11 Bay Area Theater Artists to Watch in 2013

Categories: Theater
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Adrian Anchondo
Playwright J.C. Lee
Here are some signs that Berkeley-based playwright J.C. Lee is a big deal. In 2010, Sleepwalkers Theatre dedicated its entire season to his This World and After trilogy, one of the most poetic, tender, and witty bodies of work to grace our stages in recent years -- and by a young, and then relatively unknown playwright. Now a graduate of Julliard, he is the playwright-in-residence at Marin Theatre Company, the third writer to be granted that honor. Finally, it was just announced that he's a finalist in the Aurora's Global Age Project, which means that his Luce, about American parents who adopt an African child, will get a staged reading in February. Until then, just try to keep up.
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Pak Han
Actress Rami Margron, with Zehra Berkman, in Precious Little at Shotgun Players.
If you've been lamenting contemporary theater's penchant for small casts, the actress Rami Margron in and of herself might embody a solution. In Shotgun Players' recent Precious Little, a beautiful new play by Madeleine George, Margron played so many different ensemble roles as to singlehandedly conjure an entire affluent society and many of its failings. Yet her characters were not placeholders in a societal scheme but distinct, fully realized individuals with unique physical repertoires and modes of speaking. In 2013 she moves toward classic work, with Pericles at Berkeley Rep and Lady Windermere's Fan at Cal Shakes.

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Pak Han
Director and Actress Susannah Martin
Everything director Susannah Martin touches turns to, if not gold, then wrenchingly taut drama. At the Boxcar, she mastered the unruly beast that is A Lie of the Mind, Sam Shepard's play about the demise of an American family, making every moment of that sprawling tragedy both gorgeous and chilling. At Shotgun, she made twisted killers into sympathetic everymen with Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. Next up, with her longtime collaborators at Mugwumpin, she's a creator/performer in The Great Big Also, which explores prophets and their movements throughout American history. We'll do some prophesying of our own and predict that Martin's work will continue to make the theatrical waters part.
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Pak Han
Actor Wiley Naman Strasser in Invasion! at Crowded Fire
Whether spewing the partially comprehensible jargon of a postmodern artist making a film about Mao, heckling an Orientalist play-within-a-play as a grade schooler, or wrestling his scene partner as if both were caged feral animals, actor Wiley Naman Strasser exudes commitment and passion. He plunges deep where other actors might take more measured steps, losing himself fully in a part in a way that looks personal and painful. He takes his next step off the edge in Cutting Ball's Risk Is This reading series and then with Martin in The Great Big Also.
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Pak Han
Costume Designer Ashley Rogers
A recent graduate of S.F. State, where she got an MFA in costume design, Ashley Rogers will have very little trouble making the transition from grad school to the real world because, almost from the start of her program, she's already been in the real world. Working with director Mark Jackson, Shotgun Players, Impact Theatre, Just Theater, and Mugwumpin, Rogers creates costume designs so meticulously crafted, so richly detailed, that a world is created, that characters seem to talk to each other, even before they open their mouths.
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Nathaniel Justiniano
Performer Ross Travis
Performer Ross Travis doesn't play many easy parts. Whether he's marching around Angel Island and flying at the top of a mast with the site-specific theater company the We Players or rollicking with Nathaniel Justiniano in Naked Empire Bouffon's latest show, You Killed Hamlet! (which is touring to international Fringe festivals this year), he is undoubtedly getting a rigorous workout. He can contort his face and body into silly, grotesque positions in farcical satire, yet he can also deliver Shakespeare with the crisp clarity and deep sense of character that makes you remember how funny the Bard can be.

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My Voice Nation Help

I got a comment on this article from Melissa Smith, Conservatory Director at American Conservatory Theater. She writes:

"In '11 Bay Area Theater Artists to Watch in 2013' (blog 01/02/13), Lily Janiak introduces one artist by remarking that “the Bay Area doesn’t boast many performers from the country’s top acting programs.” I beg to differ. Ms. Janiak has overlooked A.C.T.’s MFA program --located right here in San Francisco and consistently ranked as one of the top acting programs in the country by US News and World Report, and by reputation among professionals in the field. A.C.T. graduates are performing on many Bay area stages -- as well as on and off Broadway, on national tours, in regional theaters and on large and small screens. In just the last three years in the Bay though, A.C.T. MFA graduates played leading roles to critical acclaim in productions at the California Shakespeare Festival (Spunk, Candida), the Marin Theater Company (Seven Guitars, In the Red and Brown Water), the Magic Theater (What We’re Up Against), Shakespeare Santa Cruz (Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry IV), Berkeley Rep (The Three Sisters, Chinglish), Shotgun Players (Woyzeck), and the Aurora Theater (Wilder Times, Awake and Sing! ). And that’s just a short list off the top of my head. For a more complete listing of illustrious alumnae and all the places where A.C.T. MFA grads are at work, go to www.act-sf.org, click on Conservatory, then MFA Program, then A.C.T. Alumni. Check it out -- the list is a long one."

My response: 

"Thank you so much for taking the time to write this note. I am duly chastened. You are absolutely right; I was East Coast-centric in my thought process and have neglected a top program whose alums I cover often and thus should have mentioned, instead of making such a cursory assessment. I am very sorry."

Thanks again to her for calling me on my mistake.

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