Anthony Silk has a diverse résumé: the Philadelphia native has a master's degree in aerospace engineering from Purdue, and is a retired Navy commander, having served in the Persian Gulf after the first Gulf War. Silk teaches math at The Harker School, where he is also the Upper School Mathematics Department Chair.
He has previously worked as a software developer and project manager, Southwest Airlines ground agent, sales associate for Williams-Sonoma and social host for Carnival Cruise Lines. And he wrote for The Almanac's sister publication for a time, serving as the Palo Alto Weekly's food writer around 2002-2003. Now, in a way, he can add "friend of one of the world's most famous playwrights" to the list.
Silk is playing John Heminges, one of William Shakespeare's friends and fellow actors, in Lauren Gunderson's comedy "The Book of Will," presented by Foothill Theatre Arts. The play runs through Nov. 21 in person at Foothill College's Lohman Theatre.
The role reflects another facet of Silk's wide-ranging interests: a lifelong love of theater. "I have always been an actor for fun. I've done stuff since elementary school. I acted in junior high, in high school and in college. And even when I was in the Navy, when I was overseas, I would find productions that I could do," Silk said. "Always community theater — I never wanted to be professional. I just enjoy it. I enjoy the whole process of it."
His work on the stage and his profession complement each other. Silk said that in rehearsals, the process of refining an effort and trying again when something doesn't work brings him useful insight as a teacher into what students go through learning something new. And he said, the experience also helps him better connect with students.
"The Book of Will" knows something about revising as well. The play tells of the creation of an anthology of Shakespeare's work, now known as the First Folio, by the members of the King's Men, the theater troupe with which Shakespeare worked. After the playwright's death, the actors collect and publish his plays, which were at risk of being corrupted or lost.
"Just the idea that those plays almost were lost to time was eye-opening," Silk said.
Though "The Book of Will" is inspired by real circumstances, Gunderson takes some artistic license. But even the fictionalized characterization of Heminges is one of a man with a solid grounding in reality.
"He is most concerned about the happiness of his wife and children, but when it comes to the theater, he is focused on making sure that we have a good production. So he wants to make sure that the theater runs, that people are employed, people are going to see the shows.
He's the manager and he takes that very seriously," Silk said.
There's a lot of give and take between Heminges and fellow troupe member Henry Condell (Michael Rhone), who's pushing hardest to complete the folio.
"Henry's passionate about this and he's thinking as an actor and as just a theater person. So it's an interesting contrast."
Silk said that he can relate to Heminges' position in his real-life role as a department chair who has to mind the finances.
But he also clearly understands Condell's passion. "The Book of Will" not only celebrates the art that a group of dedicated actors saved 400 years ago, but also highlights the joy of what audiences are rediscovering now, as in-person performances are returning, he said.
"I think that theater is precious, especially now, today, where we lost live theater for 18 months.
Zoom theater was a nice substitute but not quite the same. And I hope people walk away thinking not just about how much goes into theater, but how much we as an audience get out of theater — how much it affects us, how much it can inspire us, or delight us or make us rethink things," Silk said.
Foothill Theatre Arts presents "The Book of Will" through Nov. 21 in person at the Lohman Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. Tickets are $15-$25. For more information, visit foothill.edu.
Over the first weekend in November, Foothill Theatre Arts and Palo Alto Players each opened a play by Lauren Gunderson. What are the chances that two local companies, on the same weekend, would open different plays by the same Bay Area-based playwright? As the production notes from both companies point out, Gunderson is at the moment the most produced living playwright in the U.S., so actually the odds are probably pretty good. But even though companies' seasons tend to be planned well in advance, Gunderson's works speak to the current moment: Both shows highlight the power of storytelling, the importance of bearing witness and celebrate our need for art, which has come into especially sharp relief in recent times when it hasn't been possible to visit theaters in person.