Thank You: A Letter from the Hollenbecks

August 21, 2009

Hello Dear Friends, this is Viviana from Blue Ox. Eric and I have been talking so much about our incredible time with you all!

It seems to me that it rarely happens that we are able to recognize at the time when something truly profound happens in our lives. Most times we don’t recognize it until much later, sometimes even years later. When Cornerstone Theater met Blue Ox, Eric and I didn’t really get it until opening night.

As usual, when Eric and I say yes to something new, we have no idea what is really going to happen. That is part of what I love about Eric! Each step seemed logical and simple. The play needed a venue. I loved the play when I read it. (I told Peter that the characters felt like someone I knew). Then Kerry and Dan came and we started the physical transformation of the shop. They were fabulous; always gentle and careful. That seemed like a logical step, but we still didn’t really get it. We began to comprehend when Geoff and crew started the transformation with the lights. Then as each new step came together, the costumes, the props, the backstage, the music and sound effects ~ it was like watching a magician paint a fantasy world right in front of our eyes ~ in a place that  we thought we knew. And as we started to meet you all ~ the heart and soul of the company and of our community ~ then we began to understand the power of what was happening.

On opening night when you all invited us to participate in your final circle, we felt very honored. Seeing and hearing the commitment and the love that each of you brought to the production was humbling. Then, sitting in that audience during the show and feeling you hold us all in your collective grasp was SO powerful. We were yours: wholly and completely. Many people got choked up ~ you broke through the shells that we all have around us and you reached in to our core. The tears were real.

It all came together: the incredible script; the strong actors; the sincerity of the novices; the highly creative costumes, the set and special effects; the magical lights; the dramatic music; the glorious singing, the powerful dancing ~ it all came together and we were transformed.

Eric and I were honored to be a part of something so exquisite. Our daughter Cara summed it up best. Cara and her beau drove up from the Bay Area (they live in Hawaii) in time to see the play, and Dayl our youngest daughter drove up from L.A. (Thousand Oaks) just in time to greet everyone after the play was over. Cara stated it very eloquently: you showed us something that we didn’t know was there. It was like a door opening, or a chapter starting of a whole new aspect to Blue Ox. Somehow it felt so right to have a theater production there, and especially the kind of theater that reaches out, that teaches, that brings people together and connects their hearts.

And so we ~ along with all the audience members ~ were changed. We now know that some type of future endeavor involving theater is part of our future. Thank you for opening that door for us, and thank you for sharing your talents, your hearts, and your passion with us.


On Playing Maggie: A Wiyot Character in Eureka

Sage Howard and Adam Sussman look at what is left of Indian Island as we tour around the bay on the Madaket Boat. Massacre and tragedy occurred on this Island, the center of the world for the Wiyot people. 


Sage Howard & Adam Sussman look at what is left of Indian Island as we tour around the bay on the Madaket Boat. Massacre and tragedy occurred on this Island, the center of the world for the Wiyot people.


by Sage Howard

Oh Eureka.

I remember the first time I learned the word ‘Eureka’. My family had a
Eureka! tent I first remember taking to the Pioneer Mountains in
Montana. The tent was a series of grays, like the series of grays of
the skies in our new home: Eureka, CA. Here in this big tent of
Eurekan sky, surrounding the land locked-bay, we experience varying
degrees of sun or storm shining through the ceiling. Like the tent we
took backpacking, there are no walls, but a gentle slope, like the sky
comes down to touch the bay- and the gray continues.

When you go backpacking, you expect to remember hiking, but like most
expectations, it’s broken. I can’t articulate specific expectations I
had coming to Eureka, but I can articulate some of the ways my
unconscious expectations have been broken. The roller coaster of
emotions, personal, institutional, communal- is overwhelming,
cleansing, hilarious, and ultimately healing. Healing is rarely
without pain, openness, and intense vulnerability. But with
vulnerability comes connection and strength.

So, speaking in abstractions . . . that’s what I have been doing,
which is the first level of universal introduction so you know that
this is a story you can relate to, but now it is time for some
specifics. The biggest expectation broken since I have been here is
the relationship between the Wiyot tribe and us. I entered into the
institute expecting we would have an intense and incredible connection
with the Wiyot tribe, the people native to this particular area. Well,
I assumed wrong. Peter Howard, our playwright, had gone up to the
reservation, Table Bluff, multiple times over the nine months he and
Paula Donnelly were here conducting interviews, hosting story circles
and gathering the material that became the basis of the script.
Peter’s invitations to participate, which were careful, respectful and
thoughtful were met with a closed and silent reception on the

I want to highlight that Peter is one of the most thoughtful,
respectful and intelligent human beings I have ever met, let alone
worked with. This tangent is to emphasize that his choice to include
only one Wiyot woman in the show, Maggie, was a carefully considered
and a wise choice because we did not know if we would have any people
of Wiyot heritage come to auditions. Leah and Leslie followed up
Peter’s invitations by returning to the reservation, posted signs
about auditions, and engaged in gentle conversations with the cool
reception they received as well.

Now, I want to make sure that this does not sound like I am placing
blame on the people who work at the reservation cultural center or
(what we have perceived to be) the Wiyot decision to not open up and
jump on board. Who are we to come crashing into a community and demand
stories? Their history and relationship to this land is one of
struggle and there is an immense amount of pain that lives in the air.
This one play, this one month, is not the place to tell their story.
It’s theirs. A play will not solve the pain and complications of what
they have experienced.

So, what is this history and pain that I allude to? As all Native
tribes, the Wiyot people suffered massacres, relocations and harsh
assimilation. Specifically, there was an intense effort to eradicate
the Wiyot population because the center of their world was the bay and
the land and islands of Eureka, sought after intensely by the
settlers. There was a devastating massacre in February 1860 that
interrupted a sacred dance celebration that marked the renewal of
their world each year. Hundreds of people were killed in one night in
an organized effort by settlers who were coexisting previously with
the Native People. I cannot give you all the information now, but I
urge you to check out these website and read further the history of
the Wiyot people and the projects they are currently undergoing to
rebuild their culture:
The general website where you can find a further history:

On rebuilding Indian Island, the center of the Wiyot world where the
New Year celebration took place for thousands of years:

Clearly, Jason and the Golden Fleece is not the story of Eureka. This
is a story of Eureka. That said, we couldn’t leave that vital voice
out of story either. We hoped that there would be a voice of Maggie
who was Wiyot, and so eagerly we waited at auditions for that magical
woman to walk through the door.

No one came.

There were discussions in the casting meetings of representation and
how to cast this role. These discussions, I imagine paralleled the
discussions that we have had in class, about our responsibility
creating community-based theater. This work will change the places and
people that we work with. How we speak about things and how we
approach the work. Through this conversation, Laurie and Peter decided
to cast me as the Wiyot women, Maggie. This is has been an incredible
challenge. I don’t know that I have ever felt such responsibility as
an actress. The value of having the community immediately there
hightens the responsibility for honesty and truth. Time to do

So, Ramy and I went up to the Reservation, Table bluff, this past
Monday. We met two amazing people: a linguist, Lynnika Butler and Ben
Brown.  Lynnika is the official Language Project Manager on the
reservation, who is trying to rebuild the language, learning the
language and teaching the language.  Quite apt to talk to her because
Maggie, the woman I am playing in the show is also a linguist trying
to revive the language. Ben is currently cataloguing the artifacts
from burial grounds that are being returned to the Wiyot community
under the NAGPRA, Native American Grader Protection Repatriation Act.
Ben is also in charge of all the Native American artifacts at the
Clark Museum in Historic Downtown. While they were a little bit
skeptical when we came into the center asking if we could talk tot hem
because we were theater artists from Los Angeles. Speaking honestly
about the project and our desire to be accurate and respectful of the
history, struggle and beauty of their community opened Ben and Lynnica
up. Ben happened to be going to the Clark, although it was Monday and
the museum was closed, he offered to give us a private tour of his
area of expertise. Yes. So, we met him on the steps of this grand old
building down town.

Ben Brown gave us an amazing tour, but the discussion brought up was
priceless. I can’t tell all now, but I will give you an example of the
holistic power of the people who were here and lived in the bay
‘pre-contact.’ What struck me most was the holistic nature of life
practiced, lived, by all the tribes. I recognize that I am going to
sound idealistic, simplistic and overly romantic about their
connection to nature, spirit and their place in the cosmos here.
Really, I am in awe. Humbled. Everything in their life was a balanced
mixture of spiritual and functional. Their baskets, for example, are
intricate simple patters of tightly woven reeds and grasses. Everyone
wore a woven cap and the baskets were used everyday in everything from
storage, collection to boiling water. Yes, they created a basket that
was watertight and could with stain heat. Ramy asked a simple and
powerful question, “Where these functional or do the patterns have
specific meaning?” Ben replied, “Well it was certainly not Church on
Sunday, work on Monday. The functional and spiritual was woven into
everything. It was holistic . . . (he was at a loss of the right
words). The women wove the baskets and the patterns came from their
dreams. When they wove the baskets, they said a prayer with every
knot.” Wow. No wonder the grass held in the water and could also
withstand fire. Such incredible intension in each action. We continued
on and I asked about how they chose their leaders. Ben told us that
they were the wealthiest members of the community. That seemed odd and
I was a little put off as we wandered over to the next display case
where Ben pointed out the thin shells, NAME, used as currency. “This
was their money,” Ben said, “But you have to understand that it was
not exchanged for materials as much as it was a moral currency. If you
did someone wrong you had to pay them. Therefore, the people who were
the wealthiest in the community were the ones who cared the most, the
ones who did not do ill to others. They were the most moral upstanding
citizens of their community. They were the caretakers.” What a
concept, to trust and the power of leadership to those who care.

At that point it was time to go on a tour of the bay with the rest of
our Institute community. Eric (the man who owns the Blue Ox) has a
friend who owns The matticate, a wonderful old boat with the smallest
licensed bar in California. They are proud. From the reservation, to
the museum, I was a whirl of history and emotion and thought, and we
launched out into the water, passing by Indian Island, the center of
the Wiyot world. I consider myself to appreciate and love nature, but
I realized on a new level the lack of connection that we have with
place. With trees, water, air, mist and cycles of sun and moon. In
anticipation of going back to LA and Orange county, where I am certain
the majority of citizens do now know the history or the power of the
place they drive over everyday, I want to continue on my own awakening
and invite people to join on their awakening of what was here, what is
here, and what is possible. I do know that if we can make theater like
the Wiyot wove baskets, with a prayer, and intension of every knot, we
can change the world.

More links:

On the language and it’s rebuilding

Behind the Scenes: “Jason in Eureka”

Not edited, a little bumpy, but you get some great insight to the place, the people, and the production!

Additional Flickr!

Hi guys, Stacia Torborg, an Institute participant has been catching some great snapshots of the experience, check out the experience through her eyes here:

And to catch some pictures from the actual Cornerstone Institute Flickr, check them out  here:

Technical Rehearsal

by Victor Vazquez

What a day. About 100 lights have been hung from three different buildings here at the Blue Ox. Hanging through open windows, rooftops, wooden beams, railings, porches, and stairs- they now bring life to this outdoor stage. Humboldt bay is the backyard to the Blue Ox molder building, so as we sit in bleachers at 11pm, we see the mist of the bay floating through the atmosphere landing on our 50degree chilled laps, scarf’s, jackets and hats. Ben Cobb (sound designer and one of the founding members of Cornerstone) is now just adding birds, car alarms, and an epic soundtrack to this production. Marisa Fritzemeir (stage manager) asks Laurie Woolery (Cornerstone ensemble member & director of “Jason in Eureka”) if she’s ready for a scene to start. Peter Howard (one of the founders, Cornerstone ensemble member and playwright) stands at a distance listening to his text come to life through Craig, Sam, Claire, Joahana, and Donald- only a few of the 30 something community members that are a part of “Jason In Eureka”.

Today the pieces come together, and they will continue to fit as the company of participants, staff and community come together to FIGURE IT OUT. Theater like this figures it self out through the 60 something hands that come together daily in a circle, each to play an integral part in the Cornerstone process.

Here’s a sneak peak at a scene that is being put together with all the hands.

Institute Classes


by Victor Vazquez

Almost everyday the Institute participants go to class. Starting at 8:30 or 9am is a 30 minute warm-up lead by one of the students. Thereafter, we sit in a circle and attend to the day’s topic: Creating community-specific text, Directing on a community based context, Collaborative-Community Dance and Choreography, managing, fund raising, budgeting,   Designing a Community-based show, Auditioning, Community Engagement, Story circles, etc. The four-hour class slot is never nearly enough to answer all of our questions, but we’ve realized that our hypothetical questions become answered outside the classroom because Eureka continues to be our classroom. Daily, as we interact with community members, hang lights, run chords, stand on rooftops, listen, hammer, saw, bundle up, hug, hold hands, give notes, share in circles, check in-and-out, smile, cry, run, trip, meet, talk, hang posters and high-five we experience the lessons outside the realm of hypothetical. We engage community, we dance collaboratively with community members amongst the Sequoias’, we audition, build, and witness the magic of community-based theater.

Why isn’t this happening in our schools, in our theatrical studies? Of course we always partake in communities, but the magic of entering a community, listening, and telling a story (not the story) of the community with the community as part of the process is both gratifying and intense. In our nightly company checkouts, which most times occur at 11pm, we have shared our daily stories and lessons. Each day feels like a week, and these past three weeks have felt like seven years. The amount of work and investment that a project like this requires is giant. The passion, and the determination that this project requires is endless. But the rewards are abundant. And the product is inspiring.

Someone here said

“Building the set was easy, building the theater nearly killed us”.

The staff, institute, and community hands have all build a theater where there was none before. The Moulder Building of the Blue Ox Millworks which contains two large machines with a thousand variations of blades work to cut wood into any form and shape you desire- has been transformed into the new stage for “Jason in Eureka”. We, the hands, have all acted as these blades, shaping the building into the theater space of this years Cornerstone Theater Company Institute project. Where else can you find a classroom that will allow you to shape theater outside of conventional space?

Liz Parker (institute participant/actor) and Stacia Torborg (institute participant/Community engagement/photographer) work together to saw wood beams to build the second half of the stage.

First Run-through

Marcus Renner (Institute Partcipant:Script Assistant/Producing) sits through the run through taking notes for Peter Howards Script.

Marcus Renner (Institute Partcipant:Script Assistant/Producing) sits through the run through taking notes for Peter Howards Script.

by Leslie Carson

Sitting here on a rough-hewn work dock waiting for rehearsal to begin I flick a spider from my leg, trying not to look too closely at what species it might be or to wonder which of the musty, dusty dark spaces around me it might call home. Below, an array of folk fan out across the sawdusty yard of the Blue Ox, sitting on ramshackle folding chairs and looking not like actors (which they are) but more like people at a farm auction, waiting for some prize piece of machinery to come up for bid.  Of old machinery, there is a rusty forest here. Wrapped in colorful afghans to ward off the damp chill of a summer evening close by Humboldt Bay, people murmur quietly, waiting for the first run-through rehearsal of “Jason in Eureka” to begin. And now it does. An elderly woman in red socks and tousled hair, playing the ghost of “Isabelle Rose” and in another world herself, appears in the deep shadows under the roof of the thick-planked  building we call our stage. Since I was here a few days ago, tall light poles on sturdy platforms have sprouted from corrugated roofs, an electrical miracle in a place that looks more likely to be hung with gas lanterns. And more incongruous still, nymphs and goddesses in down vests,  earthy locals in sensible fleece and hip, boot-clad students from New York theater schools tramp the freshly-built platforms and duck under ancient pilings from long-dismantled piers.

Everyone mixes in anticipation. The Veteran for Peace activist in his black beret and etched face, slightly removed from the easy chatter around him, studies his script. The blind singer from Brooklyn moves gracefully over the stony, wood-strewn, railroad-tied grounds. Two friends in their sixties, both in a play for the first time, jog onstage, pleased and surprised by their newfound celebrity. A curtain of damp drops becomes visible in the evening air as a motley crew of Argonauts, heroic in sweat pants and sweaters rehearse a slow-motion rowing scene through a yet-to-be created styrofoam ocean.

The lighting instruments are in place but no not illuminated, there are no sound effect tonight but the noisy cat in the arms of the young boy and our hero performs without helmet or even a cardboard shield. But the rusty old story of Jason, like the rusted milling machinery of the Blue Ox, roars to life in all of its barely-costumed glory with the engine of the imagination.

Joana playing Christina in "Jason in Eureka"