The Five: Believing in TheatreFirst

Anthony R. Miller checks in with a recap of TheatreFIRST’s grand unveiling.

Hey you guys, about a week ago I was lucky enough to attend the season kickoff party for TheatreFirst in Berkeley. There were cool people, a giant platter of lunch meat, and some exciting announcements. If you weren’t there or had too much free wine and can’t remember the details, I’m here with some highlights. Predictably, there are five.

The Mandate
While TheatreFIRST is not a new company, they taking a step in a bold new direction: with a new Artistic Director, a season of commissioned plays, and a mandate that most of us in Bay Area theatre have talked about, had endless diversity forums on and said needed to happen. This mandate is to do theatre that reflects the actual world. TheatreFIRST is committing to aggressive diversity. At least half of all board members, admins and artistic staff MUST be women and two-thirds must be people of color. What makes this so exciting is that they aren’t planning to do it by 2025, or calling it a goal to strive for. It’s a mandate; it’s happening. Instead of saying it, they’re doing it.

The Location
The Live Oak Theater is tucked away in one of the fancier parts of Berkley, nestled in a pretty neighborhood and next to a pretty park. Yes, it’s the Berkeley we’re thinking of when we make fun of Berkeley. Make no mistake: this is a community theater that is not only dedicated to serving members of the theatergoing community, but also the theatre-making community. Subscriptions are super affordable and special $60 “Full Circle” Subscriptions are being made available to theatrical artists, which is pretty darn reasonable. Another big nod to the community is that beginning this summer, the Live Oak Theater will be made available FOR FREE during the day to all community theatrical artists. The idea is to have a group working in one corner, another on stage, another having a meeting in the new café. In a time where facilities are a big expense for any group, this is an incredibly generous thing. It is clear that T1’s goal is to make their venue a hub for art and community.

The Season
TheatreFIRST’S new season will consist of 4 brand-new commissioned pieces, all created by local theatrical artists. The first is Bagyo, by Rob Dario, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and giving a startling vision of the culture wars in Southeast Asia. Next up is VS., an exciting new musical written by Cleavon Smith, Stephanie Prentice and Reggie White, telling the story of Colonel Tye, a black man who escaped slavery and fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. Beneath the Tall Tree by Adrienne Walters and Jeffrey Lo tells the story of one woman’s quest to literally dig up her grandfather’s history and with it, a connection to her culture. The season ends in May 2017 with Hela by Lauren Gunderson, which explores the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks. Want more info ? Go to www.theatrefirst.com and learn all about it.

The Party
I am not much of a party person, but I must admit, I had a swell time. Maybe it was the super welcoming vibe, the feeling of something very exciting and real happening, maybe it was realizing I have some really cool neighbors, or maybe it was the free wine. But when we left that night, we couldn’t wait to come back.

The Guy
One of the more exciting moments of the night was to see the staff and board of TheatreFIRST standing together on stage with their new Artistic Director, Jon Tracy, at the helm. Jon is one of the most creative, kind, hardworking, community-minded people in the entire Bay Area. I have been a friend and fan of his work for a very long time and not only does he deserve this, but you just know he’s going to foster something special and exciting. So jump on the website, head out to wooded glen of North Berkeley, and get ready to see an exciting new voice in Bay Area theatre. They’re presenting a season of shows that at its core are great stories and committing to the diversity we all want to see on stage.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

Working Title: Lost in Transition

This week Will takes a look at Custom Made Theatre’s free reading series showcasing Dealing Dreams, a new play by Jeffrey Lo.

Transition. We all take notice of the big shifts like graduating college or getting a big job but the micro shifts (or lack of shift) in our daily lives comes to define who we will be. A work in progress, we all are. Anyone familiar with the creative process knows how integral change and refinement are to creating something of value. Custom Made Theatre is inviting you to a part of that process. Their Free Reading Series continues this month by showcasing a new work by local playwright Jeffrey Lo. Lo’s new play, Dealing Dreams, concerns itself with the myriad transitions that mark the lives of many modern mid-twenty-somethings.

These characters are smart, talented and college educated. Yet, they can’t quite shift away from the trapping nest of youth adulthood. Some cannot fly off to adult jobs, some cannot fly to adult relationships, some just cannot fly. It’s about many things: technology, adulthood, self identity (who am I without a job…who am I out of school…what’s my purpose…I was supposed to take over the world), who grows up, who needs to take steps back wards to step forwards.

The play reminds me of a thematic mash-up between Noah Baumbach’s 1995’s meandering college wit-fest Kicking and Screaming and David Fincher’s brooding, gaze into social alienation, The Social Network, (the best film of 2010, in my opinion). The former follows a group of friends who are about the leave college. They are smart, educated, and possibly terrified at the thought of life after college. They are witty enough to sharpen their tongues around campus circles but will that help post graduation? Is that a useful life skill or academic party trick? Which of them will be set adrift without class to attend? Kicking and Screaming spoke to me at a time when I was about to leave college unfinished and drift around my home town for a few years without purpose. You bet I identified with these intellectual loafers.

kicking_and_screaming

The Social Network is less about purpose and more about our place in the world. These characters do not loaf about parading out their witty words around for kicks. The characters in The Social Network wield their intelligence like a weapon and purposefully lash out with it to gain an upper hand, what they perceive as an upper hand at least. Though social warfare has consequences. The Kicking and Screaming crowd have a strong circle of friends with romantic possibilities but no where to go. As The Social Network fades to black our antihero has built the most far reaching and influential social site to date yet looks upon the vastness of it alone. Was it worth the cost?

social_network

Dealing Dreams lives around this playground; the youthful playground of purposeful ambitions, social fissures and ambling self-development. Like all good pieces surrounding technology, Jeffrey Lo’s new work also reminds us that these plays are not about technology; they are about how we use modern tools (social networking, online dating, genius playlists, etc) to navigate our world and how those tools affect how we define ourselves and relate to one another. Only when we look back can we see what was lost in transition.

Custom Made’s new free reading series piece will be directed by Christine Keating and will show Tuesday, Feburary 25th. For more information check the facebook event page, Free Reading Series – Jeffrey Lo’s “Dealing Dreams” http://www.facebook.com/events/253231238191609

Sources:

Kicking and Screaming (1995). N.d. Photograph. IMDB.comWeb. 18 Feb 2014.

The Social Network (2010). N.d. Photograph. IMDB.comWeb. 18 Feb 2014.