Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Plains Playwright

Catherine Trieschmann is one of the only professional playwrights we know who is living—and writing—full-time in Kansas. The author of How the World Began—now enjoying its world premiere—is not only a full-time writer, but also a mother of two.  After living in New York and Washington, D.C., Catherine left for Hays, Kansas, in 2006, after her husband got a position teaching philosophy at the local university. We asked Catherine to chronicle a typical day in her life in Kansas—writing, children and all.

Baby on the Plains.  Martha, age 1.
8 a.m.
Wake up in an attic bedroom in our 1910 cottage in need of much renovation. Stumble down the stairs and get Sophie (age 4) and Martha (age 1) fed and dressed.

9 a.m.
Ignore the kids while I check e-mail and slurp down coffee while sitting at my grandmother's old dining table.

9:30 a.m.
Return any urgent phone calls from my agent, directors and producers.

Sophie, age 4, on the jungle gym
under the prairie sky.
10 a.m.
Out the door with the girls to the library, museum, park or somewhere similar, hopefully to meet up with other Moms so I don't feel so alone in the world. They think I'm a little strange, what with this playwriting career and all, but they tolerate my eccentricities well enough.

11 a.m.
Feed everyone lunch—usually out of a box.

12 p.m.
Drop Sophie off at O'Loughlin Elementary School for pre-school. Put Martha down for a nap in her crib.

12-2:45 p.m.
Ignore the dirty dishes, pile of laundry, unanswered e-mails and WRITE.

3 p.m.
Pick up Sophie from pre-school.

The first old house we renovated in Hays.
3:30 p.m.
Drop the girls off at the daycare at my gym and swim laps.

Weed the garden.
Return phone calls.

5 p.m.
Make dinner, preferably un-boxed, preferably with vegetables from our big garden, while the girls entertain themselves by dancing, drawing, climbing on things and pulling out all of the pots and pans from the kitchen shelves.

6 p.m.
Eat dinner with the whole family.

Winter on the Plains.  Catherine and Sophie
bundled up in the snow.

6:30 p.m.

Wash the dishes, while my husband and the girls pick up the house. (This is great thinking time.)

7 p.m.
Take everyone to the park across the street, where we swing on the swing set under the big sky. If it's too cold, we'll build a fire and horse around the living room.

8 p.m.
Put Martha to bed. Read to Sophie—Victorian poetry and Pippi Longstocking at the moment.

9 p.m.
While my husband puts Sophie to bed, meet a director for a phone date.

10 p.m.
Answer some of those unanswered emails.

10:30 p.m.
Read scripts and/or research until I fall asleep.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Pride and Prejudice" Opens the Season to Cheering Throngs

First Night of South Coast Repertory’s 2011-12 Season was something to cheer about, beginning with the curtain speeches for Pride and Prejudice on the Segerstrom Stage and continuing until the Cast Party closed down around midnight on Ela’s Terrace.

Among those who elicited cheers: SCR Board President Tom Phelps, Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson, SCR’s new Artistic Director Marc Masterson and his co-CEO, Managing Director Paula Tomei.

The cheering continued for two couples who have vigorously supported the theatre through many seasons, Honorary Producers Jean and Tim Weiss and Tom and Marilyn Suttton; another staunch supporter, U.S. Bank, represented by Bill and Christy Cave; Segerstrom Stage season media partner PBS SoCal, represented by Mel and Marcia Rogers, and Pride and Prejudice media partner 89.3 KPCC.

And that was all before the play began. Then the 21-member cast brought theatre-goers to their feet with a stunning production of the Jane Austen classic, followed by a rocking Cast Party.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Magical Night for SCR

September 10, 2011.  It was a night of brief nostalgia and endless opportunity.

At “Theatre Magic: The Black & White Ball,” South Coast Repertory supporters looked back with pride on what they had helped achieve over 47 seasons and celebrated their founders who had brought SCR to the top ranks of theatre in America.

Then they looked forward to a new generation of leaders and the endless opportunities that lie ahead.

The two men whose artistic vision started it all (Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson) joined the new generation of leaders (Artistic Director Marc Masterson and his co-CEO Managing Director Paula Tomei) and the two amazing Gala Chairs, Elaine Weinberg and her daughter Nancy Dahan, to welcome guests to the celebration.

Elaine and Nancy and their creative and hard-working 46-member Committee were responsible for making sure that the evening was celebratory—and fun.  They succeeded!

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Play about Faith, Connection and Prejudice

A Few Questions for Catherine Trieschmann

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann is no stranger to SCR’s artistic staff. We’ve been following her work for years—and commissioned her in 2007—and we’re thrilled to be co-producing the world premiere of her latest play, How the World Began. With rehearsals underway, we asked Catherine to reflect on her inspiration for writing the play—and the intersection of life, religion and weather in her town of Hays, Kansas.

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann

What was the genesis for writing How the World Began?
I was lucky enough to receive a Sloan commission from Manhattan Theatre Club, which is a commission designed to get playwrights writing about science and scientists. Since moving to Kansas five years ago, I've been struck by the heated debates concerning creationism and evolution that are periodically held in my small town of 20,000. How the World Began is my attempt to make sense of why people are so passionate about this issue.

Could you tell us more about the importance of the play’s location to you?
My first year in Kansas, the small town of Greensburg (located about an hour south of me) was decimated by a tornado, and the images from that natural disaster have haunted me ever since.

One of the most striking things about living in Western Kansas is the powerful effect of weather on the community. It, of course, affects the farming community profoundly, but even we townspeople have to beware of heavy hail, thunderstorms and tornados—not to mention extreme heat and cold. The sky is ever-changing on the plains, and it is simultaneously majestic and scary and beautiful.

The play’s characters seem to represent three very different perspectives on the continuum of religious and scientific beliefs. In crafting these characters—and their conflicts—how important was it to you to represent all sides of the ever-changing battle over evolution and creationism?
In writing the play, I don't know that I was so intent upon representing all sides of the evolution vs. creationism debate as much as I was intent upon creating characters that were extreme in their beliefs but sympathetic in their portrayal. There are no moderate views in the play, perhaps because moderation is not the most dramatic of choices, but also because it was the extreme passion and commitment I saw expressed by the people of my town which drew me to the material in the first place. I personally have no problem reconciling evolution and the existence of God, but I was intrigued by people who do.

NEXT WEEK:  Catherine Trieschmann presents “A Day in the Life of a Plains Playwright.”

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann has been living and writing in Hays, Kansas, for the last five years. But her newest play, How the World Began, which will premiere on SCR’s Julianne Argyros Stage on Sept. 25, is her first play about Kansas.

In it, she tells the story of Susan Pierce, a new biology teacher from New York who moves to the small town of Plainview to teach in the wake of a devastating tornado. Susan says, “Haven’t you ever looked at photographs after a tsunami or an earthquake half-way across the world and thought, if only I could do something? Wouldn’t it be great to go to bed at the end of the day, tired and used up, knowing you actually helped people?”

Greensburg, Kansas following a F-5 Tornado in 2007.


Susan moved to Plainview to lend a hand—and to start a new life.  But she is an outsider in this small, farming town, and unprepared for the firestorm that will erupt after she makes a careless comment while teaching the origins of life.

When student Micah Staab, a devout Christian, takes offense and confronts Susan, she at first denies having made the comment, then tries to explain that she was talking about early non-scientific beliefs that had nothing to do with God. But Micah feels disrespected, and when Susan refuses to apologize, his guardian Gene gets involved. Gene Hinkle is the town’s garrulous ex-postmaster, and soon everyone in town believes that Susan is an evolutionary zealot.  The town gossip leads to building pressure that threatens to dismantle Susan’s new life and vocation.

Trieschmann’s drama subtly explores the hot-button topics of creationism and evolution—as they’re taught (or not taught) in modern classrooms today—through the prism of three character’s strongly held personal beliefs. It’s a character-driven play about faith, connection and the innate prejudices people sometimes have toward beliefs different from their own.

Jarrett Sleeper, Kirsten Potter and Joe Spano in rehearsal for the 2011
Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of How the World Began.


How the World Began was presented in a reading during SCR’s 2011 Pacific Playwrights Festival and is being produced in association with Women’s Project Theater in New York. Daniella Topol is directing both the SCR production and the one at Women’s Project, which will produce the play in January 2012. How the World Began will have its European premiere at Out of Joint Theatre in London this fall.

Friday, September 16, 2011

SCR Honors Founders with Endowment Fund

Patricia Melvin and Marc Masterson.
When South Coast Repertory Artistic Director Marc Masterson stepped forward to greet guests at the 2011 Gala, a new era began.

Of course, the moment was filled with nostalgia, as supporters of SCR recalled so many wonderful moments over the 47 years since Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson envisioned a new theatre for our community—first touring from the back of a Studebaker station wagon, later in a converted warehouse and then a converted dime store!  Now, home is our dynamic theatre center—one of the country’s finest—in the heart of Orange County.

The memories are sweet.  But David and Martin aren’t dwelling on them.  They’re looking toward the future and the new generation of leaders in whom they have put their trust.

David Emmes and Martin Benson.
To ensure that future, the SCR Board of Trustees has announced The Emmes/Benson Endowment Fund, which will provide the income to fund future exceptional creative opportunities—the unique visionary needs that go beyond original budget plans—in perpetuity.  These are the resources that will allow SCR not only to achieve greatness but to sustain greatness.

We invite everyone to join us in honoring David and Martin through the Emmes/Benson Endowment Fund.  Find out about the numerous opportunities—including making a gift to the Take-Your-Seat Campaign to permanently name a seat in one of SCR’s three theatres.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

We’re Opening Our House

From left: Marc Masterson, David Emmes, Martin Benson
and Paula Tomei, photo by Doug Gifford.
Join us Monday, Oct. 3, for backstage tours, an insider’s season preview and a reception at the Open House to celebrate the arrival of new Artistic Director Marc Masterson.

You’ll have a chance to meet Marc and his counterpart, Managing Director Paula Tomei, along with Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson. You’ll get a sneak peek inside the scene, prop and wardrobe shops. And you’ll get to mingle with other theatre lovers as you enjoy refreshments.

It’s all free!

Here’s the schedule:
    •    5-6:30 p.m.: Reception and Backstage Tours
    •    6:30-7:15 p.m.: Season Preview
    •    7:15-9 p.m.: Reception and Backstage Tours

Tour space is limited, so reservations are recommended. Reserve online at www.scr.org/openhouse or by calling 714-708-5555.

‘How the World Began’ Cast: Old Pros at New Works

Portraying a character in a play that’s never before been performed is a special challenge. But the actors in the world premiere of How the World Began are already experts at creating roles.

Sarah Rafferty originated the role of Helen Vaught in 2002’s Getting Frankie Married – and Afterwards at SCR. (Fans of the TV show “Suits” will recognize her as the main character’s long-time assistant, Donna.) Jarrett Sleeper created older brother Rodney in our 2010 world premiere of Doctor Cerberus. And Time Winters originated the role of Smythic in last year’s world premiere of The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder at The Theatre @ Boston Court. (SCR fans will remember him from 1999’s The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Congrats, You Got the Part: Now Cut Your Hair

In SCR’s version of Pride and Prejudice, actress Claire Kaplan plays “The Girl,” a modern-day character who is reading the novel for the first time.  Though she never speaks, she is the observer through whose eyes we view the story.  And taking on the role meant making a major change to her appearance.  We asked her to write about the experience of chopping off her long hair for her art:

My character in this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is a punky teen we call “The Girl” who uses her appearance as a sort of identity-establishing rebellion against her mom.

Pretty typical fare, but I never went through that phase.  I’ve always had long hair, and I’ve never permanently dyed it. The only time I’ve changed it is for shows. I cut it into a bob for one, and I dyed it a very non-permanent raspberry for another. But I knew at the audition for P&P that this would be a bigger kind of commitment. The casting director and director Kyle Donnelly made sure I realized that the role would require a major make-over. I agreed at once. South Coast Repertory is a major theatre, after all, and an aspiring actor does what she must, within the bounds of propriety.

I knew it would be challenging, but I started to panic when I saw the design for The Girl’s hair, which was much shorter than I expected—basically a pixie cut. I realized that my personal idea of femininity was pretty tied up in my hair. Part of me knew this was silly. But I had been going through some major life changes (graduating and moving home to be in this show, among others), and I didn’t feel like I could deal with my identity being shaken, too.

Before, during and after Claire's transformation.

After a few pep talks from our wonderful costume designer, Paloma Young, and asking myself “What Would Lizzy Bennet Do,” I figured that if I was prepared to chop off my locks I might as well commit to it and take the plunge. They put my hair in two ponytails (there was too much of it for the conventional one) and—snip!—it was gone. I would like it noted for posterity that I did not cry. I think I went into a sort of Zen state.

The fantastic Neve at Crew Salon did the cut entirely by instinct! She shaped it to my head, and I will happily admit it looks great. I love how easy it is to take care of, and it’s surprisingly versatile. The color is a bit extreme for my taste; I tend toward a more natural look. But this is fun! I get to try on a whole different person for a month and a half. And I certainly feel more in character for the show.

In the end, I’m glad I sacrificed some vanity for a job that I readily sacrifice much more important things for all the time. My personal ideas about what is feminine and sexy are starting to change, and I look more like a young Liza Minelli, which has always been a life goal.

One of the best parts is that I get to donate my almost two feet of hair to Locks of Love, an organization that collects hair from the recently shorn and makes it into wigs for those who have lost their hair to illness. The power of the arts!
Claire Kaplan

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Pride and Prejudice" in the Modern World

Biography of Jane Austen

Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775, to Rev. George Austen and the former Cassandra Leigh in Steventon, Hampshire. Like the families in many of her novels, the Austens were a large family of respectable lineage but no fortune. She was one of eight children. 

Cassandra Austen's ''Portrait of Jane Austen'' (1810). Watercolor and pencil.
Although she never married, her letters to her sister, Cassandra, and other writings reveal several romantic entanglements, including a very brief engagement (which lasted only one evening). She moved several times around the English countryside, and biographical information about her work is somewhat sketchy.

She began to write as a teenager but kept her work hidden from all but her immediate family. Legend has it that while she was living with relatives after her father’s death in 1805, she asked that a squeaky hinge on the room’s swinging door not be oiled. This way, she would have enough time to hide her manuscripts before someone entered the room.

Her brother Henry helped her sell her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, to a publisher in 1811. Her father unsuccessfully tried to get a publisher to look at her novel First Impressions when she completed it in 1797.  Later renamed Pride and Prejudice, it was published in 1813 to highly favorable reviews. Mansfield Park was published in 1814 and Emma in 1816. The title page of each book referred to one or two of Austen’s earlier novels—capitalizing on her growing reputation—but did not provide her name.

In 1816, she began to suffer from ill health. At the time, it was thought to be consumption but is now thought to have been Addison's disease. She travelled to Winchester to receive treatment and died there on July 18, 1817, at age 41.

Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published together posthumously in December 1817 with a “Biographical Notice” written by her brother Henry, in which Jane Austen was finally revealed as the author of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma.

By Kimberly Colburn

Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice are not uncommon (see The Ascension of Austen, below), but South Coast Repertory’s production promises to be anything but common. It starts with a fluid, highly theatrical adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan. Sullivan is a long-time director, and Hanreddy was the artistic director of Milwaukee Rep for more than 30 years; their understanding of dramatic structure onstage is extensive. It’s reflected in the way they’ve deftly captured Austen’s world and her beloved characters. Lovers of the novel will appreciate the extensive use of direct quotes from Austen’s text, but those who have never before heard of the Bennet girls will be able to discover this rich, detailed world and follow the story with ease.

Set rendering by Kate Edmunds
Directing an adaptation of this challenging scope—based on a beloved novel, 21 actors in the Regency period, multiple balls, characters travelling the English countryside—is a demanding prospect. SCR’s production is led by director Kyle Donnelly, who has been a professional director for the past 30 years, working in many of America’s top regional theatres. She directed SCR’s production of Tom Walker by John Strand in 2001. She also heads the acting program at UC San Diego, one of the finest in the country. Several of the cast members are her former students, including Corey Brill, who is playing Mr. Darcy.

Set rendering by Kate Edmunds
Donnelly said she wanted to illustrate the connections that this classic tale has for today's young people. Would a modern teenager fall in love with this story as generations past have? How does this story have relevance for contemporary society? Where and how does the story connect to our modern world? Her approach looks at how this tale might be filtered through the eyes of a modern young girl. If a young girl today picked up this book, how might she see it?

Set rendering by Kate Edmunds
Donnelly’s Pride and Prejudice is set in Regency England, but the production elements are very contemporary, utilizing multi-media, including extensive video projections, to maintain the fluidity of the story. Led by noted scenic designer Kate Edmunds and assisted by projection coordinator Adam Flemming, video allows the scenes to flow freely and quickly from one to the next, keeping the story moving at a brisk pace and giving a strong sense of place.  Oddly enough, the technology enables the production to be more faithful to the events of the period novel.

Composer Michael Roth was in rehearsal nearly every day, creating original music for the production. Costume designer Paloma Young’s period-inspired costumes are elegant and richly detailed. The production team also includes lighting designer Lap Chi Chu and choreographer Sylvia C. Turner.

To meet the cast of Pride and Prejudice, click here.

Jane Austen
The Ascension of Austen
By Kimberly Colburn

Jane Austen didn’t intend to be famous. During her lifetime, she only published anonymously, as “A Lady.” Few people outside of her family knew that she wrote her novels. Despite the large part that romance and courting play in her books, she never married. When she died in 1817 at age 41, her gravestone only cited that she was the daughter of local Reverend George Austen. (In an essay about Austen, W. Somerset Maugham commented, “It just shows that you may make a great stir in the world and yet sadly fail to impress the members of your own family.”) It wasn’t until 1872 that Winchester Cathedral added the note to her memorial that she was “known to many by her writings.”

How did Austen’s work, particularly Pride and Prejudice, soar to the level of ubiquitous popularity it currently enjoys?

Her novels Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma grew in popularity and made a modest sum while Jane was still alive—around 600 pounds in six years, which is roughly equivalent to $60,000 today. At the time, novels were not considered great literature; they were seen more like pulp fiction. Poets were the real celebrities. For comparison, Byron’s book of poems, The Corsair, sold 10,000 copies on the day it was published in 1814. Emma was published the same year but took six months to sell 1,250 copies.

Austen’s modest reputation ebbed until about 50 years after her death, when her niece J.E. Austen-Leigh published A Memoir of Jane Austen. The memoir was wildly popular and renewed interest in Austen’s novels at a time when the genre of the novel had gained new levels of respectability and popularity. The term “Janeites” was coined in a preface to an 1894 edition of Pride and Prejudice to describe Austen admirers.

In the early twentieth century, references to Austen and her novels began cropping up in other texts. Mark Twain expressed distaste for Austen’s writing in 1897’s Following the Equator, insisting that an ideal library would not have her books in it. Given that Mark Twain aimed verbal slings at other classic authors, this may have merely signaled Austen’s transition to “serious literature.” In 1913, Virginia Woolf compared Jane Austen to Shakespeare. In 1926, Rudyard Kipling published a short story called “The Janeites,” about a soldier recalling how he was forced to join a secret society of devoted Austen fans. Through the 1930s and 40s, Austen’s books were increasingly included in classrooms and academia.

It may be the numerous dramatizations of her stories that solidified Austen’s superstar status. Starting in 1940 with Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, popular film culture began mining Austen for inspiration and churning out three to seven film versions of Austen novels per decade. Pride and Prejudice adaptations you might remember include Colin Firth’s turn as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC version and the recent 2005 movie with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth. Or did you catch the 2004 Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice?

If you include the category of work “based on” or “inspired by” Pride and Prejudice, the list grows exponentially. In film, there’s You’ve Got Mail in 1998, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the same love-hate relationship model as Elizabeth and Darcy. Bridget Jones’ Diary, both the novels and the films, pay homage to Pride and Prejudice—the initially surly fellow is named Mark Darcy. Author Stephanie Meyer admits the novel Twilight is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice—the dashing Edward Cullen is at first cold and rude to Bella, later citing their differences in lifestyle as the reason he tried to keep her at arm’s length. In 2009, Seth Grahame-Smith wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice and modern zombie fiction. He left large portions of Austen’s original text intact but modified the world of Regency England to include ninjas and zombies. There are also dozens of sequels to Pride and Prejudice, imagining the lives of the characters after the original ends.

This chronology merely traces how Austen and her works exploded in popularity in the more than 200 years since her death, but not why. As bestselling author and journalist Anna Quindlen wrote, “Serious literary discussions of Pride and Prejudice threaten to obscure the most important thing about it: it is a pure joy to read.”