"Grendel and I are called together, and I've come."
An exploration of darkness and light, power and conquest, monstrosity and heroism - performed through startling imagery, rich soundscape, and Fervent physicality.
Directed by Ava Roy and Shinichi Iova-Koga
The journey begins at sunset
Thursday - Sunday, March 11 - April 16, 2017
At San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Read the BEOWULF Program Guide
+ Click here for Performance Schedule
Travel on foot through lands real and imagined during this world premiere performance inspired by the ancient epic, BEOWULF. Presented by acclaimed site-specific theater company We Players, in collaboration with Rova saxophone quartet and inkBoat Physical Theatre and Dance, and produced in partnership with Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
In keeping with We Players’ signature performance events, this production of BEOWULF will move throughout an historic landscape as the story unfolds. This sweeping site-integrated production will commence at the historic Maritime Museum and Aquatic Park. Audiences will travel along the northern waterfront, encountering a nearly forgotten past filled with ceremony, honor and violence, warriors and shape-shifters - at the intersection of ancient and present time. Together the tribe will seek shelter and safety at the ancestral mead hall, where all are invited to break bread together as the experience unfolds. Danger lurks in the shadows without and within, an unknown terror is always just out of view.
BEOWULF explores darkness and light, power and conquest, monsters and humans, through startling imagery, rich soundscape and fervent physicality.
BEOWULF celebrates the culmination of We Players’ unprecedented 5 year cooperative agreement with SF Maritime National Historical Park, the first of its kind in the nation. The production is a multi-discipline collaboration with Rova saxophone quartet, preeminent musicians in the avant-garde jazz and improvisational music scene for nearly 4 decades, and inkBoat Physical Theatre and Dance led by Artistic Director Shinichi Iova-Koga. Iova-Koga and We Players’ Artistic Director Ava Roy co-direct this ensemble devised production, which takes inspiration and guidance from (and is loosely based on) the ancient anglo-saxon poem.
This production of BEOWULF radically departs from that most ancient poem of the same name. When we peel back the layers of story and character, what reveals itself? What dreams emerge? As we tell tales of legendary heroes and monsters, we also reflect on our current times. Join us to discover the weapons of word, body and sound created by We Players, inkBoat and Rova Saxophone Quartet in this epic battle to discover, in the end, our humanity through the lens of monstrosity.
We recommend reading this summary of Beowulf to ground you in this dreamscape.
Please note that a strobe-like effect and smoke effects will be used during the indoor portion of this event.
"The story of Beowulf and Grendel serves as a point of departure for a meditation, militant and mournful, on the times in which we live…”
-Buzz Goldberg, Theatrius
"So many disparate and brilliant elements comprise We Players’ new, site-integrated, multidisciplinary version of “Beowulf” that it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.”
-Jean Schiffman, SF Examiner
"WE Players is to be commended for its creative and original use of historic and natural settings. No wonder Backstage.com and other publications have recognized them for creating groundbreaking immersive theater.”
-Buzz Goldberg, Theatrius
"Every facet of the production is intuitively composed and purposeful. The players are powerful conjurers. Their words, movement, and music all sent shivers through my nerves many times over. The saxophones were incredibly versatile and effective conduits for enticement, envelopment, threatening rage, and bitter bereavement. The performers labour and labour for the audience; every welling of laughter and emotion in me felt wrought from determined and sacrificing humans."
How long is the performance?
Approximately 2 hours, and there is no intermission. Restrooms are accessible before the show begins, but not during the performance.
How do I get there?
Our journey begins at the San Francisco Maritime Museum at 900 Beach St. (Polk dead ends onto Beach and the entrance to the museum). Look for a red We Players' flag marking the entrance! Several Muni lines serve the area - visit 511.org to plan your transit ride.
Where do I park?
There is parking available throughout Upper Fort Mason near the chapel. You may also find parking on Bay Street or Van Ness. Additionally, there is extensive parking just down the hill at Lower Fort Mason. The Ghiradelli Square parking lot is located very close to the Maritime Museum at 900 North Point St.
What about food and drinks?
Nourishing broth and fresh bread will be served during the performance. You are welcome to bring a water bottle on the journey.
How accessible is this production?
Mobility needs can be accommodated and will be addressed on a case by case basis, please contact We Players at email@example.com to request assistance.
What is the recommended age for youths attending this production?
We suggest that youths attending BEOWULF be age 12 and up, though the show may remain appropriate down to age 10 for especially mature individuals.
My budget is very limited, how can I get discounted tickets?
You can join the BEOWULF Rush Ticket mailing list for a chance at last-minute half-price tickets if they become available.
What should I wear?
We are in mourning. We ask you to wear ALL BLACK - or as much black clothing as possible - when you join us.
Please wear comfortable close-toed shoes and warm layers. Our journey begins outside and you will be moving across uneven terrain and up stairs. Our ritual will continue rain or shine, so be sure to wear rain gear and bring umbrellas if the skies threaten and showers are forecast. You will be warmed once you reach the Mead Hall.
This project looks really interesting! Can I volunteer with We Players?
Absolutely! Volunteers can help us with food prep, and with audience and community wrangling. A good sense of hospitality is a plus! Click here to learn more.
What if my question is not answered here?
For questions about the production and performance, please contact We Players at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For questions about new or existing reservations, please contact the box office at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture at 415-345-7575 .
+ The BUZZ
"Beautiful, poetic, and haunting..."
Buzz Goldberg, Theatrius, “BEOWULF” BY THE BAY BREAKS NEW GROUND, March 24, 2017
Lily Janiak, SFGate, We Players adapts ‘Beowulf’ for the great outdoors , March 15, 2017
Theatre Eddys, BEOWULF, March 19, 2017
"So many disparate and brilliant elements comprise We Players’ new, site-integrated, multidisciplinary version of “Beowulf” that it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.” -Jean Schiffman, SF Examiner
"I really felt like we were collectively mourning for our country, mourning for our fallen humanity that has departed from nature, from instinct, from listening. The dynamic shifts that broke the meditative, ritualistic rhythms were like waking up from a dream, but into another dream --almost the nightmare of reality." -Adriana
"I keep thinking of the ending procession image; the final preparation before facing the unknown." -Sabrina
"Beowulf is sensational. I have never experienced anything like it... We Players know how to offer a play experience like no other. Way beyond play. Beyond Albert Ayler. Beyond Shakespeare. Beyond anything." -David
The production was amazing, raising many good questions, shedding light on unpopular thinking, and an amazing attention to detail. Your use of space and intention in doing so is truly remarkable.” - Steve
“Thank you and all involved for the experience of Beowulf tonight. Powerful, provocative, relevant, moving, and exceptionally well-crafted and executed.” - Anthea
“Such a moving journey to experience. I am appreciative of the effectiveness resulting from the collaborative work here, together with such quality individual talent. And, the haunting sounds enveloped my innards at their core, leaving me wanting for more.” - Judy
"Thanks to you all for this amazing production. My head and heart are still spinning. The themes and production are so eternal, especially as we're living through our own pestilence era." - Diane
"The doors are flung open sending the reenergized, mighty tribe to sally forth back into the harsh outside world, monsters retreating back to the shadows... I can't imagine a better metaphor for us modern warriors to re-energize our own might and confidence in the face of the darkness and monsters encroaching on us every day." - Rand
+ The Cast
Rova Saxophone Quartet: Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin (saxophones and creative collaboration)
inkBoat: Shinichi Iova-Koga, Dana Iova-Koga
We Players: Ava Roy, Charlie Gurke, Nathaniel Justiniano
+ The Production Team
Moira McGovern: Production Stage Manager
Hamilton Guillen: Technical Director
Albert Kong: Assistant Technical Director
Maria Chenut: Costume Designer
Allen Willner: Lighting Designer
Yoshinori Asai: Properities Master
Rachel Bergquist: Set Construction
Zahra Jangbar: Costume Intern
Ellen Boener: Directors' Assistant
Liam Collier: Directors' Assistant
+ The Poem
Beowulf the poem is the source material for We Players' spring 2017 premiere by the same title, and will be devised through a collaborative, ensemble-based process. There will be recognizable elements of the story, as well as abstractions inspired by the more fundamental thematic exploration of heroes and monsters and how they live among and within us all. For reference to our source material, please explore the following resources.
This ancient Anglo-Saxon poem may very well be the oldest surviving epic poem written in Old English. While scholars debate the composition date, estimates place it between 975 and 1025CE. The original manuscript survived fire and neglect, and was rescued from oblivion. Its academic value has long been appreciated, but it was JRR Tolkien in his lecture and essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics who helped the world appreciate it as a work of art, independent of its value as an historic artifact.
There are many, many (many) translations of Beowulf. Our favorites include: Burton Raffel's 1963 Edition and Seamus Heaney's 1999 dual language version. Other notable translations include JRR Tolkien's 1926 edition and Howell D Chickering's 1977 dual-language edition.
For further reading, we highly recommend John Gardner's 1971 novel Grendel which explores the epic from the monster's perspective (and oh so much more...)
Get your young people (or yourself) caught up with the story with this short 1998 animated version narrated by Derek Jacobi.
There are many audio versions of the poem, and our favorite is narrated by George Guidall.
+ Beowulf: A Summary
The poem tells the story of the hero Beowulf, who travels across the sea from his native Geatland to Denmark, where King Hrothgar and his people have long been suffering the torments of the monster Grendel, who hunts only at night and who no one has seen. Many of Hrothgar’s greatest warriors have been slaughtered as they slept in the great mead hall, a majestic building called Herot. Beowulf and his 12 companions arrive to Denmark and offer their services to the Danish King. Beowulf swears to rid the land of the beast that plagues the Danes, and to prove his unparalleled strength and courage by killing the monster with his bare hands.
That very night, after much feasting and drinking and telling of tales, when all have gone to sleep, Beowulf stays awake and watchful. Lo! Grendel approaches, knocks down the door of Herot and immediately snatches one of Beowulf’s men and devours him. Beowulf springs into action, seizing Grendel’s arm with his mighty hands - which are said to contain the strength of 30 men. A great battle ensues, the two locked together as they crash against the walls of the mead hall. At last, Beowulf tears off Grendel’s arm and the monster flees.
In the morning, the people are in awe of the enormous arm and claw and they celebrate their freedom from the beast. Queen Wealthow and King Hrothgar bestow abundant treasure on Beowulf and a tremendous celebration - full of feasting, drinking, songs and stories - continues long into the night. At last, once the last man has fallen asleep, a new monster rises from the depths of the foul lake at the edge of the forest. Grendel’s mother emerges from her swampy lair to retrieve the severed arm of her son and to feast upon one of the sleeping thanes.
In the morning, Beowulf and his men follow the monster’s tracks to the edge of the lake - no ordinary lake mind you - a boiling, bloody lake full of fire-snakes and ferocious creatures. In full armor, Beowulf dives in and sinks to the bottom where he encounters the massive female monster. The battle is savage and Beowulf is nearly conquered, but at last, seizing a magic sword from the wall of the she-wolf’s cave, Beowulf slays her and triumphs. He then severs the head of the dead Grendel, lying lifeless in the cave, and swims to the surface with the massive head. It takes four men to carry Grendel’s head back to Herot, where the people stare in awe and terror at the incredible sight. Queen Wealthow and King Hrothgar shower Beowulf with lavish treasure and there is much feasting and celebrating.
At last, Beowulf and his men return home to Geatland. After some time, Beowulf becomes king. During his long rule no neighboring tribes dare to attack the Geats, so famous is Beowulf’s prowess. Beowulf reigns for 50 years, during which time he neither marries, nor sires an heir. One day, somewhere in the Geatish kingdom, a slave escapes his master. During this slave’s desperate flight, he stumbles into a dragon's cave unawares. Discovering the sleeping beast, he panics and runs away, grabbing a golden cup from the immense pile of treasure as he flees. The dragon awakes and ferociously attacks the people, burning down homes and ravaging the landscape. Beowulf is summoned to slaughter the dragon, which he insists he will do alone. As Beowulf enters the dragon’s lair, the young warrior Wiglaf incites his comrades to help their king, as it becomes clear that Beowulf, now an old man, is unequipped to tackle the dragon alone. No one rises to the call, and Wiglaf alone follows his king into the dragon’s lair. At last, Beowulf kills the dragon, but the dragon in turn takes his life. Beowulf dies in Wiglaf’s arms. News spreads quickly of the great king’s death.
The poem ends with a fearful prophecy of dark days to come...
“A gnarled old woman, hair wound
Tight and gray on her head, groaned
A song of misery, of infinite sadness
And days of mourning, of fear and sorrow
To come, slaughter and terror and captivity.
And Heaven swallowed the billowing smoke.”
Raffel, line 3150-3155