Carey Perloff, Artistic Director of San Francisco's legendary American Conservatory Theater, pens a lively and revealing memoir of her twenty-plus years at the helm, and delivers a provocative and impassioned manifesto for the role of live theater in today's technology-infused world.
Perloff's personal and professional journey—her life as a woman in a male-dominated profession, as a wife and mother, a playwright, director, producer, arts advocate, and citizen in a city erupting with enormous change—is a compelling, entertaining story for anyone interested in how theater gets made. She offers a behind-the-scenes perspective, including her intimate working experiences with well-known actors, directors, and writers including Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Robert Wilson, David Strathairn, and Olympia Dukakis.
Whether reminiscing about her turbulent first years as a young woman taking over an insolvent theater in crisis and transforming it into a thriving, world-class performance space, or ruminating on the potential for its future, Perloff takes on critical questions about arts education, cultural literacy, gender disparity, leadership and power.
Carey Perloff is an award-winning playwright, theater director, and the Artistic Director of the American Conservatory Theater of San Francisco since 1992.
Praise for Carey Perloff's Beautiful Chaos:
"Beautiful Chaos is an extraordinary journey of Carey Perloff and her theatre, ACT. Their continued evolution and ability to define and re-define themselves with courage, tenacity, and bravery allow them to confront what seem like insurmountable odds. This continues to shape and inspire Carey and those who work with her."—Olympia Dukakis, Academy Award-winning actress
"Carey Perloff's lively, outspoken memoir of adventures in running and directing theatre will be a key document in the story of playmaking in America."—Tom Stoppard, Playwright
"Carey Perloff, quite literally, raised a vibrant new theater from the rubble of an old one. This refreshingly honest account of her triumphs and misfires over the past two decades is both a fascinating read and an invaluable handbook for anyone attempting such a labor of love."—Armistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City
"Carey Perloff's marvel of a book is part memoir of a working mother, a passionate artist, a woman flourishing in a male-dominated craft- and part lavish love letter to theater. It is as lively, thoughtful, and insightful an account I have ever read about the art form. This one is for any person who has ever sat in the dark and been spellbound by the transformative power of theater."—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner
"Carey Perloff is a veteran of the regional theatre wars. Beautiful Chaos is her vivacious account of her ambitious work commanding San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre (ACT). The book exudes Perloff's trademark brio: smart, outspoken, full of fun and ferment."—John Lahr, author of Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
"This is an engaged, engaging, deeply intelligent, and passionate account of why the theatre matters and how it works in a city and in a society. It is also a fascinating and essential chapter in the history of San Francisco itself, as well as the story of a committed theatre artist's determination and vision."—Colm Tóibín, author of Nora Webster
"Carey Perloff writes as she talks; with passion, profound insight and a warm and accessible style. The story of ACT under her stewardship is linked with her own growth as an artist and a citizen. She raises some questions, vital to the American theater and offers some provocative and innovative strategies for survival and success. This is not just a great read, it is an important book that demands attention."—Joe Dowling, Director, The Guthrie Theater
"Carey Perloff is one of the very few remaining artistic directors who have remained faithful to the original ideals of the American resident theatre, and her new theatrical biography, Beautiful Chaos, is an engrossing account of how difficult that has been for her in the current economic climate. Her devotion to global theatre, to reanimated classics, to the most penetrating new plays, and to rigorous theatrical training was hardly an easy thing to preserve during the last few profit-centered decades, which makes Beautiful Chaos both a readable adventure and a heroic narrative."—Robert Brustein, Theater Critic, The New Republic
"When did we forget that theater is more than sedate art or bottom-line entertainment? How exhilarating to be reminded by Carey Perloff that it is still a grand adventure and a high calling. In Beautiful Chaos: A Life in the Theater, we follow her quest to give San Francisco's renowned American Conservatory Theater a present and future as glorious as its past. A life in the theater demands vision and conscience, not to mention improvisation. 'A playwright,' says Perloff, makes contradictory beliefs 'collide in real time and with equal force.' That's the pleasure of this book. We see her think, plan, persuade and fight; balance the personal and the political. We watch as art and history collide and collaborate. 'I'm a beast of the theater,' Perloff declares. She's a noble beast. And she's a heroine."—Margo Jefferson, Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic
"In my mind, it is indispensable reading for anyone who cares about theatre art, values its profound impact on the quality of human life, and may be curious about how it is made. The book is an inspiration on many levels. First, because it is truly a memoir and necessarily personal. To gain access to the mind and heart of a genius, to survey with her the ordeals and revelations of a historic tenure as the leader of one of America's greatest theatre companies, to hear her authentic voice articulating the 'state of the art' and speculating about its challenging future is to be a privileged companion on an adventure of breathtaking scope. Second, it provides deep insights into those mentors and colleagues who shaped Ms. Perloff's aesthetic (as they shaped the art and literature of the last century): Martin Esslin, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Robert Wilson. Perloff studied with Esslin; at A.C.T. she worked closely with Pinter and Stoppard, and she collaborated with Robert Wilson. Her mastery of the classics, devotion to the Greeks, intimate acquaintance with international theatre artists like Arianne Mnouchkine, Simon McBurney, Peter Brook, Giorgio Strehler, Andrei Serban, Liviu Ciulei and Jerzy Grotowski, and her embrace of the legends and theatrical conventions of Asian theatre art exemplify the range of her aesthetic. And perhaps most thrilling of all is her personal story and its intersection with the harrowing job of rebuilding a ruined theatre and re-imagining a collapsed institution while remaining a devoted wife, mother of two, and citizen of a city and country in the throes of economic and political crisis. Carey Perloff is a lucid and penetrating critic, a passionate and at times hilarious raconteur, an erudite scholar and a warm and generous heart. Her memoir is moving because it is courageous. She tells it like it is and her assessment of the current state of liberal arts and our accelerated and mediated age is a fair warning. She cherishes what the theatre brings and what William Ball envisioned when he created A.C.T., and she aptly quotes Lorca: 'We must always remember . . . that our task is to offer a cup of beauty to the public so that, in drinking, they will understand themselves.'"—Frank Galati, Actor, Writer and Director