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.