Cal Shakes’ Closes Season with Intriguing New Adaptation of Lear

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(Courtesy of California Shakespeare Theater)
Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting, shown here during a 2019 rehearsal at the Bruns Amphitheater, will leave the company following the September opening of Lear, the final play of the season.

    Cal Shakes’ closing show of the 2022 season is a bittersweet affair. While it marks another creatively innovative production directed by Artistic Director Eric Ting, it also marks Ting’s departure from the company.
    Ting, who has been with Cal Shakes for seven years, will be moving back to New York, where his family relocated during the pandemic.
    “The real testament to any endeavor is not how much you change a thing, but how much you are changed by it,” said Ting. “I leave Cal Shakes reshaped by its artists, staff, board, community and civic partners, patrons and funders, and above all, our audiences who I’ve had the great honor of being in company with these past seven years. I’ve learned what it means to truly serve a community through art.”
    Ting acknowledges the challenges COVID has placed on the performing arts these past two years, forcing theaters to constantly adapt and find new ways to sustain the work.
    “There are many, many challenges far beyond the plays you select,” said Ting. “Cal Shakes as an outdoor venue, which makes audiences more comfortable returning to live performances, but it also means we must wrestle with climate change. Our insurance went up 750% because we’re in a high fire zone. Theater is known for its adaptability, and we have certainly been tested lately.”
    Following his departure from Cal Shakes, Ting will concentrate on directing rather than theater administration and has already secured his next directorial assignment – the world premiere of Lloyd Suh’s The Far County. The show begins rehearsals in October and performs Nov. 17 – Jan. 1 at New York’s Atlantic Theatre.
    While he’ll be in New York, in a way Ting won’t leave the Bay Area as The Far Country takes place during the Chinese Exclusion Act with the action set on Angel Island, in San Francisco and in Mainland China.
    “I’m looking forward to concentrating on directing and choosing projects that are close to home. Our daughter is entering second grade this fall and I want to have more time to participate in her life,” Ting said.
    As to a replacement for Ting, the board has set up a transition committee looking into various possibilities for Cal Shakes.
    “We are forever indebted to Eric for his many years of service and his dedication to Cal Shakes and the community it serves,” wrote Cal Shakes Co-Board Presidents Kate Stechschulte and Tracey Walthall in a recent press release. “Throughout his tenure, Eric has been a fierce advocate of furthering the mission and values of Cal Shakes and has played a critical role in elevating the organization to the global stage.”

Cal Shakes Closes with Lear
    A jazz trio welcomes patrons to Cal Shakes’ closing show of the 2022 season – a modern verse translation of Shakespeare’s King Lear (Sept. 7 – Oct. 2). Adapted by Marcus Gardley, Lear is co-directed by Ting and Aurora Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Dawn Monique Williams.
    “We at Cal Shakes have been exploring shared leadership models and so I’m very excited to be co-directing with Dawn,” said Ting. “For many years, Dawn was an Associate Artist at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), and Shakespeare is in her blood.”
    Gardley’s translation came out of OSF’s “Play on Initiative,” a program, which commissioned living writers to engage with works from Shakespeare’s canon.
    “Playwrights were tasked with looking at every word in a play, and if a word felt too obscure, they would select a more contemporary word, a more accessible word for today’s audiences,” Ting said. “I was skeptical about this at first because I so love the originals. But when we were contacted by OSF about this translation of Lear and that Marcus Gardley was interested in Cal Shakes doing the world premiere, I just said yes, yes, yes!”
    Ting had directed Gardley’s black odyssey for Cal Shakes’ 2017 season and is very familiar with the richness of his writing and the ease of working with the award-winning playwright.
    “Of all the wonderful collaborations I’ve been gifted with at Cal Shakes, my collaboration and friendship with Marcus has been the greatest gift. It’s a very special opportunity to be painting pictures with his words again,” said Ting.
    According to Ting, Gardley found the themes of Lear entwined with happenings in his own life which created a very intimate relationship between the playwright and his newest play.
    “As he developed Lear, he kept finding all this resonance with events that occurred in SF and the Bay Area in the middle 20th century,” said Ting. “His adaptation explores themes of wealth, and legacy, inheritance and filial responsibilities to parents.”
    Set in the Western Addition of San Francisco, the play explores the eminent domain crisis of the 1940s through to the subsequent displacement of the 60s.
    “For a very long time, this was the most diverse community in San Francisco. It’s made for a very fertile exploration for me and the cast,” said Ting. “This time also recalls the Harlem of the west. From the beginning Marcus said there must be a jazz band. So, we have engaged Marcus Shelby who will be leading a jazz trio every performance. He’s also composing original music to underscore the action.”
    Ting and Williams have cast primarily local performers except for the role of Lear, who is played by James A. Williams.
    “James is a stalwart of the Twin Cities theater scene and is such a thoughtful, grace-filled actor. We’re very lucky to have him join us,” Ting said.
    Gardley joined Ting, Williams and the cast for the first week of rehearsal in early August and spoke about the challenges of dealing with the classics especially when some things feel dated or offensive.
    “It was very special having Marcus with us. He helped the actors dive deeply into an investigation through the specific lens he has chosen for this show,” Ting said. “Using such a corner stone of Bay Area history, his adaptation invites you to see this play in ways you otherwise would not. Words hold new meanings. You get a sense through Marcus’ voice that this play is about a kind of call to repair the division that has separated us. A call to a sort of dignity and respect and responsibility.”
    For more information and tickets, call 510.548.9666, email boxoffice@calshakes.org or go to www.calshakes.org.

Sally Hogarty can be reached at sally@theorindanews.com.

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