Monday, March 18, 2013

21st-Century Actors Morph Into Ancient Chinese Characters

Max Salinger (Military Captain), Jamie Ostmann (Literary Scholar), Nirali Patel (Music Master), Katie Agrela (Empress) and front, Harvey Sutton (Emperor) in rehearsal for SCR's Junior Players production of The Nightingale.
The Nightingale
story by Hans Christian Andersen
adapted for the stage by Marisha Chamberlain
directed by Mercy Vasquez

In this engaging tale, an emperor is charmed by the beautiful song of a small ordinary bird, the nightingale. Then a mechanical bird takes her place. Will the banished nightingale ever return to bring hope and comfort to the kingdom?

Dates:   Saturday, April 6 and 13, Sunday April 7 and 14.  All shows at 1 and 4 p.m.

Tickets:  $10 (may be purchased through the SCR Box Office at (714) 708-5555 or online at
The Nightingale, SCR’s upcoming Junior Players production, takes place worlds (and centuries) away from Costa Mesa, Calif. It’s set in ancient China, in a faraway and almost magical land, where gardens stretch to the sea and flowers bloom underwater. However, the 14 young actors in the cast will step into that time and place with ease because they have “lived” there for months.

Mercy Vasquez, who teaches the Junior Players ensemble students—and directs their annual production—has lived there with them and helped make ancient China a familiar place.  According to Mercy, “Because research is part of every actor’s process, I began by having the students study Chinese customs.”

Before each rehearsal session, a designated student introduces a new custom to the ensemble, allowing them to study—and embrace—different behaviors, mannerisms and charming idiosyncrasies. “This helps the actors connect to a world and a community they know very little about,” Mercy says, “and to discover similarities as well as differences.”

Harvey Sutton (Emperor) and Kelsey Bray (Nightingale) in rehearsal for SCR's Junior Players production of The Nightingale.
Not only do they live in another era, the actors portray an array of characters, both animal and human, real and unreal. That process isn’t as difficult as it may seem because all of the Junior Players have studied acting at SCR for at least two years, and character development is an integral part of their training.

The story they bring to life in The Nightingale is about the emperor of China, who rules from his porcelain palace, becomes charmed by the song of a nightingale which he claims for his own, and finally learns that birds must be free to share their songs with everyone. At first, children in the audience also may find the setting unfamiliar and strange, but the Junior Players will soon make it real and believable for them—and they’ll have a great time doing it.

In fact, the Players have a great time (and form strong friendships) year-round—in classrooms, rehearsal halls and on stage. Studio B, one of the Education Department’s rehearsal spaces—currently both their classroom and their stage—seems like a second home to the Players.  But when they move to the Nicholas Studio, where The Nightingale will be presented, they’ll be at home there, too.

And they’ll be inseparable. In the final weeks before The Nightingale opens, the Players arrive after school and often rehearse until 8 p.m. with a break for dinner—which they enjoy together, especially when parents surprise the cast and crew with meals of Chinese food.

From September through May, a dedicated staff is available to assist them and Vazquez is by their side, so it’s a safe and cozy world for the SCR Players, whether in Costa Mesa or ancient China. Maybe that’s what being in an “ensemble” is all about.

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