Tuesday, December 2, 2014

BACT Receives National Endowment for the Arts Grant

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has selected the Bay Area Children's Theatre as one of 919 organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant.
The NEA has recommended that BACT receive a grant of $10,000 to help develop and produce an original musical inspired by stories created by children with special needs.
“We are thrilled to have been honored with this NEA grant, which recognizes our commitment to creating new work and to representing the stories of all children on our stages,” said BACT Executive Director Nina Meehan.
Playwright and composer Min Kahng
BACT will work with playwright and composer Min Kahng to create the new musical.  Kahng most recently wrote and composed BACT’s award-winning musical adaptation of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. 

The creation process will begin with a series of workshops in partnership with schools and organizations that serve children with special needs. BACT will lead dramatic workshops with the children to help them find and express their creative voice and storytelling skills.  Kahng will use selected stories from the children as inspiration for a musical, which will be performed by professional actors during BACT’s 2016-2017 season. 

“It has been a dream of mine to offer sensory-friendly performances to children with special needs,” Meehan said.  “This NEA grant helps us take that dream even further, by representing the voices of children with special needs on our stages.  We will be working hard in the months ahead to secure the additional funding required to bring this exciting project to fruition.”

Announcing the NEA grants, NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “I’m pleased to be able to share the news of our support through Art Works, including the award to the Bay Area Children’s Theatre. The arts foster value, connection, creativity and innovation for the American people, and these recommended grants demonstrate those attributes and affirm that the arts are part of our everyday lives.” 

Art Works grants support the creation of art, public engagement with art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancement of the livability of communities through the arts.  The NEA received 1,474 eligible applications under the Art Works category, requesting more than $75 million in funding. Of those applications, 919 are recommended for grants, for a total of $26.6 million.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Becca's Notes: Learning through Live Theatre

The cast of James and the Giant Peach
During a particularly lively number at James and the Giant Peach, I took my son’s hand to move it in time with the music.  “Mommy,” he objected, “I’m watching!” 
Eli is four. I was thrilled that he was so engaged in the performance! If, at the age of four, he can devote such attention to the action onstage, I chuckled to myself, we were in good shape for the college lectures he would have down the road.
Going to the theatre is not only great entertainment for our kids, it is a learning experience on many different levels.  At the Bay Area Children’s Theatre, it’s an opportunity to see a favorite story come alive onstage or to be introduced to a story that a child will enjoy reading later on.  It’s the chance to share and discuss an artistic experience with family members, and the discipline of watching, wondering, absorbing, analyzing, and then responding—as life often demands.
As BACT’s education director, I focus on the experiences children have as participants in making theatre, but I’m equally delighted when I see youngsters become involved with live theatre as audience members.  Both artistic experiences are enriching, and both are invaluable preparation for the future.
See you at the theatre!

Becca Posamentier is a founding company member of Bay Area Children's Theatre and currently serves as the Director of BACT's Education Program.

Monday, November 24, 2014

BACT Blogger Julietta Meets Actor Betsy Picart

Julietta writes her first blog for BACT! She recently watched our production of James and the Giant Peach in Berkeley, and met and interviewed actor Betsy Picart. Julietta is a Bay Area native.  She enjoys art, crafting, theater, nature, and outdoors. In 8 years of soaking up creative talents, she has found many outlets for her creative energy. Activities such as Rainbow Loom, 4-H classes, Lego building and cartwheels take up most of her time.

The James and the giant peach is one of my favorite plays ive seen. I read the book and the play is so much like it. The costumes make them look so much like their character, and when you see the play, it'll feel like the book has come to life! They use puppets, images, and other props to make you feel more like your in the book. It was really cool how they used imagery to make the peach grow into a giant peach. I also liked it when they put fake seagulls on stands and put them on the peach for the part when the peach flies. My favorite part was when the peach went rolling into the water. At the start of the play the actors who played the bugs held puppets when they were tiny bugs, and dressed up as the bugs at the part when they were bigger. The peach even rolled over a famous chocolate factory, but thats another story.

When the play was over, Betsy, who played the ladybug, showed me around the backstage area. Her performing was amazing and she was really good at being a ladybug for the play.  Backstage I saw an alley from one entrance of the stage to another and there was two dressing rooms. The boys dressing room was further away from the stage then the girls. There was also another room called the green room. Inside there was a piano and a couch. I sat down and did an interview.

Actor Betsy Picart as Ladybug
I asked what her history in theatre is, and she has done theatre since she was 13 and is a teacher.  Betsy has been in educational theatre for 6 years.

She likes some insects and if she could be one she would be a ladybug with 12 spots.
If she could be inside any giant fruit she would be in a Blueberry.

Her favorite part of performing onstage for this play is the "plump and juicy" song.

Betsy's favorite Roald Dahl Book is The BFG.
We donated to the theatre and its great to support them, since their plays are always amazing.

From seeing BACT plays i really want to start acting so im thinking about doing the childrens program.

I really look forward to seeing the next BACT play.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Special Rehearsal Pulls Out All the Stops

By Vivian Auslander

Our James team with composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
At the beginning of James and the Giant Peach—BACT’s ebullient holiday musical—the mysterious narrator, Ladahlord, invites the audience to “Come with me to see something strange unfold. Hear the weirdest tale that was ever told.”

I got a peek into how our BACT artists were creating this tale at a rehearsal where the cast had the rare chance to work with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Tony Award-nominated songwriters who wrote the music for the show. That’s like having a young Rodgers and Hammerstein walk in the door to give a master class!

Based on the story by Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach recounts how James, who is orphaned when his parents are eaten by an angry rhino, escapes from his mean aunts with a bevy of charming if wacky insects inside an enormous, enchanted peach.
The cast had met three times to prepare a few of the songs from the show before Benj and Justin flew in from New York. Everyone was nervous but very eager to hear the composers’ thoughts.

When I arrived at the studio, Benj and Justin were watching the antics of Michelle Navarrete and Caroline Schneider, who play Spiker and Sponge, James’s awful (but funny) aunts. Justin moved to the keyboard to accompany the song the aunts sing when they discover that James is about to become their “property.”  As his fingers flew and his foot pounded out the beat, the air began to pulse with a passionate energy that became the hallmark of the evening.

For each song the cast had prepared, Benj and Justin explained what ideas and emotions they wanted to convey with the music and the lyrics, and then focused in like laser beams as the actors sang.

“Use a hushed intensity,” Justin suggested to Sean Fenton, as Sean tackled Lahdahlord’s opening song.

For Derek Collard, who plays Green Grasshopper, Justin jumped up to demonstrate how to use the rhythms of the tune, “Floating Along,” to give his friends courage as the Giant Peach takes them out to sea.

Introducing the tender melody the insects sing to comfort James, Justin asked Betsy Picart (Ladybug) and Derek to treat the song as a quiet conversation. To help everyone understand the poignancy of having such a conversation with a little boy, Director Nina Meehan stood up, put her arm around 7-year-old Grady Walsh, and led him to the center of the floor, where they sat down together.  We all held our breath as Betsy and Derek sang to Grady.  (Grady’s mom is Dialect Coach Heather Robison.)
Benj Pasek (far left) and Justin Paul (far right) observe as Nina Meehan and 7-year-old Grady enjoy the song of Ladybug (Picart) and Grasshopper (Collard).

At the break, I asked Michelle how it felt to be working directly with the show’s creators. “It’s an amazing experience,” she said. “I feel so lucky. You can develop the layers in your character so much more with this coaching.”
Music Director Kevin Roland added, “Their music is phenomenal.  It pays homage to the great musical theatre teams that have come before them, yet it blends styles and rhythms—everything from Caribbean to American standards--in a way that is fresh and unique. Their versatility tells the story brilliantly and keeps you interested throughout the show.”

For three hours, the cast sent harmonies soaring, while Benj and Justin pulled out all the stops, pouring their hearts into helping BACT prepare their show. Then, suddenly, the musical fireworks were over. It was time for hugs all around, and good-byes.
Nina ushered the songwriters off to catch their flights home, then turned to the cast members, beaming.  “You rocked it!” she shouted.  “Those two guys brought such a level of energy to this room! Justin was stomping the floor so hard I was sure there’d be a hole!  Now what we have to do is trust their words, trust their rhythms, and bring that energy to the show!”

And, when you see the show, I think you’ll agree that they have!

Vivian Auslander is a BACT Board Member.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nina's Notes: Thoughts on the Theatre Bay Area Awards

What’s in an award?

Confirmation of a job well done, and hope for future excellence.

L to R: Christina Larson (Stage Manager), Will Dao (Actor),
Mina Morita (Director), Min Kahng (Writer/Composer),
Yusuke Soi (Props Artisan), Nina Meehan (Executive Director)
Monday’s gala award ceremony sponsored by Theatre Bay Area (TBA)—the largest regional theatre service organization in North America—accomplished that and much more for the San Francisco Bay Area’s vast community of theatre-makers, and, in so doing, energized everyone in the community to work even harder to entertain and engage the thousands of theatre-goers who come through our doors each season to see and discuss the fruits of our efforts.

When we think about the Bay Area, we easily think about our sports teams, but not everyone knows that the Bay Area is the third largest theatre center in the country, with more than 400 companies in nine counties, according to TBA.

So an awards ceremony akin to those in other theatre towns, like New York and Chicago, highlighting “the outstanding quality of theatre-making in our region,” is a dream come true—a way to call attention to an innovative industry that makes the Bay Area a cultural oasis for all to enjoy.

I was thrilled to attend the ceremony with other members of the BACT family. We were finalists for ten awards in our theatre category (Tier II, based on our budget and not having any union contracts) for our original musical adaptation of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and we were excited to learn what the judges had decided.

I couldn’t be more proud that Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was a winner in three categories:
  • Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Mina Morita
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical: Sean Fenton (aka Old Man of the Moon)
  • Outstanding Performance by the Acting Ensemble of a Musical 

In addition, we were honored to be finalists for:
  • Overall Production of a Musical
  • Lead Actor: Will Dao
  • Music Direction: Tania Johnson
  • Costume Design: Maggi Yule
  • Scenic Design: Martin Flynn
  • Lighting Design: Sean McStravick
  • Sound Design: Colin Trevor 
Members of our BACT Family at the Awards After Party!
It was a glorious night for BACT!  And a night of promise for the entire theatre community. My thanks and congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to create Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and to our friends and sponsors who make it possible for us to introduce new work.


Nina Meehan is the Executive Director of Bay Area Children's Theatre.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Genevieve Blogs: Ivy + Bean as a Book AND a Musical

BACT Blogger Genevieve is back! This time, she considers the differences between a book and a stage version of Ivy + BeanGenevieve is 11 years old and in sixth grade at Kensington Hilltop School. She loves theater and has been going to productions since she was three years old. Genevieve enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and playing piano. She lives in Kensington with her parents and two younger siblings. Genevieve just played Hamlet in her school play. She thinks BACT is awesome and everybody who works there really inspires her!

Ivy + Bean as a Book AND a Musical

Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s (BACT) latest production, Ivy + Bean, was so fun, friendly, and cheerful! I noticed that it stayed very true to the books. There are many Ivy + Bean stories and this play combined several of them into one great musical. The cheerful characters, the exciting adventures, and the amazing friendships were all shown in this production.

     I think that adapting a musical out of a book must be really difficult. First of all, you have to take all of the books and kind of mash them together. I imagine the writers would have to read all of the Ivy + Bean stories and really get to know the characters, their relationships, and adventures in order to decide which stories would best capture the ideas in the books. It is probably important to choose scenes that many children will recognize and enjoy. This would be challenging because it is necessary to make sure everything fits together and that the biggest details are included.
     Another difficulty of turning a book into a musical is the songs. The book doesn’t have songs, of course, so the creators must make up their own music and find a way to fit it into the production. They also must choose a style of songs that match the mood of the play. For example, Ivy + Bean is really cheerful, so the songs must be very upbeat and fun. Even if the songs are mostly the same moods, they need to stand out and be different from one another. I think that making up the songs in a musical seems like a very challenging, yet rewarding, job.

Actor Katie McGee as Nancy using amazing facial expression

     There are important things in plays that you can’t do in books. For example, showing facial expressions is a great way for an actor to express how her character feels. In a book, you have to use your imagination, which is fun, but very different. I enjoy the ability to see how the characters look and sound. The Ivy + Bean creators did a great job with the costumes and the child-like behaviors; everyone seemed exactly like how I pictured them while reading the books!
     The scenery also was the same style of art as is in the Ivy + Bean books. The props, such as large worms in buckets, and Bean’s colorful backyard fence, really brought the scenes to life. The actors’ casual and colorful outfits were playful and showed the personalities of each character very well.

     Obviously, every scene from the books cannot be included in the musical. Not all of the characters can be developed either. An important part of the Ivy + Bean books that was not included in this play was the importance of having all kinds of friends. This is a theme that runs through the books, but was only represented on stage by having a variety of kids. It would be hard to have added more dialogue or songs about the minor characters.
     These are ways that live productions are entertaining and even though reading is my very favorite thing, I enjoy seeing a good book brought to life on stage. Sometimes, seeing a book played out on stage makes me realize something new about the book or sparks my imagination in another way. I think that by choosing productions based on popular books, BACT is able to attract new audiences to the theater. 

     I was really happy that BACT chose to do Ivy + Bean again. The books are so friendly and fun and so is the play! I think everybody did a great job keeping the production close to the book, but still keeping the play different and exciting. Thanks to all the actors and the creative team for such a great play!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Meet Julietta - Our Newest BACT Blogger!

We are excited to introduce you to Julietta, who is joining our BACT Blogging cohort!

Julietta is a Bay Area native.  She enjoys art, crafting, theater, nature, and outdoors. In 8 years of soaking up creative talents, she has found many outlets for her creative energy. Activities such as Rainbow Loom, 4-H classes, Lego building and cartwheels take up most of her time.

Each year, BACT Bloggers conduct exclusive interviews with performers, designers and other creative types behind our Main Stage shows. Look for Julietta's first blog post some time in November/December during our production of James & the Giant Peach!

Glad to have you as part of the blogging team, Julietta!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BACT Blogger Genevieve Visits Our Offices!

A few weeks ago, we were visited by BACT Blogger Genevieve! Genevieve has conducted several interviews for our blog before, so we thought it would be a treat to have her tour our offices and spend some time seeing what goes into making theatre for young audiences happen! Genevieve is 11 years old and in sixth grade at Kensington Hilltop School. She loves theater and has been going to productions since she was three years old. Genevieve enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and playing piano. She lives in Kensington with her parents and two younger siblings. Genevieve just played Hamlet in her school play. She thinks BACT is awesome and everybody who works there really inspires her!

If you are age 9 and up and interested in becoming a BACT Blogger, fill out an application today! We are accepting applications through September 30th for our 2014-2015 Season!

     I got more and more excited as I pulled up to the Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT) office in Piedmont. A few summers before, I had been at the same building to put on the Youth Education Program version of Annie Jr. I looked around curiously at the small, cozy office filled with cluttered desks and posters of previous plays.
     Nina Meehan turned to say hello. As a child, Nina wanted to be the next Jane Goodall and play with chimpanzees. She had no idea that she was going to become an amazing executive director until much later. Nina was also one of the first people to start BACT, an idea that she and her friend came up with while working for a company that did productions for schools. Nina loves working with such great people to come up with an exciting line-up of shows to do in the next season.
     I also chatted with Rebecca Posamentier, the Youth Education Program Director. While in school at UCLA, Rebecca studied some theater, although acting isn’t what she ended up doing with BACT. Part of what Rebecca does do, though, is reach out to kids who don’t know about the Youth Education Program. They put notices about the next children’s performances in the playbills and talk about classes at the productions. Rebecca is friendly, outgoing, and enjoys using her talents with children.

     Min Kahng, the marketing manager for BACT led me down a short hallway to another little office where Eden Neuendorf, the associate producer, was working. Eden is a big part of putting on productions. She helps to find a script that fits the different locations and has a cast that will work well for the story. Eden also does a bit of hiring, as well as does the workshops for the school productions. Her favorite part of being associate producer, though, is how every day brings something different and comes with problem solving.
     Derek Travis Collard, who is the development director, walked in and shook my hand. I recognized him immediately from interviewing him as Frog in BACT’s Frog and Toad. He admitted that he preferred being an actor over development director because he’s been acting for so long (he was on Broadway at nine years old!), however being a development director has its highlights for sure. He loves meeting people who want to support BACT because he believes bringing theater to children is so important.
     Last, I spoke with Min Kahng, who I mentioned before. He’s the marketing manager for BACT. Before I started the interview, I had been wondering what a marketing manager does, exactly. Min explained that he partly does advertising, and partly helps the audience understand BACT. Before starting at BACT, he did ads for Safeway. When Nina was looking for somebody to be marketing coordinator, he volunteered. He was just promoted to marketing manager this year! However, he isn’t just a marketing manager. He first started at BACT in the year of 2008, as a pianist for The Emperors New Clothes. He also enjoys writing. Min’s most recent play that he has written for BACT was Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

     There are some really great shows coming up at BACT. Derek Travis Collard is very excited for The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane because he really enjoyed the book when he first read it. Both Min Kahng and Eden Neuendorf can’t wait for Three Little Birds. Eden loves it because of how colorful and happy it is. Min is excited because it is a unique and lesser known book. He thinks it’s cool how Bob Marley’s daughter wrote it!
     I noticed that all the desks in the office were personalized. I saw tons of posters over Eden’s desk, and Derek Travis had candy and toys. I saw pictures of families on almost every desk. I really liked that everybody seemed happy and comfortable in their work space.

     I had so, so much fun touring the office and talking to all these awesome people. I really love BACT! Special thanks to Min Kahng for organizing the whole thing, and to Nina Meehan, Rebecca Posamentier, Eden Neundorf, and Derek Travis Collard for letting me interview them.

Friday, April 25, 2014

BACT Spotlight On - Actor Andrew P. Quick

Bingo gets pestered by a squirrel.
Ladybug Girl & Bumblebee Boy, The Musical is causing quite the buzz at the Freight & Salvage! But with all this talk about bugs, let's not forget another key member of the Bug Squad - Bingo, the trusty Basset Hound! For this blog post, we interview Andrew P. Quick about what it was like to play this four-legged member of the Squad.


BACT: Tell us a bit about your performance background. How did you get involved with theatre? Is theatre your main job, or do you have another job(s) as well?

Andrew: I began my theater career in the 4th grade as Uncle Albert in Marry Poppins, singing "I Love to Laugh."  And not much has changed since. I still love to laugh and make others laugh. In high school I was part of an improv troupe, and then I went to University of California, Santa Cruz and studied theatre. At UCSC I was a member of a long-form improv troupe and performed in many shows with the University and with Shakespeare Santa Cruz (now known as Santa Cruz Shakespeare). As a sophomore, I took a class in physical theatre and knew right away that this was what I wanted to do. I started a physical comedy troupe called Pi. Once I graduated I went to clown college in San Francisco with various members of Pi. Since then I have traveled throughout North America performing at festivals, circuses, corporate events, and on the street.

BACT: Is theatre your primary line of work?

Andrew: I have worked many jobs in the theatre. I worked as a carpenter for two years while in Santa Cruz. I then worked as a stage manager for Teatro ZinZanni for four years. Currently my main job is performing. I do some teaching and stage managing as well.

BACT: What did you go to get into the character of Bingo?

Andrew: I watched a lot of videos on YouTube. I then spent time watching my house mate's dog and dogs on the street. The most helpful thing I did was spend time with Murray. Murray is a honest-to-goodness Basset Hound. Lynn Eve, his trainer, was kind enough to bring him over and we spent an afternoon together. Lynn showed me pictures and videos, and we wandered to the dog park where Murray was in his element. I watched how he walked, ran, drooled, and interacted with other dogs and humans.

BACT: How would you describe the character Bingo?

Andrew: How would I describe Bingo: "Ruff, Ruff, Bow Wow, Ruff, Ruff, hooooooooooooooooooowl!"

BACT: Very insightful! What is it like playing an animal character - especially the only non-speaking, animal character on-stage?

Andrew: I love playing animal roles because it allows me to express my story with my body. Animals have very little sub-text, they act and do what needs to be done. I love being able to tell a story without words. Audiences can tell how I am feeling with a slight turn of the head or a quick movement. Since this play is a new work, the lines and songs where changing almost everyday, but not mine. My lines stayed the same and all I had to worry about was not being in the way.

BACT: What do you hope kids and their families take away from watching Ladybug Girl & Bumblebee Boy The Musical?

Andrew: I hope that our audiences leave laughing. I want to bring a smile to people's faces and leave them in a happier mood than when they came in, and not just the kids. When I took on this project, I told the director that I didn't just want the kids to laugh, but I wanted to make the parents, and especially the Dads, laugh. I want there to be something in the show for everyone, and I like to think we are doing just that. I think people are leaving our show with a smile on their face.

For tickets and more info on Ladybug Girl & Bumblebee Boy, The Musical, visit our website!

Monday, March 10, 2014

BACT Blogger Genevieve Interviews Actor Hugo Carbajal

We're getting a double dose of Genevieve this month, this time after an interview with Hugo Carbajal who plays the innocent and excitable Dragon in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: A Musical Adaptation. Genevieve is 11 years old and in the fifth grade at Kensington Hilltop School. She attended her first live theater performance at three years old. Genevieve also enjoys acting, particularly in musicals, playing the piano, writing, reading, traveling, and playing sports with her friends. She lives in Kensington with her parents and two younger siblings. Genevieve is currently playing the role of Hamlet in her school production.

If you are age 9 and up and want to write a blog about your experience with BACT, email nina@bactheatre.org.
My Interview of Hugo Carbajal
By Genevieve Schweitzer, age 11

     I loved, loved, loved Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I really enjoyed the book when I read it last year, and I waited all year for this production. And all that waiting was worth it! The play was amazing!

     Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a story filled with Chinese folktales and in this production, each story was told in a different way—with puppets, singing, audience participation, and much more. The characters were able to bring all the stories together to tell one long story about being grateful for what you have in your life.

     The scenery, puppets, and costumes were very creative and I felt like the whole play stayed true to the book. I liked how this time there was live music, because it made me feel like I was sitting in China, listening to the stories. The acting was so great and there were lots of new, creative things, like rolling carts that carried the actors. There was a great scene where the goldfish jumps into the water and the cloth around her rippled as if she had really jumped into water. All the props in the play were used in interesting ways.

Actor Hugo Carbajal
     I was excited to interview Hugo Carbajal, who played Dragon. Dragon is a funny, sweet character who befriends the main character, Minli. Hugo did a great job showing Dragon’s kind personality. His costume was simply worn, but very dragon-like and in the end it was an important part of the story.

     Hugo loved the book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. His favorite part of the play is when Ba is listening to his goldfish and Ma thinks he is cleaning his ear in the water. He also likes Minli and Dragon’s sweet interactions. He has never been in a Bay Area Children’s Theatre production before, but has made masks for the company.

      Hugo’s favorite play that he has ever been in was a shadow puppet play with short stories about immigration. The first play that he ever saw was Dracula. He was in tenth grade at the time and had never really been into theater, but when he saw this production, he thought it was fun and exciting. Now he has been acting for about twenty years.

     Hugo Carbajal has been in many plays, and one of his most challenging was a Greek mythology production where he was Orpheus, the lead role. He found this play to be extra hard.

Dragon (Hugo Carbajal) befriends Minli (Grace Ng)
     Hugo gave me a tour of the backstage and showed me how everything worked. There were amazing puppets that clearly took a lot of work to make. I loved all the cool props and being backstage felt really exciting. While I was looking around, I realized how different this play was from most. It had live music, cool backgrounds, and projectors that helped show things and make things feel super real. I loved all of it. Great job, everybody!

Thanks to everyone who helped put this awesome play together. It was obviously a big production that took a lot of work and the effort showed! A special thank you to Hugo Carbajal!


Monday, March 3, 2014

BACT Blogger Genevieve Interviews Actor Patricia Austin

To help celebrate the opening of Mercy Watson to the Rescue in Mill Valley this weekend, Genevieve found some time for an interview with actor Patricia Austin, who plays the porcine wonder herself! Genevieve is 11 years old and in the fifth grade at Kensington Hilltop School. She attended her first live theater performance at three years old. Genevieve also enjoys acting, particularly in musicals, playing the piano, writing, reading, traveling, and playing sports with her friends. She lives in Kensington with her parents and two younger siblings. Genevieve is currently playing the role of Hamlet in her school production.

If you are age 9 and up and want to write a blog about your experience with BACT, email nina@bactheatre.org.


My Interview of Patricia Austin

By Genevieve, Age 11

Actor Patricia Austin
     Mercy Watson to the Rescue was so amazing! I loved the props, the scenery, the sound effects, the great acting, and the hilarious lines. The costumes were super creative, as always, and I liked how the audience got in on the act.

     This time I interviewed Patricia Austin, the actor who played Mercy. She was so, so funny! Patricia, also known as Trish, has been acting since she was five years old and was known for her good Western impersonations. Her first professional play that she was in was Charlie Brown, playing Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister

     Patricia has worked with Bay Area Children’s Theatre before in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. She was specifically called in to play Mercy in Mercy Watson, which she was very excited and happy about.

Mercy Watson loves toast!
     Patricia doesn’t prefer being a funny or serious character in plays; it just depends on the script. All she focuses on is telling a good story. However, Trish especially likes the serious Shakespeare plays and has acted in many. As a matter of fact, if she could choose one play to act in it would be A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

     As an actor, you have lots of nerve-racking moments where you have to do some quick thinking and improvising. Patricia shared one of her most memorable improv moments. In college, her costume fell off during a Waltz. She had to turn it into part of the dance, and then quickly shimmy off the stage where the crew fixed it up.

     Trish likes acting for children and adults equally. “The thing about acting for children,” says Patricia, “is that it sometimes is their first time seeing a play, so it really has to change their world.”

     I enjoyed this play so, so much. Thanks to all those people who worked hard on this production, and a special thanks to Patricia Austin!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Writing Mountain - A Blog Post by Playwright/Composer Min Kahng

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon opens February 22
When I was asked to adapt Where the Mountain Meets the Moon into a stage musical, my initial thought was: “This is impossible.” Grace Lin’s book is intricate and poetic, with multiple stories intertwining. In codex form, this makes for an exciting reading experience. I found myself flipping back and forth throughout the book to remember certain characters or stories, and being delighted when I stumbled upon a new connection or revelation. Unfortunately, during a theatre performance, an audience member can’t flip through the scenes to remind themselves of previous occurrences. This problem of form initially seemed like a Herculean task – how can I even come close to the beautiful vignette-like structure of Lin’s work?

Then I realized that I was neglecting something fairly obvious. There is a through-line story in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and a very strong one. The character of Minli is going on a journey to change her family’s fortune. Though she meets a colorful array of characters along the way, each with their own stories, it is Minli who we follow and root for. There is also a secondary through-line which balances Minli’s incredible journey – the story of her parents. I started to see that focusing in on these two threads (rather than trying to highlight every story found in the book) would help keep a live audience engaged. This centered my writing, and it also became a benchmark for deciding which stories to include in our production. With each moment in the book, I’d ask “Does it directly serve the central story arcs of Minli and her parents?” If it does, then include it. If not, then let it go.

Of course, there was some major adjusting done along the way. Some plot points that seemed crucial turned out to be secondary. Others that seemed miniscule, ended up being key to help the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the story (Thank goodness for workshops with audience feedback!). And there were some moments in the book that needed to be altered in order to help with the flow of the musical.

Throughout the development process, I had very constructive meetings with director Mina Morita and dramaturg Oona Hatton. We became a “story team,” bouncing ideas off each other, trying new things, mulling over what the overall style and feel of the show would be. This gathering of strong-minded creative-types could have become a crucible of conflicts and disagreements, but I am amazed and quite proud of how the three of us discussed, listened to and experimented with ideas in a respectful (and often times jovial) environment. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: A Musical Adaptation is all the stronger, and I am a better writer because of these collaborators.

Now, halfway through Tech Week, I am even more amazed at the dedication that the cast, designers and creative team are bringing to the work. Actors, musicians, choreography, costumes, sets, props, sound and lights are all breathing life into the story. It is a quiet kind of joy to see something you’ve written being treated respectfully and taken seriously by other artists. I am thankful to be surrounded by folks who are so good at what they do. I am also thankful for the support my writing has received from Bay Area Children’s Theatre. I now think my initial statement about writing Mountain was correct, but with an added clause: “This is impossible without the help of others.” How appropriate, since this is also one of the key lessons Minli learns on her journey.


Min Kahng is a playwright/composer living in the Bay Area. His previous works include Tales of Olympus: A Greek Myth Musical and The Song of the Nightingale. Kahng is also the Marketing Coordinator and a Youth Education Program Instructor for Bay Area Children's Theatre.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

BACT Spotlight On - Actor

In just a few days, Mercy Watson to the Rescue opens at the Freight & Salvage. This show is based upon the popular Kate DiCamillo book series, and features a loveable pig named Mercy who loves buttered toast. For this blog post, we got to interview the actor behind the pig, Patricia Austin.


BACT: How did you begin getting involved with theatre?

Patricia: I have been doing some sort of theatre since I was wee: School plays, Christmas pageants, children's choir. But my first real audition was in the 5th grade for the Sound of Music with Little Town Players in Bedford, VA. I played Gretl and had the time of my life.  

BACT: Is theatre your main job, or do you have another job as well?

Patricia: I have ALWAYS had some sort of day job from waitressing to admin work until this past August.  Now I teach, costume and act. I still cobble things together, hustle for work and my calendar looks like a game of Tetris, but the work is all theatre-related and that makes me very happy.

BACT: What drew you to audition for Mercy Watson?

Patricia: I knew that BACT was having their generals but wasn't sure which show I wanted to focus on.  Then Melissa, the casting director, asked me to come in for Mercy Watson.  I read the play and the first book, and just went for it.  

BACT: Had you done children's theatre before this? 

Patricia: I came to the Bay Area from Chicago where I did a fair amount of children's theatre. My first production with BACT was The True Story of The Three Little Pigs.  Another pig role.  So maybe I have a calling for Children's stories about pigs?  Hmmmm . . .

BACT: Well, we're glad to have you playing this porcine wonder! How would you describe Mercy Watson? 

Patricia: I think she is a lovable character who LOVES!  She loves her family, she loves adventure and meeting new people, but most of all she LOVES TOAST? 

BACT: How are you similar to her?

Patricia: [I share] Her sense of play and adventure.  We also share a love for toast.  I just prefer mine with jam.

BACT: What is the best part about playing Mercy Watson? What challenges did you encounter? 

Patricia: The best part about playing Mercy Watson is that she is a lot of fun. She is high-energy and physical, and she is definitely not afraid. The biggest challenge at first was to figure out what Mercy means when she says "butter"or "toast"or "cookie".  Does she really want butter and toast all the time or is she also trying to convey other things using a limited vocabulary? So, early in the rehearsal process we made certain distinctions about when it was actually toast or when it was really something else.

BACT: Is it easy or difficult playing an animal character?

Patricia: Hmmmm.  I would say that that playing an animal character is more physically driven than textually driven, especially Mercy.  But as far as easier or hard I don't know.  You still have to make them real. And you still have to make people care about them.  So in the end, you still have the same challenges as when you are playing people.

BACT: What do you hope kids and their families take away from watching Mercy Watson to the Rescue.

Patricia: A deep and abiding love of toast!  And butter.  And live theatre!

BACT: Got any fun behind-the-scene stories?

Patricia: This cast and crew are the best! We have a lot of fun and are still collecting stories.  Early on in rehearsal we would crack each other up so much (from our "schmackting") that at the end of whatever scene we were rehearsing we would lovingly say "all the awards." 
BACT: If you're having that much fun in rehearsals, it sounds like we're in for a fun show! Thank you so much for your time!

Tickets for Mercy Watson to the Rescue are on sale now at our website!