Performer Spotlight: Ava Roy

“My sea-gown scarf'd about me”

-Hamlet

Ava Roy


We caught up with our Artistic Director, Ava Roy, to talk about memories of past work and about Undiscovered Country!

What was your first show with We?
My first show with We Players was Romeo and Juliet in spring 2000. I was a freshman in college and had just turned 20. The performance blasted off in the student union/ cafeteria at high noon with the Montague and Capulet brawl. The audience doubled in size over the course of the performance, as passersby joined the procession and became audience members. We traveled through the campus, using archways, corridors, and other impressive architectural features of the Stanford campus as our backdrop. 
Romeo and Juliet were married in the center of "The Quad" and ultimately were bound to the Burghers of Calais Rodin sculptures with red ribbons as their tomb. I played Juliet. And directed. And made all the costumes. And so on. This was the beginning of We Players and the earliest stages of development of our company philosophy, methodology, and aesthetic!

Four words to describe working with We?
Visceral, demanding, sensational, surprising

Describe a favorite memory working with We.
A favorite memory?! There are too many! 
Here are a few...waiting backstage as Viola at the top of 12th Night. My backstage was a little rowboat, tied up to the schooner Alma. I'd drink tea and huddle in blankets while Captain Tom waited for the walkie-talkie to cue us to row to shore. One day my dad was on the boat with me. That was especially precious. Or maybe waiting backstage as Ondine on the edge of the cliff at Land's End and observing two baby seagulls hatch and fledge over the course of the run. Or perhaps climbing to the top of Angel Island with my brother and listening to the sounds of The Odyssey waft up from around the island and watching the audience procession wind along the perimeter road. Or maybe all the many times and places I've spied on the audience from hidden locations on Alcatraz, and from the tall grasses on the Albany Bulb, or lying on my belly on the balconies at Montalvo or... every site has its secret nooks and unique vantages.

What is your favorite thing about working on Undiscovered Country
My favorite thing about working on Undiscovered Country thus far has been the celerity and ease with which the script has emerged. I am writing it, but it feels more like it is writing itself and I am playing a supporting role. It has felt very organic and surprising from the first draft to the current (fifth ?) draft. My #1 favorite thing is working with this group of collaborators - thoughtful, dedicated, kind, communicative, sincere, and very talented artists one and all.

What has been surprising about the process?
How much I am appreciating the anomaly of walls, electricity, and plumbing! 
Most We Players' performance venues are physically demanding and intense. This is part of the power of these sites, that they ask performers and audience alike to lean into the difficulty of wind and weather, to navigate hills and uneven terrain, and awaken their senses and enjoy heightened awareness. So it's come as a surprise how lovely it is for this rare bird of a show to occur indoors (albeit in a beautiful historic building with its own character and unique qualities), with heat, electricity and a bathroom less than a half mile hike away! Who knew how nice that could be?!



Don’t miss Ava in Undiscovered Country. Only three chances left! 

Photo by Lauren Matley

Flame and shadow

Think for a minute about what it would be like to have no light, total darkness
What the candle would mean to you…

In December I went to Iceland, largely in preparation for building BEOWULF.
And I read sagas and Icelandic lore...
I was struck by how many of the winter seasonal stories include mention of the preciousness of giving and receiving candles as gifts at this time of year.
To have your own candle was a big deal.
To have the power to light your own world.

We all have the power the light the world -  through the company we keep and the stories that we share.

Stories and storytelling can be a powerful light in the darkness, which we particularly need when times are... dark.

Our upcoming production of BEOWULF is a play for our times.
When demagogues are trying to define culture and the dominant story, we need to tell our stories ferociously to keep our truths alive.
We’re excited for the BEOWULF-inspired conversations our audiences will be having about heroes and monsters, kindness and cruelty, chaos and order, self and other, after walking out of the chapel, our mead hall.

We expect this work to challenge...it is unlike any other We Players' production to date. We invite you to journey into strange new territory and to release expectation of the usual. Immerse yourself in an abstract realm as we explore the story through a fractured lens and express the energetics of the saga through movement and intense soundscape. It is a fever-dream of memory and forgetting, a ritual that will both include your participation and leave you suspended in the shadows...

This entirely new work is inspired by the poem Beowulf, but not a direct re-telling. It is a truly multi-disciplinary collaboration built alongside the forces of the Rova saxophone quartet and inkBoat physical theatre and dance. 

The journey begins at the Maritime Museum at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. From there, we move along the northern waterfront, stopping at Black Point Battery - with it’s stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, before summiting the hill and entering the historic military chapel at Fort Mason. Once inside, we break bread and toast to our ancestors. Around our great table, we remember the fallen and recount tales of glory and of loss, of our hopes and our fears. We relive the events of the epic, moving in reverse chronology from the time of Beowulf's death. We open a Pandora's box of questions and leave them hanging in the darkness, for each of us to grapple with...


We hope you’ll join us.

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!

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

2014 Reflections

“We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have.
Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”
 – Henry James

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2014!

A quick recap: we rallied after the effects of the 2013 Government Shut Down and re-activated our stunning Macbeth at Fort Point, we brought the joyous Canciones del Mar back to the tall ship Balclutha and the provocative and entrancing Vessels for Improvisation back to the ferry boat Eureka (both vessels at Hyde Street Pier); we experimented with roving site-based performance with King Fool, our two-person distillation of King Lear, and we spent five fruitful weeks immersed in rehearsal for our sailing production of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Shortly before the expected opening performance of Rime on Halloween, we confronted the challenge of discerning between radically compromising the vision and honoring the core artistic integrity of the piece. We chose the latter. We trust this will lead us to a resplendent fully realized production in due time.

In just a few short months we launch our fabulous annual dinner theatre gala (February 28, save the date!) and then dive into rehearsals for our newest site-integrated colossus: a sprawling and gorgeous Ondine at Sutro. Meanwhile, as the days curl with surprising quickness into cozy darkness, and the crisper chill of autumn air carries us into cave of winter, we embrace this seasonal shift as an opportunity for reflection and envisioning what dreams may come…

In truth, this task of self-reflection is an ongoing and ever-present part of our practice within We Players. Though sometimes confusing and always challenging, to me, these questions are essential, like bread and water.

* Why make art? * What’s the core purpose? * Who is it for? * What’s the intention of a work? * Why does it matter? * What do I have to share that is truly of value? * What do I want to see more of in the world? * How can I contribute to that? * How do we achieve maximum and meaningful impact with our work? * How does our art support the expansion and elevation of the human spirit? *

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This fall, as I engage with these impossible and crucial questions, I find myself peering back into the mists of spring 2000 when We Players was born, and still more questions bubble up.

* Why did I form We Players? What were my questions then? What were my intentions then?

What were the foundational inspirations and principles guiding the work then? Which are still true now? Which have changed? What have I forgotten that is still essential and must be remembered? Why site-specific work? Why participatory? Why Shakespeare? What’s the role of ritual in making theatre? Why We Players?

Through these questions we continually stretch and strengthen our established practice (our methodologies, intentions, aesthetic and purpose), which enlivens public place, challenges the intellect, stretches the capacity for feeling and empathy, and elevates the spirit.

2015 is just around the bend! In addition to Ondine at Sutro in the spring, we’ll be opening the first of several visual art exhibitions at the SF Maritime Museum in February, sharing a series of dynamic presentations at the newly opened Officer’s Club in the Presidio throughout the year, and announcing a still-secret smaller scale work at a surprise location in the fall.

I look forward to sharing with you thrilling performances, rich with moments of shocking beauty, charged with vital questions and bright with both expansive natural vistas and the radiance of the human spirit. 

xo

Ava Roy

Artistic Director, We Players