Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Down and Dirty with Brendan Hunt and "Absolutely Filthy"

Awards for Absolutely Filthy:
  • LA Weekly Theatre Award: Best Comedy Ensemble, Best Female Comedy Performance (Anna Douglas) and Best Male Performance (Brendan Hunt)
  • 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival: Best of the Fringe, Best Comedy and Best Actor (Brendan Hunt)
  • 2014 New York International Fringe Festival: Official Selection
Absolutely Filthy cast, creative team and crewat the Hollywood Fringe Festival awards.
Absolutely Filthy is a Los Angeles theatre favorite and award-winning play presented by Sacred Fools Theatre Company. This unauthorized parody about a grownup Pigpen from the "Peanuts,"Absolutely Filthy is a dark, dirty comedy that follows a character named The Mess as he reconnects with his childhood pals at the funeral of his estranged best friend.

We sat down with playwright Brendan Hunt—who also portrays The Mess—to talk more about Absolutely Filthy:

What inspired the use of these well-known characters to tell the story?
One day I was mentally loitering on the topic of the things that parents say to their kids, and the unexpected effects those things can have, and it struck me that "Pigpen" is a pretty rough nickname to endure. I totally understand that nothing ill was meant by any parent who may have actually applied that name to a messy child, but nonetheless, calling a kid "Pigpen" could be seen as saying "you are so dirty you remind of the location pigs utilize for both eating and shitting."

At what point does a label like that become inescapable? If a toddler who gets dubbed "Pigpen" grows into a teenager—who still has serious hygiene problems—is he still named Pigpen because he's messy? Or is he still messy because he was named Pigpen?

What has been your creative process of this work—both as a playwright and performer?
It has been a very unique experience and one that is hard to quantify; along with director Jeremy Aldridge we sort of had to figure it out as we went along.

I studied theatre at Illinois State University, and one of the main things I learned always to serve the piece. Whatever choice you make—be it as an actor, director, designer—let it always be something drawn from the script that serves the piece as a whole, not just any amusing whim you may have. That's been a valuable rule of thumb and very good way to find the best option when many different options present themselves.

How has this work evolved—from your original concept to what we’ll see at SCR?
It started as one solitary 10-minute episode, with absolutely no guarantee that there would ever be a second.

Photo by Shaela Cook
Sacred Fools Theatre Company has a semi-regular late-night show called "Serial Killers," wherein 10-minute episodes of five different stories are presented, like a sketch night, but sketches with a long narrative. The audience then votes which three stories they want to see return the following week, while the other two "serials" are "killed."

The show that would become Absolutely Filthywas fortunate enough to be voted back 13 times, which meant that I got the chance complete the arc of a story. At that point, the theatre was pitting together its next MainStage season, and it was suggested that I submit what was at that time called Pigpen at 30for consideration.

What I gave them was literally just the first 10 episodes, cut-and-pasted together. It was by no means a finished article, especially rhythmically and, due to the serial structure, there was a cliffhanger exactly every 10 minutes.

The powers that be at Sacred Fools eventually decided to include it in the season, with the assumption that I would continue to flesh out the script. That worked out pretty well.

What do you want people to come away with having experienced it?
A desire to go home and take a bath.

Praise for Absolutely Filthy

  • "The play is labeled as a parody... this does the play an injustice... It's the most unique play I've seen this year."—Kevin Taft, Edge Los Angeles
  • "Intense and compelling... An ambitious play... grandly served by the consistently pitch-perfect ensemble and inspired, imaginative direction."—Myron Meisel, The Hollywood Reporter
  • "Absolutely stupendous... The ensemble performances are stellar."—James Scarborough, The Huffington Post
  • "Darkly hilarious... comedy gold."—Mayank Keshaviah, LA Weekly

Absolutely Filthy comes to South Coast Repertory as part of Studio SCR, June 5-8.Learn more and buy tickets

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Perfect Match: John Glore, Jessica Kubzansky and "The Stinky Cheese Man"

Playwright John Glore and director Jessica Kubzansky are the perfect pair to helm a production of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Many of SCR’s younger audiences might know Glore, who is also the theatre’s associate artistic director, for his other Theatre for Young Audiences adaptations, including Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (2010) and Laura Amy Schlitz’s The Night Fairy (2013). Kubzansky, co-artistic director of Pasadena’s Theatre @ Boston Court, has directed productions of both new and classic plays across the country—and SCR audiences may remember her 2008 TYA production of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Glore and Kubzansky took some time out of their busy rehearsal schedule to answer a few questions about why they love The Stinky Cheese Man and how they’re bringing it to life.

John Glore
Playwright John Glore on The Stinky Cheese Man

Why did you want to adapt The Stinky Cheese Man for the stage? 

When I was a kid (back in the Stone Age, when there were only four TV channels) I always loved the fractured fairy tales that were part of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon show. So when my young niece (who is now a grown woman with a child of her own) introduced me to The Stinky Cheese Man book, I thought it was hilarious and would make a fun, crazy play.

The illustrations and text in Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s book come together to create a total experience for the reader. How did you adapt it for the stage?  

One of the things that’s so clever about the book is the way it makes fun of how books work. For instance, the title page just says “TITLE PAGE” in great big letters, and then in parentheses, “(for The Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales).” And in his introduction Jack, the narrator, tells you to quit reading and turn the page because “if you read this last sentence it won’t tell you anything,” which of course you find out is true as soon as you finish reading the sentence. So I decided if I was going to turn this book into a play, then it should be a play that makes fun of being a play. So I wrote an opening number called “Opening Number” and a love song called “Love Song” in which almost all the words are “love.” Also, in the book, Jack isn’t a very good storyteller and he doesn’t do a very good job of laying out his book, so in the play I turned Jack into a kind of stage manager-narrator who keeps getting confounded by the other actors and characters in the play, until his play turns into a complete disaster zone.

SCR first produced this adaptation in 2005. Why revive it now? Has the play changed?
Everyone who saw it as a kid in 2005 is now really old—I mean they’re, like, teenagers.  And there’s a whole new bunch of kids who didn’t see it when we first did it, because they were a bunch of babies back then. So it seemed like a good idea to bring it back. And yes, the script has changed in small ways, and the production will be very different because it’s being put together by a new director and new designers and most of the actors are different. Everyone who’s working on the show is so good that I think it will be even better than it was the first time. 

If you could add one more fairly stupid tale to The Stinky Cheese Man, what would it be?
It would either be “Hansel and Some Girl” (in which Hansel and some girl get lost in the woods, and happen upon a house made out of straw, so just for the heck of it they huff and puff and blow the house down and then the witch who lives there with three pigs turns Hansel and some girl into nutcrackers) or “Beauty and the Bees” (in which a girl named Belle decides to become a beekeeper only little does she know that her hive is full of killer bees who go crazy when they see the color yellow).  Or maybe “Snow White and the Seven Seas,” which would involve pirates.

I might have to write a whole new play to fit all these stupid tales into it.

Jessica Kubzansky
Director Jessica Kubzansky on The Stinky Cheese Man

Why did you want to direct The Stinky Cheese Man?
It’s such delicious good fun. I love stories that subvert or riff on other stories. I also love The Stinky Cheese Man’s torqued, lost-in-the-fun-house sense of playfulness. At the center, there is this storyteller who is desperately trying to tell a good story and keeps failing—but keeps trying again. And I feel like that, in some ways, is the story of my life as a director. I am a storyteller constantly trying to tell a great story, and it’s always about juggling the challenges, chaos, and other things that happen in the theatre in the attempt to tell a story.

What are some of the elements from the book that you’re excited to see come alive on stage?
The illustrations in the book are so deliciously weird, and trying to bring them to the stage is such an exciting challenge for the theatrical imagination. I love all the opportunities to lift things out of naturalism and turn them into something beautiful, weird and wondrous—that’s an exciting directorial challenge. 

How does directing a play for young audiences differ from directing a play for adults?

I’m not sure it’s all that different. I think the process is the same for me, mostly because I do a lot of plays that I call “style plays,” which involve size plus truth. They have “size,” meaning we have lifted the performance out of naturalism, but they must still retain “truth,” meaning the performance has to be genuine.

If there’s any difference between working on a play for a young audience and working on a play for an adult audience, it’s that a young audience is not polite or restrained—they’re entirely truthful. If you look in at an audience made up of children, you will instantly know if you have their attention. It’s the greatest compliment when you do, and it teaches you important things when you don’t.

What do you enjoy most about directing for young audiences?

I love directing plays for young audiences because I think we have to educate the next generation of theatergoers that the theatre is a crucial and important art form. I feel like it’s my job to shape the next generation of people who think that this is a viable thing to do with their time.

What do you do during the rehearsal process to help the actors discover and distinguish their many characters?

I’ll usually do a physical exercise, in which I ask actors to walk across the stage as themselves. Then I ask them to change one element of their walk—like an arm, a leg, a hand position, a neck position. We also look at what center the character leads from (there’s something called Laban Movement Analysis, which is about movement paradigms—light, heavy, legato, staccato, etc.). Then we’ll also ask ourselves about the character’s voice, too.

I have to say that most of the time the actors bring in many ideas, so I only have to help them find inspiration when they’re lost. And we have such rich, inventive actors in The Stinky Cheese Man that it’s almost never the case.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Friday, May 23, 2014

50th Season Comes to a Dramatic Close with Dominique Serrand's Stunning "Tartuffe"

Dominique Serrand knows his Molière, having been blessed with a grandmother who took him to the great French satirist’s plays from the time he was a child.  As an adult—and a director—Serrand has been lauded for his stagings of Tartuffe.  On May 16, First Night of SCR’s production, playgoers were convinced that this is the Tartuffe that tops them all.

“I thought the play was magnificent in all ways,” said Tim Weiss, Honorary Producer with his wife, Jean.  “The acting, the directing, the music, the set—all combined to make the performance one of the best I have enjoyed. ”

Honorary Producers Bette and Wylie Aitken, agreed.  “Dominque and the entire creative team at SCR have hit the ultimate grand slam of live theatre. A truly magical experience,” said Bette.

Strolling on Ela’s Terrace after the show, greeting cast members and designers and sipping “Earthly Desires” (SCR’s version of a French cosmopolitan) everyone agreed that this Tartuffe was a grand ending to the monumental 50th Season.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

SCR’s 2014-15 Season: From the Mediterranean to Cornwall and Neverland

South Coast Repertory’s 2014-15 season moves from the Mediterranean island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest to Cornwall in a new take on the classic Tristan & Yseult, from Mecca in Zealot by Theresa Rebeck to an updated look at the Land of Oz in OZ 2.5 by Catherine Trieschmann. SCR will present classics and contemporary and new works, including Mr. Wolf by Rajiv Joseph, Of Good Stock by Melissa Ross and Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice.

“This season features sparkling new productions by some of the most talented theatre-makers in the world. We have innovative re-imagined classics—Shakespeare’s The Tempest, seen through the magical lens of Teller (from Penn and Teller) and Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult—and fresh new plays that will soon move onto the world stage. This season will have something for everyone.” –Artistic Director Marc Masterson

On the Segerstrom Stage:

The Tempest
by William Shakespeare
adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller
songs by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan
choreography by Matt Kent, Pilobolus
Aug. 29-Sept. 28
Transformed onstage into a travelling tent show, this is The Tempest unlike anything you—or the Bard—ever envisioned! As the wizard Prospero plots revenge on the enemies who banished him, the exuberant epic takes on a new life—thanks to the music (haunting ballads by the inimitable Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan), the magic (by Teller, of the legendary Penn and Teller duo) and the movement (by Pilobolus, the dance troupe Newsday called “mind-blowing…wildly creative…and physically daring”). Produced in association with American Repertory Theater.

by Theresa Rebeck
directed by Marc Masterson
Oct. 17-Nov. 16
Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The British consul pours tea for the American undersecretary of state, avoiding her questions—with answers to ones she hasn’t even asked. In the street below, a group of Saudi women set in motion a carefully-planned protest. The results are devastating enough to ignite a battle of wills and wits—now that a life hangs in the balance. This is a riveting story by a prolific Broadway veteran and Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult
adapted and directed by Emma Rice
writers: Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy
Jan. 23-Feb. 22
A cabaret band plays high above the stage as this classic myth about star-crossed lovers unfolds. King Mark is victorious in battle, and Yseult is destined to be his bride. But when he sends Tristan to bring her back, trouble begins. It’s played out with wild exuberance—and a touch of Tarantino—by Kneehigh, the English company that thrilled audiences with productions like The Wild Bride and Brief Encounter. This is the play that wowed critics (The Huffington Post: “Utterly timeless, delightful and engrossing”) and catapulted Kneehigh into the international spotlight.

Of Good Stock
by Melissa Ross
March 27-April 26
Part of the 18th Annual Pacific Playwrights Festival
Legendary novelist Mick Stockton left his three daughters a house in Cape Cod, control over his books, and a whole lot of issues. Years later, the men in their lives struggle to be part of this elusive family's legacy.  It’s not always easy keeping up with the whip smart and very funny Stockton Sisters, especially during a weekend filled with dramatic confrontations and surprising confessions.  But good scotch helps.  And, in the end, what matters most is family in this new play by the writer whose work Time Out New York called  “zesty, muscular and quick-witted.”

Peter and the Starcatcher
by Rick Elice
based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
directed by Art Manke
May 8-June 7
They call him Boy, the orphan without a name. One day he’s whisked onto the good ship Neverland, and the century-old legend of Peter Pan gets its hilarious, exhilarating and wildly imaginative prequel. Sail with us across the seven seas as Boy becomes Peter in a swashbuckling tale of yesteryear, infused with pop culture imagery of today. Backstage called this winner of five Tony Awards “more fun than the proverbial barrelful of monkeys.”

Venus in Fur
by David Ives
directed by Casey Stangl
Oct. 5-26
Auditions are over for the day and Thomas still hasn’t found the perfect actress for his adaptation of a 19th-century erotic novel. Vanda stumbles into the bare rehearsal studio, soaking wet and hours late. She dons a white Victorian-era dress and mysteriously—hilariously—becomes the elusive leading lady. But the battle for sexual dominance that follows is not limited to the script in what The New York Times called “90 minutes of good, kinky fun.”

The Whipping Man
by Matthew Lopez
directed by Martin Benson
Jan. 4-25
The Civil War has ended, leaving destruction in its wake. As a raging storm illuminates what’s left of a once majestic plantation home, three Jewish men prepare for Passover—the owner’s son, and his family’s former slaves. Only one of them, Simon, remains strong in his faith, but it is threatened with truths about what happened in this house—and in their lives—during its antebellum days. Stage and television star Charlie Robinson plays Simon in this Obie Award-winning drama The New York Times proclaimed “haunting and powerful.”

To Be Announced
March 8-29
It might be a recent hit coming out of New York or London—or a world premiere by one of our commissioned playwrights. Stay tuned.

Mr. Wolf
by Rajiv Joseph
April 12-May 3
Part of the 18th Annual Pacific Playwrights Festival
Theresa is 17 years old, and she can map out the solar system. She understands the universe—how and why it came to be. She has a man named Mr. Wolf to thank for that. Now the only life she has ever known is coming to an end. She’s being taken away—turned over to people who are strangers to her. They can’t possibly understand her needs, when they seem to be lost, too. And they’re all asking the same questions: What is home? Where do I belong?

Charlotte’s Web
by E.B. White
adapted by Joseph Robinette
Nov. 7-23
The sounds of morning tell of something exciting that happened during the night. A pig was born. His name is Wilbur. And he’s destined to become tomorrow’s bacon—until a spider with amazing skills hatches a plan. This beloved children’s fable about love and friendship comes alive onstage—in a warm and witty production that helps young people understand the ever-changing cycle of life.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
by Dwayne Hartford
adapted from the book by Kate DiCamillo
Feb. 6-22
Edward Tulane is a very dapper china rabbit—a birthday present for 10-year-old Abilene, who loves him almost as much as Edward loves himself. But when he gets lost at sea, Edward finds he has a lot to learn. Caught in a fisherman’s net, he lands in a garbage dump, travels with a happy hobo and comforts a sick child, bouncing along from person to person through decades until he discovers the transformative power of love.

OZ 2.5
by Catherine Trieschmann
inspired by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
May 22-June 7
Oz was never like this! That’s because it’s OZ 2.5: brighter, bolder, customized for every player, surprises around every corner—yes it’s a children’s classic set in a video game world! Dee’s moniker is Dorothy 14, and with the help of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, she gets through each level on her way to defeating the Witch of the Western Realm. But what happens when she wins the game and wants to go back to Kansas? Log on and find out.

Celebrate the 35th Anniversary Season of A Christmas Carol 

This is a special year for the Orange County holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol: for three-and-a-half decades, Hal Landon Jr. has portrayed Scrooge and John-David Keller has directed SCR’s beloved production. Don’t miss this special milestone year!

Check out the full lineup!

Season subscriptions are on sale now and may be purchased by phone at (714) 708-5555 or in person at the SCR box office. Packages range from $48 to $549. Single tickets will be available to the public on Aug. 1 and tickets for A Christmas Carol go on sale to the public in mid-to-late August. All dates and plays are subject to change.

Molière's Theatre

From Les plaisirs de l’ile enchantée, the play performed on the stage is Molière’s La Princesse d’Elide. It was the first time it was ever performed in public.
Molière’s theatre celebrated the drama of artificiality. Like the literature, art and social customs of the time, the 17th-century French theatre was based on a formal set of rules and customs. While there were touring troupes who would travel through the country, often performing in makeshift spaces and on the streets, attending the theatre in Paris or at the court was a formal social event.

Performances in Paris were held either in public theatres or by special invitation only at the palace court. The theatres had a proscenium arch or a border framing the stage. Behind the arch, the scenery was composed of lavish painted sets, and the actors’ costumes were ornate. The lights remained on over both the audience and the stage, allowing the members of the audience to see and be seen at the event. When performing at court, the king would sit in an enormous throne in the center of the room with the rest of the audience positioned around him.

Like any event at court, strict rules of social behavior were expected to be followed. The creation of theatre also was subject to rigorous guidelines. The Académie Française, created by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635, was a group of intellectuals charged with regulating French language and culture. Their taste in theatre was firmly Neo-classicist: “Neo” meaning new, and “classicist” referring to the classics, the great works of Greek and Roman drama. The Académie created guidelines for “good” theatre, based on the writing of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Aristotle depicted by Raphael, holding his Ethics: detail from the Vatican fresco The School of Athens, 1510 – 1511
Aristotle wrote that a tragedy contains three unities: time, place and action. Unity of time dictated that the action of the play take place in a single day and unity of place that the play take place at a single location. Unity of action determined that the action of the play contribute to the main story, without any distracting subplots. French tragedies were criticized by academics based on how well they adhered to these unities. While these rules might seem limiting, there were several playwrights, including Pierre Corneille (1606-84) the father of French tragedy, who flourished within them. In Corneille’s heroic epic, Le Cid (1637), as well as many of his other plays, the main character makes a moral choice to do what is right, regardless of personal cost. Jean Racine (1639-99) was another highly respected writer of tragedy. His plays, including Phèdre (1677), are very passionate and poetic and often focus on doomed love.

The language of tragedy also was expected to conform to strict rules. French plays were written in Alexandrine couplets—a verse form that consists of two rhyming lines of 12 syllables each. Each rhyming couplet was to contain a complete thought. As the verse form developed, so did rules about when pauses could occur (between the sixth and seventh syllable of each line.)

Molière began his career in the theatre as an actor, but found French tragedy too difficult. Delivering the Alexandrine lines was very demanding on an actor’s voice. As a performer, Molière found he did not have enough breath to perform the Alexandrine verse of tragedy, but instead he excelled as both an actor and writer of comedy. An evening at the theatre often would include a comedy as a companion piece to the more serious tragedy that was considered the main event. Louis XIV and the courtiers often would prefer the lighter fare of the comedies, especially Molière’s. While French tragedies were considered great literature by the academics, comedies were not taken as seriously and therefore not as subject to criticism of form and language. Molière had the freedom to write in both verse and prose, and he was considered the greatest comic writer of his time. (SCR’s production uses David Ball’s adaptation of Tartuffe, which abandons Molière’s use of rhyming couplets in all but a few scenes.)

Molière’s comedies were influenced heavily by Italian commedia dell’arte troupes touring Europe. Commedia dell’arte was based in improvisation and included stock characters in a variety of predetermined scenarios. The actors wore masks to define their character type and performed slapstick gags, called lazzi. Molière’s early comedies were based on commedia scenarios with scripted dialogue, instead of being improvised. They included stock characters and stunts, many of which Molière performed himself. Molière wrote comedies for his company, knowing who would play each part, and generally he would play the lead role.

,Molière also incorporated masks into his work, but instead of simply using them to define character types, Molière used the masks as a metaphor for the masks people wear to hide their true selves. Molière’s comedies were sharp social commentaries, satirizing the behavior and hypocrisies of the nobility. Though Molière’s company had the support of the court, and was frequently asked to perform there, his plays often were censored or banned because they would insult the nobility and the religious clergy.

In a society of artifice, Molière used the theatre to mock the affectations of his audience of socialites. While occasionally getting him into trouble, his satires earned him the reputation of one of the greatest comedians of all time.

Learn more and buy tickets

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Real "Stinker" of a Play

About the Authors: Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka
Jon Scieszka (pronounced She-ska; it rhymes with Fresca) and Lane Smith first collaborated together on The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Their attempt to get the book published wasn’t a walk in the park, however; publisher after publisher rejected the manuscript, saying it was “too dark” or “too sophisticated.” Finally an editor at Viking Books responded to Scieszka’s cheeky humor and Lane’s quirky illustrations and published it in 1989.

In 1992, Viking Books published Scieszka and Lane’s second book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which critics praised not only for its whimsy but also for its insightful send up of the strict morality found in fairy tales. Many now consider the book to be a masterpiece of postmodern children’s fiction. The Stinky Cheese Man has won many awards, including a Caldecott Honor and The New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award. In 2002, a special tenth anniversary edition was released with an additional story added (“The Boy Who Cried Cow Patty”).

Altogether, Scieszka and Smith have collaborated on eight picture books and eight Time Warp Trio books. Lane's wife, Molly Leach, has designed all of their picture books.
Everyone knows fairy tales. They’re the stories full of wonder and enchantment that usually have a happy ending: the good characters live happily ever after, and the bad characters get what they deserve (hence the phrase “a fairy tale ending”). But The Stinky Cheese Man doesn’t have any of those. Instead, it’s full of fairly stupid tales.

Playwright John Glore based the stage production on the 1992 award-winning book of the same name by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. The play stars Jack (of beanstalk fame) as the trusty narrator. But, despite his resolve, he just can’t get all the fairy tale characters on the same page. In fact, before he can even tell the first story, a little red hen interrupts him: she’s on a mission to find someone to help her bake some bread. The other chicken, Chicken Licken, isn’t sure when she’s supposed to enter the stage either, but she has bigger things to worry about—she’s sure the sky is falling.

When Jack does manage to get things on track, the tales he tells are completely ridiculous. Stories like “The Princess and the Bowling Ball,” “The Other Frog Prince” and “The Tortoise and the Hair” come to life on stage and poke fun at the age-old fairy tales on which they’re based.

Take “Cinderumpelstiltskin,” for example. In it, a beautiful maiden, forced to wear rags and clean her wicked stepsisters’ home, wants nothing more than to go to the ball in a fancy dress and glass slippers so she can meet a prince. But it’s not a fairy godmother who visits her. Instead, it’s a wee man with a mysterious name and the ability to spin straw into gold. It’s not an ideal situation for either of them.

Then there’s “The Stinky Cheese Man,” the titular tale. The little man in this story (made out of only cheese, a couple of olives for eyes and a piece of bacon for a mouth) is just as sassy as the gingerbread man from the known fairy tale—except that no one wants to eat him.

As Jack navigates these warped stories, he suddenly finds himself face to face with his biggest problem yet—his own story. After all, there’s a giant roaming around looking for revenge. And in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales all bets are off…and anything can happen.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Bringing Stinky to the Stage

The Stinky Cheese Man set rendering by designer Susan Gratch.
Playwright and SCR’s Associate Artistic Director John Glore has been a fan of The Stinky Cheese Man ever since his young niece introduced him to it years ago. He first adapted the book for the stage in 2005, and it premiered in SCR’s Theatre for Young Audiences season that year. While adapting the book, Glore was not only interested in the way The Stinky Cheese Man deconstructs and parodies famous children’s stories—but also how it plays with the reader’s experience.

Cow costume rendering by designer Ann Closs-Farley.
“One of the things that’s so clever about the book is the way it makes fun of how books work,” says Glore. “For instance, the title page just says ‘TITLE PAGE’ in great big letters, and then in parentheses, ‘(for The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales).’ So I decided if I was going to turn this book into a play, then it should be a play that makes fun of being a play.”

When SCR decided to revive The Stinky Cheese Man during its 50th season, Glore immediately turned to director Jessica Kubzansky, who directed SCR’s TYA production of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in 2008, to helm the project. Kubzansky’s collaborative and imaginative directing style makes her the perfect fit for the piece, not to mention her love of what she calls the play’s “torqued, lost-in-the-funhouse sense of playfulness.”

Cinderella Costume rendering by Ann Closs-Farley
Kubzansky assembled a first-rate ensemble of seven actors to play The Stinky Cheese Man’s approximately 30 characters: Larry Bates, who appeared in the original 2005 production of The Stinky Cheese Man, as well as Death of a Salesman earlier this season; Brad Culver, who makes his SCR debut; Tracey A. Leigh, SCR’s Death of a Salesman; Matt McGrath, SCR’s Putting it Together and Broadway’s Cabaret; Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, who appeared in John Glore’s adaptation of The Night Fairy last season; Amanda Pajer, who voices two popular shows at the Griffith Observatory; and Erika Schindele, SCR’s A Christmas Carol and Jane of the Jungle. Learn more about the cast of The Stinky Cheese Man.

The talented design team includes Susan Gratch (sets), Ann Closs-Farley (costumes), Jaymi Smith and Jeremy Pivnick (lights) and Vincent Olivieri (sound design/composer). Tim Horrigan is The Stinky Cheese Man’s musical director (the play is full of surprising songs that equal the stories in their silliness). These designers have an extra special challenge on their hands because The Stinky Cheese Man is much beloved for its quirky look. But the crafty team is certainly up to the challenge, and their work not only captures the book’s essence but builds upon it in clever ways.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Extravagance Made by Hand

Fabric, patterns and Sonya Berlovitz' designs for Valere's suit in Tartuffe.
Whisk collar.
Bodices, petticoats, and waistcoats are just a few of the pieces involved in period clothing. With South Coast Repertory’s production of Tartuffe inspired by the 17th century, certain design needs and techniques are required. In an era of fashion with copious amounts of layers and fabric, a copious amount of work is needed to achieve the structured extravagance of that century.

Actor Christopher Carley in his floral suit costume.
From hand-making over 240 covered buttons to embroidering gloves to hand-crafting a whisk collar, Tartuffe called upon every able body to accomplish the design. Costume designer Sonya Berlovitz chose to remain inspired by the 17th century but played with lines and fabrics to emphasize the comedy and themes within the play. Her design is an update of her past work with director Dominique Serrand and his previous productions of Tartuffe. To help with time constraints, she refined parts of her design to ease the work load. Yet, even pieces that are typically simple, called for more care.

Seemingly straightforward, the suit for the young lover, Valere, used traditional tailoring to assemble the look. Going through the typical stages of patterns, sewing, linings and finishing touches, the suit needed a little more detail work. The trickiness with the suit lay within the floral fabric. To help accent the floral print, the Costume Shop appliquéd flower clusters from another fabric onto the suit, creating the illusion of larger flowers.

The underskirt.
On the other end of the spectrum, the biggest challenge of Tartuffe was Elmire’s blue dress. Clocking in at around 80 hours of work with 60 of those hours spent on the skirt alone, this dress demanded attention. The shop began with muslin mock-ups used in rehearsal to make sure the design was functional. Following its testing stages, blue silk taffeta—measuring at 10 yards around the skirt—was then bonded onto a knit fabric to create a sturdy layer. Then, two days were dedicated to hand-stitching cartridge pleating around the length five times to achieve the desired look.

The almost completed skirt.
The skirt was then sewn as a “bubble,” meaning the bottom hem was tucked back and sewn under the skirt. To finish it off, 30 yards of blue netting is worn underneath it with the a hoop petticoat to give it a structured shape. Hidden from the audience, a zipper was included underneath to allow the wardrobe crew the ability to lay it out and press it for each performance.

Tartuffe gave the Costume Shop a chance to flex its muscles and tackle the demands of 17th century inspired clothing. The costume shop used many of its tricks and techniques to get each design element as envisioned by Sonya. All the hours spent on every piece of costuming results in an extravagant design that further supports the monolithic styling of SCR’s Tartuffe.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Q & A with Katharine Noon—Director of “The Bargain & the Butterfly”

In June, The Ghost Road Company brings The Bargain and the Butterfly to Studio SCR. Combining science and fantasy, this haunting new play explores the delicate intersection of genius and madness. The Ghost Road Company is a theatre ensemble dedicated to the creation of new work for the stage, through a collaborative process. In this interview, learn more about their unique approach and how it led to the development of The Bargain and the Butterfly from the show's director, Katherine Noon.

Katherine Noon
The Bargain and the Butterfly was inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Artist of the Beautiful." What specifically led to the play's creation? How was it decided that this would be the next Ghost Road production?
Initially it started with artistic burn out! Ghost Road had just come off a large project and I had nothing left creatively. I wondered what it was about with regard to some people who seemed to have endless creative energy and were prolific in their output. I began to research psychology and neurology and kept coming up with the very narrow border that divides madness from genius. I know this is territory that has been well-trod, but I did find one interesting bit of information about a new discovery concerning a variant on a gene. People with this variant have an equal chance of being a genius or being schizophrenic. This led me to think about genetics and the imminent ability of parents to choose genetic traits for their unborn children. And I wondered, if it was possible, would anyone choose for their child to be a genius with the knowledge that they were risking schizophrenia?

About this time I came across Hawthorne's short story, "The Artist of the Beautiful;" a story about a young clock maker and his desire to make a perfect clockwork butterfly that would possess perpetual motion and, by all accounts, a soul. Achieving this would require "spiritualizing the machinery." The price he paid for "bettering" nature was that the mechanism required a part of his own life force in order for it to be imbued with life. I began to draw connections between the research into neurology and the short story with the ideas of invention, genius and giving life to the lifeless even if it means that destruction lies in wait. I would add that there are also connections to be made with "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley in both Hawthorne's story and The Bargain and the Butterfly.

How did the Ghost Road Company adapt the story into a play in terms of the the story, the characters, and the scenic design?
Everything we do is collaboratively created. The leader of the process, in this case me, brings their ideas and research to the group. The most important things that I can bring to the process are the questions I am asking in the development process. The company uses various, techniques to create new work including improvisation, group writing and physically based methods for creating story and character. Because the creation of space is integral to making the work, the company is always creating and re-creating the world of the piece throughout the workshop process. Certain things begin to repeat and those are the elements that stick. When we did an initial showing of the unfinished piece, the basic scenic ideas existed in that presentation. The final set by Maureen Weiss was a more designed and polished version of the original vision. Our sound designer, Cricket Myers, added a new layer to the world by underscoring the piece with an abstract soundscape. This had the effect of bringing the audiences into the interior world of the characters. If we had our way we would always work with designers as part of the development process, but often that is not possible due to schedules, financial constraints, etc. There were thematic elements that interested us in the Hawthorne short story such as spiritualized machinery, literally giving part of yourself to a creation, and diminishing one's uniqueness in order to "fit in."

The main character in the short story is a young man named Owen. In our version, we made the central character a woman named Annie. Instead of a perpetual motion butterfly, Annie is trying to give her comatose twin brother, Owen, his soul. They are twins: two sides of the same person. As the performance unfolds, lines become blurred and one is unsure if what is being experienced is real or a figment of Annie's imagination. In the original story there is an absence of a mother for both the characters of Annie and Owen. The idea of an absent mother became integral because it felt as if she hung over the world like a specter. It is her past actions that sets this world in motion. Other strong elements throughout the creation process were the ideas of genetic manipulation, obsession and consuming knowledge—an idea we make quite literal in the piece.

How has the play evolved from where it started to where it's at right now?
I would say more than anything our audiences have shaped this piece. There is room in the work to take away from it your own ideas about what is happening on stage. It is this feedback as to what characters and ideas resonate for audiences that have had a great influence on the work. When I was first cobbling together the workshop material for a preliminary public presentation, the piece felt like disparate vignettes that were heading in the right direction. Feedback from the audience at that point solidified what we knew and helped us clarify our goals moving forward toward completing the work. The ending was the most difficult thing to come up with. We did not actually have an ending until a couple of weeks before we premiered the show in Los Angeles. The other major element, of course, is the creativity and input of the company. There are many tough rehearsals where things may not be working, but the company sticks with the process and, we all wade through the mire together in order to figure out a solution. It can be challenging to exist in a surreal world and still make sense of the journey each character takes. The hours spent working through the details with the ensemble contributed greatly to creating cohesion and a dynamic arc for each story line.

What were the most challenging obstacles to adapt the piece for the stage, as well as perform it?
Time and space are the two indispensable things required in order to engage in ensemble-devised work. Unfortunately, those are the two things hardest to come by. When an actor engages in this work, they are committing a large portion of their lives to a single project. It takes a special person who is willing to settle into this process. Space is integral to creation. Because we are a transient company, we often do not have the luxury of creating in the same space day in and day out. This piece was particularly difficult because we would get established in one place and then need to move with all our materials in tow. Economics plays a big part in this and renting a space for long periods of time can be prohibitive.

As far as the piece itself, I think one of the most challenging aspects was pushing the work into a more physical direction. Our work in the past has been dominated by language and we wanted to find a physical vocabulary to support the language. We spent time in Poland in a residency with Stadium Teatralne, a company in Warsaw, and that exposure really helped to move us in that direction. Shifting gears from the verbal to the physical forced me to see the process differently because it caused me to work in a less familiar way. Another challenge was finding ways for the scientific inspiration and the Hawthorne story to merge. This meant treating both things like a jumping off point. I don't consider this an adaptation but a new piece. And because it was not technically an adaptation, there was a lot more room to create but less of a structure to hang the ideas on.

What was the response like during the Los Angeles performances?
The response has been very positive. They come away intrigued and surprised by the world they encounter in the piece. The most gratifying thing of all is what the show sparks in each individual and how it touches them personally. It is exciting to see the play work on many levels: personal, universal, literal and metaphoric.

For the Los Angeles performances, we scheduled the shows in an unconventional way. Instead of spreading performances over 4 to 6 weeks, we did 12 performances in 14 days. I believe this added urgency and created the feeling of a special event. The vibe in the audience was that they were all in on a secret together.

What prompted the idea to tour the show in Poland?
We have been going to Poland for several years; we have a relationship with Joanna Klass and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw. Joanna has been instrumental in connecting us with Polish Theatre artists, such as Studium Teatralne. We have also, under the auspices of the Mickiewicz Institute and the Polish Ministry of Culture, done staged readings of Polish plays in Los Angeles. We performed one of those plays at the Korczac Festival in Warsaw at the same time we took The Bargain & the Butterfly to Poland. All our experiences with Polish theatre have been building to the time where we would be able to take our own work there.

Poland has a very deep theatrical tradition that is an integral part of its social, political and cultural dialogue. The Bargain & the Butterfly resonated differently for Polish audiences than it did for Los Angeles audiences. I would say it was felt more deeply on both a personal and cultural level, and because of our work with Studium Teatralne, the Polish audience recognized the influences from their theatrical aesthetic. The audience was almost entirely Polish but there was no loss of understanding or nuance even though there is a good deal of poetic language in the piece. I think what was most gratifying for Ghost Road was that the piece held its own with other Polish theatrical works.

What are GRC's future plans for the play?
We are currently in discussions to take the show to the Ko Festival in Amherst, Mass., and Irondale Theatre in Brooklyn. The trip to Irondale would also include an exchange of development methods and training with the Irondale Ensemble. In addition, we are applying to a number of national and international festivals with the play. We are also currently in development workshops for our newest piece based on the Oedipus story.

Anything else you would like to be quoted on, this is your moment.
Two things I always try to remind myself of as I embark on something new:
  • If it doesn't scare you at least a little, then it probably isn't worth doing.
  • Never wait to do something until you're ready. You will never be ready.
See The Ghost Road Company's The Bargain and the Butterfly in Studio SCR, June 12-15. Get your tickets today!

Meet the Cast of "Bliss"

by Laurie Woolery
directed by Hisa Takakuwa
SCR Teen Players
Nicholas Studio
May 16-May 25, 2014

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Sidney is discontented with being contented, so, she sets off on an adventure to find what truly gives her bliss and purpose in life. SCR’s Teen Players take on Laurie Woolery’s play Bliss, directed by Hisa Takakuwa, 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 gives them their own personal “bliss.” Get to know more about the Teen Players:

Brooke Boukather, age 16, Irvine
Roles: Helen of Troy/Fortinbras

I started studying with SCR in fourth grade when I was 10. My favorite shows include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (as Violet Bauregarde), Sleeping Beauty (as Briar Rose) and A Christmas Carol (as Fan). Art is what gives me bliss. Storytelling and performing is my bliss.

Kelsey Bray, age 15, Trabuco Canyon
Role: Bernie in the Studio

I first started acting in third grade at SCR. I have been attending classes for seven years now. Some of my favorite shows I have been in are the Junior Players Sleeping Beauty and the Summer Players productions of Seussical, Cinderella and Annie. What gives me bliss is to be performing, because when I am performing I feel free and like nothing in else in the world matters but that performance.

Kiera Callahan, age 17, Irvine
Roles: Mrs. Rhodes/Joan of Arc/Rosencrantz

I started acting in elementary school in plays and I've been at SCR for three years. I really enjoyed being in A Christmas Carol and Annie. I love sharing my passions, like acting, with others and making a difference. That truly gives me bliss.

Rachel Charny, age 16, Irvine
Role: Butterfly

I first started acting at SCR eight years ago when I was in third grade. Some of my favorites plays that I’ve been in were the Junior Player's Sleeping Beauty, The Velveteen Rabbit and of course Bliss. Without sounding like a cheesy McGee, I have to say that being at SCR—acting, dancing and singing—truly gives me bliss because they are the perfect balance of work and play.

Lauren Cocroft, age 16, Costa Mesa
Roles: Melvin/Mona Lisa/Gravedigger

I started acting at a community theatre after I saw my friend in a show when I was 7. I started at SCR when I was in seventh grade and have been in the program for five years. My favorite plays were the Summer Players shows Cinderella, Into the Woods and Seussical. Spending time with my friends at a place that I love and working on something truly wonderful is my bliss.

Chris Huntley, age 16, Newport Beach
Roles: Slacker/Alfred of D Boyz/Laertes

I first started acting on the fireplace hearth in my living room, but found my passion for performing here at SCR. I started in the summer program and have been at SCR for seven years. Some of my favorite shows I've been in at SCR are A Christmas Carol, A Secret Garden, Cinderella, Into the Woods, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Snow Angel. Bliss for me can be any number of things: from my toes in the warm sandy beach, to my face in the warm stage lights. Bliss is where I feel at home.

Shane Iverson, age 17, Irvine
Role: Sidney Rhodes  

I started acting in the eighth grade, when my former dance teacher suggested I take some classes at SCR. I am now in my fifth year here. In my time at SCR, I've been in Annie, Seussical and A Christmas Carol. My other theatre credits include Antigone, Oklahoma! and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I find my bliss through discussion and debates. I love hearing people's opinions and learning from them, as well as sharing my own.

Anna Ladokhin, age 17, Irvine
Roles: Ms. Folly/Lady of Shallot/Ghost of Hamlet’s Dead Father

I first started acting at age 11. This is my fifth year studying at SCR, but my first year with the Teen Players. Seeing people being moved by the art I've created truly gives me bliss.

Guy McEleney, age 17, Long Beach
Roles: Saul/Van Gogh/Claudius

I began my studies at SCR in third grade when I was 8. I thoroughly enjoyed performing in A Christmas Carol when I played Peter Cratchet. I find bliss in relaxation and validation: relaxation because it brings me peace and validation because I feel accomplished and happy.

Grace O’Brien, age 17, Rancho Santa Margarita
Role: Fatima

I’ve had the pleasure of studying and working in the SCR Conservatory for seven years. I’ve learned so much from all the shows I’ve participated in, but if I had to pick my favorite, I’d say A Christmas Carol. There is something so special about getting to be part of so many peoples’ holiday traditions. Making other people smile gives me bliss; there’s just something about smiles that are so infectious and energetic.

Jamie Ostmann, age 15, Los Alamitos
Roles: Nun/Guildenstern/Member of D Boyz

I came to SCR the summer after second grade, so I've been here for seven wonderful years! One of my favorite plays was when I was in Peter Pan when I was 9, which was a blast. I also loved being in the Junior Players show Sleeping Beauty as the evil witch. That was an incredibly challenging role. Being with those I love brings me bliss. My actual family is the best, but I also have a fantastic SCR family. Every show I get new brothers and sisters who love and support each other, and that's pretty awesome!

Karoline Ribak, age 17, Garden Grove
Role: Marilyn Monroe

I first began acting when I was 5 years old and have studied at SCR for eight years. Some of my favorite plays I've been in are The Velveteen Rabbit, A Christmas Carol and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Also, I have greatly enjoyed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Charlotte's Web at the Long Beach Playhouse. I experience my greatest bliss when walking across the bridge to South Coast Plaza after a class at SCR. There is nothing more rejuvenating than the sensation of clearing my mind and immersing myself in rehearsal, then getting a breath of fresh air and a glimpse of the city lights.

Clarke Schwartz, age 18, Aliso Viejo
Roles: Miley Cyrus/Ophelia

I first started acting when I was 10 and I have been studying acting at SCR for six years. It's the best training I've had. My favorite play I've ever been in was definitely A Christmas Carol. This may be cheesy, but performing gives me bliss. I dedicate most of my time to it and I've had to sacrifice a lot of my social life for rehearsals and shows. But I have no regrets. Nothing gives me more satisfaction then getting up on that stage and telling a story to an audience. It's beautiful and it's my bliss.

Kaylee Wan, age 17, Orange
Role: Degas’ Ballerina

I started acting when I was 9 and have been acting for six years. Some of the favorite shows that I’ve been in are Seussical, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and The Magic Lake. What gives me bliss is my dog and theatre.

Lindsey Wiercioch, age 18, North Tustin
Roles: Kitty Purty/Gertrude

I first started acting when I was in third grade, but I didn't really get into acting until I began classes at SCR the summer before high school. I would have to say that SCR's production of Into the Woods and A Christmas Carol have been my favorites. Stephen Sondheim can be incredibly hard to sing—especially in the musical's opening number! A Christmas Carol was a wonderful experience that I am very glad to have been a part of. My personal bliss is laying under a tree, with no one around and just listening. When it's quiet and I'm alone with my thoughts and the shade, I can just breathe and be happy.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

A Fun Cast Brings "The Stinky Cheese Man" to Life

THE CAST; (l. to r. back row) Larry Bates, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Matt McGrath, Brad Culver; (l. to r. front row) Erika Schindele, Amanda Pajer and Tracey A. Leigh
Seven actors portray nearly three dozen characters in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by SCR's Associate Artistic Director John Glore from the award-winning book of the same name. The actors are SCR veterans as well as new faces, including the original Stinky Cheese man (from SCR’s 2007 production), the voice of two popular shows at the Griffith Observatory and a former boy soprano from the Metropolitan Opera. Rehearsals are now underway, so take this opportunity to meet the cast of the hilarious play that turns popular fairy tales on their ear.

Larry Bates (Cow Patty Boy/Cocky Locky/Prince/Stepsister#1/Owl/Stinky) returns to South Coast Repertory where he has appeared in numerous productions—including Mr. Marmalade by Noah Haidle, Jitney by August Wilson and TopDog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks—and he has been in Theatre For Young Audiences productions such as Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing and The BFG. Bates was in an earlier SCR production of The Stinky Cheese Man. 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 (Surgeon General/King/Frog/Rumpelstiltskin/ Little Old Man/Cow Head/Legal Guy)
is making his South Coast Repertory debut. 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.

Tracey A. Leigh (Red Hen/Goosey Loosey/ Queen/Stepmother/ Little Old Lady) appeared previously at SCR Safe in Hell by Amy Freed and In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl. As a child, Leigh’s family moved frequently, following her father’s army postings. She says she “got really good at watching how people acted so I could fit in, so I went to school to become a professional actor.” She is active in theatre and television, including “Law & Order” and “Modern Family.” Leigh also has done numerous television commercials. 

Matt McGrath (Jack/Tortoise) returns to SCR, where he previously appeared in Raised in Captivity by Nicky Silver, Ridiculous Fraud by Beth Henley and Putting It Together by Stephen Sondheim. McGrath started taking piano lessons at age 5 and studied with the Mistress of the Children’s Chorus for the Metropolitan Opera and New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center, where he made his stage debut. He worked with vocal teacher Mildred Honor and won boy soprano soloist roles in operas such as Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Billy Budd, Hansel and Gretel, Street Scene, Tosca, Pagliacci/Cavaleria Rusticana and La Boheme. He credits Honer with giving him “the greatest gift of all: a life in the theatre.”

Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (Foxy Loxy/Ugly Duck/Wolf/Giant/Stepsister #2/Fox) is a veteran of four SCR young audiences productions. Last season, he donned a squirrel costume and looked for cherries as Skuggle in The Night Fairy, another play adapted by John Glore. Mongiardo-Cooper also appeared at SCR in 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.

Amanda Pajer (Chicken Licken, Princess #1, Little Red Running Shorts, Rabbit) grew up in Ohio, where she found her passion for theatre by being in plays based on fairy tales. She was in Pinocchio, Twelve Dancing Princesses and Sleeping Beauty. As an adult, she continued her work in well-known stories including Aladdin, The Phantom Tollbooth—directed by Stinky Cheese’s Jessica Kubzansky—and A Wrinkle in Time, adapted by John Glore. She is active in theatre, television and film. Pajer  narrates two shows at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles: “Water is Life” and “Centered in the Universe.”

Erika Schindele (Ducky Lucky/Princess #2/Cinderumpelstiltskin/Cow Butt) returns to SCR for this young audience production. She most recently portrayed Belle in A Christmas Carol and earlier was in An Italian Straw Hat by John Strand and Dennis McCarthy.  She has been in several Theatre for Young Audiences productions, including Jane of the Jungle by Karen Zacarias and Deborah Wicks; Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar; June B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! and Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business—both by Joan Cushing; The Brand New Kid, adapted from the Katie Couric book by Michael Friedman and Melanie Marnich; and A Year With Frog and Toad by Robert Reale and Willie Reale. As a child, Schindele says she loved the world of make-believe; she ran around pretending to be Alice chasing the White Rabbit. As an actor, she has met people and visited places that she says she could only imagine, such as being shipwrecked in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or being married to Thomas Jefferson in 1776 by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

SCR’s Teen Players: It Begins with Piles of Scripts

Lindsey Wiercioch, Christopher Huntley, Jamie Ostmann, Guy McEleney, Kelsey Bray,
and Lauren Cocroft rehearse Bliss, by Laurie Woolery.
by Laurie Woolery
directed by Hisa Takakuwa
SCR Teen Players
Nicholas Studio
May 16-May 25, 2014

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Every season, SCR Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa is faced with a dilemma.

It goes like this: In the fall, some of the most talented students in the Teen Acting Program are chosen—through audition—to join the Teen Players ensemble group. Seventeen young actors were selected this season. That’s a lot of talented kids.

So what’s the dilemma? Finding just the right play for them to perform in the 94-seat Nicholas Studio in the spring. With her 17 actors in mind, Takakuwa begins reading scripts—tons of them, looking for the perfect one with roles for all of her actors.

One of the plays she has considered in the past is a revival of Bliss, by former Theatre Conservatory Director Laurie Woolery. Bliss was first produced in 2000 and, according to Takakuwa, “Laurie and I had talked about doing her play again, but it never quite worked out. Finally, this season, I knew I could cast all of the kids in the play (Woolery actually added characters in the rewrite), and with the acting challenges and the casting possibilities, the timing was perfect.”

Playwright Laurie Woolery
For Woolery, it was an opportunity to revisit a play she wrote 14 years ago. “I needed to reflect on what I was trying to say then and whether or not it’s still relevant,” she says. “Bliss was my first full-length play, and there was a kind of innocence to my approach.”

Improvisations with the students helped.

“Through our improv sessions, I ended up adding the new characters,” says Wollery. “As for changes in the play itself, I listened to the students, who are a great barometer for what is honest and rings true. Some sections of the play remained the same, but one was really transformed. Working together, we were able to reconnect to why music is so important in their lives, talk about the culture of fame and the current artists who speak to them.”

In 2000, those artists were (you guessed it) Courtney Love, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. This time around? Katie Perry, Miley Cyrus and One Direction.

Bliss rehearsals are underway in the Theatre Conservatory rehearsal rooms, where, according to Woolery, “I still feel I’ve done some of my most honest and visceral work. Those young students shaped me into the artist and person I am today and still continue to inspire me.”

And that’s where Takakuwa and her cast will shape the play, rehearsing after school twice a week and then moving to the Nicholas Studio for the final two weeks until Bliss opens on Saturday, May 17. (sidebar: box with dates and times)

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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Dark Underbelly of Molière’s "Tartuffe"

SCR's 1964 production of Tartuffe.
In 1664—350 years ago—Molière’s Tartuffe opened in France and was immediately censored, causing a five year firestorm and several rewrites until its eventual run (for more about the controversy surrounding the original production, peek into our program). In 1964, SCR Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson directed a production of Tartuffe under the auspices of the newly created theatre company that he founded with David Emmes. An hour or so long, the piece was based in commedia dell’arte and used masks. Instead of stirring up trouble, Tartuffe was the first in a long line of successes for a small company that grew into the South Coast Repertory of today.

Fifty years later, SCR concludes the celebration of its landmark season by revisiting Tartuffe. In true SCR style, we aren’t content to rest on our laurels and present the easy version of an historical classic, but are approaching it with fresh eyes and interpretation.

The story remains the same. This dark comedy follows Tartuffe, a clever man who knows how to work every angle. A family watches in astonishment as Orgon, the head of the household, falls under Tartuffe’s spell of ideal piety. With beautiful women like Elmire and Mariane in the family, it’s difficult for Tartuffe to keep his thoughts turned toward heaven. Tartuffe's always got his eye on a prize and knows how to play the gamebut will he win in the end?

Director Dominique Serrand has been working to perfect his vision of Tartuffe since 1998, in collaboration with adapter David Ball. Serrand’s approach to Tartuffe emphasizes the fanaticism and zealotry inherent in Tartuffe’s manipulation of Orgon and employs judicious use of religious iconography.

Serrand’s darker and layered approach to the play, rather than treating it as a simple French farce, is at the forefront of a more nuanced view of Tartuffe. Julia Prest, in her book Controversy in French Drama: Molière’s Tartuffe and the Struggle for Influence, notes that “Modern directors have, even as they have allowed themselves to stray from Molière’s original text and content, in fact perceived something that has been paid less attention by scholars but that I shall argue was present in the Tartuffe controversy all along: a simultaneous condemnation of fanaticism (or in seventeenth century parlance, zealotry) as well as hypocrisy.”

Tartuffe set rendering , designed by Dominique Serrand and adapted for SCR's stage with Tom Buderwitz.
SCR’s production of Tartuffe has an interesting history and presented some unique challenges. Serrand has mounted this adaptation twice before, in 1998 and 2006, in theatre spaces that are very different from South Coast Repertory’s Segerstrom Stage. Serrand designed the sets for those productions, and for this outing he partnered with longtime SCR set designer Tom Buderwitz to to realize his vision. They are re-imagining the feeling of the original production—a monolithic set that evokes the atmosphere of a house of worship—with imposing walls surrounding the stage that dwarf the actors. This newly remounted production is a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company and, after its run at SCR, will travel to those theatres, which also have different stage footprints. Buderwitz and Serrand worked to create a set that is adaptable and scalable, so the walls will come apart to allow for expansion and contraction in Berkeley and Washington, D.C.

Costume rendering for Elmire by Sonya Berlovitz.
Costume designer Sonya Berlovitz worked on the previous productions of Tartuffe with Serrand and is has returned to reinvent the elegant and occasionally anachronistic 17th-century costumes. Her designs incorporate the feeling of the period, while exaggerating the lines and excess, appropriate for a comedy that is also tragic in its content. The sound design by Cory Carillo is based on Serrand’s original sound design, with rich and complex music, often using opera to underscore and heighten the dramatic action of the play. The design team is completed with lighting design by Marcus Dilliard.

Ultimately, Serrand’s approach and the supporting production elements serve to highlight the darker underbelly of Molière’s text. The religious imagery is juxtaposed with bold depictions of Tartuffe's worldly appetites, and Serrand gives full value to the tragic implications of Organ's single-minded devotion to the hypocrite, Tartuffe.  Of course, like life, there are still many moments of laughter, even when it is a laugh born out of desperation.

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The Story of the Sassy (Stinky) Cheese Man, Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Everyone knows fairy tales. They’re the stories full of wonder, magic and enchantment that usually have a happy ending: the good guys live happily ever after, and the bad guys get what they deserve (hence the phrase “a fairy tale ending”). But The Stinky Cheese Man doesn’t have any of those. Instead, it’s full of fairly stupid tales.

Based on the 1992 award-winning book of the same name, the play stars Jack (of beanstalk fame) as the trusty narrator. But despite his resolve, he just can’t get all the characters on the same page. In fact, before he can even tell the first story, a little red hen interrupts him on a mission to find a friend to help her bake some bread. Another chicken, Chicken Licken, isn’t quite sure when she’s supposed to enter either. When Jack does manage to get things on track, the tales he tells are pretty ridiculous. Stories like “The Princess and the Bowling Ball,” “Little Red Running Shorts” and “The Tortoise and the Hair” come to life on stage and poke fun at the age-old fairy tales on which they’re based.

In “Cinderumpelstiltskin,” for example, a beautiful maiden, forced to wear rags and clean her wicked stepsisters’ house, wants nothing more than a fancy dress and glass slippers so she can go to the ball and meet a prince. But it’s not a fairy godmother who visits her—instead it’s a little man with a mysterious name and the ability to spin straw into gold. It’s not an ideal situation for either of them.

Of course there’s also “The Stinky Cheese Man,” the story from which the play gets its title. This little man (made out of only cheese, a couple of olives for eyes and a piece of bacon for a mouth) is just as sassy as the gingerbread man from the known fairy tale—except that no one really wants to eat him.

As Jack navigates these silly stories, he suddenly finds himself face to face with his biggest problem yet—his own story. After all, there’s a giant roaming around who wants nothing more than to get his revenge on the young lad. And in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales all bets are off…and anything can happen.

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