A.C.T. Tackles Big Issues in Fugard's Blood Knot
Charles Randolph-Wright directs powerful South African drama, featuring original music by Tracy Chapman.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, January 18, 2008—American Conservatory Theatercore acting company members Steven Anthony Jones and Jack Willis star as South African brothers divided by skin-tone and joined together by blood in Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. Featuring stirring original music composed for this production by internationally renowned, multiple Grammy Awardwinning artist Tracy Chapman, Fugard’s 1961 classic of race, politics, and brotherhood plays at the American Conservatory Theater February 8 through March 9, with press night February 13. Tickets—starting at $14—are selling fast, and are available now by calling A.C.T. Ticket Services at 415.749.2228 or by logging on to A.C.T.’s website at www.act-sf.org.
Set in the South Africa of the early 1960s, Blood Knot follows two brothers living together in penury in a township outside of Port Elizabeth. The two lead an apparently stable life, as Morrie, who can pass for white, cooks and cleans for himself and hardworking, dark-skinned Zach, until the two take up a pen pal. When a snapshot reveals that the pen pal is a white woman, tensions between the brothers seethe to the surface and explode, revealing truths about the characters, about race, and about the nature of brotherhood the world over. Says A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff, “I wish I could claim that over a year ago when we programmed this extraordinary play about race and family, we guessed that a sea change would be happening in American politics and that this presidential campaign would be dominated by a major biracial candidate. The actual origin of this particular production was somewhat closer to home: when we invited Jack Willis to join A.C.T.’s core acting company last year, I asked him to give me a list of the plays he would most like to explore. At the top of his list was Blood Knot, with Steven Anthony Jones.”
In an exclusive A.C.T. interview, featured in A.C.T.’s Words on Plays, Fugard himself discusses the genesis of the piece: “It was during my few years at the University of Cape Town. I had hitchhiked back to my hometown to spend the Christmas holidays with my family, my mother and father, and I knew that my brother, who had been away from home for some time, and whom I hadn’t seen for quite a few years, would also be there. I arrived late at night, and my mother let me into the darkened, everybody’s-still-sleeping house, and in whispers we moved to the bedroom that I always shared with my brother. And I could see my mother was a little disturbed, and when she held out the candle so I could see my brother, I saw that he had suffered a lot during those few years. The pain, even in that sleeping face in repose, pain was written very, very powerfully on his face. What I had remembered as a powerful, broad-shouldered man who I had always been a little jealous of because of his physical prowess and good looks, I saw somebody who had really taken some hard knocks. That is actually embodied in that monologue that Morrie has at the end of the first scene when Zach has fallen asleep.”
“Blood enables you to cross boundaries, to be inappropriate, to step on toes, to go much further than you automatically would as a regular person who has compassion and consideration,” says director Randolph-Wright. At the same time, Randolph-Wright intends for the play to open discussions on important issues of politics, society, and family. “I really want this play to make us have a conversation about race and identity that we don't have in this country anymore,” he says. “We don’t think we need this conversation, we think it's been done. But when you realize that San Francisco is less than 10 percent black, then I think you realize you need to talk about these things. To me, coming to this play is a conversation.”
Preparation for A.C.T.’s production of Blood Knot has been underway for several months, beginning last August with a trip to South Africa made by Jack Willis and Steven Anthony Jones. During the course of two weeks of traveling, made possible by generous gifts from Tom Lockard and Alix Marduel, as well as from Fred Levin and Nancy Livingston, the actors had an opportunity to experience South African culture—including townships much like the one in which the play is set—as well as to listen closely to South African dialects. The actors documented their South African experience on the Blood Knot blog, located at bloodknot-act.blogspot.com, which, in addition to news and impressions of the trip and the rehearsal process, also includes a number of pictures as well as video clips. These documents in turn have informed the set and costume design of the piece, as well as its overall aesthetic.
Both cast members in Blood Knot are A.C.T. associate artists and core acting company members. Steven Anthony Jones plays the hardworking, darker-skinned brother, Zachariah. Jones has been seen at A.C.T. in The Imaginary Invalid, the world premiere of Philip Kan Gotanda’s After the War, Happy End, Gem of the Ocean, Female Transport, Levee James, Waiting for Godot, Yohen, The Three Sisters, The Dazzle, Night and Day, Buried Child, A Christmas Carol (Ebenezer Scrooge and The Ghost of Christmas Present), Celebration and The Room, “Master Harold”…and the boys, The Misanthrope, The Invention of Love, The Threepenny Opera, Tartuffe, Indian Ink, Hecuba, Insurrection: Holding History, Seven Guitars, Othello (title role), Antigone, Miss Evers’ Boys, Clara, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Saint Joan, King Lear, Golden Boy, and Feathers. Other local theater credits include Fuente Ovejuna and McTeague (Berkeley Repertory Theatre); As You Like It (San Francisco Shakespeare Festival); The Cherry Orchard, Every Moment, and The Island (Eureka Theatre); Sideman (San Jose Repertory Theatre); and Division Street (Oakland Ensemble Theatre). He originated the role of Private James Wilkie in the original production of A Soldier’s Play at the Negro Ensemble Company in New York. His many film and television credits include two seasons ofMidnight Caller.
Appearing as the lighter-skinned Morrie, Jack Willis has acted in more than 200 productions throughout the United States, including recent performances at A.C.T. in The Rainmaker, Hedda Gabler, A Christmas Carol, The Little Foxes, Happy End, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,and The Black Rider. An A.C.T. associate artist and core acting company member, he is also an associate artist at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and has been a company member of the American Repertory Theatre, Trinity Repertory Company, and the Dallas Theater Center. On Broadway, Willis has appeared in Julius Caesar, The Crucible, Art, and The Old Neighborhood. His off-Broadway credits include The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, World of Mirth, The Iphigenia Cycle,and Valhalla. He recently appeared in Gypsy with Patti LuPone at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. Film and television credits include The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Cradle Will Rock, The Out-of-Towners, Love Hurts, I Come in Peace, Problem Child, Law & Order, Ed, and Dallas. Willis is a cofounder of Aruba Repertory.
The extraordinary design team for A.C.T.’s Blood Knot includes a number of remarkable artists, including world-famous musician and composer Tracy Chapman, who is writing and recording music for live theater for the first time. A singer-songwriter and Atlantic Records recording artist, has made seven albums since her debut in 1988, including Tracy Chapman, Crossroads, Matters of the Heart, New Beginning, Telling Stories, and Let It Rain. Her most recent record is Where You Live, released in 2005. She has toured extensively, both nationally and internationally, and collaborated with such musicians as B. B. King, Bob Dylan, Youssou N’Dour, Emmylou Harris, and Wynton Marsalis. She has lent her voice in support of a wide range of social and humanitarian causes, including the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour, the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, Tibetan Freedom Concerts, Farm Aid, the Special Olympics, and amfAR.
Scenic designer Alexander V. Nichol’s works spans from lighting and projections to scenery and costumes for dance, theater, opera, and art installations. His designs have been set on the stages of such companies as Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Arena Stage, the Alley Theatre, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Huntington Theatre Company, California Shakespeare Theater, the National Theatre of Taiwan, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, ODC/SF, Hubbard Street Dance, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and have supported the work of the Kronos Quartet, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, and Rinde Eckert. Nichols has served as resident designer for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Hartford Ballet and as lighting director for American Ballet Theatre. Other dance credits include designs for choreographers Christopher d’Amboise, Ann Carlson, Val Caniparoli, Sonya Delwaide, Bill T. Jones, Jean Grand Maitre, Mark Morris, Mikko Nissinen, Kevin O’Day, Kirk Peterson, Stephen Petronio, Dwight Rhoden, Michael Smuin, and Brenda Way. Other projects include the exterior lighting of the Sentinel Building, Francis Ford Coppola’s historic headquarters in San Francisco, and structural and lighting design for the traveling art installation Circle of Memory.
Costume designer Sandra Woodall has designed costumes for A.C.T. (Hedda Gabler, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Doll’s House, The Dazzle, The Duchess of Malfi, Light Up the Sky, and Saint Joan, among others), San Francisco Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Stuttgart Ballet, Singapore Ballet Theatre, and the Magic Theatre. Recent productions include Cinderella for the Bolshoi Ballet, Sleeping Beauty for the Norwegian National Ballet, and Fifth Season for the San Francisco Ballet. She was visual director for the eight-hour world premiere of Stan Lai’s Dream Like a Dream at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, for Don Giovanni at the Taiwan National Symphony, and for Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera ballet Mlada for the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Other design credits include the Eureka Theatre Company’s original production of Angels in America. Her work has been shown in numerous gallery exhibitions, and she is the recipient of numerous Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle Awards for costume design.
Kathy A. Perkins has designed lighting throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and South Africa. She was a resident designer for two years with the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) and the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company. Her designs have been seen in various New York venues, including Carnegie Hall and Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Regionally, she has designed for Goodman Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the Alliance Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, the Mark Taper Forum, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Black Rep (St. Louis), ACT (A Contemporary Theatre), Indiana Repertory Theatre, Missouri Repertory Theatre, Congo Square Theatre Company, Seattle Repertory Theatre, New Federal Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, and Court Theatre. She is editor/coeditor of five anthologies focusing on African/African diaspora women, including Black South African Women: An Anthology of Plays.Perkins chairs the lighting design program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Sound designer Dan Moses Schreier has worked on Broadway productions of 110 in the Shade, Sweeney Todd, Julius Caesar, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Gem of the Ocean, Pacific Overtures, Assassins, After the Fall, Anna in the Tropics, Into the Woods, Topdog/Underdog, Major Barbara, Dance of Death, Dirty Blonde, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Tempest, and Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk. Off-Broadway credits include Stuff Happens, Homebody/Kabul, Floyd Collins,and many others. He recently composed the score for the Broadway production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf, designed the sound for both John Doyle’s production of Mahagonny, starring Audra McDonald and Patti LuPone, and City Center’s production of Gypsy, also starring LuPone. He has received three Drama Desk Awards and the LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award, as well as the Entertainment Design Award and an OBIE Award, both for sustained excellence.
Director Charles Randolph-Wright returns to A.C.T., where he has directed Insurrection: Holding History, Blithe Spirit, and Tartuffe. He most recently wrote and directed the film Mama, I Want to Sing! (premiering soon in theaters) and directed the award-winning film Preaching to the Choir. He wrote the plays Blue and Cuttin’ Up and directed the 50th-anniversary national tour of Guys and Dolls, as well as other productions at Roundabout Theatre Company, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center, New York Theatre Workshop, Manhattan Theatre Club, Carnegie Hall, the Mark Taper Forum, the Alliance Theatre, Arena Stage, and Pasadena Playhouse. He has also written features for Disney, Fox, HBO, and Showtime. Randolph-Wright directed episodes of the hit series South of Nowhere, produced and wrote the acclaimed series Linc’s, and has directed many videos and commercials, including the European “Freestyle” campaign for Nike. A Duke University honors graduate, he serves on Duke’s artistic board and the board of directors of Roundabout Theatre Company and is a founding member of the Wright Family Foundation of South Carolina. Randolph-Wright established the workshop series “Different Voices” at the Roundabout and “Create Carolina,” a new arts festival, at Winthrop University in South Carolina.
South African playwright, actor, and director Athol Fugard is recognized as one of the world’s leading theater artists. Born in 1932 in the semidesert Karroo region of South Africa and educated at the University of Cape Town, he traveled as a seaman in the Far East, worked in television in England, America, and Europe, and became actively involved in theater when, after meeting his wife, actress Sheila Meiring, they formed an experimental theater company in Johannesburg. Despite South Africa’s harsh censorship laws, he sustained a theater group—the Serpent Players, formed with actor Zakes Mokae—in Port Elizabeth that produced plays that defiantly indicted the policies of apartheid. The troupe, which was forbidden to perform publicly for whites, premiered Fugard’s The Blood Knot in 1961. In 1967, the South African government seized Fugard’s passport and placed him under surveillance. The harassment did not stop Fugard from collaborating in 1972 with black actor-playwrights John Kani and Winston Ntshona on Sizwe Bansi Is Dead and The Island, which were nominated for three Tony Awards. Fugard’s celebrated plays also include A Lesson from Aloes, The Road to Mecca, “Master Harold” …and the boys, My Children! My Africa!, Boesman and Lena, Playland, The Captain’s Tiger, Valley Song, and Sorrows and Rejoicings. The 1986 Broadway production of Blood Knot, with Fugard and Mokae reprising their original roles, also earned a Tony nomination for Best Play. His latest play, Victory, premiered at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles in January. Fugard is also the author of Cousins: A Memoir, Notebooks: 19601977, and the screenplays for Boesman and Lena, The Guest, Marigolds in August, and Tsotsi, based on his novel of that name, which won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He currently divides his time between the United States and South Africa.
A.C.T.’s Blood Knot is made possible by producers Lesley Ann Clement and Doron Dreksler, F. Eugene and Mary S. Metz, Gene and Abby Schnair, Patrick S. Thompson, and Barry Williams and Lalita Tademy.
Tickets for Blood Knot can be purchased at A.C.T. Ticket Services, located at 405 Geary Street, 415.749.2228; or via the A.C.T. website, www.act-sf.org. Groups of 15 or more people are eligible for discounts; please call 415.439.2473.
There will be a Bring What You Can/Pay What You Wish performance on Thursday, February 14, at 8 p.m. Patrons will be allowed to pay any amount for tickets when they bring a donation of children’s books, diapers, or coffee beans to benefit Raphael House, a shelter and support program for homeless families in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Patrons are limited to one ticket per donated item, one ticket per person. Tickets go on sale at 6 p.m. the day of the performance.
InterACT Events—Free of charge!
The A.C.T. Prologue, a half-hour discussion introducing the production with director Charles Randolph-Wright, will take place Tuesday, February 12, from 5:30 to 6 p.m.
Audience Exchanges, opportunities for patrons to share their thoughts on the production with fellow audience members and selected artists from the show, are scheduled immediately following the evening performance on February 19 and the matinees on February 24 and March 5.
Out with A.C.T. night for Blood Knot is Wednesday, February 20. Designed as dynamic gatherings for gay and lesbian theater lovers, Out with A.C.T. events include postperformance receptions featuring complimentary wine and opportunities to meet the actors. To order Out with A.C.T. tickets, please call A.C.T. Ticket Services at 415.749.2228 and mention “Out with A.C.T.” when purchasing your tickets. Out with A.C.T. is sponsored by BV Wines.
Theater on the Couch is an exciting collaboration between A.C.T. and the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis. Theater on the Couch inspires lively dialogue between the audience and a panel of local psychoanalysts. After the evening show on Friday, February 15, the panel, which includes a psychoanalyst from South Africa, will discuss the psychological aspects of the play and take questions from the audience.
PHOTO EDITORS, please note: Images of the artists involved with A.C.T.’s production of Blood Knot are available in the press photo section of the PRESS ROOM of A.C.T.’s website, www.act-sf.org.
CALENDAR EDITORS, please note:
AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATER
415 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
A.C.T. Ticket Services: 415.749.2228
By Athol Fugard
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Music composed and recorded by Tracy Chapman
Cast: Jack Willis (Morris), Steven Anthony Jones (Zachariah)
Designers: Alexander V. Nichols (sets), Sandra Woodall (costumes), Kathy Perkins (lights), Dan Moses Schreier (sound)
Previews: February 812
Press Night: February 13
Last Performance: March 9
Tickets $14$57 previews; $17$71 Tue.Fri. & Sun. evenings; $22$82 Sat. evenings and weekend matinees. Tickets are available through A.C.T. Ticket Services, 405 Geary Street at Mason, 415.749.2228, and online at www.act-sf.org.
Performance Times Tue.Sat. at 8 p.m. (except 2/19 at 7 p.m.)
Wed., Sat., and Sun. at 2 p.m. (except no matinees on 2/10, 2/13, or 2/27). Additional performance Sun., 2/10 and 2/16 at 7 p.m.
Tuesday, February 12, 5:30 p.m.
Featuring Charles Randolph-Wright
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
Half-hour discussion with Charles Randolph-Wright introducing the production. FREE, no tickets required, doors open at 5 p.m. For more information, call 415.749.2228.
BRING WHAT YOU CAN/PAY WHAT YOU WISH
Thursday, February 14, 8 p.m.
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
Patrons will be allowed to pay any amount for tickets when they donate children’s books, diapers, or coffee beans to benefit Raphael House, a shelter and support program for homeless families in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Please call 415.749.2228 for details. Patrons are limited to one ticket per donated item, one ticket per show per person. Tickets go on sale at 6 p.m. the day of the performance.
AUDIENCE EXCHANGE DISCUSSIONS
Tuesday, February 19, evening
Sunday, February 24, matinee
Wednesday, March 5, matinee
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
Share your thoughts on the production with fellow audience members following the performance. FREE, no tickets required, but priority seating is given to A.C.T. ticket holders. Patrons who have attended a previous performance are encouraged to attend. For more information, please contact A.C.T. at 415.749.2228.
OUT WITH A.C.T.
Wednesday, February 20, 8 p.m.
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
A dynamic series for gay and lesbian theater lovers that includes a performance followed by a reception featuring complimentary wine and an opportunity to meet the actors. To order Out with A.C.T. tickets, call the A.C.T. Ticket Services at 415.749.2228 and mention “Out with A.C.T.” when purchasing your tickets. Out with A.C.T. is sponsored by BV Wines.
THEATER ON THE COUCH
Friday, February 15, 8 p.m.
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
An exciting collaboration between A.C.T. and the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis. Theater on the Couch inspires lively dialogue between the audience and a panel of local psychoanalysts. After the evening show on February 15, the panel, which includes a psychoanalyst from South Africa, will discuss the psychological aspects of the play and take questions from the audience.
Martin Schwartz 415.439.2418; email@example.com
Janette Gallegos 415.439.2362 or firstname.lastname@example.org