Friday, January 29, 2016

Going Behind-the-Scenes, Building Deeper Audience Connections

Kimberly Colburn and Andrew Knight.
Knight interviews Sandra Tsing Loh at the Inside the Season for The Madwoman in the Volvo.
Knight speaks with actor Paige Lindsey White from Abundance.
Colburn interviews the authors of Images of America: Vietnamese in Orange County, Thuy Vo Dang, Tram Le and Linda Trinh Vo, during the Inside the Season for Vietgone.
Guests tour the set of Abundance.
On a select Saturday morning during each show's run, just a few hours before the first performance that day, an audience gathers as South Coast Repertory staff members prepare for them. Director’s chairs are set in place, microphones readied, special guests arrive and, by 10:30 a.m., it all begins. SCR’s Inside the Season offers a lively two-hour discussion with in-depth interviews featuring cast members, people from the creative team and artisans from SCR’s production staff. The program offers attendees an opportunity to directly converse with the artists behind the production. SCR’s Literary Director Kimberly Colburn and Associate Literary Director Andrew Knight share the responsibilities of organizing and hosting the discussion.

“It’s a little like being a journalist,” says Colburn. “The preparation generally includes identifying guests, thinking up the best questions and gathering information from people around SCR to see if there’s anything we’ve missed or didn’t know about.” Whether it’s learning how the props department created edible sushi for the stage or how rain is created on stage, no detail is too small.

Once prepped and armed with insider information, Colburn and Knight engage the audience in the discussion, fielding questions and interviewing special guests. All these efforts culminate in a deeper insight into the creative process.

“I love that Inside the Season is a very frank behind-the-scenes look at SCR’s productions,” says Knight. “It’s actually rare for artists to have a casual, but supportive environment to speak about their work. We joke that what happens in Inside the Season stays in Inside the Season!”

“I like the sense that anything could happen,” adds Colburn. “I’m always surprised by the questions from the audience. Sometimes they think of questions that are of interest to them that would never have occurred to me to ask. Like what a stage manager’s book looks like or what lighting instruments we used.”

“I also think that the length of the program allows Inside the Season patrons to develop a deeper connection to the production,” continues Knight. “With two hours for discussion, no question is too small and no detail is omitted. The conversation is richer and more surprising because of that.”

Inside the Season allows those seeking a closer look into SCR’s productions the opportunity to explore, question and learn more about the work, challenges and accomplishments of those involved.

“By getting this full picture I think the Inside the Season audiences can truly appreciate the ingenuity of artists,” says Knight.

Special benefit for donors: If you’re a Friend of SCR who has given a gift of $75 or more, one of the benefits is complimentary admission to Inside the Season. Please arrange for your complimentary Inside the Season tickets by visiting the box office or calling (714) 708-5599. These special tickets are not available for purchase online.

If you’d like to become a Friend of SCR and take advantage of this benefit (a $180 value), please call (714) 708-5590.

A Great Teacher Brings Acting Classes to Neighborhood Kids

Teacher Donald Amerson and kids from the Neighborhood Conservatory.
Kids working together in class.
Donald Amerson.
It’s afterschool at an elementary school in Costa Mesa. Donald Amerson walks with purpose into the modular building that houses a series of classrooms. Roughly 20 pairs of eyes follow him, lit up with delight. Amerson has arrived to teach an acting class at one of Orange County’s Title One schools, where arts are not part of the curriculum, and a majority of the children are from low-income households. This is South Coast Repertory’s Neighborhood Conservatory in action.

The same professionally trained instructors who teach in SCR's tuition-supported Theatre Conservatory go into schools and other neighborhood locations where young people—who often are initially shy, maybe withdrawn or stand-offish—participate in a series of exercises that utilize drama, acting, mime and improvisation. These free classes are carefully designed to build self-confidence, teamwork and communication skills, and the results are often transformative.

SCR Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa says Amerson’s nurturing approach to teaching has a big impact on young people.

“He treats the students with incredible compassion and respect, and his enthusiasm for the craft is infectious,” Takakuwa says. “That shows in class, where he explores creatively with his students, making use of puppetry, mask work, music and all theatrical forms of storytelling.”

Amerson also fits comfortably into SCR’s Theatre Conservatory acting program, which stresses “process” over “product.” This means sharing and exploring the craft (process) of acting rather that emphasizing the creation or performance (product) of plays, and it’s at the heart of Takakuwa’s teaching philosophy.

“While these skills can set a strong foundation for becoming a professional artist, they are invaluable life skills, and Donald has a natural affinity for this approach,” she says.

Amerson also is an actor and a director and has worked in shows from Michigan to New York to California, including The Production Club (New York City) and Plaza De La Raza (Los Angeles). He has been an acting coach and teaching artist with Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and a teaching artist at theatres including Young Actors Guild (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Center Theatre Group (Los Angeles). He earned an MFA in drama from Eastern Michigan State University, where he also was an adjunct professor.

If fun was a professional attribute, he’d probably have that in his resume, as well.

Learn more about the Neighborhood Conservatory.

To make a gift to support this neighborhood work, contact Susan C. Reeder, Director of Development, at susan@scr.org or (714) 708-5518.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

How Giving Helps Theatre Transform Lives

Nancy Bell, Timothy Landfield, Kandis Chappell, Jennifery Lyon and Kaleo Griffith in South Coast Repertory's 2009 production of Noises Off by Michael Frayn.  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
William Schenker and Talya Nevo-Hacohen
Talya Nevo-Hacohen and William Schenker attended South Coast Repertory’s production of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off six years ago and got hooked.

“The comedy of errors, physical comedy and the fabulous character actors in that show made it lively and fun to watch,” Nevo-Hacohen, a real estate industry executive, remembers.

Since seeing that first play at SCR, the couple have become enthusiastic advocates for the type of productions that unfold on the theatre’s stages. “We try to share this experience with others any way we can,” she says.

In addition, they quickly began giving to the theatre, first as Friends of SCR and now as members of the Platinum Circle, by providing financial support to help ensure the theatre’s future remains stable and grows.

 “The high standard of the plays is thrilling for me,” he says. “When a pearl comes by you want to hold it up and praise it.”

As a child growing up in Boston, the city gave Nevo-Hacohen and her family access to a vibrant arts scene that included symphony, theatre, ballet and more. A strong theatre memory is the night her parents came home after seeing a production of Richard III at The Charles Street Playhouse.

“They were just agog over the lead actor—blown away by his breathtaking performance,” she recalls. The actor was a young Al Pacino. She gives credit to her parents for providing her with those experiences.

“They made me a theatre lover,” she says. “For me, theatre is about the human condition, so it’s important, intellectually interesting and stimulating to be challenged to see things differently through the eyes of a character. That’s done so well at SCR.”

Schenker, who was himself an actor for 17 years in New York and now is a television audio engineer,  remembers wanting to work in regional theatre. Even then, he knew that SCR was among the top such theatres in the country.

He loves the transformational power of theatre: “It takes you to places where you may never go in life, whether you’re an actor bringing out something deep through a character or an audience member experiencing that performance.”

“I want SCR to continue creating, producing and providing these experiences through fantastic shows, actors, and creative teams,” she says of one key point behind the couple’s giving. Their support also is driven by a desire to help bring new audiences in to see and experience great, live theatre on stage.

Erika Schindele, Louis Pardo, Alex Miller, Justin Michael Duval and Emily Eiden in South Coast Repertory's 2015 Theatre for Young Audiences production of A Year with Frog and Toad. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.
At the Theatre for Young Audiences production of A Year with Frog and Toad, the couple was amazed at the reaction of young audience members—many of whom were attending a play for the very first time.

“They were transfixed,” Schenker recalls. “Yes, the power of theatre still exists. There were times you could hear a pin drop and other times when the laughter was so loud. This is such a great ‘classroom’ for them.”

Up next for the couple this season is taking in their first Pacific Playwrights Festival in April, another way they can be supportive of the next generation of playwrights “doing contemporary work about contemporary issues.”

Learn more about supporting SCR as a Silver, Gold or Platinum Circle member.

CGA: A Gift that Keeps on Giving

Phyllis and Larry Hogle
What in the world is a CGA?

We’re glad you asked, because of the many giving options available to South Coast Repertory supporters, a CGA (translated: Charitable Gift Annuity) is one of the most advantageous for all concerned—a gift that benefits the donors through fixed payments for life and then reverts to the charitable partner, in this case SCR’s endowment.

Just ask Larry and Phyllis Hogle, generous supporters who recently established a CGA through the theatre.

The Hogles have three passions in their retirement: South Coast Repertory, the Zoological Society of San Diego—and travel (which they plan around their activities in Costa Mesa and San Diego). According to Larry, “We’ve established CGAs at the Zoological Society, and after so many years of play-going at SCR, we’re happy to be able to establish one here—and encourage others to follow suit. It definitely benefits both the donors and the theatre.”

The Hogle’s gift—along with CGAs established by other supporters—will eventually be added to the endowment, a permanent fund that helps SCR commission and produce adventurous new plays, keep ticket prices low and provide free tickets to at-risk young people.

Charitable Gift Annuity
A Type of Deferred Gift that Pays You and Your Spouse Income for Life

An SCR Charitable Gift Annuity pays fixed income to you (and a spouse) for your lifetime(s). A portion of the annual income may be tax exempt. The amount of the annual income is based on your age (and your spouse’s age) and the size of the gift. In addition, you will receive a sizeable charitable income tax deduction. The annuity terminates at the end of your lifetime(s) and the remainder becomes a gift to the theatre. A SCR Gift Annuity can be established with a transfer of cash from savings accounts, certificates of deposit, or retirement plans. Appreciated stocks and mutual fund shares can be an ideal way to fund a gift annuity. As with all financial planning, please consult your legal representative or tax advisor regarding your personal circumstances. SCR does not provide tax or legal advice, but welcomes the opportunity to work with you and your professional advisors. For more information about deferred gifts, including a gift annuity, contact Director of Development Susan Reeder by phone at (714) 708-5518 or email susan@scr.org.
These are very important objectives for Larry and Phyllis. But their CGA is only the most recent way they’ve chosen to support SCR. Beginning as Friends of SCR in 1989, they have increased their support through the years, with benefits added at each level.

“To be honest, for a long time, we didn’t know about the specific benefits of giving to SCR,” Larry says. “We just increased our donation through the years—and got invited to more and more events!”

Among the events they’ve taken advantage of are Inside the Season discussions (Friends of SCR benefit), First Night dinners (Silver Circle and above), technical rehearsals (Golden Circle and above), NewSCRipts readings and the end-of-season Soirée (Platinum Circle and above). 

As Oregonians (both are graduates of Oregon State University and life members the OSU alumni association), the Hogles arrived in Orange County with no theatre background. “None at all!“ Larry says. “That’s why our favorite SCR benefit is Inside the Season. It has been a great learning experience for us. We’re constantly amazed to find out so much about the theatre, from stage managing to sets, sound, lights—everything that goes on behind the scenes.’

“We also attend NewSCRipts readings and go to the Pacific Playwrights Festival when we’re in town.” Phyllis said, adding, “that’s a lot of plays—seven in three days, and we see them all!”

Besides readings, festivals, discussions, dinners, parties and all the other perks they enjoy as donors, the Hogles subscribe to both the Segerstrom and Julianne Argyros Stages. “We plan our travel around the SCR Season, so we won’t miss any plays,” Phyllis says.

And they never do. Here are some of their top choices:

What is your favorite new play produced at SCR?
That would be Chinglish! We’ve travelled to China a couple of times, and we’ve seen all those signs in fractured English so we really enjoyed that play.
Austin Ku, Celeste Den, Vivian Chiu, Alex Moggridge and Michelle Krusiec in South Coast Repertory's 2012 production of Chinglish by David Henry Hwang. Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR.


Classic?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Which play made you cry? If not cry, at least tear-up!
Two plays, which are also among our favorites, The Whale and Wit.

Which made you laugh the most?
This season already—One Man, Two Guvnors and The Madwoman in the Volvo.

Among the actors seen frequently at SCR, who are your favorites?
We have many favorites, but Richard Doyle and Linda Geringher top the list.

What is your favorite SCR play of all time?
It’s impossible to choose one. But in addition to those mentioned above, two others that stand out are Shipwrecked! An Entertainment and The Fantasticks.

Keeping the Jewel of Orange County Bright

Daniel Gil and Deborah Sassoon at First Nights of One Man, Two Guvnors.
Michael Weston and Aya Cash in South Coast Repertory's 2014 world premiere production of Trudy and Max in Love by Zoe Kazan. Photo by Debora Robinson.
Terrence Mann, Nancy Lemenager and John Todd in South Coast Repertory's 2006 production of The Studio.  Photo by Henry DiRocco./SCR
Teacher Sara Guererro, right, works with kids in the Conservatory.
“We’ve always wanted to support cultural arts in the area and South Coast Repertory is a hidden jewel in Orange County,” says Deborah Sassoon.

Sassoon, an obstetrician specializing in high-risk pregnancies, and her husband, Daniel Gil, a pharmaceutical company research vice president, discovered SCR when they moved to Orange County some 20 years ago. First, they fell in love with the range of plays the theatre offered and they became subscribers. Then, they became Friends of SCR, increased their support to Circle membership levels and, this season, became First Nights subscribers.

“We felt that, in our annual giving, we wanted to give back to the theatre where we have experienced so much pleasure,” Gil says.

“First Nights are great,” Sassoon says. “It was a special treat to sit at the table with Beth Henley after Abundance. Her career has been so amazing!”

The couple also enjoys hearing from special guests during First Nights, including exclusive access to the post-production Cast Party.

But their love for SCR goes deeper, since the whole family has connections to the theatre. Their son, Michael, now an MFA student at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, took the Summer Acting Workshop in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory.

“He told us that SCR was instrumental during his formative years,” Sassoon says, and adds that their son’s pursuit of the arts in graduate school has emphasized for the family how vital the arts are for people’s well-being.

“Michael said to me, ‘Mom, when someone comes into an emergency room, you try to do everything you can to save them. What about those whose souls are battered and bruised? The arts are what can save them.”

Gil has strong memories of seeing his first play—Al Pacino in Richard III—in Boston. Sassoon saw more musical theatre productions, like A Chorus Line. When the couple lived in New York City, they took advantage of student rush tickets to catch Broadway shows.

SCR has provided the couple with numerous favorite plays over the past 20 years. In their top three are Trudy and Max in Love by Zoe Kazan (2014), Zealot (2013) and The Studio (2006). They also enjoyed Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult (2015) and The Motherf**ker with the Hat (2013).

Find out more about becoming a First Nights subscriber.

Macy’s National Giving Philosophy Going Strong Locally

Students enjoy a Theatre for Young Audiences production
Doug McKay
Students during a MyStage event.
Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper Fran De Leon, Brad Culver, Larry Bates and Lovelle Liquigan in South Coast Repertory's 2014 Theatre for Young Audiences production of Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Photo by Deborah Robinson/SCR.
Wyatt Fenner and Matt McGrath in South Coast Repertory's 2015 production of Peter and the Starcatcher, a play by Rick Elise. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.
Macy’s Inc. is known for its robust philanthropy. For example, 2014 saw the company contribute more than $27 million to nearly 6,000 nonprofit organizations nationwide.

In southern California, Doug McKay, Macy’s district grant and giving chair and multi-store operations manager, enthusiastically nurtures relationships with nonprofits, ranging from education to healthcare to the arts. And, in South Coast Repertory, he found a match for the company’s support.

“We want to help make the arts available to communities and families who may not have had the opportunity to experience this,” he says.

McKay says that “SCR is the perfect example of the type of local community investment we’re interested in because of the theatre’s many programs that work with young people and families."

As a contributor to SCR’s Corporate Circle Education Fund and as a Corporate Producer, Macy’s helps ensure that the arts are vital and alive for disadvantaged young people from underserved areas in Orange County. This season alone, the fund will provide more than 23,000 children and young people with free or significantly discounted admissions to shows or workshops.

This season, Macy’s deepened its engagement with the theatre by supporting SCR’s MyStage program, an initiative that provides deeply discounted tickets for those aged 15-to-25. These opportunities can jump-start a young person’s engagement with the arts. MyStage is a critical pathway to develop the next generation of audiences.

“That is a great way of making the arts experience happen for them,” he says. “They will grow from their exposure to the arts and spread the word about what they like.”

McKay knows first-hand the power of theatre; he and his sons have attended several shows—such as Charlotte’s Web (Theatre for Young Audiences) and Peter and the Starcatcher.

“What I anticipated that I would see at Charlotte’s Web was blown away by what SCR produced,” he recalls. “While my boys at first thought the show was meant for younger kids, they absolutely enjoyed it—and they still talk about it!”

With a show like Starcatcher, McKay says the clever story telling—about a Boy with no name who then became Peter Pan—had him, his sons and the rest of the audience enthralled.

“While Macy’s is known by many people for the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, there is so much more that we do nationally, regionally and locally,” he says. “It is important for us to be involved and participating in our own communities.”

Learn more about how corporate support deepens the impact of SCR’s work in the community.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Director’s Notes: "Going to a Place where you Already Are"

Artistic Director Marc Masterston will direct the world premiere of Going to a Place where you Already Are by Bekah Brunstetter (Julianne Argyros Stage, March 6-27, 2016). Her ability with dialogue caught his eye in the course of reading plays to set the season’s lineup. “I read a lot of plays,” he laughs. We sat down with Masterson to find out more about this new work.

What do you learn about the playwright when you start reading a play?
The first thing that jumps out to me is the writer’s skill with dialogue. Before I know the story or the characters, I read dialogue and respond to the writer’s skill. Sometimes I am caught by an economy of words or dialogue, sometimes it’s a sense of humor and sometimes it’s lyrical.

What struck me first about Going to a Place was the sense that “I’m in the hands of a writer who has this vivid idea of who these people are and is able to bring them to life for me in a very short span of time.”

Director Marc Masterson
Then I start looking at character—are the people I meet more interesting to me or does my interest in them wane? Bekah’s people got very interesting for me, very fast.  Of course, there were a lot of things about them that I didn’t understand at first, which is part of her skill: she keeps you guessing a little bit. I enjoyed that.

There used to be a phrase to describe plays that audiences seemed to really like: “positive-affirmative.” And that describes Going to a Place where you Already Are. It is affirmative of who we are and what we know and what we don’t know, about what faith is, what life means and what it means to have a lifelong relationship with a partner whom you think you know better than anyone else in the world and then you find out you don’t know them at all because they believe in something completely different than what you always thought they did. The question that this play asks of its characters is, “Who are you?”

How would you describe Brunstetter’s voice as a playwright?
Funny, warm and whimsical. Bekah pulled me in with her skill as a writer. In the opening scene, she introduces us to an older couple, Rebecca and Joe, who are in a church. Within the first two pages of the script, I found them to be interesting and funny people in an odd situation. Obviously, there’s much more to the play, but that was a pretty good start.

Tell us about the cast.
This is a great cast! It features two SCR favorites, Hal Landon Jr. and Linda Gehringer. For long-time SCR audiences, this is a chance to see these two actors team up for the very first time. Rebecca Mozo, who has done a lot of work here in recent years, is cast as their granddaughter.  The two other actors (Stephen Ellis and Christopher Thornton) have been with this play through readings in its development process, so everyone is bringing a lot to this production.

What are some of the steps that new script goes through at SCR?
Each play developed here goes through its own process, but the 18-month path for Going to a Place has included NewSCRipts and Pacific Playwrights Festival readings, in-house readings and workshops, conversations and discussions. Bekah is a great listener and through her own organic process as a writer, she has done a lot of detail and character work that has made this play more deep and rich. 

What’s the 15-second sound bite for this play?
This is a smart, warm and funny play about faith.

Learn more and buy tickets.

The Designer Behind "Red"

Designer Ralph Funicello.
SCR and Funicello

Ralph Funicello has designed sets for SCR since 1982. Here are the plays.
  1. Da
  2. Good
  3. Buried Child
  4. Highest Standard of Living
  5. Going for Gold
  6. Speed-the-Plow
  7. Kiss of the Spiderwoman
  8. Happy End
  9. Twelfth Night
  10. The Miser
  11. Hedda Gabler
  12. Dancing at Lughnasa
  13. The Misanthrope
  14. She Stoops to Folly
  15. The Taming of the Shrew
  16. Six Degrees of Separation
  17. Death of a Salesman
  18. Old Times
  19. Misalliance
  20. Private Lives
  21. Tartuffe
  22. The Piano Lesson
  23. The Education of Randy Newman
  24. The Circle
  25. Major Barbara
  26. Safe in Hell
  27. Brooklyn Boy
  28. A View from the Bridge
  29. The Real Thing
  30. Hamlet
  31. Taking Steps
  32. The Happy Ones
  33. Saturn Returns
  34. Misalliance
  35. Elemeno Pea
  36. 4000 Miles
  37. Zealot
  38. Red
It’s a Saturday afternoon and the Segerstrom Stage swarming with activity: props are being carefully put in place; canvas frames are being set against the walls; an Adirondack chair is being positioned in a well of light; high windows are letting “daylight” in. This is the first day of technical rehearsals for John Logan’s Red and the New York City Bowery studio of abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko is getting its finishing touches.

Sitting near the back of the house, set designer Ralph Funicello looks approvingly at the design for his 38th production at South Coast Repertory. Each design, from his first (Da by Hugh Leonard in 1982 and directed by David Emmes) to Red (also directed by Emmes) has been distinctive and stunning.

For Red, Funicello started his research by poring over the only two photos of Rothko’s Bowery studio. During a wide-ranging conversation, Funicello talked about how he created the Red design, how he originally got into theatre and how he is helping create the next generation of artisans.
Mark Harelik as Mark Rothko on Funicello's set for Red.
Imagining Rothko’s studio: “This Bowery building still exists, it’s an old gymnasium. The interior doors I designed for the set are based on what you can see through the actual building’s main doors. Rothko rented this particular space for the Seagram murals because he needed a large area where he could put all the paintings next to each other. Self-absorbed doesn’t begin to describe him, but, as I read about him, I found that he had a very complex process to make the colors on those canvases vibrate against each other.

The real studio walls were painted a dirty white and he built fake walls, covered them with canvas and attached two-by-fours that had pulleys to raise and lower the paintings and move them around and position them in various ways. David (Emmes) and I decided we didn’t want a white room. We wanted a room that was the color of a Rothko!

In the set, the windows, the pipes, the mural-hanging apparatus, the rolling frame Rothko used to paint on—those are accurate to the original space. Of course, there are various tables for paints and supplies. We even found an old Maxwell House coffee can, the kind you would turn and open with a key.

Designing for the Segerstrom Stage: “One of the challenges of the Segerstrom is that it’s a wide space. For Red, I brought the walls in and then back, so the space feels smaller. I also took things up above, which is a trick I learned here in this wonderful space.

One thing we wanted to achieve with the design for Red is the idea that you walk into the place where these great paintings were created; there’s an excitement that comes with that. It’s like the line in the play, where someone walks past Rothko’s house and says, ‘I wonder who owns all the Rothkos?’”

Sitting in the audience during previews: “I know that performers are the direct link between the playwright—what s/he is trying to say—and the audience. My design is part of that link. So when I sit and watch a preview, I look for things that could help the performance more: What still needs to be finished? What could help better explain something? Is someone having difficulty because of set or props and what could I do to help? I look with an eye toward problem-solving.

Finding an outlet: “As a child, I had a creative imagination. But then I fell in with the wrong crowd (laughs). In high school, I once stayed after school, attended a meeting of the Drama Club and signed up for the construction crew. My father had been a house carpenter, so I knew how to cut a straight line and bang a nail without bending it, so I became the master carpenter pretty quickly.

What I really love about theatre is the social aspect of it: a group of people can come together and accomplish something incredible.

To say that design changed my life just doesn’t do it justice. I went from being a confused, aimless person to being completely dedicated. I had found something that I loved to do.

Paying it forward: “I studied with Ming Cho Lee at New York University’s School of the Arts. As a teacher, he took a lot of people who came in with their dream to be a designer—and he helped make those dreams come true. When he hired me for work one summer, that’s when I felt I had become a set designer. My other mentor is British set and costume designer Desmond Heeley.

Now as Powell Chair of Set Design at San Diego State University, I’m in the position of helping my students achieve their dreams. I provide them with the stimulation to see what the possibilities are for the worlds they create and then let them find the joy in designing them.”

Find out more about Red, on the Segerstrom Stage (Jan. 22-Feb. 21, 2016).

Friday, January 22, 2016

Making "Pinocchio" New Again

by John Glore
The tale of Pinocchio, the little puppet who wants to be a real boy, is one of the best-loved stories in children’s literature. It has been the source of numerous adaptations, including Disney’s popular animated film, and its mischievous protagonist has shown up in everything from the Shrek movie franchise to the ABC series, “Once Upon a Time.” Is there any way to make this familiar story new again?

Playwright Greg Banks
You bet! Turn it over to the clowns! Four Clowns, the L.A.-based, internationally known company with whom SCR teamed for our Theatre for Young Audiences production of Robin Hood in 2012, returns to the Argyros Stage to reimagine the adventures of Pinocchio. Using their special brand of physical comedy and creative theatricality, and once again working with an adaptation by Greg Banks (who also wrote the script for Robin Hood), director Jeremy Aluma and his company will employ the simplest of theatrical trappings to take you from Geppetto’s little shop, to a traveling tent show, to the fabulous Playland and even into the belly of a whale before they deliver little Pinocchio to his happy ending.

The story follows the outline of the original Carlo Collodi tale. When Geppetto, an old woodcarver struggling to make a meager life for himself, finds a magical talking piece of wood, he decides to turn it into a puppet boy, so he can finally have a son to call his own. He names the little marionette Pinocchio, and marvels at the boy’s ability to walk, talk and get into trouble without benefit of strings.

Author Carlo Collodi
But Pinocchio isn’t content to be a puppet: he wants to be a real boy (even if he doesn’t have a clue what that means when his adventures begin), and the first step in that process is to go to school and learn what real boys learn. Geppetto sells his own thread-bare coat to buy a schoolbook for Pinocchio and sends him on his way—but as soon as Pinocchio is on his own, he demonstrates that he has a nose for trouble. When he hears music coming from a traveling show, he decides school can wait until tomorrow. He sells his schoolbook to buy a ticket to the “Punch and Judy” puppet show, and before he knows it he has become the show’s star attraction.

From there, Pinocchio, newly enriched by five gold coins given to him by the show man, falls in with a clever Fox and a dim-witted Cat, who pretend to be his friends in order to rob him. They tie up Pinocchio and leave him to die in the frosty night, but the puppet manages to escape that dire fate with the help of a fairy. At first Pinocchio lies to the fairy about how he has got into such a fix, but with each new fib his nose grows longer, and only when Pinocchio finally tells the truth does his nose return to its proper size. The fairy saves him from his plight and warns him to stay on the straight and narrow path from now on.

Needless to say, Pinocchio does no such thing, but each time he strays—whether it’s forgoing school again so he can go to Playland, where his goofing off earns him donkey ears, or getting himself swallowed by the aforementioned whale —he learns a new lesson about what it means to be a well-behaved human boy. And, in the end, that’s exactly what he becomes.

THE CAST: Joe DeSoto, Jennifer Carroll, Dave Honigman, Kevin Klein and Tyler Bremer
You're in for Some Fun With This Cast

Four Clowns was formed in 2010 by a group of recent graduates of Cal State Long Beach, who continued their study of clowning techniques at The Clown School. Led by artistic director Jeremy Aluma, their first show was called simply Four Clowns, a decidedly adult entertainment that won the Bitter Lemons Award for Most Outrageous Theatre at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. That show also appeared in SCR’s Studio SCR series in early 2012. The company went on to create such shows as Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet, Sublimity, That Beautiful Laugh and Lunatics & Actors, and soon began touring their work nationally and internationally.

Partly inspired by their experience performing for young audiences in Robin Hood at SCR, Four Clowns added a new programming component called Four Clowns Jr. While remaining mischievous in spirit, Four Clowns Jr. applies the company’s signature style of clowning, dance, music and text to work that is entirely appropriate for kids.

SCR’s production of Pinocchio features five of the Four Clowns. No, that isn’t a misprint: since its small beginnings, the company has grown to number more than a dozen performers who take turns appearing in Four Clowns shows. Tapped for SCR’s production are Kevin Klein (the only one of the five who also appeared in SCR’s Robin Hood), Dave Honigman (who began his study of acting in SCR’s conservatory program), Jennifer Carroll, Joe DeSoto and Tyler Bremer.

With the exception of DeSoto (who only plays Pinocchio), all the actors take on multiple roles. For some characters (such as Fox and Cat), masks are used, while others are suggested by the donning of a simple costume element. Shadow puppetry helps tell parts of the story, and the production includes several songs sung by the company, who accompany themselves on a variety of musical instruments.

While not wanting to give away the fun of this production, we should mention that when you arrive for a performance you may think a terrible mistake has been made. You’ll find the stage full of scaffolding, step ladders and drop cloths, and there won’t be any actors to be found—just a handful of backstage technical workers. They will be as surprised to see you as you are to see them.

But the show must go on. And it will, in the most delightfully imaginative way, as Four Clowns springs into action to tell the story of the puppet who would be a real boy.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

An Art Expert's Insights on Rothko

By Todd D. Smith, CEO and director, Orange County Museum of Art

Mark Rothko, 1963.
Art Talk
Hear more from Smith about Rothko and Red:
  • Pre-performance talk on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. Lecture is free; no reservation necessary.
  • Inside the Season on Saturday, Feb. 6, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tickets are $12, online or at the Box Office, (714) 708-5555.
Red is the story of Mark Rothko and his growing concern about his decision to create a series of murals for the new Four Seasons restaurant at New York’s modernist Seagram Building designed by Mies van de Rohe and Philip Johnson.

Told through a series of conversations between the artist and his new assistant, Ken, the play exposes how one of the greatest painters of the 20th century approached the act of painting and how he felt about art, consumerism, destiny, humanity and the march of time.

More broadly, though, the play offers historical insights into the types and scope of midcentury art world tensions. Possibly taking inspiration from Rothko’s canvases themselves, with their forms that seem to hover in a palpable tension to each other, the themes of the play uncover key conflicts.

The play makes it clear that the battle between the two heavyweights of post-war painting in America—Jackson Pollock and Rothko—was of concern to Rothko. The pull between the emotion of Pollock’s mature, all-over canvases filled with poured and splattered paint and the reason championed by Rothko’s cool detachment from the gestural act of painting establishes the two poles of expression for artists in the immediate post-war period. This tension is continued by the gap between Abstract Expressionism (as practiced by Pollock and Rothko) and the Pop Art movement that followed. The conversation between the older Rothko and his young assistant codifies this generational divide. At the play’s end, the two artists are left to their respective generations.

Outside of the particulars of New York City’s mid-century art world, the play extends its consideration to more universal clashes. Rothko wrestles repeatedly with the appropriateness of the decision to even undertake the commission, for it represented an unholy alliance with the very class of individuals the artist disdained. Early on, Rothko expresses his distaste for how successful Pollock had become by the time of his death, even going so far as to suggest that Pollock’s fatal car accident (in his Oldsmobile convertible) was an act of suicide. By the end of the play, Rothko must wrestle with the potential consequences of his own success. In Scene 4, Ken admonishes Rothko to “just admit your hypocrisy: The High Priest of Modern Art is painting a wall in the Temple of Consumption. You rail against commercialism in art, but pal, you’re taking the money.”

For Rothko, the commission might have provided him, in the words of playwright John Logan, “A place where the viewer could live in contemplation with the work and give it some of the same attention and care I gave it. Like a chapel … A place of communion.” In the end, Rothko’s decision makes it clear that he is unable to ensure the works have a proper place in the world.*

He was not equipped, either in real life or within the world of the play, to fulfill the terms of the commission. Yes, he could complete the paintings; and he did complete the works. That is assured.

In the end, though, it became to Rothko a wholly different endeavor. Ultimately, he could not control the paintings’ place in the world. Again, in the language of the play, Rothko came to regard the restaurant as the “place where the richest bastards in New York will come to feed and show off.”

(*A final chance to ensure his works had the proper place was realized in the 1964 commission by Dominique and John de Menil’s for the Rothko Chapel in Houston. It was here that the artist could be assured that his works would find their true place. The Chapel opened to the public in 1971. Unfortunately and in a sad twist of fate, Rothko never lived to see the works installed as he took his own life in 1970.)

Learn more and buy tickets.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Five Questions for Director Jeremy Aluma

Bringing Pinocchio to Life: Meet Four Clowns

With this production of Pinocchio, South Coast Repertory is pleased to welcome back the Los Angeles-based Four Clowns.

Four Clowns, a nationally and internationally touring clown troupe formed in 2010, is dedicated to entertaining audiences and shining a light on humanity. Four Clowns combines physical theatre,   text, music and dance in all of its performances—and the use of audience interaction invigorates its productions in fun and surprising ways.

Although Four Clowns is only in its sixth season, it has already earned many accolades—including top nods at the Los Angeles, Minnesota and San Francisco fringe festivals—and performed at a number of notable venues, including La MaMa in New York and the Stanislavsky Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In 2012, Four Clowns began Four Clowns Jr., which allowed the company to expand its family friendly entertainment initiative as a complement to its programming for adult audiences.

SCR first presented the work of Four Clowns (with the aptly titled production Four Clowns) in April 2012, as a part of the Studio SCR Series. And in November 2012, SCR collaborated with Four Clowns on the Theatre for Young Audiences production of Greg Banks’ adaptation of Robin Hood.  


Jeremy Aluma, Pinocchio’s director, is Four Clowns’ founder and artistic director and returns to SCR after directing Robin Hood in 2012. Aluma took some time to answer a few questions about clowning as an art form, Pinocchio and Four Clowns’ rehearsal process.

What is clowning?
For me and my company, Four Clowns and Four Clowns Jr., clowning is serious business! Our style of clowning is highly physical, aims to create humor from honest emotions, embraces absurd characters and interacts with the audience. Our clown actors have toured shows all over the United States and across the globe. We all trained at The Clown School where we developed our skills. We use choreography, comedic language, improv, mime and acrobatics in our productions. We believe bringing the audience into the action of the play is crucial to the storytelling.

Jeremy Aluma
What aspects of the art form excite you most?
I am most excited by continually experimenting with how our shows can interact with our audience. Theatre is the easiest performance art in which to pull the audience into the process. In this digital age, I believe the role of theatre is more important than ever for the public. We encourage our audience to share how they feel and play along with our actors.

What drew you to the story of Pinocchio?
I was immediately struck by the rich and epic world of the story. Pinocchio has many built-in lessons about life and how our choices have consequences. It’s not a traditional children’s story with a good guy and a bad guy. Although characters do trick Pinocchio, ultimately his fate is in his own hands. It’s a perfect metaphor for our own lives and the choices that we make.

What goes on in rehearsals for a show like Pinocchio? How do you and the ensemble bring the physicality, text and music together to tell a story?
The cast (Tyler Bremer, Jennifer Carroll, Dave Honigman, Kevin Klein and Joe DeSoto) and I work together collaboratively to bring the show to life. We start by interpreting the text and then do research on the time period and situations. After that, we discuss the motivations of the characters in depth, trying to understand why each character makes the choices that he or she does.

I begin there with a basic physicality in mind. Typically, I will have a sense of the style of each moment and scene and we work together to pick the best jokes and refine them. The music is developed separately. Similar to the physical aspects, I start with an idea of tone and genre and then the actors play music according to those prompts. From there, we hone and solidify. The process takes a lot of work, but hearing the audience laugh is the reward.

What do you hope audiences will take away from Pinocchio?
The most important thing for us is to make our audience laugh throughout the story and feel included in the play itself. We hope the audience leaves feeling aches in their sides from laughing so hard—and as if they were a part of the journey that Pinocchio goes through.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Behind-the-Scenes: Saewert Meets Rothko

David Saewert, SCR Properties Carpenter

In Red, abstract expressionist Mark Rothko is working on the biggest art commission of his time. As his new assistant, Ken aids him, the two begin to debate over art and the cycle of new movements in the art world.

Throughout the play, Rothko and Ken make some progress on the art pieces. So, how do South Coast Repertory work on getting the stage and set ready for a play about an icon of modern art? Properties carpenter David Saewert took on the challenge, with only a matter of weeks to prepare.

What's your role in the Properties Department?

I primarily do "the building," which is a lot of woodworking, welding and, yes, painting. The prop shop functions in a way where we all step in and help out on any given project. I believe this is my third season at SCR as a properties carpenter, although my journey here at began in the scene shop back in 2006.

How did you approach your work on Red?
It is about understanding the process in which the original paintings were created. I did as much research as I could—watching YouTube videos and reading about the artist—to understand Rothko's process and mindset. In doing so, I learned very quickly that these were not simple shapes with minimal color just scrawled out on a canvas. The depth, detail and emotion that went into these works is something I don't think can be understood with just a cursory glance.

What are the challenges with this project?
The biggest challenge is the time factor. Since we just have a few weeks to get everything ready for the production,  I am working much like Rothko: in a very compressed amount of time

The Cerberus dog heads from Myth Adventures
What are a few favorite past productions at SCR?
Several shows that I worked on come to mind, and all for different reasons. I think the memories and experiences of working with Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa's team on the Theatre Conservatory Players shows is what really stands out for me. Whether it's creating metal Cerberus dogs heads for Myth Adventures, teaching the kids how to make their own props or even figuring out how to make mixing bowls and various dishes dance in Mary Poppins, these student shows never disappoint.

How do you spend some of your spare time?
I do volunteer some at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. My hobbies, I suddenly realize, closely resemble my job functions: woodworking, welding and, yes, painting. Does Netflix count? Because, I'm a master at bingeing Netflix.

Any other shows this season that you’re looking forward to working on?
I'm always looking forward to "the next show" whatever it may be, but Red was the big one for me this season. Other than that, I think The Witches (Conservatory Junior Players) and Pinocchio (Theatre for Young Audiences) are going to be fun to work on!

Catch Saewert's work in the production of Red on the Segerstrom Stage, Jan. 22-Feb. 21, 2016.

Find out more about Red


Bringing Clarity to Sound

Literary Associate Kat Zukaitis modeling receivers with built in and removable earbuds.
South Coast Repertory has made it even easier for patrons to hear what’s happening on stage. The
newly upgraded assisted listening system allows for crisper sound and is receiving great feedback already.

Powered by Listen Technologies, SCR’s assistive listening devices help bring clarity to sound and allows full enjoyment of every moment of the performance. The device delivers a rich, personalized sound from any seat in the house and can work in conjunction with a personal hearing device.

Kat Zukaitis modeling the ListenLoop.
SCR continues to offer headset receivers with built-in earbuds and receivers that allow you to plug in your own headphones. For added convenience, use the ListenLoop, which is able to plug directly and discreetly into any personal hearing device or cochlear implants that have telecoil technology. No extra equipment is needed!

How to Request a Device: Assisted listening devices may be checked out from the concession stand of the stage you are attending. For Nicholas Studio productions, check out a device from the Segerstrom concession area. There is no cost: a valid driver's license will be held until the unit has been returned.

The devices are simple to operate:  Plug in an earpiece, if necessary, then simply tap the power button to turn it on. The receiver is worn like a necklace. The knob on the top adjusts the volume.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Many Layers of Red

by John Glore
Paul David Story and Mark Harelik in Red.
Writing About Rothko

Sometimes, blessedly, something comes fully formed. I walked into the Tate Modern and had no idea I was going to walk out writing a play. I walked into a room with the Seagram Murals for the first time. It was in a larger room, very dark, and there were 12 of them, all the way around. They stopped me cold. It was at a point in my life when I needed something to stop me—really, to stop my life. And they did. I was struck by them, and I gave them time to work on me. I went over and I read the little description on the gallery wall which talks about: “Mark Rothko painted these for the Seagram Building. He decided to keep the paintings, gave the money back, and committed suicide ten years later.” And I instantly thought this was a two-hander play, because, you know, color-field paintings are binary by nature … And so I walked out saying: I think I need to write a play about this.
*  *  *
I did a year of research before I wrote a word. I read the complexity, the sort of rabbinical, scholarly nature of his diatribes on art, and I thought: that’s what this person needs to sound like. … With Rothko, I knew what I wanted to write about. I knew why I was writing it, which had to do with my relationship with my father. The fact that the characters happened to be painters was secondary to me. And I knew that Rothko was going to have to have a huge speech about people not appreciating his work, people not taking him seriously enough. There’s a long speech in the play … and it ends with “I’m here to make you think, I’m here to stop your heart.” That’s the first thing I wrote, because I knew he was going to have a speech like that. Then I thought: If I could get past that, I could write the rest. So I wrote the hardest part first.

–from an interview with playwright John Logan in the theatre magazine, Chance
Playwright John Logan
The main activities in John Logan’s Red are: talking about painting; preparing to paint; and then beginning to paint. While this might not seem the stuff of urgent drama, the underlying action of the play is indeed urgent, stemming from a profound struggle going on in the heart and mind of painter Mark Rothko. That struggle is made manifest in his volatile interactions with the young man who has come to serve as his assistant, and in Rothko’s relationship to the world outside his studio.

Still, Red is not a portrait of a tormented artist disintegrating under the corrosive force of his own misunderstood genius (think, the Hollywood version of the Van Gogh story). It’s true, Rothko has his demons, and he will eventually take his own life, but that won’t happen until ten years after the end of Red. The two-year period in which Logan’s play takes place, 1958-59, is actually the time when Rothko experienced his ascendancy as one of the leading artists of the 20th century.

As the play begins, he has been given a commission—a sizable one —to paint a series of murals that will hang in the newly erected Seagram Building, itself a masterpiece of mid-century American architecture. Rothko should need no further proof that, after 30 years of professional striving and frustration, he has finally arrived. The commission might have gone to any of a number of other, arguably more prominent abstract expressionist artists. But the renowned architect Philip Johnson has come to him, and the honor means as much if not more to Rothko than the money.
“Rothko’s love of the theater informed his works throughout his life; he painted theatrical scenes, admired many playwrights, and referred to his paintings as ‘drama,’ and his forms as ‘performers.’ His experience painting stage sets in Portland may well have influenced the murals he designed years later for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in 1958 and for Harvard University in 1961, and those commissioned by Dominique and John de Menil for a chapel in Houston in 1964.”
-- Diane Waldman, Mark Rothko in New York
And yet … (There must be an “and yet,” or there would be no drama.)

And yet, his success feels terribly fragile. He remains convinced that people don’t understand his work, even if they’re willing to pay top dollar for it. He distrusts the very idea of the artist as celebrity, of art as commodity—but he can’t help feeling perturbed that other artists are more famous, that their work hangs in the best galleries and museums while his does not, that a has-been like Picasso can make a fortune selling misshapen pots and doodles on napkins, while at the same time a new generation of artists breathes down Rothko’s neck, rejecting the tenets of abstract expressionism and looking to replace it with a kind of self-aware, ironic “pop art” that Rothko finds altogether execrable. And the work of those unworthy upstarts—Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, et al.—is hanging in the same galleries that previously exhibited Rothko’s paintings.

So yes, this lucrative commission offers a kind of validation and vindication.

And yet … how can he take the money without feeling that he has sold out to the very anti-artistic forces that he has long vilified? Part of the problem is that the murals are destined to hang not in some grand foyer or dedicated gallery space, but on the walls of the Seagram’s Four Seasons restaurant, a “Temple of Consumption” in the words of Rothko’s assistant, Ken. Rothko has decided that this improbable setting will provide him with an opportunity to confront and provoke the richest, most powerful members of society with his work. A leftist since becoming politicized during the Depression, Rothko enthusiastically embraces the subversive possibilities of this commission.

And yet … “Selling a picture is like sending a blind child into a room full of razor blades,” he tells Ken. And he means it. Although Rothko has a flesh-and-blood daughter (and will soon have a son), he thinks of his paintings as his progeny, to be protected at all costs from unfriendly eyes, uncomprehending hearts and the maws of unscrupulous predators. So how can he consider letting them hang amidst the ravening and maneuvering and dinner-table palavering of New York’s power elite?

That’s what so perplexes and frustrates the young assistant, Ken. An aspiring artist himself, he signed on for this job because of a true admiration for Rothko and his work. Ken has lived his own story of pain and hardship at an early age, which makes it possible for him to understand in a deep way Rothko’s insistence that art must spring from a tragic impulse, that there must be “tragedy in every brushstroke.” Although Rothko insisted when hiring Ken that he had no intention of serving as his mentor, his rabbi, his father-figure or his therapist, he eventually becomes all of those to some degree. The more time Ken spends in the studio, listening to Rothko, working with Rothko, communing with Rothko, the more Ken’s admiration deepens.

And yet …

Although Red uses art—and the psyche of the artist—as its specific dramatic material, its human concerns are more universal than that. The goings-on in Rothko’s studio, the day-to-day business of a working artist, are fascinating (and in one instance, even thrilling), but they are only the surface layer of Logan’s story of two men grappling with the conundrum of life from two very different perspectives. Ken is just starting out as an artist and a man; Rothko is very near the pinnacle of achievement, a vantage-point from which one inevitably begins to consider the possibility of decline and loss. Ken needs to understand; Rothko needs to be understood. Ken still sees life as a process of addition; Rothko understands that it is inescapably a process of gradual subtraction and simplification (a process that has also informed the development of his art). Ken is young and hungry; Rothko is getting old … but he’s still hungry. Red is about the synergy that arises between them as they pursue a common goal and discover their connection.

Paul David Story and Mark Harelik in Red.
Red Dream Team

SCR’s production of Red is staged by founding artistic director David Emmes. While casting is always a vital aspect of directing, it becomes especially crucial when a play includes only two characters, one of whom is a titan of 20th century American art with a larger-than-life personality and a propensity to be loquacious. Emmes didn’t commit to taking on Red until he had found, in Mark Harelik, an actor who could do justice to the role of Mark Rothko.

Harelik’s illustrious association with SCR spans 25 years and six previous productions (along with a great many workshops and readings). He played leading roles in Search and Destroy (1990), Tartuffe (1999), The Hollow Lands (2000), The Beard of Avon (2001), Cyrano de Bergerac (2004) and In a Garden (2010). He has also appeared in New York (where his credits include the original Broadway production of The Light in the Piazza), in regional theatres nationwide, and in numerous films and television shows. SCR has long considered him to be one of the leading theatre actors of his generation, and we welcome his return in Red.

In some ways, the greater casting challenge came in finding a young actor who could hold his own onstage with Harelik. Paul David Story makes his SCR debut (apart from appearing in the NewSCRipts reading of Death of the Author) in the role of Rothko’s assistant, Ken. Story has appeared on and off-Broadway, at such leading regional theatres as Baltimore’s CenterStage and the Dallas Theatre Center, and on film and television.

A play about art demands a scenic design of consummate artistry: One of the finest set designers in the American theatre, Ralph Funicello, returns to SCR for his 29th season, after having contributed designs for such disparate productions as Zealot, Hamlet, Misalliance (twice) and Brooklyn Boy, among many others. The design team is rounded out by costume designer Fred Kinney (whose SCR set and/or costume assignments have included Sight Unseen, Sunlight, A Wrinkle in Time and Ordinary Days) and Cricket Myers (Mr. Wolf, Zealot, Trudy and Max in Love and many others) for sound design; but no one thus far mentioned outdoes lighting designer Tom Ruzika for SCR longevity, as this marks his 40th year of contributing lighting designs to SCR productions (including all 36 years of A Christmas Carol).
SCR’s production of Red does include passing references to 19th- and 20th-century art, architecture and literature. Need a refresher? Check out the art movement glossary.
Learn more and buy tickets

"Red" Glossary

While it isn’t necessary to hit the books before attending SCR’s production of Red, the play does include many passing references to 19th- and 20th-century art, architecture and literature. The following glossary is offered for those who want an introduction or refresher course on some of those references. Names in boldface are referred to in the play. For copyright reasons, we are not able to reproduce the work of artist Mark Rothko. The following links provide access to some of Rothko’s paintings.

The official Mark Rothko website:
http://www.markrothko.org

The Seagram Murals, displayed at the Tate Modern in London:
http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/rothko/room-guide/room-3-seagram-murals

20th Century Artistic Movements 

(for more in-depth discussions of these movements and their artists, we suggest visiting the encyclopedic website, www.artstory.org.)

Cubism: an early-20th-century movement, pioneered by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, which revolutionized European painting and sculpture. The term broadly categorizes a wide variety of art produced in Paris during the 1910s and 1920s. In cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form; instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist breaks volumes into fragmented planes, to depict the subject from multiple viewpoints and/or to create a sense of movement and the operation of time. Abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning is said to have been greatly influenced by cubism.

Abstract Expressionism: a post-World War II movement in American painting, developed in New York in the 1940s (hence sometimes called the “New York School”). The movement's name is derived from a combination of the emotional expressivity of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools. Even so, according to artstory.org, “Abstract Expressionist art was championed for being emphatically American in spirit—monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of a rugged individual freedom.” While Absract Expressionism has an image of being rebellious, anarchic and highly idiosyncratic, a hallmark of much of the work was a striving for balance between chaos and control. This was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and it put New York at the center of the western art world. The term is loosely applied to any number of artists who had markedly different styles, and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist. Rothko’s mature work is usually labeled Abstract Expressionism, although he balked at that or any other label. Other principal artists of the movement included Jackson Pollock (known for his action paintings composed of drips and splashes), Willem de Kooning (another practitioner of gestural action painting), Arshile Gorky (who, like Rothko, moved from surrealism to abstract expressionism), Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell (the last two recognized with Rothko as among the preeminent “color field” painters).

Frank Stella came along late in the abstract expressionist period and moved away from that loose, expressive form to a kind of minimalism that emphasized flat surfaces filled with lines and bands of color, pin-stripes and geometric forms, stripped of expressive emotional content.

Pop Art: A movement that emerged in the late ‘50s that used imagery from popular culture, including advertising, comic books and the daily news, often emphasizing banal, kitschy aspects of the culture. The movement arose as a reaction against the then-dominant forms of abstract expressionism, and pop art is sometimes considered an early example of post-modernism. Aiming to blur the boundaries between “high art” and “low culture,” Pop Art restores representationalism (recreation of recognizable images), but replaces the “high-art” interest in morality, mythology, religion or classical history with attention to commonplace objects, every-day imagery and pop-culture icons. Its mode is generally ironic. Best known practitioners include Andy Warhol (Campbell’s soup cans, Marilyn Monroe), Jasper Johns (American flag paintings), Robert Rauschenberg (collage-like “combines” of trash, found objects and images) and Roy Lichtenstein (comic book imagery employing enlarged “Ben-Day” color dots).

Paintings Referred to in the Play


Caravaggio's Conversion of Saul in the Santa Maria del Popolo
Matisse's painting The Red Studio

“Chatterton in his classic Pieta-pose”: Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton
Rembrandt’s Belshazzar's Feast, National Gallery of London



Miscellaneous


Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library staircase, Florence


Pentimento: an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance.

Seagram Building
Seagram Building: a 38-story skyscraper, located at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd Streets in Midtown Manhattan; completed in 1958. The structure was designed by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe while the lobby and other internal spaces—including The Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants—were designed by Philip Johnson. One of Mies’ most innovative architectural decisions was to set the tower back from the property line to create a forecourt plaza and fountain on Park Avenue. Although the choice was to become widely influential as an urban design feature, Mies had to convince the project’s bankers that a taller tower with significant open (“wasted”) space at ground level would enhance the presence and prestige of the building. Mies’ design included a bronze curtain wall with external mullions that went beyond what was structurally necessary, prompting some detractors to criticize it for having committed the “crime of ornamentation.” But in 1999, Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic of the New York Times, hailed the Seagram Building as “the Millennium's most important building.”

Mies van der Rohe: widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture, along with Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright. Like many of his post-World War I contemporaries, he sought to establish a new architectural style that would represent modern times the way Classical and Gothic did their own eras. Boldly abandoning ornamentation, he sought extreme clarity and simplicity in his designs—with rectilinear and planar forms, clean lines, pure use of color, and the extension of space around and beyond interior walls. Referring to his buildings as "skin and bones" architecture, he strove for structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free-flowing open space. He is often associated with his quotation of the aphorisms, “less is more” and “God is in the details.”

Philip Johnson: American architect who helped pioneer the “International Style,” which introduced European ideas of modern architecture to America and reshaped American architecture in the latter half of the 20th century. Johnson argued that the new modern style maintained three formal principles: 1) an emphasis on architectural volume over mass (planes rather than solidity); 2) a rejection of symmetry; and 3) rejection of applied decoration. He had a lifelong professional relationship with Mies van der Rohe—as collaborator and competitor. Among his many buildings are the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center and the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County.

Moccasin slippers with Neolite soles: Ken, Rothko’s assistant, relates a memory in which “I put on my slippers—they were those Neolite ones that look like moccasins.”

Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy

a brief summary (passages in bold apply most particularly to references in Red)

The Birth of Tragedy is divided into twenty-five chapters and a forward. The first fifteen chapters deal with the nature of Greek Tragedy, which Nietzsche claims was born when the Apollonian worldview met the Dionysian. The last 10 chapters use the Greek model to understand the state of modern culture, both its decline and its possible rebirth. The tone of the text is inspirational. Nietzsche often addresses the reader directly, saying at the end of chapter twenty, “Dare now to be tragic men, for ye shall be redeemed!” Nietzsche forms a very strict definition of art that excludes subjective self-expression. Despite his criticisms of human culture, however, Nietzsche has great faith in the human soul and urges us to drop our Socratic pretenses and accept the culture of Dionysus again.

Nietzsche describes the state of Greek art before the influence of Dionysus as being naive and concerned only with appearances: the observer was never truly united with or immersed in art, instead remaining always in quiet contemplation of it. Apollonian formal control was designed to shield man from the innate suffering of the world, and thus provide some relief and comfort.

Then came Dionysus, whose ecstatic revels shocked the Apollonian spirit of Greek culture. In the end, however, it was only through one's immersion in the Dionysian essence of Primordial Unity that redemption from the suffering of the world could be achieved. In Dionysus, man found that his existence was not limited to his individual experiences alone. As the Dionysian essence is eternal, one who connects with this essence finds a new source of life and hope, and the possibility of transcending the fate of all men, which is death. Nietzsche posits Dionysus as an alternative to the salvation offered by Christianity and its demand that man renounce life on earth altogether and focus only on heaven: in order to achieve salvation through Dionysus, one must immerse oneself in life now.

However, while man can find salvation in Dionysus, he requires Apollo to provide form to the essence of Dionysus. The chorus and actors of tragedy were representations through which the essence of Dionysus was given voice. Through them, man was able to experience the joys of redemption from worldly suffering. These Apollonian appearances also stood as a bulwark against the chaos of Dionysus, so that the viewer would not become completely lost in Dionysian ecstasy. Nietzsche emphasizes that in real tragic art, the elements of Dionysus and Apollo were inextricably entwined.

Because words could never serve to delve into the depths of the Dionysian essence, music was the life of the tragic art form. Music exists in the realm beyond language, and so allows us to rise beyond consciousness and experience our connection to the Primordial Unity. Music is superior to all other arts in that it does not represent outward appearances, but rather expresses the "world will" itself.

In contrast to the typical Enlightenment view of ancient Greek culture as noble, simple, elegant and grandiose, Nietzsche believed the Greeks were grappling with pessimism. The universe in which we live is the product of great interacting forces; but we neither observe nor know these as such. What we put together as our conceptions of the world, Nietzsche thought, never actually addresses the underlying realities. It is human destiny to be controlled by the darkest universal realities and, at the same time, to live life in a human-dreamt world of illusions. The Greek spectator became healthy through direct experience of the Dionysian within the protective spirit-of-tragedy on the Apollonian stage.
This glossary is a companion to an article about John Logan’s Red. Read the full article.