Category Archives: Awesome People

Goodbye, Old Friend

 

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Marissa Keltie and Reggie D. White in the world premiere production of Lauren Yee’s Crevice, 2012, directed by Desdemona Chiang. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

The news has dropped that this, our 20th season, will be my company’s last as a producing organization. It’s been overwhelming and emotional to say the least. I’ve been away from the blog, social media, and, you know, REALITY for awhile while we were working toward this decision. I have a lot of things to say and some memories to share.

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Alyssa Bostwick in a PR shot for Scab, 2003, the production that introduced the work of Sheila Callaghan to the Bay Area. Directed by me. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

 

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One of our earliest flyers. This was 1997. Pictured are the people who wrote and directed the short plays, since that’s who we had on hand. L to R: Charlie Marenghi, Alex Pearlstein, Tonia Sutherland, and Christopher Morrison.

I’m deeply grateful for all the love and support given us over the years by our artists and audiences, local critics, and theatremakers and writers nationwide. Impact’s mission was always one of service. Our mission was to provide early-career actors, writers, directors, designers, and tech professional opportunities while producing work that spoke to a younger generation of theatregoers– early-career audience, if you will. We felt that mission was underrepresented in the theatre community, so we set out to change that. Watching our artists grow– both in-house and as they moved on to bigger things– has been one of the most satisfying aspects of my life. Right this moment, there are artists who came through Impact working Off Broadway and at OSF, and, of course, in TV and film, whose voracious appetites for playwrights support emerging writers with regular salaries, a development I never could have predicted when we began this company in 1996. I know one day someone who came through Impact will be accepting that Tony, Oscar, or Pulitzer.

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Andrea Snow and Marissa Keltie in Disassembly, one of the six Steve Yockey plays (5 of which were world premieres) Impact produced, including the short play he wrote for Bread and Circuses, which he also curated. The first, Cartoon!, introduced his work to the Bay Area. Steve Yockey is the one who came up with the name “Bitter Gertrude” for this blog. I will always be grateful for his trust in us and his friendship. Plus he introduced me to Bitch Pudding. Steve’s plays are now done all over the country, and he writes for HBO’s The Brink. (Photo by Cheshire Isaacs, production directed by Desdemona Chiang)

 

If I had a coat of arms, it would be a pair of hands giving someone a boost-up. My only regret is that I couldn’t help more artists. Thank you for trusting us with your talent, your time, your attention, and your work. I love you all, you magnificent bastards.

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Reggie D. White and Anna Ishida in Titus Andronicus, 2012, directed by me. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

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Jonathon Brooks as the character Jason portraying Kester the Younger, his D&D character, in Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men, 2011. When Of Dice and Men premiered at PAX, I was immediately contacted by a bunch of people asking me, excitedly, “Did you know there’s a D&D play?!” Evidently I was the leading nerd AD in the US at the time. I found Cameron, asked for the script, and knew within twenty minutes I had to produce and direct it. Cameron is yet another good friend I made working with this company.

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One of our PR shots for Macbeth, 2003, directed by me. Second from the left is Skyler Cooper (as Lenox), who would go on to play Othello in our lesbian Othello (picture below). Next to Skyler is Pete Caslavka (as Macbeth), a key member of my company for many years, now living in LA. I still miss him so much. Next to Pete is Casey Jackson (as Banquo), who would go on to play Iago in that same Othello. Photo by Kevin Berne in the alley behind our theatre. Skyler brought with her to this shoot the most beautiful woman any of us had ever seen in person. This was our introduction to Skyler’s power over women. They would show up at the theatre, dropping off gifts (like hand-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries for the cast) and cards, seeing if Skyler was there yet. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. She’s also an amazing actor and a wonderful, big-hearted human. You may have seen her on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2011.

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Marissa Keltie as Desdemona and Skyler Cooper as Othello. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs, 2005.

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Prince Gomolvilas and Brandon Patton in one of the three incarnations we produced of their amazing show, Jukebox Stories. I adored all three of these shows. One day I’ll have to find a way to produce another one.

WHAT COMES NEXT

Impact 2.0 will exist online. Impact’s mission has always been one of service, so we’re discussing ways we can continue to be of service to the theatre community. We’re looking at providing profiles of artists and writers whose work we recommend, articles with advice for emerging artists, articles from varied and diverse perspectives in theatre, reviews of local indie shows, resources for teachers, and more. Nothing’s set in stone, but the new Impact will likely cover at least some of that. Our annual season planning retreat is MLK weekend, so we’ll be planning a new Impact for you then. Stay tuned. And again: THANK YOU.

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Pete Caslavka in The How-To Show, a collection of shorts directed by Alyssa Bostwick, 2006.

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Cheshire Isaacs created so many incredible posters for us. I’m partial to this one, because the actor on it is the Spawn of Gertrude– my youngest, Jonah, as Antenor, 2013. Jonah had tech instead of a 15th birthday party. We had cake and then got back to work. “Now you’re a real theatre professional. We don’t have birthdays– we have tech.”

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One of several poster images Cheshire designed for Impact that became the cover of the published version. (We did the west coast premiere of Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman, directed by Desdemona Chiang, in 2008.) Cheshire’s graphic design and production photography are the best in the nation. You can hire him for freelance work for your company by checking out Cheshiredave Creative at cheshiredave.com.

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Hamlet, 2006. The only Impact show I was ever in. L to R, Patrick Alparone as Hamlet, Cole Alexander Smith as Claudius, and yours truly as Gertrude. I was usually very ahem “hands on” in PR shots for our shows, but I obviously couldn’t be for this one. I couldn’t see what was going on, and my back hurt like fire trying to hold that position. Desdemona Chiang was my Assistant Director, and she kept stepping in to push my shoulder back to maintain that twist. Cheshire Isaacs was the photographer, and he later said that I complained more during this than anyone he’d ever shot apart from Olympia Dukakis. GOALS.

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Stacz Sadowski as Charles the wrestler and Miyaka Cochrane as Orlando in As You Like It, 2013. Directed by me, photo by Cheshire Isaacs, fights by Dave Maier. Dave and I tend to exacerbate each other when we work together. Our stage combat work has been so, so much fun. Miyaka became a core member of Impact during this show. It was only three years ago, but it seems like he’s always been with us. You can see him in the upcoming Comedy of Errors.

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Mike Delaney as Adam in the world premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s Toil and Trouble, 2012, directed by Josh Costello. Mike has been a key member of Impact for years, as well as (with Sarah Coykendall) half of the mad genius behind the half-filmed, half-staged cult classics The Sadist, Eegah!, and the upcoming Plan 9 from Outer Space, the last show of our 20th season, and our last show as a regularly producing company. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

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Maria Giere Marquis as Zombie Marlene Dietrich in JC Lee’s “The Reanimation of Marlene Dietrich,” one of the short plays in Bread and Circuses, directed by Desdemona Chiang. Maria has been a core company member for years whose rock-solid brilliance in both comedy and drama has been recognized by critics all over the Bay Area. Maria will be in our upcoming Looney Tunes Comedy of Errors. JC Lee is now co-producing How to Get Away with Murder. Des Chiang is currently directing Nick Payne’s Constellations at Seattle Rep, then going on to direct Impact alum Cindy Im in The Winter’s Tale at OSF. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

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Cindy Im as Feste in Twelfth Night, directed by me in 2010. Maria Giere Marquis as Viola and Seth Thygesen as Orsino in the background. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

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George Sellner and Sarah Coykendall in a PR shot for The Dragon Play, 2015, that introduced the work of Jenny Connell Davis to the Bay Area. Sarah has been a core company member for years. I can’t imagine what we would have done without her immense talents as a stage manager, designer, and actor.

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Carlye Pollack and Marilet Martinez in the world premiere of Learn to be Latina by Enrique Urueta, 2010. Marilet is a company member whose excellent work in comedy, drama, and stage combat is highly sought after all over the Bay Area. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

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One of my favorite Impact production shots. Chris Quintos in The Chalk Boy by Joshua Conkel, photo by Cheshire Isaacs, 2011.

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One of my favorite Impact poster images. My husband painted the mini to look like the actor playing our paladin, Jonathon Brooks. He painted minis for each member of the cast. Photo and design by Cheshire Isaacs.

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This was a picture Cheshire took to be used as a framed photo on the set of Richard III. Jon Nagel (my husband, an Impact actor and tech since 2003) as King Edward IV and Tamaaron Ishida-White as the little prince. Tamaaron is a reborn doll we bought to be used as the baby prop in Titus Andronicus. The actor playing Aaron, Reggie D. White, named the prop after its in-show parents (Tamora and Aaron) and the actors playing those roles (Anna Ishida and himself). The name stuck. Tamaaron has been one of the hardest-working babies in show business, going on to appear as the baby in the world premiere of Lauren Yee’s Crevice, as the infant Astyanax in Troilus and Cressida and as pretty much every baby we’ve ever needed.

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This is a quick snapshot my husband, Jon Nagel, took of himself and Ariel Irula during an early rehearsal for Bekah Brunstetter’s The Oregon Trail, (directed by Ariel Craft) the play that introduced Bekah’s work to the Bay Area, 2015. For some reason, he’s wearing his show hat and she’s wearing her normal hijab. Ariel played my husband’s younger daughter. She’s more than a foot shorter than he is, so he’s either scrooching down or she’s on a box. Because she’s so tiny, we called her “pocket daughter” through the whole thing. I still do, tbh. Ariel is a young actor I believe in with all my heart. I would have loved to have made her a company member. Cast her in everything, you guys.

 

 

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I Wrote a Thing for TCG

The wonderful Edgardo de la Cruz, my undergrad directing teacher/cult leader

The wonderful Edgardo de la Cruz, my undergrad directing teacher/cult leader

I was asked by the wonderful Jacqueline E. Lawton to participate in the latest TCG blog salon, “Artistic Leadership: How Do We Change the Game?” She sent me a series of questions wickedly difficult to answer:

What was the most game-changing production you’ve seen or created, and why?

Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?

What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?

My answers reference the late Edgardo de la Cruz, African American Shakespeare Company, Lauren Gunderson, Howard Sherman, Annoyance Theatre, and Lawton herself, along with issues of representation, money, and empathy.

Please check it out! You can find it here.

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My Friends Are Awesome: Part One

For some reason I will never understand (Maybe they just like slumming it? Maybe it’s the cupcakes?), I have friends who are doing truly incredible things out in the world. I’ve decided that every so often, I’m going to point to one.

Oh, look! NICOLE GALLAND.

Nicole Galland. Photo by Eli Dagostino.

Nicole Galland. Photo by Eli Dagostino.

I’ve known Nicole since we went to grad school together. After grad school, she became a very successful writer of historical fiction. Her research is insanely deep, her characters are detailed, and, even better, I can’t predict the narrative from page one, which is saying a lot since narrative is where I live. Her books include the incredible I, Iago, a must-read for anyone working on Othello, The Fool’s Tale, Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade, and Revenge of the Rose.

Her latest book, Godivajust came out. I asked Nicole a few questions about it, and about writing in general.

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It seems most people think women in medieval Europe had far fewer freedoms than they actually did. Is this what attracts you to writing about women in this period? What were some surprising discoveries you’ve made about medieval women throughout your research for your books?

This gets complicated. In Britain, Anglo-Saxon women were better off than the general impression we have of “medieval women.” Things went downhill for them after the Norman Invasion. There is a bit in The Fool’s Tale addressing this from the other border: Welsh women, too, had more rights in that era than did Anglo-Norman women. But since the Normans were the victors and the victors write history, the sense we have of all women’s fates in medieval England comes from a selective reality. Women other than women-known-to-Norman-writers had freedoms we would not expect. Some of their rights are shocking, by modern standards. My favorite example: in Wales, a woman who caught her husband with a mistress could legally kill the mistress as long as she did it herself, not via a third person. Men did not have the same rights – a man who caught his wife in infidelity had to follow a more conventional judicial process.

So the discovery is less about how well women fared, and more about the discrepancy between the official story and the underreported ones. We all know a well-spun “master narrative” can brainwash or mislead. It happens that women’s roles in medieval Britain are a dead-easy example.

Or example, the traditional Godiva legend falls apart when you question the source. The original story is based on a Norman monk’s depiction (more than a century after the fact) of Norman property laws, in which Godiva’s husband, by virtue of being both her husband and her lord, had the power to impose a tax on Coventry. But actually, Godiva was Anglo-Saxon and under the laws of her time, her husband had no such power. So obviously if she really made the ride (and OK, maybe she didn’t) something else was going on– something other than “husband is lord while wife is feisty but compliant chattel.”

And that’s just Britain. It gets even more complicated when you move into various parts of Europe, Constantinople, the Jewish population, the nobility vs the commoners, etc.

I love that you’ve retold the Godiva story in a way that’s so empowering (ugh, I hate that word, but there it is) for women. What drew you to the story, and was that your plan from the beginning, or something that naturally grew out of exploring the narrative?

No plan, really. Godiva surprised me as much as she surprises most people she introduces herself to. I was drawn to her almost accidentally and had no idea where the interest would lead. The original story was about Edgiva, the Abbess of Leominster. When I realized that Lady Godiva has been the patroness of Edgiva’s abbey, I just wanted to add her for some background color.

But that meant having a very clear idea of who Godiva was and why she would have made her ride, and once I was (excuse the term) on that horse, I went full-tilt. As I said above, the original legend doesn’t hold up historically, and I needed something that did, so suddenly I was deeply invested. In terms of simple research, the deciding factor was my realizing, “Hey, these Anglo-Saxon women kicked butt. I better step up to the plate and honor that about them.”

I see so many writers create very bland, generic relationships that exist as a thoroughly uninteresting backdrops for their narratives. The relationship between Godiva and Leofric felt very real to me, and was rich with specificity and detail. Likewise, the relationship between Emilia and Iago in I, Iago felt absolutely real, although completely different in almost every way from the Godiva/Leofric relationship. How do you approach creating these romantic relationships that are so richly realistic and detailed?

A truthful but sappy answer is that the Emilia/Iago relationship was finessed, and the Godiva/Leofric relationship was created, while I was falling in love with Billy [Galland’s husband, actor Billy Meleady], with whom I have the best relationship of my life. I don’t mean to imply you need to experience something personally to write about it of course, I’m just saying sometimes it’s easier to sketch an image when you have a model to draw from.

Shakespeare gets some credit for Iago and Emilia, although the relationship is tricky to interpret; I’ve seen it played vastly different ways. In fact on the book tour for I, Iago, I’d have friends perform the handkerchief scene between the couple, twice– first with Emilia as a playful, almost cheeky wife, and then a terrified, deeply abused one. Same text, same actors, completely different story. It’s all in the details. Choose quirky specifics and invest in them; the payoff is very satisfying.

I know a lot of aspiring writers read this blog. Do you have any words of advice for them?

It’s so cliched but: don’t give up. Just keep on keeping on, even when you believe you suck and have no chance of success. Especially then. My first novel came out the year I turned 40; I’d started it in college. Along the way I was a (not untalented, and yet not successful-enough) actor, director, screenwriter. As a screenwriter, when I got the largest single paycheck of my life, I had $52 left in my bank account. 36 years old, Harvard grad, 52 bucks. Don’t give up.

Another cliché, but just as true: don’t compare yourself to anyone else, regarding talent, success, or circumstances. Ever. Period. It’s a waste of time and energy. End of discussion.

And finally: disregard the hot new mantra to “Find your voice,” because I’ve been hearing that a lot lately and it doesn’t help; in fact, it makes me horribly self-conscious; I feel like I am being told to brand myself (another big concept these days). Just do what makes your heart feel good, even if that means you use many different voices.

I’ve provided links above to purchase Nicole’s books online, but both of us urge you to check out your local independent booksellers! Hell, we urge you to check out your local independent EVERYTHING.