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Cutting Ball Theater Presents World Premiere of UTOPIA By Charles L. Mee

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UTOPIA will be streaming October 16 - November 15, 2020.

Cutting Ball Theater Presents World Premiere of UTOPIA By Charles L. Mee

Cutting Ball Theater presents the virtual World Premiere of Utopia, a wildly inventive new work by Obie Award winning playwright Charles L. Mee. Presented virtually, this multidisciplinary play incorporates vivid contemporary dance, animated artworks, and fantastical designs, to explore the question "how do you make a life?" A nine-year-old girl in a café observes the divergent paths of fellow diners and passers-by, while wrestling with the promise of her own future. Mee's quirky work is inhabited by couples in varying stages of love and partnership, along with outlandishly outfitted bystanders and a curious server with a bottomless ice cream menu, offering nourishing musings on life, love, the absurdity and sanctity of the every day. Performed by a cast of nine diverse and multitalented actors, plus a bevy of dancers, Utopia celebrates the power of community and a commitment to promoting hope and positivity in an environment of scarcity. Commissioned by Cutting Ball Theater, this new production from Mee, lauded poet and sculpting pioneer of American experimental theater, will be directed by Cutting Ball Theater's Artistic Director Ariel Craft. The production features artistic partnerships with RAWdance, a contemporary dance company, and Creativity Explored, an organization supporting artists with developmental disabilities, to create a work that harmonizes theater, dance, and animation in a genre-defying dreamscape audiences can stream from home. Utopia will be presented virtually and streamed through Vimeo October 16 - November 15, 2020 online. For tickets ($20 - $50 per household, sliding scale) and more information, the public may visit cuttingball.com or call (415) 525-1205.

Utopia is a sometimes reflective, sometimes explosive, and always joyous tribute to life, love, and variety, rich with laughter, passion, poetry. Mee's newest theatrical masterwork transforms the simplest moment of a mundane day-a lazy morning in a café-into a surreal and colorful ride through fantasy, self-expression, connection, and community. Mee's wonderfully distinctive interdisciplinary approach inspired Cutting Ball Theater to engage Bay Area artist communities of different mediums to collectively realize this world premiere play; Utopia features innovative choreography, modern visual art, and original music compositions. To provide greater access to Utopia, Cutting Ball Theater will also offer versions of the virtual play including captions, ASL interpretation, and audio descriptions.

Cutting Ball Theater has assembled a stellar cast for this production, featuring Joel Chapman (Bob), Chloe Fong (Tilly), Gabriel Montoya (Herbert), Regina Morones (Evie), Sharon Shao (Jennifer), Chris Steele (Edmund), Michelle Talgarow (Edna), Jasmine Milan Williams (Harriet), and Don Wood (Waiter). The diverse cast of characters brings Mee's Utopia alive in a rowdy and electric production of the world as it could be. Joel Chapman (he/him) is a conductor, comedian, bass-baritone, and actor. Chapman has sung with and conducted Convivium, a new chamber choir, and Fleet Street, a male comedy a cappella group. Chloe Fong (she/her) is a youth actor whose recent credits include Flounder in The Little Mermaid, Baby Louise in Gypsy, and Winthrop in The Music Man. Sharon Shao (she/her) is an actor and teaching artist whose recent onstage credits include Vinegar Tom at Shotgun Players, Good Person of Szechwan at Cal Shakes, and Hamlet at Oakland Theater Project. Shao also collaborates with an interdisciplinary artist troupe, SoulTalk Collective. Chris Steele (they/them) is a queer trans nonbinary performance artist, writer, and activist whose work highlights queer narratives throughout history and combats bigotry and white supremacy. Steele has performed with Cutting Ball Theater before, in Timon of Athens. Steele is a co-founder of Poltergeist Theatre Project and the creator behind award-winning drag personas Polly Amber Ross and Peter Pansexual. Michelle Talgarow (she/her) is a Kalmyk/Filipina theater-maker and a company member of Mugwumpin and Shotgun Players. Talgarow's recent performance credits include Dance Nation at San Francisco Playhouse, Vietgone at Capital Stage, A Good Neighbor at Z Space, and Two Mile Hollow at Ferocious Lotus. Jasmine Milan Williams (she/her) is an actor whose recent performance credits include Bull in a China Shop at Aurora Theatre Company, Inked Baby at Crowded Fire Theater, and The Last Sermon of Sister Imani and Waafrika at TheatreFIRST. Williams has also performed with Campo Santo (company member), Those Women Productions, African-American Shakespeare Company, and New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Regina Morones (she/her) is an actor, singer, educator, a resident artist at San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and a company member at Oakland Theater Project. Morones holds a BA in Theatre Arts from Clark Atlanta University and an MFA in Acting from the University of Iowa. Gabriel Montoya (he/him) has acted with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Magic Theatre, Word for Word, Custom Made Theatre Co., Central Works Theater Company, San Francisco Playhouse, Brava Theater, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival on Tour, and Boxcar Theatre. Montoya and his wife's production company, The Department of Badassery, made theater history in 2015 at San Francisco's PianoFight by simultaneously premiering Ben Fisher's Don't Be Evil onstage and in virtual reality. Although Don Wood (he/him) has previously worked with Director Ariel Craft and Associate Director Maya Herbsman in Dry Land at Shotgun Players, Utopia will mark his first appearance at Cutting Ball Theater; Wood was last seen onstage in The Human Ounce at Central Works Theater Company. Actors Chapman, Fong, Morones, Montoya, Shao, Talgarow, Williams, and Wood all make their Cutting Ball Theater mainstage debuts in Utopia.

The production team for Utopia includes James Ard (he/him) - Sound Designer, Cassie Barnes (she/her) - Lighting Designer, Joel Chapman (he/him) - Composer, Toni Lynn Guidry (she/her) - Assistant Stage Manager, Sarah LeFeber (she/her) - Costume Designer, Caitlin McFann (she/her) - Production Stage Manager, and Adeline Smith (she/her) - Properties Designer.

Charles L. Mee (he/him) is renowned for his unique approach to writing plays, which borrow from and appropriate material such as books, newspaper articles, lyrics from modern music, and dialogue from television programs and films. The results are thrilling multidisciplinary theatrical creations filled with music, dance, animation, and other surprises. A battle with polio that began at the age of fourteen dramatically shaped Mee's outlook on life and influenced his eventual career as a playwright, as well as his writing style and the theme of his works. Abandoning his dream of playing professional football due to the disease, Mee discovered a love of reading - particularly books on history, philosophy, and politics. After graduating from Harvard, Mee became a well-known author of non-fiction history books. Eventually, he felt constrained by the objectivity that the subject of history demanded, and he turned to the stage. By the early 1990s, Mee was writing exclusively for theater. Mee's plays have been performed at The Public Theater, Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, American Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre, Humana Festival, La Mama and other places in the United States as well as in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Brussels, Istanbul and elsewhere. Today, Mee is a Professor of Theatre and Playwriting at Columbia University's School of the Arts. He is the recipient of the gold medal for Lifetime Achievement in Drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two Obie Awards (Vienna: Lusthaus and Big Love), the PEN/Laura Pels Award, and the Richard B. Fisher Award.

Director Ariel Craft (she/her) is Cutting Ball Theater's Artistic Director. Directing credits include Free For All: A New 'Miss Julie' for a New World (SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award, Stage Direction), La Ronde, The Mineola Twins, and Phèdre (Theatre Bay Area Award, Direction of a Play) at Cutting Ball Theater; Vinegar Tom and Dry Land at Shotgun Players; an acclaimed adaptation of Kate Chopin's feminist novella The Awakening and a radical re-imagining of Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding. Before Cutting Ball, Craft founded and led a theater company called The Breadbox and previously directed at Custom Made Theatre Co. and Impact Theatre. Craft holds a BFA with Honors from New York University where she studied directing and multidisciplinary theater-making at the Playwrights Horizons Theater School. Assistant direction credits include American Conservatory Theater's remount of Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe's Tony-winning production of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer, and Phantom Limb Company's 69°S, directed by Sophie Hunter at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Associate Director Maya Herbsman (she/her) is a director, intimacy choreographer, teaching artist, and Cutting Ball Theater's Associate Artistic Director. Herbsman has worked with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Idiot String, We Players, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Z Space, Shotgun Players, Bay Area Children's Theater, and TheatreFIRST. Directing credits include Medusa's Tale, a radical reimagining of the myth; Nocturne, a new devised work; and Things I'll Never Say, an original, immersive jukebox musical. Herbsman received her BA in Theatre from Wesleyan University.

Choreographer Katerina Wong (she/her) is a Bay Area-based movement artist and Co-Artistic Director of RAWdance. Since graduating from Princeton University and moving west, Wong has performed with over 15 Bay Area dance companies including Printz Dance Project, PUSH Dance Company, LEVYdance, Concept o4, and the San Francisco Symphony. Wong's choreography has been commissioned by PUSH Dance Company, FACT/SF, California Academy of Sciences, Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, and the ACLU of Northern California. In 2017, she was the first dance artist to tour nationally with Pop-Up Magazine, which culminated in a performance at Lincoln Center. She is a 2019 Dance/USA Institute for Leadership Training mentee, a 2020 Women of Color in the Arts Leadership Through Mentorship participant, and a member of APAP's Emerging Leadership Institute Class of 2020.

RAWdance is an award-winning contemporary dance company known for transforming theaters and public spaces through a mix of performance, curation, and collaboration. Under the artistic direction of Ryan T. Smith, Wendy Rein, and Katerina Wong, the company's charged dances pose questions ranging from the broadly social to the intimately personal, centering human interactions: needs, desires, connections, and conflict. San Francisco Chronicle described the company as "witty, whip-smart, and beautiful to watch!" Founded in San Francisco in 2004, the company expanded to a second location in New York's Hudson Valley in 2019. The company presents work in nontraditional venues - such as art galleries, parks, civic spaces, restaurants, libraries, and malls - bringing dance directly into the public sphere to increase access to the art. RAWdance has been commissioned by schools such as Brown University, Webster University, Williams College, and Marin School of the Arts, and has presented work for the ACLU of Northern California and for corporate clients in Silicon Valley.

Creativity Explored is a San Francisco-based organization that provides artists with developmental disabilities the means to create and share their work with the community, celebrating the power of art to change lives. Creativity Explored was founded in 1983 by Florence Ludins-Katz and Elias Katz, who believed that visual artistic expression was a viable means to enhance personal identity and growth; the second Creativity Explored studio site opened in 1995 to provide adults with severe disabilities an opportunity to create visual art. Its onsite gallery opened in 2001, providing the public with opportunities to view and purchase works exhibited in a professional setting, and allowing artists to earn income from the sale of their artwork and to pursue a livelihood as a visual artist to the fullest extent possible. Gallery programming now includes six diverse exhibitions per year with more than 15,000 people visiting the gallery and studio annually. Many Creativity Explored studio artists have developed meaningful arts practices and are now increasingly recognized for their contributions to the contemporary art world. Several artists' work has been included in international group exhibitions, as well as in commercial and non-profit venues across the nation. With a spirit of openness and transparency, Creativity Explored recognizes that collaboration will create new and exciting opportunities for artists with developmental disabilities, both nationally and internationally.

Cutting Ball Theater experiments with theatrical form, beyond naturalism and conventionalism, to tell relevant stories that embolden and engage audiences. Since 1999, Cutting Ball has been cultivating a community of artists and audiences whose engines run on risk, championing creative leaps as its core value. Its modular performance space in San Francisco is a laboratory for the unexpected. Cutting Ball Theater was founded by Rob Melrose and Paige Rogers to serve the San Francisco Bay Area with exceptional experimental theater in intimate spaces. For over twenty years, Cutting Ball has been creating the unusual and the evocative, reimagining how narratives can be told, and producing plays for audiences with bold and curious tastes. American Theater Magazine has called Cutting Ball "synonymous with some of the best small theatre the Bay Area has to offer." Cutting Ball usually presents an annual three-play season serving up re-envisioned classics, world premiere plays, and performances designed to reshape theatrical precedent. Due to new health and safety guidelines associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Cutting Ball's 2020/2021 Season will instead begin with the virtual premiere of Charles L. Mee's Utopia.

Photo credit: Nic Candito


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