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September 7, 2006

Stage Matters

Hey Actors: This Could Be Your Big Chance!


Actors are the obvious engines of theatre, yet they're completely dependent on people the audience doesn't see. For instance, the casting director. Fortunately, there are three new opportunities locally for actors, both experienced and unschooled, including the chance to be in a Hollywood movie. Two of them involve specialized training.

It's been almost exactly a year since Redwood Curtain last staged a play, but while efforts to obtain a permanent venue continue (more about that in a near-future column), they've started a casting company that's "already totally taken off," according to one of RC's principals, Peggy Metzger.

Right now they're handling the local casting for an independent Hollywood film set to start filming here in late September, "with some very large Hollywood names that I'm not allowed to say." (A Eureka Reporter story over the weekend mentioned Jeremy Davies and Peter Bogdanovich). RC's Cassandra Hesseltine parlayed her Hollywood contacts to get the gig assisting the local casting of secondary roles. The filmmakers are "very into casting real people" for those parts, Metzger said, which presumably doesn't disqualify actors.

Auditions are open to anyone, but those who register and pay the one-time $25 fee will automatically be considered for this and other opportunities down the line. (The form is at If you're already in the database, your name has already been submitted for this movie.) You can also call 443-7688 for more information.

If you're not into spending a day pursuing lasting fame by repeating "your change, sir" 95 times for the camera, how about a full year's commitment to a rigorous but fulfilling process that combines acting and social activism?

At Arcata High back in the late '60s, Caren Wise felt her life get turned around when she played Anya in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. But it was only after obtaining her master's in expressive arts from the California Institute of Integral Studies in the Bay Area and being exposed to the techniques of Playback Theatre that she reconnected with dramatics.

She returned to Arcata to establish the Living Arts Counseling Center on 11th Street, and is now searching for actors and musicians to begin the Mad River Playback Theatre Ensemble. Playback is a format involving improvisational theatre with a social purpose developed by Jonathan Fox, currently at Vassar (where Wise went for training last summer). The group interacts with specific audiences. "We can work in schools, prisons, hospitals, agencies, boardrooms, businesses, all kinds of places -- addressing all kinds of issues, from team-building to bullying to conflict resolution," Wise explained. The process might include video and photography, but the heart of it is the seemingly simple act of listening.

After the members of the "audience" relate their stories, the Playback players then "play back" the stories they've just heard, incorporating movement, music and speech. The players give form to the stories -- naturalistic or mythic, comic or tragic. "This is an activist form of art, but on a real gentle level," Wise said. "You're listening to people who don't get listened to. You're affirming that everybody's story is important. In a Playback performance, everyone who wants to be heard gets heard -- really heard. It's very exciting and rewarding."

Wise is looking for "citizen-actors and people with deep listening skills, empathy and a willingness to commit to this for a year. Give me one year and we'll see where it goes. These are volunteer positions with profit-sharing from paid performances." First auditions will be held on September 23. Call 826-1400 ext. 2.

It's an old story but an important one for North Coast arts: theatre artists Dan Stone and Tinamarie Ivey came from southern California to HSU for their MFA degrees and decided to stay so they could raise their children away from L.A. "We've been trying to figure out a way to do our art and still stay here," Stone said.

Stone teaches drama at St. Bernard's high school, and Ivey is teaching this year at HSU. But they're working together on a new venture called Sanctuary Stage that involves training actors and producing plays, beginning in October.

Stone sees this as an opportunity for actors of any age (beginning in the mid-teens) to learn a couple of specific approaches in depth. He will teach the pure commedia dell'arte he learned from Maestro Antonio Fava in Italy, and Ivey will instruct in the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique she learned at the New York Experimental Wing, among other places. (A nephew of the famed playwright, Chekhov studied with Russian acting god Constantin Stanislavsky.)

Sanctuary Stage will perform in the St. Bernard Theatre that Stone has been busily refurbishing. Its first production in late October is Love Is a Drug, a classic 16th century commedia scenario "developed in rehearsal through improvisation." Auditions are open, although preference will be given to students enrolled in Sanctuary's classes.

More information at or call 786-9151.

This weekend -- one night only: at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre, an evening of vaudeville on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 for this benefit performance for the theatre. Organized by David Moore, the show features 10 acts by area jugglers, comedians, and singers in a classic vaudeville format of magic, music and mayhem. More info: 786-5483.


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