Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Clowning Around In Sherwood Forest

Daniel Hopkins, Julia Davis, Kevin Klein, Alexis Jones, Raymond Lee in Robin Hood.
What happens when you take the classic story of Robin Hood—that famous, English outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor—and add four clowns, two musicians and a lot of merriment?  We hope you’ll join us to find out, as South Coast Repertory presents Greg Banks’ imaginative new adaptation of Robin Hood for our Theatre for Young Audiences series November 2 – 18.

Robin Hood costume design
by Leah Piehl
With this production of Robin Hood, SCR is thrilled to introduce our TYA audience to the Los Angeles-based Four Clowns troupe—four actors and two musicians—who will play more than 20 characters.  The clowns use physical comedy, mime, improvisation and jokes to dramatize Banks’ Robin Hood—a high-energy look at the timeless tale of Robin and his band of Merry Men, with swashbuckling adventures and triumph against great odds.  We’ll see Robin fight against the evil King John and Sheriff of Nottingham, woo the beautiful Maid Marian, and strive to help the poor—as he teaches lessons about friendship, loyalty and the importance of helping those less fortunate than yourself.

Playwright Greg Banks has skillfully refreshed the tale of Robin Hood with interactive opportunities that invite the audience into the world of the play so that they can be part of the action, including jokes, fight scenes, jumps, tree climbing, flips, gags and maybe even the occasional red nose.

“Whether they’re reacting to a gag or a pratfall, you hear immediately how kids feel about something” says director Jeremy Aluma.. “Children bring out some great creativity in us as performers and that’s wonderful.”

The cast includes clowns Amir Levi, Raymond Lee, Alexis Jones, Kevin Klein and musicians Daniel Hopkins and Julia Davis.  The design team includes Fred Kinney, sets; Leah Piehl, costumes; Jeremy Pivnick, lights; Brian Danner, fight director; and Jennifer Ellen Butler, stage manager.

Set design by Fred Kinney.
Four Clowns won the coveted Best of Physical Theatre award at the inaugural Hollywood Fringe Festival three times in a row in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The troupe also earned top nods at the Minnesota and San Francisco Fringe festivals and became Ovation Recommended in Los Angeles. In February 2012, Four Clowns took part in South Coast Repertory’s Studio SCR Series, a program that partners with SoCal's most intriguing arts groups and presents a series of eclectic, contemporary theatre works.

Although Four Clowns’ work for adults has been edgy and sometimes risqué, this will be their second show for young audiences—and they’ve shown themselves to be quite adept at channeling their inner child.

The Four Clowns’ rollicking, fun and funny take on Robin Hood is not to be missed!

About the Playwright Greg Banks

Greg Banks
Playwright and director Greg Banks was commissioned to write Robin Hood by The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, where he directed the play’s premiere in 2011.  Since then, Robin Hood has been performed for children at theaters across the country including Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company and Seattle Children’s Theatre.

His work as a writer, actor and director has taken him all over the world from Singapore to Seattle. In the United Kingdom, he has directed for many companies including The Unicorn Children's Theatre London (The Wizard of Oz), The Birmingham Stage Company (Kenoukes Kingdom), The Bristol Old Vic (Endgame), Polka Children's Theatre, Traveling Light (Tir Na N'og; winner of the Samuel Beckett award), Plymouth Theatre, and Royal Theatre (Why the Whales Came).

He is a frequent collaborator at many U.S. theaters including Minneapolis’ The Children’s Theatre Company, Seattle Children's Theatre and The New York State Theatre (Tempest, King of Shadows). He wrote and directed an adaptation of Pinnochio for Taurus Voice, and Salaam for Fair Game Theatre. Other projects include a Native Canadian adaptation of his production of Tir Na N'og, Treasure Island for The Birmingham Stage, and his own adaptation of Huck Finn for The Children's Theatre Company. In addition to Robin Hood, Banks has directed Sleeping Beauty, Antigone, and John Glore’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time for CTC.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Inside Look with SCR’s Wig Master Laura Caponera

A green wig and facial hair wait to be styled.
Wig Master Laura Caponera styles a wig.
What’s your professional title?

Wig Master is what I do, but my official title is hair and makeup supervisor.

How long?

I have been making wigs since my internship at the Actors Conservatory Theatre in 1997, so over 15 years.

What are wigs made from?

Most wigs are human hair or synthetic hair.  Some are made of yak hair. Wigs can be made of almost anything; I just made two wigs for Eurydice of wool yarn!

How much hair to make a wig?

A human head has an average of 100,000 hairs. A wig has something like 30- to 50-thousand. The more expensive wigs are hand-knotted one or two hairs at a time.

How long does it take to make a wig?

A fully hand-tied wig should take about 40 hours, but can take longer based on how difficult the hair is to work with, or if the color pattern and direction is very intricate.

Wigs in the wig dryer.
How many steps are there to prepare a wig for a production?

First, there is the build process. Once the wigs are made, then they are styled. Usually, they are wet-set and dried in a special cabinet called a wig dryer. For longer wigs, we set them in a roller set that has been photographed for reference so it may be duplicated for each performance. The wigs also may have been cut and colored. And we do use hair product in them so they are routinely washed and conditioned to be there best.

What is the cost of the wigs we make?

Theatrical wigs can range from under $100 for a factory-made wig, to several thousand dollars for a fully hand-made wig.  Even an inexpensive hand-made wig may cost $200 in labor to create a hand-made hairline. Supplies are costly and becoming rare. Long fine hair is becoming more and more scarce, and expensive.

What’s your favorite piece, and for what show?

There have been so many things it is hard to remember them all, but I think my favorite things have been for print publication work, and Halloween costumes.  For my good friend last year, I made a 1970s, bright yellow wig that was double-decker with a bird cage full of blue birds inside.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Setting the Story: Playwright Bill Cain on Writing and Watching "How to Write a New Book for the Bible"

Playwright Bill Cain he takes us inside his thoughts on SCR’s rehearsals for How to Write a New Book for the Bible.

SCR: I sat next to you during rehearsal and it looked like your mind was moving the whole time! What do you see when you are in rehearsal?

BC: In rehearsal you watch a few people—actors—trying to understand what life means—how life works—by living it intensely, bravely, openly and without reserve. They work out our meaning in their bodies, their minds and hearts. It’s quite a thing to be part of. My role in that as a writer is to try to provide them words and situations worth examining—both for drama and comedy. I watch their very brave, often joyous work and keep trying to improve the text they have to work with.

SCR: Can you talk about the relationship between playwright and director?

BC: I have worked with Kent Nicholson on several projects at this point and Kent and I have come up with an image of how we want to work. Back home, Kent and I go out to breakfast with some regularity in a diner and we talk—about life and theater. Kent is a wonderful person to dialogue with. The conversations are wide open, funny, challenging, un-programmed and free ranging. With Kent as director and me as writer, we try to keep that discussion going in the rehearsal hall. We like to think of rehearsal as a long diner breakfast discussion—now involving everybody. We explore the play together and, usually, what ends up on stage is the result of Kent’s shaping everybody’s contributions. It’s a joyous way to work. Kent’s openness to all of our input—while maintaining his own vision—is extraordinary.

SCR: You laugh a lot during rehearsals; it’s really a delight to see! What prompts the laughter?!

BC: I don’t think of myself as laughing a lot during rehearsal, so that’s good to hear.  I like the rehearsal room. I think discovery makes me laugh. It’s what the rehearsal room is for. There aren’t too many places in the world that really encourage experimentation, so I prize my time there.

SCR: In writing How to Write a New Book for the Bible, did you have favorite scenes or dialogue that you ended up cutting? 

BC: I cut my plays pretty carefully in writing them and then further cuts occur in workshops that happen before a play gets produced. My problem is more frequently how to get something into the show when it doesn’t fit. In an earlier version of Bible, there was a line I was trying to get in. I couldn’t find a comfortable place for it, so I offered the actors a hundred dollars if any one of them could get it into the show. When the lights went down for dress rehearsal, at the end of the usual announcement about turning off cell phones, etc., one of the actors added my line. And won the bet.

SCR: What’s been the most gratifying feedback that you’ve received about the play?

BC: People come out of Bible frequently talking about their own families rather than the play.  I think that’s what art is for. To take us more deeply into our own lives.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Customer #1: OC Business Marks Anniversary with Salute to SCR

Irene Hutton, Martin Benson and Jimmy Ray Hutton.
South Coast Repertory grew up with Orange County—and many businesses grew up with SCR.

In 1982, when California Stage & Lighting, inc. opened its doors near Harbor and MacArthur in Santa Ana, its first order came from SCR for light bulbs, totaling $2,619.91.  Yes, theatrical lighting is very expensive!  Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson, who served as production manager at that time, probably placed that first order.

Flash forward to October 2012, as California Stage & Lighting marks its 30th anniversary,   Company founders President Jimmy Ray Hutton and Chief Financial Officer Irene Hutton welcomed back Customer #1—South Coast Repertory.  And to show their gratitude for the faith and trust SCR placed in a fledgling new business, they presented Benson with a check for the amount of that first invoice.

 “This is a chance for Jim, me and the C.S.L staff to say ‘thank you’ for that first sale and your continued support,” said Irene Hutton, as she showed Benson the hand-written ledger entry for the light bulbs—invoice #1001.

California Stage and Lighting's first ledger entry.

Monday, October 15, 2012

All in the (Cain) Family

The Lauded Bill Cain

Fans of SCR’s new play development program might remember our recent work with Bill Cain, including staged readings of How to Write a New Book for the Bible (NewSCRipts, 2010) and 9 Circles (2009 Pacific Playwrights Festival). We commissioned Mr. Cain in 2010—and he is currently writing a new play for us.

Notable Work and Awards

  • 2011 Original Script Award, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
  • 2011 American Theatre Critics’ Association/ Steinberg Award
  • SCR reading, 2009 Pacific Playwrights Festival
  • World premiere, Marin Theatre Company (2010)
  • Los Angeles premiere, Curious Theatre Company (2012)
  • 2010 American Theatre Critics’ Association/ Steinberg Award
  • World premiere, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
  • Subsequent productions:
    • Geffen Playhouse (2009)
    • Manhattan Theatre Club (2010)
  • World premiere, Center Theater Group (1989)
  • 1990 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Writing
  • Joe A. Callaway Award, Broadway production
  • (ABC TV show)
  • Peabody Award
  • 1998 Humanitas Prize
By Kelly L. Miller

Bill Cain is not your typical, every day playwright. The award-winning author’s last two plays, Equivocation and 9 Circles, garnered the prestigious American Theatre Critics’ Association/Steinberg Award in two consecutive years—an unprecedented feat. And beyond being a playwright, Bill is also a Jesuit priest. In a recent interview for How to Write a New Book for the Bible, he explained how being a priest affects his writing: “I’m a Jesuit priest, and the Jesuits weren’t founded to live in a cloister or a monastery. We’re supposed to go into the world and find the presence of God there and celebrate it. I’d say that’s a pretty good description of what all of us do in theatre do as well. Theatre is always proclaiming ‘attention must be paid’ to what is neglected and holy. Willy Loman. Antigone. Blanche. In this play—Mary.  The jobs of writer and priest—as ‘Bill’ says in the play—are closely related.  In both, you point and say, ‘Look. Look there. That person you haven’t noticed—he, she matters.”

How to Write a New Book for the Bible is Cain’s most autobiographical play, which he says “focuses on three people: my father, my mother and my brother. These are exquisite human beings and I wanted to ritualize in some way the wonder of their lives as a way of celebrating them.” Cain’s joyous, poignant new comedy paints an intimate portrait of his family—while simultaneously celebrating life, death and the innate divinity in every family.

“[Cain] strikes a rare balance between erudition and accessibility, contemplation and gut-check emotion…Growing up during the civil rights era, attending Jesuit schools and tutoring in Brooklyn’s tough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, he gained an awareness of live theater as a community-binding ritual akin to religion.”
- Los Angeles Times
Cain writes himself as a character in the play, “Bill,” who narrates the story of returning home to care for his mother Mary, after she’s diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in her 80s. Hilarity ensues, as mother and son learn how to negotiate their own everyday rituals—of TV news and sports, pills and pain, doctor’s visits and domestic disagreements. And as the story of their last nine months together unfolds, the play flashes back and forth in time to tell the story of the entire Cain family. Pete, the kind-hearted father, who was a self-taught engineer and a very good dancer. Paul, Bill’s older brother, an athlete and soldier who becomes an award-winning teacher. Bill, the writer and priest, who sets out to honor his family by writing down their stories—and postulates that every family’s story should be added to the Bible (that most famous collection of familial stories).

Bill wrote the first part of How to Write a New Book for the Bible shortly after his mother died. “When I was cleaning out the apartment after mom’s death and dealing with all the junk that got left behind, I had to ask myself over and over again what was worth saving. I came to the conclusion that what was most worth saving were the stories. And not just in my family, but in any family. Writing is a way of saving the stories.” Over the next 10 years, Cain wrote his family’s stories down in the form of a book—which he then adapted into this play.

Lauded SCR actress Linda Gehringer originated the role of Mary Cain in the first reading of How to Write a New Book for the Bible at the 2009 Ojai Playwrights Festival and in two subsequent readings of the play. The play received its co-world premiere last season at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre.

THE CAST:  Tyler Pierce, Aaron Blakely, Linda Gehringer and Jeff Biehl.
Director Kent Nicholson is remounting that critically-acclaimed production for SCR with a stellar cast including three actors from the original cast—Aaron Blakely (Paul), Linda Gehringer (Mary), and Tyler Pierce (Bill). Actor Jeff Biehl (Pete) joins the company for this third production.  The original design team remains the same including Scott Bradley (sets), Callie Floor (costumes), Alexander V. Nichols (lights), and Matt Starritt (sound).

The San Francisco Chronicle called How to Write a New Book for the Bible “bracingly personal, smart, funny [and] affecting.” The San Jose Mercury News said Cain has “created a profound meditation on the shared narratives that hold a family together through the vagaries of life and death. The intimacy of his remembrance gives this memory play its shattering resonance. The playwright is giving a blessing to his family in the form of theater, and there’s no denying the beauty in that ritual.”

Asked during rehearsals at SCR to describe the process of creating How to Write a New Book for the Bible, Cain said: “I don’t think people have any idea how short theater rehearsal periods are. You have just about enough time to learn the lines and get it on its feet. With an established play, you know basically how it works, so you have some protection. With a new play, you have to invent an entire world around the text—all the while re-doing the text as you discover its hidden strengths and weaknesses. We invented the play at Berkeley Rep (and were lucky enough to win the critics award for Best Play as well as acting nominations for all the actors). At Seattle Rep we had a chance to refine it a bit. At SCR, we are finally getting a chance to live in it.”

The Incomparable Linda Gehringer

With her role as the loving, irascible matriarch Mary Cain in How to Write a New Book for the Bible, beloved SCR actress Linda Gehringer returns home.  Linda began working at South Coast Repertory over 15 years ago with the 1997 production of Peter Hedges' Good as New directed by Martin Benson.  Since then, she has appeared in 18 SCR productions—making Bill Cain’s new play her 19th show.  Her world premiere credits at SCR include Julia Cho’s The Language Archive and The Piano Teacher, Richard Greenberg’s A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, Horton Foote’s Getting Frankie Married—and Afterwards, Annie Weisman’s Hold Please and Rolin Jones’ The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, a role she reprised in its New York premiere at the Atlantic Theatre Company.  Other favorite SCR roles include Retreat from Moscow and All My Sons (find her full bio here).

Gehringer and John Sloan in The Retreat from Moscow in 2004
Linda has been an integral part of the development of How to Write a New Book for the Bible.  She has been working with playwright Bill Cain on the play since its first reading at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in 2009.  Linda originated the role of Mary Cain in that reading—and she continued to develop the role over the course of readings at Palo Alto’s Theatreworks and the Philadelphia Theatre Company.  She received widespread critical acclaim playing Mary in the co-world premiere productions of the play at Berekley Repertory Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre last season. Talking Broadway called her performance “Stunning…a brilliant tour de force of acting!”  Broadway World called her work “a singular performance…at once hilarious, heartbreaking, sturdy and frail.”  The Seattle Times lauded her, saying: “The Mary brought to vivid life in an incandescent performance by Linda Gehringer is sometimes in pain—and a pain in the keister.  She is also loving, willful, exuberant, self-doubting, scared and humbled by adversity.  And very good company.”  Gehringer was nominated for a Best Actress Award in Berkeley.

Gehringer and Tony Amendola in the 2010 production of
The Language Archive.
How to Write a New Book for the Bible is a celebration of family,” Linda said while rehearsing the play at SCR, “and I can think of no better place to do this play than South Coast Repertory because I think of SCR as my family.  I think of the audience very much as my family.  They all know my body of work and I feel this is a very important contribution to that body of work.  I feel like SCR is responsible for my relationship with new plays and creating roles.  This is one of my favorite roles I have created and owned and I just really wanted to share it with this audience.”

When Linda invited co-founding Artistic Director Martin Benson to see the production of How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Repertory, he knew he had to go.  Benson says, “Her performance was utterly transcendent.  So good, that Bill Cain insisted she play the role after she originated it in Ojai.  Linda is one of our most cherished artistic family members—and she is at the height of her game in this role.  She finds the utter humanity and profound depth in this character.  She moved me to tears and left me howling with laughter.”

Welcome home, Linda.

“Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary” – a Seattle Rep Interview with Linda Gehringer

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Design, Measure, Stitch, Fit, Tuck

SCR’s Costume Shop is a marvel of texture—fabric, thread, buttons—and it hums with activity and sound—fittings, sewing machines, rustling cloth. The artisans who create the myriad of costumes are fully into the 2012-13 season, having worked already on Absurd Person Singular and Eurydice. Up next: How to Write a New Book for the Bible, Robin Hood and A Christmas Carol. Says Amy Hutto, costume shop manager, “There is so much variety in our season and our pace is so brisk that we seldom have time to get bored! There is always a new challenge on every show.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Party Time for Two Shows

The world premiere of Noah Haidle’s Smokefall is coming up next spring, but casting is already underway.

Noah and Director Anne Kauffman were on site October 1-3, cloistered in the Nicholas Studio for hours each day with Casting Director Joanne DeNaut and her assistant Stephanie Marick as they auditioned more than 60 actors for the five available roles. Stayed tuned for exciting cast news!

Coincidentally, their final day of auditions coincided with the second day of rehearsal for How to Write a New Book for the Bible (SCR’s traditional afternoon to meet & greet the artists) so Noah and Anne stayed around—and partied on.

It’s been a busy month for Noah, who headed to Chicago a few days later to premiere his first film Stand Up Guys at the 48th Chicago International Film Festival.  The film stars Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Juliana Margulies—and is directed by Fisher Stevens.  His movie will be in wide release in January 2013.

Stand Up Guys Trailer
Find out more about the movie
Find out more about the premiere

Eurydice: “Heavenly brilliance” in the Underworld

Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice is beautiful, funny, poignant and thoughtful. The News Enterprise calls it “Heavenly brilliance”—which is a great feat for a play that’s set in the Underworld. The Marc Masterson-directed production features a luscious, watery feel to the Underworld, a beautiful and intriguing cast—for instance, the Greek Chorus of Stones with its green-hue and verbal quips—and set designs utilize multi-media to take us deep into the story on the Juilanne Argyros stage. Step into the imaginative world of Eurydice.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Mythical Evening

In SCR’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice that opened on September 28, the mythic Underworld is a stunning place of talking stones, string houses and raining elevators.  There, according to Orange County Register critic Paul Hodgins, “The actors strike a fine balance between modern day familiarity and the … unreality of mythical figures.”

But at the Cast Party after the show, the actors were totally modern and happy to accept congratulations from audience members for their performances.

Honorary Producers Tom and Marilyn Sutton, who saw the show at an earlier preview were especially generous in their praise. “Wow, this was a real triumph!  So many things to astound and amaze … and the actors were great.”

First Nighters agreed as they sampled Greek fare by Mark’s Catering and sipped wine from the unique ready-to-serve “bottle” by Stacked Wines—celebrating the Argyros Stage’s season-opening show on a balmy night, beneath  a canopy of red lanterns.

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