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.

First Mask Making Salon

Join We Players’ core creative team and special guests for a free presentation and hands-on mask making workshop, featuring a mask dance demonstration by very special guest artist Ernesto Sanchez.

Ever been struck by a mask on the wall? A mask animated by performance or ritual? Want to learn about how masks have been used in different cultures over time? Have you ever wanted to wear a disguise?

Listen to our artists share their research and ideas while making masks that will used in We Players’ upcoming Romeo & Juliet site-integrated performance events. Join us for fellowship, crafting, and an insider’s peek into our creative process!

Ondine at Sutro: Performance Demonstration & Conversation

March 19, 7-8pm
Presidio Officer’s Club
50 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco

Join the creative team responsible for We Players’ newest large-scale, site-integrated production, Ondine at Sutro, for a lively evening of performance demonstrations and conversation about the creative process.

This evening at the Presidio Officer’s Club will provide a sneak peek into the upcoming project, which will take place on and around the ruins of the old bath house at Lands End and the beautiful Sutro Heights Park above the Cliff House. The presentation will include an introduction to the history and ecology of the environs at Sutro Baths, insights into the production during the early stages of the rehearsal process, including real-time rehearsal of select scenes!

The event will feature:

· Ava Roy, production co-director and producer
· Carly Cioffi, production co-director
· Lauren Chavez, choreographer and producer
· Performers from the upcoming production

This event is free but registration is required due to space constraints.
Please note that registering does not guarantee admission. Registered guests will be offered priority admission that will be honored until 15 minutes before the start of the event.

2014 Shakespeare Intensive with John Hadden

Explore the richness of Shakespeare’s language in an intimate workshop setting with John, Ava and We Players.

Visiting artist John Hadden is one of the founding company members of Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts and has been developing his dexterity with Shakespeare’s language for over 30 years. He has an incredible ability to help unpack the specific meaning of the text, with the particular individuals in the unique circumstances of the moment. We are thrilled to have John Hadden join forces with We Players as an Associate Artist.

Due to popular demand, there will be two workshop modules. Participants are limited to 8  people per session. 

First Session: Monday January 13 & Tuesday January 14, 8-11pm

Second Session: Wednesday January 15 & Thursday January 16, 8-11pm

All sessions held at SF Circus Center: 755 Frederick St., San Francisco

Please plan to arrive between 7:30 and 7:45pm to sign in and get settled in the space

Participants: (tuition: $140) must come prepared with a 2 minute Shakespeare monologue. Participation in both evenings of either session is required. For deeply interested actors – participation in both sessions (all four evenings) will be considered (tuition: $250).

Observers: ($20 per session, or $50 to attend all sessions) are active witnesses to the individual work. This is very powerful and instructive for actors, directors and teachers alike.

King Fool and Night Walk this Friday!

We Players invites our community to join us in a Night Walk through the Mission in advance of our final San Francisco showing of King Fool, this Friday.
(Our 9/26 event – including performance, conversation and festive closing reception, will begin at 8pm, in a private warehouse just south of Mission Bay. The address will be revealed upon placing your reservation)

One of the things that has come up in our post-performance conversations is the truth that we cannot know when we will die.

Many of us hope that we will be blessed with a full life and well cared for by those we most love as we age and approach death. In our adaptation, Lear is blessed in this way, and yet his story is still heartbreaking.

It is a far greater tragedy for young people to die from violent crime.

The faith communities in the Mission – with whom we shared our opening performance of King Fool, have been making a positive impact in their neighborhood by being present and peaceful.

Our creative team is inspired to connect the timeless themes of death and relationship with current realities and join these communities for this Friday’s Night Walk.

We welcome your participation.

More info below.

*
For over a year now, several faith communities have been regularly walking some of the more violent streets of the Mission with a simple three-fold message:

We care
Stop the violence
What do you need?

At this next Nightwalk we will also celebrate the re-emergence of an important street-intervention organization in our neighborhood. This organization, called CALLES (meaning “Streets”), has been one of the Mission’s most effective organizations reaching high-risk youth. It has been dormant for the last few years, but makes its comeback as part of our next Nightwalk.

When: Friday, September 26, 6-7:30pm

Where: Starting with a short ceremony at Instituto Familiar De La Raza (IFR) // 2919 Mission St, SF, CA 94110 and walking to Centro del Pueblo // 474 Valencia St

Gold from King Fool post-performance conversations

Our King Fool project is an experiment on many levels.

I’ve been kicking off our post-performance conversations with a brief summary of We Players’ mission: connecting people with place through site-integrated theatre and using our art to provoke thought and stimulate conversation on the shared themes of play and place.

We are sharing King Fool in a variety of locations, which does two things:

1) stretches our site-integrated practice to make the piece seem to emerge from and be at home in the place, without a lot of scouting and on-site rehearsal time; and

2) reinforces that the core theme of death, and supporting one another as we approach death, is not unique to any one place.

Our post-performance conversations have largely flowed without much effort on my part as a facilitator. Ava and John’s acting, the narrative of father-child relationship and Shakespeare’s rich language plucks at our heartstrings. Nature, in her constantly shifting vibrancy, holds us in the present moment. A respondent shares what struck them in witnessing the piece, and offers some insight garnered through encountering death and loss in their daily work. There are so many directions to go!

We’re halfway through the run and I’m looking forward to attending all the remaining performances! No live theatre event is ever the same. Performing outdoors, We Players really embraces and celebrates that truth in all of our work… but since the audience is different each time ‘round, our conversations take the concept of experiencing something “fresh and new” to another level.

I’m heartened that our mission appears to be working. Most people are yearning to talk about death and loss, and theatre is forging the container for an informative and inspiring conversation between folks from very different backgrounds. Below are short summary bios for two of our respondents, demonstrating the very different directions our discussion might take.

Join us for one of the remaining King Fool performance and add your voice!

Friday, September 19 – Cara Rose DeFabio

Cara Rose DeFabio lives in San Francisco and makes experimental performance that examines how technology mediates human experience. Her solo work After the Tone examines how digital debris has transformed the mourning process and how the technological capacity for memory may be shaping our ability to forget. Weaving together newspaper headlines, tweets, forgotten choreography and audience contributions via their cell phones, the show uses multiple platforms to weave together the story of our new digital afterlife. Her latest work, DARKNET explores the deep web, anonymity online, the expectation of privacy and how we behave when we think no one is watching.

Sunday, September 28 – Lois Williams

I am a hospice chaplain in the East Bay. I am also an Episcopal priest, and have at times been considered to be a little mystic. I work with both dying patients and their family or friends helping them come to terms with their terminal illness. I do this from a background of psychology, philosophy and theology. I will assess their spiritual needs, and journey with them as someone who holds hope in a future – whatever that looks like, while allowing them to find and share their own meaning of life with their family and/or myself.

I respect everyone’s faith tradition, or spiritual concepts; we are too complex, and the universe is too amazing for there to be only one way to be. My God is a loving one who does not reject anyone, and I desire to walk in love as Jesus did, as Buddha did, as Martin Luther King has, along with many others, and I do this one conversation at a time.

Spotlight on Company Training

Back in the days on the Stanford campus, in addition to the few dancers and actors among us, our ranks included those on paths to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, and engineers. To my thinking, this wide array of sensibilities and skill sets profoundly enriches the work we make. After all, We Players fundamental practice is centered around expanding perception, learning to see from new and unexpected angles. A team of folks whose training encourages distinct viewpoints naturally provides this kind of perceptive diversity.

In recent years, our core crew of performers has become increasingly rich with trained performers, people who are dedicating their lives to their artistic practice and cultivation of their craft. Among us there are clowns, acrobats, yogis, dancers, and accomplished musicians. Of course, in any theatre company you might find such an array of talents. Indeed, in any group, there is a veritable treasure trove of the number one human resource – imagination. We do well to eagerly embrace and invite these invisible powers forth.

When I’m directing, though it’s crucial that I maintain connection with the guiding light, or vision for a given production, I strive to step out of the way of my performers and invite their genius to shine. I appreciate the Greek conception of “genius” tremendously. It is not something reserved exclusively for those few chosen and touched by the gods – though thank the gods for the Shakespeares and Beethovens given to earth now and again! But the ancients offer a richer idea of genius as something that we each possess and that can be awakened within us. In this moment, I’m getting the image of a genie in a bottle. If rubbed the right way, and invited forth, it can erupt with incredible potency and efficacy.

In recent months, we’ve begun to schedule “company training sessions” with some of We Players core collaborators. These sessions serve to shine the magic lamp and invite the powers within each of the participants to emerge and grow stronger through activation. A small band of invited artists gather – between rehearsals for other projects, teaching, running companies, raising families – to share our skills and deepen our relationships as collaborators. We work indoors and outdoors, in backyards and studios, for three or four hours at a time to develop our shared vocabulary and stretch into new territory.

In our latest company training sessions we’ve worked with psychological gesture, improvisation games and etudes, chorus, the vast expanse of clown work, and a wide assortment of physical and vocal exercises (including material from familiar pedigrees such as Laban, Viewpoints, Alexander and Linklater, as well as our own invented and exploratory exercises). We work on relaxation techniques, ways of preparing the physical instrument for character work and emotional accessibility. Through these practices we activate our imaginations and cultivate flexibility and dexterity as performers and creative partners.

With focus on voice and physicality, we strive to notice habits, our patterns of tension and how to release and expand our expressive capacity. We work and play intensively without the pressures of a specific production – the unforgiving schedule of preparing a piece for an impending performance date. I admit that I thrive under the exquisite pressure of a performance clock, but these training sessions provide a different kind of energetic space. A generous environment to gather and share our knowledge and unique skill sets, to tune our instruments. Like any instrument which needs to be played and practiced, an actor must constantly attend to hers – body and voice, psyche and soul, indeed the actor’s whole being must be exercised through…play.

This work is a powerful support to We Players artistic growth. You can’t cheat time spent. So we spend time together. We play.

– Ava Roy, We Players’ Founding Artistic Director

Working with the Parks

We Players has been creating art in public spaces since 2000, and in partnership with the National Park Service and California State Parks since 2008. Last year we coined the term “site-integrated” to describe our keystone, outdoor, traveling theatre productions to differentiate our creative practice from the many (and ever-increasing) site-specific performance groups and artists in the Bay Area and beyond. Rather than simply choosing a dramatic or inexpensive backdrop for a performance, we very much create our art in direct relationship with the many layers of history, ecology, and community that we encounter within our treasured parklands.

Hamlet on Alcatraz. Autumn, 2010.

Hamlet on Alcatraz. Autumn, 2010.

In addition to regular visits to a project site and protracted, full sensory observation, frequent interaction with various partners in the park services and affiliated non-profit cooperating agencies is a major part of our process. At the start of a new project, we get to explore the troves of information and artifacts housed in the many libraries, archival storage sites, and memories of staff. Wanting to be around the site as much as possible, we volunteer where we can and use our craft to honor park anniversaries. And as we create art in a park, the staff who have worked (and sometimes lived) in our project sites for years or decades tip us off to hidden gems, provide suggestions and feedback, and help us problem solve. It’s a mutually beneficial exchange. We all appreciate the place and want to support visitors in experiencing the park in a profound way.

Our park partners understand the value of our work and acknowledge the potential for creative engagement to transform park visitors into park stewards. I am proud that We Players projects make up half of the past projects listed by the newly-formed Art in the Parks Program. And I’m glad that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has a well-delineated process for inviting more artists to explore the parks and deepen their relationship with place through art-making.

I’m very curious about the changes in perspective and behavior that occur when one goes from a non-committal, unattached visitor to an invested lover of place. When we truly care for our public places we take time to be present there. We listen. And as we listen, we learn more and more about the environment, from traffic patterns to animal behaviors to the patterns of the wind. I’ve had the blessing to witness this transformation occur in many of our collaborators over the years.

-Lauren D. Chavez
Managing Director, We Players

Growing our Aesthetic Education Program

Some of my most fulfilling work with We Players has been running programs with youth. In the early years of our organization, Ava and I both offered education programs rooted in We Players’ practice of connecting with our sensing bodies, communicating honestly and creatively, and fostering healthy relationships with one another and place.

My experience with the youth at the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center during our residency on Alcatraz was quite profound, and it planted seeds for someday growing an education program that would seamlessly integrate with each of our major site-integrated theatre productions.

In developing our Aesthetic Education Program, we chose to first target teenagers for a few reasons: our park partners have some amazing education programs, but there are few opportunities for teens to creatively engage with these public resources; people are generally introduced to Shakespeare and other classics (central to our work) during their teen years; and, while I know many in our culture struggle to understand and communicate with them, the formative teen years are full of vitality and deep questioning and I personally find sharing time with teenagers incredibly enlivening and meaningful.

In my five years of experience running nature awareness and primitive skills classes and performance workshops, I’ve learned how important it is for teens to have a driving purpose and I’ve seen how brilliant, dedicated, and truly helpful our youth can be when their vision is clear.

We Players is taking our site-integrated artistic practice in a new direction to craft Aesthetic Education Programs with the express purpose of training the creative problem solvers of tomorrow.

We acknowledge the fact that our planet is facing major legacy issues, and our AEP is designed to prepare our youth for the tasks at hand. We empower young people by stretching their imaginations and offering skills for coming together to solve new-paradigm problems across social barriers. By inspiring curiosity to explore the delicacies and intricacies of the environment and to remember the tremendous capacity of the sensing body, our programs organically encourage stewardship of both natural and urban environments.

Our introductory workshops offer a taste of our practice on school grounds. As we expand our programs in 2014-15, I look forward to bringing a core of dedicated teenagers to our project sites to take their (and our) work to the next level. Our timely project themes are water, the mysteries in the deep, and our tenuous human relationship with the natural world… there’s so much to explore!

-Lauren D. Chavez
Managing Director, We Players

A New Hunger: John on Shakespeare Intensive 2014

John Hadden, We Players Associate Artist, on current 2014 Shakespeare Intensive Workshops

I’ve been here four days and so far we’ve explored some beautiful and auspicious landscapes for future plays, held auditions for about 60 new actors, worked with WE friends on the complex matter of teaching, read scenes and scholarly essays out loud while making our way through traffic from one end of town to another–and of course, dreamed our way through a dozen magnificent ideas while sifting through nuts and bolts…

And the workshops! I’ve been very privileged to teach lately in a number of classrooms and professional settings and it feels like actors across the age and experience spectrum are ready for digging deeper than usual to make the Quixotic attempt to speak the impossible truth. Why is this? Is there a new hunger in the Zeitgeist? I like to think so, and I like to think it can draw us all together. Not just us oddball theater nerds, but lots of people with all kinds of interests and backgrounds.

Two things I’ve found while seeing people work this week:

1.  Submission is sometimes more powerful, more theatrically potent, than being in charge; listening with a full visceral attention is sometimes more potent than speaking. We must insist on more from ourselves as theater makers. A scene is useless unless something actually happens between the actors. We’ve become too accustomed to faithful renderings of the text. The theater exists only as a medium of transformation–and how can we expect perception shifts in our audience if we don’t open ourselves to that possibility ourselves?

2.  Of course, speaking is important too. Two nights ago, while working with an actor on the purely formal aspects of the language and verse structure in “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…”, I absolutely fell in love with his last go at it. I lost the strength in my knees, my feeling was so complete. What happened was that the beauty of his rendering balanced the despair of his realization–and for one moment, Macbeth was a fully human being who saw the possibilities of love and laughter that exist only in the immediate presence of the moment–and he invited us into that moment as well.

All it takes is one good moment.