Discussion promises inside look at Bay Area theater
By Lou Fancher
Imagine two peas in a pod deciding to wrestle. Not with each other, but with the pod itself.
Establishing elbow room in a shared conversation about theater at Rakestraw Books on Tuesday, American Conservatory Theater Artistic Director Carey Perloff and Jonathan Moscone, longtime artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater and the newly minted chief of civic engagement with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, will do battle.
Perloff has recently penned a robust memoir, "Beautiful Chaos: My Life in the Theater" (City Lights, $17.95). Released in March, the book is far more than a look back over Perloff's 20 years directing one of the largest theater companies in the United States. Gender parity in theater (women are theater's primary ticket buyers but miserably underrepresented in theater direction, playwrights presented and actor opportunities), arts education, prickly interactions with boards, investors, playwrights and even the buildings in which ACT performs lend heft to the memoir. Throughout, Perloff writes with ease, eloquence and honesty about the internal life of woman who is a boss, mother, creator, academic, writer, collaborator and creature of habits good and bad.
"It's interesting how rarely in our field someone actually says what they think about certain issues, so when you do, it causes quite a stir," Perloff says about reactions she's received from the book. "It's been fascinating the range of responses -- lots of wrestling with the commercializations of the American theater and where we are heading and much discussion about the ongoing paucity of female voices and female leadership in our field."
Moscone says he hired all women directors during his first year at CAL Shakes.
"I continued to create a 50 percent parity list every year afterward, for directing shows. I understood how my male privilege could be used for good or evil," Moscone says.
Perloff says readers are fascinated by descriptions in the book of the process involved in developing new works, reinterpreting classics in light of contemporary thinking or her many collaborations with playwrights like Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter.
"I want to know about her journey as a woman artist who became a leader,'' Moscone says. Halfway through reading Perloff's memoir, he says, "I want to hear her talk about what has changed -- the barriers she overcame."
Bookstore owner Michael Barnard says that after meeting Perloff, he thought instantly of pairing her with Moscone for the event.
"They have, in some ways, the same job," Barnard says. "Jon is a great talker, a good conversational partner."
Perloff says she and Moscone have grappled with questions of audience, inclusion, representation, actor training and other theater puzzlements and the two friends alway enjoy debating the issues. Collecting her thoughts and sharing them in a permanent way -- in a book -- she says leaves a significant mark.
"I do think seeing something in printed form makes a difference," she says. "It shares (thoughts) with people in very different communities who haven't seen your work live (onstage)."
Moscone has directed "Ghost Light," a play inspired by the life of his father, George Moscone. The vibrant politician was assassinated in 1978 alongside gay rights activist Harvey Milk while serving as the mayor of San Francisco. Moscone was 4 years old when his father was killed. The struggle-filled story was written by Berkeley Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Tony Taccone.
Although he was "too close" to that story to write it, Moscone says he may be game for a memoir adventure soon.
"As this next journey unfolds (his move to YBCA), I want to see if there's something I can contribute that others will want to read. Something more than a 'here's-my-story' story."
Barnard says that up to 120 people can be accommodated at the bookstore's new, larger location and reservations are recommended.