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July 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 01, 2005

Maybe you knew her when Maybe you knew her when (July 01, 2005)

Valerie Weak got her start in Pleasanton children's theater

Valerie Weak, who grew up in Pleasanton, has returned to her hometown as a member of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, playing the role of Ursula in "Much Ado About Nothing" Saturdays and Sundays through July 10 at the Amador Valley Community Park.

In a way, she has come full circle, for it was here that Valerie discovered the magic of live theater through Children's Theater Workshop (CTW).

Valerie's parents, Earl and Brenda Weak, have been Pleasanton residents for over 25 years. "We took Valerie to see a CTW play when she was about 8 years old," recalls her mother. "Soon after, we received a brochure from the Pleasanton Parks and community Service Department, listing classes. Valerie read through it and saw an after-school acting class for children. 'This is what I want to do,' she told us.

"It was instantly the best thing she'd ever done. Nothing she found excited her like the theater."

And that's how it started: She loved the class and went on to audition for roles in Children's Theater Workshop. Valerie's first acting teacher was Andy Jorgensen, founder of CTW, now the city's Civic Arts manager. He had a major role in bringing Free Shakespeare in the Park to Pleasanton and was delighted to hear that Valerie would be part of it this year.

"Valerie is fabulous," says Jorgensen. "She is someone who has always known what she wanted to do and followed that path." He recalls that Valerie's entire family became involved with CTW productions - parents and younger sister Emily - when Valerie was part of numerous productions as she grew up. For example, Brenda Weak volunteered to sew costumes, help backstage, and even sell tickets out front.

Valerie remembers her first CTW role as being the tallest of the rabbits in "Winnie the Pooh." As she attended Alisal and Walnut Grove elementary schools, Harvest Park Middle School, and Amador Valley High School (from which she graduated in 1990), Valerie gradually worked her way up from bit parts to lead roles. "It was a fun place to be, people paid attention and were nice to you," says Valerie of those early days onstage that convinced her this is what she wanted as a career.

"She kept trying out for more, over and over again," says her father. He and his wife estimate that they have applauded their daughter in nearly 100 plays over the years. "I've watched Valerie's career evolve," says Andy Jorgensen. "It's great that she has lots and lots of talent, but to succeed, an actor also needs to have tenacity."

Part-time day jobs are part of what it takes for most who choose acting careers, and Valerie is no exception. She graduated from UCLA as a theater major, but quickly decided that Los Angeles was not where she wanted to stay - despite the lure of high-paying jobs in TV commercials.

Instead, she is familiar with being an office temp worker between acting jobs. "Most acting contracts are only for six weeks," she notes, "so every day, I'm looking for the next job."
Since returning to the Bay Area, Valerie has performed with Word for Word, Shotgun Players, Marin Shakespeare Festival, Woman's Will (an all-female Shakespeare company), Shakespeare in Stinson, and Pacific Alliance Stage Company. She was selected for SF Shakespeare Festival's Shakespeare on Tour program, which brings plays to public schools. "I think I have performed in every western state," says Valerie, laughing at the memory of having done two plays before lunchtime, then packing up to drive to the next location, which might be a state or two away, Idaho to Wyoming, Texas to Colorado. Last year, Valerie became an "international" actor, touring in Italy with the Festival's "Midsummer Night's Dream."

Why would someone do such exhausting work for little pay? "I enjoy telling stories in this strange, collaborative way," explains Valerie, "being a small part of something that takes so many people and talents to put together. When the day ends, I'm doing what I want to do."

In particular, Valerie enjoys the opportunity to work with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, ticking off several reasons: "This is a fun place to work. The director (Kenneth Kelleher) really knows Shakespeare well. I appreciate the Festival's commitment to making theater accessible to all. And they make an event of a trip to the theater, much as it was in earlier history, when it includes bringing a meal, talking to those seated next to you, perhaps to borrow a knife or pet a visiting dog - we bring all that with Free Shakespeare in the Park."

Asked what advice she would offer to aspiring young actors, Valerie does not hesitate to say, "Do it (acting) as long as it's fun." <

Best free show in town Best free show in town (July 01, 2005)

Pleasanton's Shakespeare in the Park features hometown actress

By Jerri Long

Sometimes you get way more than you paid for, and that certainly is true for the lucky people who take advantage of the Free Shakespeare in the Park production sponsored by Pleasanton Civic Arts Presents on Saturday and Sunday evenings through July 10.

This year's treat is "Much Ado About Nothing," a comedy involving romance, treachery, remorse and laughter. The play begins at 7:30 p.m., but those in the know - who have come to Free Shakespeare in the Park for any of the past five summers - arrive early to stake out a spot for picnics and conversation well ahead of showtime.

Bring your own chairs, and don't forget to pack jackets and a blanket because, as the sun goes down, so does the temperature. Sitting outside for three or more hours can become chilly for those unprepared.

The lovely setting is Amador Valley Community Park, corner of Santa Rita Road and Black Avenue, adjacent to the Bengtson Aquatic Center.

The background for the play may be a surprise: Instead of the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare's comedy has been moved to Spain of the 1930's. Scenic designer Richard Ortenblad has recreated onstage a charming building he photographed when the company was on tour in Italy last year with "Midsummer Night's Dream."

Stylized poplar trees and a circular staircase provide ample areas for eavesdropping, plotting, and soliloquies. Todd Roehman designed costumes that could launch a "retro" fashion trend.

The play opens with Don Pedro, the prince, returning from successful battle. He visits Leonato, governor of the town of Messina, accompanied by Count Claudio and Senior Benedick. Claudio falls in love with Leonato's daughter, Hero, while Benedick trades witty insults with Leonato's niece, Beatrice. The first couple plans to marry, and they conspire with their friends to trick the second couple into falling in love. Meanwhile, Don Pedro's brother, Don John, does his best to spoil the happiness of Claudio and Hero.

All of the actors did an outstanding job on their opening night. Julia Brothers and Stephen Klum as Beatrice and Benedick are particularly pleasing. Brian Herndon as the treacherous Don John is the villain you love to hate, and he gets great laughs as he struts about in his uniform. Constable Dogberry, portrayed by Jack Powell, is hilarious with his malapropisms; in the program notes, the actor "would like to thank George W. Bush for providing much of the inspiration for the character of Dogberry."

Pleasanton's own hometown actress, Valerie Weak, does a fine and funny job in her supporting role as Ursula, "waiting-gentlewoman to Hero." Valerie can be spotted in the opening scene as she climbs up on a chair to take down a poster from the gates of the villa. Her funniest scene is when she is ogling a portrait of Benedick while she and Hero are planning to entrap Beatrice in a romance with him.

"The mission of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is to make the words and themes of Shakespeare accessible to everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, financial status, or level of education," states their printed program. If, after seeing "Much Ado About Nothing," you think they are accomplishing their mission, then there's one more thing you should bring along to the play: Folding money to drop into the donation baskets the costumed actors hold as the audience exits the theater site. <@C$p>

@photocredit:Photo courtesy the Weak family

Before spreading her wings as a professional actor, Valerie Weak appeared as an owl in the Children's Theater Workshop production of "Dr. Doolittle."
@photocredit:Photo courtesy the Weak family

Valerie turned green for her elf role in "Rumplestilskin."
@photocredit:Photo courtesy the Weak family

Valerie as a teenager in CTW's production of "Midsummer Night's Dream."
@photocredit:Photo courtesy the Weak family

Valerie Weak, Amador Valey High School Class of 1990, as a professional actor.


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