Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Performance Onstage Cal Shakes begins new season fostering fresh voices in...

Cal Shakes begins new season fostering fresh voices in theater

The company will examine 17th century gender roles in Madhuri Shekar's 'House of Joy'.

-

The people working at California Shakespeare Theater go all in when it comes to equity and inclusion. That means along with its program to expand the canon by commissioning playwrights from diverse backgrounds — an effort dubbed the New Classics Initiative — the company also works with community organizations to engage audiences.  

Take this season’s House of Joy by Madhuri Shekar. According to artistic director Eric Ting, the play’s director, Megan Sandberg-Zakian, describes it as having “a cast of brown women kicking ass.”

“It’s a South Asian action adventure romance set in harem in 17th century India during the decline of Mughal Empire,” Ting said, who adds that the production is funny, with great fight scenes. “Looking at season, we were talking a lot about #MeToo and gender bias in our culture, and this play spoke to that.”

No men were allowed in harems, and they were self-contained communities with schools and their own economies and women were separate from the male gaze. 

Eric Ting steers the ship as Cal Shakes’ artistic director. Photo by Jay Yamada.

“Harems could seem a kind of paradise on earth,” Ting said. “But they were built on patriarchy, and because of that, they could never be a true paradise.”

Other plays this season include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Good Person of Szechwan, and Macbeth. Along with trying to reimagine and expand classics, Cal Shakes also hosts community nights and story circles for which it invites people to talk about the play. Last season, for Quixote Nuevo, Octavio Solis’ production, cast members and Solis had discussions with members of the Latinx community. For Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey, the company invited members of the Black spiritual community to come have a conversation. For House of Joy, they will have members of the cast and others who worked on the play talking with Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African people who work in the arts locally.

When Ting came to Cal Shakes four years ago from the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, his background was primarily in working with new plays and emerging writers. He thinks that makes him a good person to take on Shakespeare’s plays since Shakespeare often adapted popular stories of his time. One thing they’re trying to do at Cal Shakes, Ting says, is to celebrate language while creating new classics. 

This season opens with a staging of Octavio Solis’ ‘Quixote Nuevo’. Photo by Kevin Berne

“There are often political references in Shakespeare, and he was often referred to as a chronicler of his time,” he said. “Here we’re having living writers in constant dialogue with Shakespeare as we endeavor to create something more inclusive onstage.” 

Ting, who has never lived west of the Mississippi, says he’s glad to be in California and at Cal Shakes.

“I think a lot of artists say they want to live in interesting times, and it’s interesting times here in the Bay Area. We’re in the midst of wave of change, and we’re all trying to figure out what’s on the other side of it,” he said. “It seems like the best thing is to anchor ourselves in our collective humanity, and that’s a perfect stew for making theater.” 

Cal Shakes season starts May 22 with Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tickets and more info here.

More by this author

Sirron Norris’ cartooning classes take to internet for COVID summer

No reason for kids to lay down their pencils in the pandemic, says the iconic Bay Area artist.

Raising the wage for tipped workers

'Waging Change' by Berkeley filmmaker Abby Ginzberg tracks the fight for better service industry pay, from 9/11 to #MeToo.

Preserving stories of California life during COVID—and you can share yours

Erin Garcia, director of exhibitions at the California Historical Society, and her colleagues were looking for ways to engage their audience digitally. What they...

With colorful street art, 100 Days of Action represents essential workers

When artist Christo Oropeza was asked to create a painting for a storefront as part of Art for Essential Workers (a program by local artist collective 100...

A bright story behind the city’s new mural wave

Artist Vida Kuang grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The anti-Asian racism that ramped up at the beginning of the year followed by the...

Most read

The latest nasty — and inaccurate — attack on Chesa Boudin

No, the DA's Office did not release a burglary suspect who went on to attempt a rape.

The Agenda: The eviction tsunami begins

Local courts will start to hear cases Monday; tenant groups plan protest.

Now it’s the mayor attacking the supes

Breed tells business group that the progressive majority is against housing -- but the evidence shows otherwise.

RIP, the Notorious RBG

How one woman, one petite woman with a mighty intellect and a grit true to her Brooklyn roots, became not just a role model, but a revered symbol of the struggle for women’s equality.

Michelle E. Fillmore paints to connect—and manage pandemic emotions

The Oakland photorealist's work depicts mystery, transformation, and the identity crisis imposed by our moment.

The rich aren’t leaving SF — they own it

Developers cry crocodile tears to win political points -- but in the end, planners may have to admit they bungled the future of Soma.

The most important political story of 2020 that nearly every campaign is ignoring

The very rich stole $50 trillion from the rest of us in the past 45 years. Why aren't we all outraged?

From Herbie Hancock to Angela Davis: Monterey Jazz Fest comes to you

Moving online and back to its roots, the 63rd installment of the legendary fest focuses on history and support of Black community.

Screen Grabs: Keeping it together—and falling apart

Spotlight on mental health with Blackbird, Last Call, the Swerve, Rialto, and Oliver Sacks. Plus: The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Space Dogs

PUFF: How I got my high back

After months of isolation, it may be time to adjust your habits—with flower by Lolo, prerolls from Jack Herer, and some Kwik Ease

You might also likeRELATED