The time-bending musical montage about the early years of motion pictures, The First Picture Show, will have its world premiere at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, opening May 12 for a run through June 6. The production began previews on May 6.
Father and son team Ain Gordon (Birdseed Bundles,Wally's Ghost) and David Gordon (The Mysteries and What's So Funny?), and composer Jeanine Tesori (Violet) collaborated on the piece. Formerly titled, Who's Anne First?, Picture Show was developed at CA's Mark Taper Forum in April 1997.
The piece centers on 99-year-old Anne First, one of the last surviving women directors of silent film. Living out her final years in obscurity in a movie colony retirement home, she is rediscovered by her great niece, who is making a documentary on silent film's golden age. Back then, the artistic possibilities of a revolutionary new medium clashed with the fear and censorship engendered by the emergence of a new technology.
The role of Anne First will be split by two different actresses: Anne Gee Bird will play the 99 year-old Anne, with musical veteran Ellen Greene (Little Shop of Horrors, Weird Romance) playing Anne at ages 15-38. Other cast members include: John Apicella, Cindy Chung, Kathleen Conroy, Norma Fire, Karen Graham, Dinah Lenney, Ken Marks, Evan Pappas, Jeanne Sakata, Valda Setterfield (The Mysteries...), Michael Gene Sullivan, Harry Waters Jr.
The designers for ACT's production of The First Picture Show are Robert Brill (sets), Judith Anne Dolan (costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting), Garth Hemphill (sound). In 1978, David Gordon founded the Pick Up Performance Company to incorporate theater and media work into his work as a choreographer. Son Ain joined the company in 1994 to help create The Family Business, which featured Valda Setterfield -- David's wife and Ain's mom.
. "We work together," wrote David Gordon of his familial creative partnership with Ain. "We have the benefit of knowing each other but not being the same. Sometimes we are interested in each other's ideas and opinions. Sometimes we don't know what we're doing in the same room. We do not hesitate to criticize. We are willing to be foolish and foolhardy, loving and sentimental, acerbic and harsh, lost and stubborn in front of each other. We fight like dogs.
"One of us is in his fifties, the other in his thirties," continued David Gordon. "One of us is married to a woman and has a son. The other is in a committed relationship with another man and calls himself married even though the government doesn't. Working together challenges our generational perspectives and biases. We perversely enjoy the battle."
True to form, the Pick Up Performance Company is working on another project simultaneously. Illustrated Radio Shows, a movement theater piece by David & Ain Gordon, looks back at the company's work over the past thirty years.
For the production, A.C.T. was presented with a $75,000 grant from AT&T as part of the prestigious 1999 AT&T: On stage program. A leading corporate sponsor of the arts for more than 50 years, AT&T created the AT&T Foundation in 1984 as the company's principal instrument for philanthropy and its centerpiece for public service in communities where AT&T employees live and work. AT&T: On stage is designed to encourage innovative regional and institutional theater companies to develop and present new works for the American stage. Past productions supported by the On stage program include: The Intiman Theatre in Seattle's production of Ellen McLaughlin's Tongue of a Bird, August Wilson's Seven Guitars, and the 1995 A.C.T. production of Hecuba.
For tickets ($11 - $55) or more information on The First Picture Show call (415) 749-2228.
-- By Sean McGrath