Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bringing the Spirits of Christmas to Life

James MacEwan, Richard Doyle, Hal Landon Jr., Gregg Daniel and Timothy Landfield in the 2013 production of A Christmas Carol.
Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four spirits who aim to change his ways and save him from a lonely, haunted end. Each spirit enlightens Scrooge about what he needs most—from humanity to love to a warning of what could be.

Gregg Daniel as Jacob Marley's Ghost.
The Ghost of Jacob Marley

“Mankind was my business!  The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, patience, kindness were all my business!  And now, I cannot rest.”
  • Jacob Marley is the first spirit to visit Scrooge and warn him of his impending visits from the spirits of Past, Present and Yet-to-Come. He is punished to wander the Earth in chains for living a life full of avarice and uncaring attitude towards others. He warns Scrooge not only of what is to come but what he could become if he continues on his current path. Despite being the only spirit who personally knows Scrooge and the only friend he ever had, Marley is direct and as A Christmas Carol director John-David Keller puts it, “The least friendly.”
  • Jacob Marley’s chains represent the selfishness he exhibited in life. He unwittingly forged it through his many careless acts, "I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol) Jacob Marley died seven years before the events of A Christmas Carol.
  • Many adaptations have stayed true to the Dickens descritions. Although, in A Muppet Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley is split into two characters, Jacob and Robert, played by the heckling duo Statler and Waldof.

Hal Landon Jr. as Ebeneezer Scrooge and Richard Doyle as The Spirit of Christmas Past
Spirit of Christmas Past

“These are but shadows of the things that have been. They have no consciousness of us.”

The Spirit of Christmas Past is Scrooge’s second visitor that Keller believes, “Is there to reawaken Scrooge’s humanity.” This shows Scrooge who he once was and the moments that have led him to be the curmudgeon he is. In the original novel, the spirit is described as a childlike figure with an illuminated head—similar to a candle—that is ever changing in number of arms and legs. The light it omits is often thought to represent the illumination of the mind the spirit presents to Scrooge.
  • Due to the unique description of this spirit, many adaptations have interpreted the look and characterization of the spirit differently.
  • In SCR’s production, the wand the spirit carries acts as a representation of the illuminating light that Dickens describes in his novel. His costume is also from an earlier time period.
  • The Spirit of Christmas Past has been interpreted as elderly men, angelic women, children and even as a cab driver in the movie adaptation Scrooged.
  • In a 2009 movie of A Christmas Carol the Spirit of Christmas Past receives an adaptation faithful to its Dickens description.

Timothy Landfield as The Spirit of Christmas Present and Landon as Scrooge
Spirit of Christmas Present

“They know me wherever they hum a Christmas tune, or have a Christmas thought, or remember some bygone Christmas Day and the hopes that went with it.”

Jolly, giant and only able to exist for a single year’s Christmas, the Spirit of Christmas Present offers Scrooge the idea of empathy and community. “He shows Scrooge what he is missing. The other aspect of life he needs,” Keller says. The spirit guides Scrooge to both moments of joy and festivity as well as moments of hardship. At the end of their journey he presents two children to Scrooge, Ignorance and Want. He warns him to beware of them and at the stroke of midnight fades away.
  • The Ghost of Christmas present represents many of the Christmas ideals including generosity, empathy and celebration.
  • He is typically first seen on a throne of a large feast in Scrooge’s home to further illustrate the idea of sharing one’s riches with the community.
  • In Dickens’ novel he is able to freely change size and towers over Scrooge when they meet.

James MacEwan as The Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come and Landon and Scrooge.
Spirit of Christmas Yet-To-Come

“Spirit, I know that I, like all men, must die—but not having lived as I have! Not alone, unmourned, so poor in heart.”

A silent specter that leads Scrooge on his final journey through a Christmas that could occur if he continues on his path. A cold spirit who is reminiscent of the grim reaper, that offers Scrooge two forms of grief and as Keller puts it, “Who forces him to figure it out on his own.” The final moment with the spirit thrusts an awakening upon Scrooge and reinforces the idea that he shouldn’t waste time.
  • The Spirit does not utter one line and simply points Scrooge towards his answers. J.D. believes, “He says nothing but at the same time says the most.”
  • In the novel, Dickens does not refer to this character as a spirit or ghost like the previous two. He simply refers to it as a “phantom.”
  • Scrooge is quick to dismiss the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present initially. When the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come arrives, he is quick to seek its message and even begs mercy from it at the end of their journey.
  • His interaction with the final spirit shows how much Scrooge has learned from his vistors.
Act now and get your tickets to A Christmas Carol before the spirits visit you!

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Dynamic Cast Breathes Life into "The Whipping Man"

THE CAST:  Jarrod M. Smith, Charlie Robinson and Adam Haas Hunter.
Award-winning veteran performers and a new talent making his professional stage debut form the cast for The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez. Stage, screen and television actor Charlie Robinson last appeared at SCR as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He has received accolades and awards, including the NAACP’s Theatre Image Award for Best Actor in a Play for The Old Globe’s production of The Whipping Man. Adam Haas Hunter is making his SCR debut. He has earned or been nominated for numerous awards, including Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Ovation awards and has done extensive theatre work regionally. Jarrod M. Smith is making his professional debut, having fallen in love with acting while he pursued a history degree in college. But there’s more to each of these actors; read on to learn more about them.

Adam Haas Hunter (Caleb) is making his SCR debut. He is the co-founder of Poor Dog Group, an L.A.-based arts collective. He theatre credits include The Importance of Being Earnest and Cymbeline at A Noise Within; Prometheus Bound at the Getty Villa; The Nether at Kirk Douglas Theatre; The Government Inspector and Dark Play or Stories for Boys at The Theater @ Boston Court; The Walworth Farce at Theatre Banshee; Medea at UCLA Live; and Romeo i Julia 1968 with Ulysses Theatre in Croatia, to name a few. His appearances with Poor Dog Group include Brewsie and Willie (part of RADAR LA), The Internationalists and The Midnight Sun. Hunter has won or been nominated for Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly and Garland awards. He is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts.

Charlie Robinson (Simon) is becoming a well-known face on SCR stages. His work at SCR includes The Piano Lesson; My Wandering Boy; Fences, which earned him a 2006 Ovation Award for his portrayal of Troy; and Jitney, which earned him a Los Angeles Drama Critics award nomination for his portrayal of Becker. He is the proud recipient of the NAACP’s Theatre Image Award for Best Actor in a Play for The Old Globe’s production of The Whipping Man. Another theatre home has been Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He is best known for his television credits, as a series regular in “Night Court,” “Buffalo Bill,” “Love & War” and “Buddy Faro.” He has had recurring television roles in “Home Improvement,” “The Secret Life of an American Teenager,” and “Hart of Dixie.” His guest roles include “House,” “Big Love” and “Cold Case.” He is the CAMIE Award-winner for the made-for-television movies Miss Lettie and Me and Secret Santa. His feature film credits include Apocalypse Now, The River, Gray Lady Down, Beowulf, Set It Off, Antwone Fisher, Even Money, Jackson, Steam, Natural Disasters, Sweet Kandy and House Bunny.

Jarrod Smith (John) is making his South Coast Repertory and professional debut. He is an actor from LaPlace, La., a suburb right outside of New Orleans. Smith attended and graduated from Southern University of Baton Rouge with a bachelor of arts in history in 2011. In 2008, while at Southern, he took an interest in acting, and was immediately bitten by the acting bug. His interest and talents soon led him to the training grounds of the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he worked towards a master of fine arts. Smith now resides in Los Angeles.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Frontline Faces of South Coast Repertory

Volunteer ushers working at SCR's concession stand.
They’re the ones who scan your ticket as you enter the lobby. They help you find your seat. They sell you that cookie that you eyed. South Coast Repertory’s team of ushers is dedicated to making your experience as comfortable as possible. By day, they are doctors, teachers, ministers and retirees; by night, they’re dedicated volunteers. For SCR playgoers, they’re the familiar faces that have become part of a great night out at the theatre.

Why do they take on this role? Because they find a personal satisfaction in helping patrons. That’s what keeps them coming back to volunteer—some of them for nearly 20 years. A true love and appreciation for theatre—and SCR’s work in particular—adds to the satisfaction. Remember, ushers get to see the show for free!

For many of them, ushering began on a whim. “A veteran usher I met recommended I sign up, and I found the SCR team to be warm and accommodating,” says current usher John Nguyen. What starts off as quick conversation soon becomes an experience that flourishes through a love of theatre. Ushers begin to meet patrons who share the same appreciation for theatre and over time they begin to learn more about the patrons personally, which can quickly build connections that form a sense of community. Husband-and-wife ushers of 19 years, Stephen and Nanci Schrieber-Smith, see their roles in a specific way.

“We like to think that ushers are the ambassadors for SCR and that it can even be interesting for the patrons to meet us,” says Stephen. “We would encourage other people to stretch their horizons from ‘just their job’ lives and become ushers to see great plays and meet great patrons.” It fuels their work and brings both the ushers and patrons together. It’s an energy that can be electrifying.

Duane Legg has been ushering for nearly a year and can feel how this energy binds the team together, “There is an excitement that permeates the theatre as we prepare the programs, lobby and the house for patrons. When our team of ushers works together to help make a memorable and professional experience for the audience, we take satisfaction in knowing that we had a small part in making magic happen.”

That’s all they need. Meeting other theatre lovers, talking about each production and experiencing the unique response each audience member brings to every performance. That excitement and magic can be found in moments such as watching children experience a live performance for the first time through the Theatre for Young Audiences series or catching up with the regulars at SCR. Ushers discover that they become an important element in the productions at SCR.

John Nguyen, who began ushering on a whim, sums up his volunteer work as an experience that continually gives back. “Being an usher at SCR is one of the few great volunteer opportunities where you actually get something back the moment you show up to volunteer. And SCR is a wonderful place to meet new like-minded people. Whether you love theatre or simply like it, as an SCR volunteer usher, you are bound to learn more about the inner workings of this grand tradition.”

Interested in ushering? Go online to our website or email usher@scr.org to get details and volunteer your time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Go Behind the Scenes with Our Young Actors

Young actors from A Christmas Carol: (top row) Blogger Sophia Utria, Joshua Myran, Maximos Harris, Bloggers Zoe Hebbard and  Emily McDaniel, Mitchell Huntley, Blogger Benjamin Susskind, London Walston.
(middle row) Alexis Cueva, Bloggers Olivia Drury and William Lynam.
(bottom row) Bloggers Karoline Ribak, Katherine Parrish, Jacqueline Vellandi, Aoife McEvoy and Bella Browne.
Meet Our Bloggers

Olivia Drury (Young Girl About Town), age 13. Olivia has been studying acting at SCR for two years and started performing in plays at age five. She played Troy in High School Musical and Burt in Mary Poppins. “I was a huge tomboy.”

Will Lynam (Turkey Boy), age 11. Will has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: “I am very good with technology and I can fix most computer problems."

Emily McDaniel (Belinda Cratchit), age 11. Emily has been studying acting at SCR for three years. She has two pet bunnies named Toki and Sugar. “I am bananas about bunnies!!”

Aoife McEvoy (Tiny Tim), age 10. Aoife has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: “I’m named after an evil queen who turns children into swans in Irish mythology.”

Zoe Hebbard (Belinda Cratchit), age 11. Fun fact: Zoe is a competitive ballroom dancer.

Katherine Parrish (Martha Cratchit), age 16. She’s been studying acting at SCR for four years and is an avid Broadway musical theatre fan.

Karoline Ribak (Fan), age 17. She has been studying at SCR for nine years and previously played Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol back in 2007.

Sophia Utria (Fan), age 16. She has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: she has a twin sister. “We can sometimes read each others' mind.”

Jacqueline Vellandi (Tiny Tim), age 10. She started in SCR’s Youth Conservatory when she was eight and just finishing third grade. She loves SCR and can’t wait to be a Junior and Teen Player. She likes to write scripts, hold auditions and then run rehearsals and perform shows with her Barbies and Legos.

Every holiday season in SCR's A Christmas Carol, the young characters—from Tiny Tim to the Cratchits—are portrayed by students from SCR's Young Conservatory program. These young actors audition for the chance to be cast in the show, perform with professional actors and in front of thousands of audience members. For many of them, A Christmas Carol will be a new experience and they'll be sharing the experience with us throughout this 35th anniversary season for the show,

What are you most looking forward to from this experience?
Jacqueline: I can’t wait to perform with the whole cast!
Emily: Learning how to act in front of a large audience and also wearing all of the beautiful costumes and making quick changes like a professional actor!
Aoife: I can’t wait to have my friends and family watch the play. I've told them all about it.
Katherine: I'm excited to be experiencing the process of a professional production, including the rehearsals, the actors and the long run of the show. I've never done a show that runs for as long as A Christmas Carol, so it will be fun to learn what that is like and how it affects my performance.

What did you work on in rehearsals? Karoline: We worked on building character relationships and understanding the profundity of our interactions.
Jacqueline: How to commit to our characters. I want you to believe I’m Tiny Tim and not Jacki.
Emily: We worked on all of the party scenes and the dancing.
Olivia: We also learned all the songs that will be in the show.
Sophia: I think my favorite rehearsal moment so far has been "Wassail" from at the top of the show. The whole cast's shout of the final 'wassail!' at the end of the song, it just was a really cool moment.

What has it been like balancing school and rehearsals simultaneously?
Karoline: The rehearsal process forces you to re-shape your schedule and find an effective balance between theatrical and academic obligations. Overall, the adjustment definitely strengthened my sense of time management!
Zoe: It's been hard. I have been trying to hustle through all of my work during the day before rehearsal.
Katherine: Rehearsal doesn't leave a lot of time for me to study for tests and do my homework, but I'm getting it all done even if it does mean some late nights.
Will: The only difficult thing about balancing school and rehearsal is that I have very little free time, but this experience is well worth it.

What is one important thing you've learned so far?
Karoline: With such an extravagant piece, it is imperative that we constantly take risks and make bold choices as actors. Our general rule of thumb is to be flexible and make larger choices with each rehearsal—it is a goal to be asked to "tone down" a choice.
Sophia: That it is okay to make mistakes. No one is going to yell at you, the scene just picks up right up again and it gets better.
Olivia: How to listen and learn. While other people are rehearsing, you have to listen to the notes that they receive, so you can improve your own performance.
Will: How all of the small parts can come together to make a bigger picture.
Emily: I have learned that sometimes you need to make your own decisions and not wait for an adult to give you some advice.
Aoife: In between the lines you say, you still have to listen and react in whatever scene you’re in, so people don’t stop believing the story.
Jacqueline: In acting classes, you hear a lot about making strong choices. Now with the director, John-David, I really understand what that means—and how to make strong choices.
Katherine: My self-confidence has grown because of my experience thus far in A Christmas Carol. Just getting into the show really boosted my confidence, but also working with the adult actors and being a part of this amazing production have helped a lot.
Zoe: I have learned that I have to stay in character even when I am not speaking.

Here's more from our bloggers:

Watch Sophia Utria's personal video blog from rehearsal.

Check out photos from our bloggers Jacqueline Vellandi and Emily McDaniel.

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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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