Cal Shakes: Virtual Shakespeare

(Jay Yamada, Photographer)
Artistic Director Eric Ting hopes to have the Bruns Amphitheater full of people again next year.

    While the coronavirus has canceled Cal Shakes season at the Bruns Amphitheater, that doesn’t mean the curtain is completely down on Shakespeare this summer.
    “We may be cancelling the season but we’re not cancelling our art,” said Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting. “Our goal right now is to continue to play a role in the lives of our audiences.”
    That role takes to the internet with three programs planned that will, hopefully, continue and expand beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
    The first, entitled Run the Canon, is a 37-week video lecture series with resident dramaturg Philippa Kelly highlighting a different Shakespearean play. Kelly, who runs the popular pre-show Grove Talks, will create a 10-minute video lecture each week now through Christmas as she runs through Shakespeare’s 37 plays. Her program begins with one of the Bard’s final plays, The Tempest.
    #ShelterHereabouts involves a series of “micro-commissioned” classical monologues performed by local Bay Area actors. The first performance features actor Phil Wong performing a monologue from The Tempest.
    The third program, Direct Address, includes panel discussions, interviews, podcasts and webinars offering industry and community support as well as behind-the-scenes insight. It began in early April with two unemployment webinars geared towards freelance artists and arts workers.
    To access these programs, go to Cal Shakes has also set up a fourth, audience-involved program called These Thre3 Seconds in which people can make a 3-second video capturing a moment in their day as we shelter in place. Videos can be submitted to
    “Just because our capacity to meet has been put on pause doesn’t mean the desire and need to meet doesn’t continue,” Ting said. “I don’t think anyone was prepared to deal with what we’re all dealing with right now. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”
    Managing Director Sarah Williams acknowledges that worrying about loved ones and just going to the grocery store adds to the stress. “We’re all dealing with these things and having to keep an organization afloat at the same time is a lot to do.”
    Williams said she was encouraged and impressed, however, by patrons’ support, over half of whom have donated their subscriptions back to Cal Shakes, and others who are donating online.
    “It’s a real testament to the love people have for our organization and the desire to see us through this moment and to come out on the other side,” she said. “I’m deeply grateful for the community that has built up around Cal Shakes over the decades. It’s beautiful.”
    Providing the online programming not only keeps Cal Shakes’ audiences engaged, it also provides a creative outlet for some of the performers. “We’ve been thinking about how to support our artists and our teaching artists in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to them,” said Williams.
    To that end, Ting has tasked Director of Artistic Learning Clive Worsley with looking at ways to shift Cal Shakes’ classroom settings to a digital platform.
    “It was so difficult to cancel the season knowing that so many artists and technicians would be out of work. It became clear that one of the communities hardest hit would be the artistic one,” Ting said.
    Ting began researching how Chicago and Seattle had developed an artist’s relief fund. Working with a local disability rights advocate Claudia Alick, Ting decided the Bay Area could organize such a fund and that Theatre Bay Area, a local arts membership organization, should run it. “They’re raising money for it every day. Hopefully, it will meet people’s needs a little bit.”
    Some of those people include Cal Shakes own staff, many of whom had to be laid off. The company is now down to 16 people working half time and at half salary. The size of the company will continue to evolve depending upon how long the shelter-in-place remains in effect.
    “There are benefits available for workers with reduced hours,” Williams said. “We’re researching what our employees can access with federal and state relief. We know so much more about unemployment than we did four weeks ago.”
    While Ting noted the cancelation of Cal Shakes’ season felt “like the destruction of the summer,” he also anticipates the opportunity to evolve as an organization. “This moment is having a profound impact on our cultural institutions. I’m really looking forward to the collaborations between theaters and art institutions to lift one another up and get back into the lives of our communities,” Ting said. “Cal Shakes won’t be coming back to the Bruns alone. We’ll be relying on the rest of our artistic community, our audiences and the many, many donors who give so generously to ensure that that space, that story continues.”

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