Monday, September 29, 2014

"Opium Den" is Rich With Stories

Playwright Julie Marie Myatt.
What could bring a heroin addict and a decorated war veteran together?

That’s the question explored in Opium Den, a new play by Los Angeles-based playwright Julie Marie Myatt. She is SCR’s Andrew W. Mellon Playwright-in-Residence. The play opens South Coast Repertory’s 29th season of the NewSCRipts reading series on Monday, Oct. 13.

At first glance, Lizzie is a privileged housewife who has made selfish life decisions, and Mac is a hero of the war in Afghanistan. Matthew—Lizzie’s brother and the photojournalist that made Mac famous—has reluctantly agreed to let them crash at his apartment in New York City. As Matthew’s colleagues nose around for more newsworthy material, Lizzie and Mac attempt to take control of the stories told about them in their own documentaries. Opium Den offers a glimpse into an impromptu halfway house for people who can't get enough of the dramas of war and the underbelly of society, and are caught in an endless well of desire for a more meaningful life.

Opium Den will be directed by Crispin Whittell. The Los Angeles-based Whittell directed last season’s world premiere of The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois by Adam Rapp at SCR’s 2014 Pacific Playwrights Festival

Past NewSCRipts readings include Donald Margulies' Collected Stories, Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain and Amy Freed's Freedomland, all of which went on to New York productions. Plays selected for the NewSCRipts series have earned six Pulitzer Prize nominations; Margaret Edson’s Wit won the prize in 1999.

SCR launched the NewSCRipts play reading series in 1985 to bring audiences into the process of creating new works with emerging and established playwrights. After each public reading on the Julianne Argyros Stage, audience members engage in lively exchanges with the playwright and are active participants in the play’s development by providing valuable feedback for the writer.

South Coast Repertory’s NewSCRipts series is generously underwritten by Elaine J. Weinberg.

Opium Den is one-night-only: Monday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m., on the Julianne Argyros Stage.

Learn more and buy tickets.

"tokyo fish story" is Quiet Play With a Big Heart

Playwright Kimber Lee.

tokyo fish story by Kimber Lee is the “TBA” that completes the 2014-15 season on the Julianne Argyros Stage.

This play takes you inside the ritual of sushi-making. It’s the story of Koji, a Sushi Master with an undying love for his art. But his restaurant is declining while the new place down the street keeps packing them in. Takashi represents the younger generation—a brilliant protégé, but too respectful to display his talent, despite the urgings of his assistant, Nobu, and punked-out Ana, who’s trying to make her way in a man’s world. Generations, gender and tradition collide in this quiet play with a big heart, a touch of poetry, a hint of mystery—and just the right amount of enticing comedy.
Bart DeLorenzo will direct. He last directed the world premiere of Carla Ching’s Fast Company at SCR.

Lee’s plays include Fight and Brownsville Song (B-Side for Tray), which recently premiered at the 2014 Humana Festival and will also receive 2014-2015 productions at LCT3, Long Wharf Theatre, and Philadelphia Theatre Company. In May 2014, Center Theatre Group presented the world premiere of her play Different Words for the Same Thing directed by Neel Keller. Her work has been presented by Lark Play Development Center, Page 73, Hedgebrook, Seven Devils, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, TheatreWorks (Palo Alto), Magic Theatre, Great Plains Theatre Conference and Dramatists Guild Fellows Program. Lee is a Lark Playwrights Workshop Fellow, 2014-15: member of Ma-Yi Writers Lab; and she currently is under commission at Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3, South Coast Repertory, Denver Center Theatre Company and Hartford Stage. Lee is the recipient of the 2014 Ruby Prize, the 2013-14 PoNY Fellowship and the 2014-15 Aetna New Voices Fellowship. She earned her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin.

Learn more and buy tickets

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Fur Trade: Reinventing "Venus" for the Stage

by Andy Knight

Graham Hamilton and Jaimi Paige in Venus in Fur.
Bringing Venus to Life

SCR is delighted to welcome back director Casey Stangl to helm its production of David Ives’ steamy comedy. Stangl has directed on SCR’s stages a number of times, including Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the vibrator play, Sofia Alvarez’s Between Us Chickens and many Theatre for Young Audiences productions.

Director Casey Stangl
Stangl is no stranger to Venus in Fur. Earlier this year, she directed a production of the play for American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. With that production under her belt, Stangl was excited to revisit Venus in Fur in an all new production at SCR. “The play is so rich in character and in its exploration of gender and power,” Stangl says, “I'm looking forward to new discoveries!”

Venus in Fur’s two actors have a daunting task. They have to be adept at not only broad comedy and period-style acting, but also at the utmost sincerity—and their chemistry is essential to the production’s success. SCR is lucky to have actors more than up for the challenge. SCR audiences will recognize Graham Hamilton (Becky Shaw, Saturn Returns and Hamlet) in the role of Thomas, but many might not know Jaimi Paige (Vanda), who makes her SCR debut. Venus in Fur is not the first time that Hamilton and Paige have shared the stage; last season, they appeared in a stirring production of Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, which won them raves from both audiences and critics.

Stangl also assembled a first-rate design team to bring the play’s surprising world to life, including Scenic Designer Keith Mitchell, (Fast Company), Costume Designer David Kay Michelson (Five Mile Lake, The Parisian Woman), Lighting Designer Elizabeth Harper (Reunion) and Sound Designer Jeff Polunas (last season’s TYA musical Ivy + Bean).

More information on Venus in Fur’s cast and creative team can be found on SCR’s website.
David Ives’ Venus in Fur begins at the end of an afternoon full of unsuccessful auditions. Thomas Novachek still hasn’t found the right actress to play Vanda, the lead character in his stage adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 erotic novel Venus in Furs.

Thomas has a lot on the line: he not only wrote the adaptation, but also plans to direct the production. Everything has to be perfect. Now, alone in his rented rehearsal space in New York City, the exasperated Thomas bemoans the lack of skilled and sexy actresses to his fiancé over the phone. Outside, a storm rages.

A crash of thunder and lightning not only interrupts Thomas’ phone call, but also announces the unexpected arrival of a young actress. She introduces herself as Vanda, a strange coincidence—well it’s actually Wanda, she explains, but her parents called her Vanda—and she has a litany of excuses for why she is late to the auditions. Thomas, certain that this scattered and clueless real-life Vanda isn’t right for the clever and poised Vanda in the play, tries to dismiss her. But she’s persistent, and Thomas finally lets Vanda read for the part. Since everyone else has gone home for the day, he agrees to read with her.

Once they begin, Thomas is shocked by Vanda’s skilled performance and then by Vanda herself. She seems to simultaneously know nothing and everything about what she’s performing. Thomas’ play tells a story of sexual dominance and submission, and as Thomas and Vanda continue reading, the real world and the world of the play begin to blur together. Soon, role-playing takes on more than one meaning, and the sexual tension that fills the rehearsal studio threatens to become something much more dangerous.

Like Thomas, Venus in Fur's playwright David Ives had originally intended to write a more faithful adaptation of an erotic novel. That novel, however, was not Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, but instead the French novel Story of O, a very different—and much more explicit—examination of sexual submission. That adaptation never came to fruition because, as Ives wrote in an article printed before Venus in Fur’s Broadway run, Story of O “is fundamentally undramatic. If your main character submits on page one, where’s the drama?” So, Ives turned his attention to Venus in Furs next, which proved more inspiring:

David Ives
“I found myself electrified,” he recalls. “Dramaturgically electrified, I mean, because the relationship between Severin and Wanda, the two lovers of the plot, seemed to dramatize itself without the intervention of a playwright’s hands. Unlike Story of O, Venus in Furs sparks with the friction of two buttoned up people in an erotic power play who challenge, resist and disagree with each other even while bound by mutual sexual attraction. That sure sounded dramatic to me.”

Ives’ first draft of Venus in Fur adapted its source material faithfully, but the playwright quickly came to realize that it wasn’t successful. After a rewrite, Ives had a play that examined the novel’s central relationship in a new setting and with a fresh set of circumstances. The novel’s 19th century Austria became present-day New York City; the six-month love affair in the novel became a brief tryst in a play told in real time. “I don’t know what spurred me to take the route I took,” Ives wrote.

No matter his inspiration, Ives’ Venus in Fur cleverly converses with its source material in both explicit and subtle ways.

The play-within-the-play directly connects the audience to the original text, which in turn allows Ives to find more oblique parallels between his modern day characters and their literary counterparts. By changing the initial nature of the relationship to that between an actor and a director, for example, Ives simulates a power dynamic that may evoke the gender hierarchy of the 19th century. In that context, the audience can quickly identify who’s in power and, more importantly, recognize when things begin to shift.

Perhaps the play’s greatest departure from Sacher-Masoch’s novel is that it is a comedy. To those familiar with Ives’ body of work, however, this should be no surprise. Ives first gained national attention as a writer of short comedies when All in the Timing, an evening of six plays, premiered off-Broadway at Primary Stages in 1993. All in the Timing and Time Flies, another collection of short comedies, are the epitome of Ives’ singular style—writing that boasts bold, witty humor, mixed with keen insights. Ives is also no stranger to adaptation; he’s the translator/adaptor of a few classic French plays, including Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear and Molière’s The Misanthrope, which he retitled A School for Lies.

Venus in Fur combines Ives’ special brand of humor, his skill for thoughtful adaptation and a dynamic relationship. Together they make a unique theatrical experience: a funny, titillating and peculiar rollercoaster.

Early in the play, Vanda quips, “Anyway, you don’t have to tell me about sadomasochism. I’m in the theatre,” and with Venus in Fur Ives proves that the theatre is the perfect place to become an expert.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's All in the Cards

Nate Dendy in The Tempest.
Audiences have been astounded by Nate Dendy’s fantastic illusions during his performance as Ariel in The Tempest. In particular, his Ariel has a certain affinity towards card tricks and sleight of hand. But magic isn't something that Dendy had to master for this production. He’s been practicing magic as long as he can remember and as he puts it, “It’s a very big part of who I am.” We caught up with him during the run of The Tempest:

Your talent for card tricks is a major part of the magic you showcase on stage. Do you have a particular love for cards that draws you to it?
Everyone at some point has held, seen or played with a deck of cards. So, when a magician exploits that familiarity and does impossible things with them, it can be very exciting. Cards are also very cheap for a kid who wants to start practicing tricks. My taste in card tricks have changed over the years, but every time I see a kid trying to fool their brother, friend or parent...I see my childhood again. According to my parents, I started showing interest in magic at the age of 2. I have no memory of not doing magic. It's a very big part of who I am. Funny enough, I was even born on April Fool's Day.

Are there any misconceptions about cards?
Well, many people think I use trick cards but these are perfectly ordinary playing cards rights out of the box and some of my favorite cards come from Dan & Dave Industries. If I knew how to play Gin Rummy, I would play with these same cards.

In The Tempest, your character Ariel is costumed in a vest and no sleeves. Many audience members have been confounded by this fact since you literally can’t have anything up your sleeves. What are some of the challenges and fun in performing these tricks with this in mind?
I'm so glad I have no sleeves in this show. I get quite hot running around on that stage—it's a workout! The card work I do night after night is challenging with or without sleeves. You deal with other challenges like sweat, makeup, lighting, clarity...but if it all comes together just right, I hear perplexed reactions from random audience members. It fills me with absolute joy! It's a high I get to aim for eight times a week.

As the audience arrives you have a chance to interact with them and set the atmosphere with a few tricks. Is there something you find special when you get to perform magic with a volunteer?
Every preshow is a little different because every audience member is different. It has changed from theatre to theatre for that very reason. I used to do magic from table to table at a restaurant when I was 14. You learn very quickly—for better or worse—how to surrender to the different personalities that people bring to the mix. It's exciting and I'm always grateful to the people who play along with me because it's a very brave leap for them to make. A lot of the magic in the show is precise, like a classical symphony. However, the magic in the more like a swanky jazz session. And I love jazz.

What’s one of you favorite card tricks from The Tempest?
It changes from night to night. Some nights I look forward to one card trick because I practiced a specific moment during the day and am anxious to try it out at night in front of an audience. I will have to say, I'm particularly proud of something I do in the preshow. It's my own invention and I was humbled when it got the seal of approval from the rest of the creative team and directors—including Johnny Thompson, our magic designer, and Teller. People talk about it and that's promising.

Interested in cards? Check out The Tempest’s source for cards and grab a deck of your very own. The Tempest has one week left for you to catch Nate’s amazing sleight of hand. Get your tickets now before they disappear.

A Little Bit of Rough Magic: Meet Vocalist Miche Braden

Miche Braden (right), Liz Filios, Joel Davel and Matt Spencer make up Rough Magic.
Miche Braden
That voice! Miche Braden uses her phenomenal voice to both belt out lyrics and sing tenderly with the band Rough Magic in The Tempest. Ms. Miche (“Mickey”), as she’s known, has been around music all her life and uses singing to express herself.  When she was cast for The Tempest, Braden admits she wasn’t a Tom Waits fan, but she says she grew “major respect for him” as she got immersed in the show.

How did you come to be a vocalist?
I've been around music all my life. I found that I could always express myself through singing, most times better than just talking. There was always a song that could express my feelings. If not, I could write one. Theatre was the perfect place for me to hone my talent. I had grown tired of feeling like a jukebox in the clubs and when I was asked to do theatre, I did not hesitate.

Who inspired you?
I have many mentors who inspired me and my music. Detroit, where I was born, had a plethora of amazing musicians that I worked with and studied under including Motown musician and leader of the Funk Brothers Earl Van Dyke and jazz master musicians Marcus Belgrave and Harold McKinney. My mother, Dr. Mildred J Dobey, was my main influence. Anything I wanted to do musically—including instruments, dance, sing and whatever else—she let me do. My uncle, Jim Hankins, also is a major influence. He's the reason why I play bass. He's the bassist in the other show that I do. Then there's Quincy Jones, my idol! He did music for everyone from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra, as well as film scores, television, big band and symphonies. That's what I want to do, as well as perform.

What were some of the challenges of working with Tom Waits’ music and Kenny Wollesen’s instruments?
Once I knew I had the gig, I really started listening to Tom Waits music. I wasn't a fan at first. That voice—jeez! Once I saw how the music merged with the play, I grew a major respect for him, his song lyrics and beautiful melodies. Kenny Wollesen was creating instruments for us as we rehearsed in Las Vegas. It was amazing what he could do with cast-out items that someone else would consider to be trash. And it all worked! I can't imagine anything else being used where we use his creations in the show.

What are some of the fun parts of this show?

The show was stressful at its inception, but it is a joy now that the hard part is done. I learn from watching; it was great watching Aaron [Posner] and Teller directing the actors as they created their characters; Johnny Thompson creating magic to fit into the story line; Matt Kent creating Caliban; Rough Magic, under Shaina Taub, creating arrangements, harmonies and sound effects with a mix of traditional instruments; and learning to play Kenny's creations. And I am thrilled with the new musicians we cast here as Rough Magic “2.0”—with band members Liz Filios, Matt Spencer and Joel Davel. They learned the show in four days!

Why does this particular production really resonate with people?
People love to be entertained. They want a full experience when going to the theatre, especially since it's live. The Tempest delivers on all fronts: classic Shakespeare, interpretation, music, laughter and magic. Audiences get more than their money’s worth!

What’s at the top of your playlist now?
I sing along to the Swingle Singers Jazz Sebastian Bach, Volume 1, to warm up my voice.

What’s up next for you after The Tempest?
My one woman show The Devil's Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith, book by Angelo Parra and conceived by director Joe Brancato and I am music directing the show and have arranged all the music. We’re scheduled for a one-night performance at Kingsborough College in Brooklyn, a four-week run in Winnipeg at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Center in Canada and then a Blues Cruise. I've been doing the show almost 15 years and we haven't done a West Coast performance. I have too much fun doing it—I'd love to bring it to SCR!  I'm also working on creating a show from my CD Diva Out Of Bounds and a cabaret show on Nina Simone, as well as other singer/pianist/ composing women.

If you had to choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Actually, I'd have to use the most powerful two-word phrase there is: “I Am.” I wrote a song with that title, which says: “I've been walking around, learning the sound of my own heart. I've been moving my feet to the beat of my own heart. How can I follow anyone else? I've got to find it for myself. I can be anything I want to be. I can do anything that I believe. I AM!!”

I live by these words everyday. I plan on the world knowing my name through my works, and will never stop believing in myself and achieving my goals.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Instant Chemistry: Just Add Actors

Graham Hamilton and Jaimi Paige in Venus in Fur.

In Venus in Fur, the character of Thomas is a director who is trying to cast the lead for his play. Into his rehearsal space walks Vanda. South Coast Repertory welcomes an SCR veteran and a first-time SCR actor for David Ives’ two person play—a work that The New York Times calls “kinky, sexy fun.” For actors Graham Hamilton and Jaimi Paige, it’s a bit of a reunion: they recently starred together last year in a production in Los Angeles. Meet the cast of Venus in Fur.

Graham Hamilton (Thomas) previously appeared at SCR in Becky Shaw, Saturn Returns and Hamlet. Last year, Hamilton produced and starred alongside Jaimi Paige in the West Coast premiere of Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm. The production won three LA Weekly Awards, and received Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Ovation nominations. He has performed on stages across the country and, in 2011, received the Helen Hayes Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Hamlet at the Folger Shakespeare Library. His television appearances include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “CSI,” “Company Town,” “Touch,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Big Love,” “Ugly Betty,” “Cold Case,” “Guiding Light,” and national ad campaigns for Volkswagen, Miller Lite, Norelco, Apple and Samsung. A Boomerang Grant recipient and member of The Antaeus Company, Hamilton earned his BFA from The Juilliard School. He currently serves as chairman of the West LA/Malibu Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a grassroots, environmental nonprofit dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches.

Jaimi Paige (Vanda) is making her SCR debut. She most recently was seen in Tender Napalm at Six01 Studio. Her other Los Angeles stage credits include Ghosts and Great Expectations at A Noise Within; The Collector, Jesse Boy and Green Eyes/Rooming House at Ruskin Theatre Group; and Sleeping Ugly at Santa Monica Playhouse. Her other notable stage credits include Juliet (Romeo & Juliet), Helena (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Girl in the world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Green Eyes, featured at the Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival. Her television and film credits include “The Mentalist,” “Medium,” “Ghost Whisperer: The Other Side,” “Diagnosis X,” the feature film Peacock and the upcoming feature film Within the Dark.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

by Kimberly Colburn

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities invokes the singular city of Santa Ana. Or is it Sant’ana? Perhaps it is two cities.

First there is the light, bright downtown Fourth Street with its sidewalk vendors selling plump fruits and happy merchants calling out in Spanish right next to the trendy new restaurants and hipster bars.

There are generations of families that have lived here and a real sense of neighborhood pride. But there’s another version of Santa Ana: a city with dark struggles that has worked hard to overcome its many challenges, a population that faces addiction, gangs, immigration and a lack of open space. That’s often the Santa Ana that grabs headlines, meaning that the darker version is the only one that people outside the city see.

Over the past two years, playwright José Cruz González has been gathering all of the stories he can from the people of Santa Ana. You’ve probably read or seen something about the Dialogue/Diálogos project already, because José, the creative team, and SCR have scoured the city high and low to get the scoop on what Santa Ana is all about.

These stories have been gathered and transformed, and serve as a starting point of inspiration. What has come to fruition is so epic and sprawling—much like Santa Ana—that it cannot be contained within a linear narrative. Instead, it’s developed into a rotating funhouse collection of scenes taking place throughout the Civic Center in the heart of Santa Ana.

Maybe you’ve glimpsed at the plaza behind the library but hurried to the garage to avoid the homeless gathered outside—or perhaps you hurried through the courtyard on the way to take care of a traffic violation. But have you ever looked up and noticed the cement sculptural mural by Sergio O’Cadiz that wraps around City Hall?

The Long Road Today /El Largo Camino de Hoy is a bilingual play that follows the fates of two families: the Guerreros and the Recuerdos.

The play opens with four guides, who spring to life from lotería cards—a traditional Mexican game similar to Bingo. La Muerte, El Diablito, La Dama and El Valiente are the guides through this journey, and they set up the tragic event that binds these two families together.

It happens in the blink of an eye: a young boy, Andrès, is playing near the street, since there are few safe parks for him to be in. His red ball rolls out into the street. His mother Dolores, holding a pink cake box, calls out to him, just as a car whips around the corner. A teenage Salvador is driving. He’s spotted a police barricade and is desperate to avoid getting stopped. The distracted Salvador strikes and kills Andrès.

All of this takes place on the steps of the Civic Center. After the opening scene, the audience is split into four groups—each one led by one of our lotería card narrators. Each audience group is then led to four different locations and begins to see the repercussions of the accident.

During short scenes, we see the grieving Dolores look for her lost little boy; Salvador as he goes to prison; Andrès’ sister, Luz, and her abusive husband, Mundo; and Socorro and daughter, Estrella, among others. Woven throughout are scenes that will feel familiar to any Santa Ana resident or visitor and depict a community that gathers together and refuses to give up. The audience moves to each of the four locations and sees all of the sides of the stories, piecing together the narrative from the brief flashes of the lives they witness.

Some of the characters speak English, some of them speak Spanish and some of them whip back and forth between the two.

Monolingual speakers will appreciate a third layer of this production—the visual elements. Projections, dancers, and puppets of all shapes and sizes help to tell the story. You’re not meant to understand every word unless you speak both languages; the experience is a rich metaphor for the city of Santa Ana and its denizens.

The game of lotería inspires not only the characters of the four guides but is woven into the fabric of the play. Each scene is named for one of the iconic cards and, like the game itself, these characters’ lives have an element of chance. You must play the hand you are dealt in life and, as the play informs us, “You can’t change your fate … but you can change your future.”

The notion of change resonates for the Santa Ana community that has witnessed many rebirths of its downtown, from a movie star heyday mid-century to the family owned businesses that have dominated the landscape and are beginning to give way to a new generation. The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy is a portrait of a city in flux but held together by the strength and will of the people within it.

After the audience has traveled to each of the four sites, the guides bring everyone together to the plaza of the flags, to embrace all the stories—the light and the dark, the history and the present—and to celebrate the community of Santa Ana. And Santa’na.

Reserve your free tickets.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"The Tempest" Bewitches First Nighters

A transformative production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest brought gasps of delight and sighs of wonder from the First Night audience on September 5. Adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, the production was filled with magic while remaining true to the text—a rare combination.

Paul Hodgins of the Orange County Register considered what Shakespeare himself might have thought: “I have a hunch he would have approved of this dazzling Tempest and probably gasped along with the rest of us.”

The Honorary Producers agreed.

According to Joan and Andy Fimiano (Honorary Producers with Jean and Tim Weiss), “We and our guests were blown away by the magic, the music and the overall production. We followed The Tempest through rehearsals to opening night, and it was very evident that the cast and the entire production team had great chemistry … Our guests have decided to go back for another night and bring their parents!"

The accolades were whispered during the show, enthusiastically discussed at intermission and shouted out during the standing ovation. After the applause ended, everyone gathered on Ela’s Terrace for the Cast Party—with its tent show/carnival atmosphere reminiscent of the play’s setting—and tried to recognize the amazing cast members, now transformed back to their normal selves.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Magical Gala Opens With A Sensational Patron Party

Every season at South Coast Repertory begins with two special events.  The first is a Patron Party to honor those who contribute significantly to the second—SCR’s Gala, which traditionally opens both the social and theatre seasons in Orange County. 

On August 21st,  SCR Trustee Sarah McElroy and her husband, Thom, opened their home to major Gala donors with a Patron Party that kicked off the 51st Season spectacularly.

Part of that spectacle was news of the upcoming “Grand Illusions” Gala and part was the McElroy’s mid-century modern home, designed by Steven Ehrlich at Ehrlich Architects, and built around a central open-air courtyard.

Strolling from one beautiful setting to another, guests sampled an array of scrumptious Crème de la Crème fare, set out in the expansive open kitchen, and gathered beside the pool to sip martinis, courtesy of Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Later, they joined Board President Sophie Cripe, Gala Chair Olivia Johnson, Managing Director Paula Tomei and Artistic Director Marc Masterson to applaud the Gala Committee.  “They continually put their hearts into planning ‘Grand Illusions’ to make our most fanciful visions become reality,” said Olivia, reminding guests that even the McElroy home reflected the Gala theme with its glass doors that pocket to reveal dramatic ocean views and create the illusion of being both outside and in.

“We’re all about illusions!” she added.  “And just wait until you see the surprises we we’ve conjured up on Saturday, September 13, when we bring you a Gala inspired by SCR’s imaginative production of The Tempest.”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

A Sister’s Loss, Enduring Love and Hope Inspire Core Story of "The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy"

by Melody Gonzalez

Melody González, her husband, Hector Luis Rivera and their son, Tonalli. Rivera is a cast musician in The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy. Photo: Gallo Studios.
NOTE: Santa Ana resident Melody Gonzalez participated over a two-year period with South Coast Repertory’s Dialogue/Dialogos project, which collected the stories of community residents, trained them in theatre craft and resulted in a new play inspired by Santa Ana. The new play is called The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy. Gonzalez shared her personal story of loss during the project and it served as the core of the play—the death of a child that brings a community together. What follows is her personal essay about the experience.

“Atropellaron a Sandy!”

I can still hear that cry from 20 years ago—the cry that made my heart stop and that changed my family’s lives forever: on June 24, 1994, the day of my fifth grade promotion, my three-year-old sister was hit by a car while she attempted to cross the street alone in our neighborhood.

Six days later, my sister transitioned, leaving behind a wealth of memories from her short life, but also a huge void and pain for my mother, father, brother and me. For 20 years, I have honored my sister and kept her alive in my life as my greatest inspiration and guardian angel.

Never would I have imagined that the central story in The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy would be so connected to my family’s story. I was shocked and honored.

I remember when we first learned about the Diálogos project. My husband, Hector, and I have always seen the arts and culture as essential tools for our communities to tell our stories, to celebrate our victories and to heal our pains.

We knew we wanted to participate in the first story circle. A few months later we were contacted as part of the many interviews Diálogos did throughout Santa Ana. We mostly shared about how we met organizing and doing street theatre in Chicago working alongside the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and about all the music, dance, and community work that sustains and heals us.

Rehearsal for The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy, with cast member Angela Apodaca portraying El Diablito (The Little Devil), foreground. Photo: Laura Bustamante.
I also shared how my sister’s accident and transition, right outside our home, was the main reason my parents decided to not move from Santa Ana. We shared about our own son’s birth and our decision to have a home water birth. After our meeting, I sent José a piece I wrote about our home birth. One of the things I highlighted from the experience was feeling my sister’s presence in the final moments of Tonalli’s birth. With each contraction, I screamed and wailed. In part from the pain, but also I had stepped outside of my body and could hear myself—my 10-year-old self—releasing pain held back since my sister’s transition. It was a very healing experience. Sharing my story through writing has been a large part of that healing as well.

I was able to participate in one of the last staged readings of Jose’s play, The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy and it was the first time I had read the play since sharing my stories with José.

I cried through most of it—going back to that tragic day 20 years ago—but it also was a very liberating experience. It helped me embrace the pain, the longing, the memories, the love, the healing journey and all the lessons that tragedy has taught me.

As Luz, the sister of the young boy who is hit by a car in the play, was introduced, I couldn’t help but see myself in Luz. Luz—light—bringing to light our stories is what this project has done.

The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy is created from the stories of hundreds of people in Santa Ana who have participated in this project and I applaud and honor this important cultural work.

Through a play—through the arts—is how our community can heal, as well as celebrate. Together bringing our stories to light.

Find out more about The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino De Hoy and buy tickets 


Anything Goes With Instrument Designer Kenny Wollesen

Musical director for The Tempest Kenny Wollessen on set at The Smith Center. Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun.
Think twice when you think about getting rid of that chest of drawers. Or throwing out or recycling coffee cans. Those items could be the makings of a quirky musical instrument in the hands of Kenny Wollesen. His truly distinctive instrument designs create a sonic experience in Aaron Posner and Teller’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. We caught up with him by email while he was on tour in eastern Europe for a conversation about his musical beginnings, instrument inspirations and working on The Tempest.

The Wheary Grinder
What inspired you to get into music?
In the fourth grade, I was asked what instrument I wanted to play in the school band. I immediately said trumpet; they said I would be playing drums. I have no idea why that happened; anyway, it stuck! All my gang of friends play music, too, so I mainly was inspired by them.

We started a band—The Jazz Delinquents aka The JDs—and started playing gigs. I was obsessed with jazz—Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy and the like—and I was so inspired by the few records that my dad had. To this day, Miles Davis’ “Bags Groove” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” are still my favorite records!

What about instrument design—when did that come along?
The first instrument I built was back in the early 90s. It was a poor man's copy of Tom Nunn's “Bug.” Nunn is a great instrument builder and musician from the Bay Area. Tom Waits had me play one for his opera, Alice, which premiered in Hamburg at the Thalia Theater.

My version of the “Bug” wasn’t nearly as sophisticated and beautiful as the one made by Tom Nunn, but mine did the job and I was able to use it on many recordings and at gigs. Shortly after that, the great composer John Zorn asked me to make some instruments for a piece he was writing for bass flute and two foley artists, The Prophetic Mysteries of Angels, Witches and Demons. A foley artist is the person who makes sound effects for movies.

Zorn described what he wanted sound-wise and I came up with a gaggle of instruments, from which Zorn picked three for the work’s premiere at Columbia University. He chose The “Wheary Grinder,” “Prepared Rifle” and “Prepared Slide Projector.” The “Weary Grinder” is used in The Tempest when Ariel is in the twister box!

I’m intrigued with instruments from “found” objects—like coffee cans, aged shoes and the like. Where do you find things?
Flea markets—I love flea markets! One of my very first gigs was at a flea market, so I go every weekend I get a chance…anywhere in the world. Flea markets are a treasure trove of ideas and possibilities and materials and there is an ever-changing flow of new and strange “goodies.”

Let’s talk The Tempest—how did you approach the instrument design possibilities for this show?
It all came from Shakespeare himself. His descriptions of the sound and noises of the island of Prospero are clear, beautiful and exciting. Check it out from the bard himself:
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
 Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again.”
Or words and phrases like: “whistle,” “storm,” “cry,” “thunderclaps,” “fire and cracks” and “roaring.” There’s a lot of meat on the bone to work with!

Can you talk about some of the instruments you created for this show?
I built a smaller version of the “Mbrain” for Teller and Aaron’s take on “the Scottish play” some years ago at the Two Rivers Theater in New Jersey. I wanted to create a sound for Macbeth as he begins to contemplate his murderous rampage of his king—and everyone else—and then as he realizes he is doomed when he sees Birnam Wood actually move to Dunsinane. His brain kind of fries and melts, so I wanted to create a sound for that. In The Tempest, it is used for Prospero’s spells on Caliban.

The “Marimbula” is kinda a hyped-up Kalimba—or thumb piano. It was challenging to make, but I’m pleased with it. I made it out of drawers from a thrown-away cabinet and antique dinner knives. I made it especially for this show and it’s the first instrument i made with a full chromatic scale. It has a great percussive bass tone.

The “Glass Armonica” is the one instrument in the show that I didn’t make. It was beautifully built by Seattle artist and musician Bliss Kolb. He built it for Gina Lieshman, theatre composer and multi-talented musician. It is a wonderful instrument, with a completely new design from the “traditional” one that was built by Benjamin Franklin. Hats off to Bliss and Gina for letting it be in the show.

How do you interact with the musicians who use the Tempest instruments?
Similar to the drums, my instruments are very, very easy to play, but hard to master! Really, there are three secrets to mastering any instrument: practice, practice, practice.

One writer has said that you are to percussive instrumentation what Teller is to the art of magic. How accurate is that assessment?
I’m not so sure about that! I consider Teller a bonafide true master of his art. His knowledge and the skill of his craft are so inspiring to me, yet he also is continuously curious and searching for new ways and ideas to add to his mastery. I think that’s where we meet; I’m not a master but I’m still searching for new ways and ideas.

I see many parallels between music and magic; so much depends on the small, small details, the slight twist of the hand, the way one holds or touches the instrument, use of the right kind of string, how much rosin is put on the bow.

What do you like most about what you do?
The constant change! Every moment, every second is different in music that it’s never ever the same.

Learn more and buy tickets.