Friday, February 26, 2010

Musical theatre guru Erin McNally welcomes all, especially ‘non-singers’ and ‘non-actors’

Hey all you actors out there who think you can’t sing: Erin McNally says you can.

“Singing is just talking – only slower and on certain pitches,” she says. “I have found that actors who have worked hard to train their speaking voices will often surprise themselves.”

And you singers who think you can’t act? “A singer who feels the music of a song is indeed acting,” says Erin, who teaches musical theatre classes for kids and teens at SCR. “Actors are storytellers. Songs tell stories.”

McNally feels strongly that emotional vulnerability is essential to becoming a good musical theatre performer.

“I have this metaphor – I believe that every time we make a sound out of our mouth, it opens a little door to our heart. So when we speak, it flutters open and closed, which feels safe. But when we sing we sustain sound, so the door just stays open and our heart is exposed.”

Erin knows that being exposed can make students feel scared, which is why she uses lots of fun exercises in her classes. One of these involves performing songs completely the opposite of the way they are written.

“If a song is a slow love ballad,” she says, “I will have them do it angrily, then laughing like they don’t care. It is fun to do and fun to watch.”

She also has students speak the lyrics without the music, as if reciting a monologue: “It’s amazing how some students connect to a song once you strip the music out of it.”

Not all students can easily access their musical theatre side. There are a few students who have struggled in her classes, but when they finally have their breakthrough moment, she says, “I have tears in my eyes.”

Erin remembers a boy whose previous training had made him “showy.”

“He felt the need to do all these gestures to show how he felt. He couldn’t just connect and be in the moment. One day, I finally got him to open up and talk about what his song was really about. He shared a life experience that mirrored the song’s story. He was finally able to stand and truly connect the song to his heart. There wasn’t a dry eye in the classroom.”

These breakthroughs are a result of Erin’s special approach to her musical theatre class.

“My class is an acting class with music. It is not about how pretty you sound or about ‘performing.’ It’s about connection to the truth of the song, finding the honesty of that moment and living it, while maintaining vocal integrity.”

Erin McNally has a BA in Acting and Musical Theatre from Cal State Fullerton, has starred in numerous musicals and sung backup for such musical stars as Patty LuPone, Kenny Loggins and Sarah Brightman. She has been teaching at South Coast Repertory for seven years and has served as Musical Director for various Players shows.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Introducing the cast of "In A Garden"

Mark Harelik (Othman) appeared at SCR in the Pacific Playwrights Festival readings of In A Garden and You, Nero. Additional SCR credits include Cyrano de Bergerac, The Beard of Avon, which also enjoyed a sold-out run Off-Broadway, The Hollow Lands, Tartuffe and Search and Destroy. Mr. Harelik is a playwright and his works include The Immigrant, The Legacy and Lost Highway, a play about the music and legend of Hank Williams; and the book for The Immigrant, a musical based upon his play. Mr. Harelik is a Fox Foundation Fellow.

Matt Letscher (Hackett) appeared at SCR previously in What They Have, both the production and the Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) reading of Ridiculous Fraud, as well as the NewSCRipts reading of Kate Robin’s Anon and the PPF readings of Julia Cho’s The Language Archive and Craig Lucas’ Singing Forest. Broadway credits include The Rivals and Neil Simon’s Proposals. Film and television credits include Towelhead, Madison, Straight-Jacket, Identity, Gods and Generals, The Mask of Zorro, “Entourage,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Medium,” “Eli Stone,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: Miami,” “Boston Legal,” “Joey.”

Jarion Monroe (Najid) last appeared at SCR in Man of the Moment. He also created the role of Dr. Waxling in Howard Korder’s Search and Destroy and traveled with it to Yale Repertory. Recent film and television projects include principal roles in the features The Game, In Control of All Things, The Zodiac, The Californians, “Trauma,” “Frasier” and “Seinfeld.”  Mr. Monroe is also the voice of Lynch in the game Kane and Lynch.

Phillip Vaden (Prudhomme) hails from Lubbock, TX, and has appeared previously at SCR in Habeas Corpus, Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Christmas Carol. Theatre credits include Caught in the Net (for which he won an Ovation Award) at International City Theatre and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He is a graduate of SCR’s Professional Conservatory. He has starred in the movies Pope Dreams, Man Maid and Still Waiting...

Want to learn more about the cast & creative team of this production?
Peek into our production program.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SCR's Founders Begin Search for New Artistic Director

Martin Benson and David Emmes

COSTA MESA, Calif. (Feb. 4, 2010) — Forty-six years after founding South Coast Repertory, David Emmes and Martin Benson have decided it is time to begin the search for their successor. They have greenlighted a detailed leadership transition plan that is set to culminate later in the year with the naming of a new Artistic Director to join the leadership team.This does not mean, however, that Emmes, the Producing Artistic Director, and Benson, the Artistic Director, are retiring. They will continue to serve in their current capacities until a new Artistic Director is in place, at which point they will assume the titles of Founding Directors. In their new roles they will serve as counselors and advisers to their successor. They will continue to play an active role in assisting the new Artistic Director in the finding and development of plays, and they will continue to direct productions.

“We’re stepping back, but not away,” said Emmes. “We think it’s incredibly important that SCR not lose artistic momentum. We believe we can help the next leader through the transition period as he or she becomes familiar with the particular needs of such a large and complex organization.”

Though Benson and Emmes will be involved in the hiring process, SCR’s Board of Trustees will choose the new leader: “We know that in order to keep growing, the theatre needs new ideas, new blood, new chemistry,” Benson said. “SCR will need someone who is responsive to changing times and circumstances.”

SCR has always taken a deliberate, evolutionary approach to change, and the succession plan is no exception. It began to take shape at a board retreat in March of 2008 and has been continuously refined until the founders felt that it – and they – were ready to move forward.

“David and Martin are visionaries,” said Wylie Aitken, president of SCR’s Board of Trustees. “They transformed SCR from a company with $17 and a station wagon into a three-theatre complex with a $9 million annual budget and numerous awards, including a Tony. Together with the Orange County community, they’ve created one of the most successful and stable arts institutions in the country. We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate that they have led a process to ensure the continuity of SCR’s future artistic leadership. We are also grateful that they are willing to stay on to share their wisdom and insight as we identify a strong artistic leader to partner with our Managing Director, Paula Tomei, to carry on SCR’s long history of service to Orange County and the national theatre community.”

For more details read a Q&A with David Emmes and Martin Benson.

"Fences" Packs a Powerful Punch

“Who loves August Wilson’s Fences more—actors or audiences? The answer is probably a toss-up.”
– Charles McNulty,
Los Angeles Times

On Friday night, January 29, as Baron Kelly, portraying Gabriel, blows his horn to "open the pearly gates" and utters the final words of August Wilson’s masterpiece, both actors and audience were caught up in the power of the moment—and the production.

And those feelings stayed with them as they gathered to talk about the play at the Cast Party hosted by Scott’s Restaurant & Bar.

Read all about the party and see the glittering photos.