Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hot Off the Press—Gala Entertainment Update

Tracy Kirwan and Sarah McElroy
SCR Associate Artistic Director John Glore and Gala Executive Chair Sally J. Anderson
Audrey Greenfield and Barbara Cline
Cuisine, Decor & Entertainment and Hospitality Committee member Jane Taylor shows off a dinner napkin.
There’ll be music galore during SCR’s “Stagestruck!” Gala at The Westin South Coast Plaza on Sept. 10. Here’s the scoop from the Gala Committee’s June luncheon meeting.
  • A lively ensemble … to provide the beat for the Galleria reception.
  • A big band … to entice guests into the ballroom.
  • A hip DJ … to select dinner tracks
Later, the band will be back—for dancing the evening away. And for those who linger into the wee hours, the DJ won’t leave until the last note has sounded.

Musical names are still under wraps, but the Gala Committee is ready to announce the big entertainment news—SCR’s “Stagestruck!” Gala headliner will be Nicole Parker, “MADtv” and Wicked star (and SCR Theatre Conservatory grad).

She’ll sing, of course, do a little standup, as is her wont, and reminisce about the years at South Coast Repertory, where she got her start as a member of the Young Conservatory Players.

“I believe my entire childhood was shaped by SCR,” Parker says, “starting with classes when I was seven years old until my last show at age 12. Those were truly formative years.” And they are years filled with fascinating memories that Parker will share when she headlines the SCR Gala.

Meanwhile, SCR Associate Artistic Director John Glore joined the Gala luncheon to fill everyone in on Nicole’s career and share some memories of his own. They include the first time he saw her in rehearsal for Wind of a Thousand Tales—Folk Tales From Far-Away Places, which Glore wrote for the Young Conservatory’s 10th anniversary.

“I had limited expectations for a nine-year-old actress, especially one who hadn’t even completed SCR’s Young Conservatory training, so I was astonished when Nicole took on the lead role in my play," Glore relates. "She was like this pint-sized professional, entirely natural on-stage while also projecting a huge personality and heart in the role. What a gift she was to me in my first venture as a playwright, and again in the follow-up a year later. I certainly wasn’t surprised when she went on to stardom on television and on Broadway.”

Learn all about Parker here.

From Kimberly Kay to Elphaba to Fanny Brice—Nicole Parker Comes Home to SCR as Gala Headliner

Parker gets a lift in Wind of a Thousand Tales
Nicole Parker, who will headline SCR’s “Stagestruck!” Gala on Sept. 10, was nine years old when she wowed audiences as Kimberly Kay in the Young Conservatory Players production of Wind of a Thousand Tales—Folk Tales From Far-Away Places. She was a dynamo then, and she hasn’t stopped for a minute. That talent, energy and pizzazz is what made Parker a hit on the wildly popular "MADtv," where she was a regular and contributing writer for six years.

More recently, she won the coveted Ovation Award for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at 3-D Theatricals and portrayed Bea in Rolin Jones’ These Paper Bullets! at Atlantic Theater Company off-Broadway and L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse.

If you traveled to New York City during the Wicked phenomenon, you may have seen her as Elphaba in that hit musical, but if you didn’t catch her then, she repeated the role in Wicked’s first national tour.

But let’s go back to where it all began, during her first year of training, at the Young Conservatory recital. According to Parker, “That’s when I decided I wanted to do this for a living. The moment happened when I sang a song as the comic character Little Lulu. I remember hearing the audience laughing and thinking, ‘Oh, I definitely want this for the rest of my life. Done.’”

In the late ’80s, Parker was on every stage at SCR, playing Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol; a Russian boy scout (!) in Highest Standard of Living; and Reverend Parris’ daughter, Betty, in The Crucible.

“That play really was life changing,” Parker says. “Even though I was only in the first scene (and spent most of it in bed, because supposedly Betty has been ‘touched’), the scene was long, and it was amazing to listen to those incredible actors every night. At only 10 years old, I was aware of The Crucible’s success. It felt special, and it was crucial for me to witness what it was to be a professional working actor.”

After her scene, Parker could have gone home, but she stayed every night, sitting in a little chair near the tech booth to watch the courtroom scene.

In Wind of a Thousand Tales—Folk Tales From Far-Away Places, Parker had more than one scene; in fact, as Kimberly Kay, she was in all of them. SCR Literary Manager John Glore (now associate artistic director) wrote the play—his first—and isn’t paltry with his praise, saying, “The first time I saw Nicole onstage, I knew she was going to be a star.”

That sentiment was recently echoed by Kris Hagen, who served for many years as SCR’s Conservatory manager. Hagen played Gramma in Wind of a Thousand Tales and remembers the first day of rehearsal—for good reason. “Nicole came to rehearsal knowing all of her lines,” Hagen says. “And the lines of all the other characters! She wasn’t being boastful, just natural, as if that’s what everyone did. She was a little girl with a big voice and a charming personality. And, yes, she exuded energy!”

In those days, newspapers reviewed all the shows, even those “for kids, by kids,” as the Players deemed their productions. Los Angeles Times critic Lynne Heffley gave Wind of a Thousand Tales a rave review and called Parker “irresistible.”

Years later, StageSceneLA called her performance in Funny Girl, “Dazzling…(She’s) a comedienne who can sing, dance and act every bit as spectacularly as she can make you laugh.”

Her next stop? (Well, maybe not the next stop; she’ll no doubt be onstage or on TV between now and then.) But count on her appearance Sept. 10 at SCR’s “Stagestruck!” Gala. She’ll sing, for sure. And maybe she’ll also talk about how she got her start—here at SCR.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Special Guests at Summer Acting Workshop

Sara Guerrero, one of the Summer Acting Workshops daily instructors, leads students in movement exercises.
Want to give your kids something fun to do this summer? Looking for arts camp options at family-friendly prices?  SCR’s Summer Acting Workshop is a theatre camp for young people, primarily those who are new to SCR’s Conservatory. We work with many experience levels and age groups, from 8-18, grades 3-12. The purpose of the camp is to learn the process of making theatre in a challenging and fun environment. Students work on acting tools—voice, body, imagination—to improve their individual creativity, confidence, and ability to work and communicate effectively with others.

Instructor Diana Burbano works with a student
on musical theatre.
Each day of the 10-day session starts with a quick camp-wide warm up to promote energy and focus.  Then, for two hours, students break into peer groups (grades 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 and 9-12) of no more than 18 students for interactive instruction in voice, movement, character development and more, led by SCR’s veteran staff of theatre professionals. The final hour is spent with special guests who bring to life various aspects of theatre, like improvisation, combat, singing and playwriting—something different every day.  Finally, at the end of the two weeks, there is an open classroom presentation of what’s been learned.

Here's a look at the special guests who will visit visit the class throughout the week. All these experienced teaching artists have links to SCR, both past and present. Here’s a little bit about them, what they’ll be teaching, and how they’re connected to SCR:

  • Playwriting will be taught by award-winning playwright Kristina Leach, who worked at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. SCR Connection: Kristina was formerly on SCR’s literary staff and is current Conservatory faculty member.

  • Putting it Together (the process of putting together a show: casting, theatrical design, rehearsal, performance) will be taught by Patrick Williams. SCR Connection: Patrick was once a stage management intern here at SCR.

  • Mask & Physical Acting will be taught by Emily Heebner, who received her MFA from the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and has acted in many national tours and regional theatres.  SCR connections: Heebner has performed in The Diviners and is an Adult Conservatory faculty memeber.

  • Improvisation will be taught by two familiar SCR faculty members. Chris Sullivan is one of the founding artists of the Modjeska Playhouse, as well as a trained clown, competitive improviser and ship captain (who appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean, thanks to his skills). Amy-Louise Sebelius received her MFA from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and currently teaches at Lakewood High School, while staying active as a director and performer in Long Beach. SCR Connections: Sullivan is a graduate of SCR’s Acting Intensive Program, and Sebelius regularly teaches in the Conservatory.

  • Musical Theatre will be taught by SCR regulars Tom Shelton and Diana Burbano. SCR Connection: Both Tom and Diana have regularly graced SCR’s stages: Burbano in Theatre for Young Audiences productions, and Shelton in more than 15 productions.

  • Instructor Richard Soto works with a student on stage combat.
  • Stage Combat will be taught by Richard Soto, an actor, producer, writer, stunt performer and stage manager.  SCR Connection: Soto spent 11 seasons at SCR as Young Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol!

  • Movement will be taught by Mercy Vasquez, who received her dramatic training at UCLA, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and King’s College in London. For several years, she served as the program director for Voices Unheard at Greenway Arts Alliance in LA. SCR Connection: Vasquez is the Junior Players director (she recently directed The Witches), an actor in previous SCR productions (Our Town), and a graduate of the Acting Intensive Program.

  • Mime will be taught by Deborah Marley, who has experience teaching dance and movement all over the country, including at Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., and at Vanguard University. SCR Connection: She started in SCR’s Conservatory classes when she was 8 years old and went all the way through until she graduated at 16! 

Sound like fun? Make sure your kids don’t miss out. There are four sessions this summer: July 30 - August 11 and August 13 - August 25, each with a morning and afternoon option. Enroll online now or call (714) 708-5577 to enroll now!

Friday, May 20, 2016

SCR Artisans: Building a Little Structure

South Coast Repertory's Cutter/Drapper, Catherine Esera

Amadeus rendering by costume designer Alex Jaeger
When a costume designer meets with the show's director, they talk about the concept, look and needs for the production. When the final costume designs are turned in and approved, renderings are made and sent to South Coast Repertory's Costume Shop.And then, the next phase of building costumes happens.

So, how does an illustration go from page to fully realized and functional costume on stage? Catherine J. Esera, South Coast Repertory's cutter/draper, is a part of the team that makes it all happen. Esera first joined SCR as an overhire for the Costume Shop in 2003. Eventually, she was hired full-time as the cutter/draper in 2009.

"When I explain to people about what I do, my first step is to correct them: I am not a costume designer," explains Esera. "Then I tell them that once the designer draws the costume renderings and selects the fabrics, I am given those, along with the actors' measurements, and am told, 'Make it happen!'"

Marco Barricelli with Camille Thornton-Alson in a different pannier.
Over seven seasons, Esera has worked with numerous designers, crafted clothing spanning multiple eras and even built costumes that transformed actors into bugs and animals. A few shows have stood out over the years for her.

"In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play was a huge costume show and my first big build on staff," says Esera. "Pride and Prejudice was fun to work on because of the huge fan base behind that title and because Paloma Young's designs were beautiful! Most of our Theatre for Young Audiences shows are a blast to work on. They're fast builds, but to pull off the fantastical with such unique materials is very challenging and fun."

For Amadeus, structure rules the designs, because many characters wear corsets, bum rolls and panniers. Esera was tasked with creating a pannier hoop skirt, which is a structure worn underneath women's skirts during late 18th century to create the overall shape and silhouette popular during that time. The pannier hoop is distinctive for its oval shape, rather than being formed in a circle.

Esera takes us inside her process with a step-by-step guide to building a pannier hoop.

Step 4
Step 1
"It's important to use several different sources for period research. I use  research as a guideline, rather than a law book. Since modern bodies are shaped differently than those of the past eras, putting all of the period seams in all the same spots just won't work. I also have to consider all the actor's physical needs, quick changes and maintenance for the performers' costumes. One of my sources was a book in our Costume Shop about Colonial Williamsburg clothing, which had photos and a pattern for a pannier hoop skirt. I read the description many times and scrutinized each photo. Then, I looked in other books and online for more photos and paintings of the same type of structure."

Step 2
"I scaled up the pattern from the book. Then, I took the "original" pattern and made it the proper size for the actor. I also made a few changes so it would be more theatre friendly—alteration points, added length, etc. I can never make anything just the way the books show. There's always some hot-rodding to be done!"

Step 5
Step 7
Step 8
Step 3
"I washed, dried and pressed the natural linen that was chosen for our piece. I cut out all but the yoke from the linen. Since the yoke had the most changes, I cut those pieces out of muslin to make it easier for any possible adjustments during the first fitting."

Step 4
"Then, I sewed the cut fabric together, including the padded side openings and the drawstring waist."

Step 5
"Amy Hutto, our Costume Shop manager, and I bought lengths of natural round reed at a local reed and cane store. To make the frame to shape, I traced out my shapes from the scaled/graded pattern onto a piece of plywood and hammered nails into the plywood at about 1" apart. There are four hoops in the skirt: one small, two medium and one large."

Step 6
"One at a time—because I've never done this before—I soaked each reed for a minimum of three hours using a rain gutter that I borrowed from our Scene Shop."

Step 7
"I removed the reeds from the water and slowly bent it around the frame of the nails. The top hoop was the most difficult because it was the smallest and had compound curves."

Step 8
"I let the reeds dry on the frame for several days each."

Step 9
Step 11
"To join the ends of the reeds together, I had to come up with my own method. According to my research, the original period method would have not been suitable for our needs. I used lengths of bamboo that had the appropriate size hollow that would fit around the reed. Too small wouldn't fit, but too big would not be secure enough and would potentially be dangerous for the actor. Since the bamboo was a bit brittle once the reed ends were inserted, I wrapped each piece with gaff tape to help stabilize it."

Step 10
"I threaded the reeds into the linen skirt to build the structure."

Step 11
"Finally, we fit the whole piece on the actor, made the necessary changes to the yoke, cut the modified yoke pieces out of the linen, sewed them onto the skirt and voila! Pannier hoop skirt complete with reed hoops!"

Learn more and get your tickets to Amadeus.

A Very “Punny” Play: "The Light Princess"

Joel Gelman, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Emily Eiden in The Light Princess.
The title of The Light Princess contains a pun, a humorous play on words in which a single word has multiple meanings at once. In this example, “light” refers to both a lack of gravity (physical) and a lack of seriousness (emotional).

Here are a few other examples of puns. In each example, circle the word that is the pun. (In the first question, this word has been bolded for you.) This word has two meanings, one in each column of answers. In the blanks next to the questions, write the letters that correspond with both definitions of the circled word.
  1. What did the road say to the bridge? You make me cross. ____f____, ________
  2. Pencils could be made with erasers at both ends, but what would be the point? ________, ________
  3. The tale of the haunted refrigerator was chilling. ________, ________
  4. A giraffe is the highest form of animal life. ________, ________
  5. A man rushed into the doctor’s office and shouted, “Doctor! Doctor! I think I’m shrinking!” The doctor calmly responded, “Now, settle down. You’ll just have to be a little patient.” ________, ________ (Note: there are actually two words in this sentence that are puns—“little” can mean both small and a bit. Look for the meanings of the other pun in the sentence.)
  6. I was struggling to figure out how lightning works then it struck me. ________, ________
  7. A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West and announces: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw. “ ________, ________
  8. I saw a sign that said falling rocks, so I tried and it doesn’t. ________, ________
  9. Q: What travels faster, hot or cold? A: Hot, because you can always catch cold. ________, _________
Answers: Column 1
a. frightening, scary
b. to hit, to collide
c. willing to wait
d. a mild illness characterized by a runny nose and sore throat
e. tallest
f. to pass from one side of something to the other
g. to be exciting or awesome
h. the purpose or reason for something
i. an animal’s foot
Answers: Column 2
j. father
k. to occur to someone, to spring to mind
l. the tip or sharp end of something
m. cold, freezing
n. a lack of heat
o. most developed or complex
p. stones
q. a person receiving medical treatment
r. angry or irritated
Where do fairy tales come from? Find out in this BBC Culture article.

Answers: 1. Cross (f, r); 2. Point (h, l); 3. Chilling (a, m); 4. Highest (e, o); 5. Patient (c, q); 6. Struck (b, k); 7. Paw (i, j); 8. Rocks (g, p); 9. Cold (d, n)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Words by Peter Shaffer, Music by Mozart, Production by SCR

On May 13, the glorious music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wafted from stage to terrace as theatregoers—their rousing ovation ended—gathered at the Cast Party for Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, the final production of the season.

To put the play in historical perspective, Amadeus opened the 1983-84 season at South Coast Repertory to rave reviews. This revival, more than three decades later, marks another auspicious occasion—SCR’s 500th production.

At the celebratory party, golden balloons, shaped as 500s, flew above while below, partygoers congratulated the actors—who had shed their wigs and Classical costumes, donned 21st-century outfits and joined the fun.

Everyone agreed that the theatrically splendid Amadeus, with its cast of 14 inimitable players was an impressive choice to end the 2015-16 season.

Honorary Produce Sandy Segerstrom Daniels led the praise, saying: "Amadeus was incredible! The cast performed as though they had been playing these roles for months. I hope to come back and see it again!"

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Up Through the Ranks and Beyond

The phrase, “something for everyone” applies perfectly to SCR’s acting programs which begin with kids in third grade who are new to theatre and keeps on going.

 Mason Acevedo, Jacques C. Smith, Randle Mell, Hal Landon Jr. and Henri Lubatti in Antigone.
At age 13, Mason Acevedo was a student in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory and a member of the Junior Players, where, among other roles, he played Mowgli in Jungle Book. During his years at SCR, Mason also portrayed Peter Cratchit in A Christmas Carol and alternated in the boys’ roles in Antigone and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Then he grew up. Serious about acting by the age of 18, Mason attended the Adult Acting Program. The following summer, he was accepted into the Acting Intensive Program.

Looking back, Mason says, “The Adult Program is a welcoming environment for students at all levels. Not only did it teach me the benefits acting has on your life and relationships, but it created an avenue for me to go into Acting Intensive, which developed my skill and allowed me to grasp the core of my craft. It also allowed me to see my place in the professional world and how I can most efficiently find success in it. Overall, the program is incredibly unique. From the relationships you make, to the things that you learn, it’s something I will always remember.”

Madeleine Bloom didn’t attend the Theatre Conservatory as a child, but she always loved theatre. Somewhere along the way, she realized that there was more to it than she could get in high school. “I began taking adult acting classes at SCR and fell in love with the program, from the teachers to the staff to the amazing people in my classes.”

Then the opportunity arose to audition for the Acting Intensive Program. “When I got accepted, I knew from the first day I was in for an incredible experience. I loved every minute, At the end of the eight weeks, I couldn’t believe all that we had accomplished and all that was still out there to learn. I would recommend this program to anyone interested in the field.”

Learn more about the Acting Intensive Program

A High-Flying Princess

by Kat Zukaitis

Once upon a time, a young princess was placed under a magical curse that could only be broken by the power of true love.

This is that story… sort of.

In The Light Princess, a barren King and Queen turn to the Queen’s sister—a Witch—for help having a child. They are overjoyed when a baby girl arrives, even though she seems unusually cheerful… and unusually light. In fact, she floats! The Witch has taken away the Princess’ gravity, both physical and emotional: she cannot touch the ground, and she cannot feel any truly weighty emotions, such as fear, sadness or love. If the Princess cannot find her gravity before her sixteenth birthday, the Witch will take over the kingdom, and the Princess will remain weightless forever.

Angela Balogh Calin’s costume design for the Princess.
As the Princess’ sixteenth birthday approaches, her parents desperately dream up ways to weigh her down. They try to make her cry, to no avail, for nothing can make the Princess truly sad. The Queen realizes that her own tears stem not from sadness, but from love. Perhaps the thing that will give the Princess gravity is falling in love!
But the Princess doesn’t want to fall in love. She wants to swim in the lake, the one place where she feels the weight of the water. One day, a wandering Prince—who would rather be a musician—hears her splashing and sets out to save her from drowning. Instead of a grateful damsel, though, he finds a furious Princess who wants nothing to do with him. She hates suitors and wants to return to her lake. He’s not a suitor, he insists, and he hates Princesses. But as the two of them fall back into the lake, they also begin a much more terrifying journey—they begin to fall in love. 

Back at the castle, the King announces a suitor competition, promising the Princess’ hand in marriage to any man who can keep her on the ground, even if it means chaining her to the floor. Meanwhile, the Witch bespells the Prince to drain the Princess’ beloved lake—and with it, all the water in the kingdom. There’s only one way to protect the lake, but it may cost the Prince his life. Can the Princess find her gravity—and save the day—before it’s too late?

Angela Balogh Calin’s costume design for the Prince.
Playwright Lila Rose Kaplan and composer/lyricist Mike Pettry adapted The Light Princess from a 19th century fairy tale by George McDonald, adding a few twists of their own along the way. This Princess is no damsel in distress waiting for a rescue; she is a young woman who must rely on her own wisdom to try to save herself, her Prince and her kingdom. Director Casey Stangl calls the play a “fractured fairy tale” for the way it assembles classic fairy tale elements—a witch, a cursed princess, a prince in disguise—and recombines them into a story about growing up and learning the value of sadness as well as joy. For the Princess, the path to adulthood means embracing both tears and laughter as integral parts of the human experience. “It’s an important story for children,” says Stangl, “and also adults!”

For the SCR production, Stangl wanted to find a way to keep the Princess aloft without wires, looking instead for a “theatrical metaphor” for flight. As luck would have it, the literary staff at SCR had recently been in touch with a choreographer and AcroYoga instructor named Ezra Lebank, the Head of Movement at California State University, Long Beach. Stangl went to see a workshop featuring Lebank and two accomplished Cal State Long Beach theatre students, Taylor Casas and Cynthia Price, and knew that she’d found the way to make her Princess fly.

In The Light Princess, Casas and Price play “gravitrons,” using their expertise in dance and AcroYoga to keep the Princess aloft. With their help, and that of choreographer Rebecca Nakano, SCR newcomer Arielle Fishman floats and soars across the stage as the Princess, her feet (almost) never touching the ground. Stangl felt that it was especially important for this story about a young woman’s empowerment to feature other young woman “lifting their sister up,” so to speak. Add in Mike Pettry’s irresistible music, which is sweeping and silly by turns, and this show really takes off!

François-Pierre Couture’s set design for The Light Princess.
Fishman, Casas and Price are joined onstage by Gina D’Acciaro, making her SCR debut as a very sassy Witch, as well as several actors known and loved by SCR audiences: Ann Noble as the Queen, Justin Figueroa as the Prince, Joel Gelman and Emily Eiden as the Wisemen and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, returning for his eighth SCR show, as the King.

SCR audiences will also recognize director Casey Stangl, whose work here includes several TYA productions, most recently The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and James and the Giant Peach; last season’s Venus in Fur; and the upcoming world premiere of The Siegel. Deborah Wicks LaPuma (musical direction), François-Pierre Couture (scenic design), Angela Balogh Calin (costume design), Karyn Lawrence (lighting design) and Jeff Polunas (sound design) round out the creative team, helping to bring this delightfully imaginative—and unconventional—fairy tale with music to life.

Learn more.

Monday, May 2, 2016

'Process Over Product' in SCR's Actor Training

Christopher Huntley (Oberon), Rachel Charny (Titania), Alex Theologides Rodriguez (Bottom) and Jamie Ostmann (Puck) in rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa teaches her students to understand the craft of acting as they create their characters, rather than concentrating on the result, which is the show itself. That’s “process over product.” It’s deeper and more complicated than memorizing and blocking. In the end, it’s more rewarding than acclaim because it’s what sustains them as actors—and as people. “The process of acting brings confidence,” Takakuwa says, “and that allows students to have fun onstage—and it brings maturity, and that helps them throughout life.

That may sound like pretty heavy stuff, but it’s ingrained in Takakuwa’s students.

“It’s our mantra,” says Rachel Charney of her training. “We care about creating truth on stage, not about showing off how beautiful our costumes are or how pretty we look posing on a particular set piece, but about being vulnerable, emotionally truthful and creating people from words in a script.”

Rachel plays Hippolyta/Titania in the upcoming Teen Players production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She has performed in ten Players shows and A Christmas Carol. “I’ve spent more than half my life so far at SCR. It’s a second home for me.”

“In many theatres, they put a huge emphasis on the show—or the final product,” says Christopher Huntley. “SCR is unique because above all else comes the process, or how you got to the final product. I’ve been able to take this outlook and apply it to every facet in my life.”

Christopher plays Theseus/Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He has performed in countless Players shows and appeared twice in A Christmas Carol, first as Boy Ebenezer and later as Peter Cratchit.

Rachel and Chris first met in the Summer Acting Workshop and became friends when they were cast in the Junior Players production of The Velveteen Rabbit. They were in the fourth grade. In June, they’ll graduate from high school. Chris is off to to Stanford in the fall, and Rachel will move to London to further her actor training. Before that, they’ll appear opposite each other in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That will be their last Teen Players production.

They look back today on those years—and on the teacher who inspired them.

Rachel: I grew up here, learning things not just about acting but about people—about life. SCR provided a sort of whimsical escape from reality while making sure that we were always learning and growing. The hours I have spent memorizing lines, talking to myself, rehearsing, or laughing until I cried in the nooks and crannies of this theatre will stay with me forever.

Chris: After a fantastic time in the Summer Acting Workshop exploring acting games and having a blast, I decided to jump into the year-round program. Class never seemed like a class. It was more like a sandbox for the actor—and the person—in everyone. That feeling compelled me to come back year after year.

Rachel: We always say in Players that we want to grow up to be Hisa because there is no one in the world like her. She has been a guiding light for me through all my years at SCR, but especially now that I have become serious about wanting to be an actor. Most importantly, she has taught me to connect, to really listen to people and try to understand them and be an observer of the world around me.

Chris: Hisa is unique because she approaches everything from her background in acting. She helps us create authentic characters onstage, not only through their physical actions but through their emotions, motivations and drives. With Hisa, acting is a mirror of life, grounded in truth. Overall, she has taught me always to be honest with myself and to keep an eye out for the details. I believe these two skills to be crucial on and off stage.

Learn more about the Theatre Conservatory or buy tickets to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Hello, Summer—It's Time to Act

Improv Instructor Greg Atkins, right, works with students.
SCR’s Adult Acting Program is unique because its instructors are working actors in their fields They’ve done—and still do—what they teach. If you have experience as an actor and want to hone your talent, this is the place. On the other hand, if you’ve never taken an acting class in your life, this is also the place. And summertime is the time to begin.

Here are a few thoughts about what students can expect from instructors in the summer session, beginning June 21.

Act I, Basic Skills Richard Soto
Tuesdays 7-10 p.m., June 21 - August 9, 2016
Richard’s teaching philosophy is simple and positive. “I love storytelling, acting, and people! By using imagination and emotion, students will be able to create a character who will move people to laugh or cry through a great story. That’s what I live for—helping find the freedom to ‘play!’”

Act II, Scene Study Emily Heebner
Tuesdays, 7-10 p.m., ​​June 21 - August 9, 2016
Emily’s students explore new horizons within themselves as actors. “We implement basic techniques as we work with published texts, building our individual process for creating believable characters, trusting our impulses 'in the moment' and truthfully bringing great scenes to life. I welcome everyone, regardless of age, background, level of experience or training!"

Act III, Advanced Scene Study Matthew Arkin
Tuesdays, 7-10 p.m., June 21 - August 9, 2016
In his class, Matthew stresses the importance of preparation. “First, I tell students to stop ‘acting’ and simply ‘be.’ I want them to exist in the emotional, sensory and intellectual space of the character. That requires preparing ahead of time, knowing everything possible about the character. Then the actor can inhabit the character, and the events of the scene can just happen.”

Improv I and Advanced Improv Greg Atkins
Improv I: Tuesdays 7-10 p.m., ​June 21 - August 9, 2016
Advanced: Wednesdays 7-10 p.m., June 22 - August 10, 2016
In workshop settings that are fast-paced and fun, Greg focuses on acting, characterization, creativity and spontaneity. “There are only four areas in which improvisation will help you: auditions, performances, business and life! Improv is all about learning to think on your feet so whether playing a role or auditioning for one, Improv prepares actors for any challenge.”

Learn more and enroll.

Also This Summer

SCR’s Summer Acting Workshop (SAW) for kids and teen who are newcomers to theatre is where it all begins, and because summertime can also be busy time, there are two sessions to choose from (July 11-23 and July 25-August 6).

Here’s what a couple of grads have to say about SAW:

Jordan Bellow (a graduate of the Kids and Teens and Adult programs and the Acting Intensive program, currently living in New York City and pursuing an acting career)

“In grammar school, we learned memorization, blocking and then put the show up. That was it. When I came to Summer Acting Workshop, one of the first exercises we did was a simple one that we don’t think about as kids but you think about as you grow up and realize the importance of getting us out of our heads—sound, movement, circle. To try out something new, that broke the mold for me and I thought maybe there is something to a show besides just putting it up.”

Christopher Huntley (currently in his senior year, appears as Theseus/Oberon in the upcoming Teen Players production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and will go on to Stanford or Harvard in the fall—he’s still making up his mind)

“Ever since kindergarten, I’ve felt at home on the stage, and my parents chose the Summer Acting Workshop because they knew SCR had a good reputation. I loved it from the very first day and had a fantastic time exploring acting games and having a blast, so I decided to jump into the year-round program.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mystery, Memory and Music in Peter Shaffer’s "Amadeus"

by Andy Knight
Asher Grodman, Marco Barricelli and Liesel Allen Yeager in Amadeus.
“Well, the genesis of Amadeus was, I suppose, a long-felt desire to celebrate Mozart in me, but the play actually is not about Mozart, fundamentally. It is about Salieri. It is about the nature of a man’s sense of injustice, and to me the crucial things in the play of Amadeus occur after Mozart’s death, to some extent, when Salieri…finally says to the audience, ‘I was wondering all this time when I would be punished,’ and comes to the conclusion that his punishment lay—because he survived Mozart by 30 years and was a huge success in Vienna, gigantic success, much more successful on the level of acclaim than Mozart—when he spent thirty years being called distinguished by people incapable of distinguishing.”
—Playwright Peter Shaffer
In 1823, the year that Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus begins, Antonio Salieri, at one time Vienna’s most celebrated composer, is past his prime. Now 73 years old, Salieri has lived long enough to see his music fall out of fashion and his influence in the Viennese court dwindle, as his role as the royal music director fades from a position of power to a mere title of respect. What’s more, the buzz around Vienna—“the city of Slander”—is that Salieri has gone mad: after all, the reclusive Italian won’t stop raving that he killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the revered Austrian composer who died thirty years earlier. “I don’t believe it,” the gossips say. “All the same… Is it just possible? Did he do it after all?”

Only Salieri knows the truth, and as he waits for death, he begs the ghosts of the distant future—his audience—to hear his story, to know his truth once and for all. For their benefit, he revisits the past. “The year—to begin with—seventeen eighty-one,” says Salieri as he sets the scene. “The age still that of the Enlightenment: that clear time before the guillotine fell in France and cut all of our lives in half.”

At 31, Salieri holds the illustrious position of chamber composer in the Viennese court of Joseph II and is the model of success: his operas are loved in both Vienna and across Europe, his musical taste is exquisite and his skill at court politics is undeniable. But the pious Salieri knows that success doesn’t come for free; he believes that God bestows His gifts on only the most righteous, the most deserving. The composer, therefore, commits himself to serving God through music and to leading a virtuous life as a show of gratitude.

But then Salieri meets Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, wunderkind composer and enfant terrible. Mozart is gaudy, bawdy and petulant—but a remarkable talent. It’s not long before Salieri recognizes his own music is, at best, adequate next to Mozart’s—amusing trifles in the shadows of great works of art—and he’s consumed by jealousy. How could a just God give so much to someone so small? And how could the Almighty withhold the same kind of talent from Salieri, his greatest attendant? As Salieri’s envy grows, he wages a war against God, and Mozart is the battleground. “What use, after all, is Man,” Salieri points out, “if not to teach God His lessons?”

Portrait of Salieri by Joseph Willibrord (circa 1814).
Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by an unknown artist (circa 1788–90).
In Amadeus, Peter Shaffer, author of Equus and Lettice and Lovage, brings his story of jealousy and revenge to life using a technique in which the present and past (in Amadeus’ case 1823 and 1781-91, respectively) exist at the same time. On what he believes is his last night alive, Salieri conjures up the past and both participates within it and comments upon it (from the vantage point of the present). Time and location change frequently, but there is no interruption, no breaks between scenes; instead, the audience is ushered from event to event by Salieri, with a fluidity that allows the sweeping story to pick up momentum as its suspense grows.

But Shaffer also complements Amadeus’ storytelling with musical elements—not just with the play's use of music in the literal sense, but also with its nods to operatic forms. For example, Amadeus begins when “savage whispers fill the theatre” chanting “Salieri.” This chorus is quickly replaced by the Venticelli, two “little winds,” or gossips, who tell the audience about Salieri’s confession of murder. The sequence functions much like an introductory movement—or overture—to the play. Beyond that, one might describe Salieri’s monologues as the play’s arias; or discover that the word games between Mozart and his wife Constanze contain the rhyming patterns of song lyrics; or even find motifs from Mozart’s operas, like blackmail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) or destructive fathers (Don Giovanni), dropped into Amadeus.

“While it’s not a musical, it functions like one,” says director Kent Nicholson, who returns to SCR after directing the 2014 production of The Light in the Piazza. But it’s not only the musicality and epic scope that draw him to the piece: “I think people will be surprised how funny Amadeus is…I think that to make people have a profound experience, they have to laugh first.”

To bring Amadeus to life, Nicholson has assembled a creative team of SCR favorites. The design team includes set designer John Iacovelli, whose many SCR credits include this season’s production of Abundance; costume designer Alex Jaeger, who recently designed costumes for the world premiere of Office Hour at SCR; lighting designer Lap Chi Chu, who designed this season’s world premiere of Future Thinking; and sound designer Darron L West, who designed last season’s world premiere of Of Good Stock.

The cast of Amadeus includes SCR veterans, as well as newcomers. Marco Barricelli, whose successful career includes roles on Broadway and at the top regional theatres across the country, returns to SCR after last appearing in the theatre’s 1996 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Asher Grodman makes his SCR debut as Mozart. The cast is rounded out by Christian Barillas, Mark Capri, Peter Frechette, John-David Keller, Louis Lotorto, Louis Pardo, A.J. Sclafani, Camille Thornton Alson and Geoffrey Wade, all of whom have appeared in previous SCR productions, as well as Bo Foxworth, Cynthia Marty and Liesel Allen Yeager, who are making their SCR debut.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Meet the Author: George MacDonald

George MacDonald with son Ronald (right) and daughter Mary (left) in 1864. Photograph by Lewis Carroll.
MacDonald in the 1860s
The stage play The Light Princess is adapted from a fairy tale that Scottish author, George MacDonald, originally published in 1864.

George MacDonald was born in 1824 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. As a boy, he loved boxing and reading. He eventually learned to read in Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish. After graduating from university, MacDonald moved to London, where he studied theology. When his career as a preacher proved unsuccessful, he tried his hand at writing. His extensive knowledge of language and culture played an important role in his ability to paint vivid, memorable pictures in his books. Some years later, poet W.H. Auden wrote: “In his power to project his inner life into images, beings, landscapes which are valid for all, he is one of the most remarkable writers of the nineteenth century.”

MacDonald published more than 50 books over the course of four decades. While he wrote fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, he is best remembered for his fantasy and fairy tales. “I write, not for children,” he wrote, “but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.” The story “The Light Princess” was originally published as part of a longer novel, Adela Cathcart, in 1864. Some of his other best known works include Phantases (1858), At the Back of the North Wind (1871), The Princess and the Goblin (1872) and The Princess and Curdie (1883).

MacDonald served as a mentor to Lewis Carroll, and encouraged him to publish Alice in Wonderland. His writings also had a substantial influence on several major 20th century fantasy authors, including C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), and Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time). MacDonald spend the last two decades of his life living in Italy with his wife. He died in 1905, at the age of 80.

Adapted from George MacDonald: Life, Works, Legacy by Matthew Bracey

Learn more and buy tickets.

Summer Players to Present A Tale as Old as Time

Director Hisa Takakuwa and Musical Director Erin McNally prepare for Beauty and the Beast auditions.
Auditions are now underway for SCR’s next Summer Players show (August 6-14), and it’s a doozy. After much consideration, Director Hisa Takakuwa and Musical Director Erin McNally have chosen the two-time Broadway hit based on an ancient fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast.

According to Hisa, “We’re doing this show because Erin loves it!”

And that’s certainly true. “I always have identified with this show because the female protagonist is strong and smart,” Erin said, “and because it reminds us that being unique or ‘different’ isn’t a bad thing.”

Hisa is a big fan, too. “Beauty and the Beast has great characters and music to explore,” she said, “which makes it perfect for our Players. Because of the fantasy realm, we have a lot of flexibility with casting choices in terms of age and gender.”

Both agree that it’s a show that’s fun for the Players to perform and for the audience to watch. “ It’s very important that the story resonates with our young cast members and can be told from their point of view,” Hisa added. “One thing that helped convince me was that Beauty and the Beast deals with the power everyone has to change and grow and learn from every situation, good or—at least on first view—bad.”

The New York Times said of the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast (which is the one Hisa and Erin have chosen) that it “belongs right up there with the Empire State Building.”

“And we agree!” the directors declared.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" Next Up for Teen Players

The Bard’s Most Popular Comedy is a First for the Ensemble
L to R- Amanda Fassett, Mikey Costa, Alex Theologides Rodriguez, Saul Richardson, Joshua Myran and Kat Lewis in SCR's Teen Players production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Within SCR’s Theatre Conservatory are three groups of young actors chosen by audition—the Junior, Teen and Summer Players. Every year these ensembles of talented young actors astound audiences with their performances in shows that challenge them to take what they have learned in class and apply it to their roles.

They’ve performed in classics (Teen Players, Charles Dickens’ Hard Times), Broadway musicals (Summer Players, Sondheim’s Into the Woods) and be loved children’s stories (Junior Players, The Velveteen Rabbit).

But never Shakespeare.

Until now. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Nicholas Studio, May 14-15 and 20-22) will be the Teen Players first-ever production of a work by the Bard.

“There’s no real reason for that,” says Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa. “Clearly, I’ve chosen challenging plays for them in the past, and it’s not like I’ve avoided Shakespeare…”

And why would she? Takakuwa is a classically trained actor and longtime member of the classic theatre company A Noise Within, where she appeared in numerous Shakespearian roles such as Maria in Twelfth Night. Her other roles include Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet at Indiana Repertory Theatre and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing at Grove Shakespeare Festival.

“I think, looking back, with each new season and each new group of ensemble Players, there has been a play that suits them well,” she says. This year, it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

“Because our Players are vibrant young people, we’ll see the play from their point of view,” she explains, “which is naturally fresh and youthful. This will be an honest, straight-forward production.”

But it is Shakespeare, after all, and that calls for extensive preparation. “These Players are very committed to their work—or they wouldn’t be here,” Takakuwa says, noting that the cast is made up of the most enthusiastic and talented Conservatory students, but they don’t audition for the Players ensembles unless they are prepared to devote themselves to long hours of rehearsal—and that’s in addition to twice-weekly classes during the school year.

Takakuwa started rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the actors seated at a long table, reading the script—for three weeks. She says, “I wanted them to understand the poetry within the text before setting foot onstage. At the end of the table read, they needed to be comfortable with their characters.”

She concentrated on the three major themes in the comedy: love, transformation and dream/reality. “It’s all about how people change,” she relates. “The Teen Players are going through their own changes. They’re all in high school now, and two of them are off to college in the fall. In a sense, they’re on the way into their own forests.”

But first, they have a stop in the forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where four young lovers flee into the woods on a summer evening—and where strange and wonderful things are about to happen.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Casting Call: Taking on Salieri and Mozart

Actors Talk About Taking on Iconic Roles in Amadeus

Marco Barricelli as Salieri and Asher Grodman as Mozart in Amadeus.

Marco Barricelli
Asher Grodman
Asher Grodman starts the conversation with a secret: for years, he has wanted to work with actor Marco Barricelli. Both are cast in Sir Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (Segerstrom Stage, May 6-June 5, 2016)—Barricelli as Antonio Salieri and Grodman as Mozart.

“This is a dream come true for me,” says Grodman. “Marco is amazing because of both the ease and power that he works with.”

As for a revelation from Barricelli, read on to find out about that and more as the actors talk about taking on the iconic roles in Sir Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play.

On what drew them to the play

Barricelli: I had never considered playing Salieri until SCR offered it to me. But I had seen the original Broadway production a dozen or so times, with Sir Ian McKellen as Salieri, Tim Curry at Mozart and Jane Seymour as Constanze. It is a great play—and we all want to do “great” plays, right? The role of Salieri also is one of those unscalable mountains: one can never satisfactorily scale it; it is the attempt that is all important. I also enjoy hearing all of the glorious music.

Grodman: The play is brilliant and the role of Mozart is like a playground for any actor. He's like a rubber ball being thrown against a jagged wall: You don't know where it's going, but you know it's going there fast! He's filled with contradictions—he's genius, child-like nature, rebellion and desperate need for approval.

On what’s challenging and fun about their characters

Barricelli: The truth is that I am not a person who likes sweets, but Salieri does and he uses sweets as his substitute for sex, at least to begin with. I think the most challenging thing for me has been the stamina it takes to get through the whole performance; it’s a long play and Salieri never leaves the stage.

I used to think that acting was being unrecognizable on stage; now I know it to be revealing who and what you are. If you can honestly reveal yourself, then it has some truth, and truth allows you and the audience to believe. That’s our job: we make belief—we “make believe.”

Grodman: The play, the cast and the director ar the best things about coming to work each day. In terms of my own work, the most challenging and the most fun have been working with the breadth of the story and and navigating the twists and turns. So much happens: Mozart goes through numerous life-altering moments and responds to them in big ways, but they go by quickly (in the blink of an eye). In addition, the dynamics of the relationships are constantly shifting throughout the play, often because Mozart is so impulsive.It's a bit of an obstacle course for an actor, that that's a lot of fun! I also love the moments when Mozart gets the approval he so desperately needs and when he watches his own work come to life. For me, that's a wonderful feeling.

Characters inspired by actual people

Barricelli: Frankly, as Shakespeare says, “the play’s the thing.” I’m not on stage to perform historical research; I’m performing Mr. Shaffer’s play. It may be interesting to learn some things about the real Salieri, but at the end of the day, we are doing the playwright’s image of Salieri.

Grodman: The play isn't the history, but because there are so many resources out there—like Mozart's music and his letters—I feel that there's a lot of fuel to broaden my own imaginative landscape. I've found that those resources have helped me fall in love with the man.

My favorite line in the play—”My tongue is stupid. My heart isn't.”—is him in a nutshell. He doesn’t know how to communicate, but he knows when he has something that is worthy to say through music; it is pure and it comes from his heart.

If you could share a meal with Mozart or Shaffer

Barricelli: Oh, I’d be too intimidated to have any sort of intelligent conversation!

Grodman: I don't think I'd be invited, but I wonder if Mozart—at least Mozart as he appears in Amadeus—would tease Shaffer for needing five drafts for his play!

Learn more. Buy tickets.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Story: "The Light Princess"

Cover of the 1890 edition.
Cover of the 1962 edition.
Cover of the 2016 edition.
The Theatre for Young Audiences series concludes with the delightful musical, The Light Princess (Julianne Argyros Stage, May 20-June 5, 2016), adapted from an original fairytale by George MacDonald. Read on to learn more about the story itself.

Two Wisemen begin to tell a story set a very long time ago—but they argue and cannot decide how to begin their tale. The King and Queen in the story enter and get the Wisemen back on track.

Our story begins once upon a time. A young King and Queen are happy and in love, until they discover that they cannot have children. They seek the help of the Queen’s sister, a Witch who also is in love with the King. She agrees to help, for a price. The King and Queen rejoice over the arrival of a baby daughter, until they discover that she has no gravity, either physical or emotional. The Princess not only floats, she can’t feel serious emotions like fear, sadness, or love—and if she can’t find her gravity by her 16th birthday, the Witch will take over the kingdom.

As the Princess grows up, what she loves more than anything is to swim in the lake, for that is the one place she has weight. But the Wisemen, her guardians and tutors, don’t have time to swim with her. The Princess’ 16th birthday is fast approaching, and the Wisemen are busy coming up with ideas to help her find her gravity. Alas, the Princess’ attempts to cry all end in laughter… because, as the Queen points out, love, not tears, is what allows us to feel weighty emotions. However, the Princess has never fallen in love. Over the Queen’s objections, the King and Wisemen decide to hold a Suitor Competition to find the Princess a husband.

Meanwhile, a young Prince (in disguise as a musician) wanders through the forest, trying in vain to write a love song. He convinces the Witch to let him stay with her. While playing his guitar on the shore of the lake, he hears the Princess splashing and jumps in to save her. She, of course, did not need to be saved, and demands that he put her back in the lake. He jumps in with her—the first time in her life that she has experienced falling. It’s amazing. She teaches him to play Marco Polo, and he flies her back to her balcony for the night. He has fallen in love.

The King and the Witch are both alarmed to hear of the meeting. The King, determined to find a suitable husband for the Princess, brings in a series of suitors with alarming proposals to keep her weighted down. The Queen is so upset by the King’s single-minded pursuit of a son-in-law that they quarrel, and she returns the key to his heart. Meanwhile, the Witch, determined to keep the Princess from falling in love, bewitches the Prince and sets him to work digging a hole at the bottom of the Princess’ lake, causing all the water to drain out.

The Princess is furious when she finds out who is causing the lake to drain away. To make amends, the Prince offers to plug the hole with his own body, knowing that he will drown as soon as the water closes over his head. He asks the Princess to wait with him as the water rises. She does not want to speak to him, but is eventually persuaded to give the Prince a kiss before he dies. He sings his first love song as the waters rise above his head. The Princess saves the drowning Prince from the lake and revives him. For the first time in her life, she cries and her tears refill the lake. The curse is broken and the Princess falls to the ground with her gravity restored.

The Witch returns to find that her power is gone. The King wishes to punish the Witch, but the Princess intervenes—the Witch, too, she says, just needs to be taught how to love. In the end, the King and Queen reconcile, the Wisemen retire and the Princess, with her musician Prince at her side, becomes her father’s chief advisor. A happy ending for all!

Learn more and buy tickets.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Performance Ensemble: Summer Fun for Busy Kids

Donald Amerson with his students.
Kristian Leach with her students.
Summer Performance Ensemble is a three-week class for returning students who rehearse—and then perform—a show for friends and families. Students who sign up for Performance Ensemble have three things in common—they’re enthusiastic, talented and busy.

As much as they love acting, they don’t necessarily have time in their schedules for the SCR Players (students chosen by audition who attend year-round classes twice a week, plus extra hours during rehearsal and the run of their shows).

So a three-week summer program is the perfect solution—especially when classes are held mornings only (from 9am to 12pm) on week days, with the performance on Saturday of the final week.

This summer, students in grades 4-6 will go on a journey from Connecticut to Camelot—with instructor Donald Amerson, who is looking forward to the trip.

“What’s more fun than rehearsing a light-hearted comedy like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?” Donald asks. “The play is based on the story by Mark Twain, and we’ll approach the material by using the text (which is filled with humor) to help our young actors understand how to develop characters and follow direction. And while the production will be ambitious, the process will be just as important as the performance. I think they’ll have a great time during the three-week rehearsal period and develop a real love for the craft of acting.”

Instructor Kristina Leach offers her students in grades 7-12 a unique experience rehearsing and performing an ensemble piece that they write themselves, with her guidance.

“It’s so much fun putting together something of our own that we rehearse as we go along,” Kristina says. “I don’t even choose a theme until the first day of class when I meet and get to know the students. In the past we’ve tackled subjects like ‘global warming’ and ‘what scares you?’ Last summer, we wrote original monologues that included a teenaged super hero, a love-starved dragon and a witch with a YouTube channel. This class is for actors who like to write, writers who like to act—and students who don’t even realize they can do it all!”

Learn more about SCR's Theatre Conservatory.

Monday, April 18, 2016

"Office Hour" Opens to Cheers at South Coast Repertory

If a curtain had fallen on the final scene of Julia Cho’s new play on the Julianne Argyros Stage, the first line of Party Play would be, “World Premiere sets curtain call record at South Coast Repertory.”

But, since there is not a physical curtain on the Argyros Stage, here’s what happened on the April 15, First Night of Office Hour: the lights went down as the play ended and, after a moment to catch collective breaths, First Nighters rose to their feet spontaneously and applause turned to cheers as the cast took bow after bow…after bow.

During the Cast Party on Ela’s Terrace, thoughtful words from Honorary Producers Tim and Marianne Kay said it all. “Office Hour grabbed us and didn’t let go. Julia Cho’s script and Neel Keller’s direction made the play ‘pop’ in a way you can only understand by seeing it. The topic is something that wrenches many hearts. Julia’s play gives us the ability to consider different possibilities. Sandra Oh and Raymond Lee captured the audience.”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Read the Los Angeles Times Sunday Conversation with Sandra Oh
Read the LA Times’ review of Office Hour

Actors of the Pacific Playwrights Festival: Being Part of Something Amazing

Pacific Playwrights Festival participants meet-n-greet in 2015.
Hundreds of actors have helped new works come to life at the Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) for the past 19 years. Each loves getting a phone call from Joanne DeNaut, SCR’s casting director, because the festival is where s/he can “work on exciting text, with an incredible artistic team, in one of the very best theatres in the country.” We caught up with four PPF veteran actors and talked about their love for the festival.

Matthew Arkin
2016 PPF: A Perfect Circle by Noah Haidle (reading)
Past PPF: Our Mother's Brief Affair by Richard Greenberg (production); The Prince of Atlantis by Steven Druckman (reading and production); Hope and Gravity by Michael Hollinger (reading); The Whistleblower by Itamar Moses (reading)

Best experience: Working on a new play at an initial reading is one of my favorite parts of being an actor. There is little that is as rewarding as being in on the development of a new piece, working cheek-by-jowl with the playwright and a director as you test and probe the plot, the characters, and their motivations. It really becomes about the text, mining what works, finding out what doesn't, and watching a new work go through its birth pangs as it transforms, ultimately, one hopes, into something that really speaks to an audience.

Favorite festival memory: Working with my brother Adam on the PPF reading of The Prince of Atlantis. Getting to play brother to my brother was so easy and natural, and we know each other so well that I felt it brought a depth to the relationship and the humor that's pretty rare to experience.

Best part of PPF: There's nothing better than grown-up actor camp, getting to spend a week working, socializing and catching up with so many incredible talents from our industry and getting the chance to see their work and learn from them all.

Emily Bergl
2016 PPF: Wink by Jen Silverman (reading)
Past PPF: The Hiding Place by Jeff Whitty (workshop); Ridiculous Fraud by Beth Henley (reading); Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson (reading); Kin by Bathsheba Doran (reading)

Favorite memory: My favorite memory of PPF is from when I was doing a reading of Jeff Whitty's The Hiding Place and was in the middle of a very plaintive, quiet monologue. During a pause an old lady in the audience exclaimed, "She has a great nose!" I couldn't really be offended.

The festival’s special quality: I know this word is overused, but PPF is a wonderful reminder that we are part of a community. It's easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day trials and tribulations in the business, but when you walk across that plaza at PPF and bump into so many people that you respect and actually know, you can't help but feel grateful.

Corey Brill
2016 PPF: Office Hour by Julia Cho (production)
Past PPF: Smokefall by Noah Haidle (production); Five Mile Lake by Rachel Bonds (production); Of Good Stock by Melissa Ross (production)

Inaugurating a role: I've been so lucky to be a part of—so far!—four consecutive PPFs! The festival has allowed me to play a reluctant fetus, a doctoral student in crises, a reluctant fiancé and now a concerned adjunct professor. One of the coolest opportunities for an actor is to work on an original script with the playwright's input, to be a part of the development of a play from the start is kind of an actor's dream. (Plus, nobody can say that they've seen the role portrayed better!)

Favorite festival memory: During the run of Smokefall by Noah Haidle, an important scene transition had a problem: a staircase that was supposed to retract refused to budge and there was no way to continue with the scene. After an apologetic announcement from the stage manager's booth, the great Orson Bean (who played The Colonel in the play) said "I've got this!" and came onstage from the wings. He entertained everyone with about 10 minutes of his classic vaudeville jokes until the problem had been solved! It was so cool to see a master in his element like that!

Importance of the festival: Every play on Broadway or the West End or at the local community theatre was shared with an audience for the first time once. I always think of the audience as the final character and the very first performance as the moment that a "script" becomes a "play." PPF has given me opportunities to be a part of that really special metamorphosis. Each play is unique, but at SCR I've found these things to be constant: you work on exciting text with an incredible artistic team in one of the very best theatres in the country. I'll always be proud to have been involved.

Linda Gehringer
2016 PPF: A Perfect Circle by Noah Haidle
Past PPF: The Mechanics by Chris Van Groningen (reading); The Butterfly Collection by Theresa Rebeck (reading); Getting Frankie Married—and Afterwards by Horton Foote (production); Lobster Face by Magdalena Gomez (reading); The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow by Rolin Jones (production); A Naked Girl on the Appian Way by Richard Greenberg (production); The Piano Teacher by Julia Cho (reading); Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson (reading); The Language Archive by Julia Cho (production); Kin by Bathsheba Doran (reading); The Few by Samuel D. Hunter (reading); The Parisian Woman by Beau Willimon (production); Future Thinking by Eliza Clark (reading)

The festival community: Working on new plays is always exciting but doing it in an atmosphere where there are artists from all over the country who are doing the same thing and then performing the play for the first time in front of an audience of artists and patrons who feel so deeply about new play development is simply thrilling.

Favorite festival moment: One of my favorite PPF stories is when I read Julia Cho's The Piano Teacher. So much of the dialogue was mine it was the first time I realized the fate of this play could be in my hands and I was terrified! I was shaking and couldn't even think straight before I walked on stage, but the warm, wise and welcoming audience just rode the wave of Julia’s beautiful play and they all stood and applauded at the end of that reading on a very early Sunday morning. I just started crying because my sense of relief was so profound. It also was the beginning of an addiction to feeling that passionate about new work.

Best memory: The very first Pacific Playwrights Festival took place in the beginning stages of my relationship with SCR and I was invited to read a play called The Mechanics that Andrew Robinson directed. I remember there were all these tables set up and we were having drinks after some reading or function…..and there were people I knew from around the country and people I was meeting for the first time and, honestly, I felt like I was with the cool kids……and I still do! I keep my fingers crossed every year that Joanne DeNaut, our casting director, will call.

Rob Nagle
2016 PPF: A Perfect Circle by Noah Haidle
Past PPF: Rest by Samuel D. Hunter; Of Good Stock by Melissa Ross; The Whistleblower by Itamar Moses

Importance of working on a new play: There is nothing like being in the rehearsal room with a writer as the story is being made, or perhaps "found" is a better word. The sense of exploration, discovery, play and collaboration is tremendously exciting—and it doesn't matter if we're crossing out lines or being handed new pages; it always feels like I'm part of something vital and bigger than me.

Favorite roles: Well, in the last two PPFs, I was fortunate enough to be performing in the shows running on the Segerstrom Stage. In 2014, it was Samuel D. Hunter's Rest and in 2015, it was Melissa Ross' Of Good Stock. So last year, it was a real treat when I got to be part of the reading of Itamar Moses' The Whistleblower.

Taking part in PPF means: That I'm on the frontlines of some of the most exciting theatre being created in this country. To have this treasure in our Southern California backyard is profound, and I am so very grateful for it.

Learn more about the 2016 Pacific Playwrights Festival and purchase tickets.