Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"The Tempest": A New Level of Wonderment

Nate Dendy (Ariel) Joby Earle (Ferdinand), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest. Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
A Dust Bowl Prospero

The Dust Bowl, tent-show frame around this Posner-Teller production of The Tempest was inspired in part by the directors’ interest in a magician named Harry Willard, who traveled the American southwest in the first decades of the 20th century performing under the name, “Willard the Wizard.” He was one of several family members who used that stage name, beginning with his father, Jim Willard; but it was Harry who achieved the greatest success, earning a reputation as one of the best magicians of the 20th century.

Traveling tent shows were enormously popular in the first decades of the 20th century, particularly in Texas and Oklahoma, where entertainment wasn’t easy to come by. Most shows featured performances of plays interspersed with vaudeville acts, but Willard the Wizard offered his own, full-length magic show. Tent entertainments fell on hard times during the Great Depression, never recovering in the face of the rising popularity of radio and the talkies.

Of particular interest to Teller and Posner was the fact that Willard’s daughter, Frances, began performing with him at age 6, serving first as his assistant and later becoming a magician and mentalist in her own right. Imagining the life of the father-daughter team, moving from town to town in their own enisled little world, inspired the directors’ visual approach to this production, and led to the choice of songs by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan to provide an appropriately dusty, bluesy, mysterious soundscape for the world of the play.
Marc Masterson, South Coast Repertory’s artistic director, has been a friend, supporter and collaborator of director Aaron Posner for some 20 years, so when Posner began working with the magician, Teller (of Penn and Teller fame), on a new approach to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Masterson was among the first to hear about it. He followed the development of the project and, when it neared fruition, stepped up to enlist SCR in the consortium of theatres that would offer the production to their audiences.

By that time Posner and Teller had added songs by Tom Waits and movement/choreography by the world renowned Pilobolus dance company to the alchemical mix of their innovative production. The result is a show that re-imagines Shakespeare’s romance while remaining true to the letter and spirit of the original. The story, characters and the language are Shakespeare. The ethos is that of a traveling tent show during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, reinforced by the idiosyncratic, honky-tonk songs of Waits and his partner, Kathleen Brennan (whose lyrics are virtually the only words in the production not written by Shakespeare). Add an assortment of astonishing illusions created by Teller and magic designer Johnny Thompson and the entire enterprise is lifted to a new level of wonderment.

The play begins with the titular storm, conjured by the magician Prospero in order to wreck a passing ship full of hapless men (and, in this production, one woman). Prospero then explains to his astonished daughter, Miranda, why he has taken such drastic action. One of the castaways from that ship is Prospero’s younger brother, Antonio, who made himself the Duke of Milan by usurping the throne from Prospero twelve years earlier—and then cruelly cast Prospero and his little daughter adrift at sea, leaving them to die a watery death.

Prospero (Tom Nelis) blesses the union of Miranda (Charlotte Graham) and Ferdinand (Joby Earle) as Ariel (Nate Dendy) assists. Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
Prospero and Miranda escaped that fate by washing ashore on the uncharted, inhospitable island that has been their home ever since. Shortly after arriving, Prospero conscripted two of the island’s inhabitants—the spirit, Ariel, and the half-human monster, Caliban—to be his servants, and has spent most of the ensuing years perfecting his mastery of the magic arts. With the arrival of Antonio and his retinue, Prospero has finally been given an opportunity to reclaim what was taken from him so long ago. As the passengers of the wrecked ship straggle ashore in several small groups—all believing the others to be dead—Prospero sets to work on his master plan.

Using magic and illusion he proceeds to stage manage a series of encounters that completely confuse and disorient the various survivors, rendering them vulnerable to his manipulations. But he devotes his keenest attention to the meeting of Miranda and a young man named Ferdinand. The son of Alonso, King of Naples (one of Antonio’s allies), Ferdinand is the first young man Miranda has ever met, and as soon as she sees him she has no desire to meet another; and he is as smitten with her as she with him. Like any concerned father, Prospero keeps a close watch on the couple and their quickly developing love for one another, making certain that Ferdinand has the proper appreciation and respect for his beloved daughter.

Zachary Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee as Caliban. Photo: The Smith Center/Gery Kodey
That primary plot-line is paralleled by two others—one serious, one comical—which both involve conspiracies, attempted murder and grabs for power; but Prospero has control of everything that happens on this island. With the help of his spritely servant, Ariel, he engineers a gradual movement towards forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration of the proper order, ultimately showing mercy rather than exacting revenge on the men who wronged him so grievously.

And then he gives up his magic staff and books, says goodbye to the enchanted island that has been his home for twelve years, and prepares to retire to his original home in Milan—where “every third thought shall be my grave.” This being the last play Shakespeare wrote without a collaborator, some scholars have proposed that the poet had his own imminent retirement in mind as he penned Prospero’s final words. He knew he would soon be leaving his own “enchanted” world of the theatre, setting aside his books (scripts that contained their own kind of transformative magic) and returning home to Stratford, where he would live out his final few years in humble retirement.

But if The Tempest can be thought of as Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre, it is more importantly redolent of new beginnings, new hope, redemption and a renewed sense of wonder. Prospero’s every third thought may point towards death, but the play he has conjured celebrates life, and even a kind of immortality—the kind achieved through the perpetuation of love into new generations.

Love and magic are both transformative forces. Both are wondrously alive in this transformative production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Making Magic into Reality

Johnny Thonpson

The Great Tomsoni

Johnny Thompson is making his SCR debut. He began his interest in magic through the book, "The Expert at the Card Table" as a boy and has been working as a magician most of his life. He was hooked upon his first visit to Abbott’s Magic shop, “I saw every trick I read about in the magic catalog in that room. Illusions—everything was on display. And that really hooked me.” Thompson (The Great Tomsoni) has written, developed and provided material for magicians including Siegfried and Roy, Penn and Teller, Doug Henning, Lance Burton, David Blaine and The Amazing Jonathan. He was the magic consultant off-Broadway for Play Dead, for which he won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award in the category of Illusion/Magic Design. In conjunction with Teller, he designed the magic effects for The Exorcist at Geffen Theatre. His television and film credits as a magic adviser/consulting include: “Fool Us,” “Hart to Hart,” “Fantasy Island,” “One Day at a Time,” “Beyond Westworld,” The Fantasticks, Bogus, Houdini – Believe and The Magic Box.
The Great Tomsoni, the Wizard of Warsaw, Tomsoni & Company—these are just a few of the stage names used by renowned magician Johnny Thompson. Throughout his long career, he’s worked and collaborated with Criss Angel, Lance Burton and David Blaine. His most recent collaboration—and perhaps his proudest—has been with Teller on the hit production of The Tempest.

Sometimes it takes more than one magician to realize a fantastical illusion. With Teller in the lead and Thompson as his magic designer, the two came together to craft and actualize the mesmerizing spells cast by Prospero in the show.

His job is to help figure out the logistics of an illusion with magicians. In essence—he helps to make their magic reality. Together they bounce ideas off each other and find solutions. With many years of magic under his belt as well as being one of the few lasting general practitioners—a magician versed in all forms of magic from close-up to stage magic—Thompson has served as the go to source for Penn and Teller.

Thompson first met the duo of Penn and Teller in 1976, when Thompson saw them perform at the Philadelphia Magic Convention. Over the years the three would continue to run into each other—with Thompson even helping them to secure another magician’s trick for a book the duo was writing. The trio officially cemented their working relationship of over 15 years when Penn and Teller turned to Thompson for help with their first show in Las Vegas at Bally’s Hotel & Casino.

“They come up with ideas and I find ways to bring them to fruition,” Thompson explains.

With their history of work it was only natural for Teller to bring on Thompson for this adaptation of The Tempest. Early on, the two met with Posner to discuss their goals for incorporating magic.

“From there Teller and I started working out the logistics of where we should put magic in the show; we didn’t want to just throw magic in for no reason. We wanted it to further the story exposition.”

Working with magic in the context of a play offered challenges of its own. Teller and Thompson had to devise the illusions with how the audience sees the action—sight lines and angles—in mind and that many of these illusions had never been done before. Luckily, the cast has been more than capable of taking on these challenges.

He credits actor Nate Dendy (Ariel) and Christopher Rose, the show’s magic technician and Ariel understudy, as being both fine magicians and fine actors. Thompson also found that Tom Nelis (Prospero) was a natural for the craft, “I could show him something and he would do it correctly…he was a quick study. We never had a problem. He was great.”

Nate Dendy (Ariel) Joby Earle (Ferdinand), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest. Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
The illusion Thompson is most proud of is the transformation of one character into another—a trick he came up with years ago and incorporated into the show. “It happens in the blink of an eye,” Thompson says with a grin.

The Tempest has been an experience Thompson finds incredibly rewarding.

“The magic is really very unique and fits the show perfectly. One of the best things I’ve done. I’ve had a lot of fun working on it.” The audience reactions from Las Vegas to Boston have been overwhelming and even more satisfying. “When we first opened at the Smith Center, I had people come up to me and say, ‘I never thought I’d enjoy Shakespeare, but this is magnificent.’ And those are the kind of things that make it worthwhile.”

Buy tickets now before they disappear.

It Takes a Creative and Magical Village for This "Tempest"

THE CAST—Front row: Joby Earle, Eric Hissom, Jonathan M. Kim, Liz Filios, Miche Braden; Second Row: Christopher Rose, Manelich Minniefee, Charlotte Graham, Nate Dendy; Third row: Tom Nelis, Zachary Eisenstat, Joel Davel, Dawn Didawick; Back Row: Edmund Lewis, Mike McShane, Louis Butelli, Matt Spencer.
Seventeen actors, magicians and musicians join forces to bring the creative vision of Aaron Posner and Teller to life—Shakespeare’s The Tempest as you’ve never seen it before. The cast includes a musician who did vocal arrangements for Spike Lee’s latest work; an actor/dancer with an engineering degree from MIT; a Las Vegas-based mystery entertainer called “the greatest living mind reader;” and an actor who worked with Laurie Anderson and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Their many awards—from Obie to Lucile Lortel—could easily fill the stage. Read on to learn more about the “magnificent seventeen” cast members.

Miche Braden (Rough Magic/Music Direction) is making her SCR debut. She is a product of the rich musical heritage of her hometown, Detroit, Mich., where she was the founder and former lead singer of the women’s jazz band, Straight Ahead. She was a protégé of Motown musicians Thomas “Beans” Bowles and Earl Van Dyke—leader of The Funk Brothers—and jazz master composer Harold McKinney. Braden is a Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel nominee for her lead and musical direction role in The Devil’s Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith (New York City). She recently did vocal arrangements for Spike Lee’s newest joint, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and a vocal over-dub for Queen Latifah’s HBO movie Bessie.

Louis Butelli (Antonio) is making his SCR debut. His off-Broadway credits include I Am The Wind (59E59); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The New Victory Theater); and CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera (Ars Nova, 47th Street Theater, The New York Musical Theatre Festival Award for Outstanding Individual Performer and a Pulitzer Prize jury nomination). His regional credits include The Tempest (A.R.T., The Smith Center), Henry VIII (Folger Theatre, Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor), Twelfth Night (Folger Theatre, Helen Hayes nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor). His television credits include “The Knick,” “All My Children” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” He is the executive director of Psittacus Productions.

Joel Davel (Rough Magic) is making his SCR debut. With a focus on original music and creative collaboration, Davel has collaborated with composer Paul Dresher for 16 years as part of his Electro-Acoustic Band, Davel/Dresher Duo, and with the international touring Double Duo quartet. This includes performances at Disney Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall and tours in Australia and Russia. Davel’s percussion career also includes performance and recording credits with groups led by electronic-diva Amy X Neuburg, percussionist William Winant, violinist Kaila Flexer, guitarist Jack West and David Tanenbaum. As a composer, music director, soloist and improviser, Davel has appeared solo on-stage for numerous productions for choreographer Claudine Naganuma, the Cream City Semi-Circus, and the California Shakespeare Theater.

Nate Dendy (Ariel) returns to SCR after appearing as The Mute in The Fantasticks (LA Drama Critics Circle and Helen Hayes Award nominations). His New York and regional credits include The Tempest (A.R.T., Cambridge; The Smith Center, Las Vegas), Angels in America (Risk Theatre Initiative), Doctor Faustus, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Faultline Theatre), Ivanov (Hunger & Thirst Theatre) and Twelfth Night (Dallas Shakespeare Festival). He also has appeared onstage at Trinity Repertory Company, The Public Theater, MCC Theater and Arena Stage, among others. His film credits include Turtle Hill: Brooklyn. Dendy earned his MFA from Brown University/Trinity Repertory.

Dawn Didawick (Gonzala) is making her SCR debut and has been with The Tempest from Las Vegas to Cambridge. Her varied credits include the Broadway production of All My Sons (Tony Award Best Revival); the films Erin Brockovich, Christmas with the Kranks, The Amateurs, Breakfast of Champions, I am I and the upcoming Bread and Butter; and on television in Almost a Woman (Peabody Award), “Pretty Little Liars” and “Hart of Dixie.” Other regional credits include Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Globe Theatre, Long Wharf Theatre, Hartford Stage, Seattle Repertory Theatre and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Her multiple productions with The Antaeus Company include The Crucible, Autumn Garden, The Seagull, The Bear, Pera Palas, The Man Who Had All the Luck, The Glass Menagerie and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the Classic Fest series. She is an honorary board member of The Alpine Theatre project in Whitefish, Montana.

Joby Earle (Ferdinand) is making his SCR debut. His previous credits include on Broadway in War Horse; off-Broadway in Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet (Smith Street Stage); and regionally in The Tempest (A.R.T), Owners (Yale Repertory Theatre), The Puppetmaster of Lodz (Berkshire Theatre Group) and The Pitmen Painters (Palm Beach Dramaworks). He is a company member of Smith Street Stage.

Zachary Eisenstat (Caliban) is making his SCR debut. His regional credits include The Tempest, The Heart of Robin Hood and The Donkey Show (A.R.T.); On the Town and The Chosen (Lyric Stage); Coriolanus (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company); and The Play About the Baby (Exquisite Corps Theatre). His other theatre credits include Matchmaker, Matchmaker I’m Willing to Settle (New York Musical Theatre Festival) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Boston Landmarks Orchestra). Eisenstat holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Liz Filios (Rough Magic) is making her SCR debut. She is a Philadelphia-based actress, musician and teaching artist. She has had the opportunity to perform with the Arden Theatre, The Wilma Theater, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Walnut Street Theatre, Bang On A Can, Inis Nua and the national children’s television network, PBS Kids Sprout. Her international credits include Cape Town Opera, Teatro Avvaloranti, San Juan de Dios Hospital and Celebrity Cruises. Filios also writes and performs with the experimental cabaret troupe The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, the funk band Johnny Showcase and the Mystic Ticket, and the roots/punk collective Old Town Wake. She studied Suzuki piano with Sharon Rae and voice with David Smukler at Canada’s National Voice Intensive.

Charlotte Graham (Miranda) is making her SCR debut. Her New York credits include Amandine (workshop) at Cherry Lane Theatre and The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway at Access Theater. Her regional theatre credits include The Tempest at A.R.T.; Three Sisters, Build and Love’s Labour’s Lost at Chautauqua Theater Company; Camelot at Trinity Repertory Company; Beast at New York Stage & Film; and Life Science at Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep. She appeared in the films The Hot Flashes, Beijing, New York and on television in “Gossip Girl,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Hart of Dixie” and “Joe, Joe & Jane” (NBC pilot).

Eric Hissom (Stephano) is thrilled be part of this tempest-uous tour and to be making his SCR debut. His theatrical credits include the national tour of The Thirty-Nine Steps, and appearances in sundry productions at La Jolla Playhouse, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Asolo Repertory, Syracuse Stage, Cape Playhouse, Cleveland Playhouse, Folger Theatre, Round House Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Arden Theatre Company, Two River Theater, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Signature Theatre and many others. He is a director, playwright and a long-time artistic associate of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, where he was founding director of the Harriett Lake Festival of New Plays. His television credits include “One Tree Hill,” “Mortal Kombat,” and “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”

Jonathan M. Kim (Trinculo) is making his SCR debut. His off-Broadway credits include In Masks Outrageous and Austere (he originated the role of the Interpreter) and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (principal/soloist). His film credits include The New Guy, Second Hand Lions and Pastor Sheperd. He has appeared on television in “Boardwalk Empire” and “Barney and Friends.” He earned a bachelor of arts in theatre and dance from the University of Texas.

Edmund Lewis (Sebastian) is making his first SCR appearance. He played the role of Sebastian in both of the original productions of The Tempest at The Smith Center in Las Vegas and A.R.T. in Cambridge. Previously, he appeared off-Broadway in Bedlam Theatre’s acclaimed productions of Saint Joan and Hamlet (Lynn Redgrave Theater). His other New York credits include Sackville and The Libertine (Fools Theatre); The Misanthrope, Waiting For Godot, Antigone (Pilot House); One Way to Babylon, Macbeth (Chimera Theatre); and 95% Chance They’ll Wind Up Like Larvae (New York Fringe Festival). His television credits include “All My Children” (ABC Television) and voices on “Pokemon” and “Yugioh!”

Mike McShane (Alonso) returns to SCR after appearing in Cyrano De Bergerac and Dumb Show. He was an original cast member of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” (UK) and appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, Tailor Made Man and Pocket Dream (West End UK); and La Cage aux Folles and Taller Than a Dwarf on Broadway. His film credits include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Richie Rich, Tom and Huck, Office Space and Big Trouble. His television appearances include “Seinfeld,” “ER,” “Brotherly Love,” “Frasier,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” the soon to be released “Wayward Pines” as well as the British shows “Doctor Who,” “A Summer Days’ Dream,” “The Big One” and “S&M.” McShane is a proud member of Impro Theater and The Antaeus Company in Los Angeles.

Manelich Minniefee (Caliban) is an actor and physical performer living in Brooklyn, NY. In 2003, Manelich received his BFA in dance from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Later that same year he joined Pilobolus Dance Theater, where he toured full-time for six years, two years as the dance captain. Minniefee currently works as a freelance performer in New York City and has worked with artists and companies such as Tino Sehgal, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Inbal Pinto, Alison Chase Performance Group, Yara Travieso and The Greenwich Opera Company, as well as continuing to perform and teach with Pilobolus. His television appearances include the 2007 Academy Awards telecast, “Ellen,” “Live with Regis and Kelly,” “Sesame Street” and commercials for the NFL Network and BBVA Bank (Spain).

Tom Nelis (Prospero) is making his SCR debut. His previous credits include the Broadway productions of Enron, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial and Aida. Off-Broadway, he appeared in Road Show, Richard III, Henry VI, Henry IV, ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, American Document and The Merchant of Venice (The Public Theater); Doris to Darlene (Playwrights Horizons); Ipheginia 2.0, Hot ‘N’ Throbbing (Signature Theater); Passion, Orlando (Classic Stage Company); The Merchant of Venice, The Broken Heart, The Jew of Malta (Theatre for a New Audience); The Medium, Score (New York Theatre Workshop); War of the Worlds (Brooklyn Academy of Music); Lilith (New York City Opera); and Hot Mouth (Manhattan Theater Club). He has worked internationally with Richard Foreman, Laurie Anderson, SITI Company, The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Suzuki Company of Toga. He is the recipient of Obie (The Medium) and San Diego Critics Ensemble (Wintertime) awards, and Drama League (Score) and Barrymore Award (Candide) nominations.

Christopher Rose (Minion/Ariel Understudy) is making his SCR debut. He is a magician and mystery entertainer in Las Vegas. He has performed his private show at numerous hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, including The Royal Resort, The Orleans Hotel and The Harmon Theater, which is part of Planet Hollywood. Tony Hassini, president of the International Magician Society, calls him, “The greatest living mind reader.” In addition, Rose has worked as a part of the production team (magic design) on several shows including WonderGround and Jeff McBride’s Magic at the Edge.

Matt Spencer (Rough Magic) is making his SCR debut. Born in Long Beach, Calif., he has played music professionally for more than 25 years. Spencer is a multi-instrumentalist musician, who plays bass, guitar and percussion and specializes in a variety of world music. He studied jazz performance at the University of North Texas and teaches, records, writes and tours internationally, playing many different styles. He is a dance accompanist for modern dance classes at Chapman University and at UC Irvine. He was musical director for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company, Md., for his own 10-piece salsa orchestra and has toured with the renowned tap dance company, Rhapsody in Taps. Spencer plays salsa, jazz, Latin jazz and contemporary music locally in Los Angeles and Orange County.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Game of Chance and the Spirit of Hope: An Overview of "The Long Road Today"

Santa Ana in Toy Theatre

While the cast and crew have been working on The Long Road Today on a stage that covers thousands of square feet in Santa Ana’s Civic Center Plaza, three Santa Ana artists have created a stage that could fit inside a home entertainment center. This concept of a compact world of wonders—called Toy Theatre—originated in the 18th-century as mass-produced miniature tableaus of some of the most impressive theatre spaces in the world. Artists Adriana Xibachita, Chilo Te and Zuleica Zepeda are the creators of the Toy Theatre version of the City of Santa Ana, which you’ll see in all the artwork announcing The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy.
The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy by José Cruz González, a bilingual and site-specific play, brings lotería—a traditional Mexican game of chance, similar to bingo—to life.

The play’s prologue introduces La Muerte (The Death), El Diablito (The Little Devil), La Dama (The Lady) and El Valiente (The Brave One)—all iconic characters from the game’s playing cards—as play tour guides. They will take the audience through the play’s scenes of a story about a tragedy that occurs in the City of Santa Ana.

Andrés Guerrero, a young boy with no park to play in, entertains himself in the street. When his red ball rolls away, he chases after it—just as a car whips around the corner. The teenage driver, Salvador Recuerdo, is late to pick up a girl for a date and desperate to avoid getting stopped by a police barricade. The distracted Salvador strikes and kills Andrés.

Andrés is gone. Salvador is in jail. Will the Guerrero and Recuerdo families survive the fallout? And how does a community respond to tragedy?

To find out, audience members draw a lotería card that instructs them when and where their journey begins. With their guide, they’ll experience the play on a tailored four-part journey as they travel the courtyard of Santa Ana’s stunning Civic Center, stopping in different locations to witness different sides of the story.

The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy is a a powerful, funny, moving journey—and one unlike anything SCR audiences have experienced.

Director Armando Molina, composer Moisés Vázquez and the cast of 63 people—comprised of both professional actors and community members—bring González’s play to life with music, dance, puppetry and installation art. The Long Road Today is both an investigation and a celebration of the vibrant City of Santa Ana and uses fresh and ambitious modes of storytelling to illuminate the community’s experience.

The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy is part of South Coast Repertory’s Dialogue/Diálogos project, in partnership with Latino Health Access. Dialogue/Diálogos is funded by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

Reserve your free ticket for the play through the SCR Box Office by calling (714) 708-5555.

Memories Are Made of This: Friends of SCR Guilds

Martin Benson, Caroline LePlastrier and Norman A. Baker
In the early days, before South Coast Repertory moved from its home in a converted dime store on Newport Boulevard to the 4th Step Theatre in Costa Mesa, a group of arts-loving women started making noise.

End-of Season Auction
Not loud noise—they were too well-mannered for that.  But they wanted the rest of Newport Beach—and Orange County—to hear about the young theatre troupe that was producing exceptional work.

In 1974, fourteen of these enthusiasts banded together under the name Friends of SCR Guilds, working as volunteers and sponsoring fund-raising events.  By the end of the decade, membership was 180-strong with representatives from five local communities:  Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine, Inland Orange County and Huntington Valley.

And the End-of-Season Auction was in full swing.

Maureen DiDomenico, Catherine Thyen and Ann Mound.
Tana Sherwood, David Emmes and Rosemary Sieve
Daphne Walker and Doris Pascale
According to Ann Mound, an early Guilds chair, “The auction was a huge success because of the enthusiasm surrounding the event.  Everyone worked hard to get great items donated—from puppies to ponies to exotic trips, antique cars and motor boats—and we attracted so many people that we filled the Segerstrom Stage and overflowed onto the terrace.  A sound system was set up with mics so the outside crowd could bid!”

In 1980, that annual event—a variety show with silent and live auctions—raised $40,000.  “At first, we were the only game in town so everyone who was anyone attended the SCR auction,” said another early chair, Catherine Thyen.  “The event just kept on going—well into the ’80s.”

In fact, by 1985, under the leadership of Caroline LePlastier, the Guilds—which had grown to 265 members and added South County and Metro communities—threw a party to end all parties.  Titled “Calypso,” the End-of-Season Auction, featuring a steel band and limbo dancers, helped wrap up the Annual Fund Campaign with a record-breaking gift of over $110,000.

Through the years, volunteerism remained a strong arm of the Guilds.  In 1987 “Stagehand Docents” conducted tours for more than 1,800 people, Office Rescue volunteers provided over 750 hours of assistance to the SCR staff and hospitality committees hosted receptions for opening nights and seminars.

And the theatre-related parties continued—tennis tournaments and fashion shows co-sponsored with stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue; seasonal assemblies; an improv fund-raiser called “Theatre Tomorrow…Comedy Tonight,” chaired by Vickie de Reynal—events that added annually to SCR’s coffers.

During their more than 20-year span, the Guilds made a significant donation to SCR’s Annual Fund, but beyond that, Guild members added a heap of fun to everything they touched.  Who will ever forget that dynamic duo of twins, Daphne Walker and Doris Pascale, who were happy to kick up their heels onstage, singing and dancing at fund-raisers!

Some, like Doris and Daphne, are no longer with us; others have dispersed, joining donor groups like the Friends of SCR, Silver, Golden and Platinum Circles, the Gala Committee and the Board of Trustees.  Their enthusiasm still rings throughout the theatre, where they played such a big support role through its formative years and beyond.  SCR will be forever grateful.

Volunteering Today: Ushers

Today, South Coast Repertory has other volunteer opportunities, including service as an usher. More than 300 volunteer ushers assist SCR at shows by taking tickets, helping patrons to their seats, distributing programs and selling concession items and SCR merchandise. Volunteers see an entire season of theatre free-of-charge while mingling with theatregoers. Find out more information about ushering at SCR by emailing or calling (714) 708-5068.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Many Incarnations of "The Tempest"

(L to R) Posner and Teller’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet, London’s Royal Opera House’s The Tempest and Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna
Considered Shakespeare’s final full-length play that he wrote alone, The Tempest—like many of his other plays—has seen numerous adaptations of its story. In Aaron Posner and Teller’s adaptation, audiences find themselves transported to a Dust Bowl-era traveling tent show. Live magic and illusions by Teller, quirky and haunting music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and choreography by Matt Kent of the dance troupe Pilobolus have given audiences a new and unexpected take on Shakespeare’s tale of sorcery, young love and shipwrecks.

Adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest popped up as early as the mid-17th century. In fact, John Dryden and William Davenant’s The Tempest, or the Enchanted Island became the favored version of the play (over Shakespeare’s) for most of the Restoration era. But, Shakespeare’s original text gained popularity again in the 18th century and, since then, artists have turned to the play for inspiration.

Today, stage revivals range from traditional to experimental, and artists across different media have translated The Tempest’s story into film, dance, opera and even circus. 

Some Notable Productions and Adaptations of The Tempest

Forbidden Planet, a 1956 science fiction film, puts a futuristic and psychological spin on Shakespeare’s classic. It tells the story of Professor Morbius and his young daughter, Altaira, both stranded on the imaginary planet of Altair IV. When Altaira falls in love with a spaceship captain from Earth, the lovers find themselves up against a mysterious creature set on keeping them apart.

Aimé Césaire’s 1969 play, Une Tempête, tells The Tempest’s story from a postcolonial viewpoint. While much of the plot is the same, Prospero is cast as a white slave owner and Caliban and Ariel as black and biracial slaves, respectively. Caliban, who ruled the island before Prospero’s arrival, retaliates against his enslavement; Ariel takes a more passive, nonviolent approach. In the end, Prospero frees Ariel, but Caliban remains a slave.  

Forbidden Planet theatrical poster.
A published version of Césaire’s play.
Helen Mirren as Prospera

In 1979, filmmaker Derek Jarman released his take on The Tempest. The film, which drastically cut the original text, featured Jarman’s quirky and often provocative visual aesthetic and starred Heathcote Williams as Prospero. Christopher Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books (1991), which starred John Gielgud, also focused on stimulating its audience visually, using dance, animation, opera and a large cast.

Director Yukio Ninagawa directed a 1988 production of The Tempest and introduced a non-Western theatrical sensibility. In the production, Prospero played the role of director of a Japanese Noh play. 

An opera adaptation, with music by English composer Thomas Adès and a libretto by playwright Meredith Oakes, debuted at London’s Royal Opera House in 2004.

Playwright, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa—who happened to be commissioned by SCR for the play Doctor Cerberus, produced in 2010—transplants characters from The Tempest to present-day New York in his adaptation Rough Magic. In the adaptation, Caliban seeks help from a group of unlikely New Yorkers to help him defeat Prospero, who stops at nothing to regain his stolen book of spells.

In 2010, Julie Taymor, known for helming ambitious stage and film productions (including the Broadway production of Disney’s The Lion King), changed the character of Prospero to a woman, Prospera, and cast Helen Mirren in the role. This, however, is not the first time a woman has stepped in to play the role: In 2000, Vanessa Redgrave played the role of Prospero at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

The Cirque du Soleil touring show, Amaluna, is loosely based on Shakespeare’s play and is set on an island where a goddess, Prospera, rules.

Check out this video of Aaron Posner and Teller talking about their adaptation of The Tempest:

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Bloggers of Neverland—Week Three

Performances for the Summer Players’ Peter Pan continue through this weekend—Aug. 15-17. Learn more about what went down leading up to opening night as our bloggers—Maddy and Jamie—share their tech week experience—from cast bonding to the secrets of the Peter Pan hair and makeup.

The Peter Pan Experience: Tech Week
by Maddy Nickless

Peter Pan has been a good teaching experience for us and tech week has been amazing for me. Eight-hour tech rehearsals—where all the elements of the play are fine-tuned—has shown me how much work goes into creating such big production. Day one was mainly about working with the lights, costumes, hair and makeup; day two “hold,” was a very common word, as we worked through the show; day three was our first full run-through after the dinner break; and day four, we learned bows and ran the show with no stops.

The Indians
The dinner breaks give us all time to bond even more as a cast. We share random stories about things that come up. Backstage in the wings, there was a day where the mic lady let us listen to any of the actors. I decided to listen to Kira Woodland (Liza). She and Ben Susskind (Twin 1) started talking and it was one of the most hysterical things that I’ve experienced during Peter Pan.

In the dressing rooms, it’s all about bonding. The Indians got their makeup and hair assignments on day one, and everyone in the dressing rooms helped each other. I believe tech week has helped this cast become more than a make-believe family.

This week has been a game-changing experience for me, as I realize all that goes into putting a professional production together.  Working on scenes—like traveling from the Darling house into Neverland then into the pirates’ ship—has been a very fun transition to learn.  I am so grateful that music director Erin McNally and director Hisa Takakuwa let me have this wonderful experience.

The Darlings.
I decided to interview a few of the other cast members during the rehearsal process about their experience with Peter Pan:

Maddy: What was the most challenging thing for you so far?
Kelsey Bray (Nibs): Trying to figure out how a pre-pubescent boy acts, dances, walks, talks, and lives.
Blake Laszlo (Smee): The comedy with Hook, is so specific because you have to hit it perfectly.

Maddy: What is the most important thing you have taken away from the Peter Pan story?
Allison Baayoun (Lean Wolf; Crocodile): Not to take yourself so seriously as an adult.
Emme O’Toole (Little Loud Oak; Jane): Even if you physically grow old, emotionally you can still be a child; play, have fun, even if its through your view on life

Maddy: What are you looking forward to the most?
Nika Aydin (Michael Darling): Wearing my footie pajamas and wig. It’s the same one I wore recently when I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol last year.
Rachel Charny (Tiger Lily): To perform in front of little kids and see how they react to it because it was a big part of my childhood.

Maddy: Are you excited or nervous to perform in front of a big audience?
Lauren Lyons (Ostrich; Peter Pan’s Shadow): Very joyful, because its fun to experience seeing to audience see the show for the first time.
Chris Huntley (Peter Pan): Both, but more excited.

Backstage: The Hair and Makeup of Peter Pan
video by Jamie Ostmann

Go backstage with blogger Jamie as she shows you the secrets to the hair and makeup of Peter Pan.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Who’s Who and What’s What in "The Tempest"

Magic, Music, Movement and More in Creative Adaptation

Nate Dendy (Ariel), Tom Nelis (Prospero), Charlotte Graham (Miranda). Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

This imaginative adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic sets the play in a world evocative of a traveling tent show of the 1930s—and comes to life with the magic of Teller, well-known as the silent partner in the Penn & Teller duo—the haunting ballads of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and the singular choreography of the Pilobolus dance company.

The Tempest begins with a raging storm that capsizes the ship of Alonso, King of Naples, on the royal party’s return from the marriage of Alonso’s daughter to the King of Tunis. The storm separates the ship’s passengers and they wash up on the shore of a mysterious island, confused yet unharmed.
This tempest is not a mere act of nature, but instead a bit of sorcery at the hand of Prospero, who lives on the island with his young daughter, Miranda.

Horrified by the wreckage, Miranda asks her father why he would cast such a spell and Prospero tells her the story of betrayal that brought father and daughter to the deserted island. Prospero was once Duke of Milan, but his brother, Antonio, grew jealous of Prospero’s power and teamed up with Alonso to overthrow him. Not wanting to murder Prospero, Antonio and Alonso threw the duke and the infant Miranda into a rundown boat and pushed them out to sea. Luck, along with some supplies given to them by a kind noblewoman named Gonzala, sustained father and daughter until they washed up on the island. Now, after 12 long years, fate has given Prospero the perfect opportunity to seek his revenge: the ship carrying all of his enemies—including the treacherous Antonio, now Duke of Milan.

Ariel is an island spirit indebted to Prospero and helped capsize the ship. Prospero asks Ariel to next use his powers of invisibility in order to manipulate the ship’s stranded passengers. In exchange for Ariel’s service, Prospero promises to set the spirit free after the revenge plot is complete. Ariel’s first task is to lure Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, to Miranda. Ariel does this and Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love at first sight.

On another part of the island, Alonso, Antonio, Gonzala and Alonso’s brother, Sebastian, search for the missing Ferdinand. Alonso is distraught over losing his son, but Sebastian and Antonio see Ferdinand’s absence as an opportunity to gain power. If Ferdinand is dead, Alonso’s throne would likely fall to Sebastian, since the king’s daughter is so far away. Sebastian and Antonio make a plan to murder Alonso.

On yet another part of the island, another murder plot takes shape. Caliban, Prospero’s slave, enlists Stephano and Trinculo—both passengers from the capsized ship—to help him murder Prospero in exchange for rule of the island. But the conniving threesome is never quite sober enough to put the plot into action and proves easy prey to Prospero and Ariel’s tricks.

After Ferdinand proves his loyalty to Miranda through hard labor, Prospero allows the lovers to marry. The wedding ends abruptly, however, when Prospero decides to deal with Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo once and for all. In a final trick, Prospero has Ariel tempt the drunkards with fine clothes and then conjure up wolves to chase them away.

Prospero finally decides to make amends with those who betrayed him after realizing the depth of Alonso’s despair over the loss of his son. He reunites Alonso (who begs for Prospero’s forgiveness for his corrupt deeds) with Ferdinand, thanks Gonzala for her kindness and even forgives Caliban—but remains cold to Sebastian and Antonio, who show little repentance. Prospero then agrees to retire to Milan, where he can see his daughter officially married to Ferdinand and lead a peaceful life with no more magic. Prospero keeps his promise and frees Ariel and then, in an epilogue, appeals to the audience to forgive his own trickery by applauding.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

The Bloggers of Neverland—Week Two

The pirates rehearse the Tarantella.
This week our bloggers—Kelsey, Sean and Rachel—share their perspectives of working on Peter Pan. Kelsey, a four-show Summer Players veteran writes about getting to “play” in Peter Pan, while comparing the experience to her past Summer Players roles; Sean shares with what he’s learning and most excited about in the production; and Rachel documents her week of rehearsal with a behind-the-scenes photo blog.

The Magic of Storytelling
By Kelsey Bray

When you were a child, did you ever play make believe? Were you ever the damsel in distress or Prince Charming? Did you ever build a fort to hide in when you were a child? Every person says they won't grow up, but nobody keeps that promise. People don’t know how to be a grown up and a child at the same time, but J.M. Barrie's play, Peter Pan, teaches you that special skill. Peter Pan makes everything a game and everyone is always playing make believe.

Peter Pan is a very special story to tell. During the rehearsal process, the Summer Players are all told to “play” onstage. We will transition into a new scene and when we are transitioning we are in character “building a fort” and making what we are doing fun and interesting. I never truly paid attention to this story until now and I am finally seeing the meaning behind it and the message portrays.

I have been in four Summer Players shows at SCR since fifth grade and no show is ever the same. My first Summer Players show was Cinderella and I played the dove. Cinderella was only the second musical I had ever been a part with an audience that purchased tickets. I was very quiet and I don’t think that I spoke to anyone until tech week. That show taught me how to listen. I learned so many marvelous things because I was always observing. Cinderella taught me how to find my voice and all of the older actors taught me things by just watching them work. Cinderella mainly taught me how to listen to your fellow actors onstage and always be present.

Seussical, on the other hand, was the year I got to channel my inner seven-year-old for the first time. Everything about that show was about playing, just like Peter Pan. I played Jojo in Seussical and that was one of my favorite roles to play because he seemed very two-dimensional on the outside, but he was actually a very complex character. Seussical was the first show that allowed me to dig deep when analyzing my character.

I was in Annie last summer at SCR and it was one of the most terrific experiences, because I got to play Annie. The most amazing part was having extra one on one time with director Hisa Takakuwa and musical director Erin McNally, I learned so much from them. Annie challenged me to be vulnerable and to demonstrate that side of myself onstage.

Throughout my years at SCR, I have grown so much as an actor and a person and I have learned so much. I am very excited for Peter Pan because like every other show I have been in, it challenges me in so many ways. Better yet, rather than reading about the show…come and see Peter Pan and experience the magic for yourself!

What I am Learning from Peter Pan
By Sean Kato

One thing I have noticed in rehearsal is how much fun I have. The most fun thing I did was rehearse music the first week. In putting together the play, the most important thing. I have learned is dancing because I was a novice in the sport.  Peter Pan has been full of many challenges, such as learning the dances. All of this has been great, but the best thing has been learning and working with my fellow actors. The best thing has been learning and working with my fellow actors. My favorite experience so far has been the performing environment at the Summer Players level. I am really look forward to opening night, I think it will be nerve-wracking, but fun.

Behind-the-Scenes in Neverland
Photos by Rachel Charny

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