A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, May 4, 2009

Shakespeare In The Park

Children's Fairyland will echo to the words of the Bard this weekend when the Young Actors Workshop presents Shakespeare's "Love's Labor's Lost."
Director Amanda Ditmore, a senior at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, says the young thespians chose this play because of its uncanny parallel with their own lives.
"It's about a group of young people who, at the end of the play, find themselves heading off into the world. It's the end of their adolescence, and that's very meaningful to us," she said.
"Many of us have been together since middle school, and now we're seniors going off to college. This play is one last time for us to get together and have some fun and put a fitting close to our friendship and hard work for the last six years."
This is the first production by an outside group in Fairyland's new Aesop's Playhouse, a 200-seat amphitheater that is also the venue for Fairyland's own performance troupe, the Children's Theater.
"And they've already found ways to use it that never occurred to us," said C.J. Hirschfield, Fairyland's executive director, "such as opening the doors at the back of the stage and using the vista beyond as a backdrop. I'm thrilled."
Sooz Worthing, who directs the Young Actors Workshop, returns the compliment.
"It's a very whimsical space. I love the fact that there are all these doors, which give us great opportunities for all kinds of fun stage business, with everyone running around and making entrances and exits like a Keystone Kops movie."
She and Amanda have set the play in Europe during the ominous years leading up to World War II, which gives the actors the chance to wear some great period costumes, makeup and hairstyles.
The Young Actors Workshop, an after-school enrichment program at Park Day School in Oakland, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The actors, ages 11 to 18, come from middle and high schools throughout the Bay Area.
From the start, they have run the show.
"Amanda is not my assistant," said Worthing. "She really is the co-director. She did most of the cutting and staging, and she was really great working with the actors. She's very intuitive and patient, and she knows how to get the best work out of them."
Amanda, who is looking forward to studying at Emerson College in Boston next year, is already a prize winner, having won the Gerald A. Larson award for excellence in directing at this year's Lenaea Festival at Cal State Sacramento.
But, like the characters in the play, she's finding that parting is such sweet sorrow.
"I know it's a cliché, but I feel like I'm saying goodbye to my family. These are some of my closest friends."

If You Go:
What: "Love's Labor's Lost" by William Shakespeare, performed by the Young Actors Workshop. Suitable for children 10 and older.
Where: Aesop's Playhouse at Children's Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Avenue in Oakland
When: May 8 and 9 at 7 p.m. May 10 at 5 p.m.
Tickets: $13 for adults, $9 for students and seniors. Available at the door.
Info: 510-923-0505 x102

What Might Have Been

(Above: Bret)

Over the last few weeks it's been my great pleasure to write about three teenaged prodigies - classical pianist Audrey Vardanega and jazz virtuosos Samora and Elena Pinderhuges.
It's exhilarating to behold so much talent in someone so young, especially when they're such nice kids, as all three are. And it's so much fun to imagine what wonderful things they're going to accomplish as they wend their way through life.
But that's why it's also so painful when a young person with such promise gets cut off before he or she has barely had a chance to begin. You're forever left wondering: What might have been?
That's how I've felt since March 21, 2005, when Bret Harte was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Highway 680 near Concord. He was only 25.
Bret - no relation to the 19th century author - was a theatrical wunderkind who had already directed several local productions, including "Inherit The Wind" and "The Man Who Came To Dinner."
"He was destined to be one of the great theatrical directors of his generation, said Davis Robinson, his theater professor at Bowdoin College in Maine.
Campbell Hunter, his history teacher at Miramonte High School in Orinda (where he graduated in 1998 with a straight-A average), went even further: "If I had a son, I'd want him to grow up to be just like Bret."
Bret's death devastated his parents, Dennis and Juanita Harte, two of the nicest people I've ever met. He was their only child, and they had a wonderfully warm, loving relationship. All their hopes and dreams were wrapped up in him.
Since then, they have tried to keep his spirit alive by founding an internship for up-and-coming young directors at Berkeley Rep, where Bret worked as a stagehand after college.
And their friends have rallied around them. Led by Greg Walker and Lee Bressette, whose daughter was one of Bret's closest friends, they hold annual plant sales to augment the internship fund.
This year's plant sale is taking place this weekend at 73 Coral Drive in Orinda, from 9 to 3 on Saturday and 10 to 2 on Sunday.
"We've never had such a diversity or quantity of plants," says Lee. "They are all looking their best and ready to go to new homes."
The plants include herbs, veggies, orchids, perennials, exotics, drought-resistant landscape plants and catnip, which I intend to pick up for my cat, Phoebe.
And it couldn't be for a better cause. There have already been two Bret Harte Directing Interns at Berkeley Rep - Marissa Wolf, now the artistic director of the Crowded Fire Theater Company in San Francisco, and the current incumbent, Mina Morita.
"I never met Bret; I only know what his friends here at Berkeley Rep have told me about him," said Mina. "There's an extreme sense of loss here, even now. He was well loved by everyone on the staff. It's really an honor to carry on his name in this way. I'll try to live up to it."
If you can't get to the plant sale, you can still contribute by sending a check to the Bret C. Harte Young Directors Fund, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley CA 94704.