Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SCR's 'Players' Pack 'Em In

Christopher Huntley, Jamie Ostmann and Guy McEleney
in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The young actors in SCR’s Junior, Teen and Summer Players may be kids, but their shows are adult caliber.

Last August, a cast of 26 Summer Players wowed audiences with their acting, singing and dancing in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The Tom Briggs adaptation was the same script used in the New York City Opera’s 2004 production. The Junior Players recently sold out performances of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over two weekends in April. The script Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa chose, adapted by Richard R. George from the fantasy by Roald Dahl, was sanctioned by Dahl himself.

And just look at what’s coming up: The Teen Players in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. The play has 18 characters, period costumes, dancing and singing, 14 scenes in seven locations and lots of lines to learn! In other words, it's a big show, but with these enthusiastic and dedicated young actors, Takakuwa doesn’t go the easy route.

After all, they’ve had at least two years of training and won their places in the Teen Players ensemble through audition. Takakuwa knows they’re up to task. When we asked her to elaborate, she did so happily. And young actors-in-training should pay heed to her words because Takakuwa is a trained actor herself and brings that experience, along with her immense talent as a director, to the Players’ productions.

SCR's Teen Players
“My goal in choosing the Players scripts is always to select something that will both challenge the actors and entertain the audience. For the teens, I look for a text that is challenging on intellectual as well as emotional levels.

Mansfield Park has wonderfully specific characters who require physical and verbal boldness and emotional bravery from the actors. It’s a story that has true human emotion and complexity as well as moments of light comedy. I was drawn to the script because it required the actors to explore a completely different world from their own—of physical stillness, verbal complexity, and a strict sense of propriety and manner. At the same time, it’s very familiar to them with its themes of young romance and the pressure of family expectation.

"As an artist and as a teacher I tend to be drawn to scripts that require the actors to ‘fire on multiple cylinders,' having to create specific characters with honest emotions and desires while having to sing or dance or wear unfamiliar period clothes, use complex language clearly and actively and work as an ensemble to drive and share a story with an audience—all in the course of two hours!”

Of course, the Players are eager to start “firing.”

And speaking of challenging plays, Hisa has chosen Into the Woods for the Summer Players production. This sophisticated and very theatrical show—with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine—ran on Broadway for almost two years, winning three Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, a Grammy and a Theatre World Award.

With auditions coming up soon, almost 90 kids will be vying for 20 roles. “The Summer Players are a wonderful mix of students,” Hisa said. “They’re chosen from Teen and Junior Players as well as current and recent year-round students with at least one year of SCR training—and even graduates of the program, home for the summer and looking for a challenge.”

Into the Woods will be presented on the Julianne Argyros Stage at 1 and 5 p.m. on August 6, 7, 13 and 14.

Mansfield Park
a dramatization by Willis Hall from the novel by Jane Austen
May 28 at 4 and 7:30pm, May 29 at 1:30 and 5pm
June 3 and 4 at 7:30pm, June 5 at 1:30 and 5pm
Nicholas Studio

Is true love a matter of the heart or pocketbook? Of following personal feelings or the family expectations? Shy and poor, ten-year-old Fanny Price is taken to live at Mansfield Park with her rich cousins, who are aghast that she has no toys, only two dresses—and not a word of French! The servants narrate the story, with wit and wisdom, as Fanny grows up before our eyes. Romance is in the air, engagements abound, an elopement takes place—no, two!—and, at long last, Fanny finds her heart’s desire in this lively adaptation, performed by SCR’s Teen Players in adult roles—complete with a formal ball!

Cast:  Alison Wexler (Gipton), Sophia Falmagne (Harkness), Kailyn Dunkelman (Lady Bertram), Lauren Gardner (Mrs. Norris), Jasmine O’Hea (Julia Bertram), Julia Jech (Maria Bertram), Julia Ostmann (Fanny Price), Rachel Teague (Mrs. Grant), Valentina Gehley (Mary Crawford), Pranav Mutatkar (Sir Thomas Bertram), Nick Slimmer (Mr. Norris/Henry Crawford), Maxwell Weinberg (Tom Bertram/William Price), Zachary Yeates (Edmund Bertram), Luke Tagle (Dr. Grant/Mr. Yates), Connor Dugard (Mr Rushworth).

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Beautiful Sky

Monette Magrath in Silent Sky.  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
On Friday, April 8, First Night of Silent Sky, the heavens—as seen in the early 1900s from the Harvard Observatory—opened wide to reveal a stunning star-filled sky, drawing pleasurable sighs from the audience…

…and a few days later from the Los Angeles Times: “John Iacovelli’s gorgeously minimalist, midnight blue set features an upstage screen that arcs open as if revealing the night sky from an observatory. Enhanced by York Kennedy’s evocative lighting and John Crawford’s projection design, the stage resembles a telescope turned on the stars.”

But it was the story of Henrietta Leavitt’s scientific work against great odds that caused the most admiration among First Nighters, including special praise from former Board President Tom Sutton, who, coincidentally, had just read David A. Weintraub’s “How Old is the Universe.”

“The book describes Leavitt’s computing of Cepheid vairables,” Sutton said.  “And I’m impressed by the play’s terrific merging of art and science in a creative and entertaining way.”

See photos and read more about the Cast Party.