Royal Shakespeare Company
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Some good books on theatre
and theatre people
National Service, by Richard Eyre
Delightful, beautifully written, often funny and at times deeply touching journal of Eyre's ten years running the National Theatre. Lots about directing, actors (he loves actors), planning and running the behemoth building on the South Bank; also reflective and self aware sharing of his doubts and achievements and his relationships, both professional and personal -- but without a trace of backbiting or gossip. A great book.

Slim Chances and Unscheduled Appearances (memoir)
by  Edward Petherbridge
Detailed and insightful pieces on  training, acting, directing and Being an Actor, with plenty of backstage stories and self-aware humour, by one of England's best known stage actors. Americans may know him from the "Dorothy L Sayers Mysteries" series on PBS about 20 years ago.  He was also Newman Noggs in the RSC's Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. which was shown on PBS.

Dear Tom, by Tom Courtenay
Deeply personal, funny and touching autobiography built around the weekly letters his mother sent to him when he left home in the North to go to London for university. Wonderfully detailed portraits of his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and sister; funny tales from childood; and a great deal of detail about training at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and his early career. The late John  Thaw ("Morse") was his best mate at RADA and there are tales of Finney, O'Toole, Dench and many others.

Being an Actor, by Simon Callow
Brilliantly self-aware account of what it is actually, really like to be a working actor.  Callow's writing is crisp, clear and full of humour as well as nitty gritty details of the daily grind of  training, auditions, rehearsals, opening nights, long runs and politics  of working in British theatre. There is also Shooting the Actor, his book on film/TV work. I haven't read it yet, but expect it to be equally raw and equally brilliant.
The  new Royal Shakespeare Theatre,  as seen from upstage center. For details of the purpose-built , perfect-for-purpose new theatres, go to the RSC link above. The  Swan was also refurbished. Perfect spaces for Shakespeare, the houses are amazingly intimate, the full thrust stage meaning that no one in the audience is more than eleven rows from the stage. Photo is from  the RSC site.
2012 is the year of the WORLD SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL, promising stagings from a vast array of cultures and countries.

2011, the 50th anniversary year of the RSC, included Merchant of Venice, set in Las Vegas, with Patrick Stewart as a deeply moving Shylock;  Macbeth, brilliantly acted by Jonathan Slinger in the lead role; and, in the Swan, a newly discovered partial script, Cardenio, possibly by Shakespeare and Fletcher.
It occurred to me as I sat in the new Swan Theatre that the reason it felt so familiar was that it reminded me of the Berkeley Rep when it was the Berkeley Rep, in its storefront on College Avenue.  The Berkeley Rep as it is now has traded the intimacy of its origins for splash; the community and versatility of a resident company for pandering to the vacuous culture of celebrity with imported "stars" ; and its balanced repertory of classics and new plays for  publicity-grabbing shows aimed for New York, not for the local audiences that built the theatre and kept it alive.

I found some pictures of actors in those early shows recently. They're pretty grainy, but those of us who were there at the beginning will recognize their faces. Here are three of them who are no longer with us.  In Memorium.
Michael Leibert, the heart and soul of the Berkeley Rep, brilliant director of American scripts and not a bad actor either.  In Seven Keys to Bald Pate.
Bob Hirschfeld, perhaps remembered most for his trombone, but also a sweetly moving Stage Manager in Our Town and an all round character actor.  In The Iceman Cometh
Doug Johnson, director, actor, playwright; an intense stage  presence that could upstage anyone but never did because he was so good. In Arsenic and Old Lace.
I define theatre as the expression of Truth, because that's what all art does.
It reveals Truth in life, the truths we perceive. That is its ultimate glory and
ultimate goal. --Michael Leibert, founder of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

And That's Not All,
by Joan Plowright
Plowright's autobiography, very direct and chatty in style, about both her early life and her career.  Good stuff about the early days of "angry young man" theatre and the National Theatre at the Old Vic. The blossoming of her romance with Olivier is deliciously romantic and tender; the parts later about the illness that eventually killed him are matter-of-fact and all the harder to read for that. But she has a cracking good sense of humour and life has never been dull for her.
And more good reading . .