Teens n’ Training at Sonoma Arts Live

Providing opportunities for young people to explore theater and have the chance to perform has become a collaborative effort of The Theater School and Sonoma Arts Live. Local teens are able to rehearse at the school and use the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall of the Sonoma Community Center for plays such as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Carrie the Musical, and the inaugural 2014 production of Rent. Jaime Love wanted to create “a program that immersed them in the craft of theater.”

EMMA! A Pop Musical

Cast of ‘EMMA! A Pop Musical’ (2017). Photo by Miller Oberlin.

Starting with a check-in before rehearsal, the group is framed with gracious and honest social interaction; Teens n’ Training encourages a supportive atmosphere. “The most important element of my teaching and directing is safety and trust between the ensemble and adults working together” explains Libby Oberlin, Education Director for Sonoma Arts Live / Teens ‘n Training and owner of The Theater School, a sentiment which she learned during her own experiences as a teenager studying the craft.

Auditions are welcome from around the Bay Area, they have had applicants from Napa and further afield, not just Sonoma County. Rather than standing awkwardly in front of a panel, attempting to perform a monologue, the Teens ‘n Training audition process involves fun theater games, more like a casual class. “I know how scary even the word ‘audition’ can be, so I hope that doesn’t sway anyone from trying out” Oberlin encourages.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Cast of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ (2016). Photo by Miller Oberlin.

This year’s production is Peter and the Starcatcher, a re-imagined prequel to Peter Pan with ludicrous plot and chaotic, entertaining characters. With a strong ensemble theme, Oberlin describes it as being “fast paced, hilarious, but also…a beautiful message.”

The cast has been rehearsing four times a week since early January, and will be presenting their production March 8-18 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday. For further information on Peter and the Starcatcher and upcoming performance opportunities, visit the Teens ‘n Training website.

Multisensory Experience at the ‘Fermentation Symposium’

One year ago, an extraordinary team came together to create a multisensory theatrical experience. Mingling cuisine with music, vocal work, and dance in a cabaret setting, each course of the menu is paired with a unique presentation. Arranged by co-directors Nick Ishimaru and Kyoko Yoshida, artists were given a dish as inspiration and rehearsed on their own before combining the ensemble.

“The biggest initial challenge was how to get everyone on the same page,” Ishimaru explains. Mariko Grady of Aedan Foods led the group in preparing miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning, which they were able to bring home to ferment over the year apart, a symbol of the percolating artistry and ideas that became the performance.

Chef Eri Shimizu - Fermentation Symposium

Chef Eri Shimizu displays tofu dengaku and tamagoyaki. Photo by Megumi Konishi.

Fermented foods transition on a microscopic level, as organisms are transformed into a new set of flavors. Ishimaru feels that yugen shares a similar process, “a subtle, hidden, intangible grace, in that mysterious, invisible world.” Chef Grady confirms the importance of koji, the basis of fermented foods, which she grew up with. “I see both cooking foods and performing on stage as an art that requires creativity, skills, memory, and philosophy, so working in a combined setting of the two felt natural.”

Theatre of Yugen worked in collaboration with the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) to develop the Fermentation Symposium; Yoshida has assisted the theatre’s leadership, and the CTN facilitated bringing their “Moon of the Scarlet Plums” to Japan at the Aichi World Expo in 2005.

Yoshida describes the importance of performing arts as a cultural exchange, “arts connect people on an emotional and visceral level, which is much stronger than an intellectual level. When people share a special experience, it becomes a tie to bond, even with cultural differences.” Concepts such as diversity and social justice can be joined with a balancing connection to nature and sustainability through an understanding between Japan and the United States.

Fermentation Symposium

Mariko Grady (left) explains how koji is developed. Shinichi Iova-Koga (right) looks on. Photo by Kyoko Yoshida.

Sharp & Fine contemporary dancers, a San Francisco company founded by sisters, are contributing to the event, along with inkBoat physical theater and dance, specializing in site specific performances.

Dr. Carol Ishimaru, from the University of Minnesota, gives a scientific background on the chemical process of fermentation through her expertise in plant biology.

This collaboration is an intriguing experiment, combining the senses with a specific artistic concept. Rather than splitting out the disciplines, Theatre of Yugen has brought them into a unified piece for the audience with a delicious menu of Tofu Datemaki, Kabura-sushi, Shiokoji-chicken with root vegetables, Miso Dengaku, Zouni, Kuromame, and Amazake Dessert.


Saturday, December 30 at 4:00pm
Sunday, December 31 at 2:00pm

$20 student, $30 under 30 years old, $40 general admission, $50 VIP (free drinks)
Tickets at Theatre of Yugen
2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco (415) 621-0507

Highlights of North Bay Theater in 2017

Looking back on this tempestuous year both politically and due to the devastating forest fires, local theaters have stepped up with thought provoking drama and welcome comedic relief. With such a vibrant performing arts community in the North Bay, these are merely a selection of productions that stood out for me in 2017.

The Elephant Man
Curtain Call Theatre in Monte Rio

The Elephant Man

Dr. Frederick Treves (Lew Brown) explains the meaning of “home” to John Merrick (James Rowan)

Based on the experiences of Joseph (John) Carey Merrick, who struggled with deformities in the late 19th century, the story follows an intelligent man who is ridiculed by society for his outward appearance until being discovered by a doctor, who provides him a safe haven.

This clever play by Bernard Pomerance shows that “the other” is not to be feared, first impressions should be questioned, and compassion can change lives. Rather than using heavy makeup, John Merrick is recreated through physicality and a powerful portrayal by James Rowan. When I look back on this year, The Elephant Man stands out as a moving piece of theater.

Visiting Mr. Green
6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa

Visiting Mr. Green

Mr. Green (Al Kaplan) cannot understand why Ross Gardiner (Kevin Kieta) is not interested in marriage and a family. Photo © Eric Chazankin.

An accidental friendship is formed when Ross is court appointed to check in on elderly Mr. Green, who is living alone and not eating properly. Through their confrontations and slowly built relationship, Ross admits to being rejected by his family for being gay, and although Mr. Green has difficulty with the news, he ultimately becomes the loving father that Ross needs.

Al Kaplan’s Mr. Green and Kevin Kieta as Ross Gardiner give mature, vulnerable performances. For anyone who has been isolated by family for being LGBTQA, the fiery arguments and loneliness are all too real. Watching Mr. Green work through his initial shock to discover that love of family and friends is more important than prejudice is beautiful.

Daddy Long Legs
Main Stage West in Sebastopol

Daddy Long Legs

Jerusha (Madison Genovese) muses on her letter to Daddy Long Legs (Tyler Costin). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Unlike traditional musicals, Daddy Long Legs has a perpetually lilting melody, rather than separate songs. It weaves a delightful romance between Jerusha Abbott, an orphan, and her mysterious benefactor who finds himself falling in love with her letters.

Lively curiosity, new beginnings, and a hopeful outlook create a relaxing atmosphere that leaves a lingering smile in the audience. The two-hander musical with Madison Genovese and Tyler Costin was a quietly absorbing experience, demonstrating that musicals do not need to be flashy and filled with chorus lines to be effective.

The 39 Steps
Ross Valley Players in Ross

The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc.

This chaotic comedy is loosely based on Hitchcock’s 1935 spy film, packed with chase scenes, romance and nefarious foreign agents. Hannay finds himself on the run to protect the 39 Steps from falling into the wrong hands. Three talented actors take on every other character in the play, from a mysterious professor to raging Scottish householder.

Using the stage to full effect, actors clamber through windows, use the ceiling to shimmy along a moving train, and wander among the darkened aisles, tripping over pig styes. In an exhilarating performance, this was a fantastic comedy from Ross Valley Players.

Guards at the Taj
Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley

Guards at the Taj

Babur (Rushi Kota) muses on beauty to his friend Humayun (Jason Kapoor). Photo by Kevin Berne.

Controversially gruesome, this play delves into the psychology of atrocities through a legend that builders of the Taj Mahal had their hands cut off by a capriciously cruel leader. Rather than examining it through court politics, the story narrows its focus to ordinary guards who find themselves forced to slice off the artists’ hands or face death themselves.

Childhood friends Humayun (Jason Kapoor) and Babur (Rushi Kota) joke around until discovering they have been chosen for the deed. In a dramatically blood drenched set, they deal with the aftermath of trauma in humanizing interactions, leading to a terrible decision that threatens their friendship. I was on the edge of my seat the entire play, it will stay with me for years to come. It also turned a full house into a handful of audience members who stayed to final curtain—many walked out, unable to take the violence and raw energy of the play, or disagreeing with how it was being portrayed. That being said, playwright Rajiv Joseph should be proud of this work and I stand by my belief that this is an outstanding production.

Left Edge Theatre in Santa Rosa


Jack (Chris Ginesi) sips pinot noir with the tasting manager (Mark Bradbury) while Miles (Ron Severdia) describes the bouquet. Photo by Argo Thompson.

The North Bay is in the heart of wine country, and what better way to celebrate that than with Rex Pickett’s Sideways. Although set in the Santa Ynez Valley, its inside jokes are entirely appropriate for tasting rooms in this area. I have seen the overly snobbish connoisseur swirling away next to the couple who is just there to get drunk for the afternoon.

In a wild bachelor binge before the wedding, Miles (Ron Severdia) takes Jack (Chris Ginesi) through a series of wineries. Along the way, they re-examine their life goals and whether romance is worth having.

The Diary of Anne Frank
Raven Players in Healdsburg

Diary of Anne Frank

Photo by Ray Mabry Photography.

Combining a compelling set design by Michael Mingoia with a strong ensemble, The Diary of Anne Frank is a timely reminder of what can happen when ethnic groups are targeted by society. Offered for free by Raven Players to any teenager in attendance during its run, this story of wonder and exploration set in the backdrop of war remains a relevant warning.

I will never forget when I first saw this play as a child and understood the implications—I am grateful that this year the next generation had an opportunity to experience it with such a fine cast.

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