a place is quite special. The place becomes another character, another player, and a real means of inspiration.

Q: Any funny or memorable We Players moments, anecdotes, quotes/metaphors you’d like to share? 
A: I think I’m going to get away with it this time so don’t tell Ava or Brooke but, in the past two shows that I’ve performed with We I’ve had the “pleasure” of wearing a flesh colored unitard, known as the nuditard. When in the nuditard during rehearsals, I’d sometimes wear a sweatshirt to keep warm. Park goers always did a double take when they saw me, as it looked like I forgot to put on my pants. Memorable, for sure! 

 Q: What’s your hometown? How has it shaped you? 
A: I grew up in Springfield Massachusetts, the birth place of basketball. No, I’m not a good basketball player but I definitely jammed and broke a number of fingers when I played as a kid. Most Springfield residents I know have an incredible knowledge of and mental repertoire of 90’s R&B songs, myself included. Mary J Blige was/is everything!! 

 Q: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be, and why?
 A: I’ve always known I would be an actor. Since I was seven years old. In addition to acting, I’m also a theater teacher. I can’t get enough! 

 Q: Tell us about some new favorite of yours, whether it’s a lunch dish, a singer, movie, color, or something else entirely. What is it about this new thing that’s rocking your world? 
A: As of 3 years ago, my new favorite person is my daughter Maeve. She’s the coolest!     

 

Photos by Tina Case and Jim Norrena 

Building ROMEO & JULIET at Montalvo Arts Center

We Players were blessed with a spring residency at Montalvo Arts Center this past May, and Montalvo's Lori Wood wrote this exciting article about the experience of having us on site!

Maria Leigh (Juliet), Libby Oberlin (Capulet), John Steele (Benvolio), and Stage Manager Britt Lauer at work building this year's Romeo & Juliet! Photo by Tina Case.

Maria Leigh (Juliet), Libby Oberlin (Capulet), John Steele (Benvolio), and Stage Manager Britt Lauer at work building this year's Romeo & Juliet! Photo by Tina Case.

"As We Players developed these experiences at Montalvo, the villa and its gardens rang with new sounds: the clash of swords on the front lawn, the calls of the characters’ spirit-animals, the music of a rueda on the villa’s front terrace, and the loudest artist dinner ever held in the Lucas Artists Program Commons. One Thursday night, the full cast of Romeo and Juliet came to dinner in character, each armed with secret instructions designed by director Ava Roy to build insight into their character—instructions that also served to create maximum drama, hubbub and happy consternation. A night of hilarity and chaos ensued, the windows shook, and culinary artist Andrea Blum and lone novelist Lynn Freed leapt for cover as the We Players brought their characters to life at full throttle."

Check out the full article at the Lucas Arts Program blog, Open Access!

Actor Spotlight: Courtney Walsh


We can’t believe week two of rehearsals at Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park is coming to a close. As we learn more and more about each other as fellow cast members of Romeo & Juliet, we will share those insights with you here in our Actor Spotlights!

Meet Courtney Walsh, our Mercutio!

Photo: Lauren Matley

Photo: Lauren Matley

 

WE: Describe We Players in four words…

CW: Adventurous, smart, committed, fun.

WE: How has working with We Players changed your perspective of theater, or of the world at large?

CW: Performance outside the black box removes inhibition. No room for self-consciousness at play or at large.

WE: Any funny or memorable We Players moments, anecdotes, quotes/metaphors you’d like to share?

CW: You can have a whole conversation between two people using just my character’s name:
Mercuti-YO!
Mercuti-you-HO!
Mercuti-WHOA!
Mercuti-GO.
Mercuti-NO!!
…Etc :)

WE: Tell us a little sumthin’ about you:

CW: I have four children, ages 12-23, and have been married 25 years. I have a horse and do competitive dressage. I also took several years off of acting to be a lawyer representing abused children. I have argued in the California Supreme Court.

WE: What is it about this new thing that’s rocking your world?

CW: Girls never get to sword fight - but now I do!

From Soil to Studio

It’s all about the site…

In 2015, We Players had the great pleasure of collaborating with Sasha Duerr and her “Soil to Studio” class at California College of the Arts for our Ondine at Sutro. With permission from the National Park Service, and working in collaboration with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, we source native coastal plants and other materials (such as charcoal from the beach and rust from old pipes of the baths) to dye the silks used for the ondines’ costumes. This year, we’re headed to a very different environment – from moist, salty sea breezes to the hot, dry and agriculturally rich wine country in Sonoma County. Once again we are partnering with Sasha and her students to source natural dyes from the environment, allowing the clothes to literally become an extension of the landscape.

Soil to Studio visited our performance site at Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park in late February, for sense activating exercises, a talk and walk through of the project vision, and plant identification. The students gathered walnuts, lichens, and nopal, and also used cochineal (scaled bugs that live on the nopal cactus) and iron shavings to create stunningly beautiful, rich colors.

Our costume designer Brooke Jennings is working with these colors to shape the color palette of her design. Brooke shares, “The crux of my design is deeply influenced by the performance site, its history, and how people thrived in this rich space. Harvesting the resources needed to create natural dyes from the site itself helps inform a more integrated, specific window to the world of our show and the history of the site. For me, to personally recreate the ways in which people in 1830’s California made clothing using the tools and resources from the site itself is an incredible archeological experience.”

Our work is deeply inspired by the project site. Working thoughtfully with the land in creating our designs is central to both our ethos and aesthetic. Many thanks to Sasha and her students at CCA for joining forces with We Players to create such stunning fabrics!

In our next episode…how animals native to this Northern California landscape are inspiring our mask maker Monica Lundy, and the wearable sculptures she is creating for the characters.

Spring has arrived

“Come, we burn daylight, ho!”
– Romeo & Juliet

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We welcome the lengthening days…
Let us rise in the light and bask on stones in the sun!
Or however you best fill the hours with the joy of nature and creative discovery.

Thank you Gala attendees for celebrating the equinox with us,
and for helping kick off our 2016 season with your tremendous support.

We raised $50,000 for site-integrated theatre!

THANK YOU
to all our supporters,
our inaugural award winner – Ruth Tringham,
our fabulous culinary artist – Andrea Blum,
our 35 volunteers and 22 in-kind donors.

What a joyous occasion, a fitting spring celebration of art, new life and community!

-------------------------------------- 
We’re soon heading into our April residency at the Montalvo Arts Center

 

Stay tuned via social media for live-from-the-studio reports from our cast and creative team as we immerse ourselves in the world of the play, dig into the text, develop dances and sword fights and swoon under the stars. 

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:
CAPULET BALL TICKETS NOW ON SALE!
Join us at one of four stunning sites for this interactive performance and party –
 an elaborate prelude to our full scale production later this summer

Info and Tickets

We wish you rambunctious adventures with your nearest and dearest, 
along with quiet moments of stillness
for savoring the tiny blossoms and sweetly scented air of spring.

boundless gratitude for life and love!
*

Equinox Excursions

Mid-March through mid-April is best time of year to visit Golden Gate Park’s Dutch Windmill and Tulip Garden. This garden was gifted to the city in 1902 by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. The cherry blossoms at the park’s Japanese Tea Garden are in full bloom as well.