Friday, March 28, 2014

The Cast That Will Inhabit "Five Mile Lake"

THE CAST;  Brian Slaten, Rebecca Mozo, Nate Mooney, Nicole Shalhoub and Corey Brill.
A blend of new and returning actors will bring a five-mile area to life in Five Mile Lake by Rachel Bonds. The story looks at small towns, where there are those who stay and those who go. Veteran SCR actors Corey Brill (Smokefall, Pride and Prejudice) and Rebecca Mozo (4000 Miles, The Parisian Woman) return alongside debut actors Nate Mooney (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Breaking Bad,” “Criminal Minds”), Brian Slaten (The Liar, “Fringe”) and Nicole Shaloub (Arabian Nights, “The Good Wife”). Read more about them below.

Corey Brill (Rufus) previously appeared at SCR in Smokefall and as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and is thrilled to be back. His Broadway credits include Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (understudy) and Cabaret (national tour). His regional theatre credits include Noises Off! (Actors Theatre of Louisville), The Glass Menagerie (The Kennedy Center), Doubt (Seattle Repertory Theatre); Opus (The Old Globe); Lady Windermere’s Fan and On the Razzle (Williamstown Theatre Festival), The Bay at Nice (Hartford Stage), Beauty (La Jolla Playhouse) and Twelfth Night and Three Sisters (Chalk Repertory Theatre). His television and film appearances include “Perception,” “CSI: Miami,” “Confessions of a Dog” and HBO’s “The Normal Heart.” He earned an MFA from UC San Diego.

Nate Mooney (Jamie) is making his SCR debut. He apprenticed at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and The Warehouse Theatre, as well as two years’ membership in the Williamstown Theatre Festival Non-Equity company. His television credits include “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Breaking Bad,” “Criminal Minds” and “The Riches.” He has appeared in several features including Charlotte’s Web, One for the Money, Push and Kelly Reichardt’s upcoming Night Moves.

Rebecca Mozo (Mary) previously appeared at SCR in 4000 Miles, The Parisian Woman, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, A Wrinkle in Time, Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, The Heiress and Doubt, a parable. Her other theatre credits include We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia at The Matrix Theatre Company; The Savannah Disputation (Ovation Award nomination); Educating Rita and Trying (Ovation Award nomination) at The Colony Theatre Company; The Cherry Orchard opposite Annette Bening and Alfred Molina at Center Theatre Group; Ghosts at A Noise Within; and Top Girls, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Peace in Our Time, King Lear, Cousin Bette and Pera Palas at The Antaeus Company. She also appeared in I Capture the Castle at El Portal Theatre (Ovation Award nomination for Best Actress), as well as at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her film and television credits include The Repatriate, Zerophilia, Headless Horseman, The Waterhole, “Pizza Time,” “Cold Case” and “Medium.” She recently wrapped the web series “Kittens in a Cage,” directed by Jillian Armenante. Mozo earned her BFA from Rutgers University and studied at The Globe Theatre in London. She is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association and The Antaeus Company.

Nicole Shalhoub (Peta) is making her SCR debut. Her theatre credits include the off-Broadway productions of The Fifth Column at Mint Theater Company and Hell House at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Regionally she has performed in American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose at Yale Repertory Theatre; Arabian Nights at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Kansas City Repertory; Mirror of the Invisible World at Goodman Theatre; Icarus at Lookingglass Theatre Company; Snow in June, A Lie of the Mind and Six Characters in Search of an Author at American Repertory Theatre; Inana at Hartford Stage; and A Murder of Crows at Williamstown Theatre Festival. She has appeared on the television shows “Scandal,” “Criminal Minds,” “The Good Wife” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” as well as the films The International, Sex and the City 2 and Arranged. She earned her MFA in acting from the ART/MXAT at Harvard University and a BA from Columbia University.

Brian Slaten (Danny) is making his SCR debut. He has worked in various theaters in New York and Los Angeles, including The Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, The Antaeus Company, Slant Theatre Project and is a member of Chalk Repertory Theater. His film and television credits include Happy 40th, Uggs for Gaza (Aspen Shortsfest), “Criminal Minds,” “Army Wives,” “Law & Order: SVU,” Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Fringe.” He earned an MFA from UC San Diego.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Creating a New CrossRoads for SCR’s Playwrights and Community

CrossRoads playwright Tanya Saracho enjoyed coffee and conversation with SCR staff and members of the Dialogue/Diálogos project. Pictured (left to right): Dialogue/Diálogos playwright José Cruz Gonzalez, SCR’s Associate Artistic Director John Glore, Dialogue/Diálogos Project Director Sara Guerrero, SCR’s Literary Director Kelly Miller, Andrew W. Mellon Playwright in Residence Julie Marie Myatt, Dialogue/Diálogos Marketing Coordinator Laura Bustamante, Latino Health Access’s Moises Vazquez and playwright Tanya Saracho.  
CrossRoads playwright Mona Mansour taught a free improvisation and writing workshop for SCR's Conservatory and Orange County community members during her August residency.
SCR’s Dialogue/Diálogos Project Director Sara Guerrero and CrossRoads playwright Tanya Saracho meeting with Café Calacas owner Rudy Cardova during Saracho’s residency in Santa Ana.
CrossRoads playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil (third from right) and SCR associated literary director Kimberly Colburn, meeting with co-founder Sheela Mehta and the staff of SAHARA, the South Asian Helpline And Referral Agency, during Kapil’s July residency.
CrossRoads playwright Carla Ching, meeting with UC Irvine professor Daphne Lei and community liaison Peter Kuo. Sitting in the Arts Plaza for UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts, designed by artist Maya Lin.
CrossRoads playwright Qui Nguyen visited UC-Irvine during his August residency to tour their Southeast Asian Archives and to learn more about the Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP).Pictured (left to right): UC-Irvine professor Linda Vo, librarian Christina Woo, professor Tram Le, playwright Qui Nguyen, and Founder of the VAOHP, Thuy Vo Dang.

Three years ago, Artistic Director Marc Masterson talked to the Time Warner Foundation about an innovative idea for its New Works/New Voices program: he wanted SCR to commission some of the best playwrights in the country to write plays inspired by Orange County. Masterson envisioned a program that would create dialogue between playwrights and communities through immersive residencies. A generous grant from the foundation has made Masterson’s idea a reality.

“We wanted to bring artists into our community—which is often simplistically identified as one of homogenous wealth—to experience Orange County’s incredible artistic, geographic and cultural diversity firsthand,” says Masterson.

The idea hit home with the foundation and, thanks to their generous support, South Coast Repertory launched its CrossRoads Commissioning Project, a community-based
initiative within the theatre’s renowned new work program. As a part of the program, SCR has commissioned eight playwrights, locally and nationally, to spend time in Orange County and to write plays inspired by the community. 
"It's a fascinating and forward-thinking concept,” says Aditi Kapil, one of the CrossRoads playwrights. “Instead of talking about bringing diverse communities to your theatre, purposely immersing your theatre and your artists in those communities and allowing for the possibility of art to happen as a result.”

Since the summer of 2013, six playwrights have completed their residencies and have engaged with more than 34 local community groups across 15 of the county’s cities—and they have created lasting connections with local residents, community leaders and artists.

SCR Literary Director Kelly Miller, who is also the CrossRoads project director, recruited some of the country’s most exciting playwrights to participate in the project.

“Each of these writers has such a distinct style and voice,” says Miller. “I am excited to see how their experiences in the OC will inform what they write.”

SCR audiences may already be familiar with three of the local CrossRoads playwrights who hail from Los Angeles: Luis Alfaro, winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, who has had projects developed in SCR’s Pacific Playwrights Festival and Hispanic Playwrights Project, and performed his solo play, St. Jude, in the Studio SCR Series earlier this season; Carla Ching, whose dark comedy Fast Company received its world premiere at SCR last fall; and Julia Cho, whose plays The Language Archive and The Piano Teacher have both been produced at SCR.

The five other playwrights may be new to South Coast Repertory, but they are all rising stars in the American theatre. Marc Bamuthi Joseph (Oakland, Calif.) is an acclaimed poet, performer and playwright, whose red, black & GREEN: a blues (rbGb) has toured around the country. Aditi Brennan Kapil (Minneapolis, Minn.) is a writer, actor and director whose Displaced Hindu Gods trilogy of plays premiered at Minneapolis’ Mixed Blood Theatre this past fall.  Qui Nguyen (Brooklyn, NY) is a playwright, fight director and co-Founder of Vampire Cowboys, a theater dedicated to pop-culture-inspired theater; his play She Kills Monsters has made a recent splash in New York and Chicago. Mona Mansour’s (New York, NY) newest play, The Way West, will receive its world premiere at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in April. Tanya Saracho's (Chicago, Ill.) The Tenth Muse premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last season. “I’ve been following these artists for years,” says Miller, “and I am thrilled to bring them into the Orange County community as a part of the SCR family.”

Los Angeles playwright Carla Ching kicked off the first CrossRoads residency in July 2013, when she met with Asian-American community leaders and activists throughout Orange County. Her exploration included tours of UC Irvine, the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, and she attended Common Ground’s Asian American youth open mic night at the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) in Santa Ana. Ching also met with leaders from the OC chapter of APEX, the Asian Professional Exchange, and the Community Action Partnership of Orange County.

“It has been truly an honor to get to know the Asian American community in Orange County,” Ching says, “and to understand the breadth of incredible work being done in community-based organizations, at UC Irvine and in the community at large.”

In October, Ching invited community leaders and students from VAALA, Common Ground, Project Motivate, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance and other organizations to attend SCR’s world premiere of her new play Fast Company, a dark comedy about a family of Chinese-American con artists.  She deepened her community engagement with a pre-show conversation with community leaders about the cultural and racial morés of the play.

Ching says of her time at SCR: “Most moving was the desire for connection that so many people I’ve spoken with have mentioned—their desire to have continued connections to me as a theater-maker, to SCR and to theater in general.  It’s my hope to make a piece of work that continues these connections and brings people back into conversation with one another.”

Join us as these exciting artistic and cultural conversations continue to unfold—and as the CrossRoads playwrights return to SCR to develop their new work in the summer of 2014.

With this new program, we’re building an exciting, new artistic CrossRoads at SCR—where our audiences, our community and our playwrights meet to share their stories and their artistry—and reflect the incredible tapestry of diversity of Orange County on our stages.

For more information about the CrossRoads playwrights and community partners, please visit  To receive emails about upcoming CrossRoads events, please email Literary Associate Andy Knight at:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dialogue/Diálogos: Storytellers Become Theatre Creators

Santa Ana residents participate in theatre workshop
Participants Maria Elena (quoted in article) & Desirée at Puppetry Workshop
Latino Health Access teaching artist Moisés Vázquez (center)
Santa Ana community artists & Diálogos participant Chilo (left)
Santa Ana residents sharing their stories
Playwright José Cruz González (2nd from Rt)
Santa Ana residents sharing their stories
Sometimes all it takes is a little invite to put great things into motion.

South Coast Repertory put out a special invitation: come share your stories. In response, more than 700 Latino residents of Santa Ana responded, and shared their stories of life and families in the community. Those stories are now helping create a community-inspired play through the Dialogue/Diálogos project.

“The story-sharing sessions felt like we were in the middle of a planned get-together with the family,” recalls Sylvia Blush, an SCR teaching artist. Blush listened as four different families, representing multiple generations, sat across from each other and told their shared stories of life in Santa Ana.

The two-year bilingual project is a community-based theatre initiative that so far has gathered stories from Santa Ana residents, presented play-making and play-development workshops, and now is set to bring back to residents the first draft of a play inspired by their stories. For many, the experience has been their first with theatre. The final play will be produced in fall 2014. The project is a partnership with Latino Health Access (LHA), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

José Cruz González is the Diálogos playwright-in-residence.

“We’re grateful to the Santa Ana residents for giving us the gift of their stories, passion and talent through Diálogos workshops,” he says.

“I am loving and enjoying [Diálogos],” says Maria Elena. “I am putting a lot of concepts into practice in my relationships, work and life in general. I have been learning how to
communicate more efficiently, how to accept and love myself and embrace the gifts that I have. It has brought the loud, dramatic, playful Maria Elena hidden inside my shell.”

González has long been a champion of SCR’s commitment to working with new voices in the Latino community, which includes the nearly two-decade long Hispanic Playwrights Project, which he led. That annual festival of new works helped create and nurture original plays written by Latina/o playwrights and provided
professional theatre development opportunities to many writers, launching the career of theatre artists including Octavio Solis, Karen Zacarías, Luis Alfaro and Anne García-Romero among others.

Lifelong Santa Ana resident Sara Guerrero has seen growth through the years in the Latino community’s role in theatre. In the 1980s, her mother took her to watch the careers of Latina/o playwrights blossom during SCR’s annual Hispanic Playwrights Festival. It had a profound impact on young Guerrero; today she is a playwright, actor, producer, founding artistic director of the only Southern California Latina theatre company Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble, a longtime faculty member of SCR’s Youth Conservatory, and Dialogue/Diálogos’ engagement director.

SCR and LHA have worked tirelessly to engage and excite the community about Dialogue/Diálogos. America Bracho, LHA’s chief executive officer, says she “believes that health is a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. We welcome SCR in this process to share the power of performing arts and make our communities healthier places.”

Marcela is a mother of four whose involvement in the Diálogos storytelling and theatre workshop sessions inspired her children to participate.

“At first, Marcela’s children were more interested in their electronic devices,” recalls Sara Guerrero. “And, as the minutes passed, each would put away whatever they were doing and like their mom they would take part in the workshop. Santa Ana residents from all generations and various walks of life show up not knowing what to expect, and soon fall in love with their involvement in the creation of a play about their community. As we’ve collected written and verbal responses from the community, ‘[we want] more’ has been the overwhelming response.”

In April, SCR and LHA will present a series of staged readings of the new play throughout the city of Santa Ana. The readings will be hosted by numerous project partners, including Santa Ana College, Latino Health Access, Bowers Museum, Orange County School of the Arts, and KidWorks.

Connie, a Santa Ana resident, is not only looking forward to the reading of the first draft of the play she contributed to, but also the production. She shared her stories a year ago, responding to a Dialogue Days flyer that a volunteer for the project left on her doorstep. 

“I'm so happy I took part in the beautiful ritual of story-sharing with my Santa Ana community,” says Connie. Now she looks forward to participating in the final culmination of the Diálogos production in the fall, in the hopes that “Santa Ana continues benefitting from more community-focused theatre in years to come.”

Find out the reading dates and times online:

View videos from Dialogue/Diálogos project.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Fierce "Reunion," Followed by a Fun Party

First Night of Reunion began with a scathingly funny world premiere about a high school reunion gone awry and continued with conversation about the play long into the evening—at the party co-hosted by Scott’s Bar & Restaurant.

There, playgoers mingled beneath a ceiling of balloons and gold stars, munched fun food like Pop Rocks and Moon Pies. And the signature drink? What else? The Iron Maiden!

But amidst the celebrating, there was nostalgia over high school days and subsequent reunions, which don’t always turn out as expected—and lots of discussion about the surprises revealed in Reunion.

Joining the discussion was the playwright himself, Gregory S Moss, director Adrienne Campbell-Holt, actors Kevin Berntson, Tim  Cummings and Michael Gladis—and, of course, the Honorary Producers Yvonne and Damien Jordan, who have enjoyed being a part of the production, sitting in on readings and run-throughs and getting to know the artists from the first day of rehearsal.

According to the Jordans: "We fell in love with Greg's play when we heard it at last year's Pacific Playwrights Festival. Now, to see Greg's words come to life under Adrienne's spot-on direction, with three powerful performances by Kevin, Michael and Tim, with a fantastic set, lighting and sound, we could not be prouder to be associated with another SCR World Premiere!"

Critics agreed wholeheartedly, from the OC Register (“amazing…exhilarating”) to the LA Times (“raucous…rowdy”) and OC Weekly (“stunning…powerful”)

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Wyatt Fenner’s Journey to "Rest"

Wyatt Fenner, right, and William Francis McGuire in the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Samuel D. Hunter's The Few.
A Mother’s Passage Connects to Rest

Olivia Johnson
In fall 2013, Olivia Johnson saw a change in her mother. At age 99, Alice Gedikian began to fade. It was a definite change from the vibrant woman who, 11 years earlier, had recuperated after a car hit her as she crossed the road, a near-fatal encounter.

Gedikian had lived alone in her Arcadia, Calif., condo until age 92. She still was, says Johnson, a “social dynamo” when the family moved Gedikian to a sunny, bright room in a nearby assisted living facility. Her new room included her “precious piano and her favorite pieces of furniture.”

But over the past 18 months, Johnson saw “this bright spirit, full of faith and positive energy” began to not recognize her daughters when they visited.  And when Johnson, a long-time supporter and friend of South Coast Repertory, first received a copy to read of the new play by Samuel D. Hunter called Rest, it hit home. Hard.

“It was painful,” Johnson recalls “But my heart said we have to honor Mom by supporting this magnificent play that tells this story so poignantly.”

Johnson, with her husband A. Andrew, is one of the Honorary Producers for the world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s Rest.

Rest is set in a retirement home in northern Idaho, which is in the process of shutting down. Only three patients remain and one of them is currently missing. Ninety-one-year-old Gerald, suffering from dementia, has disappeared, leaving his wife, Etta, and their friend, Tom, behind. The few remaining staff include the manager, two longtime employees and a 20-year-old cook, new to the job.

“As my mom was failing—a natural process at her age—we tried to surround her constantly with those things that were important in her life,” says Johnson. “We counted on music—her lifelong passion—to soothe her continually and to take her mind to a joyful place. As I read Rest, I saw what an important roles that both music and faith have within the play. That was a message to me!”

Fleeing war-torn Turkey as a child, with her widowed mother and sisters, Johnson’s mother had come to the United State for refuge. She ultimately married Aram and raised their family first in Detroit and then in Pasadena, surrounded by extended family.

They jointly owned and successfully ran Pasadena Shoetorium Shoe Repair. Widowed at 59, she came into her own—“blossomed”—as she took over their family business and found her niche. She became active in the local Chamber of Commerce and in numerous women’s business groups of that era. She was vibrant, Johnson says, until being struck by a car. Her determined spirit helped her make a remarkable recovery and lived for another dozen years.

But, last fall, the family feared that she might not make it to her centennial birthday. She did.

On Jan. 4, 2014, Alice Gedikian passed away, two days after her 100th birthday; that milestone birthday was a day that friends and loved ones “celebrated with joy,” says Johnson.

Olivia Johnson’s support of SCR’s production of Rest serves as an homage to her mother’s indomitable spirit.

Looking back to his arts-immersed childhood in Washington, D.C., actor Wyatt Fenner now acknowledges that a rabbit may have drawn him into acting.

While on a trip to the library with his mother, he saw a children’s theatre poster for The Velveteen Rabbit.

“I couldn’t read yet, but I recognized the image of the rabbit on the hilltop, with its ears flopped to the side,” Fenner recalls. He knew the story and image from audio cassettes his family listened to in their car.

Fenner in James and the Giant Peach.
“What’s a children’s theatre?” he asked, and she explained that it’s where kids put on plays based on fairy tales.

He told his mother that’s what he wanted to do, but he was still too young. So, a few years later—at age seven—he auditioned for a production of Sleeping Beauty and earned a role. “I just got wrapped up in it and haven’t stopped since. Theatre just speaks to me. Acting speaks to me.”

As a young actor, he found that the D.C.-area gave him plenty of opportunities to learn his art, and he worked with “some incredible people and theatre companies.” A fond memory is being part of Ford Theatre’s A Christmas Carol production when he portrayed one of the Cratchit children.

Fenner is becoming a well-known face to South Coast Repertory audiences. He is featured next as Ken in the world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s Rest. Last season, he was in Hunter’s The Whale. Fenner also has appeared in Shaw’s Misalliance, in the Pacific Playwrights Festival readings of The Few and Happy Face, the NewSCRipts reading of Spirit Control and the Theatre for Young Audiences productions of James and the Giant Peach and The Borrowers.

“I love to be surrounded by other intelligent, artistic people,” he says. “SCR is like that—about how we can make the world better by talking about things, exploring ideas.”

Sam Hunter’s play Rest is an SCR commission and written when SCR produced Hunter’s The Whale in the 2012-13 season. Hunter wrote the part of Ken for Fenner, who took part in its first reading on the day at The Whale opened at SCR.

“I got the play [Rest] and I fell in love with what Sam had written,” Fenner says.

Fenner and Helen Sadler in Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale.
“Over the past few years, Wyatt and I have become artistic collaborators, but also good friends,” Hunter says. “So I think as I’ve gotten to know him both as an actor and as a person, it makes writing for him really rewarding. It’s like composing music for a musician who you know will play it brilliantly.”

Fenner says Hunter has made an impact on his work as an actor.

“He’s become a really good friend, an artist whom I admire and someone who has influenced my way of thinking and my life as a theatre artist,” Fenner says.  “Sometimes people come up in your life and profoundly impact you—Sam’s had that effect on me.

“Something I think is beautiful about the play is Sam’s profound ability to present us with where we are—not necessarily where you think you’d like to be,” Fenner continues. “You will experience what these characters are feeling and going through as only theatre can let you do. Sam has given us the chance to share so much through this play. It will give you a lot to think about that will remain with you for years.”

Fenner, Melanie Lora, Dakin Matthews and Amelia White in Misalliance.
Fenner is an alumnus of the University of Southern California. His recent credits include Bailey in the world premiere of Pluto at Actor’s Express Theatre, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, Slipping with Rattlestick West and performances at the Geffen Playhouse, Ahmanson Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Folger Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arena Stage, Theatre@Boston Court, A Noise Within and The Antaeus Company.  His television credits include “Veronica Mars” and “Bones.”

“Whatever I’m working on becomes such a huge part of me that I have really special relationship with every project that I engage in,” he explains, by way of not being able to name just one favorite production or project. “I really do appreciate the exploration that comes with every single part I play. It’s what’s in front of me and what my character engages with, it gives me a huge amount of experience to get to investigate every single one of them.”

Learn more and buy tickets.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Pros Have It

In SCR’s Theatre Conservatory classes are taught by “top professionals in their field.” Nowhere is that truer than in the Adult Acting Program’s Spring Session. Just have a look at the instructors in the two most advanced acting classes.

Daniel Blinkoff in the SCR productions of A Christmas Carol, An Italian Straw Hat and Major Barbara.

Actors Workshop is the pinnacle of SCR’s Adult Program. From its inception more than 25 years ago, the class has been taught by Karen Hensel. This spring, Hensel hands over the Actors Workshop reins for the first time to a new instructor, one who is a “top professional” in the truest sense—Daniel Blinkoff. Playgoers know Blinkoff well because he has portrayed Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol for 11 consecutive seasons—and has been seen in half a dozen other SCR productions, winning acting awards for Italian Straw Hat (Garland Award: Best Actor) and Major Barbara (Robby Award). He has turned in award-winning performances at theatres from LA to New York and been seen in numerous movies and TV shows. Blinkoff is a member of The Antaeus Company on the West Coast and The Actors Center on the East Coast.

Blinkoff’s first foray in the Adult Acting Program was as Act III instructor in the winter session. Now he says, "It’s exciting to be back, this time as the Actors Workshop instructor. The imagination is limitless, and so is the depth of our work. I have been focused lately on exploring and deepening a student's ‘source work,’ and the results have been amazing. By investing in source work, the actor's journey can be revealed to them, it can surprise them, and we open emotional depths in our work unrealized before."

Matthew Arkin in the SCR productions of The Whale, The Prince of Atlantis and Our Mother's Brief Affair.
Act III: Advanced Scene Study and Characterization is a class for students who feel comfortable with the basic acting tools (after at least two semesters of training) and want to dig deeper. Returning to assist them is an Adult Acting Program favorite, Matthew Arkin, an actor who has done it all—Broadway (from The Sunshine Boys to Laughter on the 23rd Floor), off-Broadway (from Dinner with Friends to Moonlight and Magnolias), regional theatre (from Primary Stages to La Jolla Playhouse); television (from “All My Children” to every variation of “Law and Order”) and film (from indies to features). Arkin’s teaching credentials include New York’s renowned HB Studio. Arkin was very busy at SCR last spring, teaching Act III and performing the lead role in SCR’s production of The Whale. Students and staff alike can’t wait for his return.

Ditto Arkin: “I am so looking forward to getting back to this class. The dedication and enthusiasm of the SCR students is always an inspiration to me. Plus, we have a lot of fun!” When talking about the course work, Arkin says that preparation is everything. “I ask my students to stop ‘acting’ and simply ‘be.’ I want them to exist in the emotional, sensory and intellectual space of the character. That requires preparing ahead of time, knowing everything possible about the character right up until the scene begins. The hard work should be in that preparation. Then the actor can inhabit the character, and the events of the scene can just happen.”

Learn about these classes and more here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

SCR Veterans Return For World Premiere

THE CAST:  Richard Doyle, Wyatt Fenner, Lynn Milgrim, Rob Nagle, Libby West, Hal Landon Jr. and Sue Cremin.
The actors who form the cast for the world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s Rest are all veterans of South Coast Repertory—two having been with the company since its start a half-century ago. They work on stage, in film and television, voice acting and more. A common denominator for all: they love theatre, and in particular new works. Meet the amazing cast for Rest.

Sue Cremin (as Faye) most recently appeared in the Studio SCR production of Neva, co-produced with The Kirk Douglas Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse. Her New York credits include Honey Brown Eyes (Clurman Theatre), Killing The Boss (Cherry Lane Theatre), On Naked Soil (Theater for the New City), A Part of The Story (MCC Theatre) and Dinosaur Dreams (New York Stage and Film). Regionally, she has appeared in world premieres at the Mark Taper Forum, Baltimore’s CenterStage, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Yale Repertory, as well as Twelfth Night (The Old Globe), Candida (Two River Theater), Rabbit Hole (Premiere Stages) and God of Carnage (Virginia Stage Company). Her film credits include Homeland, Can’t Miss Nick, Broken, The Good War, Dream Hackers and The Tao of Steve. On television, she has guest-starred on “NCIS,” “The Good Wife,” “Unforgettable,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Hawthorne,” “The Shield,” “Law & Order,” “Monk,” “NYPD Blue,” “Spin City,” and others. She earned her MFA from the Yale School of Drama.

Richard Doyle (as Gerald) is an SCR Founding Artist celebrating—with SCR—his 50th year as an actor. He has appeared in some 200 SCR productions. He was last seen in A Christmas Carol as The Ghost of Christmas Past (a role he has reprised some 30 times); Earthworm in James and The Giant Peach; Henry in The Fantasticks (nominated for a special ensemble Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award); Roy in The Trip to Bountiful; Jack in The Weir; and Lord Summerhays in Misalliance. He won an LADCC award for Holy Days, was nominated for the Reverend Hale in The Crucible and for his work in Intimate Exchanges (2004). He has made numerous television and film appearances and was featured in the recurring role of Mr. Gaines on the series “Cheers.” He is a busy voice actor in video/motion capture games (Odin for Marvel) and animated films and series such as Clutch Powers and Ben Ten. Doyle is a recipient of the Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award and is now known for his live show narration of The Pageant Of The Masters in Laguna Beach.

Wyatt Fenner (as Ken) appeared at SCR previously in The Whale, Misalliance, the Pacific Playwrights Festival readings of The Few and Happy Face, the NewSCRipts reading of Spirit Control and the Theatre for Young Audiences productions of James and the Giant Peach and The Borrowers. His recent credits include Bailey in the world premiere of Pluto at Actor’s Express Theatre, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, Slipping with Rattlestick West and performances at the Geffen Playhouse, Ahmanson Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Folger Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arena Stage, The Theatre@Boston Court, A Noise Within and The Antaeus Company, among many others. His television credits include “Veronica Mars” and “Bones.” He is a graduate of the University of Southern California.

Hal Landon Jr. (as Tom) is an SCR Founding Artist who has appeared in The Fantasticks, The Trip to Bountiful, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Nothing Sacred, Man from Nebraska, Born Yesterday, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, A View from the Bridge, Habeas Corpus, Cyrano de Bergerac, Antigone, The Drawer Boy (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nomination), Major Barbara and Tartuffe. His other credits include Arcadia, Our Town, Sidney Bechet Killed a Man, BAFO, Six Degrees of Separation, An Ideal Husband, A Mess of Plays, Faith Healer, Green Icebergs, The Miser, Our Country’s Good and Waiting for Godot. He created the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in SCR’s A Christmas Carol, and has performed it in all 34 productions. He appeared in Leander Stillwell (Mark Taper Forum) and in Henry V (The Old Globe in San Diego). Among his television and film credits are “The Closer,” “My Name is Earl,” “CSI: NY,” “Mad Men,” The Artist, Trespass, Pacific Heights, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Playing by Heart.

Lynn Milgrim (as Etta) appeared at SCR previously in The Trip to Bountiful, The Heiress, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Bosoms and Neglect, The Countess, Death of a Salesman and Pygmalion. On Broadway, she was seen in Otherwise Engaged, directed by Harold Pinter; Bedroom Farce, directed by Sir Peter Hall; Charley’s Aunt; and in the international tour of Brighton Beach Memoirs, directed by Gene Saks. Her off-Broadway appearances include Win/Lose/Draw, Echoes, Macbeth, Crimes of Passion, City Scene, Talking With and Ribcage at Manhattan Theatre Club; and Close of Play and Museum at New York Shakespeare Festival. She has played leading roles in regional theatres nationwide, including the Los Angeles productions of The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Harvey, Eastern Standard (Robby Award), Treasure Hunt (Robby nomination), Accelerando and Brush Strokes. She has guest-starred on numerous television shows, most recently “Franklin and Bash” and “Southland” and has been a series regular in pilots for CBS and ABC. Her recent film credits include Employee of the Month with Matt Dillon. She is a member of The Antaeus Company, where she appeared in The Malcontent, earning a StageSceneLA Award for outstanding performance by a featured actress.

Rob Nagle (Jeremy) last performed at SCR in Taking Steps. His regional credits include productions at Portland Center Stage, Denver Center Theatre Company, Mark Taper Forum, The Old Globe, CenterStage, San Jose Repertory and the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. In Los Angeles, he is a proud member of the Troubadour Theatre Company and The Antaeus Company, where he serves as a co-artistic director alongside Bill Brochtrup and John Sloan. His film appearances include Boost, Fishing Naked, New Year’s Eve, Life As We Know It, The Soloist, Fun with Dick and Jane, Cellular and American Wedding. His television credits include recurring roles on “Lincoln Heights,” “Eli Stone” and “Dawson’s Creek,” as well as guest appearances on “Mistresses,” “Criminal Minds,” “Touch,” “Castle,” “Major Crimes,” “NCIS,” “Harry’s Law,” “Mad Men,” “Cold Case,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Without a Trace,” “Everwood,” “The Guardian” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Libby West (Ginny) appeared at SCR previously in Lovers and Executioners, In The Next Room or the vibrator play, and the NewSCRipts reading of People be Heard. She has appeared off-Broadway at The Public Theater and The Promenade Theatre; regionally at The Old Globe, American Conservatory Theater, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Denver Center Theatre Company, Paper Mill Playhouse, Intiman Theatre, The Wilma Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Mark Taper Forum, Playmakers Repertory Company, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and many others; in New York at The Actors Studio, Soho Rep, Performance Space 122, and many others. In Los Angeles, she appeared in numerous productions, including performances at The Theatre @ Boston Court, A Noise Within, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Sacred Fools Theater Company. Her film and television credits include A Life, Taken, Helen Keller Had a Pitbull, One Too Many Mornings (Sundance), Jason’s Big Problem, Fraktalus, Two Weeks Notice, Transcendence, Zombie Holocaust and You, A Midsummer Night’s Re-Write, Divorce Be Gone, Iceman, “Jericho,” “Six Feet Under,” “As The World Turns,” “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.” She holds an MFA from New York University, a BA from the University of Chicago, was a Fox Foundation Fellow, and earned a Dean Goodman Choice Award.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Talking With Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Playwright Gregory S Moss and Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt during rehearsals for the
2013 Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Reunion.
Adrienne Campbell-Holt loves the arts—and theatre in particular. An interesting journey brought her to theatre and directing and a meeting over coffee was her first introduction to playwright Gregory S Moss. She’s a self-professed fan of his and excited to be directing his new play, Reunion. During a break in rehearsals, Campbell-Holt caught us up on her passion for plays, her own time in high school and what’s great about Reunion.

South Coast Repertory: Why and how did you become a director?
Adrienne Campbell-Holt: I was a ballet dancer-turned choreographer-turned actor-turned director. I was kind of always a director though. I was always interested in storytelling, in stage pictures, in movement. Always thinking about what makes people laugh or well up with emotion.

My sister and I used to put on elaborate plays in our living room. We'd spend months ripping paper into snowflakes for The Nutcracker. I learned a ton from the directors who I worked with in various capacities—people like Liz LeCompte, Sam Gold, Alex Timbers, Anne Kaufman, Jack O'Brien and Michael Greif—both in the room, and in going to see work.

What drew you to direct Reunion?
I was a longtime fan of Greg's and then the playwright Max Posner suggested he and I meet. We got coffee in Brooklyn and had a great time talking. We actually have a lot in common. We are both from working-class parts of Massachusetts. We both started theatre companies when we were really young. We both work with Derek Zasky and I was so thrilled when he sent me Reunion and I got to do the workshop at the Pacific Playwrights Festival last April. Greg and I knew it was fierce and powerful but I think we were both blown away by the overwhelming response at the reading.

What were YOU like in high school?
I was full of contradictions. I was shy sometimes and wild sometimes. High school was tricky because it was when I had to stop dancing due to a hip injury. Before I stopped my identity was very much aligned with being a ballet dancer.  Suddenly I was just a regular kid. I went to the oldest high school in America (Boston Latin School, founded in 1635) and while I had some great teachers, it was not a progressive place that embraced the arts. I was very academic but also really into questioning authority. I cut school a lot, but it’s kind of funny because we'd leave our school and then go hang out in the student center at MIT. I loved being a city kid and I feel like I took advantage of so much of the culture and history Boston has to offer.

What’s it like to have the playwright working with you to create a brand new work?
It's the best thing. I love collaborating and finding the play together... with Greg of course but also this team of actors, designers, Kelly Miller [SCR’s literary director]!

What happens for you when a script moves from the first reading at the table to rehearsal—does the work tell you different things when you start blocking things?
Yes, absolutely. Especially in this play. Working with the stage management team to track the chaos in Act II is a play in and of itself.

What are some of the challenges to this play?
It feels like one thing, and turns out to be something else.

What are some of the delights of this play?
It's funny. It's heartbreaking. It feels very true to me. The actors are exquisite.

What do you hope audiences will come away with when they see this play?

I hope audiences will recognize themselves or people they've been close to. I hope it makes people wonder. I hope it starts conversations. Oh, and I want to thank audiences for coming to see this AMAZING play!

In high school, how was this sentence finished for you: “Most Likely To….”
Hmmm. I don't know. I rejected the superlative I was voted in high school and I feel similarly resistant to finishing this sentence now. I think kids in high school are just at the very beginning of finding themselves, figuring out who they are... I don't like boxes.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You Can't Go Home Again

by Kelly L. Miller

In the Rehearsal Room
Inspiration for Reunion

Tim Cummings and Michael Gladis in rehearsal for the 2013 Pacific Playwrights reading of Reunion.
Heading into rehearsals for Reunion, playwright Gregory S Moss and director Adrienne Campbell talked a lot about Moss’ inspiration for the play and what other resources—plays, movies, books and imagery—inspired the dark, hyper-natural story and style of his visceral, contemporary comedy.  Here’s a list of our favorite rehearsal room resources for your reading and viewing pleasure:

  • The Old Neighborhood by David Mamet
  • The Caretaker by Harold Pinter
  • Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp
  • True West by Sam Shepard
  • Some Girls by Neil LaBute
  • punk play by Gregory S Moss
  • “Townie: a memoir” by Andre Dubus III
  • The Town
  • The Fighter
  • Stand By Me
  • The Hangover
  • The Three Stooges
  • Jackass: The Movie
The Town.
Max, Peter and Mitch haven’t seen each other since their high school graduation 25 years ago. Former best friends, they’ve returned to their hometown the night of their high school reunion—to the same run down motel room where they partied decades ago. The plan? To reconnect, get wasted, and relive the fun and debauchery of their youth. 

The night begins innocently enough: Max and Peter reminisce about the girls they liked in high school and talk about their lives since: they’ve both moved away and become fathers.  Peter’s been dying to see his old friends—and he’s been trying (and failing) for years to stay in touch. They’re waiting for Mitch to arrive for the party to begin.  He’s the only one of them who never left town—and he still lives in his parents’ house.
To say that playwright Gregory S Moss is busy these days is an understatement. Lately, he has been splitting his time between New York and New Mexico, where he runs the graduate program of dramatic writing at the University of New Mexico. Moss recently finished two new plays and he’s writing the book of a musical based on the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson with Joe Iconis. He’s also working on a new show about Charles Ludlum with the renowned Pig Iron Theatre Company of Philadelphia. Heading into rehearsals for Reunion, SCR’s Literary Director Kelly Miller talked to Moss about his writing—and the ferocity of the characters and music in his work.
Their well-meaning reunion turns quickly into a twisted trip down memory lane, as the men move backwards through nostalgia—for the boys and friends they once were—regressing to the darker memories of their shared adolescence.  Their memories are unreliable, pain runs deep, and it will take them all night to sift through their past friendships in search of understanding.

At its core, Gregory S Moss’ new play Reunion is a scathingly funny two-act comedy about male friendship, aging and reconciliation. It’s a story that excavates male cruelty to explore the nuanced, complicated emotion inherent in male friendship. Moss has described the play as:  “Tennessee Williams on the inside.  David Mamet on the outside.”  In it, he is both exploring and subverting the dramatic genre of the male bonding story—represented in pop culture recently by “bromances” like “The Hangover”; and in theater, by male comedies of menace by playwrights like Neil LaBute, Sam Shepard, David Mamet and Harold Pinter.

View Adrienne Campbell-Holt's design presentation for Reunion—her early thoughts on the play.

The inspiration for Reunion was also personal. Moss says:  “I was interested in writing about the characters I knew back in Newburyport, Mass., where I grew up. There's a specific brand of Massachusetts macho that fascinates me. It's a front, in the same way I think the Mamet or Pinter characters machismo is a front. I wanted to see the soft side of these characters. Excavate the deeper feeling in them. And I wanted—in some regard—to evoke the specifics of the city I grew up in—the slang, the locales, the secret places that comprised my childhood there.”

He continues, “I was interested in thinking about the BAD KIDS I grew up with—the tough stoners, the juvenile delinquents, the bullies and metal heads—and I was wondering what might have happened to them. Them and other people from my high school days. I'm not in touch with anyone from that part of my life, so the play allowed me to investigate them, remember them, conjure them up again.”

Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt returns to SCR to direct the world premiere of Reunion, following its hit staged reading during the 2013 Pacific Playwrights Festival. “Reunion is my favorite kind of play,” she says. “It is funny, surprising, and hyper-theatrical. And it packs a major emotional punch. I love that it’s about working-class people and set in a place I know well.  At the same time, I think everyone can relate to the world of this play.  We all know at least one of these men—and I think some people who ‘don’t like theatre’ will love this play. That excites me.”

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Meet the Cast of "Jack and the Giant Beanstalk"

In Jack and the Giant Beanstalk by Linda Daugherty, new characters and a few twists revitalize Jack’s adventure. SCR’s Junior Players take on this play with a cast full of young artists from SCR’s Conservatory Program, which offers classes for kids through adults. We asked the young actors to share a bit about themselves and what makes theatre so special to them. Get to know more about the Junior Players:

Chaney Lieberman (Peddler 1) - I am 12 years old and live in Aliso Viejo. This is my fourth year studying at SCR. I first started acting when I was about seven or eight. I have been in Into the Woods, A Christmas Carol and The Nightingale, which all were performed at SCR. The thing I love most about performing, is how you can relate to someone or something completely different from who you are. It also lets me escape any problems I might be having and go into a new world with no worries.

Mitchell Huntley (Jack) - I am 13 years old, and live in Newport Beach. I am in seventh grade at the Orange County School of the Arts, in its Musical Theatre conservatory. I am in my fifth year of acting classes at SCR. I first started acting when I was in SCR's summer program in 2009. At SCR, I have been in Cinderella, The Nightingale, Into the Woods, Seussical and Annie. I also appeared in Bugsy Malone and The Jungle Book at Mariners Elementary School, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the Lake Forest Players, and Once On This Island at Newport Harbor High School. I love the feeling of sharing an amazing story with an audience in creative ways.

Max Salinger (Sailor 2/Townsman/Youngster 3) - I will be 13 in March and I live in Irvine. I started studying at SCR the summer before third grade, and I was hooked. SCR’s summer workshop was my first experience. My first play was SCR's A Christmas Carol. Since then I have been in The Who's Tommy, All My Sons, A Christmas Carol at Sierra Madre Playhouse and Miss Saigon, Once Upon a Mattress and Seussical at Stagedoor Manor in New York City. Performing gives you the chance to mix up your boring life. After awhile, everyone gets tired of being themselves and wants to try to be someone else. You can leave your problems behind when performing.

Emme O’Toole (Lady Pomegranate) - I’m 12 years old and I’m from Irvine. I’ve been studying acting at SCR for five years. I first started acting when I was eight. I love performing in plays! At SCR, I’ve appeared in A Christmas Carol, Seussical, The Nightingale and Annie. I’m also involved both onstage and backstage at a couple of community theaters in Orange County. A couple of other favorite roles include Laurie Morton in Brighton Beach Memoirs at Mysterium Theatre and Melinda Loomis in Inherit the Wind at the Attic Community Theatre. I love exploring other characters, digging into their motives, personalities and quirks. Performing is a way to not be myself for a while. I get to handle someone else’s problems and experience their joys as well. Also, throughout the rehearsal process, my fellow ensemble and I become very close. They become a second family to me and SCR becomes my second home.

Lauren Dong (Adelaid/Ensemble) - I am 11 years old and live in Irvine. I have been studying acting at a SCR for the past three years. I first started acting when I was seven. My most memorable roles are A Christmas Carol, Seussical, Annie and The Sound of Music. I like being able to explore all different kinds of characters through different thoughts and emotions. I like getting excited about performing in front of a live audience because I get to make a difference in someone’s life that day.

Louis Tonkovich (Ned/Ensemble) - I am currently 11 years old and I reside in Modjeska Canyon. I have been attending classes at SCR for four years and acting for about the same amount of time. At SCR, I have performed in A Christmas Carol and the Summer Players production of Annie. I have also performed in Ragtime: The Musical and Assassins. The thing I like best about performing is feeling the audience’s presence and sensing them relating and siding with one of the characters. Perhaps some people in the audience have felt the way a character feels, so they know what that character is going through.

Shelby Hayes (Jack’s Mother) - I am almost 14 and live in Eastside Costa Mesa. I have been studying acting for three years. My classes with SCR were my first acting experience. I hade the role of Girl About Town in the 2011 production of A Christmas Carol, Death in The Nightingale with last year's Junior Players and Cecile the French Maid in Annie in the recent Summer Players production. I have also performed in a couple of plays with other local theaters, most notably as the Scarecrow in The Attic Community Theatre's youth production of Wizard of Oz. The thing that most fuels my passion for acting is the fact that I can channel my true inner weirdness into another character and instead of judging the real me, the audience applauds me.

Lizzie Mills (Guitar Lady/Ensemble) - I will be 14 in March and I live in Coto De Caza. This is my fourth year with SCR. I first started acting by just doing plays here and there since I was about seven but I would always enjoy doing plays for my family since I was about five. At SCR I have been in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court twice (first as Merlin then as Queen Morgan), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (as Charlie), and Many Moons (Chuy). I like performing because I enjoy the challenge of taking on a character who could be one hundred degrees opposite of who I am. I also enjoy meeting my cast and slowly becoming like a family as the play moves on.

Graysen Airth (Lady Plum) - I am 14 and from Newport Beach. I have been acting at SCR for three years and started acting when I was eight in school drama classes. I’ve been in several plays including A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Discovering Rogue and The Jungle Book. What I like best about performing is the excitement and rush of being on stage and the feeling of joy it brings to me and to the audience.

Alex Theolodgides Rodriguez (Jack’s Father/Voice of Giant/Ensemble) - I am 14 years old and live in Irvine. I am in my sixth year studying acting at SCR. I started acting in third grade, after my older sister had started going to SCR. I was in A Christmas Carol in 2009, portraying the complex and emotionally tortured character known as Turkey Boy. What I like most about performing is combining talents with people who are really creative and dedicated to make something great.

Huxley Berg (Chicken/Ensemble) - I am 13 and live in Mission Viejo. I have been attending SCR since I was eight, it was the summer after my third season of little league when I knew there must be some other place for me. My grandma took action and told me about SCR and their theater program. I thought that was pretty cool so I started taking classes and the rest is history. I have been in many plays, I was young Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Nightingale, last years Junior Players production. I am currently in my first year attending Orange County School of the Arts. When performing, no matter the role, becoming somebody or to even create somebody is the best feeling on and off stage. SCR helped guide me to myself and who I will become. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to share and learn from such great teachers.

Abby Matzke (Young Steward/Youngster 4) - I am 13 years old and live in Huntington Beach. I have been studying acting at SCR for about four years. I started acting when I was seven, so about six years ago. The plays I have been in are: A Christmas Carol, Once on this Island, Bye Bye Birdie, Rising Son Rising Moon, Many Moons, Little Red Riding Hood and The Parable of the Stimples. The best part of performing for me is that it is a way to express myself and my individuality. I love acting, it is my true passion and through this experience in Junior Players I hope to perfect my craft.

Tessa Taylor (Peddler 2) - I am 13 years old and from Newport Beach. I have been studying at SCR for four years. I first started acting at the age of two. I have been in many school plays and 6 plays at SCR which include: Alice in Wonderland, Many Moons, The 8 Dragons, The Monsters in My Room, Daisy Head Maisy and A Christmas Carol. What I like best about performing is that I can be a whole new person on stage. In fact, when I was in A Christmas Carol I played the role of Tiny Tim. Pretending to be a boy was a whole new experience!

Ella Web (Giant’s Wife/Youngster 1) - I’m 11 years old and from San Clemente. This is my third year at SCR. I started acting when I did the summer acting workshop at SCR in 2011. I’ve been in two productions at SCR: A Christmas Carol and Annie. When I’m performing I like that have the chance to live in someone else’s life for a day.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

A Conversation with Gregory S Moss

Playwright Gregory S Moss
To say that playwright Gregory S Moss is busy these days is an understatement. Lately, he has been splitting his time between New York and New Mexico, where he runs the graduate program of dramatic writing at the University of New Mexico. Moss recently finished two new plays and he’s writing the book of a musical based on the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson with Joe Iconis. He’s also working on a new show about Charles Ludlum with the renowned Pig Iron Theatre Company of Philadelphia. Heading into rehearsals for Reunion, SCR’s Literary Director Kelly Miller talked to Moss about his writing—and the ferocity of the characters and music in his work.

KELLY MILLER: When did you first know you were a writer, then a playwright?

GREGORY S MOSS: I started writing at a pretty young age—maybe eight. I remember writing little illustrated stories that were structured like fairy tales. The first one was a made-up origin story for Robin Hood. After that I went through a solid adolescent phase of writing poems—and look, I’m not gonna throw my young, idealistic self under the bus, but I hope never to read those things again. I was deeply into Rimbaud, I wanted to be Rimbaud—someone who wrote so beautifully and lived this wild, itinerant life, then walked away from poetry altogether at age 20—his life and art were totally in sync. An utterly romantic, completely unfeasible model to imitate.

Writing plays didn’t start untill college—I was hired (for no money) to adapt The Pied Piper of Hamelin for a local children’s theater. I was moving back and forth across the country from Los Angeles to Durham, N.C., to Cambridge, Mass., primarily acting and directing, when I wrote my first “real” play—a one-act monologue I wrote to perform myself, so I wouldn’t have to pay someone else royalties. Even then, I didn’t think I was a writer. I didn’t believe it, really, until I met Paula Vogel. I saw Paula speak at The Huntington, and was just so lit up and inspired by her—like, “Here’s someone talking about making theater, with immense passion and intensity, in a language I understand!” At last!!!

How did your time studying at Brown University influence your work?
In more ways than I can name. It put in me in touch with my peers—Cory Hinkle, Dan Le Franc, Ann Marie Healy, Christina Anderson, Dipika Guha, Meg Miroshnik—and legitimized what I thought were my deviant artistic tendencies. Brown taught me to value community and hard work. It taught me to value my personal weirdo writerly DNA and gave me a practical set of tools to craft those impulses into something that (one hopes) becomes meaningful for an audience. Brown gave me a context and community in which to do the thing I wanted so badly to do.

I grew up, I should say, in a working-class family, in a working-class town. Being an artist as a job? And going to a school where someone might help you figure out how to do that? It never occurred to me; I didn’t think such things existed. I thought artists were like aristocrats—you had to be born into it.

Tim Cummings and Michael Gladis in rehearsal for the 2013 Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Reunion.
The thematic, stylistic and literal terrain of your plays is so varied and imaginative—from the dark, surreal world of House of Gold to the hard edge of punk play to the more naturalistic Los Angeles of La Brea. How do these ideas and worlds come to you—and what are you finding most intriguing right now?
Writing plays for me is always about challenging my own habits. I like to try different things. And each story requires a specific container that will best bring it to the stage. I’m restless. But as I write more, I find I am more comfortable with my own voice. I’m less concerned with reinventing the wheel each time out, and more invested in getting things down the way I see and hear them.

I take ideas from all over the place, especially other art forms—music, movies and comics in particular. I listen to people talk on buses and in coffee shops and write down what they say. I mine my own personal past for things. Sometimes things just come to you.

I am increasingly interested in the intersection between naturalism and expressionism or surrealism. There’s a sweet spot, between straight realism (which I don’t think theater does very well, actually) and something more dream-like. That’s usually where I’m aiming—a nice bridge between the familiar and the strange.

What was the original inspiration for Reunion?
I wanted to write a conventionally structured two act play about working-class characters, that would then subvert or break up the familiarity of the form. What was important to me was to capture a certain kind of character I knew as a kid, wondering what might have happened to them. Tough, working-class, deeply macho Massachusetts kids. I was also thinking a lot about getting older, the sort of unfairness of how time keeps moving, and how we contend with things that we lose to that.

What other sources inspired the play—and how do you describe it to friends?
I like to describe it as a Tennessee Williams play in Mamet drag. Or a Smiths song played by Metallica.

My dad gave me this story by Nathaniel Hawthorne—“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”—about a group of elderly people who are given this potion that makes them, temporarily, young again. They have all these hopes and plans for how THIS time they’re gonna get it RIGHT, do things correctly. Then they drink the potion and just do all the same stupid things they did the first time around. So that dual sense—of wanting to go back, and of falling prey to the same mistakes—that was a big part of the play for me.

How important is it that the play is set in your hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts?
It’s important to me! But no—I think it’s more about specific kinds of tough working-class kids who are regionally specific to Boston—angry, tough, hyper-masculine and always busting each other’s balls. The location is important because it forms these kinds of men, and these kinds of friendships.

So much of this play is about male friendship and cruelty and aging—and about trying to reconcile who you were in high school with who you’ve become as an adult. How does the play resonate with who you were back then—and who you’ve become?
The play is about kids I was afraid of in middle and high school. This was not my social circle. But that culture—of swagger and brutal male bonding—that was in the water there, and parts of it, much as I resist it, have definitely shaped me. There are some years I would like a “do over” on, for sure.

Playwright Gregory S Moss and Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt in rehearsal for the 2014 Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Reunion.
Music is such an important part of the aural and emotional landscape of your plays. In this play, metal. Punk rock in your fierce coming-of-age drama punk play. Why is that?
’Cause that music—punk, metal—so perfectly expresses adolescent male energy and rage. And I’m always gonna be a little in love with that period of life, painful as it was. As a kid, music is identity. You let everyone know who you are through the shorthand of your favorite bands, and your devotion to them is borderline fanatical. I think the internet has changed that, but really, back then? Social lines were drawn over whether you wanted to listen to an extended guitar solo or not.

I was in bands in my teens and 20s, too, so music is a big part of how I process things.

What do you hope people will walk away with after seeing Reunion?
I hope they find it diverting, and laugh, and are moved by it.

What’s next in your writing world; what else are you working on?
I just finished two new plays—one is a romance set during one summer on a beach outside of Providence, Rhode Island, the other is a response to the work of recently-deceased LA artist Mike Kelley. I’m finishimg the first draft of a book for a musical based on the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson, that I’m making with the brilliant Joe Iconis, for La Jolla Playhouse. I’m working on a show about Charles Ludlum with Pig Iron Theater Company in Philly. And with writer/performer Kristen Kosmas, I’m writing a new play that mashes up The Cherry Orchard with the sitcom "Friends."

What brings you the most joy in your writing—in rehearsal, or in the production process?
I could rehearse and rewrite forever. I think, with the right collaborators, that would be heaven. I envy the Russian and European models of year long, two-year-long development processes. But I want to write for other people, so deadlines and opening nights are good things, too.

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