Collaboration is Central

Central Works theatre company has been making new works for years in Berkeley and I only just saw one for the first time. My loss for missing those first 45 world premieres.   Since they only produce work they develop in-house, by definition Central Works is a local­ theatre company, supporting Bay Area playwrights, actors and other theatre artists. As they say as part of their mission statement:   “We think globally, and act locally:  we make plays”

central works3 Central Works’ plays are performed in a stunning theatre venue.  My first attendance at this innovative and unusual company began with a jaw-dropping wow as I entered the lobby of the gorgeous Berkeley City Club, designed by Julia Morgan and opened in 1930 at 2315 Durant Street in Berkeley.  city club3The theatre itself is tiny – maybe 80 or so comfortable chairs on three tiers, set around three walls of this converted first floor drawing room.  The elegant, high-ceilinged room has curtained, leaded glass windows and access to an inner garden courtyard used for actors’ entrances and exits. The intimacy of the space insists on compelling performances and transcendent storytelling.

My experience, seeing Patricia Milton’s Enemies: Foreign and Domestic, fulfilled that demand.  The four women characters each had clear and distinctive voices, substantive plot lines and weighty backstories that unfolded during the course of this absorbing and insightful play. The intense, but often funny, piece involves the reunion of three sisters the day after their not-so-loving mother’s death and the Muslim Somali woman who had been her in-home healthcare worker.

Maura Halloran and Danielle Thys (member AEA) are two of the daughters of the ailing Mary Mahoney.  Desirée Rogers (background) is the Somali refugee and caretaker in "Enemies: Foreign and Domestic" Photo by Jim Norrena

Maura Halloran and Danielle Thys (member AEA) are two of the daughters of the ailing Mary Mahoney. Desirée Rogers (background) is the Somali refugee and caretaker in “Enemies: Foreign and Domestic”
Photo by Jim Norrena

Complex  themes of abuse, racism, sibling rivalry and survival cross 0ver and under the individual stories of the women and their interactions.  I was thinking that these actors must be incredibly grateful to the playwright for writing each of them such juicy roles – and I still think this is probably true – but then I learned the details of the Central Works Method and discovered that these actors probably had quite a lot to do with that.

Central Works was founded in 1991 by Jan Zvaifler and Søren Oliver as an actor-driven ensemble; in 1997, the company produced its first collaboratively developed new play. Since then they have produced 46 world premiere plays and have developed a method of collaboration to create and develop new works that has now been refined to an apparently quite successful formula: the “Central Works Method”.   Using this method of collaborative brainstorming, script sessions and workshops over a multi-month period of time, a play is created. The playwright proposes the foundational narrative story and only the playwright does the actual writing, but from the beginning the director, the actors and a few other theatre artists are part of a collaborative team who develop and workshop the play from conception to opening in accordance with a specific schedule of progressive dramaturgical steps.  Read the details of the Central Works Method  on their website – it’s quite interesting.

“At Central Works, we take risks. We commit to a project from inception to world-premiere production. We fearlessly embrace edgy, controversial issues.”

I noticed they are doing a piece this fall that I’ve been interested in even before it was written.  In May  of 2013, while I was writing a profile of Lauren Gunderson, including a mention of her love of writing about women in science, she and I had an email conversation about the cover of Google’s Annual Report

google annual rptshowing a tribute graphic of Ada Lovelace, the 19th century computer wiz Lauren describes as a “countess/metaphysician…computer programmer!” and she told me she wanted to write a play about her. Well, it looks like she did so using the Central Works Method and now it’s having its world premiere at Central Works October 17-November 22, 2015:  “Ada and the Memory Engine”.  I’ll be there.

Named as one of the best theatre companies in the East Bay by CBS San Francisco in June 2013, critics have called plays by Central Works “consistently intelligent, provocative and relevant,” “complex and vital” and “riveting and mesmerizing.”  I’m not sure why it took me so long to find them, but I’m glad I did.



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  1. “Enemies” press and media - […] Fairbrook of the Theatre Play by Play blog calls Enemies “absorbing and insightful . . . intense, but often …

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