Monday, April 18, 2016

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.

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