There’s nothing like the collaborative in-person adventure of working in a theater. Fortunately, I’ve stayed busy during the pandemic with audio dramas (Aurora Theater’s The Bluest Eye), student productions (ACT’s The House of Yes), Zoom theater (Actors Theaters’ Romeo & Juliet: Louisville 2020), podcasts (Z Space/Word for Word’s Retablos trilogy), filmed theater (San Francisco Playhouse’s Hieroglyph), hybrid visual/audio (New Conservatory Theater Company’s Interlude), and outdoor performances (Oakland Theater Project’s The Waste Land). Below are moments from several theater projects.
I loved working with director Edris Cooper-Anifoweshe on Danielle Evans’ Boys Go to Jupiter, a wild Z Space/Word for Word trip through race, grief, and social media.
It was a special thrill to support actor Lisa Ramirez in John Wilkins’ explosive adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, directed by Michael Socrates Moran for Oakland Theater Project.
Cleavon Smith’s The Incrementalist, directed by Dawn Monique Williams for Aurora Theatre, was a meditation on the connected inner lives of immediate-action radicals and middle-ground “incrementalists” at University of California – Berkeley.
The dark, dreamy, and lush sound of Oakland Theatre Project’s production of Shakespeare’s Tempest, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, was substantially enhanced by the ensemble of Ariels, headed by Sharon Shao.
Did corona-era complications — including working remotely and miking an all-masked cast — make Philip Kan Gotanda’s exquisitely dense, sci-fi-flavored Pool of Unknown Wonders at Zellerbach Playhouse even more more unsettling? Maybe. Director Michael Socrates Moran asked for music to match, and I obliged.
Working with director May Liang to build the sonic universe for the haenyeos (“sea women”) and Korean-Canadian playwright of Celine Song’s Endlings (co-produced by Oakland Theater Project and Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company) took me from the remote island of Man-Jae, Korea to the noisy universe of Manhattan and back.
Dr. Arnab Banerji’s translation/adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s dense Red Oleanders, directed by Reena Dutt for University of California – Riverside, gave me a chance to adapt Tagore’s original compositions for Western ears.
Margo Hall’s direction of Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s powerful [hieroglyph] for San Francisco Playhouse inspired me to conjure juke, traditional New Orleans, and footwork flavors in addition to nightmarish textures that hint at the PTSD of an assault at the Superdome.
It was so much fun to orchestrate composer André Tank’s 1970 sheet music for Derek Walcott’s TiJean and His Brothers, directed by Dawn Monique Williams for ACT San Francisco, while exploring the dark and comic edges of this island parable.
Working with acclaimed director Patricia McGregor is always inspiring, and this production of Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew — which brought together Detroit auto-factory sounds, ’90s hip-hop, classic R&B, and Motown, at the Geffen Playhouse — was no exception.
Orchestral/electronic vocal cues, manipulated classics, and a climactic battle scene were highlights of African-American Shakespeare’s production of Richard III, directed by Kirsten Brandt and starring L. Peter Callender, the company’s artistic director.
It was a joy accompanying Lavina Jadhwani and a gaggle of ACT students for this Wendy McLeod black comedy about siblings with a dirty past and a JFK obsession, a surprised spouse, and a mom who looks the other way.
This production of Ayad Akhtar’s The Who & The What, directed by Hana Sharif for Marin Theatre Company, was all about soulful Indian and Pakistani moments with hints of jazz, R&B, and a Kentucky warbler.
I loved assembling supernatural atmospherics and bass-heavy fury for Medea, reimagined by Peter J. Kuo and this American Conservatory Theatre team as a spurned voodoo queen married to naval officer Jason in 1930s New Orleans.
Director Sarah Shourd’s harrowing trip through solitary confinement formed the basis of her intense and realistic play, performed with formerly incarcerated actors, about resistance and survival inside a U.S. prison.
Produced by Oakland Theatre Project and directed by Ayodele Nzinga, the first-ever Bay Area run of Aishah Rahman’s The Mojo and the Sayso mixed comedy, drama, and fantasy in its exploration of devastating loss.
Director Adam Sussman’s funny and poignant take on Sarah Ruhl’s How To Transcend a Happy Marriage for Custom Made was a hit with audiences, critics, and the Bay Area’s vibrant polyamory community.
Despite having only two main actors, this Hannah Dworkin production of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for Bay Area Children’s Theater conjured magic with the help of sound design, voiceover, and a classic score by Daniel Mertzlufft.
Caryl Churchill’s wild Cloud 9, directed by Allie Moss for Custom Made, skillfully took audiences from 1880s colonial Africa to decadent 1980s England and back.
My friends Miriam Wolodarsky and Rosemary Hannon asked me to make music for their The Crane and The Crocodile performance piece, which they premiered at Finnish Hall in Berkeley. Things got funky and weird. It was great.
There was heat, humidity, humor, and eventual breakdown in African-American Shakespeare’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by L. Peter Callender.
Steven Jones’ virtuosic one-man performance and Margo Hall’s spot-on direction of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned at Marin Theatre Company made me reimagine Paul Robeson, John Coltrane, ring shouts, Spiritual Baptists, and the sound of typewriters.
Beethoven, balls, Beyoncé, and lots of bells were integral to this Santa Cruz Shakespeare production of Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by Paul Mullins.
I felt like an ’80s DJ putting together favorite playlists when I revisited that over-the-top decade for this hilarious take on Comedy of Errors, directed by Kirsten Brandt for Santa Cruz Shakespeare.
The sonic foundation of James Ijames’ Kill Move Paradise, directed by Darryl V. Jones for Shotgun Players, was a doozie: Thunder, earthquakes, 1970s classics, choirs, shofars, toilets, gunshots, and old-school laugh tracks.
This World War II flashback, directed by L. Peter Callender for the African-American Shakespeare Company, balanced aerial gunfights and era-correct plane sounds with music by wartime stars like Lena Horne, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday.
FaultLine Theater’s Where The Boys Are, written by Vanessa Flores and directed by Kieran Beccia, imagined a suddenly boy-less world soundtracked by women’s voices and girl groups.
On my first gig as a theater composer, I tried my hand at making Afrofuturistic grooves for director Patricia McGregor’s superfly, bluesy take on A Winter’s Tale for California Shakespeare Theater.