Cal Shakes, ACT’s Willis honored

The National Endowment for the Arts – did you know that even existed anymore? – has handed out some $20,000 grants as part of a new NEA New Play Development Program.

And one of the recipients was Berkeley-based California Shakespeare Theater, which will spend 20 grand on early play development activities — read-throughs, public readings and workshop productions — for Pastures of Heaven, which is being written by San Francisco’s Octavio Solis (right), based on a collection of interlinking short stories by John Steinbeck. The piece is being developed with San Francisco’s Word for Word Performing Arts Company

“We are extraordinarily grateful to the NEA for selecting us for this prestigious program,” Cal Shakes artistic director Jonathan Moscone said in a statement. “Pastures of Heaven marks the first commissioned world premiere play for our Main Stage in our 35-year history.  I hope that our unique collaboration with Octavio, Word for Word and community members in the Salinas Valley and Bay Area will create a significant cultural impact on communities new to us, and perhaps to theater itself, as well as to the field at large.”

Pastures of Heaven is the third play to be developed under Cal Shakes’ New Works/New Communities program, which brings people of diverse backgrounds together around the creation of a new work of theater inspired by classic literature. Based upon Steinbeck’s little-known 1932 novel of interconnected short stories, the play will depict the destruction of dreams within a fragile farming community in Northern California’s Salinas Valley. The play is slated to premiere on Cal Shakes Main Stage in 2010, directed by Moscone.

“Every year the NEA supports about 135 new theatrical premieres, but the NEA New Play Development Program, in partnership with Arena Stage, is something special. It creates a small but superb national network to develop new works from across the country,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia.

 For more information about the NEA New Play Development Program, visit For information about California Shakespeare Theater, visit


Eleven top regional theatre actors from around the country have been selected as the inaugural Lunt-Fontanne Fellows by Ten Chimneys Foundation, the National Historic Landmark estate of Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne – as part of The Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program, a national program to serve regional theatre actors and the future of American theatre.

Among the 11 fellows is Jack Willis(right, photo by, a company member of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater.

Each Lunt-Fontanne Fellow receives a cash fellowship and will participate in an intensive week-long master class and retreat at Ten Chimneys (in rural Wisconsin) with a respected master teacher.  Acclaimed actress Lynn Redgrave will be the very first master teacher in the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program.  In addition to a prolific, award-winning career on Broadway, in London, and in film and television, Ms. Redgrave was named in honor of Lynn Fontanne – making her a particularly meaningful choice to launch this important program. 

Ten Chimneys is the home and retreat of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, widely considered the greatest acting couple in American theatre history.  (The estate is fully restored to its original glory.  With all of its contents and personal mementos in place, it looks just as it did in the 1930s and ’40s, when friends like Helen Hayes, Noël Coward, Katharine Hepburn, and countless others visited the Lunts summer after summer.)  For much of the 20th century, Ten Chimneys was the center of the theatrical universe – an important place for the luckiest of artists to retreat, rejuvenate, and collaborate.  The Lunts were known for their dedication to the “next generation” of actors.  They reveled in mentoring young actors.  Legends such as Laurence Olivier, Uta Hagen, Montgomery Clift and Julie Harris proudly considered themselves protégés of the Lunts.  The Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program continues that tradition of mentorship – as Ten Chimneys reassumes its historic role as a powerful resource and inspiration for American theatre.

Here are Willis’ fellow fellows: Suzanne Bouchard, Seattle Repertory Theatre (Seattle); Dan Donohue, Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, Ore.); Lee Ernst, Milwaukee Repertory Theater (Milwaukee); Mary Beth Fisher, Goodman Theatre (Chicago); Jon Gentry, Arizona Theatre Company (Phoenix and Tucson); Donald Griffin, Alliance Theatre (Atlanta); Naomi Jacobson, Arena Stage (Washington, D.C.); Kim Staunton, Denver Theatre Center (Denver); Todd Waite, Alley Theatre (Houston).

For information about Ten Chimneys, visit For information about American Conservatory Theater, visit

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