By Jonathan Farrell
Sunset District resident Ella Ruth Francis is part of the Utopia Theatre Project. Last month, she acted in an all-original play called “Seeds,” which made its debut in San Francisco on March 9. Currently, she is playing Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” at the SF Shakespeare Festival.
A native of the City, Francis is a graduate of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. Her love of theater has been a part of her life for as far back as she can remember.
After high school, Francis attended classes and was part of a company performing at San Francisco’s prestigious American Conservatory Theater (ACT); and she continues to grow in the dramatic and performing arts. She recently completed an intense acting training program at the Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCT) on the central coast of California in Santa Maria, California.
Not afraid to break new ground, Francis is accustomed to new and complex material. Her time at ACT and PCT taught her well. For its 54th season, PCT is performing Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
Francis has gotten a wide diversity of acting roles thus far during her career.
In “Seeds,” which was performed at PianoFight, a cabaret stage and night club in downtown San Francisco, Francis portrayed Carolyn, one of the four women and five men leads in the play.
Complex characters are a challenge, she said. The characters in “Seeds” are conflicted as to whether or not they should repress their disturbing memories of the past in order to move on with their lives. But, they find that even the deepest buried secrets have the capacity to sprout and come to light. The ensemble-driven play weaves in and out of time to unearth the painful truth at the center of each character.
“Seeds” is set during World War II. It is a saga that follows a group of allied soldiers who become bound by a terrible secret. The nine main actors in the Utopia Theatre Project’s production are all struggling to make sense of their war-time experiences.
The play’s author and director, Anne Yumi Kobori, established the Utopia Theatre Project in 2014 because she believes in artist-produced live theatre as a unique and powerful form of human connection.
This past year, Kobori adapted Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” for the theater’s inaugural experiential production. Kobori also wrote “Seeds.”
“My artistic impulse with ‘Seeds’ was to write into the paths ordinary people take to rebuild their lives after cataclysmic acts of violence – both global and personal. I hope to create a dialogue about the possibilities of forgiveness for the perpetrators of violence as well as the victims,” Kobori said.
Even though the story is set at a time more than 70 years ago, its themes and complexity are applicable today, especially with the United State’s involvement in the Middle East and the ongoing “war on terrorism,” including in Afghanistan.
“Seeds” takes a compassionate and sometimes humorous view of not only the soldiers who are impacted by war, but also the women who are their family, lovers and collateral casualties.
In the exploration of the impact of war on human relationships, “Seeds” joins the current movement to listen to believe in and take stock of women’s stories and unique perspectives.
Kobori said she was happy that Francis was a part of such a unique and original production. Sunset actor Francis hopes her friends and neighbors will continue to support her on future theatrical and cathartic journeys.
She is, no doubt, eager for the next production.