Friday, February 27, 2015

Culture and Generation at a Crossroads

The United States calls itself a nation of immigrants. It has a poly-cultural set of social traditions—mostly anniversary holidays—which commemorate events and people from our two-and-a-quarter century past.

Japan is a mono-racial island nation (sokoku), isolated and closed to outsiders for more than a thousand years. In that time, strong traditions—based on rice-farming and seafood, weather with distinct seasons, a vertical “top-down” social hierarchy (jumbahn) and religion (Confucian, Shinto and Buddhist)—dictated and controlled the behavior of its people.

Historically, Japanese have venerated and respected their elders, teachers and social superiors; practiced self-restraint and suffered in silence (gaman); and placed group welfare (wa) above that of the individual. A familiar Japanese maxim is: “the nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”

While Americans support group welfare at home and abroad, it is a value secondary to the individual’s right to do as s/he legally pleases. “Be yourself,” Americans are told; and discovering the identity and expression of that self is up to each of us. By contrast, Japanese are taught that life is a process of “becoming”: one strives to embody and perfect a centuries-old set behavioral ideal.

Making sushi.
The inevitable tension between tradition and individuality is at the heart of Kimber Lee’s tokyo fish story. Koji, a sushi master (shokunin) in his late 60s, is still revered by native Japanese and foodie tourists for the perfection of the meals he creates at Sushi Koji, his small Tokyo restaurant. But overfishing has increased the cost and decreased the dependability of preparing the finest sushi, and his clientele has diminished.

Given those conditions, lesser chefs—who apprenticed under Koji—have abandoned traditional values. One of them now runs a popular restaurant chain serving inferior versions of the cuisine for less and marketed like fast food franchises. Daisuke, a top manager for that firm, is making offers to take over Koji’s restaurant; and failing that, to hire away his loyal help.

The most valued member of Koji’s shrinking staff—his sous chef or number two—is Takashi, who has worked under him for 20 years. Takashi’s blooming expertise and creativity as a sushi chef is kept under wraps. Tradition dictates he must prepare and serve Koji’s menu and that menu only.

Nobu, in his late 20s, blends Japanese hip-hop style with the patois of American rap (“Oishi—your lateness prevents your greatness, my dude!”). He has been working under Takashi for five years, moving up from apprentice to basic kitchen chores. His contemporary mindset allows him to honor Koji’s tradition, while urging Takashi, whose talents Nobu recognizes, to create new solutions.

In 2015, few Japanese youth are willing to spend the years necessary to apprentice in a sushi kitchen, and Sushi Koji has experienced rapid turnover in that bottom level position. The young men who apply are unreliable and/or deficient, and tradition dictates that the position cannot be filled by women—though Ama, a punked-out Goth, is eager to try.

As Koji struggles daily to sustain the values and excellence he has pursued all his life, his age, the past and the ongoing decline of sushi’s key ingredients combine to bring Sushi Koji to a crisis—one which ultimately brings loss and liberation for all who work there.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Going By the Book: An Excerpt from "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane"

Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Ann Noble in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
The book cover.
Author Kate DiCamillo says a very elegant rabbit doll she received as a gift inspired her writing of the wondrous tale, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

“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,” DiCamillo relates.

“I wasn’t thinking particularly of other books when I was writing Edward, but looking back, I can see that I was influenced by some pretty powerful stories: The Mouse and His Child, Pinocchio, Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland. I can see the influence of all of those masterpieces in my small story,” she says. 

Below is an excerpt from chapters eight and nine from DiCamillo’s book. We join the story just after the fisherman, Lawrence, rescues Edward from the sea.

On land, the old fisherman stopped to light a pipe, and then, with the pipe clenched between his teeth, he walked home, carrying Edward atop his left shoulder as if he were a conquering hero. The fisherman balanced him there, placing a callused hand at Edward’s back. He talked to him in a soft, low voice as they walked.

“You’ll like Nellie, you will,” said the old man. “She’s had her sadness, but she’s an all-right girl.”
Edward looked at the small town blanketed in dusk: a jumble of buildings huddled together, the ocean stretching out in front of it all; and he thought that he would like anything and anybody that was not at the bottom of the sea.

“Hello, Lawrence,” called a woman from the front of a shop. “What have you got?”

“Fresh catch,” said the fisherman, “fresh rabbit from the sea.” He lifted his cap to the lady and kept walking.

“There you are, now,” said the fisherman. He took the pipe out of his mouth and pointed with the stem of it at a star in the purpling sky. “There’s your North Star right there. Don’t never have to be lost when you know where that fellow is.”

Edward considered the brightness of the small star.

Do they all have names? he wondered.

“Listen at me,” said the fisherman, “talking to a toy. Oh, well. Here we are, then.” And with Edward still on his shoulder, the fisherman walked up a stone-lined path and into a little green house.

“Look here, Nellie,” he said. “I’ve brought you something from the sea.”

“I don’t want nothing from the sea,” came a voice.

“Aw, now, don’t be like that, Nell. Come and see, then.”

An old woman stepped out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on an apron. When she saw Edward, she dropped the apron and clapped her hands together and said, “Oh, Lawrence, you brung me a rabbit.”

“Direct from the sea,” said Lawrence. He took Edward off his shoulder and stood him up on the floor and held on to his hands and made him take a deep bow in the direction of Nellie.

“Oh,” said Nellie, “here.” She clapped her hands together again and Lawrence passed Edward to her.

Nellie held the rabbit out in front of her and looked him over from tip to toe. She smiled. “Have you ever in your life seen anything so fine?” she said.

Edward felt immediately that Nellie was a very discerning woman.

“She’s beautiful,” breathed Nellie.

For a moment, Edward was confused. Was there some other object of beauty in the room?

“What will I call her?”

“Susanna?” said Lawrence.

“Just right,” said Nellie. “Susanna.” She looked deep into Edward’s eyes. “First off, Susanna will need some clothes, won’t she?”

And so Edward Tulane became Susanna.

Learn more and buy tickets

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Art of Sushi: Call for Art Work Submissions

Submission Information

Group Show: "The Art of Sushi"
March 8 - 29, 2015 at South Coast Repertory (art will be shown in conjunction with the world premiere play, tokyo fish story, by Kimber Lee.)
  1. Entry Fee: none!
  2. Dimensions: 6” x 6” flat
  3. Media: Any medium will be considered, including—but not limited to—drawing, painting, collage, photography and mixed media, etc will be considered.
  4. Sales: artist’s website will be listed with art. Sales to be handled by artist. Artists should provide name, title of the artwork, contact information and website address if applicable. The information will be used to create an information card that will be displayed near the artwork.
  5. Work must be ready to hang.* 
  6. Delivery: by March 4
*Work must be delivered ready-to-hang with wires or other suitable method. 

Work may be brought to South Coast Repertory—655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Drop off at the reception desk at doors marked "Administration." Submissions by mail also will be accepted. Send to the attention of “The Art of Sushi.”

Work deemed unsafe or not ready-to-hang will not be accepted. Work will be curated by SCR.

Works may be picked up from SCR during the week of April 6-10, 2015, after the show, tokyo fish story, closes. SCR will not be responsible for works left unclaimed.
South Coast Repertory invites artists to submit works inspired by the art of sushi-making. You may submit one work, or an entire collection. Our goal is to curate an eclectic mix of works by Southern Californian artists during the run of the world premiere of tokyo fish story by Kimber Lee. Each participating artist will receive two tickets to see tokyo fish story. Bring in your best—impress us with your creativity and interpret sushi as art.

Artist agrees that display of the work in this exhibition is at the artist's own risk. SCR is not responsible for any loss or damage arising from, connected with or related to theft, fire, vandalism, negligence, defamation, negligent display, water, flood or natural disasters. Artist hereby indemnifies and holds harmless, and agrees to defend SCR against any claims or demands arising out of or related to injury or damage caused by the work, or from claims of infringement. Artist is responsible for obtaining insurance to cover damage to the works from any cause.

Artist contact information (email, mailing address, phone) is only held for the purpose of contacting selected artists. All artist emails will be added to our future events announcement email list. If you do not wish to be on the email list, click the unsubscribe button when you receive the first announcement and you will no longer receive SCR emails.

By submitting works to "The Art of Sushi," artist agrees to the rules set forth herein.

Have questions? Contact us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane": Designing and Dressing Edward

Brad Culver and Edward.
Scenic designer Ann Sheffield and costume designer Kathryn Poppen had a common starting point in their work for The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: neither had done rabbit designs. But Sheffield took on the challenge to create the sculpted doll and Poppen designed the doll’s clothing.

“These clothes were quite a different scale and I haven’t done much menswear tailoring,” Poppen laughs.

The story of Edward Tulane, the dapper china rabbit whose journey takes him from self-centered to the ability to love, was adapted for the stage by Dwayne Hartford and based on Kate DiCamillo’s popular book.

“When I was first asked to create the rabbit doll, I was thrilled, but I didn’t know the story,” Sheffield recalls. “I called my nine-year-old niece and asked her if she knew the story. She screamed with excitement and said, “‘You have to, Auntie! You can’t say no!’”

Sheffield started her design work for Edward by looking at the illustrations in DiCamillo’s book. While she had done a lot of painting and other work, including set models, she hadn’t done much figurative work—“or in this case, rabbit work.”

She started with a Styrofoam sphere and light-weight modeling clay, but puzzled over how to make the rigid head remain connected to a softer body design. She borrowed an old, small china-head doll from an earlier SCR production and saw how the single head-and-shoulder unit connected to the body and settled on that for her solution.

But back to Edward’s face. Sheffield whittled down the Styrofoam and added the clay. But, while she was proud of it, she noted it looked “a bit clunky.”

A 3-D printed version of Edward.
“Edward is more elegant and has a narrower face,” Sheffield says.  “My first design looked less like the illustrations from the book and more like the Easter bunny. So I started looking at jackrabbits.”

Jackrabbits are longer and leaner and worked better as a model. Sheffield “sliced through the clay cheeks, like cutting through an avocado, and then everything really started coming together after that.”

SCR suggested a high-tech solution to produce the seven dolls needed for the show: 3-D printing.

The process used to create Edward is called stereolithography.  It’s a 3-D printing process—done one layer at a time—that uses a liquid resin cured by an ultraviolet laser. The company that did the 3-D work printed four sets of rabbit parts at a time over two-and-a-half days.

“I thought that was marvelous!” Sheffield says.

Edward’s painted face is expressive—“I am happy to see that Edward does have that snooty look for quite some time, but by the end, he is smiling”—and the eye sockets hold marbles “to catch the light a little bit.”

Next, the challenge of his very dapper wardrobe. That’s where costume designer Poppen comes in.

Edward’s dapperness comes in contrast to the adult actors, who wear what Poppen designed as something that “felt lived-in, like clothing, not like costumes.” 

The story is told over a couple of decades—from the 1920s through the 1940s. She says the characters all live their lives vicariously through Edward, and his journey is one of hope: for them and for him.

Poppen gave Edward a “color story” as part of his journey.

Edward, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Brad Culver.
“We keep him in cold and austere colors at the beginning,” she says, like blues and white that contrast with the warmer tones of the adult characters’ costumes.

“The whole point is that Edward’s very vain, not loving, and he has a distance. But, as he goes through his journey, his colors get a little warmer, becoming more broken down and more accessible.”

Poppen starts and ends the play with Edward in three-piece suits: he starts out in a dark three-piece suit at the beginning and he is in a warm earth-tone suit at the end. “My hope is that he’s more approachable by the end of the story,” she says.

Poppen designed suits, a dress, a hobo outfit and more for the Edward dolls.

“This story made me think about when I donate something: how much more its life can be furthered, but also how what I donate could influence someone else’s life,” she says. “That’s also what I may do when I design costumes—those could be used again for other characters through the years. Just think about how many other people will be influenced by them.”

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is getting rave reviews from audiences—and oohs and ahhhs for the creative teamwork of Sheffield and Poppen on the china rabbit doll.

“I also love the way that Edward is spoken by actor Brad Culver and how the music and storytelling are seamlessly integrated,” Sheffield says. “I hope that audiences will go with us this journey and find it transformative.”

More About the Designers

Sheffield grew up in London, where she always was involved in the arts—music and painting. In addition, drama was part of the curriculum. But, she never dreamed that there’d be a role for her in the theatre as an artist.

She attended Occidental College in Los Angeles and, while singing in the choir, she met people who were involved in the theatre; they asked her to make some posters and then asked her to design a set.

“I didn’t even know what that was!” she laughs.”My college mentor said “Of course you can do that!”

She went on to earn top honors for set design during her senior year at the nation’s most prestigious theatre competition, the American College Theatre Festival. There she met the man who became her mentor in graduate school at Yale University, Ming Cho Li.

“I always like being a student of something and the process of finding out about and discovering things,” she says. “Designing Edward Tulane was another opportunity to do that and challenge myself.”

Read more about Sheffield in the program.

Poppen credits her grandmother as the first sewing inspiration and mentor she had. “She’s the reason that I got into the ‘construction’ side of sewing and from there, it organically developed into an interest in the theatre.”

Poppen took sewing classes and her first project was a little sewing bag. From there, she started doing more projects.

Her next mentor was close to home as well—neighbor and fashion designer Elizabeth Galindo, whointroduced Poppen to design in her fashion studio. Galindo also does costume design, in film, television and theatre.

“In theatre, we are creating characters and developing a whole world,” Poppen says. “So as a costume designer, I have to represent the world and answer so many questions through what the character is wearing.”

Poppen says that until the age of 12, she wanted to be a surgeon. But she loved so many things—history, art, English and sewing. While she now does a different kind of stitching than a surgeon, she is still able to do sewing and combine all of her other loves through costume design.

Read more about Poppen in the program.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Tristan & Yseult" Rocks Segerstrom Stage

On Friday, January 30, First Nighters and their guests got into the spirit of Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult with lots of laughs, a few sincere tears and, at the end, a standing ovation that rocked the Segerstrom Stage.

The enthusiasm didn't end with their applause.  Playgoers had the opportunity to celebrate with the artists at the Cast Party, co-sponsored by The Westin South Coast Plaza at its Plaza Ballroom, which was transformed into the “Club of the Unloved,” subtley belit in red and purple and festooned with crystal clear heart-shaped balloons.

Honorary Producers Sophie and Larry Cripe—among the show’s biggest fans, having seen it in tech rehearsals, during previews and, finally, on First Night—added their praise. Sophie knows whereof she speaks when she says, “At times Tristan & Yseult attains a Wagnerian tragic intensity…at other times, it's a silly dose of audience engaging English ‘Panto’ fun. Throughout, it's modern in tone, not remotely medieval and highly entertaining."

Honorary Producers Steve and Laurie Duncan, who also saw the show in previews, were equally enthusiastic, saying, “We were impressed with the portable set and design, appreciated the audience engagement with the characters and truly enjoyed this love story and plot to the very end!”
ALL of the critics agreed! Here are some links:

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.