Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Neighborhood Conservatory, SCR's Best Kept Secret

Sometimes the great work done by SCR’s Education Department goes unnoticed, and to remedy that, we’d like to introduce readers to one of the important programs offered by the department that takes place not at SCR but in area elementary schools, thanks to contributions from the Friends of SCR.

That program is the Neighborhood Conservatory, currently operating free afternoon acting classes in five elementary schools in Costa Mesa: Rea (instructor Diana Burbano), College Park (instructor Joe Alanes), Wilson (instructor Amy Louise Sebelius), Paularino (instructor Marianne Savell) and Pomona (instructor Sara Guerrero).

It’s an understatement to say that the instructors are energetic, enthusiastic and encouraging. They are simply the best young teachers for these kids—many of whom live in at-risk areas where after-school programs provide a safe gathering place.

According to Joe Alanas, who has a record of success in the program, the emphasis is on self-esteem, teamwork, discipline and respect. “Even if the kids don’t want to be actors or get involved with theater, what they learn in Neighborhood Conservatory is helpful to them as they grow and develop.”

Joe has a big class—22 kids. “And,” he adds, “they come in from playing outside after school so they’re really hyper. Because the classroom is small, we do a lot outside, and it’s definitely a challenge, getting their attention!”

But according to Joe, the challenge is worth it. “It’s very rewarding, because the kids are always happy to see me, and I know they really appreciate the class. The shy kids find out that the class offers a safe place to take chances, and they eventually get up and participate. As for the ones who are really hyper, if that’s toned in the right way it’ll reveal strokes of very good stuff. I see in many of the kids a spark of talent on the inside. It’s just a matter of getting them out of their shells and giving them self confidence. Of course, many of them are hams to begin with!”

Joe brings to Neighborhood Conservatory lots of talent of his own. He’s a founding member and co-artistic director of a new non-profit theatre company, The Modjeska Playhouse, has directed three plays there and is currently staging a theatre for young audiences production of David Mamet’s The Frog Prince. Most recently he was a director and program supervisor for Kaiser Permante Education Theatre Programs. At SCR, he directed three Junior Players shows and acted in many Educational Touring Productions. Also as an actor, he toured the country with Magic School Bus Live and has appeared in productions at theaters from San Diego to New York City.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Segerstrom Honored

Elizabeth and Henry Segerstrom at the premiere of SCR's An Italian Straw Hat

It’s safe to say that the performing arts in Orange County would have a very different look (and in some cases no look at all) were it not for Henry Segerstrom. South Coast Repertory was the first arts organization to benefit from his largesse; the theatre sits on land he donated, and many gifts followed throughout SCR’s history. But it is his abiding interest, his dedication and his love of the arts that has enriched our community and put Orange County on the cultural map of America. We join the applause for Segerstsrom as he receives the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence for outstanding leadership in arts philanthropy on June 7 in New York City.


"Doctor Cerberus" touches the Heart/Funny Bone

Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Honorary Producer Laurie Smits Staude

Doctor Cerberus, the tender, funny, sad, uplifting new play by one of the most diversified young writers in America today (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa also writes for Marvel Comics and the Big Love television series) captivated the First Night audience on April 16, led by praise from its Honorary Producer Laurie Smits-Staude.

“Roberto has given us a treasure that reflects his wonderful ability to hear how people really talk and makes you laugh outloud, and Bart has masterminded a brilliant production, complete with dazzling videos. The performances are so brilliant and touching that I can't imagine any other actors in the roles. Also, having raised sons myself, I know how they can squabble and fight, but when the chips are down, they come to the support of each other. I hope this play has a long life; it adds a wonderful and new niche in the canon of American drama. ”

In his Monday morning review, Paul Hodgins of the Orange County Register called the play “taut and entertaining,” praised all the actors and added, “Bart DeLorenzo’s sure-footed direction … plumbs the depths of this thoughtful and multi-layered script.”

After the show, First Nighters gathered for a party hosted by Maggiano’s Little Italy in its South Coast Plaza restaurant, which was appropriately decorated to represent the world of Doctor Cerberus—the host of “Nightmare Theatre.”

Read all about the party and see the glittering photos.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Playwright Brings Unique British-American Voice to SCR

British-born playwright Bathsheba Doran is an admitted “American-o-phile.”

“There are a few of us,” she jokes. “[Alfred] Hitchcock was one.”

Since childhood, she dreamed of moving to the United States.

“I felt like I was born an American, in England, she says. “I never really felt British. I come from a Jewish family, and I think it’s easier to be a Jew in America. I always just felt very conscious of my otherness. Also, I was raised on American things. I loved American cinema as a child.”
Bathsheba—“Bash” to her friends—has been living in New York for nearly 10 years now and writing plays—two of which are bound for SCR in the next few weeks. The first, Kin, will be read at this week’s Pacific Playwrights Festival. The second, a children’s play called Ben and the Magic Paintbrush, will have its world premiere May 21 through June 6.

Kin brings together a tangled web of family and friends in a story that centers around the romantic relationship between Anna, an academic, and Sean, a personal trainer.

“There’s a lot of humor,” she says, “but there’s a lot of pain as well.”

Though not inspired by any one thing, the play was informed by Doran’s marriage last summer.'

“The play was written over the period of my engagement,” she says. “I think because I was marrying a woman, and it’s not legal to get married, I was having to ask myself some very serious questions about what the point of getting married was…what is the meaning of the ritual?'

“It’s hard not to see it retrospectively as informing the play because it’s really about this process of forming new kinship circles, and certainly it’s very personal in that I was aware of [my own] two extremely different families coming together."

But it was also influenced by her work on the children’s play.

“When I wrote Ben and the Magic Paintbrush, suddenly I was taking these enormous flights of fancy, because with kids you can say ‘somebody’s poisoned and therefore they fall asleep, but they’ll be OK,’ and ‘somebody’s in disguise, but nobody will recognize them.’ There’s this set of ancient conventions that you get to use.”

Doran says the process loosened her imagination and made her lighten up a bit, encouraged her to “push the storytelling a little harder.”

Still, Kin deals with themes that turn up consistently in her work: friendship and living in foreign lands.

Which brings us back to England vs. America.

“I think American people—and British people—love the idea that British theatre is inherently better, but that hasn’t really been my experience. I’ve seen really wonderful theatre in both countries; I’ve seen dreadful theatre in both countries.”

What England has, Doran says, is a venerable canon headed by Shakespeare.

“I think America is still caught up – in a good way – in finding new American voices, whereas England can sort of rest on its laurels. There’s not a great patriotic zeal to find a great British voice because they found one 500 years ago.”

That’s good news for us Americans, who are happy to claim her British-American voice as our own.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Grad Student Playwright Blends Comedy, Tragedy

When David West Read was in elementary school, he wrote and directed a little movie called Jurassic Pork.

“It was a parody of Jurassic Park with pigs,” he explains, laughing. “I had a weird obsession with pigs. I wrote a series of short stories about a pig-man and then made a movie based on one of those. Keep in mind I was pretty young.”

David’s still pretty young—27—and he’s got about a month to go before he completes his master’s in dramatic writing at New York University. But first he’ll be at SCR’s Pacific Playwrights Festival for the reading of his graduate thesis, a play called Happy Face.

No, it’s not about pigs. It’s about 20-year-old Wendy and her 17-year-old brother, Poots (at least that’s what everybody calls him). Their parents recently died in a canoeing accident, and Wendy is trying to find a job that will not only support them but also pay for plastic surgery for Poots, whose face is badly scarred from another accident—so badly scarred that he wears a Phantom of the Opera mask and has taken to living in a refrigerator box in the back yard.

If that sounds sad, it is—but it’s also very funny. After all, it’s from the guy who wrote Jurassic Pork.

In high school in his native Canada, David says, he was an excellent student, not to mention the student council president and a member of the jazz ensemble, the wind symphony and the school newspaper. His friends were the funny guys, though not necessarily the most popular ones.

Then in college, at the University of Toronto, he began writing and acting in a sketch-comedy show. He spent two years after college doing improv and acting in Canadian commercials and TV shows before deciding to study dramatic writing. His plays are much more serious than his sketch work, of course, but his humorous personality always bubbles up.

“[I don’t believe] all comedy has to be an absurd, silly exaggeration of life but that comedy is everywhere in life,” he says, “and especially in the most painful times.”

The idea for Happy Face started with his wish to write a play about a brother and sister.

“I wanted specifically to write about a brother-sister relationship that’s good,” he says. “They fight a lot and have a lot of problems, but they really do love each other."

Not coincidentally, David has an older sister, Robyn: “I pulled a lot from my own relationship with my sister. Even though there’s very little autobiography in the play events-wise, I think it comes from a very personal place.”

“Personal” is important, says David, who wanted to share this piece of advice, given to him by an NYU professor, with other young writers: “The best writing is writing that you feel slightly embarrassed to show to other people because there is something of yourself in there. You wonder: ‘What will people think of me if I put this out there? Am I giving away something secret about myself?’”

Come see what secrets David does—or doesn’t—give away at the reading of Happy Face Friday, April 23, at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 –  or two-for-$10 for MyStage members.

It's All in the Family

Former SCR Theatre Conservatory Director Laurie Woolery will stage the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Language Archive, which had its world premiere last month at SCR.  The play will open the 2011 Season in OSF’s New Theatre.

Some background:  This will be the first OSF play directed by Woolery, who is currently associate artistic director at Cornerstone Theatre Company.  Cornerstone was founded by Bill Rauch, who is currently OSF’s artistic director.  As if that’s not enough closeness, Rauch staged four productions at SCR (Lovers and Executioners in 2003, Habeas Corpus in 2004, The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler in 2006 and My Wandering Boy in 2007). 

Woolery is a graduate of SCR Professional Acting Program and appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and six seasons of  A Christmas Carol.  She wrote and directed the SCR Players productions of Bliss, The Hundred Dresses and Orphan Train: The Lost Children and taught in the Adult Acting Program.

When Laurie received the call from Bill, asking her to direct the show, it came as a real surprise.  “I love Bill, and I love his work,” she said.  “I’ve gone up to Ashland to see his shows, and obviously we’re still in contact, but I really wasn’t expecting this offer.  When the call came, Bill told me that he was doing The Language Archive next season and wanted me to direct.  He said, ‘When I read the play I thought you could really do something great with it.’  And so, when I was able to pick up my jaw from the floor, I accepted!”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Share this Doctor Cerberus Video to Win!

Doctor Cerberus starts previews this Sunday, and SCR wants to spread the news with a special contest. Share this video through Twitter and you can win:
  • Grand Prize, pair of tickets to Doctor Cerberus and the Night of the Living Dead T-shirt Brett Ryback is wearing in this video.
  • Runner-up (two), a pair of tickets to Doctor Cerberus.
    • Tickets may be reserved for of the following performances
      • Sunday April 11th @ 2:00pm
      • Tuesday, April 13th @ 7:45pm
      • Wednesday, April 14th @ 7:45pm
      • Thursday, April 15th @ 7:45pm
      • Saturday, April 17 @ 2:00pm or 7:45pm
    How to enter:
    1. Click to tweet this message:
      Retweet to win 2 tix and the t-shirt from this video. Remember 2 follow @SouthCoastRep. Details here:
    2. The deadline to enter this contest is Thursday, April 8th at 4pm!

      Contest Guidelines:
    1. You can tweet as many times as you like, but only one entry will count per Twitter username.
    2. Make sure your tweets are public. If your tweets are private, we can't see them, which means you can't win.
    3. The winners will be announced within an hour of the ending time, via Twitter only, so be sure to follow us.

    Good luck and happy tweeting!

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Glowing Words for "The Language Archive"

    April 2, 2010, the world premiere of Julia Cho’s The Language Archive. What a night! It all began at 6pm when members of the Playwrights Circle gathered for a pre-dinner photo before re-gathering for their customary pre-show dinner at Pinot Provence. Over seven seasons, the group, which underwrites a world premiere on the Segerstrom Stage annually, begins the evening with this comradely dinner and its traditional photo.

    After that, they are lauded in curtain speeches before the play and assemble again at the Cast Party afterwards—this time co-hosted by Mikimoto at Marché Moderne. Read all about the play and the party and check out the photos...