Tim Bond, artistic director for TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, interprets August Wilson this month—after a long wait in the wings.
Tim Bond is the new artistic director at TheatreWorks.
While the past two years have felt like an eternity for nearly everyone, for Tim Bond, the pandemic has been an artistic freeze frame. Bond, who took over as TheatreWorks’ artistic director—its second in 51 years—as the lockdown took hold, has been waiting in the wings to showcase his directorial chops. He’ll have a chance this month when he directs Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean.
Bond and Wilson were close friends, and the TheatreWorks artistic director is the leading interpreter of the late playwright’s work. Gem of the Ocean is one of Bond’s favorites, as it provides a timeless perspective on the Black experience in America. Here, he discusses everything from the health and sustainability of local theater to the enduring lessons of Wilson’s words.
You’ve been part of the theater for so long. Where did you first become passionate about the stage?
As a kid, I was exposed to art museums, symphony, dance, opera and theater by my parents.
I was bitten by the theater bug in high school, when I was in productions of M.A.S.H., Bye Bye Birdie, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Godspell. We also took field trips to see excellent productions at American Conservatory Theater in the mid-’70s, and I used to hang out in San Francisco and watch the street performers. I was given my first paid directing job when still in undergrad by Joyce Lord, who ran a summer stock company up in the foothills of the Sierras in Grass Valley and Nevada City.
Who did you first see onstage that made you want theater to be your life’s work?
[As a child], I saw a production of the musical Raisin, and I remember seeing the 11-year-old character of Travis Younger come onstage. Here was a Black kid around my age, who was performing alongside adults—he made me laugh and recognize myself in his relationship with his mom, dad, sister and grandmother. I remember thinking that our lives as Black people were also celebrated onstage and thinking maybe someday I could be up there.
I also remember performing the role of Marc Antony in a fourth grade production of Julius Caesar and uttering the words, ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…’ and the perception of everyone in our little cafetorium suddenly leaning in a little closer. I had a profound feeling of the power of the spoken word to the public, and I recalled the oratory power that Martin Luther King Jr. had in his message of civil rights. He had been tragically assassinated only days earlier, and in that moment, I realized that telling stories onstage through acting and theater was an incredibly important thing to do.
What are the biggest impediments to theater’s sustainability and growth?
The unfortunate trend in America has been a lack of funding and prioritization of the arts as a vital part of communities. We need to ensure that the next generation has access and exposure to theater, or we may lose its essential powers to encourage empathy, to open minds and hearts and to unite audiences in shared storytelling.
My mission for TheatreWorks includes ensuring a new generation of theater lovers is exposed to the art form and expanding its reach through embracing Silicon Valley’s diverse communities.
Though not a replacement for the vital energies of live theater, digital access may actually aid us in reaching that next generation, serving as an access point and a connector. Another way to broaden awareness of theater is by increasing arts coverage in the media and amplifying diverse voices with nuanced, thought-provoking perspectives that further the crucial work done onstage.
Theater is a vital, complex and changing art form that’s critical in the development and sustainability of our communities. I would love to see a revitalization of government, corporate, foundation and individual support that reinforces how theater is not a form of entertainment for the elite, but is truly an essential catalyst for uplifting all voices and building bridges between people from all backgrounds.
Greta Oglesby portrays Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean.
Your first two years at the helm of TheatreWorks must have been challenging in light of the pandemic. What did you learn about yourself and the company?
As challenging as the past two years have been, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but at the helm of a theater like TheatreWorks. We have such a committed and generous board of trustees, a resilient and talented group of staff members and patrons and donors who have stuck with us through it all.
I learned that I’m a person who ultimately wants to be the one steering the ship when the storm comes. I’ve always been the player who would be unhappy on the sidelines when the game is on the line—I want to be in the game, and I want to contribute. We’ve pivoted as a company to changing COVID policies, schedules, resources and personnel. I learned how difficult it is to stay flexible, creative, fluid, patient and find positivity in the face of uncertainty. We have a strong team, and we’ll eventually be stronger having traversed these challenging waters.
What’s your artistic vision for TheatreWorks moving forward?
As a Tony-winning regional theater, we’re committed to interconnecting the mosaic of globally diverse cultures and people who embody Silicon Valley and beyond.
I’m excited to build on the legacy of new work initiatives that will seed our nation’s theaters with new plays and musicals for a new era. We’ll seek new voices and innovative forms of storytelling and expand our partnerships with other theater companies locally, nationally and internationally.
It’s vital that we welcome and engage with our local communities and expand the diversity of our programming, audience and donor base. We plan to invest in an expanded model of arts-engagement initiatives that will increase the accessibility for our artistic programming and create community partnerships with schools, community organizations and municipalities that will nourish our region and inform our work.
I’m also excited to see where the field is going with digital content creation and how new virtual and augmented reality technology can cross-pollinate with live theater to create new artistic forms.
Gem of the Ocean—what are the key elements of the production that our readers should know and understand?
Gem of the Ocean is the lyrical masterpiece that chronologically begins August Wilson’s 10-play American Century Cycle, chronicling decade-by-decade African American experiences in the 20th century. This play is a searing and mystical exploration of freedom, justice and reclamation.
We meet the mythic character of Aunt Ester, who’s the sage healer and washer of people’s souls in 1904 Pittsburgh and is mentioned in three other plays through the Century Cycle. Aunt Ester will be played by Greta Oglesby, who originated the role in the world premiere of this play—she’s an immensely talented actor who I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with several times over the years, and I’m thrilled she will bring new life into this powerful character on TheatreWorks stages.
Bond will direct Gem of the Ocean beginning April 5.
In this play, Aunt Ester takes a young man whose life is in turmoil on an extraordinary journey to the City of Bones. There are spiritual events and music that infuse the play with a transformative lyrical power. I chose this piece because it’s one of my favorite plays in the canon and because it’s redemptive and healing at a moment when our nation is in a moral reckoning regarding our racialized history.
Though the setting, costumes, music and dialogue are all very specific to the early 20th century, the themes of freedom, justice and redemption that emerge are uncannily relevant and resonant today.
I know you were a close friend of Wilson. What does directing this play mean to you?
I’m still broken up about the untimely loss of August Wilson in 2005, just aft er he completed this monumental cycle. I feel cheated, as if we’ve been robbed of one of the greatest playwrights of the last century.
It was a great privilege to be close enough with August that he verbally shared with me, being the exceptional storyteller he was, the last few plays he wrote before they were performed. To hear him describe the characters, story and plot of Gem of the Ocean—and then to be able to direct it—fills me with tremendous joy and is a great honor.
This year, I’ve worked on two August Wilson works—How I Learned What I Learned at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Gem of the Ocean at TheatreWorks. So, these days, I have August’s voice in my head all of the time. It’s like the ancestors are whispering to me [and saying], ‘Tell the story, remember me.’ April 5-May 1, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
Photography by: PHOTO BY HILLARY JEANNE PHOTOGRAPHY; PHOTO BY KIM BUDD; PHOTO BY HILLARY JEANNE PHOTOGRAPHY