Eric Ting, artistic director of Cal Shakes, looks back on 7 years at the helm
After seven years as artistic director of Cal Shakes, Eric Ting leaves the East Bay Theater Company whose mission is to “redefine classical theater for the 21st century”. His latest show, a collaboration with writer Marcus Gardley, is Leara modern version of Shakespeare King Learwhere the hero is a Bay Area real estate magnate who lives in the Fillmore District of San Francisco.
Ting’s Obie Award-winning film debut at Cal Shakes was his provocative Brechtian production of othello. The following season he donned Gardley’s black odyssey, with an original score by Linda Tillery featuring Molly Holm, and a significant rewrite that set the play’s action in Gardley’s hometown of Oakland. The play was nominated for 12 Theater Bay Area awards and won seven, including Best Direction.
In 2018, Ting launched the New Classics Initiative, based on the principle that for “the classics” to remain relevant in the modern era, old stories must be told through the voices and experiences of artists who reflect our society. contemporary.
In a statement, Cal Shakes said that throughout his time at Cal Shakes, Ting has been committed to developing new and diverse voices for theater. “Its seasons have been notable for featuring BIPOC (and largely Bay Area-based) majority directors, designers, and cast,” he wrote. Cal Shakes’ performance space, the Lt. G. H. Bruns III Memorial Amphitheater, is in Orinda, while its administrative offices, rehearsal room, costume and prop store are located in Berkeley.
In a recent chat with Berkeleyside, Ting opened up about his time at Cal Shakes, which was founded by a group of actors in 1974; why he’s leaving Berkeley and what he’s going to miss, how he became a life in the theater and his latest Cal Shakes production. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why did you decide to leave Cal Shakes?
During the pandemic my mother was diagnosed with cancer and we lived with her in West Virginia for a year while she battled it. Meanwhile, my wife [Meiyin Wang] was offered an opportunity at the new Perelman Performing Arts Center [on New York’s World Trade Center campus]. It’s a job she couldn’t say no to.
I liked the administrative aspects of running a theater, but my wife had left a job at the Public Theater in New York to come here when Cal Shakes first hired me. We had just had a child then and she was happy to spend time at home. It was the right thing to do to support her now that she is returning to professional life. It’s a matter of life balance. That’s life, and that’s love.
Let’s talk about how Cal Shakes presents Shakespeare’s plays these days
We are a theatre, not a museum. So we don’t just want preservation. Using Elizabethan costumes is really transforming the pieces into period pieces. Our job is to interpret art for contemporary audiences. Some are related to the exploration of the artists that we bring in, and others to the permission that we give to the artists.
Are there any Cal Shakes productions that scream to be mentioned as exceptional?
It’s like asking to choose a favorite child. I am sensitive to those on which I have been able to work and get closer to the artists. black odyssey must be mentioned. Marcus Gardley’s piece was like an eye opener of what was possible and what kind of community we could gather around the work. i’m so proud of Don Quixote Nuevo, Octavio Solis’ version of Cervantes’ novel, which starred the late Emilio Delgado. And it’s played all over the country — Denver, Houston, Hartford, Boston — and still playing.
How did the production of “Lear” come about?
This version was originally a play commissioned by the Play On Shakespeare initiative. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival started it, but now it’s an independent program. The original intention was to make Shakespeare’s plays more accessible to contemporary audiences. It was an opportunity to bring together 36 living playwrights who had to engage intimately with the plays and change unfamiliar words into more understandable ones.
Play On was looking for a theater to produce the new version of King Lear, they asked the playwright where they wanted to have it produced, and they named Cal Shakes their first choice. It was Marcus Gardley. I have incredible affection for him. How could I say no?
Marcus … buys into the King Lear story but brings with it a host of revelations that I always think about around Marcus’ works.
I think the high school experience provides insight into adulthood. How were you in high school?
I lived in Morgantown, West Virginia, and I was a Chinese American. My parents were both immigrants. I was the only Chinese American in my grade. It wasn’t the most diverse community. My father read Shakespeare to me. It was a way for the family to connect around the language. My childhood was not traumatic or overwhelmed. But I was altered. And I couldn’t be all that I am.
It meant that I tried not to draw too much attention to myself. I was a big introvert and a visual artist growing up. I walked around with a sketchbook and made intricate drawings to free my imaginative life. I had academic opportunities to get out of my comfort zone. My first time as a performer was doing science/magic shows at preschools in West Virginia.
In college, I was able to start over and evolve. How we need and invite change and respond to it is the test of who we are.
What would your classmates think of you now?
They would be shocked that I was at the theatre! I admired the theater crowd then, but I felt far from these creative forces. When my mom heard that I wanted to go into the arts, she said I should do the things that made me happy.
A final message to Berkeleyside readers?
Cal Shakes exists thanks to the community of Berkeley, where Cal Shakes began. I love that the people of Berkeley are proud to be part of our community. There is a rich cultural community of Alameda County residents who practice their art with a sense of justice at its heart. The truth has been spoken in power here. (Plus, I love the Berkeley Kite Festival and hope it can continue!)
Berkeley is a beautiful place to live. It has been a gift to call the Bay Area home. It can spoil you. Thanks Berkley.
Marcus Gardley: ‘Eric Ting is fearless’
We asked writer Marcus Gardley, who has collaborated with Eric Ting on several productions, including Cal Shakes’ current show “Lear,” what it’s like working with him.
He is fearless. He has a very strong eye and understands the depth of the character. When I write, I sometimes make a radical choice. I don’t know why I did it, but I want to explore it. Eric is always ready to take up the challenge and challenge the public. He respects the work, leads with kindness, and everyone feels listened to. He knows how to create an environment where everyone can be their best.
From what you’re saying, it sounds like Eric is different from some of the other people you’ve worked with who are prima donnas or who lead with anger.
Lead with anger, yes. When working on a new piece, you have to be fearless and trust the process. Many directors get nervous when people don’t keep to a schedule or when there are surprises. The directors are afraid and they don’t have faith. Not everyone was so easy.