Monday, December 30, 2013

All You Need is Love

by Kimberly Colburn

TRUDY AND MAX: Michael Weston and Aya Cash
Zoe Kazan

In a sense, SCR’s history with Zoe Kazan began before she was born, when SCR awarded one of its earliest commissions to her mother, Robin Swicord. Read more about the Kazan family here. Many years later, Kazan began her own theatrical career. She has already turned heads as a both a writer and actress in theatre and film.

Zoe Kazan at the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Trudy and Max in Love.
Kazan made her professional acting debut off-Broadway in 2006 with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, with Cynthia Nixon, and appeared on Broadway twice in 2008 in Come Back Little Sheba and The Seagull. However, Kazan already had been flirting with playwriting, having started a play—eventually titled Absalom—in Donald Margulies’ class while she was an undergraduate at Yale. She continued to hone the piece for several years, and finally submitted it to the Humana Festival at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. The family drama was accepted for the festival and was produced to great acclaim in 2009. Her second play, We Live Here, was commissioned and produced off-Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club in the fall of 2011. On the strength of her first two plays SCR commissioned Kazan to write a play for SCR, which yielded Trudy and Max in Love.

Kazan also has a successful career in film. She wrote, produced and starred in Ruby Sparks (2012) and appeared in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road and Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicated. Since wrapping Ruby Sparks, she has had starring roles in the independent films In Your Eyes, written and produced by Joss Whedon, and The Pretty One, written and directed by Jenee Lamarque. She recently completed filming The F Word, in which she stars opposite Daniel Radcliffe.
Trudy and Max first meet in a writer’s room in Brooklyn. Trudy is working on her second novel in her young adult series and Max, something of a celebrity writer, is new in town.

There’s nothing remarkable about their first conversation; they’re whispering to keep from disturbing the other writers as she tries to tell him how to get some coffee. Yet this brief encounter sparks a connection, and as their paths begin to cross repeatedly at the writer’s room, a friendship forms. Trudy is clear at the outset—she’s a happily married woman, and this relationship is platonic. In fact, Trudy can think of plenty of women she can set Max up with. But their chemistry and connection are undeniable; and what starts innocently enough sets an epic affair in motion.

At first glance, Trudy and Max in Love might sound like a conventional romantic comedy, but this play transcends its genre to subvert traditional notions of courting, love, and marriage in the modern world. How much is love a product of physical attraction, how much does it stem from a human need for stability—and what happens to the rest of your life once you’ve made a commitment? What does betrayal mean in a relationship that is itself a betrayal? What are the rules when you start out by breaking them?

Playwright Zoe Kazan has constructed Trudy and Max in Love as a series of seemingly innocuous scenes, weaving the fabric of a relationship with threads of the quotidian. The play is evocative of how someone might remember the events that comprise the story of a relationship, recalling pieces of conversations or fragments of a shared moment.

The two central characters are flanked by “The Other Man” and “The Other Woman,” who play a multitude of roles to fill in and flesh out the impact of other people’s lives on Trudy and Max’s affair—and vice versa. As a sort of memory play, the action is presented to the audience with no attempt to disguise the nature of the theatrical event we’re witnessing. We see the actors change costumes, shift furniture, and otherwise behaving as hired hands performing a job in between the scenes. Kazan is interested in the theatricality of these choices, exposing the artifice of the theatre construct to parallel the artifice of the world Trudy and Max have constructed for themselves. Kazan says her approach to the play was not to write the beginning or ends of scenes in a neat, concrete fashion, but instead to “write the most interesting part” of each scene and let audiences piece together the events of the affair and draw their own conclusions.

Zoe Kazan and Lila Neugebauer on the first day of rehearsal.

Director Lila Neugebauer, who skillfully directed the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Trudy and Max in Love in last year’s festival, has returned to stage the full production. Neugebauer is a fast-rising, young theatre artist who has directed the work of many of the hottest young playwrights in the nation.

Neugebauer and Kazan have a history of collaboration that dates back to their college days at Yale. Their friendship has set a particularly convivial tone to the rehearsal room, and the cast has developed a quick camaraderie (they’ve bonded over the fact that all four actors are happily married). The cast includes Aya Cash, Michael Weston, Celeste Den and Tate Ellington. Cash commented recently that the work they’ve been doing on the play feels so intimate, it was startling the first time the design team came in to watch rehearsal—she’d nearly forgotten that an audience was imminent.

Learn more and purchase tickets.

Hip-Hop Theatre Comes to Studio SCR

The Shooting of Tyisha Miller
Tyisha Miller
On Dec. 28, 1998, Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old African American woman from  Riverside, California was killed by police officers when she was shot 12 times. Miller had been unconscious and locked in her car when she began shaking bodily and foaming at the mouth with a pistol on her lap. Four police officers arrived at the scene with guns drawn and, after unsuccessfully attempting to get a response from Miller, they made a forced entry into her car. In their attempt to remove the gun, Miller is said to have sat up and grabbed the weapon. The officers then opened fire 23 times, hitting her with 12 bullets, including four in the head.

The shooting of Tyisha Miller caused outrage in the Riverside community and led to demonstrations, protests and claims of police racism. In 1999, the courts ruled that the four police officers involved in the shooting "made an error of judgment, but had committed no crime." This resulted in hundreds protesting against the decision, resulting in the arrests of 46 protesters, including Rev. Al Sharpton.
Rickerby Hinds’ Dreamscape re-imagines the real-life shooting of Tyisha Miller thorough the powerful lens of hip-hop theatre. Hinds wrote the play, which was previously sampled in Studio SCR’s SCRamble, and is directing Dreamscape as it opens the 2014 Studio SCR season, Jan. 16-19. He recently talked about how he developed the work.

What made you want to tell this story?
I wrote Dreamscape out of a sense of obligation more than anything. Although I was intimately aware of the shooting and subsequent activities surrounding it--community forums, demonstrations, trials--I was reluctant to tell the story in spite of the apparent need to address the ongoing tenuous relationship between the African-American community and the police. It wasn't until 2005, seven years after the shooting, that I completed Dreamscape.

Rhaechyl Walker in Dreamscape
Why do you feel hip hop was the most effective way to tell this story?
Dreamscape was initially conceived as a solo performance for a dancer (who could act) with DJ accompaniment. But, as I wrote and re-wrote the play, I found that the interaction between the DJ as the antagonist with Myeisha’s protagonist presented me with a more compelling and dramatic performance. After several readings and performances with the DJ, it was suggested that I try a beatboxer in that role. So when I finally directed Dreamscape myself, I chose to use a beatboxer and discovered that the power of the play increased exponentially.

I chose spoken word/poetry because I wanted to bring beauty through language to a situation that was so horrific. My desire for beauty out of tragedy was also the reason why I chose to include dance to the degree that I did. The other thing that dance brought to Dreamscape was the ability to have the audience focus on the body of the protagonist in a way that words could not--to take the body apart and put it back together again solely through movement.

What has been your creative process with this work?
John "Faahz" Merchant in Dreamscape
The research provided me with so much information that, in some ways, it felt like the play was writing itself. Using the coroner’s report describing the damage caused by each of the 12 bullets that hit Tyisha Miller, the 911 call made by her cousin after finding her passed out in the car, as well as the testimony of one of the officers involved in the shooting provided a compelling framework for the development of the rest of the narrative. The next part of the process was to answer the question, “If I was a 19-year old black girl being shot to death, what thoughts might pop in my mind?” and the answer became the moments in the life of Myeisha that we witness on stage.

After writing the script, my process as director has been to let the actors bring their foundation talents (beatboxing, acting, dancing) and to build the performance based on what they bring to the table, understanding the different approach I should take when working with a beatboxer who acts versus an actor who beatboxes.

Why do you think this story will resonate with audiences?
I think the story will resonate with audiences because of the significance of the theme being explored, as well as the theatrical way in which such a difficult topic is explored.

What do you want people to come away with having experienced this story?
A compelling theatrical experience.

What is Hip-Hop Theatre?

By combining two art forms — centuries-old theatre and contemporary Hip-Hop — hip-hop theatre brings a new dynamic to modern theatre. Hip Hop came to life in the 1970s and is an art form filled with a multitude of cultures, genres and sub-genres. Composed and characterized by four elements — rapping, DJing, breaking and graffti art — hip-hop encompasses the arts from music to visual to dance. When joined together, Hip-Hop Theatre makes use of one or more hip-hop elements with a strong focus on the language and cultural relevance of the theatrical piece. Going beyond placing rap or breaking on a theatre’s stage, hip-hop theatre blends the two, using hip-hop elements to present culturally relevant stories to audiences in new thought provoking ways.

Many involved in hip-hop theatre have different definitions for it. Danny Hoch, founder of the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, defines the art like this: “Hip-hop theatre must fit into the realm of theatrical performance, and it must be by, about and for the hip-hop generation, participants in hip-hop culture, or both.” Rickerby Hinds, who wrote and directed Studio SCR’s first 2013-14 production Dreamscape, helped introduce the world to hip-hop theatre in its early years through his play Daze To Come. Other hip-hop theatre works include, Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop, So! What Happens Now? and How to Break. Supporters of hip-hop theatre seek to have it recognized as a legitimate art form and continue to encourage regional theatres to present their works. With hip-hop theatre groups forming across the country and the annual Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, this form of theatre will only continue to evolve and make its mark in mainstream culture.

The Four Hip-Hop Elements

– also known as turntablism, is the manipulation of sound and music through vinyl turntable systems and a DJ mixer. When the role of DJs phased out of as a major part of hip-hop groups during the 1990s, turntablism became a new sub-culture with the primary focus on the DJ and their manipulation of sound and music creation.

Breaking – also known as break dance and b-boying, breaking began in New York City during the 1970s. Due to popularity in media, breaking is now widespread across the world in countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea.

Rap – also known as MCing, rhyming and rap music, rap focuses on the flow and delivery of rhyming lyrics. Different from spoken word poetry, rapping is performed in time to a beat and can be accompanied by or without music. Through diction, literary techniques and rhyme, rapping falls somewhere between poetry, singing, and prose.

Graffiti Art – often associated with vandalism, graffiti art can be used to present commentary on modern issues ranging from racism, politics and gender issues. The 1983 graffiti art documentary, Style Wars, helped to link graffiti art to hip-hop by featuring break dance crews and rap music in the film. Even in today’s commercialization of graffiti art, many graffiti artists choose to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons.

Dreamscape will be performed as a part of Studio SCR, Jan. 16-19, 2014. Get your tickets here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What the Heck is Long Form Improv?

Long-form improv teacher Chris Sullivan.

Popular Acting Instructor Adds New Class, Teaches Adult Students

There’s a new class in South Coast Repertory’s Adult Acting Program. It’s called Long Form Improv, and it’s taught by one of the Theatre Conservatory’s most popular instructors. The instructor is Chris Sullivan.

But what is Long Form Improv, anyway?

Serious acting students know the answer. But for those of you—and there are many—who are enrolled in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory to develop better communication skills, gain spontaneity or just make new friends, let Chris explain. Who knows? This could be the class you’ve been looking for.

“Long Form Improvisational Theater is improvised pieces from ten minutes up to a full-length play. The comedy comes from the narrative (story) and character-driven choices and less from simple gags and jokes,” says Chris.

The goal in his class is to tell a story that will be an hour long and without the help of a playwright, director, sets or props. He calls it a “crazy-hard” thing to do and says that when it works, it can be truly amazing—and when it doesn’t work, it’s still “super fun.”

The new class came about the same way others have for Chris—out of popularity. Seven years ago, he joined SCR as an instructor of Improv I in the Teen Acting Program. So many students thrived in the class—and even took it more than once—that Improv II was added for teens like Shane Iverson.

Shane speaks for her classmates when she says, "Chris relates to people in a way that makes them feel comfortable to take risks and have fun in his classes. His wit, combined with his incredible knowledge of the craft, makes me look forward to class every week."

Seeing the enthusiasm of the young students, Chris suggested adding an improv class in the Adult Acting Program, and Hisa Takakuwa, Conservatory and Education Director, readily agreed.

“Our evening program for adults includes Improv I, which Chris has taught, and Advanced Improv. Those classes are very important to the curriculum—and popular with students,” Takakuwa says. “But what he proposed was going to another level by adding new techniques and processes to develop an hour-long story with his students. I was intrigued by that possibility, and I think students will be, too.”

So Long Form Improvisation will be included—for the first time—in the Winter Session, Jan. 13 – March 10. And, according to Chris, there are four groups who will enjoy—and benefit from—the class.
  • For an improviser, this is a great way to train the brain to start thinking about what comes next, how to create and tell good stories and how to find the comedy from the characters, story and situation—not relying on the “game.”
  • For an actor, the goal is always to be “in the moment.” In an improvised play, actors are compelled to be in the moment—and every moment that comes before and after. In fact, both improvisers and actors will learn to use and trust their instincts because there won’t be a director telling them where and when to move or a playwright telling them what to say.
  • For a writer, this is a move away from the computer and the “final draft.” The class forces writers to make narrative choices and learn to collaborate. Plus, they’ll end up with a thousand ideas!
  • For non-performers—those interested in personal growth and development—the class offers an opportunity to work with others, take a collection of ideas and put them together to achieve one goal. They will learn that with risks come rewards and that mistakes can be gifts—two valuable life lessons. And there’s a real plus for those with young children: they’ll come away with the best bedtime stories!

In other words—this class is for everyone. Besides, according to Chris, no matter what group you fall into, you’re going to have “crazy fun.”

Check out this class—and more—and then enroll!

Look Who’s Featured in Zoe Kazan’s New Play

THE CAST:  Tate Ellington, Celeste Den, Michael Weston and Aya Cash
Trudy is a young adult fiction writer living in Brooklyn with her husband; Max is a famous writer just in from Los Angeles. When they meet at a writers’ room, the chemistry and connection are instant and soon the pair has to wrestle with what that friendship means and whether it’s possible to love two people, completely. That’s a quick overview of Zoe Kazan’s new play, Trudy and Max in Love.

The tight-knit cast is excited to create the roles in this production—four actors create the characters of Trudy and Max and all of the people who inhabit their world. You’ll see both familiar and new faces in the cast:

Aya Cash (Trudy) makes her SCR debut with this production. She is a New York-based actress last seen on the west coast in Seminar at the Ahmanson Theatre. Her New York theatre credits include shows at Playwrights Horizons (The Pain and the Itch, Three Changes), Atlantic Theater Company (Happy Hour, Offices), Manhattan Theatre Club (From Up Here), Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Killers and Other Family), Ars Nova (Playlist, Missed Connections) MCC Theater (The Other Place) and SPF (Whore, Not Waving). Her film credits include Sleepwalk With Me, The Oranges, The Bits In Between, Deception, Off Jackson Avenue, Winter of Frozen Dreams, The Happy House, the upcoming, Can A Song Save Your Life? and Why Now? Cash was a series regular on the Fox series “Traffic Light” and has filmed pilots for NBC, FOX, CW and FX, as well as guest-starred on many New York-based shows. She recently recurred on “The Newsroom” and “We are Men” and can currently be seen in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

Celete Den (Other Woman) returns after appearing in this season’s Death of a Salesman and last season’s international tour of Chinglish at SCR, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the 2013 Hong Kong Arts Festival. Her other theatre credits include the world premieres of Wild Swans at American Repertory Theatre and Young Vic in London; Between Two Friends and Island at Actors Theatre of Louisville; 11 Septembre 2001 and Peach Blossom Fan with Center for New Performance; Spit, Shine, Glisten with Cotsen Center for Puppetry; and Laws of Sympathy with Playwrights’ Arena. Regional credits include King Lear with Center for New Performance; Conjunto at Borderlands Theatre; Othello at The Theatre @ Boston Court; The Joy Luck Club at East West Players; The Merchant of Venice with LA Women’s Shakespeare; and Attrapee with Poor Dog Group. Her film and television credits include “Dumb American Family,” “Castle,” “Criminal Minds,” “The Doctor” and “Larry Crowne.” Den received her BFA from the University of Florida and MFA from the California Institute of the Arts.

Tate Ellington (Other Man) is making his SCR debut and is thrilled to be part of this production. His previous theatre credits include the Broadway production of The Philanthropist and off-off Broadway in Dog Sees God (original cast) and The Shape of Things. He has appeared on television in “The Good Wife,” “The Walking Dead,” “Psych,” “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23,” “Wolfpack of Reseda” and “Rescue Me.” His film credits include The Elephant King, The Kitchen, Remember Me, Breaking Upwards, The Invention of Lying. He earned his BFA at the University of Mississippi. Tate also is an accomplished visual artist.

Michael Weston (Max) is making his SCR debut. His theatre credits include the off-Broadway productions of Extinction and Snakebit; regionally he appeared in Dead End, Matchmaker, Johnny on the Spot and Misha’s Party (all at Williamstown Theatre Festival); in the Los Angeles productions of Other Desert Cities (Center Theatre Group) and Waverly Gallery (Pasadena Playhouse). His films include Expecting, Quad, Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, State of Play, Last Kiss, Love Wedding Marriage, Wedding Daze, Garden State, Pathology, Dukes of Hazzard, Harts War, Lucky Numbers, Wishcraft, Getting to Know You and Coyote Ugly, among others, as well as the upcoming Wish I Was Here, Gravy and See You in Valhalla. He has done large recurring arcs on several television shows including  “House,” “Six Feet Under,” “Psych,” “Scrubs,” “Law & Order: SVU,” and the upcoming “Those Who Kill.” His other television work includes Coma (mini-series), “The Office,” “White Collar,” “CSI: N.Y.,” “The Good Guys” and “NCIS: L.A.” and yes, “Burn Notice,” among others.

Learn more and buy tickets

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Go Behind the Scenes with Our Young Actors (Part Two)

(top row) Grace O'Brien, Lindsay Elizabeth Frazin, Christopher Delfino
(bottom row) Jaden Fogel, Thomas McCarthy, Maddy Nickless, Jillian Tabon, Caitlyn Roum.

Meet Our Bloggers

Nika Natalie Aydin (Tiny Tim), age 8. Nika began acting in SCR's summer workshop and continues studying in the youth conservatory. She has previously performed in holiday concerts at her school, singing and dancing, but A Christmas Carol is her first time performing in a play.

Christopher Delfino (Turkey Boy), age 13. Christopher first began acting in another Christmas play when he was in the third grade. He first caught the acting bug while performing in the play How to Eat Like a Child and has been studying at SCR for two years.

Jaden Fogel (Young Ebenezer/Oliver), age 14. Jaden has been acting for three years and makes his A Christmas Carol debut. This past summer he performed in SCR’s Summer Players’ production of Annie.

Lindsay Elizabeth Frazin (Fan/Teen Girl), age 16. Lindsay began taking classes at SCR when her older sister was cast in SCR’s A Christmas Carol as Martha Cratchit and has been a part of the Conservatory for three years. A Christmas Carol will be her first time performing in a play.

Thomas McCarthy (Turkey Boy), age 11. Thomas has been studying acting at SCR for two years and A Christmas Carol will be his first ever play to perform in.

Maddy Nickless (Girl About Town), age 12. Madison started acting when she was five years old and has been performing in community theatre and studying acting with SCR for four years.

Grace O’Brien (Martha Cratchit), age 16. Grace has been acting for seven years, since she started studying in SCR’s conservatory. Since then, she has been in many plays and even played Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol five years ago.

Caitlyn Roum (A Girl About Town), age 9. Caitlyn has been acting for three years and studying acting at SCR for two. In three years, she has performed in five plays with Newport Beach Theatre Arts and her school Davis Magnet School.

Jillian Tabone (Belinda Cratchit), age 10. Jillian started acting when she was six years old and has been studying acting at SCR for three years. She was previously in a production of A Christmas Carol at her school.
Our young bloggers have been performing A Christmas Carol more than two-dozen times now. In fact, the show closes on Thursday! We asked them to talk about different milestones during the production.

How does it feel performing onstage, in front of sold-out houses?
Caitlyn: It feels amazingly awesome and exciting.   It feels like I am really in the world of A Christmas Carol and everyone’s character is real.
Jaden: It feels weird being on stage. It's a different environment; we are actually affecting the audience. You can feel the emotion stretch across the whole stage.
Thomas: It's great to be on the stage in front of big crowds. There is no better feeling than hearing the audiences laugh or applaud.
Maddy: I love getting to re-tell this story.

Are you still discovering new things about your character?
Nika: Yes, I am still discovering things about Tiny Tim.  He enjoys little things like singing with his dad, being with his family and he really appreciates the food he gets.
Grace: You're never done in your process as an actor, so there is always something new to learn. The Christmas season has also helped me get into the spirit, making my character's emotions truer.
Lindsay: Yes, of course! When I'm waiting backstage, I often think of new ways to enhance my performance, such as subtle changes in tone, volume, etc.

Were you nervous before your opening night?
Jillian: I was extremely nervous and I asked Daniel Blinkoff (Bob Cratchit) for advice and he told me to use my nervous energy into my character. It is so wonderful to work with adult actors, because they can give good advice!
Caitlyn: To be honest, no, I wasn't because what would I worry about?   I trust all the people in the play.
Thomas: I was very nervous but the crew and other actors make everyone feel relaxed.
Christopher: Oh yeah! I didn't want to mess up, but as scared as I was before I got on stage, it all went away once I took the stage

What do you do backstage when you’re not onstage? 
Jillian: Dominic Brack taught me how to play slide!
Caitlyn: Change into costumes!  I have seven costume changes, so I go one after another.
Christopher: I love to play chess in the greenroom.
Jaden: Once, I am done with my costume change, I go to the wings and watch the play to get re-emerged into the story.

Any fun backstage stories?
Grace: Before going on stage Christopher, Caitlyn and I always chant “Break legs and break hearts.” It's lighthearted and silly, but helps ease our nerves.
Nika: My favorite backstage story is when Mrs. Fezziwig let me smoke her fake pipe.
Thomas: The cast and crew are going to do a Secret Santa!
Maddy: Everyday during the warm ups the tech crew come backstage playing star wars music to distracting us and we all laugh.

Have your friends and family been able to see you in the show?
Nika; Yes, my entire 3rd grade class from my school came to watch me. Every one loved the show. One of my friends was even inspired to join the acting classes at SCR.
Maddy: My family, friends, and my 8th grade drama class came to the performance.
Jillian: It is so fun to perform on a big stage with people you know cheering you on!

What's been the best part about being in A Christmas Carol this year?
Christopher: All the actors are like a big family, it is great hanging out with them, laughing and sharing this experience
Grace: The best part is being apart of the amazing A Christmas Carol family. We've all gotten so close and I love being with them! I am so lucky to work with such amazing actors and learn from them all.
Lindsay: Getting to do the "schoolyard scene" where Fan lightens up Ebenezer's day by telling him he's coming home for Christmas because it is the first scene in the play where love and the importance of family is openly expressed.
Thomas: The sound of applause is awesome.
Jaden: Working with all the adults I’ve learned so much.
Caitlyn: Just being on stage!
Nika: I love to be on stage performing the show in front of an audience.
Jillian: Seeing how the play has affected so many people.
Maddy: Performing every night and becoming a family with the cast.  This has been a dream of mine for the past four years since I began studying at SCR.

Nika Natalie Aydin's (top row, center) third grade class after a student matinee of A Christmas Carol.

Theatre Conservatory Grad Looks Back on His Years at SCR

Kirby Wilson, Jaden Fogel, Nick Slimmer (as Thomas Shelley) and Hal Landon Jr. in A Christmas Carol.
Nick Slimmer was a little kid, but he was fast, a real athlete—until he broke his leg skiing off a cliff.  At 10 years old, the speed was gone.  Looking around for something to keep him active, Nick’s mom saw an ad for a TV pilot sponsored by South East Civic Light Opera.  He got the pilot, followed by the lead role in Oliver!  From that moment, Nick dreamed of being a professional actor. 

He had experience, but no training.  So his mom looked around again—and found South Coast Repertory’s Summer Acting Workshop for newcomers.

In 2006, at the age of 12, Nick Slimmer walked through SCR’s doors for the first time, one of several hundred kids whose parents had signed them up for the summer program.

“I enjoyed it all—from the morning yoga stretches through movement, mime and storytelling,” Nick recalls. “At first, I didn’t understand the importance of warm-ups or how movement and mime would help us as actors. I just knew they were fun.”

That was the beginning of Nick’s theatre education. His enjoyment—and understanding—grew through the two-week program, aided by his first (and still one of his favorite) teachers, Christopher Sullivan.

Nick and Kelsey Bray in Seussical.
“Chris was really funny, and he seemed to love what he was doing. I wanted some of that to rub off on me!” Clearly, Nick was ready to join the year-round classes expanding his study to character development and ensemble work, with—once again— Chris as his teacher.

By his second year, Nick had been in several shows outside of SCR, and when he joined Mercy Vasquez’s class, he was pretty sure he knew what acting was all about.

“I was used to winging it onstage,” he says, “but Mercy assured me that would not happen in her class.  I have to admit, there were times when I ran to my mom saying I never wanted to go back—because Mercy was too hard on us. But I went back—and learned to discipline myself and focus on the work. I truly believe that without Mercy pushing me in class, I wouldn’t have become the actor—or the person—I am today.”

After two years of training that refined his skills and added improv and dramatic play development, Nick was accepted into SCR’s Summer Players, which led to his role as John Darling in Peter Pan.

“When I landed that role, I was overjoyed—until the first rehearsal,” he remembers. “Then I looked around and saw all the older kids who had much more training. But once we got down to work, they helped me learn what I could achieve if I stuck with it.”

So Nick stuck with it—and soon was cast as Peter Cratchit in A Christmas Carol.

“That’s where I really learned about professionalism, not only from the older actors, who were professionals, but from what they expected of us. They treated us not just as kids but as colleagues.”

Nick performed in six more Players shows, making his final appearance in 2012 as the Cat in the Hat in the Summer Players’ production of Seussical, praised by Daily Pilot critic Tom Titus as “marvelous.” About Nick, he wrote, “Acting as ringmaster over this three-ring satirical circus is the Cat in the Hat, the mischievous feline smoothly enacted by Nick Slimmer.”

Nick at the Fezziwig party in
A Christmas Carol.
Thanks to Nick’s training with expert, caring instructors through the years, a mischievous feline was just one of many characters he learned to make believable.  But it all started with Chris Sullivan, who helped him see the joy in performing, and Mercy Vasquez, who taught him discipline.

Last summer, Nick graduated from SCR’s prestigious Acting Intensive Program for serious students preparing to take the next crucial step in their careers. And take the next step he did:  Nick can currently be seen in his first professional role, as Thomas Shelley in A Christmas Carol.

According to Takakuwa, Nick’s training has come full circle. 

“From his days as a child actor in the show until today, Nick has matured greatly, adding to his skills the ability to listen and be ‘present’ onstage,” she says. “And as others were for him, Nick has been an anchor and a role model to the children in the show, personally investing in their work, helping them understand the process and engaging them on stage.  That has been lovely to see.”

Next up?  Nick is researching BFA programs across the county while he keeps busy auditioning for upcoming shows.  This summer, he plans to direct a production of Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.” 

He’s on our radar, and we’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Keeping Up with the Kazans

Zoe Kazan, center, with her parents Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord.
The Kazan Family at a Glance

Elia Kazan (1909-2003)
Molly Day Thatcher (1906-63)

Nicholas Kazan (b. 1950)
Robin Swicord (b. 1952)

Zoe Kazan (b. 1983)
Maya Kazan (b.1985)
Actress, screenwriter and playwright Zoe Kazan is no stranger to the world of entertainment.

South Coast Repertory’s world premiere of Trudy and Max in Love is Zoe’s third produced play and is another example of the family legacy she represents. Her roots are deep in the worlds of stage and screen—Zoe is the daughter of Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord and granddaughter of Elia Kazan and Molly Day Thatcher. A family of writers, performers, directors and producers, their collective credits are impressive.

The family’s legacy begins with its most recognized family member: Elia Kazan. He made his mark in both the theatrical world and in Hollywood. An award-winning director, Elia attended Yale University’s School of Drama and joined Lee Strasberg’s Group Theatre in New York. With Group Theatre, Elia began as an actor, performing in multiple plays under Group, including Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty.

Elia Kazan
Elia began directing during this time as well, including A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, All My Sons and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. He joined again with Lee Strasberg, Robert Lewis, Anna Sokolow and Cheryl Crawford to establish the Actors Studio, renowned for its teaching of method acting. Elia continued to direct plays and eventually transitioned to film, with feature films such as Viva Zapata!, Gentleman’s Agreement and the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Elia left the stage behind, found success on screen and helped to launch the careers of stars like Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Natalie Wood. His success came with some controversy: at a hearing before Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee of Un-American Activities in 1952, Elia named multiple colleagues as communists or communist sympathizers.  Despite his committee testimony, Elia still maintained an active film career. He also wrote and directed the film On the Waterfront, which focused on informants and the choices they made. During the remainder of his career, Elia continued directing films such as East of Eden, The Last Tycoon and America, America. He wrote four best-selling novels and, in 1999, received the Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The second generation of Kazans includes Elia’s son, Nicholas Kazan. Nicholas has penned the screenplays for Bicentennial Man, Patty Hearst, co-wrote Matilda with wife Robin Swicord, and many more. Outside of film, Nicholas has written two plays, Mile. God and Blood Moon.

Robin Swicord, Zoe’s mother, is an accomplished screenwriter; she wrote screenplays for Memoirs of a Geisha, Practical Magic and collaborated on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Her plays include Criminal Minds and Last Days at the Dixie Girl Café. Robin crossed paths with South Coast Repertory during the 1980s, when she was a commissioned SCR playwright. One of her plays had a staged reading at SCR; at the time, Robin was pregnant with Zoe.

The third generation of Kazans is early in their careers, but the family’s legacy continues. Zoe’s younger sister, Maya, has stage credits that include David Ives’ adaptation The Liar and Michael Rabe’s The Future is Not What It Was. On screen, Maya’s credits include numerous short films, a role in her father’s screen adaptation of his play Blood Moon, as well as writing and directing her own two short films Lulu at the Ace Hotel and I Bit My Lip So Hard It Bled.

Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in Ruby Spark.
Zoe’s works span theatre and film as both an actress and writer. Like her grandfather, she studied at Yale University’s School of Drama and began her career in acting. Performing both on and off-Broadway, her credits include the plays The Seagull, 100 Saints You Should Know, Come Back, Little Sheba and Angels in America. On screen, Zoe has performed for both film and television. Her film credits include The F Word, Happythankyoumoreplease, It’s Complicated and Revolutionary Road. She wrote and starred in the 2012 indie film hit, Ruby Sparks, and wrote the play We Live Here, Absalom.

Multiple generations of artists, and a family with numerous credits and success, the Kazan name continues to be a fixture in the worlds of theatre and film. The world premiere of Zoe’s Trudy and Max in Love is just another accomplishment to add to this family’s long list.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Go Behind the Scenes with Our Young Actors

(top row) Grace O'Brien, Lindsay Elizabeth Frazin, Christopher Delfino
(bottom row) Jaden Fogel, Thomas McCarthy, Maddy Nickless, Jillian Tabon, Caitlyn Roum.

Meet Our Bloggers

Christopher Delfino (Turkey Boy), age 13. Christopher first began acting in another Christmas play when he was in the third grade. He first caught the acting bug while performing in the play How to Eat Like a Child and has been studying at SCR for two years.

Jaden Fogel (Young Ebenezer/Oliver), age 14. Jaden has been acting for three years and makes his A Christmas Carol debut. This past summer he performed in SCR’s Summer Players’ production of Annie.

Lindsay Elizabeth Frazin (Fan/Teen Girl), age 16. Lindsay began taking classes at SCR when her older sister was cast in SCR’s A Christmas Carol as Martha Cratchit and has been a part of the Conservatory for three years. A Christmas Carol will be her first time performing in a play.

Thomas McCarthy (Turkey Boy), age 11. Thomas has been studying acting at SCR for two years and A Christmas Carol will be his first ever play to perform in.

Maddy Nickless (Girl About Town), age 12. Madison started acting when she was five years old and has been performing in community theatre and studying acting with SCR for four years.

Grace O’Brien (Martha Cratchit), age 16. Grace has been acting for seven years, since she started studying in SCR’s conservatory. She has since been in many plays and even played Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol five years ago.

Caitlyn Roum (A Girl About Town), age 9. Caitlyn has been acting for three years and studying acting at SCR for two. In three years, she has performed in five plays with Newport Beach Theatre Arts and her school Davis Magnet School.

Jillian Tabone (Belinda Cratchit), age 10. Jillian started acting when she was six years old and has been studying acting at SCR for three years. She was previously in a production of A Christmas Carol at her school.
Every holiday season in SCR's A Christmas Carol, the young characters—from Tiny Tim to the Crachits—are portrayed by students from SCR's Young Conservatory program. These young actors audition for the the chance to be cast in the show, perform with professional actors and in front of thousands of audience members. For many of them A Christmas Carol will be a new experience and they'll be sharing the experience with us a long the way thorough rehearsals, performances and after the show ends.

Congratulations on being cast in A Christmas Carol! Now that you’re in the cast, what are you most looking forward to from this experience?
Caitlyn: I am so excited to be in A Christmas Carol! I still can’t believe that I am in it! I am looking forward to acting with the adults and being in a professional play.
Maddy: And learning from them, so I can be better at acting.
Jillian: Being able to perform for a large audience.
Grace: I'm looking forward to seeing all the pieces we've been working on come together. I can't wait to share the amazing story with an audience!

What are you currently working on in rehearsals?
Thomas: We are currently rehearsing Fezziwig's party scene!
Grace: We've been working on developing our characters and making them appropriate for the time period.
Lindsay: We've been working frequently with the choreographer to perfect our waltz and a couple of other period dances.

What has it been like balancing school and rehearsals simultaneously?
Jillian: It is difficult at times
Maddy: It is tiring for me, but it keeps me energetic and happy during the day because I have something to look forward to at the end of school.
Jaden: I actually bring my script to school and review my lines and blocking.
Christopher: I get up at 6 a.m. to finish homework I didn't complete the night before.
Grace: It's been a challenge rehearsing and trying to finish my work for five Advance Placement classes. You just learn how to be really organized and function on little sleep, but it's worth it!

What is one important thing you've learned so far in rehearsals?
Caitlyn: I've learned that the two most important phrases are, "BAH HUMBUG!" and "God bless us everyone!"
Thomas: I also learned the adult actors are funny and like to joke around at rehearsal.
Lindsay: One thing I've learned, especially in playing "polar opposite" personalities in the show (Fan and Teen Girl) is that you must be confident in the choices you make as an actor, and not be afraid of taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone.
Jaden: Sometimes your nerves cause you to become somebody you're not and fool around. I've learned how to get past it.
Christopher: The one thing that has been the most interesting is all the dancing. I didn't know how to do any of these dances and now I’m doing them on stage.
Maddy: When in doubt, skip it out!

See our bloggers in A Christmas Carol beginning November 29-December 26. Buy your tickets now!