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ROBERT  KELLEY

Talks about Theatre Works Silicon Valley    
That he founded and works as Artistic Director
By Iride Aparicio


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Artistic Director Robert Kelley

Photo by: Terry Gannon

PALO ALTO, CA --  At the time when several theatres in California are struggling, to survive, THEATRE WORKS, the nationally-acclaimed theatre of Silicon Valley, is flourishing. New spectators flock constantly to its shows, that reflect the diversity of the community represented by  talented performers, designers, and other artists, with originality and extraordinary production values.  Each Season, THEATRE WORKS presents eight main productions in Mountain View and in Palo Alto, in addition to a five-show called New Works Festival. So, it is no wonder that THEATRE WORKS has 8,000 subscribers and is now on its 45th Season, which will close in June with The Regional Premier of  The Velocity of Autumn written by ERiC COBLE

“I started the company in l970 and I have been here ever since.” tells Artistic Director ROBERT KELLEY to CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL in an exclusive interview. “I have been involved in theatre in the Palo Alto Area as a kid, as a teenager, and off and on when I was (a student) at Stanford. After graduating from Stanford, I taught school for one year in New England, teaching English, and came back (to Palo Alto)  looking to do something in the theatre, which was the most exciting thing for me.” 

“I started doing acting and got an offer to do a Summer Project that will involve High School and college-age students in creating a new work for Palo Alto Community Theatre. So, we created a new musical, called Pop Corn, with about seventy different young people involved. It was completely written here by a team of people from this area. I served as a General Editor, but there were Co-editors and several different composers. It was a huge team of people working on that. And because it was about our community and written in an era where there was a lot of conflict in our community between the “Older Generation” (People over thirty) and the “Younger Generation” (people under thirty), our play was about that conflict and about trying to bridge that gap between people and bring the community back together again.”

“It was an intriguing new piece and a World Premiere, that we did not even know it was called a World Premiere, but because it was a new musical that we had created and  because of its subject matter and the tensions of the time, it became a very big hit and it put us on the map. We did it in July of l970.  That was our World Premier number one. (he says laughing) “We have done many more since then. After that, the opportunity to  continue doing this new work theatre oriented for young people and younger audiences was there for me. “THEATRE WORKS” really began with that production.”

"All of the shows we did for the first two years were original creations, but with time, we did Shakespeare plays and existing plays and lots of things until at one point we were doing over thirteen shows a year. It was a lot of theatre, but the people, including me, have a lot of passion for all different arts forms and for  making things together, as a community, “

The Director remains quiet for a few seconds as if trying to gather ,in his mind, his memories from the past, He continues:

“You know, one of the things that it is obvious to me now , is that all the values that makes THEATRE WORKS what it is today, really began with that first show (PoP Corn)
a) Our commitment to new works.
b) A commitment to the community.
c) Working in collaboration.
d) A sense that music and drama need to be together. That they belong together when you put them on the stage,
e) Our commitment to Diversity (That was unusual at the time)

“Those were the building blocks of  THEATRE WORKS We had a commitment to celebrating the human spirit, which is what we did. We had this very divided community and in our very first play we managed to bring people together in a positive way.  Our core values were established from the start, and they continue right until now.”

C.W.B.  In your opinion, what makes THEATRE WORKS' productions unique?

R.K. “In terms of our theatre productions, there are two things: One is our belief and fascination with the intersection of music and drama. How these two things go together. And it does not mean that every play that we do is a musical. We do musicals, which is more than most companies do, but we are also looking for works which involve music in a different exciting ways. Some of our plays are not musicals, but they add music and become a remarkable satisfying piece.”

As an  example that attests to  the words of the Director, we can mention the masterful production of the play CYRANO, Directed by KELLEY, with J. ANTHONY CRANE playing the lead. It played at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in Mountain View, until May 1st,  

CYRANO, played by CRANE (Shown in KEVIN BERNE' s photograph below)   included solo songs, guitar pieces and a men chorus. It was one of the highlights of the SeasonCYRANO I KEVIN BERNE.jpg 2015-2016 that will end in June.

“The other thing is that we do,” says KELLEY, “is plays about famous composers, or people who are engaged in music in one way or another. Compared to theatres around the country, we have always done at least three musicals in the year, and some years more. Musicals have always been a big part of  THEATREWORKS

In our opinion, one of the most creative musicals presented by THEATRE WORKS  was the musical  “2 Pianos 4 Hands” written by concert Pianist/Playwrights TED DYKSTRA and RICHARD GREENBLATT. The story, presented in short skits, a witty comedy showing the peculiarities of Concert pianists. The musical was directed by TOM FRAY with actors DARREN SUNSTAND and CHRISTOPHER TOCCO. Representing the pianists. The production  included piano pieces from  Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin, and popular piano-arrangements of songs from different popular composers.

Talking about the play which will close the 2015-2016 Season, he says.

 

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L-R Susan Greenhill and Mark Anderson Phillips  Photo By: Kevin Berne


R. K. The Title of the play The Velocity of Autumn is a metaphor, in three words. The metaphor  indicates what happens to people in the Autumn of their lives, when we grow older, and the Autumn of  our lives moves faster than we want it to move. Our bodies get tired faster, and in some cases, our minds start  slipping  and our memories become more elusive.

This play is really about the  phenomenal of changes in later life.  It is a moving piece. That is what I actually love in a play., that when you look at it in one angle, is a comedy, and if you look at it from another , it is a drama. And these two worlds interweave.

The production, will be fantastic for people.  They are going to see themselves in this play,  to see their families, in a moving way. It is a beautiful play, that sort of cast a magical spell in the audience.”

“And to answer your question,  the other thing that distinguish THEATRE WORKS productions and makes them unique, is our fierce commitment to diversity and to people of all races and cultures making their way to our stage over time. This company has always been committed to the idea that if you keep coming to THEATRE WORKS you are going to see some part of your culture, your background, your history on our stage.”

“So, before we end our interview,  I probably would like to thank the people who has seen the “body of works of  THEATRE WORKS” instead of just a single play, because  I think that they will agree with what I said”

For information about THEATRE WORK’s new Season which starts in July, and to order tickets, go to: theatreworks.org or call (650) 463-1960.