Monday, November 16, 2015

An "A Christmas Carol" Kid All Grown Up

Sanaz Toossi first came to South Coast Repertory as a curious teen in the Theatre Conservatory. There she found her love for theatre—and a home. As a conservatory student, Toossi performed in many Players' productions and twice in A Christmas Carol.

Toossi (far right) in a Teen Players production.
These days, she's now one of the conservatory assistants and also has worked in the Literary Department as festival assistant for the Pacific Playwrights Festival; she also recently completed a literary internship. In November and December, she is adding another SCR credit to her resume as she returns to A Christmas Carol in an entirely new role—child wrangler. What is a child wrangler? Toossi explains and recounts some of her favorite SCR and A Christmas Carol memories.

What exactly is a child wrangler?
It sounds like I herd horses, but in general, a child wrangler basically keeps track of the child actors backstage. In A Christmas Carol, the wrangler leads a pre-show warm-up, assists with quick changes and makeup...most importantly, does not lose the kids. This might involve herding.

You practically grew up at SCR. When and how did you first get involved?
I did! I could not hold down an extracurricular activity. I tried everything, and I was either terrible or completely uninterested. When I took ice-skating lessons, everyone in my group—except for me—kept getting bumped to the next level. We played this game in which we were supposed to skate through the teacher's legs, and I found that game absurd and had a breakdown on the ice (which is hilarious to me now). So I went home and told my mom that I hated ice-skating. She said, "You hate everything; you have to find something". I thought I might like acting, so I Googled "acting classes orange county" and guess what I found...

Toossi in A Christmas Carol in 2006,
with Jennifer Parsons.
What is your history with A Christmas Carol?
I played Martha Cratchit twice when I was a student in the conservatory when I was 14 and then 16. Martha is the oldest of the Cratchit bunch, and she's awesome. I know the show and many of the actors in it very well, so my mom and I go see the show every year. We like to discuss little changes after.

What’s your favorite A Christmas Carol memory?
I can't think of anything specific, but what has stuck with me all these years is how fun it was being onstage with Danny Blinkoff and Jennifer Parsons, who play Bob and Mrs. Cratchit. After all these years, I still have dreams where I'm onstage, Jenny's looking at me, and I cannot remember my lines.

What are you looking forward to the most this time around?
I'm looking forward to working on the show while not being a hormonal teenager with homework! Also, this show really gets you in the Christmas spirit—I'm going full Christmas this year. Hats, tinsel, all of it. I'm going to be a Christmas terror. Get ready, friends and co-workers.

You work in many aspects of theatre—is there a favorite part of theatre to work in?
That's tough because I've been fortunate enough to work with really great people who have made each job enjoyable. But a few things...I will tell you that it'd be a tough sell to get me to act on a stage again (to no fault of anyone's). Acting is hard and scary and I'm getting lazier with each year. The responsibility of stage management would probably send me into cardiac arrest. I've loved working in literary—seeing playwrights' brains work, witnessing a new work develop, seeing a director's take on things. But I think working in our conservatory has been very rewarding for me. Giving kids a place to be themselves—the same place where I got to be weird—is important to me.

Sanaz with playwright Dipika Guha during her literary internship.
You’re also a playwright; can you tell us more about that?
I grew up in the conservatory and I loved acting here. But I always secretly knew I didn't want to be an actor, and yet I knew I loved theatre. I realized what I loved about the theatre were the words, the page coming to life. It was more fun for me to imagine what the actors would say in my head than it was to say it myself. So now I write plays! Some are funny and some are really not funny. I always try to include inappropriate jokes. I love writing more than anything. Maybe it'll be something I pursue, maybe it won't. And some days everything I write is stupid and pointless, but it's still what I love most in the world.

What has been your favorite show at SCR?
Vietgone by Qui Nguyen. Hands down, 100 percent, I have never seen a show so impactful and bright and important. My parents, like Nguyen's, immigrated to this country from a conflicted area, and as a writer, it's been really important to me to tell their story. Until I saw Vietgone, I had never seen a story like that treated with such passion, and humor and sincerity. It changed how I think about my own writing.

Sanaz in rehearsal for her play Nobody's Child.
Have you had a mentor who has provided you with guidance on theatre issues?
I met Theatre Conservatory director Hisa Takakuwa when I was 13 and I knew immediately that I wanted to be friends with her. Aren't those the best friendships? The ones where you sort of pick each other? She cast me as an evil troll in a Summer Players and we've been friends ever since. She has supported me through everything. I have come to her with every rash decision and crazy idea and she talks me through it, always truthfully and always with love. She's the reason why I'm in theatre; she encouraged me to write. I cannot imagine what my life would have been without her. While she's been my best teacher and best director, what's been really cool for me is how I've gotten to know her as a friend. Because she's brilliant and sharp, of course, but Hisa is hilarious and just so fun to be around. And one of my favorite things to do is just kick it with her in her office and make weird jokes. There are lots of people who can shape you as an artist, but it's so cool, I think, to be able to call that person your friend.

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