Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Get Into the “Act” This Summer

Could you do it—be an actor? South Coast Repertory gives you the perfect opportunity to find out through summer acting classes for kids, teens and adults.

SCR’s Theatre Conservatory is a great way to learn how acting can help not only creative expression, but build confidence and self-esteem.

“The two-week commitment from kids and teens gives them a chance to see what acting and theatre are all about,” says Hisa Takakuwa, conservatory director. “It’s a great experience for kids who enjoy expressing themselves and for those who may be shy and would like to come out of their shell in an environment that is safe and supportive.”

The Summer Acting Workshops for kids and teens include voice, movement and character development.

Each day includes about two hours of acting work with a “home room” teacher, where  age-specific groups learn together. A guest artist joins the students for a “Putting It Together” workshop that explores the process of creating a theatre production, from the script and casting, through design and rehearsal and finally to the actual production. The emphasis is on how the process works, rather than creating a show.

At the end of the sessions, students share what they’ve learned with an audience made up of their family and friends. It’s a chance to share the learning process with parents and give some insight into how SCR’s Theatre Conservatory works.

Specialty courses for teens include musical theatre and teen improv. Classes for kids and teens start July 13 and July 27.

Kids and teens can also enroll in fall acting classes, building on what they learned during the summer.

In SCR classes for adults, many people take them to become more comfortable and confident in public speaking situations or meetings.

“We have a number of attorneys who take our improv classes because that helps them think on their feet and learn to trust their instincts. 

“I had one student tell me that she wished she had started taking classes as a child because her self confidence in social situations was always low,” recalls Takakuwa. “She felt that just taking the beginning acting class built up her confidence so much.”

Acting classes include fundaments of acting, scene study and improvisation.

Summer session for adults runs June 16-Aug. 4.

Learn more and register.

Matt McGrath: The Actor Behind the Devious Stache

Wyatt Fenner and Matt McGrath in Peter and the Starcatcher.  Photo by Debora Robinson.
Matt McGrath
This will be the fifth time that actor Matt McGrath has been on South Coast Repertory’s stages. He has been chameleon-like in each role he’s taken on. Stealing scenes and leaving audiences laughing until it hurts, McGrath excels in Peter and the Starcatcher as Black Stache, the pirate you can’t help but love.

Between the swashbuckling and shipwrecks, McGrath took time to talk about his first trip in Neverland, his approach as an actor and how this show affected him.

What first drew you to performing?
My local piano teacher happened to be the Mistress of the Children’s Chorus at the Metropolitan Opera and the David H. Koch Theater. After stepping on stage in front of 4,500 people to perform, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What was one of your earliest experiences performing a Peter Pan story?
I was cast in the role of Slightly Soiled in the Broadway production of Peter Pan, with Sandy Duncan. I took over for the actor Chris Farr. The original Lost Boys had outgrown the pirates and the Indians, so we were the second string of young actors. Then, I graduated to the role of John Darling for the national tour and went around the country for two years in the early ‘80s.

Matt McGrath and Kasey Mahaffy. Photo by Debora Robinson.
So you’ve come full circle playing Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher at SCR. Does Peter Pan hold a special place in your heart?
It really is a story that resonates with so many people because it’s about the psyche. Playwright Rick Elice has brought a novel to the stage for the child in all of our hearts, so that we can fly again. This is so tangible when you play this piece in front of a live audience. A prequel to Peter Pan? It’s as if Captain Hook were to post a "Throwback Thursday" on Facebook! And honestly, who can’t relate to the boy who doesn't care to grow up?

You’ve tackled a variety of roles from Hedwig (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) to the Emcee (Cabaret) to Lonny (Boys Don’t Cry). How do you approach each character?  
Gosh, I’ve done some intense projects, huh? I try to bring as much of myself to every role, of course. Stick to what you know, as the saying goes. Some portrayals are more successful than others and this is why a casting director is so important. Fortunately, SCR has one of the best—Joanne DeNaut. And in my role as Black Stache, I’m helping director Art Manke tell this story the way he envisions it.

What do you love most about playing Black Stache?
Truly, it is being with this group of actors. Art Manke has brought us together in such a way that has really astonished me. I'm always game to try new things: approaches to text, exercises in the rehearsal space, and the like, but I’ve never really been a "joiner" per se. This process for this play has changed that in me; I would follow these people anywhere. That may scare some of them when they read this!

Why do you think this show resonates so well with children and adults alike?
Well, it plays with our darkest fears, doesn’t it? Like Oliver Twist, it starts with the idea of not having parents and, therefore, not having a home. Although, this version doesn't have Peter Pan literally wrestling with his shadow in the Darling family’s nursery, he deals with a wrestles with the shadow that is Black Stache. He offers the idea of being constantly at sea with a ticking clock nipping at one’s heels. So, what does "Pan" mean and what is he supposed to be other than fun and frolic? Like reading in general, it teaches us about empathy and the importance of helping others. Even though no one has ever helped Peter, he learns to help someone else—Molly—and look at what they accomplish against all odds.

Learn more about the show and buy tickets

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First Nighters Sail Away With "Peter and the Starcatcher"

On Friday, May 15, First Nighters and their guests went on an imaginary voyage. Joining a boy named Boy, they sailed the Seven Seas along with crafty villains, dancing mermaids, fighting prawns and … well, you name it.  The occasion was First Night of Peter and the Starcatcher, the final play of SCR’s 2014-15 Season, and what a night it was!

As Boy flew away (to began life anew as Peter Pan) the audience stood and cheered, the rain stopped and the party began—a tribute to the director, designers, actors and musicians who brought the fantastical play to life.

Ela’s Terrace gleamed with sky blue lights and shimmering sea blue linens amidst a nautical scene. The more adventurous were sighted wearing stick-on “staches” and sipping “Set Sail,” the evening’s signature cocktail (vodka, with cranberry and orange juices). 

Everyone enjoyed sampling fare from Sally Ann Catering and went back for seconds to the cart hosted by Mangiamo Gelato Café.

But the conversation was all about Peter and the Starcatcher, made possible in part by a large and enthusiastic support group that included four individual honorary producers, two associate corporate producers and a media partner.

And what did they have to say about the show?
  • Wylie Aitken, Honorary Producer with his wife, Bette: “Mesmerizing! Wonderful! Incredible directing and an extremely talented cast, working with a brilliant script. The whole package!”
  • Alan Slutzky, Honorary Producer with his wife, Olivia: “The story is fantastic; fast and funny. The cast looked like they were genuinely having fun up there. Also loved how imaginative the production was; it really allowed the crowd to go along for the ride. Can't wait to bring the kids!”
  • Rick Smetanka, representing Corporate Associate Producer Haskell & White LLP: “This was a great way to end a great season. I thought the script was very clever, and I loved how the production left so much to our own imaginations.”
  • Joan Kaloustian, representing Corporate Associate Producer MUFG Union Bank: “… A charming and beautifully produced night at the theatre.”
  • Mary Marcus, representing Media Partner KPCC:  “Superfun.”

Critics agree! LA Splash magazine called the production “Brilliant!” Read the full review.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

From Mermaids to Pirates: Costuming "Peter and the Starcatcher"

The cast of Peter and the Starcatcher in costumes by Angela Balogh Calin.
Smee costume rendering by Angela Balogh Calin.
She’s often found in the Costume Shop at South Coast Repertory—checking in and working on costumes for an upcoming show. Costume designer Angela Balogh Calin has worked on nearly 50 productions at SCR through the years—including set and costume design—and has earned accolades and honors for her work here and elsewhere.

To wrap up SCR’s 2014-15 season, Calin has designed the costumes for the Segerstrom Stage production of Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice (through June 7). It is a production that, according to director Art Manke, invites the audience to use its imagination. In designing the costumes—that are changed at lightning speed—Calin’s work ranges from street clothes to whimsical designs. We caught up with her just as the production moved from the rehearsal hall to the stage.

Do you remember the first play that you saw? Why did it have such a lasting impression?
When I was very little, my parents used to take me to the Children’s Theatre in Bucharest on a regular basis. Later on, as a teenager—I was 12 or 13 years old—I remember two productions that had a lasting impression: Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill and Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot. Both of them taught me about the emotional impact that theatre can have on people

O’Neill’s play saddened me deeply. I was too young to understand in-depth the family conflict, but I could sense the anxiety, tension and desperation. Diderot’s play made me realize that two exceptional actors on a minimalist set can create magic with words and gestures. I learned then how a mirror and a shear can create an environment for events to unfold. And how sometimes less is more.

Mollusk costume rendering by Angela Balogh Calin.
Who has been a mentor in your career? 

My first mentors were my parents: my mom, Angela, is a graphic artist, and my father, Peter, is a sculptor. They inspired me to follow my dreams and my path, and never to wander too far from the artistic milieu I grew up in.

What originally attracted you to become a costume design?
I studied graphic art at the Fine Arts High school in Bucharest, Romania, and then decided to continue my higher education at the university in theatre design. I knew from an early age that my life will be spent in the theatre. I can’t think of a more magical, creative, exciting environment to work in.

Why is SCR such a special place for you?
Because it has been very good to me! I consider myself very lucky to have been part of this prestigious theatre for so long. I have felt valued and welcomed and I was given so many opportunities to collaborate with unique, talented, artists on a variety of productions over the years.

How did you approach the designs for Peter and the Starcatcher?
I’m trying to tell the story by introducing the actors in street clothes with a hint of the Victorian era and then gradually bringing in the whimsical world of mollusks, mermaids and pirates. One of my favorite times is the research phase of the design. For this project, I drew inspiration from a variety of sources—from street wear to the Victorian fashion, from nature photography to tribal art.

My job as a costume designer is to turn the story from the written word into 3D images on stage and to help actors define their characters.

Mermaid costume rendering by Angela Balogh Calin.
And how do they support other design elements in the production?
At times, the costumes and the other design elements work in perfect unison and harmony; and at other times, the costume designs support other design elements with contrasting and juxtaposing styles. Ultimately, the approach is the decision of our director, Art Manke.

How many costumes/costume pieces are you designing?
This show has about 80 partial and full costumes.

What’s been the most challenging part of the costume designs for this production?
The most challenging aspect is making sure the actors are able to make the quick changes required by the show and to keep them safe.

What’s been the most fun?
Designing the mermaids, mollusks and pirate costumes!

What kind of materials did you use?

We have used textiles and fabric, foam, plastic flowers and plants, yarn, raffia, fur, leather, feathers, beads, wire and paint. We’ve probably used many hundreds of yards of fabric in creating these costumes.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your costume work or the play itself?
Yes, it’s been a wonderful ride and I’m looking forward to opening night.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Video Game is Setting For Rebooted Story of Oz

by John Glore

Munchkin costume rendering by designer
Sara Ryung Clement.
Fourteen-year-old Dee lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry on a farm in Kansas, until a tornado comes along to disrupt her ordinary life and transport her to a fantastic world.  You probably recognize that set-up—but what happens to Dee in Catherine Trieschmann’s OZ 2.5 is likely to seem both strangely familiar and familiarly strange to those who know its source, L. Frank Baum’s beloved book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

First of all, unlike the original Dorothy, Trieschmann’s Dee is a 21st-century girl, who finds life in rural Kansas all too unexciting.  She craves adventure and some real “life-and-death fun,” and since she can’t find it on the farm, she seeks it in her favorite video game, OZ 2.0.  Much to her Aunt Em’s consternation, Dee is forever glued to her tablet computer, playing her game and chatting with her on-line pal, TOTO_BALLERSHOTCALLER14. 

Lion costume rendering by designer
Sara Ryung Clement.
When that fateful tornado hits, rather than retreating to safety in the storm cellar, Dee stays outside to retrieve her tablet, which cost her two years’ worth of baby-sitting money.  The tornado descends on her and knocks her out, and when she wakes up, she finds herself inside her computer game.

With some help from a couple of munchkins—one friendly, the other not so much—she starts her journey on the yellow-brick road, thrilled to be finally having the adventure she’s been looking for.  Just as in Baum’s original story, Dee meets Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, and eventually has to defeat the Witch of the Western Realm—but every time she makes a mistake, she loses a life and the game resets to an earlier level. 

That would be fine if she were still playing the game on her tablet.  But Dee begins to wonder what will happen to her if she loses her last life while inside the game.  Is she trapped in a real life-and-death struggle?  If the witch destroys her … will she wake up back home in Kansas or will she meet a far unhappier and more permanent fate?

The challenges Dee faces become even more daunting when OZ 2.0 spontaneously updates to OZ 2.5 in the middle of her adventure—and the new, improved version proves to have a few nasty bugs.  As she finds herself doubting her ability to succeed—even with the help of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion —Dee begins to appreciate more and more the comforts of the home and family she left behind.

Playwright IS in Kansas: Catherine Trieschmann's Hometown Inspires Oz Reboot

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann.
Playwright Catherine Trieschmann has something in common with the protagonist of her play.  Eight years ago, her husband’s new job required that she relocate to a small town in Kansas—which felt like the middle of nowhere to her.  When SCR commissioned her to write a new play for the Theatre for Young Audiences series, she reread L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the author’s description of Kansas struck a chord for her:  “When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side.  Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it.  Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere.”

While Dorothy’s tedium is relieved by a visit to the fantasy land of Oz —and Dee’s to its video-game equivalent—Catherine has found escape whenever her playwriting endeavors have taken her away from Kansas.  (This has happened with some frequency, since her many plays have been produced by some of the finest theatres in the nation and even in London, England.) But again like Dorothy, she’s always glad to get home again:  “I go away to somewhere bright and beautiful and perhaps a bit dangerous to make a play and then am happy as a pea in a pod to return to my ho-hum life in Kansas when it's all over.”

But unlike her character, Dee, Catherine has never been much interested in video games, so when she conceived her “reboot” of the Oz story for a technology-obsessed generation, she had to consult with her teenage nephew to get some insights into how such games work.

Why change the story in the first place?  “Adaptations don't work when they merely mimic the original,” she says. “You have to re-create the world, so it’s original and arresting, even to people already familiar with the story. You have to put your own spin on the characters and write new dialogue particular to those voices.  I doubt I used even three lines of dialogue from the book.”

OZ 2.5, which is having its world premiere at SCR, retains all the virtues of the story on which it is based—great characters, adventure, fantasy, humor, surprises—with a fresh approach that will speak directly to any 21st-century child (or adult) who has trouble unplugging from time to time.

The play also offers an important message, which the playwright sums up this way:  “I hope audiences remember that the best part of being alive takes place in communion with other human beings, not in front of a screen.”

Learn more and buy tickets.