Monday, March 22, 2010

Developing Theatre One Commission at a Time

New York. Boston. Seattle. L.A.: Lately, our commissioned plays are turning up everywhere! Since 1985, SCR has awarded more than 241 commissions to 153 playwrights. We commission between 8 and 12 plays each year, which is, to our knowledge, higher than any other theatre company in the U.S. For those not familiar with the term, a “commission” means that we pay a writer to create a play for us. We then get the right to produce it first, which we sometimes do and sometimes don’t.

Over the years, scores of SCR commissions, including Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain (1997) and David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitizer-Prize wining Rabbit Hole (1997), went on to be produced at other theatres. Now, these four are making headlines:
  • Lascivious Something was first commissioned by SCR in 2002. It centers around an American and his young Greek bride who escape to an island and plant a small vineyard. Since 2002, Sheila Callaghan’s play has been workshopped at the Bay Area Playwright's Festival and was developed with Soho Rep. Circle X Theatre Co. in L.A. will begin performances on March 27. A little more than a month later, The Women’s Project and Cherry Lane Theater in New York will begin performances on May 2.
  • Brooklyn Boy first premiered at SCR in September 2004. It was co-produced with Manhattan Theatre Club and performed at its Biltmore Theatre in February 2005. Taproot Theatre Company in Seattle will now continue its 34th season in March with Brooklyn Boy. The playwright, Donald Margulies, was also commissioned to write SCR’s Time Stands Still (2009), Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (2007), Sight Unseen (1991) and Collected Stories (1996). Sight Unseen and Collected Stories were both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
  • The Luck of the Irish was first commissioned by SCR in 2006. The playwright, Kirsten Greenidge, decided she was going to write at the age of 12 after seeing August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. August Wilson also wrote Fences, which was on the Segerstrom Stage this season. The Luck of the Irish was further developed by Huntington Theatre Company in Boston with support by the NEA New Play Development Program. It is about two sisters who invite a long time friend of the family's to a memorial picnic for their grandmother. They learn that the deed to the house their family has called home for decades is being mysteriously “reclaimed.”

    Read a recent interview with Kristen Greenidge
  • Sunlight was also commissioned by SCR in 2006. Written by Sharr White, this play just ended its run at the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis and will continue its run at the ArtsWest Playhouse in Seattle until April. New Jersey Repertory Co. will begin performances in July. It is about Matthew Gibbon, a liberal lion and a university president, who may have gone too far in his battle against the conservative dean of the law school—his son-in-law and former protégé.

    Read a recent interview with Orange County native Sharr White

Friday, March 19, 2010

'In A Garden' Mesmerizes Audience

Howard Korder’s latest world premiere at SCR keep audience members hanging on every word exchanged between the culture minister of a fictitious Middle Eastern country and the America architect with whom he plays a fascinating cat-and-mouse game—until the very end, when they cheered the captivating performances.

Then it was time to congratulate the artists, and thank the Honorary Producers, during the post-production fête, co-hosted by Pinot Provence at its restaurant in The Westin South Coast Plaza.

Read all about the party and see the glittering photos.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The History of Esperanto

03/08/10 • Esperanto is an invented language, the brainchild of Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof. Zamenhof, born in 1859, was not the first (or the last) to attempt to construct a language to address the perceived failure of words in our society, but unlike many other languages Esperanto gained a foothold to become a living language—with original literature, native speakers (children taught Esperanto at birth), and a dedicated following.

Zamenhof made several attempts at forming a universal language. He first developed a lexicon of one syllable words but found he would forget the meanings he assigned them. He knew a universal language needed to be as easy as possible to learn in order to gain widespread use. Eventually, he developed the system known as Esperanto, which relies on phonetic spelling and a system of root words familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of Romance or Germanic languages.

In 1887 Zamenhof gathered together the resources to publish a pamphlet he titled Lingvo internacia. Antaŭparolo kaj plena lernolibro (International Language. Foreword And Complete Textbook). It was published under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto (Doctor Hopeful), from which is where the name of the language is derived. His goal was to unify the world. He believed that if people could overcome language barriers they could live in harmony. When asked how he came to his beliefs, he explained: “I was educated to be an idealist. I was taught that all men are brothers; and yet on the street and in the marketplace everything caused me to feel ‘people’ did not exist, that they were only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews, etc.” He felt that a language that was neutral and didn’t belong to a particular culture would put people on equal footing and promote understanding among nationalities.

Unlike the inventors of other constructed languages such as Universalglot or Volopük, Zamenhof didn’t seek control of development and wanted his language to adapt through usage. He rejected motions for official overhaul and allowed changes to happen organically as Esperanto spread. The idealistic philosophy behind Esperanto helped his language attract a large following. The World Esperanto Congress first occurred in 1905 and has been happening annually since, with brief hiatuses during WWI and WWII. Estimates of the number of Esperanto speakers today range from 50,000 to two million and are spread worldwide, with chapters of the Universal Esperanto Association (UAE) in over 100 countries. Speakers of Esperanto have developed a culture of openness and tolerance, wherein they celebrate every native background through their shared universal language. The UAE has a list of Esperanto speakers through the world who have offered their homes to house travelling Esperanto speakers. The World Esperanto Congress is a colorful and lively affair, with performances, music, and seminars of all varieties—all in the uniting voice of Esperanto.

Fun Facts

Zamenhof has an asteroid named after him.

His birthday, December 15th, is celebrated as Esperanto Day. Last year, Google honored his birthday with a Google doodle. Google also has a portal for internet searching in Esperanto.

Political activist and Hungarian businessman George Soros is one of the rare native speaker of Esperanto, who was taught the language from birth, though he is no longer active in furthering the cause of Esperanto.

(Photo: Polish doctor L.L. Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto, poses in an undated picture. Photograph courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SCR board president appointed to Arts Council

Wylie Aitken, president of SCR’s Board of Trustees, will soon join the California Arts Council. He was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on March 4.

Here’s an article about his appointment from News Blaze: “Wylie Aitken, 68, of Anaheim, has been appointed to the California Arts Council. Aitken has been a founding partner of Aitken, Aitken, Cohn Law Corporation since 1971. He is a trustee and board president of the South Coast Repertory Theater and Orange County Performing Arts. Aitken is chair for the Board of Visitors of Chapman University Law School and a trustee of Chapman University. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Aitken is a Democrat.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Big Screen Beckons

Here’s the pitch, in 25 words or less: SCR’s fabulous playwriting instructor Cecilia Fannon is going to teach you to write a screenplay. Which is easier – and harder – than writing a play. Class starts March 31.

OK, that was actually 28 words. Guess we’re not quite ready for Hollywood. But Cecilia assures us that with training and practice, we will be.

“After taking my class, I think anybody can write a screenplay,” she says. “I don’t think just anybody can write plays.”

SCR regulars tend to think of Cecilia first and foremost as a playwright – after all she has taught playwriting classes here for 15 years, and her play, Green Icebergs, had its world premiere here.

But Cecilia, who has an MFA in film from UCLA and has taught screenwriting at Long Beach City College for many years, has written for stage, television and film.

Screenwriting is governed by a much stricter set of guiding principles than is playwriting, she says. “Something has to happen on every other page of a screenplay. In playwriting, you have a lot more freedom. But that’s what makes it harder. You don’t have those ‘rules’ to guide you along.”

During her eight-week class, students will watch movies and perform script breakdowns, counting scenes and documenting what happens in those scenes.

“You have to be able to recognize patterns and recognize them as quickly as possible.”

And, of course, they will write their own scenes, probably two of them, or about four pages.

After that, they’ll be ready for bigger things.

“I always say that screenwriting is like the game of Go,” says Cecilia. “It takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.”

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Conservatory Student Returns for World Premiere

Phillip Vaden doesn’t appear on stage until the very end of In a Garden. But he’s one of the first to arrive at the theatre.

Before each performance, he likes to walk out onto the set, survey the empty seats and recite a few lines. It helps him settle into character and prepare for the moment he comes back out to perform for an audience full of people.

Vaden, who plays a U.S. Army captain, sat down after rehearsal to talk about his days in SCR’s Professional Conservatory – including some tricks he learned from teacher Karen Hensel – and why he has a new biggest fan.

How does it feel to be acting at SCR after graduating from its Professional Conservatory?
It’s good to be back. Everything I have done here before has been on the Segerstrom Stage. I am really excited to be performing in a more intimate setting this time around.

How did you originally hear about the adult acting classes at SCR?
I was born and raised in a small farm town in Texas. My older brother, Travis Vaden, came out to California first to take lessons at SCR’s adult conservatory. He was always telling me if I wanted to move out here and act, it was the best way to learn a lot and gain experience if I worked hard enough to impress. Sure enough, SCR hired both of us to do Two Gentlemen of Verona in 2003 after graduating from the conservatory.

Any funny stories from your conservatory days you’d like to share?
When I was in class with Karen Hensel she made a point to teach you to work with different types of directors. Every day she would come in pretending to be a different director who either had an outrageous personality or no personality. She really prepared me to be able to work with all kinds of people. Auditioning is also easier now thanks to the techniques she shared.

You have a best friend, U.S. Army captain Scott Thornbury, who has done tours in Iraq. Has he changed the way you view or play your role as a U.S. Army Captain in In a Garden?
I want to ask the playwright, Howard Korder, if I could change the name of my character to Scott. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries though. I have put several Scott nuances into my character thus far. Scott thinks it is awesome. I am so glad he is in the States so I can use him as a resource. The conservatory really taught me to not to let these invaluable opportunities to gather information pass me by. I really think you perform better by taking a little bit of that person on stage with you.

How does In a Garden differ from anything else you have done?
In a Garden
is solidly about personal relationships. There is no side-line pageantry. No comedic machinery. It is about two people’s visions and egos clashing. Who knew two people battling it out could be so delightful to watch! Howard is such a brilliant writer…but that’s no secret.

Do you prefer acting on stage, film or TV?
I would love to do theater all the time! Unfortunately, the money is not as good as doing television work. Sitcoms are great because you have the best of both worlds. You still get to perform in front of a live audience.

Who is your biggest fan?
Well, it used to be my mom, but since I got married I think it is my wife, Erin…Or at least I hope she is. We got married last June, and she always comes with me to all kinds of events. She will hopefully be my opening night date from here on out.