Friday, January 30, 2015

The Timeless Charm of "Edward Tulane"

by Andy Knight

Kate DiCamillo, author of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Kate DiCamillo
Author Kate DiCamillo was born in Philadelphia, Penn., and grew up in Florida. After moving to Minnesota in her 20s, her homesickness and the bitter winter helped inspire her first novel for young readers, Because of Winn-Dixie, published by Candlewick Press in 2000. The novel quickly became a bestseller and received a Newbery Honor.

DiCamillo’s next novel, The Tiger Rising, was published in 2001 and selected as a National Book Award finalist. Since then, DiCamillo has written picture books, early chapter books and novels—all of which have been praised by young readers, parents and critics. Two of her novels, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses, won the Newbery Medal (2004 and 2014, respectively); her early chapter-book. Bink and Gollie won the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award; and many of her books have been New York Times Best Sellers.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane was first published in 2006. In an interview with the book’s publisher, Candlewick Press, DiCamillo discussed the inspiration behind the story: “A friend gave me a very elegant rabbit ‘doll’ (sorry, Edward) for Christmas a couple of years ago. Not long after receiving the rabbit, I had this very clear image of him underwater, on the bottom of the sea, minus all of his finery, lost and alone.”

The novel’s popularity earned it a spot on the New York Times Best Seller list, and the newspaper named it one of the Notable Children’s Books of 2006. Edward Tulane also won The Boston Globe’s Horn Book Award and Publishers Weekly named it the Best Book of the Year in children’s fiction (2006).

DiCamillo still lives in Minneapolis, where she faithfully writes two pages a day, five days a week. In addition to writing, the author is the 2014-15 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane begins in a house on Egypt Street in the mid-1920s. There, a young girl named Abilene Tulane receives a large china rabbit from her grandmother, Pellegrina, on her birthday. The rabbit is exceptionally well made and handsome, with ears and a tail made of real fur and an entire wardrobe of dapper outfits. Abilene loves the rabbit very much and names him Edward.

Edward, however, cares for no one but himself and doesn’t respond to Abilene’s declarations of love. Not that he could, anyhow, with his painted-on mouth. He passes the days thinking about his magnificent appearance and little else. Years go by, and Edward’s life of comfort stays the same.

Kate Poppen’s costume design for Edward (as Malone).
One day, Abilene, Edward and the Tulane family embark on a trip to England aboard a ship. Many of the passengers admire Edward, but when two young boys spot the china rabbit, they snatch him away and throw him around—actions that eventually send Edward overboard. He sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where he stays—alone with his thoughts—for quite some time.

A great storm brings Edward back to the surface and he is caught in a fisherman’s net. The fisherman, Lawrence, decides to bring Edward back to shore as a gift for his wife, Nellie.

Ann Sheffield’s set design for the Tulanes’ house on Egypt Street.
Nellie repairs Edward and names him Susanna—a terrible indignity in Edward’s mind, to be mistaken for a girl! Just as Edward settles in to his new life, however, Lawrence and Nellie’s arrogant daughter steals him, takes him to the town dump and throws him on the trash heap. Edward is, once again, left alone.

But Edward’s journey is far from over—for each time he’s lost, he’s also found. Years go by as the china rabbit travels across the American countryside, and along the way Edward meets a variety of characters, assumes a number of different identities and experiences both joy and heartbreak. As he’s whisked from adventure to adventure, Edward undergoes a great change: he learns how to love—perhaps the most miraculous thing of all.

Kate Poppen’s costume design for The Traveler.
In playwright Dwayne Hartford’s adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s popular children’s novel, the china rabbit’s journey across 1930s America comes to life using imaginative storytelling and an ensemble of four actors who play a variety of characters. Director Casey Stangl—whom SCR audiences know from past Theatre for Young Audiences productions, most recently James and the Giant Peach and Anastasia Krupnik, as well as from SCR’s season productions (Venus in Fur)—was charmed by Hartford’s play after reading it.

“I love this adaptation,” says Stangl. “It’s very theatrical and transformative, with an actor voicing the thoughts of Edward and all the actors playing musical instruments.”

Although it’s not a musical, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane does use folk music throughout, performed live by the actors, as another way to tell the play’s story. The themes of love, loss and hope in the songs complement Edward’s tale, and the musical style evokes early 20th-century America. Yet, for many of the production’s younger audiences, these songs might be entirely new.

“I’m particularly looking forward to introducing these iconic American tunes to a new generation,” says Stangl.

Despite its historical setting, Edward Tulane’s story is a timeless one.

“We all project ourselves onto other people, and the play presents that in a clever and dynamic way that’s both fun and moving,” Stangl points out. Each character that Edward meets on his journey needs him for a different reason and each one helps the china rabbit comes to terms with the responsibility of love. At its heart, Edward Tulane is about learning to both love and be loved—a lesson that’s not only timeless, but also one for all ages.

To bring the production to life, Stangl assembled an imaginative creative team that includes Deborah Wicks La Puma (musical director), Ann Sheffield (scenic designer), Kate Poppen (costume designer), Karyn Lawrence (lighting designer) and Corinne Carillo (sound designer).

Edward Tulane’s talented cast includes Sylvie Mae Baldwin, Brad Culver, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Ann Noble. Read more about the cast here.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What is Love?

Hannah Vassallo and Dominic Marsh in Tristan & Yseult.
Love is a powerful emotion. It can send even the most reasonable person into a state of insanity—especially when a love potion is the cause. In Tristan & Yseult, love is the driving force behind this ancient myth and through it Kneehigh unabashedly explores its many states.

Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo, Kneehigh company actors who portray the title characters, took a few moments during rehearsal to answer a few questions with us. They share their thoughts on love, their favorite moments in the play and what they look forward to during their stay in Costa Mesa:

In one sentence, how would you explain the story of Tristan & Yseult?

Dominic Marsh: Tristan & Yseult takes a hard, honest look at the wonder, the beauty and the ugliness all inspired and informed by the state of love—including the lack of love and the loss of love.

Hannah Vassallo: Tristan & Yseult is a story about love with its many colors and shades.

Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo.
What has your experience been with Kneehigh like?

Marsh: I have worked with Kneehigh on three occasions in the last four years. The company has a fantastically freeing and exciting approach to devising theatre. It’s whole-hearted, risk-taking, sexy, anarchic, ridiculous, childish, profound and fun. What's not to like?

Vassallo: I joined Kneehigh in October last year. I was drawn to the company through their amazing and beautiful ways of storytelling and their use of such broad creativity of all kinds that truly ignite senses and inspire audiences. Working with Kneehigh is inspiring, creative, fulfilling and fun! The best is brought out of us and harvested to create their beautiful productions.

Why do you believe love is so compelling in storytelling?

Marsh: It's like a fire. Everyone is drawn to it. No one understands it. It's full of wonder but dangerous. It’s colorful, but very hot. It's always dancing. And you have to fan the flames or it might burn out. See what happened? I was compelled to answer this with a little story!

Vassallo: Love is something that we all experience in life in its broadness and depth. It is a part of life that fuels us and creates journeys and pathways and through it our own personal stories. No two are ever the same. We are fascinated by other accounts of love and enjoy finding connection and empathy within stories that demonstrate this fundamental human emotion.

How do you feel what people are willing to do for love?

Marsh: Love is beautiful and terrifying—and people will do beautiful and terrifying things to get it.

Vassallo: I feel that like this play, love is vast and full of colors and shapes. We are all looking for love, to be fulfilled and to strive for happiness. People will go to great lengths to achieve it and often don’t realize the strength of what they will do to push boundaries to achieve love in their lives.

What’s a favorite part of performing this production of Tristan & Yseult?

Marsh: I like skipping round the audience launching balloons at them before doing a sand dance and then pretending to be an opera diva hitting the money note... What? It's nice having a breather from Tristan's intensely tragic journey!

Vassallo: It’s really difficult to pick a favorite part of the show. I do love joining in with the band and pretending that I’m as cool as them!

Why do audiences have such a strong response to this production?

Marsh: I think there’s a universal experience when people feel the thrill and the heartbreak, the simplicity and the complexity, and the absence of love; it is a profound and fundamental part of every person's life. This production awakens the recognition of what love has done—and can do—all amidst an intoxicating mix of comedy and tragedy.

You’re in Costa Mesa for five weeks—what is on your “must-do/must-see” list?

Marsh: I've discovered the most wonderful thing in my first week here. I believe it's called sunshine. As a Brit, I intend to explore this phenomenon...

Vassallo: While I’m here I want make the most of having escaped the British winter—a trip to the beach is at the top of the list right now!

See Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo on stage in Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult. The show is on the Segerstrom Stage through Feb. 22. Grab your tickets now before they’re gone!

Buy tickets and learn more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hopping Onto a Stage Near You—Actors and Musicians for "Edward Tulane"

THE CAST: Brad Culver, Ann Noble, Nicholas Mongiardo-Copper and Sylvie Mae Baldwin.
The four actors in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane harmonize quite well—in addition to their acting talents, they all bring musical skills to this tale of the little china rabbit (Julianne Argyros Stage, Feb. 6-22). One newcomer and three South Coast Repertory veterans come together for this Theatre for Young Audiences production. Sylvie Mae Baldwin (The Traveler) plays viola and makes her debut at SCR. She’s had a lifelong love for acting, dance and music and has portrayed everything from an eyeball to a Shakespearean character. Brad Culver (The Musician) was in last season’s production of James and the Giant Peach. He plays bass. Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (The Man) is a TYA veteran, with a half-dozen productions at SCR under his belt. He plays guitar and other instruments. Ann Noble (The Woman) most recently was in SCR’s TYA production of Anastasia Krupnik. She plays ukulele!

Find out more about these artists and buy tickets.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Bizarre Love Triangle

Hannah Vassallo and Dominic Marsh in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult.
Want to Know Even More?

If you just can’t get enough of this legendary love story—here are some further reading and viewing options:
Kneehigh’s own take on itself. Visit the company website.

"If this show doesn't make you fall in love with theatre, there's no potion on Earth that can help you." The Guardian (UK)
Chances are you’ve heard music from Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. Even just the first 12 minutes might ring a bell or two, with its sad, sweeping melody that mixes with the longing of the strings and the foreboding wind section.

If you’re attending a performance of Kneehigh’s adaptation of Tristan & Yseult expecting to see a dusty old opera, you might go home disappointed. The production you will see is the literal definition of “spectacular.”

First, you’ll need to forget what you know about the actual story of Tristan and Yseult. Wait. You don’t know about Tristan and Yseult? Well, pull up a chair.

Mike Shepherd, Hannah Vassallo, Kirsty Woodward and Dominic Marsh.
There are several versions of the Tristan and Yseult legend to choose from; however, the story always starts with an uncle, a nephew and a pretty girl. After defeating an Irish knight, Tristan goes to Ireland to bring back the fair Yseult for his uncle, King Mark, to marry. Along the way, Tristan and Yseult ingest a love potion which causes the pair to fall madly in love, thus making things a tad bit … well … awkward.

In Other Words: Reviewers Love Kneehigh

New York Times
“Tristan & Yseult” is equal parts exaggerated whimsy and overwhelming rue. It presents romantic passion as a force that makes lovers levitate (and I mean literally) and then sends them crashing to the earth.

New York Daily News
The British Kneehigh Theatre company puts its vivid and inventive stamp on a legendary story of star-crossed love.
If this story sounds familiar, it might be because Tristan and Yseult is a precursor to the renowned tale of the Knights of Round Table. Remember The Lady of the Lake with Lancelot and Guinevere? This is a love triangle that is just as juicy as the Arthurian tales of old.

Setting this adaptation of Tristan and Yseult's bizarre love triangle apart from all other incarnations of the story is Kneehigh itself. You'll see for yourself in their performances at SCR. Kneehigh describes themselves as having “built a reputation for creating vigorous and popular theatre for audiences throughout the UK and beyond..” And with their critically acclaimed production of Tristan & Yseult (originally created in 2004), Kneehigh launched itself onto the international stage.

In their words: “This is the original tale of forbidden desires, broken hearts and the agony of choosing one human being over another. Seen through the eyes of the 'Unloved', Tristan & Yseult blends comedy, live music, grand passion and tender truths, in an irresistible night of love.”

The New York Daily News had high praise for this production:
"The visually and emotionally intoxicating “Tristan & Yseult” takes you on a journey, which, as love itself often does, goes from happy hijinks to hapless heartache."
This highly inventive, electrically charged account of love gone wrong has toured internationally, making American stops at major theatres including Berkeley Repertory, the Guthrie Theatre and St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York. Blending acrobatics, live music and unconventional story-telling, Kneehigh’s production is an exhilarating take on a vintage yarn. So, come in, sit down and join us in the Club of the Un-Loved. We guarantee you’ll never look at love (requited or otherwise) the same way again.

Learn more and buy tickets

Thursday, January 15, 2015

First Night Audience Deeply Moved by "The Whipping Man"

On Friday, January 9th, First Nighters and their guests gave The Whipping Man a rousing—and sincerely felt—standing ovation.

But the enthusiasm didn’t end with their applause. Playgoers had the opportunity to talk about the gripping drama with its artists (including Director Martin Benson and actors Charlie Robinson, Adam Haas Hunter and Jarrod M. Smith) during the Cast Party, co-hosted by Antonello Ristorante.

The Honorary Producers (Barbara Roberts & Brooke Roberts-Webb and Mary Beth Adderley) weren’t able to attend First Night but will have the opportunity to see the play and congratulate the artists soon. Until then, First Night conversation was glowing, as were the reviews which followed.
  • “A powerhouse … anchored by two crucial ingredients—compassion and … faith.”—OC Register
  • “Exceptionally riveting drama … Richly structured, depth-layered performances.”—Huntington Beach Independent
  • “Multi-dimensional story…brought to life in incredibly dynamic ways.”— Splash

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

"The Whipping Man": Milestone Production for Composer Michael Roth

Michael Roth
Roth’s Moments—Fond Theatre Memories

“It’s not so much that I have favorite shows, as much as there are moments from a lot of productions that I remember where all of the elements—including what I was doing—worked really well together and created a moment that was unique.” Those theatre moments for Roth include (in chronological order, with some of his thoughts):
John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman in
Man and Superman, 1990.

Man and Superman George Bernard Shaw, 1990-91) – “At the end of the first act, as a prelude to Don Juan in Hell, I used Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” as the cast danced offstage, leaving Jack Tanner alone, to end the act. It rocked in a pretty great way, and was funny and sort of eerily beautiful, too.”

The Education of Randy Newman (Randy Newman, Michael Roth, Jerry Patch, 1999-2000): “We developed a piece that Randy was very much a part of and it continued beyond SCR. Randy learned a lot about theatre working with us, for which I know he’s grateful, and personally, I got to play two hours of rock’n’roll piano every night. The play was called by a reviewer, ‘a graduate course in what songwriting can do, and how smart theatre people can make ideas into events that move, amuse, and engage us.’”

Mr. Marmalade (Noah Haidle, 2003-04): “I recorded the score, as I often do, with my dear friend the great guitarist Peter Sprague, at his studio. Peter, when he recorded the first guitar part, counted himself in, saying, ‘One, two, three.’ It sounded so perfect for the play to have someone count and then start to play that we kept it, and it started and ended the play itself—I loved it so much, I’ve used if for a few other projects as well, though none so special as the world premiere of Mr. Marmalade.”

Sight Unseen, Dinner With Friends, Brooklyn Boy (Donald Margulies, 1991-92, 1998-99, 2004-05): “Three world premieres, two directed by Daniel Sullivan, and all of them moved to Broadway or off-Broadway. I’m very proud to have written the scores and collaborated with Donald and Dan.”

Nothing Sacred (George F. Walker, 2006-7): “I translated the stage directions into Russian, and the cast sang them as change of scene music. At the end, the stage direction says the characters are “Sitting, chuckling, eating apples—blackout.” I had the two actors sing those words in Russian, and somehow it did communicate a sense of their going on (and the Russian Revolution maybe). Music can do that.”

Misalliance (George Bernard Shaw, 2010-11): “There’s a plane crash just off stage, and using the sound of a lawn mower and embellishing it slowly (with the help of LCS), I almost made you think an old plane traveled slowly from the parking structure, entered the Segerstrom house left, traveled across the stage and slammed into a crash box off stage left—a pure sound design moment, not bad.”

The Whale, Rest (Samuel D. Hunter, 2012-13, 2013-14): Roth is proud of his recent work on two Samuel D. Hunter productions, The Whale and Rest. Roth was delighted to find out that Hunter had studied music composition and was sensitive to how contemporary musical choices could deepen the impact of his play. “My music and sound is heavily influenced by American composer John Cage—his use of silence and how elements sound all go into a composition. Sam was very appreciative of the Cagean elements of my score for The Whale, especially the prepared piano. In Rest, the sound of the door was a realistic sound element that took on almost iconic importance. I actually filmed what an automatic door would do, foleyed the sound and showed the new film to Martin.”
Michael Roth sits in a room with keyboards, multiple computer screens and even more equipment set up in South Coast Repertory’s recording studio. He’s composing the music and sound for The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez, directed by Martin Benson; it is Roth's 55th production at SCR over a quarter-century.

American Theatre Magazine described Roth's work—including his chamber music, opera and music and theatre, film, and more than 200 projects for theatre—as “music one could imagine Charles Ives composing had he lived long enough to encounter rock-and-roll and beat poetry.” Roth’s many projects include work with PBS, Disney, Canada’s Stratford Festival, collaborations with Culture Clash, Sarah Ruhl, Des McAnuff, accompanying Alicia Keyes, Tom Stoppard, two recent projects with Christopher Plummer (The Tempest and Plummer's one-man show, A Word or Two), and many projects with Randy Newman, including their acclaimed SCR collaboration, The Education of Randy Newman (2000), for which Roth was music director, arranger and pianist.

“I am a composer who creates and exploits a lot of sound in my work, so I don’t see them as separate jobs; sound is always a ‘musical gesture.’” Roth adds, “Thrilling as it is to work as often as I have with great directors, actors and designers, the most joyous part of what I do is to get to work with great musicians. They bring a skill set, imagination, and passion to every note you write that inspires and never ceases to amaze me.”

SCR is a special place for Roth—it’s where he first got to work with a computerized sound system back in 1988, when Benson directed Roth’s first SCR production—the award-winning production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It included a 30-minute pre-show where Roth changed the “sound picture every 30 seconds. That was the first time I was able use the computer as a compositional tool in a theatre space, something we pretty much take for granted nowadays.”

Kandis Chappell and James Sutorias in SCR's 1988
production of The Crucible.
Roth adds, “Martin and I have such a good relationship, and I'm grateful that he trusts me to bring a certain sensitivity to what he’s working on.”

Benson enjoys working with Roth, saying, ‘Michael is a gifted composer and musician who does fabulous work. I appreciate that when his work calls for music, he brings live musicians into the studio to record.”

Roth’s work often has caught the attention of Orange County Register theatre critic Paul Hodgins. “Michael’s stylistic range is astounding,” Hodgins says. “He shows a chameleon-like ability to create a score that is perfect for the context.”

Libby West, Sue Cremin and Rob Nagle in SCR's 2014
production of Rest.
For The Whipping Man, Roth has been intrigued by several characteristics.

“For example, in the play, it’s raining all the time, so I had to find ways for the rain to be present without being a distraction. And there are the Jewish themes in the play, as well the Civil War—all of these come together in the score, including the use of the Shofar, recorded voices, strings, trumpet, and piano—all in the rain.”

Roth worked tirelessly in SCR’s studio for The Whipping Man, using the multiple keyboards—computer and musical—in the room.

“When I’m not doing a gig somewhere, I try to compose as much as I can every day. That is what I really like and it's my job—to write,” he says.

He’s never one to be still for long. Roth’s upcoming projects include a chamber music/theatre treatment of Beckett’s Imagination Dead Imagine—which he describes as “my most personal piece, Beckett himself gave me permission to set his text”—a sonata for toy piano, to be premiered in LA in the spring, and a new opera for YouTube.

Find out more information about Roth and his work online.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Meet the Cast of "Tristan & Yseult"

The cast, with Kristy Woodward center, in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult. Photo by Richard Termine.
Hannah Vassallo and Dominic Marsh in Tristan & Yseult.  Photo by Richard Termine.
Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult is an imaginative retelling of the Cornish love myth of the same name. Live music, dance, aerial acrobatics and sharp wit come together in this wildly ambitious production. And, with so many diverse elements in the show, it’s only fitting that the cast reflects the same diversity.

Tristan & Yseult teems with talent; its international cast of actors and musicians has resumes that span many different artistic forms. Whether in original works, theatre, dance, television or film, they all flex their creative talents and bring varied experiences to shape Tristan & Yseult. Best of all, each is making his or her SCR debut this month!

Niall Ashdown (Morholt, Brangian) is an actor/writer/performer with an extensive background in improvised theatre and comedy. His stage work includes regular guest appearances with London’s Comedy Store Players, improvising operas with Impropera, and as part of Improbable’s Animo and Lifegame. He has written and performed two solo shows, Hungarian Bird Festival and The Man Who Would Be Sting. On television, Ashdown has been seen in a number of shows, including “Whose Line Is it Anyway?” He has written to the poems from A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad. 

Damon Daunno (Frocin) is an actor musician of New Jersey and a graduate from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is thrilled to be making his first appearance at South Coast Repertory. His other Kneehigh shows include Brief Encounter and The Wild Bride. He is a multi-instrumentalist and composer and has scored feature length and short films. His original music can be found on iTunes.

Tom Jackson Greaves (Lovespotter, Brute and Animator) was born in Cornwall and trained at Laban and London Contemporary Dance School. His performance credits include extensive touring for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures including Cinderella, Nutcracker!, the 25th anniversary tour of Early Adventures and most recently the principal role of Carabosse/Caradoc in the worldwide tour of Sleeping Beauty. Greaves also has created his own dance-theatre work, including Seven Deadly Sins and Vanity Fowl. He was a winner of the New Adventures Choreographic Award 2012, and is a member of the dance faculty at the Musical Theatre Academy. 

Róbert Luckay (Lovespotter, Brute and Animator) received his training at the University of Arts in Bratislava, Slovakia. His theatre credits include Aloysius Mogarich in Master and Margarita, The Red Shoes (Kneehigh), The Overcoat (Gecko Theatre), A Matter of Life and Death (NT/Kneehigh), Iachimo in Cymbeline (Royal Shakespeare Company/Kneehigh), Pericles in Pericles and Adam in Man Falling Down (Globe) and Dionysus in The Bacchae (Kneehigh). His film and television credits include Mission Impossible 5, “Foreign John,” “Strike Back” and the radio program “Solo Behind The Iron Curtain.”

Dominic Marsh (Tristan) has numerous theatre credits, including Macheath in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) (Kneehigh), Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice (Bury St. Edmunds), The Actor in The Woman in Black (West End), Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Prince Charming in Cinderella (Oxford Playhouse) and Jonathan Harker in Dracula (Derby Playhouse). His film and television credits include Lucky Stiff and “DCI Banks.” In collaboration with Dougal Irvine, Marsh recently wrote the book for The Other School, a new musical commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre.

Mike Shepherd (King Mark) started Kneehigh in 1980 and has worked almost exclusively for the company ever since. He is an actor, director and teacher and has an ongoing preoccupation with the conditions of creativity. He is currently joint artistic director with Emma Rice and most recently directed Kneehigh’s new version of The Beggar’s Opera, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). His recent shows as an actor include Tristan & Yseult, The Red Shoes, Cymbeline, A Matter of Life and Death, Steptoe and Son and the film, Anna Karenina. His recent work as a director includes Hansel and Gretel and A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (with Little Angel Theatre). Shepherd portrays a pirate in the forthcoming movie, Pan.

Hannah Vassallo (Yseult) received her training at Rambert School. She has been a principal dancer for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and has performed and created numerous roles at Sadlers Wells in London, throughout the UK and internationally. Her theatre credits include Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Clara in Nutcracker and Kim Boggs in Edward Scissorhands. She also has performed in London’s West End, including the leading role of Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing. Earlier this year, Vassallo was nominated by the Critics Circle National Dance Awards for Outstanding Female Performance for the role of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.

Kirsty Woodward (Whitehands) received her training at National Youth Theatre and Kneehigh. She has worked with Kneehigh in Cymbeline, Rapunzel, A Matter of life and Death, Blast, Midnight’s Pumpkin and Steptoe and Son. Her other theatre work includes Stuart, A Life Backwards (Hightide), The Way of the World (Sheffield Crucible), Beauty and The Beast (Told by an Idiot), A Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, The Grainstore, American Trade and Romeo & Juliet (Royal Shakespeare Company). 

Stu Barker (Musician) has worked extensively as composer/musical director with Kneehigh Theatre over the last 20 years. His shows include A Matter Of Life And Death and Tristan & Yseult (Royal National Theatre), Brief Encounter (Broadway/West End), Cymbeline (Royal Shakespeare Company), Hansel and Gretel (Bristol Old Vic), The Bacchae and The Wooden Frock (West Yorkshire Playhouse), The Red Shoes (Lyric Hammersmith), The Wild Bride, Rapunzel and Midnight Pumpkin (BAC) and Pandora’s Box (Northern Stage). Recently, Barker has been touring as trombonist with C. W. Stoneking & His Primitive Horn Orchestra.

James Gow (Musician) is a multi-instrumentalist and composer from Kent who earned a BA in music from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Outside of theatre, he performs with Cocos Lovers, as well as other Kent- and London-based bands, including the genre-hopping jazz-fusion group Lunch Money. Tristan & Yseult is Gow’s third show with Kneehigh, following tours of Brief Encounter and Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other Love Songs). Most recently, he appeared as Glowworm in James & the Giant Peach (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

Pat Moran (Musician) has composed original music and lyrics for over a dozen professional theater productions and served as resident composer/lyricist/music director for the San Francisco Mime Troupe from 2007-13. He recently performed as a multi-instrumentalist in the world premiere of An Audience With Meow Meow last year at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Originally from Boston, he received an MFA performer-composer degree from the California Institute for the Arts and a BFA in philosophy with a concentration in ethics and public policy from Clark University. He has been an artist-in-residence at universities including the University of San Francisco, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Cal State Fresno.

Justin Lee Radford (Musician) is a Cornish-born composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and writer. As a child, he was taught music by his father and has since busked and played his way across the lands, enjoying international touring and festival stages. He also composes for film, poetry and installations as a member of the Human Suits Collective. He assists in musical workshops aimed towards empowering local children, and writes and produces music for other artists. He has just finished a UK tour of Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). 

Lizzy Westcott (Musician) has scored and musical-directed for several shows with the Bristol Old Vic and the Bike Shed Theatre; she is co-director for the Bristol-based company Twisted Theatre. Westcott performs with Eleven Magpies, a quartet featuring original music by Kneehigh’s Ian Ross, and is co-directing Death and Treason, Rhyme and Reason, a song-cycle for adults based on the dark and dirty origins of nursery rhymes. This is her second tour with Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult.

Learn more and buy tickets

Monday, January 12, 2015

Win a Segerstrom Stage 3-Play Subscription!

Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult.
Photo by Richard Termine.

Contest Details

Grand Prize
A Segerstrom Stage three-play subscription with two tickets each to see Tristan & Yseult, Of Good Stock and Peter and the Starcatcher!

How to Enter 
  1. Make a video where you act out a love song as a monologue or scene with a friend
  2. Keep the video length between 30 seconds and one minute 
  3. Upload your video on YouTube and subscribe to SCR's YouTube channel
  4. Tweet the video link to @SouthCoastRep or email your video link to
Deadline: Jan. 30, 2015. A panel of judges will choose the most outstanding video as a winner. The winner will be announced on Feb. 2, 2015. 
The story of Tristan & Yseult is a romantic epic about true love—played out by Kneehigh with stunning theatricality and full of endless surprises! Here’s another surprise: we want to see how theatrical you can get when it comes to love. 

Enter our “Lover-Logues” contest and show off your acting skills—or dust them off—by turning your favorite love song into a monologue! Film it and be dramatic, hilarious or even a little bit weird; but most of all, have fun. We’ll share our favorites on SCR’s social media and choose one grand prize winner.

Watch our video for examples of  "Lover-Logues!"

See Tristan & Yseult on the Segerstrom Stage, Jan. 23-Feb. 22! Click here for tickets and more info.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Four Questions with "The Whipping Man's" Jarrod M. Smith

Jarrod M. Smith as "John" in The Whipping Man

Jarrod M. Smith is at an incredible milestone in his acting career: he's making his professional acting debut in South Coast Repertory's production of The Whipping Man. He studied acting at the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and took time to answer our four questions for MyStage, SCR's discounted ticket program for those 15-to-25 years old.

What drew you into acting?
I've always been fascinated with the movies. Films would suck me into a variety of worlds that would have a lasting impression on me. My parents used to take me; I still remember going with my father on Christmas Day to see Street Fighter.

What’s been the biggest challenge you've faced building your acting career?
Figuring out where I fit in! When I first started acting, I was around people who had acted for a little while longer, but they had regular jobs and acting was their hobby. When I studied at the American Conservatory Theater, some of my classmates had been acting for many years and it was their career. I always knew I could get in stage or film and play ball with the best of them. Even if I really couldn't at the time.

Adam Hass Hunter and Jarrod M. Smith in The Whipping Man
You’re making your SCR debut and professional debut with The Whipping Man. Can you speak on that and what that means to you? 
I couldn't ask for more. It’s an honor to be making my debut as a professional at South Coast Repertory with this specific play. Great opportunity.

What advice can you give to aspiring actors?
Advice? I still need advice! But, the one thing I have learned is that if you don't hustle, you'll never be seen. The most talented of actors will never be seen if the "hustle" gene isn't in them. Don't be that actor.

More About MyStage

MyStage is a special program designed for 15- to-25-year-olds. Members get a special discount, $10 tickets for shows at South Coast Repertory. It’s like student rush, but you can get great seats by purchasing tickets up to a month in advance! Members also get access to exclusive social events and behind-the-scenes updates.

Ready to join? It’s free and easy to sign up. Just e-mail the following to
  • Full Name:
  • Address:
  • Phone Number:
  • Birthday and Year:
  • Email (not your parents’):
  • School Attending (if applicable):

Learn more and buy tickets

Monday, January 5, 2015

Designing the Look of Destruction for "The Whipping Man"

Designer Tom Buderwitz on the set of The Whipping Man.
What do you do when the playwright calls for his story to be set in a destroyed-by-war formerly grand home in Richmond, Va? Put in a call to Tom Buderwitz. The Los Angeles-based scenic designer has worked with South Coast Repertory on productions since the 1998-99 season, including Bach at Leipzig, The Heiress, Collected Stories, Three Days of Rain and 13 seasons with A Christmas Carol.  He also is one of the most-respected West Coast-based designers. Variety has called his work “gorgeous” (Gigi), and the Los Angeles Times says his work is “breathtaking” (Putting It Together, The Autumn Garden) and “superb” (Crimes of the Heart). For The Whipping Man,  he has created an achingly beautiful and war-torn set. Learn more about his design process in the conversation below.

What drew you first to scenic and set design?
I came across the renderings of Robert Edmond Jones and Jo Mielziner in theatre books as a freshman in high school. I thought they were so poetic, magical and evocative. They captured the essence of the theatrical moment.

Who would you cite as your mentor—and how did that person work with/inspire you?
Allen Cornell was my scenic design teacher at Adelphi University. He is a fantastic designer who passed on a solid foundation in theatrical design and he instilled in me the idea of creating the right world for a play.

What makes you most proud of the work that you do?
Seeing it all come together with all of the other elements: acting, direction, costume, lighting and sound. My sets never feel complete until actors in costume under light appear.

What keeps bringing you back to SCR?
SCR has created a great working environment. I feel fully supported here and am encouraged to dream and push the boundaries of my craft. It is a place where I can freely exercise my design muscles. There is great reverence for the work here and an inherent professionalism that is ever inspiring.

What is your process in approaching a design like The Whipping Man?

It always starts with the text first. Having a pure first read is a theatrical experience, just me and the play (playwright). Then comes research and a lot of dialogue with Director Martin Benson about the play. We next spent time developing the plan (layout) of the set, carefully working through blocking possibilities and sightlines. In design, form follows function, and the way the design works has to take precedent over what it looks like. A well-functioning design will then take care of much of the form a design takes on.

What did you find most creatively challenging?
Probably finding the right level of destruction and deterioration in this set. It was supposed to have been a very nice place not very long ago, but the end of the war and recent events have wreaked great havoc on this house. Trying to find the right balance here was crucial.

What should audience members note about the set as they watch the play?
Don’t note anything. Take the set at face value and listen and watch the play unfold. The set is big and grand and almost another silent character all on its own. Hopefully the set will make sense and just be accepted as the right place for this story.

Learn more and buy tickets.