Posts Tagged ‘Ragged Wing Ensemble’

2011: eleven plays

January 8, 2012

These plays are eleven of my favorites from 2011, in chronological order:


MEASURE FOR MEASURE: This was a staged reading by Subterranean Shakespeare in some kind of meeting room in a Unitarian Church in Berkeley. They did a whole series of these on consecutive Monday nights, putting a lot of work into plays that were only seen one time each.  Of the ones I went to see Measure for Measure comes to mind right now because it’s one of my favorites and doesn’t get produced very often. SubShakes proved that Measure for Measure is not a “problem play.”

April 2011:

SPEED-THE-PLAY: Move About Theatre simultaneously did four short plays outdoors on the four sides of Union Square in downtown SF. I was really impressed with the one called Speed-the-Play, which had  everything David Mamet ever wrote squeezed into seven minutes. There were tourists walking by who were probably wondering why these people were talking so fast and yelling and swearing at each other so much.

May 2011:


“VERSHININ. I have come to say good-bye. . . .

[OLGA moves a little away to leave them free to say good-bye.]

MASHA [looking into his face]. Good-bye . . . [a prolonged kiss].

OLGA. Don’t, don’t. . . .

[MASHA sobs violently.]”

Berkeley Rep’s production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed by Les Waters, had everything it needed: an awesome cast, beautiful period costumes and sets, and Russian vodka served in the lobby during intermission.

July 2011:

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: I took a theatre trip to New York City and saw five plays in three days. I planned the weekend vacation around seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company, who were visiting from the UK. But the plays that made it to this list aren’t the RSC productions that I had bought tickets for months in advance. They’re two local shows I didn’t know I was going to see till I got there:

The first was A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  in a storefront theatre on 23rd Street that, I’m guessing, might have originally been someone’s townhouse. The opening scene was staged as a cocktail party, not unlike festivities that might have actually taken place in the same room once upon a time, with an open bar and guests toasting from a loft balcony. And then, we all went off into the forest…

Afterwards, at the end of a day that had started in San Francisco, I wasn’t even sure where I was. But I was glad to be there.

July 2011:

On the asphalt at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

HAMLET : My second night in NYC I saw Hamlet performed in a parking lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome. I have a tendency to romanticize experiences like this. I’ve been trying to write about it for six months, using a lot of my favorite words – urban, cool, visceral, modern, primal, downtown, lucid, punk, Ophelia, etc. – all of which would have been appropriate. But there was much than that going on. This was a really fantastic Hamlet, and it would have been just as fantastic anywhere else The Drilling Company might have set up shop. The Bard was right: all the world is a stage.

Gertrude and Hamlet. (With the corpse of Pollonius leaning against the street light. )

September 2011:

CYMBELINE : Life in San Francisco wasn’t the same after I got back from New York, and I was grateful when the SF Shakespeare Festival began their annual residency in the Presidio. I’ve written about them before – seeing them on a cold, foggy Saturday night (or a hot sunny Sunday afternoon) is always a pleasure, and I still don’t understand why more people don’t check them out. Hey, it’s free! The SF Chronicle didn’t even review this year’s show, Cymbeline, and it was one of the best things they’ve ever done. It’s not one of the classics, but in their capable hands it was not only entertaining but moving.

October 2011:

INANNA’S DESCENT : Last year Ragged Wing took over a trippy neighborhood park in Berkeley and turned it into a mythic, interactive underworld for Persephone’s Roots. This year they were back with a different Goddess, but with the common theme of death and rebirth. It was that time of year – the final performance was on Halloween. Heavy stuff,  but with a sense of humor and original music. This was something that could be experienced over and over and be different every time.

Here’s an interview I did with the director, Anna Shneiderman, in 2010:

October 2011: DESDEMONA & GOOD NIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING, JULIET): I wrote a previous blog post about these two plays, both done at the Boxcar Theatre. I’m looking forward to returning to the Boxcar this year, when they’ll be doing four Sam Shepard plays in repertory.

November 2011:

HAIR: I really loved Hair, The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which was in town for four weeks at the Golden Gate Theater. I’m still in a blissful state, and not yet ready to analyze what happened. Check back with me later for more details.

December 2011:

BAD HAMLET – The Bootleg Quarto of 1603: I found this one by pure serendipity. I was walking home from the library and saw a poster for it in a window. At first I thought it was some kind of prank, but I went back in the evening to check it out and it was, indeed, real. Was it “bad?” No, actually, it was great. In closing I’d like to thank Do It Live! Productions: having a chance to see Hamlet again this year was, for me, a happy ending to 2011.



(Asphalt photo by Andrea Beeman/Bioluminosity B&B. Gertrude and Hamlet photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.)

Persephone’s Roots – An All Hallow’s Eve Ritual

October 21, 2010

VOX: This is my first blog post previewing a play (and not about something I’ve already seen.) A few weeks ago I learned about an upcoming production in Berkeley by the Ragged Wing Ensemble. I’d seen them perform before, most notably in production they did of “The Tempest” in 2007. This play was a new one, based on an ancient myth, called “Persephone’s Roots; An All Hallows Eve Ritual.” What caught my attention was that it looked like it was going to be both a play and an actual Pagan ritual. This seemed like a good combination to me, and one that has historical validity. And it also seemed a natural fit for the Bay Area, where there are lots of theatre people and lots of Pagans!

I contacted Ragged Wing to get more info and ended up talking to the director, Anna Schneiderman.  So here, then, is my first blog interview, an edited transcription of what we talked about on the phone:  

ANNA SHNEIDERMAN: I co-founded Ragged Wing Ensemble in 2004. My background includes doing a lot of work in outdoor pageantry, ritual performance and large spectacle events with Bread and Puppet in Vermont and Redmoon in Chicago. I studied classical literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago – the Greeks mostly. I studied the connection between performance and ritual, and how ritual can be a performance. I strongly believe that theatre is ritual, and that it comes from that, and that there is a reason why it has survived so long.

The type of theatre that we usually see, where we go and sit in a theater and watch something from beginning to end, and there is this separation between the audience and the performers, doesn’t really serve that ritual function anymore – although I feel it has the potential to. On the other side, many rituals today don’t have any craft to them. What I feel is important, and what we’re trying to recreate, is something that is in between: that is crafted and rehearsed and at the same time it involves the audience in a ritual that they can participate in, that feels like they’re making something happen.

I’ve wanted to do something for Halloween for a really long time. I love Halloween, and the sense of accessing the spirit world is compelling to me. It’s my favorite holiday, and I didn’t want to just go to a party. I wanted to celebrate it in a more sacred and intentional way.

So I looked around at what was happening in the Bay Area; I thought it would be great to create something for Halloween that was a ritual and a performance, and some way for community to come together. Then, maybe six or seven months ago it clicked that this Persephone myth would be a great way to work on it. Basically it’s a journey into the underworld, and there is moment where she has this choice, and there is a deal that happens at the end where she goes back and forth between the underworld and the upperworld. The cycle of the year gets created at that moment. It’s a powerful story, and really relevant to the moment of Halloween.

The next step was I found this park in Berkeley – Codornices Park. It has this tunnel that I fell in love with, and it has this field and this wooded area with all these nooks and crannies. It’s really mysterious and beautiful. So these three thoughts came together: the Halloween ritual, the Persephone myth, and this park. And it all made sense to do the show at this place and this time.

I’m not in the Pagan community; I didn’t realize that the gods in this story were living deities; Little did I know that people are actually honoring them in a living religion. I think it’s great. I’m totally thrilled that Persephone and Demeter are still living Gods. I had no idea. This story and its archetypes are in the culture. And people, even if they aren’t Pagan, usually have some awareness of the archetypes. These are archetypes that everyone can connect with, and I hope that the way we handle this myth can be acceptable also to people for whom these are living gods and goddesses.

I don’t myself pray to these deities. But I feel that by making this performance it’s kind of like I’m praying to them; because it’s a piece of art that we’re creating about them, which is probably the hugest honor you can do. I want it to be open to anybody, not just people who believe in these deities as their own deities. There is a reason for ritual; It’s kind of essential to human nature. But a lot of people in our culture have lost the opportunity to participate in ritual on a regular basis. So I feel that the function of this performance is to be a ritual without being religious, so that people from any background can access that thing that we need.

I have nine people in the creation ensemble. They’re actors, singers and dancers, and we’re creating it together through a collaborative process. They’re coming at it as actors, not Pagans. They auditioned to be in a show. It’s more about creating an experience for the audience than about fully embodying the gods oneself. I think there is something about collectively putting on this performance that is really magical, and then we offer that to the audience so that they can experience it too.

The audience is going to enter the park and we’ll give them certain objects to hold and things to do so that they can interact with the piece as they go through. There will be live music, and the audience will help make it. There will bells to ring, and rhythms to clap, and there will be call and response songs. We’re kind of thinking of the audience as a Greek chorus. But it’s not going to be like a Greek tragedy where we all sit in a big amphitheater and watch it.

They’ll meet the two main characters, Persephone and Demeter. Persephone will discover the underworld. I’m going with the idea that she chooses to go into the underworld; it’s not an abduction. She feels the pull of the underworld. Another thing we’re doing with this piece is that Hades is not represented as a character, but more as like a force, and a place that Persephone wants to go; she is attracted by this dark force and then invites the audience to join her. So we will go with her and go into this tunnel and follow her path.

In my research I found that the myth of Persephone is a marker for the patriarchal religion taking over from the Goddess religion. Basically Demeter, Persephone and Hecate all pre-dated Zeus and the other Olympian gods. The idea of Hades abducting Persephone, and this forced marriage, is part of a series of myths about forced marriages that basically are about sublimating the goddess religions to the patriarchal religions that came in with the Hellenistic gods. One of the reasons I have gotten so excited about doing this particular story was the idea of bringing our society back into balance, and bringing back the presence of the goddess to our culture.

People who come to this might not normally go to something that was fully a ritual, and then maybe they’ll get taken into the ritual side of it as well. The parts where the audience can interact are essential to the piece. But it won’t be intimidating or scary or putting people on the spot. They’ll feel like they’re a part of it and they’re making things happen, but nobody is expecting them to stand up and say something, or to go into a trance. Anybody, including kids, will be able to come and experience this.

“Persephone’s Roots” runs Wed, Oct. 27 – Sun, Oct. 31 @ 5:30 pm at Codornices Park, 1201 Euclid Ave. in Berkeley, CA. This is a free event. More info at

Pax, and Happy Halloween!