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Bay Area actors gather for mass reading – Marin Independent Journal

Bay Area actors gather for mass reading – Marin Independent Journal
Bay Area actors gather for mass reading – Marin Independent Journal


COVID-19 has been hard on the Bay Area theater scene, as companies have struggled to replenish audiences and some have gone bankrupt.

One positive thing that has come out of the pandemic is the Actors Reading Collective. It started during the shutdown as a way for out-of-work actors to get together and read plays aloud. These online gatherings quickly grew into a series of public readings on Zoom, then in-person readings last summer in the Marin Shakespeare Company's new indoor theater.

Now the group is hosting an in-person staged reading of Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot on Saturday in that same Marin Shakes space, where the Actors Reading Collective is a resident company.

The reading is a fundraiser for Actors Reading Collectives' first-ever full production, scheduled for next November: the West Coast premiere of Annie Baker's The Antipodes, which depicts a group reflecting in a room writer for an unknown project as increasingly bizarre events occur. .

These are two pieces that the group first read during their private weekly meetings.

We began to see that there was a purity to the readings that, especially in the mouths of talented and committed actors, can enhance what the writer did in a very pure, unadorned way, said Actors Reading Collective member and Fairfax resident David Sinaiko, who also serves as director of the performing arts department at Marin Academy.

A dark comedy in the form of a trial set in the afterlife, Last Days boasts a gigantic cast of characters, more than enough for the 21 A-list local actors featured in the reading. Bay Area theater luminaries include Actors Reading Collective founder Stacy Ross, James Carpenter, Michael Gene Sullivan, Howard Swain, Catherine Castellanos, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, Robert Parsons and many others.

Among these notables are several actors with strong ties to Marin. Anthony Fusco, who lived in Mill Valley as a teenager, plays the judge. Point Reyes Station's Julia McNeal plays Henrietta. Liz Sklar, who grew up in Lucas Valley and Kentfield and now lives in Mill Valley, plays Mary Magdalene.

When we started developing this idea of ​​Actors Reading Collective, all stuck inside and looking at each other like talking heads in boxes, we started researching what some of the real benefits were, says Sinaiko. What are some things you can do in a Zoom context or in a reading context that you normally can't do in a full production? And one of those things is doing these wonderful large-scale productions where you can have 15, 20, 25 people in a room.

Last Days was one of the first plays the group read together, and it was the first play offered when the Actors Reading Collective began doing streaming readings for audiences in April 2021, with about half from the same actors who will now read it on stage. .

The initial inspiration for Actors Reading Collectives was when Anthony Fusco asked a group of actor friends if they wanted to get together on Zoom to read a play he was curious to hear aloud, True Crimes by Romulus Linney. James Carpenter was so enthusiastic about this experience that he decided to make it a permanent activity.

No one had a job, Carpenter said. We had all lost our health care. None of us knew what the future of theater was. We got together and did this reading, and the look on everyone's faces afterward was like they had been imbued with something. And I just said, I have to do this again. So I set up bi-weekly readings in my Zoom living room. And it just started growing. After a while we were doing one every week, and from 12 members we grew to 150 members at one point.

Last Days director Luisa Sermol has been part of the group since the beginning.

It was a godsend, says Sermol. I moved to the Bay Area fairly recently and one of my first shows was at TheatreWorks. I met Anthony Fusco there and we became friends. It was They promised him the moon. We were open for a week and the establishment was closed due to the pandemic.

Since Fusco invited her to Linney's reading, Sermol has found the group to be a great way to get to know the local theater community and maintain and deepen her connections.

What really inspires me about this group is that it's artist-led, says Liz Sklar. As an artist, you often feel like you're at the mercy of theater companies. All the actors I know are incredibly intelligent and capable, and seeing them take on these leadership roles and lead a mission that puts actors at the center is something that excites me.

Originally called Thursdays at seven, after its regular meeting time, the group became the Actors Reading Collective when it began broadcasting for the public.

We thought that, having a roster that included a lot of pretty well-known names in Bay Area theater, it would be exciting to have a platform for these actors to speak for themselves and perform the plays we wanted to do , and not just because someone else decided it was the play to perform, says Mbele-Mbong, a member of the Actors Reading Collectives steering committee and a major organizing force within the collective.

Carpenter marvels at how much the group has assembled from actors over the past few years.

I think it's one of the best things I've ever done in my life, the veteran actor said.

This summer, the Actors Reading Collective also plans to do a series of readings of Shakespeare-adjacent plays as part of the Marin Shakespeare Company season.

At a time when so many movie theaters are closing or struggling, it's slightly terrifying but mostly exhilarating to start something new in the Bay Area, offering an element of hope that there might be something budding and budding , said Mbele-Mbong. Here we are, just a little flower emerging from the Earth.

Sam Hurwitt is a Bay Area arts journalist and playwright. Contact him at [email protected].

If you are going to

What: The last days of Judas Iscariot

Or: Marin Shakespeare Company, 514 Fourth St., San Rafael

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $25 to $100





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