The British Are Coming to A.C.T. with Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter

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Kneehigh Theatre’s groundbreaking production melds film, theater, and Noël Coward songs. This unique theater event commemorates the legacy of A.C.T.’s historic home as a movie theater during its 100th-anniversary celebratory season.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, July 22, 2009—American Conservatory Theater(A.C.T.) launches its exciting 2009–10 season with the U.S. premiere of the runaway U.K. hit, Kneehigh Theatre‘s groundbreaking production ofNol Coward’s Brief Encounter, adapted for the stage by Emma Ricefrom the words and music of Coward. Rice, who is the artistic director of Kneehigh Theatre, also directs. In this must-see limited engagement direct from sold-out performances all over the United Kingdom, acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre transforms an iconic love story into a jaw-dropping fusion of theater, film, and music. Forbidden passion brews in a 1938 railway station tearoom when a suburban housewife, over a series of stolen afternoons, falls madly in love with a married doctor. Featuring Coward’s infectious songs and ingeniously crafted with whimsical humor, dreamy romance, and stunning multimedia effects,Brief Encounter was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Entertainment and Best Director. Hailed by critics as “A first-class return to romance” (Daily Telegraph) and “an imaginative feast” (Daily Express), Brief Encounter was originally produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Cineworld and plays at A.C.T. September 11–October 4, 2009. Opening night is Wednesday, September 16, 2009, at 8 p.m. Single tickets for 2009–10 season productions will go on sale on Sunday, August 9, 2009. Subscriptions and tickets for groups of 15 or more are available for purchase now by calling A.C.T. Ticket Services at 415.749.2228 or at www.act-sf.org.

“I love romance and I love folk tales. Brief Encounter has surprisingly embraced both these passions,” says adaptor and director Emma Rice, who has made a name for herself in Britain as a leading force in ensemble-generated theater that challenges the boundaries of live performance. “If you boil it down to its most basic level, I think that my work is often about love, the wonder of it and the trouble it can get us into. It asks how one negotiates the emotions and what happens when you break the rules.” Rice describes Brief Encounter as “a very grown-up fairy tale,” which manifests itself in the fantastical staging and the unique mixture of romance and comedy that permeates the production.

In Brief Encounter, Kneehigh Theatre will pay homage to the American Conservatory Theater’s legacy as a movie house with actors dressed as 1930s movie ushers before the start of the show. The transformation continues when the play starts with a large movie screen that is the most prominent element in the scenic design. The production blurs the lines between cinema and theater with actors going in out of projections that are a key part of Kneehigh’s signature visual storytelling. The whimsical staging of the production is in service of the emotional truth of the whirlwind romance at the heart of Coward’s film and play. Rice speaks to Coward’s innate ability to tap into the hearts and minds of his two protagonists: “It is written with such empathy, such observation, and such tender agony. Noël Coward knew what he was writing about. Imagine being gay in the 1930s and you begin to understand Brief Encounter. Imagine the impossibility of expressing the most fundamental of human needs and emotions.”

A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff speaks to the fit of Brief Encounteron the American Conservatory Theater stage: “If ever a production was ‘unabashedly theatrical,’ it is this explosive, heart-breaking work from the hugely imaginative Kneehigh Company. As we honor one hundred years of A.C.T.’s magical playhouse, this production reminds us of the splendor and craftsmanship utilized a century ago to build this incredible theater.” Brief Encounter is especially appropriate for this landmark year as the American Conservatory Theater (previously known as the Geary and the Columbia) has a colorful history as a movie house: the world premiere of Citizen Kane and an acclaimed Northern California premiere of Disney’s Fantasia took place at the theater. Perloff adds: “Using film, language, movement, music, and enormous heart, Brief Encounter is the kind of theater that puts the audience right at the center of its creation. We are so thrilled to be the first American venue to welcome this renowned company in their signature piece.”

After the A.C.T. run, Brief Encounter will continue on to a full U.S. tour, which will end in New York City’s celebrated St. Ann’s Warehouse, and features a slew of celebrated British actors and Kneehigh regulars including Joseph Alessi (Albert/Fred), Eddie Jay (Ensemble), Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle), Stu McLoughlin (Stanley), Adam Pleeth(Ensemble), Beverly Rudd (Beryl), Milo Twomey (Alec), and Hannah Yelland (Laura), with Pleeth and Jay doubling as live musicians playing songs from the Noël Coward repertoire as well as original music by Stu Barker. The creative team for the show includes scenic and costume designer Neil Murray, lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth, projection and film designers Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington, sound designer Simon Baker, musical director Pete Judge, and puppetry designer Lyndie Wright.

A.C.T.’s production of Brief Encounter is made possible by Comerica Wealth and Institutional Management. A.C.T. would also like to acknowledge executive producers Nancy Livingston and Fred Levin, The Shenson Foundation and associate producers Carol Dollinger,Anna FliderHelen M. Robison and Anna Robison StangAyn and Brian Thorne, and Trident International Corporation.

PHOTO EDITORS, please note: Images of the artists involved with the production are available in the press photo section of the PRESS ROOM of A.C.T.’s website: http://www.act-sf.org/press.

CALENDAR EDITORS, please note:
AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATER
415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
A.C.T. Ticket Services: 415.749.2228
www.act-sf.org

American Conservatory Theater and Kneehigh Theatre present
Noël Coward’s
BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Originally produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Cineworld
Adapted for the stage by Emma Rice
From the words and music of Noël Coward
Directed by Emma Rice

The British are coming! In this must-see limited engagement direct from sold-out performances all over the United Kingdom, acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre transforms an iconic love story into a jaw-dropping fusion of theater, film, and music. In this U.S. premiere, forbidden passion brews in a 1938 railway station tearoom when a suburban housewife, over a series of stolen afternoons, falls madly in love with a married doctor. Ingeniously crafted with whimsical humor, dreamy romance, and stunning multimedia effects and hailed by critics as “a first-class return to romance” (Daily Telegraph) and “an imaginative feast” (Daily Express), Brief Encounter was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Entertainment and Best Director.

Cast: Joseph Alessi (Albert/Fred), Eddie Jay (Ensemble), Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle), Stu McLoughlin (Stanley), Adam Pleeth(Ensemble), Beverly Rudd (Beryl), Milo Twomey (Alec), Hannah Yelland(Laura)

Creative Team: Simon Baker (sound designer), Stu Barker (original music), Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington (projection and film designers), Pete Judge (musical director), Neil Murray (scenic and costume designer), Malcolm Rippeth (lighting designer), Lyndie Wright(puppetry designer)

Previews: Friday, September 11, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Saturday, September 12, 2009, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday, September 13, 2009, at 7 p.m.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, at 8 p.m.

Opening Night: Wednesday, September 16, 2009, at 8 p.m.

Last Performance: Sunday, October 4, 2009, at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $14–$57 previews; $17–$71 Tue.–Fri. & Sun. evenings; $22–$82 Sat. evenings and weekend matinees. Tickets are available through A.C.T. Ticket Services, 405 Geary Street at Mason, 415.749.2228, and online at www.act-sf.org.

Performance Times: Tuesdays–Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Matinee performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Additional 7 p.m. performance on Sunday, September 21
Tuesday, September 22, performance is at 7 p.m.
Additional 2 p.m. matinee performance on Wednesday, September 23

InterACT Events—Free of charge!
All events are at the American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary Street, San Francisco)

AUDIENCE PROLOGUE featuring Emma Rice
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 5:30 p.m.

Get inside the artistic process. Join us for this half-hour discussion with the director introducing the production. FREE and open to the public (no tickets required).

BRING WHAT YOU CAN/PAY WHAT YOU WISH
Thursday, September 17, 2009, 8 p.m.

Pay any amount for your tickets when you bring a donation of children’s books, diapers, or coffee beans to benefit Raphael House, a shelter and support program for homeless families in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Patrons are limited to one ticket per donated item, one ticket per person. Tickets go on sale at 6 p.m. the day of the performance. Sponsored by Bank of the West.

AUDIENCE EXCHANGES
Tuesday, September 22, 2009, 7 p.m.
Sunday, September 27, 2009, 2 p.m.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009, 2 p.m.

Join us for a lively Q&A session with the actors and A.C.T. artistic staff members after these performances.

THEATER ON THE COUCH
Friday, September 18, 2009, 8 p.m.

Join members of the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis for an exciting postperformance discussion that explores the psychological aspects of the show and addresses audience questions.

OUT WITH A.C.T.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009, 8 p.m.

A dynamic series for LGBT theater lovers that includes a catered afterparty with complimentary wine and desserts and a cast meet and greet. Visit www.act-sf.org/out for more information about how to subscribe to OUT nights.

ARTIST BIOGRAPHIES

NOëL COWARD (Playwright), perhaps best known today as a playwright, was a man of multiple talents, considered by many to be the greatest all-around entertainer of the first half of the 20th century. Born in 1899 to a middle-class family in Teddington, Middlesex, England, he rose to become an international celebrity, on friendly terms with the British royal family. Coward began his stage career as a child actor at the age of ten. His first great success as actor/playwright came in 1924 with The Vortex, a succès de scandale that dealt with drugs and boy toys and established Coward the playwright as the angry young man of the 1920s. His next hits were the comedy Hay Fever and the operetta Bitter Sweet (1929). In 1930 he wrote Private Lives for Gertrude Lawrence and himself; they played to sell-out runs in London and New York. In 1935, he penned Tonight at 8:30 (a collection of nine one-acts, played in repertory), which he and Lawrence performed in 1936. Though Coward wrote more than 50 plays, revues, and musicals, he also created numerous short stories, a best-selling novel, a book of verse, several films, and more than 500 songs (including the famous “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”). He had a wide range as a composer and lyricist.

Coward was also an actor, producer, and director for stage, radio, television, and film. His film projects included Brief Encounter, which he wrote and produced, based on his one-act play Still Life from Tonight at 8:30. The film’s 1945 release was number two on the list of the top 100 British films of all time compiled by the British Film Institute in 1999. In 1943, Coward was awarded a special Academy Award for the “outstanding production achievement” of the film In Which We Serve, a patriotic wartime drama he wrote, produced, and co-directed and in which he starred.

In the 1950s, when postwar critics rejected the wit and charm of Coward’s boulevard comedies in favor of the gritty “low-life” (Coward’s words) drama of Britain’s new generation of “Angry Young Men,” he reinvented himself as a cabaret entertainer, based on his experience playing for troops during World War II. After several successful seasons in London, he brought his act across the Atlantic in 1955, becoming the highest-paid performer to play Las Vegas. With successful British revivals of Private Lives and Hay Fever in 196364, the tide turned again in his favor. In 1970 he was awarded a special Tony Award for his “multiple and immortal contributions to the theater.” Coward was knighted in 1970 and died peacefully at his home in Jamaica in 1973.

EMMA RICE (Adaptor, Director) is the artistic director of Kneehigh Theatre. She has directed for Kneehigh Pandora’s Box (coproduced with Northern Stage), Wild Bride (The Shamans, Budapest), The Red Shoes (2002 Theatrical Management Association [TMA] Theatre Award, Best Director); The Wooden Frock (2004 TMA Theatre Award nomination, Best Touring Production), The Bacchae (2005 TMA Theatre Award, Best Touring Production), Tristan & YseultNights at the Circus(Lyric Hammersmith production in association with Kneehigh Theatre),Cymbeline (in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company for The Complete Works festival), A Matter of Life and Death (Royal National Theatre production in association with Kneehigh Theatre),Rapunzel (in association with Battersea Arts Centre), Brief Encounter(tour and West End; a David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers Production in association with Kneehigh Theatre), and Don John (in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Bristol Old Vic).

KNEEHIGH THEATRE (Copresenter) is acknowledged as a defining theatrical force in the United Kingdom. With Cornwall as its physical and spiritual home, Kneehigh draws inspiration from the county’s landscapes, history, people, and culture. Kneehigh’s rehearsal base is a National Trust barn on the cliffs near Mevagissey, and its office is in Truro, the administrative center of Cornwall. Kneehigh takes pride in its Cornish identity. Cornwall has a long and lively history of international trade and cultural exchange. For a county so distant from the capital, it boasts remarkably cosmopolitan and global influences and culture. Kneehigh is proud to be an active part of this tradition.

Kneehigh creates vigorous, popular theater for a broad spectrum of audiences, using a multitalented group of performers, directors, designers, sculptors, engineers, musicians, and writers. Kneehigh employs a wide range of art forms and media as its “tool kit” to make new and accessible forms of theater. A spontaneous sense of risk and adventure produces extraordinary dramatic results. Themes are universal and local, epic and domestic. Kneehigh now tours throughout the United Kingdom and internationally; in the last fiscal year, 120,000 people across three continents saw Kneehigh performances. Recent Kneehigh Theatre productions include Tristan & YseultNights at the Circus (a Lyric Hammersmith production in association with Kneehigh Theatre), Cymbeline (in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company for The Complete Works festival), A Matter of Life and Death(Royal National Theatre production in association with Kneehigh Theatre), Rapunzel (in association with Battersea Arts Centre), Blast!,Brief Encounter (a David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers Production in association with Kneehigh Theatre) and Don John (in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Bristol Old Vic). For more information please visit www.kneehigh.co.uk.

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