Monday, December 29, 2014

"The Whipping Man": A Night Different from All Other Nights

by Andy Knight

In His Own Words: Playwright Matthew Lopez on The Whipping Man’s Inspiration

Matthew Lopez

"In researching the end of the war, and the very eventful month of April 1865, I came across a reference to the fact that Passover began that year on April 10, the day immediately following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. This means that as Jews across the nation were celebrating this sacred ritual commemorating their ancestors’ freedom from bondage in Egypt, a new kind of exodus was occurring all around them. The parallels were irresistible.

"The Whipping Man began in my mind with the image of an old man performing a Seder. Recently freed from a lifetime of slavery, he speaks the words of the Haggadah with a newfound understanding of their meaning. The words are hopeful, a promise of justice to come. Something ancient and distant suddenly becomes immediate. The past and the present intermingle as he becomes a part of a history that began thousands of years before his birth and that arrives finally at the moment he takes his first psychological and emotional step towards emancipation. The promised justice has finally arrived.

"The result, I hope, is an inexorable link between the African American and Jewish imperatives of reminding successive generations about their people’s past. There has always been a conversation between black and Jewish histories in the United States. It is a conversation based, I believe, on a similar history. In The Whipping Man, that similar history becomes a shared one."

—Matthew Lopez, playwright
By the spring of 1865, the American Civil War had reached a turning point: Union troops had significantly weakened General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army during a bloody nine-month battle around the city of Petersburg, Va. When Lee and his army finally surrendered Petersburg and retreated west, they left the nearby city of Richmond—then the capital of the Confederate States of America—vulnerable. At Lee’s behest, most of Richmond’s population evacuated the city on the night of April 2, 1865.

During the evacuation, the Confederate army set fire to buildings throughout the city to keep reserves of tobacco, cotton and other supplies out of Union hands. Other Richmonders looted before leaving. At around 11 p.m. that night, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with members of his cabinet, took the last train out of the city and escaped to Danville, Va.

The evacuation cleared the way for a next step. On April 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond, which had officially fallen to the Union a day earlier. Members of Lincoln’s party told stories of the president touring the Confederate Congressional chambers, visiting Richmond’s famous Libby Prison and even stopping at the Confederate White House to sit in President Davis’ empty chair. One famous account told of a group of freed slaves who bowed when the president approached, to which Lincoln replied, “Kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.” The president returned to Washington, D.C., after spending four days in Richmond—and only the day before Lee’s final surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9. Six days later, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

The Confederate White House in Richmond, Virginia
Playwright Matthew Lopez sets The Whipping Man in Richmond a few days after Lee’s surrender. The play begins on a stormy night as a lone Confederate soldier, Captain Caleb DeLeon—a member of one of Richmond’s most prominent Jewish families—stumbles into the ruins of a once grand home. He collapses in a faint, but awakens when Simon, one of his family’s former slaves, enters with a rifle in hand. The two men recognize each other, and Caleb realizes that he’s finally found his way home.

Like many of the buildings in Richmond, the DeLeons’ house was destroyed and looted during the city’s evacuation, but Simon assures Caleb that the family and their former slaves managed to escape unharmed. Before Caleb can ask any more questions, Simon notices the week-old bullet wound on the soldier’s leg. Gangrene has already set in and Simon, who worked in the hospital during the war, knows that immediate amputation is the only way to save Caleb’s life.

When John, another former slave in the DeLeon household, arrives, Simon tries to convince Caleb to go to the hospital for the amputation. Caleb refuses, although he won’t say why. With time running out, Simon performs the amputation himself, with only John by his side and some whiskey to clean the wound.

As Caleb convalesces, the three men grapple with how their lives will change now that the war has ended, and a tension grows between them. With Passover underway, Simon, a devout Jew, decides to hold a makeshift Seder. For all of them, the ritual of honoring the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt carries a profound meaning in April 1865. But even the shared experience of the Seder isn’t enough to hold these men together, for each has deep secrets—and it’s only a matter of time until they’re revealed.

With rich characters, surprising plot twists and a pivotal moment in American history as a backdrop, The Whipping Man tells a harrowing and thought-provoking story. While writing the play, Lopez, the son of whom he describes as “Civil War buffs,” was interested in dramatizing “the first tentative steps of the long, painful, hopeful journey that began in April 1865 and continues today.”

Since it first premiered at New Jersey’s Luna Stage in 2006, The Whipping Man has had more than 30 productions across the country, making it one of the most widely produced new American plays in the last several years. Its success thrust Lopez into the national spotlight and has made him one of the country’s most sought-after playwrights. With his incredible range as a writer and his skill at bringing complex relationships to life, it’s no surprise that Lopez’s work is so popular with audiences. He is currently under commission to write new plays for a number of major theatres across the nation—and SCR is thrilled to be one of them.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Jarrod M. Smith, Adam Haas Hunter and Charlie Robinson
The Whipping Man at SCR

Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson directs SCR’s production of The Whipping Man. Benson is drawn not only to Lopez’s fresh voice, but also the play’s bold and thoughtful take on history. “It’s a tremendously theatrical play,” Benson says. “But it also deals with a subject that is unique and very rich. It has a great deal to do with tradition and values, and it looks at the issues of slavery in many different ways. I think this play is a really unique look at an important time in history, and I find it exciting to contemplate.”

To bring the play to life, Benson assembled a cast that includes SCR veteran Charlie Robinson (Simon). Robinson—whom audiences know from performances in Death of a Salesman, Jitney and Fences—is no stranger to the character of Simon: he’s reprising the role after appearing in The Old Globe’s 2010 production of the play. The cast also includes two SCR newcomers, Adam Haas Hunter (Caleb) and Jarrod M. Smith (John). Hunter has appeared on a number of Southern California stages, including A Noise Within, the Theatre @ Boston Court and Center Theatre Group. Smith recently moved to Los Angeles after training at San Francisco’s prestigious American Conservatory Theater and makes his professional debut in The Whipping Man.

The Whipping Man’s design team includes Scenic Designer Thomas Buderwitz, Costume Designer Angela Balogh Calin, Lighting Designer Lonnie Rafael Alcarez and Sound Designer/Composer Michael Roth—all of whom have worked on a number of SCR productions.

Read more about the cast here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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

Young actors from A Christmas Carol: (top row) Blogger Sophia Utria, Joshua Myran, Maximos Harris, Bloggers Zoe Hebbard and  Emily McDaniel, Mitchell Huntley, Blogger Benjamin Susskind, London Walston.
(middle row) Alexis Cueva, Bloggers Olivia Drury and William Lynam.
(bottom row) Bloggers Karoline Ribak, Katherine Parrish, Jacqueline Vellandi, Aoife McEvoy and Bella Browne.
Our Bloggers

Olivia Drury (Young Girl About Town), age 13. Olivia has been studying acting at SCR for two years and started performing in plays at age five. She played Troy in High School Musical and Burt in Mary Poppins. “I was a huge tomboy.”

Will Lynam (Turkey Boy), age 11. Will has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: “I am very good with technology and I can fix most computer problems."

Emily McDaniel (Belinda Cratchit), age 11. Emily has been studying acting at SCR for three years. She has two pet bunnies named Toki and Sugar. “I am bananas about bunnies!!”

Aoife McEvoy (Tiny Tim), age 10. Aoife has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: “I’m named after an evil queen who turns children into swans in Irish mythology.”

Zoe Hebbard (Belinda Cratchit), age 11. Fun fact: Zoe is a competitive ballroom dancer.

Katherine Parrish (Martha Cratchit), age 16. She’s been studying acting at SCR for four years and is an avid Broadway musical theatre fan.

Karoline Ribak (Fan), age 17. She has been studying at SCR for nine years and previously played Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol back in 2007.

Sophia Utria (Fan), age 16. She has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: she has a twin sister. “We can sometimes read each others' mind.”

Jacqueline Vellandi (Tiny Tim), age 10. She started in SCR’s Youth Conservatory when she was eight and just finishing third grade. She loves SCR and can’t wait to be a Junior and Teen Player. She likes to write scripts, hold auditions and then run rehearsals and perform shows with her Barbies and Legos.

Our young bloggers performed in A Christmas Carol more than two-dozen times now. We asked them to talk about different milestones during the production.

How does it feel performing onstage, in front of sold-out houses?
Jacki: It feels like a dream come true!
Olivia: It's a feeling that really cannot be put into words. It's like everything around you just disappears and you can't feel or remember anything other than that moment. It is truly a feeling like no other, kind of like electricity.
Aofie:  I like it when I can hear people in the audience laugh or gasp. I want to make them feel emotions and get involved in the story.
Karoline: The audiences' energy creates the magic and brings our story to life.

Are you still discovering new things about your character?
Karoline: I'm constantly challenging myself to break routine and find ways to keep my interactions real and fresh.
Benjamin: In the party scenes, I play a character without a name.  I haven't really thought about this, so I have been coming up with his story as the shows go on.
Jacki: I keep finding out new things about Tiny Timlike he's really energetic even if he is sick and weak. I’m working on showing that excitement he feels inside.

Were you nervous before opening night?
Sophia: Surprisingly, no. We had been rehearsing for this moment, and everyone was ready.
Emily:  I couldn't sit still all day. I was shaking when the lights dimmed for the show to begin. But once I got out on stage I felt great, not scared at all. I loved it!
Olivia: I was very nervous backstage. But, once I was waiting to enter and heard the excited murmurs of the crowd trying to find their seats, I just took a deep breath, and stopped being nervous. I thought "This is what I love to do, so why am I nervous?"

What do you do backstage when you’re not onstage?
Sophia: Costume changes!
Benjamin: I have so many that I don't even get to talk and rest during intermission.
William: I have to do a really quick costume change for one of my scenes.  If I take too long then the other actors in my dressing room squirt me with a water bottle to get me to move a little faster. It is a fun way of keeping me on track.
Olivia: If I am not changing costumes, I hang out with the other actors in the dressing rooms or the green room. We usually play chess and talk.
Karoline: Our chess games backstage are extremely intense.

Any fun backstage stories?
Aoife: Backstage we like to make up names for the characters that don’t have official names. We gave Turkey Boy the name Gregory Thomas Caspian III. We named two of the Fezziwig guests Beatrice and Esmeralda.
Emily: Daniel Blinkoff (Mr. Cratchit) taught me how to play checkers during intermission. One time, Karen Hensel (Mrs. Fezziwig) was about to go and she realized she had a Vons grocery bag caught on her hoop skirt.
Katherine: Our Red Team cheer before every show is "Roses are red and so are we!" We like to make a tunnel for Gregg Daniels (Marley's Ghost) to exit through before the schoolyard scene. And after every show, Daniel Blinkoff (Bob Cratchit) high fives us and says "Slap me five!"and we say "Gimme some change!"

Have your friends and family been able to see you in the show?
Zoe: Definitely! My grandma flew from Virginia to come see the show!
William: My parents and brother have seen the performance three times and I have had family fly in from three different states to watch me perform.
Emily: My mom has a ticket to every performance and my whole family has seen it. Even my Grandma who lives out of the country came to opening night.

Jacki Vellandi as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol
What's been the best part about being in A Christmas Carol this year?
Jacki: Christmas started in November for me, when I was cast in A Christmas Carol and I love Christmasso that’s been awesome.
Katherine: I've loved making relationships with all these wonderful people I never would have met otherwise, including the actors, the tech crew and my crazy Cratchit family. I will never forget the time I have had doing this show; these wonderful memories will live with me forever.
Emily: I have been able to meet so many nice, kind people and I’ve learned new acting skills. My favorite part though is being on stageI just love it!
Olivia: My favorite part is being with all the actors and the crew. They are so much fun to be around and are always very helpful. We have such a good time!
Zoe: Probably just getting to perform with all these professional adult actors. I learn so much stuff from them.
Aoife: I love everything about it!
Sophia: I love the holidays, and this year I got spend a lot of time this season doing what I love and being around people I have become really close to. Every day since the first rehearsal, there is something to celebrate or smile about. The whole cast and crew is so full of spirit, it's impossible not to be happy.
Benjamin: I think my favorite part about being in A Christmas Carol this year is being able to perform with professionals and being able to perform with Mrs. Argyros.
William: The best part of being in A Christmas Carol is being transformed into another period of time.
Karoline: Every member of the cast is warm-hearted, supportive and always there to make me laugh. I feel blessed beyond belief to work with such an inspiring group of artists. I cherish every second with my A Christmas Carol family and will always treasure the memories, wisdom and joy they have given me.

Read part one of this blog.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Discover Your Voice—As a Playwright

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Kristina Leach knows how to tell a story. Oh, boy, does she know how, and if you give her a few minutes of your time, she’ll tell you one.

And you’ll love it! Because Kristina is a born storyteller; in person or on paper, her words will grab your interest. Here’s the best part: she’s also a great listener. If you have a story to tell—and who doesn’t?—she wants to hear it.

So bring your story to Kristina’s new playwriting class.

It’s called “Discovering Your Voice:  An Introduction to Playwriting,” and it’s the newest addition to SCR’s Adult Program in the Theatre Conservatory. A class description and a short biography of Kristina are on the website. (There, you’ll discover her background at SCR as a literary associate and Pacific Playwrights Festival co-ordinator, as well as a teen and adult acting instructor.)

Because she’s so good at it, we’ve decided to let Kristina her tell students what to expect in her playwriting class, which starts on Monday, January 12th at 7:30 p.m.

According to Kristina, "You can either talk about it, or you can do it. But you can’t do both. Admit it, there’s a tale you’ve been thinking about telling. So let’s work on it, together. In my class, you will have time to write, hash it out and eventually finish the thing. Bring a notebook and something to write with—a pen, a pencil, a quill—and we’ll explore the ups and downs of creating something new. I’m also a firm believer in reading other works—so we’ll be taking a look at some scenes from new playwrights as well as some tried and true scribes. Don’t be afraid to tell your story—my classroom is an “applause only” environment. I look forward to meeting you!"

Register now

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Grads Look Back—As They Step Forward

Guy McEleney, center, with members of the boy band in Bliss, left to right Christopher Huntley, Jamie Ostmann, Guy, Kelsey Bray and Lauren Cocroft
It happens every year. High school seniors, who’ve attended acting classes at SCR since they were little kids, prepare to move on. As two of these young people get ready to take the next step in their lives, let’s look back at what they’ve achieved and what’s in store for the future.

Grace O’Brien, right, with Chaney Liberman, in Annie
Grace O’Brien first walked through SCR’s doors when she was in the third grade, and her parents signed her up for the Summer Acting Workshop—her initial step on a nine-year journey. “I grew up at SCR,” she says. “This has been my home, my stability and refuge in the craziness of life.”

Grace’s theatre experience included much more than just learning to act. She has taken from the program exactly what Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa hopes for every student. “It has benefitted me in all my studies, giving me new perspectives, introducing me to enlightening texts and teaching me the importance of self-discovery.”

Guy McEleney, who also entered the program through the Summer Theatre Workshop, shares Grace’s views. “SCR isn’t just about acting, singing, dancing, etc.,” he says. “It also teaches you how to be responsible, trustworthy and supportive in many ways.”

SCR audiences don’t see the process—the training that has helped these students through their formative years and made them freer, more confident, responsible and supportive young adults. But theatregoers have been able to witness the product—their work onstage.

“Grace remembers, “When I was ten, I’d look to the older Teen Players, wishing that one day I could be as brave, creative, experienced as they were.” Since then, she has appeared in five Players productions and portrayed both Cratchit daughters in A Christmas Carol, Belinda (2008) and Martha (2013).

Guy also appeared in A Christmas Carol, alternating in the role of Peter Cratchit in 2010, which turned out to be more than just a fun experience. “When I was in the show, I learned the responsibility of working with an adult cast,” he says. That experience also taught Guy to understand the emotion behind the text, which was particularly helpful last season, when, as a Teen Player, he had the opportunity to portray an original character in Bliss, a coming-of-age story by Laurie Woolery.

Performing with the Players allowed Guy and Grace to bring their classroom training onto the stage, maturing and developing as they moved from Junior to Teen Players. This spring, they’ll appear in their final Teen Players production, which Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa will announce in the next few weeks. (Stay tuned!) Meanwhile, they continue training in class twice a week.

 “As I was welcomed back into Players in September, I was overjoyed by the sight of my closest friends,” Guy says. “Under Hisa’s direction, I expect to continue learning how to work as an ensemble and what it means to become a character.”

And for the future?

“SCR has been a second home to me, with the students and teachers as an extended family,” says Guy, “Because of my training here, I’ve decided to major in theatre when I start college next fall.”
Grace also has chosen theatre as her major. “I’m sad to leave my ‘home’ behind as I continue my journey on to college,” she says. “But I know the lessons I’ve learned at SCR will be with me, guiding me to embrace the process, every step of the way.”

Karoline Ribak, another senior who’s moving on, recently talked with the Orange County Register during her run as Ebenezer Scrooge’s sister, Fan, in A Christmas Carol. See what Karolina had to say.

Karoline also just announced her plans for college and the future. She can proudly say she has been accepted into and will be attending Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in the BFA Creative Producing program.

Learn more about classes on the SCR website.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bringing the Spirits of Christmas to Life

James MacEwan, Richard Doyle, Hal Landon Jr., Gregg Daniel and Timothy Landfield in the 2013 production of A Christmas Carol.
Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four spirits who aim to change his ways and save him from a lonely, haunted end. Each spirit enlightens Scrooge about what he needs most—from humanity to love to a warning of what could be.

Gregg Daniel as Jacob Marley's Ghost.
The Ghost of Jacob Marley

“Mankind was my business!  The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, patience, kindness were all my business!  And now, I cannot rest.”
  • Jacob Marley is the first spirit to visit Scrooge and warn him of his impending visits from the spirits of Past, Present and Yet-to-Come. He is punished to wander the Earth in chains for living a life full of avarice and uncaring attitude towards others. He warns Scrooge not only of what is to come but what he could become if he continues on his current path. Despite being the only spirit who personally knows Scrooge and the only friend he ever had, Marley is direct and as A Christmas Carol director John-David Keller puts it, “The least friendly.”
  • Jacob Marley’s chains represent the selfishness he exhibited in life. He unwittingly forged it through his many careless acts, "I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol) Jacob Marley died seven years before the events of A Christmas Carol.
  • Many adaptations have stayed true to the Dickens descritions. Although, in A Muppet Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley is split into two characters, Jacob and Robert, played by the heckling duo Statler and Waldof.

Hal Landon Jr. as Ebeneezer Scrooge and Richard Doyle as The Spirit of Christmas Past
Spirit of Christmas Past

“These are but shadows of the things that have been. They have no consciousness of us.”

The Spirit of Christmas Past is Scrooge’s second visitor that Keller believes, “Is there to reawaken Scrooge’s humanity.” This shows Scrooge who he once was and the moments that have led him to be the curmudgeon he is. In the original novel, the spirit is described as a childlike figure with an illuminated head—similar to a candle—that is ever changing in number of arms and legs. The light it omits is often thought to represent the illumination of the mind the spirit presents to Scrooge.
  • Due to the unique description of this spirit, many adaptations have interpreted the look and characterization of the spirit differently.
  • In SCR’s production, the wand the spirit carries acts as a representation of the illuminating light that Dickens describes in his novel. His costume is also from an earlier time period.
  • The Spirit of Christmas Past has been interpreted as elderly men, angelic women, children and even as a cab driver in the movie adaptation Scrooged.
  • In a 2009 movie of A Christmas Carol the Spirit of Christmas Past receives an adaptation faithful to its Dickens description.

Timothy Landfield as The Spirit of Christmas Present and Landon as Scrooge
Spirit of Christmas Present

“They know me wherever they hum a Christmas tune, or have a Christmas thought, or remember some bygone Christmas Day and the hopes that went with it.”

Jolly, giant and only able to exist for a single year’s Christmas, the Spirit of Christmas Present offers Scrooge the idea of empathy and community. “He shows Scrooge what he is missing. The other aspect of life he needs,” Keller says. The spirit guides Scrooge to both moments of joy and festivity as well as moments of hardship. At the end of their journey he presents two children to Scrooge, Ignorance and Want. He warns him to beware of them and at the stroke of midnight fades away.
  • The Ghost of Christmas present represents many of the Christmas ideals including generosity, empathy and celebration.
  • He is typically first seen on a throne of a large feast in Scrooge’s home to further illustrate the idea of sharing one’s riches with the community.
  • In Dickens’ novel he is able to freely change size and towers over Scrooge when they meet.

James MacEwan as The Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come and Landon and Scrooge.
Spirit of Christmas Yet-To-Come

“Spirit, I know that I, like all men, must die—but not having lived as I have! Not alone, unmourned, so poor in heart.”

A silent specter that leads Scrooge on his final journey through a Christmas that could occur if he continues on his path. A cold spirit who is reminiscent of the grim reaper, that offers Scrooge two forms of grief and as Keller puts it, “Who forces him to figure it out on his own.” The final moment with the spirit thrusts an awakening upon Scrooge and reinforces the idea that he shouldn’t waste time.
  • The Spirit does not utter one line and simply points Scrooge towards his answers. J.D. believes, “He says nothing but at the same time says the most.”
  • In the novel, Dickens does not refer to this character as a spirit or ghost like the previous two. He simply refers to it as a “phantom.”
  • Scrooge is quick to dismiss the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present initially. When the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come arrives, he is quick to seek its message and even begs mercy from it at the end of their journey.
  • His interaction with the final spirit shows how much Scrooge has learned from his vistors.
Act now and get your tickets to A Christmas Carol before the spirits visit you!

Learn more and buy tickets now.

Dynamic Cast Breathes Life into "The Whipping Man"

THE CAST:  Jarrod M. Smith, Charlie Robinson and Adam Haas Hunter.
Award-winning veteran performers and a new talent making his professional stage debut form the cast for The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez. Stage, screen and television actor Charlie Robinson last appeared at SCR as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He has received accolades and awards, including the NAACP’s Theatre Image Award for Best Actor in a Play for The Old Globe’s production of The Whipping Man. Adam Haas Hunter is making his SCR debut. He has earned or been nominated for numerous awards, including Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Ovation awards and has done extensive theatre work regionally. Jarrod M. Smith is making his professional debut, having fallen in love with acting while he pursued a history degree in college. But there’s more to each of these actors; read on to learn more about them.

Adam Haas Hunter (Caleb) is making his SCR debut. He is the co-founder of Poor Dog Group, an L.A.-based arts collective. He theatre credits include The Importance of Being Earnest and Cymbeline at A Noise Within; Prometheus Bound at the Getty Villa; The Nether at Kirk Douglas Theatre; The Government Inspector and Dark Play or Stories for Boys at The Theater @ Boston Court; The Walworth Farce at Theatre Banshee; Medea at UCLA Live; and Romeo i Julia 1968 with Ulysses Theatre in Croatia, to name a few. His appearances with Poor Dog Group include Brewsie and Willie (part of RADAR LA), The Internationalists and The Midnight Sun. Hunter has won or been nominated for Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly and Garland awards. He is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts.

Charlie Robinson (Simon) is becoming a well-known face on SCR stages. His work at SCR includes The Piano Lesson; My Wandering Boy; Fences, which earned him a 2006 Ovation Award for his portrayal of Troy; and Jitney, which earned him a Los Angeles Drama Critics award nomination for his portrayal of Becker. He is the proud recipient of the NAACP’s Theatre Image Award for Best Actor in a Play for The Old Globe’s production of The Whipping Man. Another theatre home has been Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He is best known for his television credits, as a series regular in “Night Court,” “Buffalo Bill,” “Love & War” and “Buddy Faro.” He has had recurring television roles in “Home Improvement,” “The Secret Life of an American Teenager,” and “Hart of Dixie.” His guest roles include “House,” “Big Love” and “Cold Case.” He is the CAMIE Award-winner for the made-for-television movies Miss Lettie and Me and Secret Santa. His feature film credits include Apocalypse Now, The River, Gray Lady Down, Beowulf, Set It Off, Antwone Fisher, Even Money, Jackson, Steam, Natural Disasters, Sweet Kandy and House Bunny.

Jarrod Smith (John) is making his South Coast Repertory and professional debut. He is an actor from LaPlace, La., a suburb right outside of New Orleans. Smith attended and graduated from Southern University of Baton Rouge with a bachelor of arts in history in 2011. In 2008, while at Southern, he took an interest in acting, and was immediately bitten by the acting bug. His interest and talents soon led him to the training grounds of the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he worked towards a master of fine arts. Smith now resides in Los Angeles.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Frontline Faces of South Coast Repertory

Volunteer ushers working at SCR's concession stand.
They’re the ones who scan your ticket as you enter the lobby. They help you find your seat. They sell you that cookie that you eyed. South Coast Repertory’s team of ushers is dedicated to making your experience as comfortable as possible. By day, they are doctors, teachers, ministers and retirees; by night, they’re dedicated volunteers. For SCR playgoers, they’re the familiar faces that have become part of a great night out at the theatre.

Why do they take on this role? Because they find a personal satisfaction in helping patrons. That’s what keeps them coming back to volunteer—some of them for nearly 20 years. A true love and appreciation for theatre—and SCR’s work in particular—adds to the satisfaction. Remember, ushers get to see the show for free!

For many of them, ushering began on a whim. “A veteran usher I met recommended I sign up, and I found the SCR team to be warm and accommodating,” says current usher John Nguyen. What starts off as quick conversation soon becomes an experience that flourishes through a love of theatre. Ushers begin to meet patrons who share the same appreciation for theatre and over time they begin to learn more about the patrons personally, which can quickly build connections that form a sense of community. Husband-and-wife ushers of 19 years, Stephen and Nanci Schrieber-Smith, see their roles in a specific way.

“We like to think that ushers are the ambassadors for SCR and that it can even be interesting for the patrons to meet us,” says Stephen. “We would encourage other people to stretch their horizons from ‘just their job’ lives and become ushers to see great plays and meet great patrons.” It fuels their work and brings both the ushers and patrons together. It’s an energy that can be electrifying.

Duane Legg has been ushering for nearly a year and can feel how this energy binds the team together, “There is an excitement that permeates the theatre as we prepare the programs, lobby and the house for patrons. When our team of ushers works together to help make a memorable and professional experience for the audience, we take satisfaction in knowing that we had a small part in making magic happen.”

That’s all they need. Meeting other theatre lovers, talking about each production and experiencing the unique response each audience member brings to every performance. That excitement and magic can be found in moments such as watching children experience a live performance for the first time through the Theatre for Young Audiences series or catching up with the regulars at SCR. Ushers discover that they become an important element in the productions at SCR.

John Nguyen, who began ushering on a whim, sums up his volunteer work as an experience that continually gives back. “Being an usher at SCR is one of the few great volunteer opportunities where you actually get something back the moment you show up to volunteer. And SCR is a wonderful place to meet new like-minded people. Whether you love theatre or simply like it, as an SCR volunteer usher, you are bound to learn more about the inner workings of this grand tradition.”

Interested in ushering? Go online to our website or email to get details and volunteer your time.

A Salute to SCR’s Current Usher Team

South Coast Repertory extends a heartfelt thanks to the volunteer ushers* who love theatre, love SCR and love helping you have a great theatre experience!

Celeste Ames • Reyne Ames • Janice L. Amster • Kathy Anderson • Michelle Anthony • Leo Arko • Dorothy Arko • Charlotte Art • Stan Ashbaugh • Donna F. Ashbaugh • Catherine Aubert • Clara Baker • Elaine Barnard • Tamara Bazargan • Frank Beach • Carole Beach • Ginger Bengochea • Sandra Benson • Judith Berman • Annette Blaney • Dale Bohannon • Ann Marie Bown • Chie Bresnan • Shirley Bridwell • Toby Brown • Becky Bruno • Raquel T. Bruno • Jane C. Buck • Anne Budniewski • Mimi Buffington • Marilyn J. Bunton • Melissa Burgess • Nancy Burgess • Dona Burrell • Bob Byrd • Laurie Cable • Laura Cadieu • Mary Camarillo • Richard Cassiere • Judy Cawley • Tim Chin • Weiping Chu • Lisa Ciampa • Richard Clayton • Serene Clayton • Sandra Clement • June Cohen • Steven Cohen • Jean Cohn • Ellyn Cole • Mary Lou Coleman • Mary Collins • Sallie Coltrin • Ann Combs • Anna J. Combs • Bonnie Coons • Ron Craddick • Joanne Crane • Mary Jo Cumming • Lynda Daley • Jackie Davidson • Mary DeSloover • Pat Detro • Mario Divok • Arinda Dolter • Teri Drake • Kay Drysdale • Carol Ducommun • Marianne Duncan • Arlene E. Eckstein • Mary Ehrlich • Susan Faludi • Erika Faust • Ana Fluck • Karen Ford • Anita Ford • Fran Fordyce • Jan Fournier • John Franceschini • Erika Franceschini • Milli Fredricks • Jane Fretz • Ken Gaines • Christina Gaines • Gus Ganotis • Marion Garbatow • Janet Garrick • Don Garrick • Marlan Globerson • Darilyn Goffman • Anita Goldman • Leonard Goldman • Mary-Pat Gonzalez • Dan Gonzalez • Ken Gordon • Phillip Grange • Sandy Grange • Anita Greenberg • Lucie Greville • Lindee Gschwind • Sally Hall • Larry M. Halperin • Donna L. Halperin • Jean L Harduvel • Lori Harvey • John Hay • Carol Hay •  Janie Hemminger • Jan Hendricks • Mary Hendricks • Patricia A Henry • Margee Hills • Harriet Himmelstein • Harvey Himmelstein • Siddiqua Hirst • Susan Hodge • Joanne Hogan • Erna Hollerbach • Gail Holmes • Larry Holmes • Maria J. Hurban • Joan Ingram • Ethel G. Ison • Irene Iverson •  Greta Jacobs • William Jacobson • Elaine Janssen • K.C. Jimenez • Tanya Johnson • Edith Jones • Roman Jurenka • Mary Jurenka • John Kaufman • Roger Kempler • Ellen Kempler • Laurie Kluge • Mary Konrath • Donna Krebs • Kathie Kuehn • Alice W. Lahtela • Sheila M. Lane • Thu Le • Susan Lee • Duane Legg • Carol Legg • Kimberly Legg • Johanna Lemos • Barbara Leonard •  John D. Leonard • Judy Lerner • Mary Leshure • David Levy • Danice Limberg • David A. Limberg • Riva Lippincott • Fred Locarnini • Lisa Locke • Dianne Lundquist • Joan Lyons • Robert Lyons • Anne Mai • Marie A. March • Ken L. March • David March • Donna March • Rose Margulieux • Julia Marko • Cy Marsden • Tom Mason • Lisa Masterson • Sherry McCallon • Joan McDavid • Pam McDonald • Mary Pat McEnrue • Joan McMahan • Glenda Mercado • Jeanne Michaels • Tamar Morris • Christine Munoz • Joan Naideth • Mona Nassimi • Lynda (Muffy) Nelson • Gina Nessel • David Vien Nguyen • John D. Nguyen • David Nugyen • Yvette Nord • Joan Nortel • Jeanne A. Oelstrom • Edward Parr • Robert Pettis • Kay Phillies • Michele Phillips • Michael Plean • Marcia Plean • David Reaux • Glenda Reaux • Lori C. Redelsheimer • Ann Reiner • Kameel Renner • Serene Rhodes • John Riordan • Karen Robinson • Merry Rossini • Nancy Ryder • Ann Sabina • Joe I. Sandoval • Gay Geiser Sandoval • Shirley Saturensky • Jean Savage • Fran M. Sawyer • Mary Beth Schipke • Nanci Schrieber-Smith • Stephen Schrieber-Smith • Charlotte Schroeder • Maryam Sedadi • Joy Shaikh • Marcy Shapiro • Barbara Sherman • Blanche V. Sibner • Carolyn M. Simmons • Peter Simmons • Linda Simpson • Eileen Simpson • Raymond Simpson • Sarah Siskind • Paul Sochat • Judy Sochat • Stephanie Solomon • Anita Soriano • Amy Sosa • Marilyn Spielberg • Richard Spielberg • Christine Stadelmann • Bonnie Steele • Julie Stein • Sheila Stewart • Bibe Stockman • Lane Straley • Ann Tack-McClure • Sandra Tauber-Rosen • Christine Tfaye • Libby (Sally) Thomas • Will Tran • Lolita Trausch • Perle Tropp • Lee Van Dyke • Ita Vandenbroek • Elizabeth Varo • Patricia Vega • Kathleen Vogel • Richard Vogl • Jackie Vorona • Sandra Walker • Lynn Wallace • Suzanne M. West • Peter Wetzel • Marte Williams • Patricia Wittenberg • Sidney Wittenberg • Christina Wu • Susan Yada • Sheree Yang •  Ricci Zinger.

*Usher list current as of Jan. 7, 2015.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Go Behind the Scenes with Our Young Actors

Young actors from A Christmas Carol: (top row) Blogger Sophia Utria, Joshua Myran, Maximos Harris, Bloggers Zoe Hebbard and  Emily McDaniel, Mitchell Huntley, Blogger Benjamin Susskind, London Walston.
(middle row) Alexis Cueva, Bloggers Olivia Drury and William Lynam.
(bottom row) Bloggers Karoline Ribak, Katherine Parrish, Jacqueline Vellandi, Aoife McEvoy and Bella Browne.
Meet Our Bloggers

Olivia Drury (Young Girl About Town), age 13. Olivia has been studying acting at SCR for two years and started performing in plays at age five. She played Troy in High School Musical and Burt in Mary Poppins. “I was a huge tomboy.”

Will Lynam (Turkey Boy), age 11. Will has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: “I am very good with technology and I can fix most computer problems."

Emily McDaniel (Belinda Cratchit), age 11. Emily has been studying acting at SCR for three years. She has two pet bunnies named Toki and Sugar. “I am bananas about bunnies!!”

Aoife McEvoy (Tiny Tim), age 10. Aoife has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: “I’m named after an evil queen who turns children into swans in Irish mythology.”

Zoe Hebbard (Belinda Cratchit), age 11. Fun fact: Zoe is a competitive ballroom dancer.

Katherine Parrish (Martha Cratchit), age 16. She’s been studying acting at SCR for four years and is an avid Broadway musical theatre fan.

Karoline Ribak (Fan), age 17. She has been studying at SCR for nine years and previously played Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol back in 2007.

Sophia Utria (Fan), age 16. She has been studying at SCR for two years. Fun fact: she has a twin sister. “We can sometimes read each others' mind.”

Jacqueline Vellandi (Tiny Tim), age 10. She started in SCR’s Youth Conservatory when she was eight and just finishing third grade. She loves SCR and can’t wait to be a Junior and Teen Player. She likes to write scripts, hold auditions and then run rehearsals and perform shows with her Barbies and Legos.

Every holiday season in SCR's A Christmas Carol, the young characters—from Tiny Tim to the Cratchits—are portrayed by students from SCR's Young Conservatory program. These young actors audition for 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 throughout this 35th anniversary season for the show,

What are you most looking forward to from this experience?
Jacqueline: I can’t wait to perform with the whole cast!
Emily: Learning how to act in front of a large audience and also wearing all of the beautiful costumes and making quick changes like a professional actor!
Aoife: I can’t wait to have my friends and family watch the play. I've told them all about it.
Katherine: I'm excited to be experiencing the process of a professional production, including the rehearsals, the actors and the long run of the show. I've never done a show that runs for as long as A Christmas Carol, so it will be fun to learn what that is like and how it affects my performance.

What did you work on in rehearsals? Karoline: We worked on building character relationships and understanding the profundity of our interactions.
Jacqueline: How to commit to our characters. I want you to believe I’m Tiny Tim and not Jacki.
Emily: We worked on all of the party scenes and the dancing.
Olivia: We also learned all the songs that will be in the show.
Sophia: I think my favorite rehearsal moment so far has been "Wassail" from at the top of the show. The whole cast's shout of the final 'wassail!' at the end of the song, it just was a really cool moment.

What has it been like balancing school and rehearsals simultaneously?
Karoline: The rehearsal process forces you to re-shape your schedule and find an effective balance between theatrical and academic obligations. Overall, the adjustment definitely strengthened my sense of time management!
Zoe: It's been hard. I have been trying to hustle through all of my work during the day before rehearsal.
Katherine: Rehearsal doesn't leave a lot of time for me to study for tests and do my homework, but I'm getting it all done even if it does mean some late nights.
Will: The only difficult thing about balancing school and rehearsal is that I have very little free time, but this experience is well worth it.

What is one important thing you've learned so far?
Karoline: With such an extravagant piece, it is imperative that we constantly take risks and make bold choices as actors. Our general rule of thumb is to be flexible and make larger choices with each rehearsal—it is a goal to be asked to "tone down" a choice.
Sophia: That it is okay to make mistakes. No one is going to yell at you, the scene just picks up right up again and it gets better.
Olivia: How to listen and learn. While other people are rehearsing, you have to listen to the notes that they receive, so you can improve your own performance.
Will: How all of the small parts can come together to make a bigger picture.
Emily: I have learned that sometimes you need to make your own decisions and not wait for an adult to give you some advice.
Aoife: In between the lines you say, you still have to listen and react in whatever scene you’re in, so people don’t stop believing the story.
Jacqueline: In acting classes, you hear a lot about making strong choices. Now with the director, John-David, I really understand what that means—and how to make strong choices.
Katherine: My self-confidence has grown because of my experience thus far in A Christmas Carol. Just getting into the show really boosted my confidence, but also working with the adult actors and being a part of this amazing production have helped a lot.
Zoe: I have learned that I have to stay in character even when I am not speaking.

Here's more from our bloggers:

Watch Sophia Utria's personal video blog from rehearsal.

Check out photos from our bloggers Jacqueline Vellandi and Emily McDaniel.

Learn more and buy tickets

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From Page to Stage: Dickens Takes Orange County By Storm Decade After Decade

The cast of A Christmas Carol including, center, John-David Keller, Hal Landon Jr., Richard Doyle and Karen Hensel.
For 35 years, John-David Keller and Hal Landon Jr. have shared a holiday tradition: directing and starring in South Coast Repertory’s production of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In addition to directing, Keller portrays Mr. Fezziwig. Landon is beloved as the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge. Of course, the tradition began when Jerry Patch adapted the Dickens classic for SCR.

John-David Keller and Karen Hensel as Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig
To this day, Keller prepares in much the same way he has every year:

“I try to read the Dickens novella every year because I ask the children in the cast to read it—that’s always their first assignment,” he relates. “The script is very faithful to the original. I believe that if you compare the Dickens book and the play that Jerry Patch wrote for us, you’ll see how very loyal Jerry was to his source. After all, it’s hard to improve on Charles Dickens!”

Recapturing the spirit of an old-fashioned Christmas was the vision of Patch SCR’s former resident dramaturg, Jerry Patch. In designing his version of A Christmas Carol, Patch concentrated on how the major themes of the story could most effectively be communicated on stage.

“I wanted families to be able to come to the theatre together and share an experience. Everyone from grandparents to grandchildren could be touched by the significant message of this classic story,” Patch says.

The story’s focus on humanity and regeneration continues to move audiences of all ages as they experience Scrooge’s transformation along with the character.

Daniel Blinkoff and Jennifer Parsons as Mr. & Mrs. Cratchit with the Cratchit Children
“This play is a celebration of family, peace and unity,” Patch explains. “It’s not just a British play, nor is it limited in scope to the 19th century. Scrooge’s didactic understanding of generosity, charity and mercy are ideal to be embraced by all people in all times. His story embodies the very tenets of American culture—you can change yourself, you can succeed beyond your means and, after undergoing metaphorical death, you can come back and live a better life. In other words, it’s never too late. This isn’t a complicated message, but it’s an important one nonetheless, and it’s the means by which we hope to touch our audiences.”

Keller believes the production gets an extra special because of all the new faces in the cast each year.

“There are 16 children in the show. Christmas for these lucky youngsters is one they’ll never forget,” Keller says. “I watch their faces. During rehearsal and I can see them grow with every passing day. It’s an intense learning process and they have more fun than anybody.”

Hal Landon Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge with the Shelley family.
Landon has logged more than a thousand performances as Ebenezer Scrooge, but he says he will never be through working on the role.

“I’ve spent considerable time trying to figure out why Scrooge is the way he is and what makes a man shut down like that in terms of relating to the rest of the world. Why is he so obsessed with money?” Landon asks. “I’ve created an entire back story for Scrooge. For example, he’s not just lonely on that Christmas Eve when we see him; he has felt the same loneliness throughout his entire life, which is something I need to understand and respond to.

Landon imagines that Scrooge’s life totally changes after we leave him at the Cratchit home on Christmas Day.

“He has a lot of money, which he starts using for the common good. I like to think that his relationship with the Cratchits and with his nephew, Fred, becomes very close, which brings all of them a lot of joy. Scrooge is a symbol of hope for all of humanity because he proves without a doubt that anybody can change.”

Learn more and buy tickets

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SCR’s Gala Ball: Wrapping Up and Moving On

It’s a wrap!  On November 4, 2014, South Coast Repertory thanked “Grand Illusions” Chair Olivia Johnson and her committee with a luncheon generously hosted by Scott’s Restaurant and Bar, represented by General Manager Robert Redaelli.

The upbeat event included a special gift bag from Diptyque, represented by Dustin Gordon, who invited everyone to stop by the store—where 10% of their purchases would be donated to SCR.
SCR Artistic Director Marc Masterson and Managing Director Paula Tomei were on hand to welcome committee members.  Praising them for the successful Gala, Masterson said, “Since joining SCR, I’ve learned one thing for sure:  you really know how to throw a party—and to plan it, so I don’t have to do anything but go and have a good time.”

As for the planning, Tomei thanked the Gala Committee and its “dynamo chair,” Olivia Johnson, presenting her with a heart-shaped crystal bowl from Orreffors, filled with an Olivia favorite—Godiva chocolates.

Olivia reminded everyone to get set for the next Gala, coming up on September 12, 2015.  Details to follow!

Addendum:  Among the enthusiastic Gala committee members who shopped at Diptyque after the luncheon were Sarah McElroy, Socorro Vasquez, Barbara Cline, Jane Taylor, Olivia Johnson and Mimi Holcombe.  Their purchases will brighten many homes over the holidays—and add to the SCR coffers!

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Who Are Those Kids, Anyway?

Back row: London Walston, Bella Browne, Jacqueline Vellandi, Aoife McEvoy, Emily McDaneil, Zoe Hebbard, Maximos Harris and William Lynam.  Front row: Alexis Cueva, Joshua Myran, Ben Susskind, Karoline Ribak, Sophia Utria, Katherine Parrish, Mitchell Huntley and Olivia Drury
South Coast Repertory’s annual production of A Christmas Carol has a cast of 25 actors who play 49 roles. Eight of those actors are kids, who play eleven of the roles. And those eight young actors are, in fact, sixteen!

Confused? In 1980, when SCR produced A Christmas Carol for the first time, no one, including the director—then, as now, John-David Keller—knew that the play would run annually for the next 35 years! But they did know that the kids’ roles should be double-cast, allowing the young actors every other day off to spend with their families during the holiday season.

So the kids were divided into two groups—and named after the Christmasy colors of “red” and “green.” Each team has its own performance days, but during rehearsals both teams are often called, so that one can watch the other onstage. According to Keller, “This is a wonderful way for the young actors to see their characters, played by other actors, and learn from the experience. It’s actually great training.”

But who are these kids and how do they get the enviable roles that range from Tiny Tim and his brothers and sisters (the Cratchits) to Scrooge and Marley as boys, to poor kids on the street, to beautifully costumed singers and dancers in the party scenes? They’re students in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory, 16 very lucky kids, who won their roles through audition after at least a year in the program.

Because so many kids want to be a part of A Christmas Carol (more than 70 audition each season), most of the cast is new each year. This season’s young actors, from 13 cities throughout Southern California, are Alexis Cueva/Katherine Parrish (Martha Cratchit), Joshua Myran/Mitchell Huntley (Peter Cratchit), Emily McDaniel/Zoe Hebbard (Belinda Cratchit), Jacqueline Vellandi/Aoife McEvoy (Tiny Tim), Karoline Ribak/Sophia Utria (Fan/Teen Girl), Olivia Drury/Bella Browne (Girl About Town), Benjamin Susskind/London Walston (Young Ebenezer/Oliver Shelley), William Lynam/Maximos Harris (Turkey Boy).

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Along Came a Spider: The Inspiration for Charlotte’s Web

Zilah Mendoza, Fran De Leon, Larry Bates, Brad Culver, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Lovelle Liquigan
Many people first encounter E.B. White’s classic book Charlotte’s Web as a school reading assignment: a book about a pig and a spider and other creatures and humans. But then, something wonderful happens—the story stays with the reader and becomes part of fond memories of childhood. Or adulthood, as people return to read it again and again. What do you remember most from reading Charlotte’s Web? Tell us!

Why did E.B. White choose to write about a pig? To answer the question that came to him from many readers, White wrote a letter to “kids” everywhere.

E.B. White
Dear Reader:

I receive many letters from children and can’t answer them all—there wouldn’t be time enough in a day. That is why I am sending you this printed reply to your letter. I’ll try to answer some of the questions that are commonly asked.

Where did I get the idea for Stuart Little and for Charlotte’s Web? Well, many years ago I went to bed one night in a railway sleeping car, and during the night I dreamed about a tiny boy who acted rather like a mouse. That’s how the story of Stuart Little got started.

As for Charlotte’s Web, I like animals and my barn is a very pleasant place to be, at all hours. One day when I was on my way to feed the pig, I began feeling sorry for the pig because, like most pigs, he was doomed to die. This made me sad. So I started thinking of ways to save a pig’s life. I had been watching a big grey spider at her work and was impressed by how clever she was at weaving. Gradually I worked the spider into the story that you know, a story of friendship and salvation on a farm. Three years after I started writing it, it was published. (I am not a fast worker, as you can see.)

Sometimes I’m asked how old I was when I started to write, and what made me want to write. I started early—as soon as I could spell. In fact, I can’t remember any time in my life when I wasn’t busy writing. I don’t know what caused me to do it, or why I enjoyed it, but I think children often find pleasure and satisfaction in trying to set their thoughts down on paper, either in words or in pictures. I was no good at drawing, so I used words instead. As I grew older, I found that writing can be a way of earning a living.

Some of my readers want me to visit their school. Some want me to send a picture, or an autograph, or a book. And some ask questions about my family and my animals and my pets. Much as I’d like to, I can’t go visiting. I can’t send books, either—you can find them in a bookstore or a library. Many children assume that a writer owns (or even makes) his own books. This is not true—books are made by the publisher. If a writer wants a copy, he must buy it. That’s why I can’t send books. And I do not send autographs—I leave that to the movie stars. I live most of the year in the country, in New England. From our windows we can look out at the sea and the mountains. I live near my married son and three grandchildren.

Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn’t have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn’t spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn’t blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life—there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too—truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act.

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Conversation Abounds on First Night of "Zealot"

There was a lot to talk about on October 24, after First Night of Zealot, as playgoers gathered for the Cast Party, co-hosted by The Center Club.  The conversation revolved around the main topics of power and gender, as seen through the eyes of playwright Theresa Rebeck in her world premiere set in the turbulent Middle East.

Among those expressing their enthusiasm for the production were Honorary Producers Yvonne and Damien Jordan, who said, "To see Theresa Rebeck's compelling play come to life under the masterful direction of our own, Marc Masterson, with an outstanding cast and an amazing set, we could not be more thrilled with the outcome. Thanks to everyone involved with this production!"

Paul Hodgins, in his OC Register review, concurred.  Among his accolades: “Crackles with a potent mix of humor, raw emotion and conflicting ultimatums. Uncannily timely!”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Wonderment of "Charlotte’s Web"

“[Charlotte’s Web is about] friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work, it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.”
–Eudora Welty, The New York Times Book Review
E. B. White’s beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web tells the story of Wilbur—a young, runt of a pig—whose life is saved by the friendship of a young girl named Fern and a gifted, grey barn spider named Charlotte.

Nursed to health by Fern with bottles of milk, Wilbur soon goes to live on her Uncle Homer’s farm, where he grows up surrounded by a lively barnyard full of animals.

His motley crew of friends includes a scheming rat named Templeton, a prim and proper Goose and Gander, an ancient Sheep, and Charlotte, a wise, barnyard spider who concocts a brilliant plan to spin words into her web to save Wilbur’s life.

Seeing a series of incredible words—“Some Pig,” “Terrific,” and “Radiant”—written in Charlotte’s web, Uncle Homer declares them a miracle and takes his special pig to the County Fair to compete for a blue ribbon. If Wilbur wins, Homer promises that he’ll live a long and happy life, but he’ll need Charlotte’s help to make it happen.

Director Laurie Woolery returns to South Coast Repertory to direct Joseph Robinette’s stage adaptation of this classic, heart-warming tale of love, friendship and life on a farm. 

“SCR is my artistic home,” Woolery says. “Just as Fern has a coming of age in Charlotte’s Web, I had my own coming of age here.”

Woolery got her start in theatre through SCR’s Theatre Conservatory program in 1989, Where she served as director of the conservatory from 1999 to 2005. She wrote and directed many shows for SCR’s conservatory and went on to serve as the associate artistic director of Cornerstone Theatre in Los Angeles. She is currently the associate director of public works at the Public Theatre in New York City.

Costume renderings for Templeton, Wilbur and Charlotte by designer Soojin Lee
Woolery has assembled a phenomenal cast and creative team to adapt E.B. White’s classic book for the stage, including actors Larry Bates, Brad Culver, Fran De Leon, Lovelle Liquigan, Zila Mendoza, and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper. The designers include scenic designers Nephelie Andonyadis and Trevor Norton, costume designer Soojin Lee, lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick and sound designer Corinne Carillo.

E. B. White—His Life, Work and Inspiration

E. B. White, the author of such beloved children's classics as Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, was born in Mount Vernon, New York. He graduated from Cornell University in 1921 and, five or six years later, joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine. White authored seventeen books of prose and poetry and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1973.

In addition to writing children's books, White also wrote books for adults, as well as poems and essays, and he drew sketches for The New Yorker magazine. Some of his other books include: One Man's Meat, The Second Tree from the Corner, Letters of E. B. White, The Essays of E. B. White and Poems and Sketches of E. B. White.

Funnily enough for such a famous writer, he always said that he found writing difficult and bad for one's disposition but he kept at it!

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
—E. B. White
White won countless awards, including the 1971 National Medal for Literature and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, which commended him for making “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”

During his lifetime, many young readers asked Mr. White if his stories were true. In a letter written to be sent to his fans, he answered, “No, they are imaginary tales… But real life is only one kind of life—there is also the life of the imagination.”

White lived on a farm in Maine where he kept animals; some of these creatures made their way into his stories and books, like Stuart in Stuart Little, or Charlotte in Charlotte's Web. White said, “I like animals, and my barn is a very pleasant place to be, at all hours!”

White said of his inspiration for Charlotte’s Web: “I had been watching a big grey spider at her work and was impressed by how clever she was at weaving. Gradually I worked the spider into the story that you know, a story of friendship and salvation on a farm.”


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“Words That Rest on My Heart:” Charlayne Woodard Talks About the Power of Zealot

Alan Smyth and Charlayne Woodard in Zealot.
Actor Charlayne Woodard is drawn into the world created by playwright Theresa Rebeck in the new play, Zealot. Woodard portrays Ann Haddad, United States undersecretary of state.  “She speaks the words that rest on my heart,” Woodard says. “I totally identify with her passion to be of use and to help make things a little bit better for women globally.” We caught up with Woodard after Zealot opened at South Coast Repertory and asked her a few questions to delve into her love of theatre and this new play.

Nikki Massoud, Woodard and Smyth.
What attracted you to acting—and once there, did you have a mentor?
When I was in tenth grade, living in Albany, N.Y., I had a teacher who turned us on to the Greek tragedies and to Shakespeare. His name was John Velie and he was also the head of our Albany High School theatre club. He also introduced me to his favorite modern playwrights, like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill, by casting me in their plays, from tenth grade through graduation. Mr. Velie also encouraged me to write and create for the theatre, because at the time, there was very little for a young black girl to work on as an actress.

What three words describe you?

  • Passionate. Life doesn't seem worth living if you don't put your whole heart and soul into it. This is the only day I have; I always try to make it count for something. Day by day. I believe, as artists, we don't have the luxury of remaining in our safe little bubbles. We must stretch and go exploring in different communities, various cultures and disciplines.
  • Curious. We are as interesting as our choices. Why not know as much as we can about everything and everybody and then bring it to our work. Let our explorations inform and enhance our work.
  • “Funster.” And of course, all work and no play makes Charlayne a very dull creature. So, I never forget to include joy in my day. I love the feeling of just throwing back my head and laughing out loud. I came to live out loud. Didn't Goethe say that?

What attracted you to Zealot?
I have been a fan of Theresa Rebeck's brilliant work for years now. Zealot is a bold, courageous, important play. My character, Ann Haddad, speaks the words that rest on my heart. I totally identify with her passion to be of use and to help make things a little bit better for women globally. We have a responsibility to our tribe. And there it is: a play with a feminist at its center. Her writing style and use of language poses a particular challenge to any actor. Every night I take on that challenge. Why are we working, for heaven's sake?

Woodard and Smyth.

What are some of the delights and challenges you found in creating “Ann” in Zealot?
I delight in sparring with Alan Smyth during eight shows a week. He is a great scene partner: funny, gifted and full of heart. He is dangerous as Edgar Featherstone. I have to say that one of the challenges of doing Zealot is the commute from LA! I am a New Yorker at heart and freeway driving is scary to me. Alan suggested we carpool. Brilliant! We ride to work together, taking turns with the driving. Those trips to and from work could be the material for a new two-character play. We tell each other the best stories. Sometimes we just drive home in the dark listening to great music, and one night we even sang. Needless to say, we discuss every nook and cranny of Zealot.

What do you hope audiences come away with having seen Zealot?
I hope they see the brilliance of Theresa Rebeck's writing. This play is about the times we are living in. The debate is fierce and all of the characters feel they are right. We are all zealots. I hope Zealot opens people's hearts and minds to the fact that not everyone is blessed to live as we do. That the “Boys' Club” is running the show now, women must share in power if we are ever going to change this world for the better. Change is good...for everybody.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

"Charlotte’s Web:" Six Actors Spin a Beloved Tale of Friendship

The cast of Charlotte's Web: (left to right) Zilah Mendoza, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Lovelle Liquigan, Brad Culver, Fran De Leon, Larry Bates.
E.B. White’s cherished classic, Charlotte’s Web adapted by Joseph Robinette, will be brought to life and kick off SCR’s 2014-15 Theatre for Young Audiences series. The cast is a mix of new and familiar faces including an actress who has performed for the United Nations Associations, three actors returning from The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and an actress who works with an organization that uses the arts to enrich youth in communities.

Larry Bates (Wilbur) returns to South Coast Repertory where he has appeared in numerous productions—including Mr. Marmalade by Noah Haidle, Jitney by August Wilson and Top Dog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks—and he has been in Theatre for Young Audiences productions such as Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing and last season’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. He says he loves being part of productions that reach out to younger audiences. His television credits include “NYPD Blue,” “The Unit,” “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” “Huff,” “Dark Blue,” “Numb3rs” and “Boston Public.”

Brad Culver (Mr. Arable/Templeton/Lurvy/Judge) returns to South Coast Repertory after his debut in last season’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. He started acting when he was a child. At the age of five, he appeared in The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and fell in love with the stage. He is active in theatre, film and television, and has voiced characters on Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show.” He has performed in around the world, in venues in Croatia, Germany and Scotland. He writes music and is a bass player in a band. Culver grew up in Pasadena and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts.

Fran De Leon (Mrs. Arable/Sheep/Edith Zuckerman/Reporter/Spectator) is making her South Coast Repertory debut. She was inspired to act when her mother took her to see Jesus Christ Superstar. She enjoys traveling and recently was able to tour her one person show Faces of America across the United States and for the United Nations Associations. She runs Will & Company with her husband Colin which performs at schools in the L.A. and Orange County areas. Her television credits include “Charmed,” “Titus” and “That’s So Raven.”

Lovelle Liquigan (Fern/Goose/Spectator) returns to South Coast Repertory after last appearing in Life is a Dream. Past credits include Romeo and Juliet at the Independent Shakespeare Company, Steel Magnolias at East West Players and Cymbeline at Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival. She credits SCR for reinvigorating her as an actress after taking the advanced actors workshop lead by Karen Hensel.

Zilah Mendoza (Charlotte) is making her South Coast Repertory debut. She has performed across the country and has toured with MAPP (Mentor Artists Playwrights Project) whose focus is arts enrichment for youth and developing programs in their communities. MAPP has taken her to places such Idaho (Lapwai and Coeur d’Alene), Alaska and Canada. Her television credits include “The King of Queens,” “Modern Family” and “One on One.”

Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (Avery/Homer/Gander/Uncle the Pig) is a Theatre for Young Audiences veteran at SCR. He appeared last season as a gaggle of characters in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Mongiardo-Cooper also appeared at SCR in The Night Fairy, adapted by John Glore, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, adapted by Charles Way; Lucky Duck by Bill Russell and Jeffrey Hatcher, music by Henry Krieger and lyrics by Bill Russell; and Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Joan Cushing. A favorite production of his was Ferdinand the Bull—where he portrayed Ferdinand—at the Lewis Family Playhouse. Born in New York City, Mongiardo-Cooper appeared there in numerous plays and musicals before moving to California. He attended the High School of Performing Arts and New York University.

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