Friday, August 27, 2010

A View of Things to Come …

Larry and Sophie Cripe, Mary Ann Brown and Rick Reiff

South Coast Repertory’s annual Gala Ball, “The Play’s the Thing,” is set for September 11, but the celebration began nearly a month earlier, on August 18, when SCR Trustee Mary Ann Brown and her husband Rick Reiff hosted the annual Patron Party to honor Gala donors.

The elegant event was held at their Laguna Beach home, its tropical feeling enhanced by orchids placed throughout the house and on the balcony, where guests gathered to enjoy the panoramic ocean view.  As dusk fell, Board President Tom Phelps, Gala Chair Sophie Cripe and Producing Artistic Director David Emmes thanked the hosts and talked about another party coming up—with another stunning ocean view.  The SCR Gala Ball will be held at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, beginning with a terrace reception.

Read all about the Patron Party, check out photos of the fun-loving crowd (and find out more about the upcoming Gala) here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Write to the Top!

Recently, we told you about some of the achievements of our current and former Adult Conservatory acting students. This time we decided to track down some of our playwriting students to find out where their scribbles have led them.

It turns out that playwriting instructor Cecilia Fanon’s students are enjoying success all over the country, winning awards and earning staged readings and full productions of their work. In fact, it’s hard to find a successful playwright in Orange County who hasn’t taken a class with Cecilia at some point. Her students’ work has been seen in cities as nearby as Orange and Fullerton and as far away as Oregon, Ohio and New York.

Tom Swimm (2010) — Full length play production of The Hanging Of Mary Surratt at the Mysterium Theater in Orange. Also produced at The Chance Theater. Nominated for Best New Play by OC Weekly. Recently won the Morton Sarrett National Playwriting award for Bed, a full-length comedy that was produced at the Nevada Conservatory Theater in Las Vegas. Winner of The Fritz Blitz for Humphrey, Nevada, a one-act comedy produced at San Diego Repertory (2008).

Dale Andersen (2005, 2006, 2008) — One-act A Dog's Tale got honorable mention in the 2009 Lourdes College One-Act Competition and a staged reading in August 2010 at the Mountain Stage Company's Evening of Short Plays. One-act Missing was runner-up in Theatre In the Raw's 2009 Biennial Playwrighting Contest. One-Act Dead Angel was produced in Write-Act Repertory's 2009 Freeway Series Original One-Acts. Monologue Starman produced in ASOC Theatre’s 2010 New Works Festival. Full-Length Mohammed's Moon staged reading in Theatre O's 2010 Festival of New Plays. (You can read more about it in a June 2010 newspaper article here: In October, The Three Roses Players in Glendale will do staged readings of his award-winning one-act, A Team Player.

CJ Ver Burg (2003-2010) — is one of the Conservatory program’s few writers of musicals. His Shoe was produced by Cypress Civic Theatre and is currently in rewrites (again!) at the Academy for New Musical Theatre in North Hollywood, where CJ has been a member since 2005.

Sue Parman (SCR 2000-2008) — Sue's short play The Red Tide was performed at STAGEStheatre, Fullerton, (2002). A full-length play, North of 63 Degrees, was given a staged reading at Newport Theatre Arts Center as part of its Discoveries program (2008). Her full-length play The House of Ravens had a staged reading at Gallimaufry Performing Arts New Play Festival in Laguna Beach (2008). Her monologue The Rose by Another Name was read at Theatre In The Grove in Forest Grove, Oregon (2010). Her ten-minute play Queen Victoria's Secret will be staged as part of Portland's Fertile Ground playwriting festival (2011). 

Johnna Adams (2002) — is currently pursing an MFA in Playwriting at Hunter College in Manhattan, studying with Tina Howe. Her play Hripsime is a finalist for the 2010 William Saroyan Prize, presented by the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance. Her play Lickspittles, Buttonholers, and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens was given a reading by Flux Theatre Ensemble (New York, NY) this spring. Flux also produced Johnna’s trilogy of full-length plays, The Angel Eaters Trilogy, in November of 2008.

Bianca Bagatourian (1998, 2001) — is president and co-founder of the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA). She completed the MFA playwriting program with lifetime Obie award-winning playwright Mac Wellman at Brooklyn College. Remnants of a Liquid World had a reading at Soho Think Tank's 6th Floor Reading Series at the Ohio Theatre, NYC, in 2008. The Scent of Jasmine had a staged reading at the Fountain Theatre, L.A., in 2006.

Paula Fell (2007 – 2010) — Her full-length play Acceptable Risk was a winner in the 2008 Long Beach Playhouse New Works Festival and the 2007 Ashland New Plays Festival, and was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Dayton Playhouse FutureFest and the 2007 Trustus Playwrights’ Festival. Her full-length play The Hive was a winner in the 2008 Panndora's Box Festival of New Works.

Lorin Howard (2008 - 2010)—Her short play was a winner in the "Eat My Shorts Festival" in Seattle, 2010, and will be staged at Bumbershoot Theater.

Andrea Sloan Pink began her full-length play, Origami, in Fannon's Advanced Practicum in 2007.  Origami won the Panndora's Box New Play Festival in 2008 and received a staged reading at the Royal Theater aboard the Queen Mary.  In 2009, Sloan Pink's one-act Ode To Provence was part of the Discoveries series at STAGESTheater, and in December of 2009, her one-act Light received a full production as part of a three-weekend run of the “Holiday Stimulus Package” at STAGESTheater.  She is currently writing a new full-length, Cooking with Sartre

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Family Affair

The cast of Cinderella with Nicholas Huntley (second boy from left), Christopher Huntley (far right) and Mitchell Huntley (second from right sitting)
SCR’s Summer Acting Workshop is a two-week commitment during the dog days of August. Not a big deal for students or their parents. But what happens when it’s time to decide whether or not to continue acting classes year-round?  What if the answer is “yes”?  And then, a couple of years later, what happens when the students audition for one of the Players ensemble groups—and get accepted?  Family life changes!

Mike Huntley and Laura Forbes’ 12-year-old son Christopher Huntley attended the Summer Acting Workshop in 2007, the first of four brothers to do so. It all started for Analia Gehley’s 17-year-old daughter Valentina Gehley nine years ago. Christopher and Valentina recently appeared in the Summer Players production of Cinderella—his third show, her sixth. So how are their parents dealing?

Melody Stolpp, Luke Tagle and Valentina
Gehley get into character at rehearsal
for Time Again in Oz."
What prompted you to enroll your kids in the Summer Theatre Workshop?

Mike and Laura:  Ever since kindergarten, when he played the Witch in a classroom production of Hansel and Gretel, Christopher has seemed at home on the stage. By third grade, he was very eager to find an acting class, and a friend suggested SCR’s Summer Workshop.
Analia:  I originally sent Valentina to SCR for fun!  She was always an imaginative child and would sing and dance at home—and tell outrageous, very detailed stories.

After the first full year of acting classes, could you tell they were going to be involved for the long haul?

Christopher Huntley in
The Secret Garden
Mike and Laura:  After his first year-long class, Christopher auditioned for—and did not make—the Summer Players’ production of Peter Pan. When he bounced back quickly from that disappointment, and was looking forward to the second-year class, we knew he was interested in a more long-term commitment. Then, after being in A Christmas Carol, he was totally hooked! 
Analia:  We now knew to prepare for a much more serious commitment and wondered whether we could balance everything. Would she have to sacrifice her school grades?  On the contrary, her experiences at SCR helped her become a better student, more focused and studious. As her commitment intensified, so did ours.

What has family life been like since then?

Mike and Laura:  It has started to involve a lot of driving and hurried dinners, as the kids go to auditions and rehearsals at SCR and elsewhere. But it’s also so rewarding to hear them talk about their rehearsals and their mutual friends from the shows. Having this interest in common has caused them to argue (a little bit) less. And it was so much fun to see all three of them on stage together in Cinderella.
Analia:  Our life began to orbit around her school and theatre schedules. Separate school bags, double snacks, rearranging work schedules, running errands in the area...everything fell into place and quietly became routine, a normal part of our lives.

Akshay Sharma, Makenna Zur Schmiede
and Valentina Gehley in Cinderella.
What is it like to see them in a Players show?

Mike and Laura:  Christopher’s first show was The Secret Garden. In that moment when they wheeled him out on stage (his character, Colin, was in a wheelchair), we were terrified he’d forget his lines. Then, as the show progressed and we relaxed, it was truly amazing to watch our own son acting and singing. We both teared up when Colin pulled himself out of his wheelchair and walked (one of our all-time favorite moments of theater!), and we could not have been prouder.
Analia:  When we watched Valentina on stage as Grace in Cinderella, we were, as always, excited and surprised. She always amazes us. I still can’t believe how fearless she is and how very comfortable and at home she appears on the stage. She loves the entire process, starting with the first peek at the script, costume fittings, blocking, all of it. In some ways [her teachers] Hisa and Erin know her better than we do. They give her parts that we can’t imagine she can perform, but they are able to find it in Valentina and bring it out.

Mike and Laura
Maxwell Weinberg and
Christopher Huntley in
All four Huntley boys have taken acting classes at SCR. Their parents share each boy’s experience.
  • When Nicholas (our future engineer) expressed interest in the Summer Workshop at age 13, we were floored. He loved the two-week workshop and couldn’t wait to take a year-long class. (During that year, he also auditioned for and landed a role in a community theater production, served as stage manager of a musical at his younger brothers’ school, and applied to Orange County High School of the Arts.)  Before his involvement at SCR, we never would have imagined Nicholas up on stage, much less that he would have such a passion for the arts.

  • It was no surprise when Mitchell (at age 8) got involved with the Summer Workshop and then the year-long class. He has always been enthusiastic and outgoing, and has been writing, producing and acting in plays on our fireplace hearth for many years! 

  • Mitchell’s twin brother, Blake, who is fairly shy, had no interest whatsoever in taking an acting class. We thought the experience would be good for him, so we signed him up along with Mitchell in the year-long class. Although he was very hesitant to go on the first day, he had so much fun that he eagerly completed the Fall and Winter sessions.
Being chosen for Players has given all the brothers a lot of confidence and maturity. They love being part of a team to bring a show to life, and have grown closer since they now are part of two “families.” Christopher wants to take his acting to another level, having recently signed with a major talent agency in L.A., and both Nicholas and Christopher are going to Orange County High School of the Arts this fall. All three hope to stay at SCR for many years to come.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Curtain Going Up!

In that moment just before the curtain rises on an SCR Players production, do the young actors have a word for how they feel? After the opening weekend of the sold-out run of Cinderella, three cast members shot back their quick responses.

Zach Yeates (Lionel, the Prince’s sidekick): “Positive.”
Kailyn Dunkleman (Cinderella): “Exhilarated.”
Jamie Ostmann (Mouse, one of Cinderella’s sidekicks): “Connected.”

If those answers evoke confidence, blame SCR Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa, who staged Cinderella with Music Director Erin McNally. In class and onstage, one of their goals is for the students to understand their endless possibilities.

To prove that they do—in more than one word—Lionel, Mouse and Cinderella talked about the Players experience.

Kailyn Dunkleman and Akshay
Sharma in Cinderella.
When the stage manager calls “places,” Hisa and Erin gather the cast for a quiet moment intended to clear minds and stay focused. How does this exercise help you prepare?

Kailyn: It gets rid of pre-show jitters. I believe it also unifies the cast and reminds us of our goals as actors and how we want to impact the audience.
Zach: It helps with any anxiety I may have before the show. Tech week tends to cause me a lot of stress which, in a way, causes my pre-show anxiety. So the exercise kills two birds with one stone!
Jamie: It helps me to escape distractions and concerns outside of the play and to find my focus.

Do you get “butterflies” before your first appearance?

Kailyn: A little bit, but more from anxiousness than nervousness. There was no need to get nervous before the show because I had been working very hard and was excited to share Cinderella’s story with the audience.
Zach: I only get butterflies right before the first performance of a show.
Jamie: No. As long as I have everyone else in the cast around me, I feel calm and loved and ready to work.

Whitney Brooks and Zach Yeates
What have you learned in class that helps your performance?

Kailyn: I’ve learned that there are multiple ways to interpret a character. It’s important to explore these different interpretations because you can find a more interesting way to present a character. Cinderella is not just a sweet and innocent ingénue; she is constantly dreaming and searching for a brighter future. She is very optimistic. My character stays true to herself despite her hardships, and she finds happiness in the simplest of things.
Zach: You have to trust yourself, and you must be willing to take risks. Part of developing our characters and building relationships with cast members comes from taking risks.
Jamie: I have learned that acting is not about pretending; it’s about becoming a character. I've learned that I perform better if I have an objective, or goal, for my character that I can focus on. I’ve also learned that I have to communicate—watch, listen, pay attention—with my fellow ensemble members in order to transport the audience to our world.

Kailyn and Zach: How is the classwork and production work distinctive from your other theater experiences?

Jamie Ostmann, Rachel Charny
and Kailyn
Kailyn: At South Coast Repertory my teachers and directors focus much more on the process. Whether I’m preparing a piece for class or rehearsing for a performance, they take the time to help me explore, develop and understand my characters. As a result, I believe I am growing as a performer. This is what I love the most about being a part of SCR.
Zach: The overall production quality was much higher than I’m used to. We made use of the professional fly system (something I have never had the opportunity of working with), and we had the help of professional lighting and set designers. I'm used to helping build the set pieces, and because I have no woodworking skills whatsoever, I was pleased to discover that the sets were to be made by professionals!

Jamie: How is working on the Argyros Stage for the first time different from being in the Nicholas?

Jamie: The big difference is the audience. It's much bigger, and there are a lot more eyes on you. I think I feel more comfortable in the Nicholas because it's cozier and more homey, and the Argyros is more formal.

Do you feel performing in Cinderella (and the classwork leading up to the show) has helped you as actors—and as people?

Kailyn: As an actor, it has reminded me to always be aware of my character’s background and motives. Sometimes when you’re in a show, you get so worried about the blocking and the lines that you forget what drives your character. Performing in Cinderella has helped me as a person because it finalized my future goals of becoming a performer; to be honest, I am happiest when I am onstage, and I cannot imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life.
Zach: Cinderella was by far the most “professional” production I’ve had the opportunity to take part in. I feel that the show gave me at least an idea of what a professional production could be like. We learned some very important lessons working on Cinderella that easily transfer to the real world. What we all came to discover is that there is always going to be hope, there will always be people to help you deal with life, and most importantly, we learned to always believe in ourselves.
Jamie: I have been inspired by the song “There Is Music in You” the whole cast sings at the end of the show. To me this song means that I can be confident, I can do anything I want to do and there’s nothing I won’t try. I'm sure that will help me both as an actor and a person.

Photos by Henry DiRocco/SCR.