New Plays at Antaeus?

At first glance it might strike some as a curious turn for a company whose ethos has always been a passion for the classics. And that hasn’t changed! But on closer inspection you’ll find that new work has always been a vital part of Antaeus’ DNA. From new translations of Spanish Golden Age masters by Company Founder Dakin Matthews to original musical pieces like American Tales (based on stories by Twain and Melville) to World Premieres of Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Balzac’s Cousin Bette and Kenneth Cavander’s fresh look at the Theban plays, The Curse of Oedipus, we’ve been exploring new takes on classical material.

The Curse of Oedipus – 2014

Several years ago we were approached by writer Ed Napier who proposed setting up a weekly session for mid-career playwrights and Antaeus actors to meet and explore scenes brought in by the writers. Based on a similar program at The Lark in New York, the Antaeus Playwrights Lab was born.

Led by Lab Director Emily Chase and a three-person Playwrights Panel, the Lab has been thriving. The happy marriage between actors versed in the classics and talented writers birthed several wonderful 10 Minute Play Festivals at our former space. And last year our new home saw the first edition of LAB RESULTS, a weekend long festival. Six new plays developed in our Lab had stellar readings to sold out crowds. LAB RESULTS will be back in January with readings of six new plays by Sean Abley, Matt Doherty, Jeanette Farr, Jennifer Rowland, Ashley Rose Wellman, and Marlow Wyatt in an expanded two weekend format.  You don’t want to miss it.

LAB RESULTS – 2019

With full productions of Stephanie Alison Walker’s The Abuelas and Jennifer Maisel’s Eight Nights running on our stage right now we’ve seen just how seamlessly new works with bold, timeless themes fit into Antaeus’ mission and vision. Oregon Shakespeare Festival continues to inspire us with their combination of classics and new works. And we’ve seen first hand how true it is that actors steeped in Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Shaw know how to use the tools they’ve developed to make new work absolutely sing. On a personal note I know that the classical techniques of rhetoric and language that I’ve learned from Armin Shimerman and Elizabeth Swain (co-directors of our upcoming Measure for Measure) inform every play, every reading, and even every television audition I work on!

Eight Nights – 2019 – Photo by Jenny Graham Photography

 

Classical works and new plays fit together beautifully at Antaeus. They reflect, contrast, and compliment each other.  And they challenge our artists and audiences as we explore the great enduring themes of humanity. That’s what Antaeus is all about.

Dramaturg’s Recommendations: Eight Nights

Playwrights know the background of the characters in their plays; after all, they write them. They often do significant historical research to understand the world they create in their plays. The creative team working on a particular show — directors, designers, actors and dramaturgs — must do even more research, to ensure they understand the playwright’s intention in addition to the historical context. Many audience members find their curiosity sparked after seeing a show, which can lead to them conducting their own research to learn more about historical personalities or events. If you are one of those people, start your search here! Eight Nights dramaturg Ryan McRee shares several of the books he referenced when researching the show. There is so much history covered in Eight Nights, but these four books are a great place to begin if you are interested in learning more.
1. Voyage of the Damned: A Shocking True Story of Hope, Betrayal, and Nazi Terror, by Gordon Thomas 

In May 1939, the SS St. Louis set sail from Hamburg carrying 937 German Jews seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. Unknown to the captain, the ship was merely a pawn of Nazi propaganda. Among the crew were members of the dreaded Gestapo, and the steward himself was on a mission for the SS. Made into an Academy Award–winning film in 1976, Voyage of the Damned is the gripping, day-by-day account of how those refugees on board the liner struggled to survive.

2. Approaching an Auschwitz Survivor: Holocaust Testimony and Its Transformations, edited by Jürgen Matthäus

Among sources on the Holocaust, survivor testimonies are the least replaceable and most complex, reflecting both the personality of the narrator and the conditions and perceptions prevailing at the time of narration. Scholars, despite their aim to challenge memory and fill its gaps, often use testimonies uncritically or selectively, mining them to support generalizations. This book represents a departure, bringing Holocaust experts Atina Grossmann, Konrad Kwiet, Wendy Lower, Jürgen Matthäus, and Nechama Tec together to analyze the testimony of one Holocaust survivor. Born in Bratislava at the end of World War I, Helen “Zippi” Spitzer Tichauer was sent to Auschwitz in 1942. One of the few early arrivals to survive the camp and the death marches, she met her future husband in a DP camp, and they moved to New York in the 1960s. Beginning in 1946, Zippi devoted many hours to talking with a small group of scholars about her life. Her wide-ranging interviews are uniquely suited to raise questions on the meaning and use of survivor testimony. What do we know today about the workings of a death camp? How willing are we to learn from the experiences of a survivor, and how much is our perception preconditioned by standardized images? What are the mechanisms, aims, and pitfalls of storytelling? Can survivor testimonies be understood properly without guidance from those who experienced the events? This book’s new, multifaceted approach toward Zippi’s unique story combined with the authors’ analysis of key aspects of Holocaust memory, its forms and its functions, makes it a rewarding and fascinating read.

3.  I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944, by Hana Volavkova

A selection of children’s poems and drawings reflecting their surroundings in Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia from 1942 to 1944.

4. The Jungle, by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson

Okot wants nothing more than to get to the UK. Beth wants nothing more than to help him. Join the hopeful, resilient residents of ‘The Jungle’, the refugees and volunteers from around the globe who gather at the Afghan Café. They’re just across the Channel, right on our doorstep.

Purchase any of these on AmazonSmile and support Antaeus!

Spotlight on Elizabeth Berman & Odyssey Artists’ Workshop

Elizabeth Berman is the founder and primary supporter of the Antaeus Odyssey Artists’ Workshop. Antaeus currently offers Arts Education programs at four partner sites, but it all started with William Tell Aggeler Opportunity High School, working with young men in residence at the Rancho San Antonio Boys Home. For 16 years, Teaching Artists like Elizabeth have been leading groups of boys, court-ordered to Rancho San Antonio for a variety of reasons, through a healing journey of self discovery and expression through the Odyssey Artists’ Workshop.

Elizabeth graciously took the time to talk with Director of Development, Alice Dutton, about what inspired her to do this work, and why she believes it’s worth supporting.

 

 

 

You’re the original founder of the Antaeus Odyssey Artists’ Workshop program. How did that get started? What inspired you to create something like this?

 

After I finished a graduate program in creative writing, I was thinking about ways I could use what I’d learned to give back. I ended up at Aggeler with another program teaching short story writing. What I saw was, it didn’t seem to me like short story writing was going to help them with their healing journey. What they needed was to learn to tell their own stories. So, I left that program and I started the Odyssey Artists Workshop in 2003. It began with the idea that this was a population that could use writing as a way of healing. More often than not, these kids hadn’t yet learned the tools they needed to express themselves. But, after working through the program, when they were able to share their stories, I found that they were connecting and healing in a different way. The dynamic just changed.

I knew Kitty & Armin [Kitty Swink, Antaeus Artistic Director, and her husband, actor Armin Shimerman] through my husband Rick, who was the producer of Star Trek. I invited them to come to a reading we were doing with the boys in the program. They were blown away by what they saw, and Kitty got the idea to bring in actors to introduce the boys to Shakespeare. So then, John Prosky began working on an Antaeus-led Shakespeare program with the boys, and he came to me and asked, “What would you think of combining the programs?” So, we started alternating performance and writing. And it was very successful! Now we’re at New Village and Homeboy, and it’s all grown from that.

In the beginning, I had thought maybe I wanted to start my own non-profit. But for me, I like being in the classroom, and when you start a 501c3 you have to be a fundraiser and an administrator, and I didn’t want that. This is an interesting template, working with Antaeus so that I could do more than I would have been able to do on my own. It’s a good model for other people to follow who have ideas about smaller non-profits.

I feel very blessed to be able to do it in this way. I go to the classroom and donate my time, and I also support the program.

 

Have you seen the program, or the ecosystem, change at all since 2003?

 

Over the years, I’ve seen the students become more adaptable to it. I think writing and storytelling as a form of connection has become much more mainstream. Back then, I didn’t see writing being used in that way, as much. But now, as the years have gone by, people recognize more that storytelling can be a way of healing, connecting, and creating a community.

 

In your work, you focus on the students “telling their own stories.” Is that to help them work through trauma? To help them tell a more positive story for themselves?

 

I think they’re able to get more into the truth of their story, and it helps them work through the trauma. Because so much of what happens is, when you’re in a traumatic environment, you really only understand the narrative of your life in the context of survival. But when the boys get together, and they’re able to talk and write, they can finally connect in an honest way, a deeper way. They feel safer, and it can change their narrative. They see that, “we don’t have to bully and hurt each other, we can connect and trust each other.”

I would say, often, when the ten weeks begin, the students tend to come in sort of nervous and distrustful, they don’t quite know what it is. But over ten weeks they form a community, and there’s such a connection there. They’re excited to work together. And they’re brave! They really want to get up in front of an audience and tell their truth.

 

You’re both the founder of the program and its biggest supporter. If someone asked you why you support this program or why they should support it, what would you tell them?

 

Well, I think we live in such a deeply divided country and world, and it’s different now than when I started the program. So often, it seems like we’ve lost the ability to listen to each other, or to feel safe to tell our own truth. Knowing that our stories are meaningful, and our lives are meaningful, it means so much. Maybe it’s not a marquee thing, but I think these are the seeds we need to plant if we want a future of hope.

Josh Zuckerman

Meet Josh Zuckerman who plays Aaron in Eight Nights; the way his time is taken up proves that actors are just like the rest of us!

  1. What takes up too much of your time?

– Emails and texting.

2. What food do you really like that other people think is weird?
– Strawberries and peanut butter…you’re welcome!

3. Which of your school teachers do you remember best and why?
– I had a history professor in college that looked and sounded like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame. Nobody could forget him.

4. If your daily life were narrated, who would you like to be the narrator?
– Morgan Freeman, of course.

5. What do you consider yourself an expert on?
– Anxiety.

6.  What was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?
– Bowl hair cuts.

Drink with The Abuelas

Stephanie Alison Walker, playwright of The Abuelas, shares her favorite Argentinian-inspired beverage recipes! A variety of flavors, any one of these delicious (and mostly alcoholic) drinks is sure to be a hit at your next dinner party or BBQ.

 

In my family, the two most consumed Argentine beverages are mate and Malbec. Mate (pronounced MAH-teh) is the traditional tea made with yerba and served in a gourd with a bombilla (straw.) I’m sure you’ve seen it. Gael García Bernal’s character on Mozart in the Jungle was really into his mate.


If you’ve been to Argentina, you’ve seen it all over.

Malbec – as everyone knows now- is an Argentine red wine. My dad and stepmom had a small wine import business in the 80s. They imported Weinert wine (an Argentine vineyard and also my maiden name, but no familial connection to the vineyard) exclusively to Chicago.


This was before Argentine wines were on every menu and Malbec wasn’t a very well-known variety. Every family gathering at my dad and stepmom’s included Weinert Malbec.

Special occasions, particularly during the summer, included Clericó, often referred to as white Sangria. It’s white wine mixed with fruit and sugar. It’s commonly served at Christmas and New Year celebrations in Argentina. Growing up, I remember Clericó being a part of summer barbeques at my dad’s and stepmom’s. Since The Abuelas is set in February, which is summer in Argentina, I thought it would be fun to share this Argentine beverage with you.

CLERICÓ 


Making Clericó is very easy and doesn’t really require a hard and fast recipe. It’s kind of like… gather your fruit, wash it, chop it, put it in a pitcher. Then add a chilled bottle of white wine, a spoonful of sugar (or more depending on how sweet you want it), stir until the sugar dissolves, then chill in the fridge. That’s it. Once it’s nice and cold, serve it in a wine glass and enjoy!

What kind of fruit?

1 Banana

2 Oranges

1 Apple

Berries*

Plums*

Grapes*

Kiwi*

Peaches*

*optional… really whatever fruit you want.

What kind of white wine to use? Try to find Torrontes, if you can. It’s a white Argentine grape variety that produces a fresh wine.

Bonus:

If you’re looking for a typical Argentine cocktail that isn’t wine-based, I have four words for you: Fernet con Coca Cola.

 

Mozart in the Jungle  photo courtesy of misionesonline.net

Christopher Watson

Meet Christopher Watson, who plays Benjamin and Matt in Eight Nights. His professed love of vegetables is belied by the museum dedicated to chocolate that he would like to create.

1. What is your favorite holiday?

       – Thanksgiving.

2. Do you have a beloved winter holiday tradition?

       – My birthday is the day after Christmas so I usually try to travel and celebrate.

3.  What food do you really like that other people think is weird?

       -I enjoy veggies most people don’t dig, like okra or Brussels sprouts.

4. If you opened a museum dedicated to anything, what would that thing be?

– Chocolate

5. What movie title best describes your life?

       – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

6. What takes up too much of your time?

       -Video Games

7. What is special about the place you grew up?

– Atlanta has the best soul food hands down.

8. What movie/TV show/book/game world would you want to live in?

Harry Potter (either book or movie)

9. New York or LA?

– LA

10. Which of your school teachers do you remember best and why?

– Mr. Ogletree, because he set up a comic book club for us and I thought it was the coolest.

11. If your daily life were narrated, who would you want to be the narrator?

– Dave Chappelle

12. What movie/TV/book quote do you use all the time?

– “Thats what she said”-Michael Scott (The Office)

13. What do you consider yourself an expert on?

– A good deal

14. What was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?

-Wearing clothes 3X your actual size

15. What’s one of your unusual “special skills” on your resume?

– An uncanny impression of Marlon Brando in The Godfather

The Music of The Abuelas

When theater designers approach a play, they often conduct a lot of research to ensure that their specific designs – whether it be the set, costumes, lighting, sound, etc. – fit the director’s vision for the play and work well with the other design elements. What they add to the production is so vital to help set the time, place, and mood for the audience, so that they can experience the play more fully.

Each designer’s research process might include looking at how people lived during a specific time period or historical context for a play. Or their research can be even more specific depending on the design element that they are responsible for – a scenic designer might look at architecture to inspire the set, a costume designer might research clothing patterns or fabrics, and a sound designer might listen to music from a specific time period. 

Jeff Gardner, sound designer for The Abuelas and Antaeus Company Member shares some of the musical research he did for this production. Listening to this music can give you an idea of the setting and vibe of The Abuelas and the process Jeff went through to create what you will see on our stage when you attend the show

Enjoy!

Elinor Frey- Dall’Abaco “Primo Capriccio”

Mercedes Sosa- “Alfonsina y el Mar”

Cande Buasso- “Barro Tal Vez”

Astor Piazolla- “Milonga Sin Palabras”

Jennifer Maisel

Meet Jennifer Maisel, playwright of Eight Nights! Jennifer is a member of the Antaeus Playwrights Lab, where Eight Nights was developed. She is also the person you want with you if you are trying to park around LA.

1. What is your favorite holiday?
       -Truly, favorite is passover.  I love the ritual of Seder (hence my play, The Last Seder) which to me is one part Haggadah and 9 parts family ritual.
2. Do you have a beloved winter holiday tradition?

-Actually, as a kid, we always saw a Broadway show on Xmas day.  Movies have supplanted that because theaters go dark on Christmas now but I always loved it.

3.  What’s one of your unusual “special skills” on your resume?
-I don’t have any listed but if I did it would be parallel parking (which I’ve probably jinxed myself into never being able to do well again).

4. What food do you really like that other people think is weird?

-Ketchup and relish on hot dogs which some people think is a sacrilege, which I don’t understand. Not that I can remember the last time I had a hot dog.

5. What takes up too much of your time?

-Not writing.

6. What is special about the place you grew up?

-The house was sold long ago, but I remember the last days of packing it up and visiting it empty — for me it still held all the memories of growing up there in its walls – so special for me was probably extraordinarily ordinary for anyone else roaming its halls.

7.  What movie/TV show/book/game world would you want to live in?

-Gotta say I wouldn’t mind a stint at Hogwarts.

8.  New York or LA?

-New York AND LA.

9. Which of your school teachers do you remember best and why?

-Is it cheating to say Leonard Davenport, as I make it a point to see him every year? He was my journalism teacher in high school  and is delightful man and has been a lovely champion of my work. But the best is getting together with someone who was your mentor and getting to hang out with him on the same level (and subject my daughter to hearing stories about my high school days over and over again.)

10.  If your daily life were narrated, who would you want to be the narrator?
-Allison Janney

11.  What do you consider yourself an expert on?
       -Literally nothing – I always think I have so much more to learn.

12.  If you opened a museum dedicated to anything, what would that thing be?

-A museum dedicated to playwrights — now that would be a dream…it could be made up of a series of spaces with plays going constantly or some other way of catching the ephemerality of this entire venture…I guess that’s called a theatre…sigh….

 

Putting It in Context: The Abuelas


Photo Courtesy of des Informémonos

 

To this day, there are billboards in Buenos Aires that read: “If You Have Doubts About Your Identity, Call the Abuelas.”

In 1976, a military regime that would be responsible for the murder of an estimated 30,000 of its own citizens unlawfully seized power in Argentina. Led by General Jorge Rafael Videla, the junta staged a coup against a weakened government led by Isabel Perón, wife and Vice President to the recently deceased Juan Perón, under the premise that left-wing guerrilla revolutionaries were threatening their Western, Christian, and capitalist way of life. Those who were opposed to the reorganization were told “to make themselves invisible, or they would be made to vanish.” The junta called it a “war.” Historians today refer to it by its proper name — genocide.

In the first six months of Videla’s regime, there was an average of 30 abductions each day. From these abductions, a new word came into common usage: “desaparecidos,” or “the disappeared.” The government was unable to keep the disappearances hidden from the public, because almost everyone knew of someone who had a friend or loved one abducted. Very few of those kidnapped had any direct involvement in the leftist terrorist groups whose existence was the initial aim of the government’s extermination campaign. Others had only a tenuous connection to these groups — as friends, acquaintances, or sometimes just names found in the address books of victims. The typical sequence for those abducted during the Dirty War was disappearance, torture, and then death. Under the regime, detainees suffered at the hands of captors who had no incentive to return their prisoners alive.

At the Navy Mechanics School, Admiral Massera created the regime’s largest and perhaps most brutal concentration camp. Called the ESMA (Escuela Mecánica de la Armada), it was considered the “Argentine Auschwitz.”

Among those detained and tortured were young pregnant women. At both the ESMA and Campo de Mayo Hospital, the junta set up makeshift maternity wards where these women were either forced to undergo Caesarean sections or given serums to accelerate birth. During delivery, the women were blindfolded and tied to beds by their hands and feet. Their babies were given to “politically acceptable” parents — families with some connection to the regime. The regime was able to reap considerable profits during the Dirty War from illegal adoption because of the high number of pregnant detainees.

This illicit business was so well-organized that some couples were able to choose their baby based on a captive mother’s looks and education. Descriptions of imprisoned pregnant women were provided to military couples seeking babies; those with fair skin and blue eyes were at a premium. Prospective adoptive mothers visited the detained pregnant women, ensuring that they received special treatment to promote healthy deliveries. Once born, the babies were given to their adoptive parents, and their real mothers were systematically killed, ensuring permanent severance of all biological ties.  The junta’s goal was erasure of family identities.

Despite the atmosphere of fear that pervaded Argentina during the junta regime, two groups of women — representing the mothers and grandmothers of the disappeared — began protesting the disappearances of their relatives and striving for the reunification of their families. In this way, an initially small group of women spearheaded what became a catalyzing campaign to defy the repression of the junta.

The first group to form, the Madres de Plaza de Mayo — the mothers of the disappeared — embarked on a crusade in April 1977 to obtain information about their missing children, refusing to believe the government’s professed ignorance of their whereabouts. Six months later, the Abuelas joined the Madres in the search for missing children. While the Madres demanded both the return of their children and punishment for their captors, the Abuelas had a sharper focus — to find the living. They called them “los desaparecidos con vida” (the living disappeared), referring to the babies who were taken from the Abuelas’ murdered daughters and sons.

The Abuelas were not motivated by revenge, but by a desire to know that their grandchildren were alive and well. The Abuelas determined that more than 500 babies born in detention centers were adopted illegally, and they scoured hospitals and orphanages looking for them. They examined birth certificates and adoption records and attempted to gather information from doctors and nurses who attended the births. Their efforts, however, were often thwarted when those who gave information subsequently disappeared as well.

After years of being forced to tolerate the lies of the Argentine government regarding their children and grandchildren, the Abuelas, assisted by scientists and advocates in the international community, catalyzed a means for all citizens to learn the truth about their identities and, inadvertently, for the truth of the Dirty War to be exposed. Encouraged by the accuracy of forensic and DNA-aided identifications, the Abuelas successfully lobbied President Raúl Alfonsín and Argentina’s Congress to create the National Bank of Genetic Data in 1987. The first such genetic data bank in the world, it offered state-of-the-art services without charge to the relatives of disappeared children and to anyone whose identity was in question.

Due to the tenacity and courage of the Abuela’s efforts, 130 children of the disappeared have been found. Technological breakthroughs and legislative demands that came about in the process of their investigations have also been partially responsible for bringing the criminals of the Dirty War to justice, as well as expanding the rights of those who suffered at their hands.

Ryan McRee

Dramaturg

Karen Malina White

Meet scrapple-lover and Scrabble-player Karen Malina White, Antaeus company member and one of the cast members of Eight Nights!

1.     What is your favorite holiday?

– Christmas

2.     Do you have a beloved winter holiday tradition?

       – Watching Love Actually.

3.     What food do you really like that other people think is weird?

       – Scrapple (traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and wheat flour, often buckwheat flour, and spices. The mush is formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf, and slices of the scrapple are then pan-fried before serving.)

4.     What movie title best describes your life?

       – Funny Girl

5.     What takes up too much of your time?

          – Traffic

6.     What is special about the place you grew up?

       – Soft pretzels and Water Ice

7.     What movie/TV show/book/game world would you want to live in?

       – The Matrix

8.     New York or LA?

       – LA

9.     Which of your school teachers do you remember best and why?

       – Ken Hoerauf, my favorite high school acting teacher

10.  If your daily life were narrated, who would you want to be the narrator?

       – Trevor Noah

11.  What movie/TV/book quote do you use all the time?

       – “Houston, we have a problem.”

12.  What do you consider yourself an expert on?

       – Making popcorn

13.  What was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?

       – Parties in the basement of someone’s home

14.  What’s one of your unusual “special skills” on your resume?

       – Playing Scrabble and Double Dutch