Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Three Secrets About the A.C.T.'s Orchestra Pit

By Erik Verduzco, Queena Kim
July 24, 2011

Here are a few things you might be surprised to learn about the modern orchestra pit.

First off, there's no "orchestra" and the name might be a bit outdated. At least that's the impression we got from our night in the pit at the American Conservatory Theater. Instead of violins and french horns, we saw a six-piece rock band with each member playing multiple instruments.

"Orchestras are getting smaller and smaller," said “The Tales of the City” Music Director Cian McCarthy. That's "mainly because shows are becoming more pop rock."

That's certainly true for the A.C.T.'s musical Armistead Maupin's "The Tales of the City," which was co-written by Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters fame. The score, for the most part, riffs off of 70s glam and disco rock.

The second surprise is that the pit is very quiet or in other words, none of the music you hear in the theater actually comes out of the pit.

The drummer is enclosed in a plexi-glass-like isolation booth, which muffles his big sound. So too are the horns. You can’t even really hear the guitar and keyboards. All the sound from the instruments is fed to a booth where sound engineers fiddle with it and pipe it onto the speakers in the theater.

The third surprise? Well you’ll have to watch the video to find out. By the way, it’s the closing week of “The Tales of the City” so if you want to check it out, buy your tickets now. (Pst... if you use the code word "citizen" you can get a discount) (- Queena Kim)


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will the Tales of the City Musical Leave Behind a Legacy in San Francisco?

Greg Archer
Posted: 7/19/11 11:33 AM ET

These are certainly wonderful times for Armistead Maupin -- and imagine the tales he'll be telling a year from now. For starters, the musical stage adaptation of his beloved Tales of the City literary saga -- combining his first two books, Tales, and More Tales of the City -- has surpassed expectations in its world premiere this summer. It's become the hottest thing to hit San Francisco during its fog-ridden summers since, well, the hottest thing to hit San Francisco during its fog-ridden summers.

The good news: It's shattered all sales and fundraising records for a single A.C.T. production. Beyond that, more than 58,000 people have seen the show--that's the size of a nice suburb--and generated the largest advance sale and the highest gross sales in the company's history. The opening night gala in June, in fact, raised nearly a million dollars for A.C.T.'s revered, award-winning conservatory and expanding educational programs.

"I'm so delighted that I have been able to create a lore that can survive; that can translate into so many different realms of art," Maupin recently told me about the Tales mystique and its longevity. "I don't know what to say. It's a tremendous tribute, not so much to me, but to the story I have been telling. This is a terrific third act of my life."

One that's not about to end soon. Even though the show closes July 31, Broadway may beckon.

The genesis of the musical project began more than three years ago and soon began generating buzz. Some of that had to do with Jake Shears and John Garden of the Scissor Sisters, who would eventually give birth to the music here. (Sassy and, at times, emotional romps kept audiences invested.) But the production seemed charmed from the get-gos when writer Jeff Whitty and director Jason Moore, both of Avenue Q, arrived at the helm.

Maupin first began penning Tales more than 35 years ago. After turning heads as a serial column in the San Francisco Chronicle, and later as an award-winning mini-series, his characters -- from naïve the Mary Ann (played by Laura Linney on the small screen) to the mysterious Barbary Lane landlady Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis in a powerful performance) -- warmed readers' hearts and continue to do so.

(Maupin's latest "Tales" jaunt, Mary Ann in Autumn, met with stellar reviews upon release last fall.)

"The story seems real to people," Maupin notes. "The characters seem to real to people and become integral to their lives. It had become more about people's own excitement living in San Francisco. Throughout all that, I was merely expressing my own love for the city and the humanity that was changing my own life."

So why does he think the novels were embraced so marvelously worldwide?

"I think that it appeals to the growing notion that one's family is more often than not, invented," he says. "Mrs. Madrigal in the recent Tales novels, talks about the logical family versus the biological family. We no longer feel quite so enslaved to people who brought us into the world. Some of us are lucky enough to have biological family members that are also logical family members. It doesn't always work that way and I think Tales celebrates the notion of finding love and family amongst your friends. The general notion of self realization -- who you are."

This isn't the first time Maupin's work went nuclear. His many books have been well received and back in 2006, he was the creative fuel behind the screenplay for The Night Listener, starring Robin Williams. When asked about what it takes to be a "dedicated" if not "good" writer, he says it has a great deal to do with self-awareness.

"You have to be able to see your own foibles as clearly as possible in order to record them and celebrate them as universal," he muses. "People who are not willing to admit the worst about themselves are not going to create characters that are fully human."

Now the the musical is reaching its final stretch and the buzz circulating over where, if anywhere, it will head next, Maupin seems content in sinking into the simple moments life has to offer.

"I value the love that I share with my husband [Christopher Turner] above all other things," he says. "It's just the truth. It's more important to me than all things happening to me career wise. Christopher Isherwood, when he was in his seventies, told me years ago about his partner Don Bachardy -- that life is so much simpler when you've narrowed it down one other person. That's what old age is telling me ... and that's not a bad thing to hear."

In the meantime, I trekked behind-the-scenes for some banter with the Tales of the City crew and actress Pamela Myers. Take a peek:


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Tales' designer Douglas Schmidt lets space speak

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Douglas Schmidt was the set designer for ACT's
production of "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City."

The interior of Douglas Schmidt and Stephen Martin's hillside home in San Francisco looks like the set for a 1950s urban comedy. The interior of their weekend home above Stinson Beach looks like a set from the plays and operas that Schmidt, 68, has designed during a long career in New York, San Francisco and points in between. His work can be seen in "Tales of the City" at ACT.

On set design: The way I approach any design project is that I let the space speak. It wants to express in a subtle, almost subliminal way the emotional climate of the piece, the characters' needs and anxieties, the relationships that are being played out on the stage. All of these intangible elements have to be expressed.

On interior design: Somebody said once that "a beautifully designed and well-ordered interior is the sign of an inferior mind." I subscribe to that. You look for a feeling. Does it express the people who live there? If it doesn't have a comfortable feeling of being lived in, then it doesn't succeed.

On putting it to practice: The house in Stinson Beach is populated with bits and pieces from old shows. In the early part of my career, I did a lot of traveling around, and I would be propping in all these strange places. I'd see stuff that might not work with the show but was a nice piece of furniture, so I'd buy it.

On floor space: There is a gigantic Chinese rug in the living room. It's like 20 feet long. It was a major piece of scenery from a show when I was the resident designer at the repertory theater at Lincoln Center in New York. I've been dragging it around for 35 years until it found a home in Stinson Beach.

On effect: When someone walks in, they're pretty gob-smacked. It's not like most of the beach houses out there, which tend to be open and austere with tons of light. Our place looks like a barn. We describe it as "the Adirondacks meet Malibu." It's perfect for my collection of old furniture and props.

On getting started: I grew up in Cincinnati. In high school I was overly ambitious and adapted a stage version from a James Thurber book called "The 13 Clocks." I not only adapted it, I directed it and cast it and designed it and starred in it. My megalomania started early on.

On direction: I've been a set designer for my entire career. My very first trip to San Francisco was an aborted production for ACT when Bill Ball was running the company. It was right after the White Night Riot. The production manager put me into the hotel under an assumed name because I just happened to share the name of the lawyer who defended Dan White successfully.

On "Tales of the City": There are 50 scenes and 32 locations. The first time I read the script, I said to the director, "Do you know there are six beds in this script? How are you going to fit six beds on the stage?" In one case there was a love scene on two beanbag chairs because the bed issue was just impossible to deal with. You always have to compromise, but we ended up with very good props.

On tales in the city: People have asked me to do it (home interiors). It's such a labor-intensive process. You're dealing with personal tastes that might not be your own, and I find it extremely difficult to have to submerge my own aesthetic and buy a piece of furniture that I just wouldn't have on a bet.

- Sam Whiting,


This article appeared on page V - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Olive Reader's "Tales of the City" Read Along updated schedule


Late last week, I began to panic. I was deep (or really, not as deep as I would have liked) into reading Game of Thrones, which is nearly 800 pages long, and I suddenly realized that I had less than a week left to not only finish that chunkster but also re-read Tales of the City for the readalong. So I buckled down, managed to finish GoT on Monday and still do tons of freelance work, and started Tales on Tuesday night. I was on track to finish by today if I tried hard, but . . . I fell asleep!

So I was all set to come here today and write a post about what I was enjoying so far and confess my sin of not finishing. I took a look at the schedule and realized that, as usual, I have been soundly defeated by math. Somehow, I set the first book for discussion today, and then put the second book almost four weeks later. And yet all of the other ones are two weeks apart. What did I do here? I still don’t know. Therefore, I’ve adjusted the schedule so that it actually makes sense now.

7/7 – Discussion of Tales of the City
7/19 – Discussion of More Tales of the City
8/4 – Discussion of Further Tales of the City
8/23 – Discussion of Babycakes
9/8 – Discussion of Significant Others
9/27 – Discussion of Sure of You
10/13 – Discussion of Michael Tolliver Lives
10/27 – Discussion of Mary Ann in Autumn

And we now have a lovely tile ad that you can include if you’re participating!
And, since there’s another whole week for you all to read Tales and since I have more copies on my shelves, I’ll give some more away! I’ll pick five random commenters (please put your email address or twitter handle in the comments so I can contact you.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tales of the City: A New Musical

After extending this incredible show an unprecedented three times, it is time to announce that TALES will officially close on July 31 at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. There's still time to get your tickets & make your way to the city for the must-see event of the summer!


Behind the Scenes at Tales of the City in San Francisco

By Whitney Spaner

Still hyped up from an amazing Gay Pride weekend and the news that everyone can now get married in New York, we were excited to see this video made by one of our former Beautiful People Wesley Taylor. It captures all of the backstage madness at the new musical Tales of the City, which recently opened in San Francisco and is based on Armistead Maupin's novels with music by Jake Shears (whom you might also know as the lead singer of the fabulous disco-indie band, The Scissor Sisters). Taylor, who now sports a very bushy '70s-style mustache, plays Michael Tolliver in the musical, which the New York Times describes as "men and women searching for sex, love and themselves." He's put together a very sweet ode to his Tales colleagues with tons of behind-the-scenes action of what looks like a very fun production. Check it out! (Our favorite part is 2:09. 'Honey, you don't have any clothes on.') We can't wait till the show comes to New York.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Eye On The Bay: Summer Entertainment 2011 – 6/29/11

Liam Mayclem
June 29, 2011 4:09 PM

TONIGHT we have our eye on entertainment. Meet the stars behind this summer’s Bay area produced movies, music and stage shows.

Up close with writer Armistead Maupin, the man behind Tales of the City. His words have been lifted from the page to the stage and is now a sell out musical at A.C.T. in San Francisco.

Enjoy soul food lunch with Grammy nominated Ledisi at Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland.

The talented lads of Billy Elliott yes, all five Billys join Liam for Tacos at Tacolicious at the ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco.

And Liam does a little shoe shuffle with Wolverine – Hugh Jackman.

See the video here.