Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From Page to Stage: Dickens Takes Orange County By Storm Decade After Decade

The cast of A Christmas Carol including, center, John-David Keller, Hal Landon Jr., Richard Doyle and Karen Hensel.
For 35 years, John-David Keller and Hal Landon Jr. have shared a holiday tradition: directing and starring in South Coast Repertory’s production of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In addition to directing, Keller portrays Mr. Fezziwig. Landon is beloved as the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge. Of course, the tradition began when Jerry Patch adapted the Dickens classic for SCR.

John-David Keller and Karen Hensel as Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig
To this day, Keller prepares in much the same way he has every year:

“I try to read the Dickens novella every year because I ask the children in the cast to read it—that’s always their first assignment,” he relates. “The script is very faithful to the original. I believe that if you compare the Dickens book and the play that Jerry Patch wrote for us, you’ll see how very loyal Jerry was to his source. After all, it’s hard to improve on Charles Dickens!”

Recapturing the spirit of an old-fashioned Christmas was the vision of Patch SCR’s former resident dramaturg, Jerry Patch. In designing his version of A Christmas Carol, Patch concentrated on how the major themes of the story could most effectively be communicated on stage.

“I wanted families to be able to come to the theatre together and share an experience. Everyone from grandparents to grandchildren could be touched by the significant message of this classic story,” Patch says.

The story’s focus on humanity and regeneration continues to move audiences of all ages as they experience Scrooge’s transformation along with the character.

Daniel Blinkoff and Jennifer Parsons as Mr. & Mrs. Cratchit with the Cratchit Children
“This play is a celebration of family, peace and unity,” Patch explains. “It’s not just a British play, nor is it limited in scope to the 19th century. Scrooge’s didactic understanding of generosity, charity and mercy are ideal to be embraced by all people in all times. His story embodies the very tenets of American culture—you can change yourself, you can succeed beyond your means and, after undergoing metaphorical death, you can come back and live a better life. In other words, it’s never too late. This isn’t a complicated message, but it’s an important one nonetheless, and it’s the means by which we hope to touch our audiences.”

Keller believes the production gets an extra special because of all the new faces in the cast each year.

“There are 16 children in the show. Christmas for these lucky youngsters is one they’ll never forget,” Keller says. “I watch their faces. During rehearsal and I can see them grow with every passing day. It’s an intense learning process and they have more fun than anybody.”

Hal Landon Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge with the Shelley family.
Landon has logged more than a thousand performances as Ebenezer Scrooge, but he says he will never be through working on the role.

“I’ve spent considerable time trying to figure out why Scrooge is the way he is and what makes a man shut down like that in terms of relating to the rest of the world. Why is he so obsessed with money?” Landon asks. “I’ve created an entire back story for Scrooge. For example, he’s not just lonely on that Christmas Eve when we see him; he has felt the same loneliness throughout his entire life, which is something I need to understand and respond to.

Landon imagines that Scrooge’s life totally changes after we leave him at the Cratchit home on Christmas Day.

“He has a lot of money, which he starts using for the common good. I like to think that his relationship with the Cratchits and with his nephew, Fred, becomes very close, which brings all of them a lot of joy. Scrooge is a symbol of hope for all of humanity because he proves without a doubt that anybody can change.”

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SCR’s Gala Ball: Wrapping Up and Moving On

It’s a wrap!  On November 4, 2014, South Coast Repertory thanked “Grand Illusions” Chair Olivia Johnson and her committee with a luncheon generously hosted by Scott’s Restaurant and Bar, represented by General Manager Robert Redaelli.

The upbeat event included a special gift bag from Diptyque, represented by Dustin Gordon, who invited everyone to stop by the store—where 10% of their purchases would be donated to SCR.
SCR Artistic Director Marc Masterson and Managing Director Paula Tomei were on hand to welcome committee members.  Praising them for the successful Gala, Masterson said, “Since joining SCR, I’ve learned one thing for sure:  you really know how to throw a party—and to plan it, so I don’t have to do anything but go and have a good time.”

As for the planning, Tomei thanked the Gala Committee and its “dynamo chair,” Olivia Johnson, presenting her with a heart-shaped crystal bowl from Orreffors, filled with an Olivia favorite—Godiva chocolates.

Olivia reminded everyone to get set for the next Gala, coming up on September 12, 2015.  Details to follow!

Addendum:  Among the enthusiastic Gala committee members who shopped at Diptyque after the luncheon were Sarah McElroy, Socorro Vasquez, Barbara Cline, Jane Taylor, Olivia Johnson and Mimi Holcombe.  Their purchases will brighten many homes over the holidays—and add to the SCR coffers!



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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Who Are Those Kids, Anyway?

Back row: London Walston, Bella Browne, Jacqueline Vellandi, Aoife McEvoy, Emily McDaneil, Zoe Hebbard, Maximos Harris and William Lynam.  Front row: Alexis Cueva, Joshua Myran, Ben Susskind, Karoline Ribak, Sophia Utria, Katherine Parrish, Mitchell Huntley and Olivia Drury
South Coast Repertory’s annual production of A Christmas Carol has a cast of 25 actors who play 49 roles. Eight of those actors are kids, who play eleven of the roles. And those eight young actors are, in fact, sixteen!

Confused? In 1980, when SCR produced A Christmas Carol for the first time, no one, including the director—then, as now, John-David Keller—knew that the play would run annually for the next 35 years! But they did know that the kids’ roles should be double-cast, allowing the young actors every other day off to spend with their families during the holiday season.

So the kids were divided into two groups—and named after the Christmasy colors of “red” and “green.” Each team has its own performance days, but during rehearsals both teams are often called, so that one can watch the other onstage. According to Keller, “This is a wonderful way for the young actors to see their characters, played by other actors, and learn from the experience. It’s actually great training.”

But who are these kids and how do they get the enviable roles that range from Tiny Tim and his brothers and sisters (the Cratchits) to Scrooge and Marley as boys, to poor kids on the street, to beautifully costumed singers and dancers in the party scenes? They’re students in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory, 16 very lucky kids, who won their roles through audition after at least a year in the program.

Because so many kids want to be a part of A Christmas Carol (more than 70 audition each season), most of the cast is new each year. This season’s young actors, from 13 cities throughout Southern California, are Alexis Cueva/Katherine Parrish (Martha Cratchit), Joshua Myran/Mitchell Huntley (Peter Cratchit), Emily McDaniel/Zoe Hebbard (Belinda Cratchit), Jacqueline Vellandi/Aoife McEvoy (Tiny Tim), Karoline Ribak/Sophia Utria (Fan/Teen Girl), Olivia Drury/Bella Browne (Girl About Town), Benjamin Susskind/London Walston (Young Ebenezer/Oliver Shelley), William Lynam/Maximos Harris (Turkey Boy).

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Along Came a Spider: The Inspiration for Charlotte’s Web

Zilah Mendoza, Fran De Leon, Larry Bates, Brad Culver, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Lovelle Liquigan
Many people first encounter E.B. White’s classic book Charlotte’s Web as a school reading assignment: a book about a pig and a spider and other creatures and humans. But then, something wonderful happens—the story stays with the reader and becomes part of fond memories of childhood. Or adulthood, as people return to read it again and again. What do you remember most from reading Charlotte’s Web? Tell us!

Why did E.B. White choose to write about a pig? To answer the question that came to him from many readers, White wrote a letter to “kids” everywhere.

E.B. White
Dear Reader:

I receive many letters from children and can’t answer them all—there wouldn’t be time enough in a day. That is why I am sending you this printed reply to your letter. I’ll try to answer some of the questions that are commonly asked.

Where did I get the idea for Stuart Little and for Charlotte’s Web? Well, many years ago I went to bed one night in a railway sleeping car, and during the night I dreamed about a tiny boy who acted rather like a mouse. That’s how the story of Stuart Little got started.

As for Charlotte’s Web, I like animals and my barn is a very pleasant place to be, at all hours. One day when I was on my way to feed the pig, I began feeling sorry for the pig because, like most pigs, he was doomed to die. This made me sad. So I started thinking of ways to save a pig’s life. I had been watching a big grey spider at her work and was impressed by how clever she was at weaving. Gradually I worked the spider into the story that you know, a story of friendship and salvation on a farm. Three years after I started writing it, it was published. (I am not a fast worker, as you can see.)

Sometimes I’m asked how old I was when I started to write, and what made me want to write. I started early—as soon as I could spell. In fact, I can’t remember any time in my life when I wasn’t busy writing. I don’t know what caused me to do it, or why I enjoyed it, but I think children often find pleasure and satisfaction in trying to set their thoughts down on paper, either in words or in pictures. I was no good at drawing, so I used words instead. As I grew older, I found that writing can be a way of earning a living.

Some of my readers want me to visit their school. Some want me to send a picture, or an autograph, or a book. And some ask questions about my family and my animals and my pets. Much as I’d like to, I can’t go visiting. I can’t send books, either—you can find them in a bookstore or a library. Many children assume that a writer owns (or even makes) his own books. This is not true—books are made by the publisher. If a writer wants a copy, he must buy it. That’s why I can’t send books. And I do not send autographs—I leave that to the movie stars. I live most of the year in the country, in New England. From our windows we can look out at the sea and the mountains. I live near my married son and three grandchildren.

Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn’t have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn’t spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn’t blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life—there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too—truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act.

Yours sincerely,



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Conversation Abounds on First Night of "Zealot"

There was a lot to talk about on October 24, after First Night of Zealot, as playgoers gathered for the Cast Party, co-hosted by The Center Club.  The conversation revolved around the main topics of power and gender, as seen through the eyes of playwright Theresa Rebeck in her world premiere set in the turbulent Middle East.

Among those expressing their enthusiasm for the production were Honorary Producers Yvonne and Damien Jordan, who said, "To see Theresa Rebeck's compelling play come to life under the masterful direction of our own, Marc Masterson, with an outstanding cast and an amazing set, we could not be more thrilled with the outcome. Thanks to everyone involved with this production!"

Paul Hodgins, in his OC Register review, concurred.  Among his accolades: “Crackles with a potent mix of humor, raw emotion and conflicting ultimatums. Uncannily timely!”



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