Jacquelin & Sheafe Ewing
Janice & David Lawrence
Zandra Faye Leduff
Leah & Neil MacNeil
Lisa & James Taylor
& David Wood
STARTS January 25
- In The News
- Program Notes
Three generations of family gather over three holidays in a home none of them expects to long survive the rising sea. They do chores, text each other, and dance. They watch the birds and watch each other, while struggling for loyalty, legacy, and turf. By the end, everything has shifted and a new generation is in charge, but of what? Our Practical Heaven, the third Aurora mainstage production to develop from our annual Global Age Project, addresses the changing tides of communication, gender roles, and society in a place where even the notions of home and family remain fluid. GAP director Allen McKelvey, and original GAP cast members Julia Brothers* (The First Grade), Joy Carlin* (Thérèse Raquin), and Anne Darragh* (A Delicate Balance), reprise their roles for Aurora’s main stage production.
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- Allen McKelvey - Director
- Anthony Clarvoe - Playwright
- Joy Carlin* - Vera
- Julia Brothers* - Willa
- Anne Darragh* - Sasha
- Blythe Foster* - Suze
- Adrienne Walters - Leez
- Lauren Spencer - Magz
- Mikiko Uesugi+ Set Designer
- Michael Palumbo Light Designer
- Callie Floor+ Costume Designer
- Clifford Caruthers+ Sound Designer
- Micah J. Stieglitz - Video Designer
- Mia Baxter/ Seren Helday - Props Artisans
- Susan Reamy* - Stage Manager
Interview with Playwright Anthony ClarvoeBy Josh Costello, Literary Manager
This play was a finalist in Aurora's Global Age Project before being selected for a full production. What was that process like for you as a playwright? How has the text of the play changed since the version you originally submitted to the GAP?
OUR PRACTICAL HEAVEN was my first play in nearly twenty years that wasn't written as some kind of commission. It accumulated bit by bit between other projects. I submitted it to the Aurora as I was returning home to the Bay Area to live. The norm in my working life has been to travel to where my work is being produced, working in a number of different places and with a number of different companies on each work. The opportunity to work with the same terrific director, Allen McKelvey, the same organization, and a very tight and brilliant group of actors over two years, all a mile's walk from my house, has been both unfamiliar and wonderfully familial.
The script is fundamentally the same as it was when I submitted it, and there have also been hundreds of changes. Because it is such a personal play, and because it is a play in which all the characters have known each other for years, the challenge was to invite and embrace the audience, while not having to have everyone in the play spend a lot of time telling each other things they all already know. Am I being confusing? Or am I belaboring points? Am I creating opportunities for my collaborators and then getting out of their way? I tell my students that the first draft is for you to express yourself; all the other drafts are for you to collaborate with the artists who are offering you their talents and the audiences who are giving you their precious time.
The young characters in this play are often typing on their phones, communicating with each other electronically. Why did you choose to make this such a presence in the play?
It was this use of what I generically refer to as Gizmos, as much as anything, that convinced me this was a Global Age Project play. This phenomenon of people carrying on several different conversations at once, in person and virtually, strikes a chord with something I try to do theatrically: have several different things going on at once that can stand independently and also comment on each other, so they add layers of meaning though juxtaposition. The live characters, especially the moms, are unwittingly being the pictures for which their daughters' texts are supplying the captions. The photos someone is taking and uploading, when projected, can supply a real or expressionistic backdrop to a scene. The theme of whether we're more present and able to communicate when we're with people in person or when we're reaching out through our devices runs right through the play.
What changes do you expect to see in theater as technology becomes more and more ubiquitous in our lives?
I'm intrigued with the ways technology is allowing for greater malleability and permeability of what we think of as stage space. Theater people have always known that what we're creating is less a literal duplication of reality than a kind of waking dream, a place that responds dynamically to emotion. King Lear rages and the storm rages. Nowadays people walk around talking with people who aren't there, listening to background music only they can hear, following a map that changes with their every step. We're all starting to live in that waking dream. In our increasingly web-based life, there's special significance in the kinds of art and entertainment that rely on our being physically present in the same place with each other.
You have said that your first inspiration for this play was birdwatching, and that the play really took off once you realized it should be about family. What is it about birdwatching and family that inspire you, and how do you connect them?
I've always loved people who are passionate about something -- it lends them energy, enriches their speech, shows them enacting their values. Nerds are my people. Birders -- and I have been happy to count myself among them -- are passionate outdoor nerds. Their interests tend to include ornithology and environmentalism, of course. But because a lot of birding tends to be done on coasts, borders, and frontiers, they care about climate change, immigration, even homeland security -- you see what happens when you stand in a marsh near an airport with a scope on a tripod.
By now I've had a chance to experience family as a child and as a parent. I've been struck over the last few years at the many ways our American sense of what a family is has grown and changed. Especially in the Bay Area, especially in the arts, we have a lot of experience in declaring ourselves to be families -- marrying and adopting each other as partners, parents, siblings, and children, officially or not. The rest of the country is just catching up with us.
And of course both family and birding require a lot of patience and close attention. Blink and you might miss something great.