San Francisco

Workbook: Vigil

Here are some sketches, images, ideas for our ACT production of Vigil in San Francisco

Marco Barricelli and Olympia Dukakis pose for a promotional photo. Neither of them ended up in anything remotely like these costumes

The beautiful Geary Theatre, home to the American Conservatory Theatre, was destroyed in the earthquake of 1989 and rebuilt with the amazing will and dedication of the company

Lights are being focussed in the theatre, prior to tech rehearsals. Below, set installed. The central wall needed to move one and a half feet stage left.

Olympia and Morris during rehearsals in September. As crazy as it sounds, the play was rehearsed in the Fall and mounted in the Spring, owing to actor and director availability. Joe Smelser, our stage manager, worked with the actors for ten days before Morris came back in March; a strange and unique experience we all kind of liked

Our rehearsal room at ACT in San Francisco. Note the pillar directly in the middle of the room. It took a week to figure out how to configure the space so that the actors could play and the director could actually see what they were doing. Below, another PR image from the show, this one seen on buses.

Marco and Olympia acting together once before as younger man and old woman in the Michel Tremblay play For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, and the last time they were seen together at ACT. Below, Marco, right the inestimable Olympia. How lucky we are to have these two extraordinary actors.

Vigil has been translated into twenty languages: French, Italian, Spanish,


Portuguese, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian. Finnish,

Estonian. Czech, Polish, Slovenian, Lithuanian, Greek, Hungarian, Romanian, Swedish, Turkish and German, and British, if you count new phrases and a new title for the West End

Set model, left, in quarter inch scale, below, technical drawings submitted to ACT in order to build. Above, stage manager Joe and assistant stage manager Danielle, posing on the set before the real business of tech rehearsal begins. There are nearly forty scenes in Vigil, and five times as many props. That is a lot of stage managing

First day on set, which was a preliminary discovery for the actors as well as doubling as a preliminary lighting session. The day was for the actors to run all the scenes with the props, on the set, but Alan Brodie, lighting designer, also started laying in some lights

Prop details for the death machine and stage right pile of junk. We wanted the set to reflect a life that piled up around Grace, often without explanation.

Alan Brodie, lighting designer extraordinaire, pretends he is enjoying having his picture taken while building cues for the show. Right, Kens mother, whose stay in the hospital was an inspiration for the play. Lower right, Helen Stenborg and Malcolm Gets off Broadway

Most have heard the refrain from parents and grandparents alike: anywhere but a nursing home, and yet that is where so many end up. But those could actually be the lucky ones. Since the urban revolution of the sixties and seventies, families have found themselves sometimes thousands of miles apart. In France, in 2003, up to ten thousand elderly people died during a severe heat wave, many while their children were on holiday. As we prepared to open our show in San Francisco, Americans introduced a new health bill. Is it possible for a society to care for all its citizens?

Below, counterclockwise Brent Carver in Toronto, as Kemp, Toronto Island production, Irish production in Dublin with Risteard Cooper, Margaret Tyzack in London as Grace, and a production in the Berkshires

From left, clockwise, production in Paris translated by Michel Blanc which later toured France, Joyce Campion playing a dead Grace in Southern Ontario with a mournful Stephen Woodjets, a production touring Italy with Alessandro Benvenuti and Barbara Valmorin, and, finally, Morris playing Kemp in Vancouver. Right, Olympia Dukakis stars in Hecuba at ACT in 98-99 season, a production also starring Marco Barricelli, and directed by ACT artistic director Carey Perloff

Tech rehearsals for Vigil, Marco and Olympia go through the scenes as we make lighting and sound adjustments, so called Q to Q rehearsals, where the actors only do the bits where there are sound and light cues, but not on this show where many of the scenes are too short to bother, so we simply run the show and stop and start when needed. As well, it gives us a chance to make sure the actors are lit well in every position. Right, impressive marquee display outside the very impressive Geary Theatre.

The Reverse Mortgage A bank will give you money as it slowly takes back your house. Its a way to secure money for your old age and for the bank to count your days for you

Let us face it, most would rather pay someone to look after our aging parents not because they love them any less but because we have simply lost our patience with the dying process

While Morris was writing Vigil, he read about the Buddhist philosophy of a good death

Below, left, Olympia prepares for first preview; at notes after, Olympia, Marco - under a blinding flash of light - and Morris discuss how it went, below right, dyslexia, is it the condition Kemp has? Does instant pudding really look like ant poison?

Right, Marco and Morris discuss show on rooftop of theatre, above, night off in the Embarcadero. Below, cutting it up. Right, Olympia knits. During rehearsals her knitting skills came back to her, which, as it turns out, were not that great anyway. Props did the balance of the knitting. There are four completely different states of knitting in the show, which need to be switched out in the blackouts.

Dear sweet Rose Panych, aunt of Morris and who inspired some of the stories in the play, died the night before our opening. She had a good long life. She used to show Morris pictures San Diego when he was a boy, where she worked at the timed, and of course he always dreamed of going with her. Left, an accordion; Morris was cruelly threatened by his father with studying this instrument as a child

What a thrill that personal folk hero Armistead Maupin of Tales of the City fame, showed up to watch friend Olympia on opening night, along with his husband Christopher, upper right. Up left, Marco, Olympia, and Louis Zorich pose back stage following tumultuous applause, cheers and standing ovation. At the after party in Philippe Starck Hotel Clift, Alan chats with Olympia, and Morris tells Zorich, Dukakis and others how to write a play in five minutes; at least as far as he can recall. Below, left, a bus whizzes past us in downtown San Francisco, advertising the show; fun. Below, right, Ken and Morris head out to opening night, but not before waiting forty minutes for a taxi in the pouring rain, and nearly being late for the show.

Ken and Morris spend a final windy day before leaving their hearts in San Francisco and heading back to Canada and to the Shaw Festival to begin rehearsals for Doctors Dilemma; in the background Alcatraz.

Los Angeles: Ken and Morris take their production of Vigil to the Mark Taper Forum in downtown L.A.

Olympia Dukakis returns in the almost silent role of Grace. Marco Barricelli is once again the inestimable Kemp, seen below having a fevered discussion about politics while they wait for tech rehearsal to continue

Olympia looking just a little like Whisters Mother, waiting patiently for light cues in remount of our production at the Taper, pictured below

Taking the same set from the proscenium ACT venue and reconfiguring it for the three quarter Taper was a tricky proposition. The walls needed to be literally opened up and rebuild to accommodate a new angle. At the Taper, the audience surrounds the players on three sides.