Friday, April 24, 2015

Pacific Playwrights Festival 2015: New Play Starter Kit

South Coast Repertory’s annual Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) is a major national showcase for new plays and it's this weekend—April 24-26. The three-day festival attracts theatre professionals and new play lovers from across the nation, who are drawn by the chance to be the first to see some of the best new plays in the country. Here is our PPF New Play Starter Kit—your guide to getting the most out of your PPF weekend.

Get PPF Updates and Join the Conversation
  • Follow SCR on Twitter at @SouthCoastRep for updates throughout the weekend.
  • Connect with us and other PPF attendees, tweet with us using #PPF15.

Go Behind-The-Scenes of PPF
PPF rehearsal photos
  • Follow us on Instagram at @SouthCoastRep for behind-the-scenes photos of the festival.
  • Follow our PPF story on Snapchat at @SouthCoastRep. Get a look at the PPF weekend through the eyes of SCR Communications Associate Nicholas Pilapil (of "Nicholas in the Nicholas" video fame!).

The SCR New Play Map
SCR has presented 137 world premieres—the number continues to climb. Most of those plays have gone on to other productions across the country. Check out the SCR New Play Map in our lobby to see where some of them have gone.

The South Coast Repertory Podcast

Episode One: Why New Plays Matter

Episode Two: Interview with Mr. Wolf Playwright Rajiv Joseph

PPF Playwrights Panel
Sunday, April 26, at 9 a.m., Julie Marie Myatt, SCR’s Mellon Playwright in Residence, will moderate a conversation with a number of the 2015 festival playwrights, including Richard Alger, Bekah Brunstetter, Aditi Brennan Kapil, Itamar Moses, Qui Nguyen and Melissa Ross.

Join us for a conversation about the playwright and the audience in the Julianne Argyros Stage. Do playwrights think of audiences as they write? Are these playwrights wrestling with a burning personal question—or is there a more global question at hand? Who or what were they thinking of when they wrote these plays? Admission is free or you can live stream the panel via HowlRound.

Experience a PPF Play—and Save!
There's no better way to experience PPF than by seeing a new play. Use code "ppf15" to get $15 tickets to the PPF staged readings.
  • Going to a Place where you Already Are by Bekah Brunstetter
    directed by Marc Masterson
    Friday, April 24, at 1 p.m., on the Segerstrom Stage
    Roberta thinks she’s been to heaven and back. Now what?
  • The Whistleblower by Itamar Moses
    directed by Casey Stangl
    Friday, April 24, at 3:30 p.m., on the Segerstrom Stage
    Eli tries to rewrite the life he left behind—but the truth could ruin everything.
  • Orange: an illustrated play by Aditi Brennan Kapil
    directed by Jessica Kubzansky
    Saturday, April 25, at 10:30 a.m., on the Segerstrom Stage
    The fantastic Orange County adventures of an exceptional girl named Leela—as illustrated by herself.
  • Vietgone by Qui Nguyen
    directed by May Adrales
    Sunday, April 26, at 10:30 a.m., on the Segerstrom Stage
    Qui Nguyen’s personal epic Vietnamese-American hip-hop road-trip buddy-movie rom-com!
Buy tickets

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Mr. Wolf" Dramatically Closes the Season on the Julianne Argyros Stage

After the applause died down on April 17, First Night of Mr. Wolf, everyone walked quietly out to Ela's Terrace, sharing thoughts about the moving psychological drama by Rajiv Joseph.

Carl Neisser, SCR emeritus trustee and member of the Playwrights Circle (the group of underwriters who helped produce the world premiere), summed up his feelings. "When the first act of this marvelous drama was ending, you could hear a pin drop, because we were all on our chair's edge. Mr. Wolf was one of the best plays in the 51 years I have attended SCR."

During the evening, First Nighters and their guests gathered at tables draped with white linen to sup late night fare by Crème de la Crème. White lights, wrapped around trees and twinkling overhead, created an atmosphere reminiscent of the play's celestial sphere. Soon, the actors and other artists joined the party to accept the playgoers' heartfelt praise, which was echoed through the weekend by reviewers.

"Tears at the fabric of deep emotions—and of the universe." — OC Register

"Joseph's script...possesses a multilayered dimensionality which matches the brilliance of the actors." — LA Splash

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Student By Day, Actor By Night

Tessa Auberjonois, Jon Tenney, Emily James and John de Lancie in Mr. Wolf.
Emily James
By day, Emily Ruth James is just like any other college student: working on final projects for the semester, attending classes and getting ready to graduate. She’s on track to earn a bachelor of fine arts in acting from California State University, Fullerton’s acting program. By night (and on weekends), she’s making her professional stage debut in the world premiere of Mr. Wolf by Rajiv Joseph. While there’s a lot going on for James, she’s up for the challenge and excited to be part of the cast for this SCR-commissioned play. We caught up with her as the play was set to open. 

What drew you to acting?
I was drawn to acting as a kid, but it took me until I was 17 to figure out that’s what I wanted to do. I have always had a big imagination and was always creating my own stories and dramatic worlds as a child. Once it clicked—that I could do this for a living—I never considered any other path.

Who would you say is your mentor—and how has that person helped shape your development as an actor?
My acting teacher at Cal State Fullerton, Svetlana Efremova, has made—and continues to make—a huge impression on my acting. She does not let her students get away with any untruthful acting. She pushes us past what we think we are capable of achieving. It's quite amazing actually; I have no idea where I would be without her.

What have you learned about yourself through working on Mr. Wolf?
The most exciting part about this process is working with the amazing actors of this cast. I'm so lucky to share the stage with these professionals. They have taken me under their wing and helped my process immensely. Never once did I feel like the new kid on the block, and that was huge for me in my exploration during rehearsal. From this process, I have learned to build a reverence for this character. Even if I am feeling wiped out from the week or emotionally disconnected, I know I have to “suck it up” and honor Theresa's story.

It has also taught me to trust myself and Rajiv's BRILLIANT script. Once I can let go of expectations and certain pressures, the creativity starts flowing and the real magic happens.

What have you found the most challenging?

The most challenging thing for me is dealing with the realizations of Theresa's mental state. It was very hard to understand at first. Also, it is hard to conceive her naïveté and the fact that everything is new…and scary…and jarring.

What’s next for you once the play closes?
I plan to jump on the acting wave in Los Angeles and continue to do theatre in the area. I don't know what is next, but I'm very excited to find out!

Buy tickets and learn more about Mr. Wolf, on the Julianne Argyros Stage through May 3.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How the Universe of "Mr. Wolf" Was Formed

Emily James and John de Lancie in Mr. Wolf.  Scenic design by Nephelie Andonyadis.

Nephelie Andonyadis previously designed scenery at SCR for The Summer Moon and The BFG (Big Friendly Giant); costumes for Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Saturn Returns, Emilie, The Importance of Being Earnest, Safe in Hell, The Dazzle; and both costumes and scenery for Relatively Speaking and The Stinky Cheese Man. Andonyadis designs frequently with Cornerstone Theater Company where she is an ensemble member. Her recent projects there include scenic designs for Bliss Point, Café Vida, Flor, The Unrequited (Between Two Worlds), Three Truths, Jason in Eureka, Los Illegals; and California: The Tempest; and costume designs for Plumas Negras, Order My Steps and Boda de Luna Nueva. Her scenic and costume designs at other regional theatres include Intersection for the Arts, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage, Center Theatre Group, Guthrie Lab, Court Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Great Lakes Theatre Festival, The Acting Company, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Berkshire Theatre Festival and Yale Repertory Theatre. Andonyadis is a professor in the theatre arts department at the University of Redlands. She is a graduate of Yale University School of Drama and Cornell University School of Architecture, and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts/Theatre Communications Group design fellowship.
“…if the universe is infinite, it means there is no end to possibility,” theorizes young Theresa in Rajiv Joseph’s new work, Mr. Wolf. The show runs through May 3 on the Julianne Argyros Stage.

The possibilities on stage can be endless, especially when a designer is tasked with creating the “universe” of a play. How does the space of the stage relate to the story, the characters and the themes? What does the world on stage express to the audience?

Scenic designer Nephelie Andonyadis previously designed scenery and costumes for SCR shows as diverse as Charlotte’s Web and The Motherf**ker with the Hat (sets) and Absurd Person Singular and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (costumes). She has a lot of expertise to draw upon and was thrilled with the opportunity to create the universe of Mr. Wolf.

While she grew up around theatre, Andonyadis began her career in scenic design when she studied architecture as an undergraduate at Cornell University. She was fascinated by how humans relate to the spaces around them. Although, as she delved deeper into architecture, she felt something was missing.

Mr. Wolf set rendering by Nephelie Andonyadis
“Architecture felt too far removed, in material and texture, in space and in time, from my own experience as a young artist,” she recalls. “I missed the poetry of language, the presence of the temporal human dimension, and the impact of movement in the spaces I was designing.”

In short, what was missing was the energy that live theatre exuded. Once Adonyadis completed her undergraduate studies, she moved to New York City and apprenticed in theatre, taking on jobs that gave her the opportunity to learn something new.

“I worked as an assistant scenic designer, a draftsperson, painter, milliner, sculptor, stitcher and learned a great deal about the craft of theatre,” she says. “Then, I went back to school to earn my MFA in design from the Yale School of Drama.”

Happy in her return to theatre, she continued her work in New York. Eventually, she found her way to Southern California where she continues to find inspiration in her designs.

And how does she draw out that inspiration? When tackling the world premiere of Mr. Wolf—and any play she works on—she looks to the language first. The words on every page serve as her creative muse as she begins her design work.

“I look for the patterns that the playwright has embedded in the text in my effort to tease out its structure and discover its physical form,” she explains. “I love tightly structured dialogue and long pauses filled with tension. I am inspired to create spaces in which the action can unfold and the poetry can sing.”

Mr. Wolf set rendering by Nephelie Andonyadis
She met with Founding Artistic Director David Emmes, who is directing Mr. Wolf, and incorporated his feedback. He had a very specific vision that went beyond the needs of multiple locations called for in the script. As Andonyadis recalls, “He had a strong impulse to see the action against an expanse of space. Given the themes of inquiry, infinite love, faith and hope, we explored this sense of space in terms of the deep space of the universe.”

This sense of physical space, in relation to the universe, also is explored on a more human level. As Andonyadis analyzed the themes behind Mr. Wolf, she found an interesting connection between the heart and universe. To her, the play examines the dimensions of the human heart through the idea of deep space, infinity and alternate universes. Taking all this into account, she hopes her work suggests “the interconnectedness of both the expanse of deep space and the deep feelings of the heart” through her design.

As the production approaches its opening night, she’ll continue to fine tune and adjust the design to help reinforce her concepts. During this critical time, she keeps a philosophy in mind.

“I believe that the design must serve the play, this play, here and now. That means that each production and each design is specific to its time and place, to its community of artist-makers and to its audience, to its creators and to our aspirations.”

Learn more and buy tickets.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How It All Comes Together

The third time’s a charm for Theatre Movement Bazaar (TMB) as they return to South Coast Repertory with BIG SHOT: a.k.a this is not The Godfather to kick off the 2015 Studio SCR season.

Theatre Movement Bazaar's Track 3
TMB previously presented Track 3 (2013) and Anton’s Uncle’s (2012) in Studio SCR and—like their Like their previous shows—BIG SHOT takes inspiration from another source—The Godfather films. So, how does TMB turn their inspiration into a full-fledged play? According to TMB co-founder Richard Alger, it all starts with text.

“We typically begin with a source material that interests us,” he says. “It may be a myth, a play or a novel. We then deconstruct this source, looking for threads and themes that interest us and then reconstruct this material into a text and songs, prepared and infused with many unwritten ideas.”

Sometimes text leads the action, Alger relates. Other times it is created to support or augment movement. The movement score is as important as the text.  This movement score is created during the rigorous physical exploration of rehearsal with the director and the actors.

This kind of approach to theatre is what TMB is known for—creating shows that are collage-like with a structure that is more musical than narrative. TMB founders Tina Kronis and Alger created BIG SHOT, which merges their collage-like structure with a more traditional story driven narrative.
“We bill it as a ‘vaudevillian collage,’” he explains. “We have freed our structure to be built rhythmically, referring obliquely to vaudeville acts, while at the same time allowing The Godfather’s narrative to inspire and echo throughout the piece. We are trying to create a space for something new to emerge, inspired by the original but injected with our sensibilities, interests, and themes that may only be touched on in the original.”

In BIG SHOT, the American gangster genre is flipped and told through a vaudevillian style with theatrics, dynamic movement, song and dance, exploring themes of family and crime.

“It is an homage to [The Godfather] and the people who came together to make it.”

BIG SHOT is a new work still in development that was originally workshopped in 2014. The play makes its world premiere at SCR—in Studio SCR and the 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival. Alger, along with co-creator Kronis and the cast are currently in rehearsals and continue to develop the play.

“The production that is developing is very funny, provocative, energetic and surprising,” says Alger. “It utilizes the many talents of our performers and challenges them to find fresh and unexpected approaches to theatricality.”

About Theatre Movement Bazaar
Theatre Movement Bazaar is a company dedicated to creating original performance works with an emphasis on physical action. The company merges elements of dance, text, cinema, and media from diverse sources into a complex performance. It investigate these elements, modifying or neutralizing them, de-contextualizing them from their sources. Liberated from their contexts, TMB’s elements are free to be structured in new and surprising ways, creating a connotative network of echoed and reverberant meanings. In this multifarious approach, the company strives to reinvigorate theatre for a contemporary audience.

TMB began in New York City as collaboration between choreographer/director/performer Tina Kronis, and mechanical engineer/writer, Richard Alger. In 1999, the company relocated its base to Los Angeles, and has produced original works, garnering critical attention and presenting its work across the United States and in the U.K.
Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Of Good Stock": A Compelling Family Drama Touches Hearts of Playgoers

On Friday, April 3, Of Good Stock elicited from the audience lots of laughter, a few achingly felt tears—and, in the end, a boisterous standing ovation.

Helping salute the playwright and artists in grand fashion was The Silver Trumpet Restaurant and Bar at the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel. As the management and staff have done so beautifully in the past, they threw a theme party that both echoed the play’s Cape Cod setting and satisfied the appetites of First Nighters.

Among the treats, lobster rolls, New England clam chowder and Boston cream pie. And the signature drink? A Stockton Smash, made, of course, with good scotch, which the play’s three Stockton sisters (and their significant others) would have appreciated.

The play “buzz” throughout the restaurant included these overheard phrases: “Love, love loved it!” … “I’m still laughing—and crying!” … “One of the best new plays I’ve ever seen!”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

"Mr. Wolf": A Mystery Unfolds

by John Glore

It begins with the image of a girl’s bare feet rubbing against an old rug.

But a moment later, the peace of that image is obliterated upon the arrival of a second character. His entrance into the opening scene of Rajiv Joseph’s Mr. Wolf, having its world premiere in the Julianne Argyros Stage, sets up a mystery. We learn soon enough that the man is Theodore Wolf … but what is his relationship to the barefoot, 15-year-old girl? He appears to be her caregiver and mentor, yet he also seems to revere her as a disciple would a prophet. She demonstrates an astonishing command of scientific concepts and seems eager to take on the biggest questions of the universe, and yet there’s something vulnerable and ingenuous about her. Those qualities only become more pronounced when Mr. Wolf tells her “The world is coming,” in a way that suggests impending doom. What are they so afraid of … and has it in fact come knocking, when the loud, insistent banging on the front door brings the play’s first scene to an end?

The explanation of that initial mystery comes relatively soon as the story unfolds, but before the play provides any answers it poses new questions, because in the second scene we leave behind Mr. Wolf and the barefoot girl and meet two new characters. Michael and Julie have been brought together by a similar tragedy that has struck each of their lives. Their respective responses to that tragedy are very different: Julie is lost and in despair, while Michael has become resolute about fixing what is broken. He has an almost fanatical belief in and devotion to his cause, and when he offers to fix things for Julie, too, she is suspicious of his motives—but his offer of hope and salvation proves difficult to resist.

How Julie and Michael are connected to the characters in the first scene won’t become clear until the end of the third scene and the beginning of the fourth—and then we meet the last of the play’s five characters, Hana, whose arrival only throws matters further into doubt. Hana has a plan that, if carried out, will overturn everyone’s lives.

If the preceding description seems cryptic, that’s because to give any more information about the initial circumstances of Mr. Wolf would be to deny one of the principal satisfactions of Joseph’s play: solving its puzzles. Mr. Wolf, the barefoot girl, Julie, Michael and Hana are connected by an event that happened long ago, but even as we begin to piece together the connections, we only move deeper into the mysteries of the human heart that are the play’s true subject.

The characters of Mr. Wolf are living in extremis: none of us is likely ever to experience the specific challenges that they face in their lives. But drama often uses the extreme to illuminate the universal, whether in a tragedy such as Oedipus Rex (a man unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother) or a fantastic comedy like A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a man is turned into a donkey and becomes the love interest of the queen of the fairies). Exaggerated circumstances cast a brighter light on human psychology and social values, illuminating aspects of our experience that can be more difficult to discern and understand in the dim light of ordinary daily life.

From beginning to end, Mr. Wolf is a play of questions: Why do we have faith? What happens when the specific act of faith that has completely dominated our life and given it meaning is rewarded beyond our wildest hopes? When the faith that has defined us is no longer necessary—because it has been objectively proven—what then becomes our reason to live?

Or: How do we find hope when faith has been leached out of our hearts? How do we survive in the face of irredeemable loss? Is it better to know the worst has happened, or to continue to be left in the dark indefinitely, clinging to a tiny sliver of hope?

These are some of the questions that the characters in Rajiv Joseph’s play must grapple with; and if the play works as intended, we will grapple with those questions too.

And in the end, all the play’s questions finally point to the one big question every one of us must face at some point in our lives—if not repeatedly: How do we go on?

For one character, the answer may come in prayer; for another, in the solving of a mystery; and for two characters in the final moment of the play, the answer to that question begins to suggest itself when they share the simple pleasure of digging bare toes into a warm fuzzy rug.

And suddenly hope is there.

Rajiv Joseph

Rajiv Joseph has become one of the hottest playwrights in the American theatre since his breakthrough play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, debuted in Los Angeles in 2009 and moved on to a heralded Broadway run starring Robin Williams. “I’m tempted to call it the most original drama written so far about the Iraq war,” wrote the L.A. Times’ Charles McNulty, “but why sell the work short? The imagination behind it is way too thrillingly genre-busting to be confined within such a limiting category… Bengal Tiger marks the breakthrough of a major new playwriting talent.” The play was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

South Coast Repertory commissioned Joseph to write a play for the company prior to the explosive success of Bengal Tiger; but that success meant SCR had to wait a few years for Joseph to fulfill the commission. In the meantime, other commissions and other new plays kept him busy, along with productions of various works at such theatres as off-Broadway’s Second Stage, the Alley Theatre in Houston, Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C., TheatreWorks in the Bay Area and the Dallas Theatre Center.

But Mr. Wolf, the play Joseph finally submitted to fulfill his SCR commission, proved worth the wait. Like Bengal Tiger, Mr. Wolf demonstrates fierce intelligence, bold theatricality and keen psychological insight. It shows Joseph’s willingness to look into dark corners of human experience, as well as his ability to find light in the midst of that darkness.

Shepherding this world premiere production of Mr. Wolf is David Emmes, one of SCR’s two founding artistic directors. Emmes has staged numerous SCR world premieres, including several Amy Freed plays (The Beard of Avon among them) and works by Keith Reddin, Neal Bell and Tom Babe.

The design team for Mr. Wolf comprises Nephelie Andonyadis for sets, Leah Piehl for costumes, Lap Chi Chu for lighting and Cricket Myers for sound. All have multiple SCR credits, and Cricket Myers also designed sound for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in both its Los Angeles debut and its Broadway run (earning her a Tony nomination).

The cast includes Tessa Auberjonois, seen at SCR most recently in Absurd Person Singular and Becky Shaw; John DeLancie, an SCR veteran who has multiple television and film credits (including the role of Q in the “Star Trek” franchise); Jon Tenney, who appeared for seven seasons opposite Kyra Sedgwick on the TNT series, “The Closer,” and who made his SCR debut 18 years ago in the world premiere production of Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain; Kwana Martinez, making her SCR debut after numerous appearances at many of the finest theatres in New York and across the country; and Emily James, currently an undergraduate at Cal State Fullerton, also making her SCR debut.

For more information on all the artists involved in Mr. Wolf, click here.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Incubating New Plays

Actors prepare for the NewSCRipts reading Going to a Place where you Already Are by Bekah Brunstetter
New Plays by the Numbers

During its 51 years, SCR has produced 489 plays, including 126 news plays and 64 commissions. There have been 113 readings at the Pacific Playwrights Festival and 125 NewSCRipt readings.

Scott Hylands, K Callen and Jordan Charney in the 1983 production of April Snow by Romulus Linney.

Lisa Zane, Frank Hamilton and Mark Arnott in th 1988 world premiere of Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas.

Kandis Chappell and Suzanne Cryer in the 1996 world premiere of Collected Stories by Richard Greenberg.

Shane Williams and Kevin Jackson in the 2003 world premiere of Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage.

Tony Amendola, Leo Marks and Linda Gehringer in SCR's 2010 world premiere of The Language Archive by Julia Cho.
South Coast Repertory’s season begins with the selection of plays. SCR stages both classic and contemporary theatre works, but also it is renowned as a champion of new plays.

King Lear was a new play once upon a time and every great play that we now go back to, over and over again, was once a new play,” says Associate Artistic Director John Glore, who also is director of the Pacific Playwrights Festival, SCR’s annual showcase of new works.

So why are new plays important? And how do they come to be written? 

“New plays matter because without them, we won’t have the classics of the future that represent this day and age the way that Shakespeare’s plays represented his day and age and Arthur Miller’s plays represented his day and age,” Glore adds.

SCR produced its first commissioned work in 1983, April Snow by Obie Award-winning playwright Romulus Linney, and has only looked forward since then, because, as Glore says, with new plays “you’re in on the birth of something.”

The New York Times praised the company as “an incubator of major talent … South Coast has mounted an impressive list of acclaimed plays, long before the East Coast establishment got wind of them.” The company’s 1988 Tony Award recognized SCR’s outstanding contributions to the American theatre through new play support.

When SCR commissions a new play, the company provides money up front for work that has yet been written. SCR sees commissions as a way to invest in writers and their process, to give them the means and time to concentrate on the next play they want to write. A commission offers needed financial support to a playwright, but just as important, it serves as a vote of confidence in the writer’s talent and ability.

“I can't overstate how much a commission and subsequent play development has meant to me as a playwright over these past few years,” says playwright Rajiv Joseph, whose SCR-commissioned Mr. Wolf, receives its world premiere this spring. “First and foremost, to offer a writer a commission is a statement of faith on behalf of a theatre—a theatre is telling you, ‘We believe in your voice, your talent, your vision.’”

To date, the company has given 293 commissions to nearly 200 playwrights. Among the more-than 130 world premieres are Wit by Margaret Edson (Pulitzer Prize-winner), Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas, The Language Archive by Julia Cho, Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, Collected Stories by Donald Margulies, Golden Child by David Henry Hwang, Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg (Pulitzer Prize-nominated), and Mr. Wolf by Rajiv Joseph.

Each year, the theatre’s literary team reads between 400-600 new plays, many of which come up through SCR’s commissioning program. Think of the literary department as the research-and-development arm of the company: it reviews, evaluates, recommends and ultimately works with commissioned playwrights to help create the best work to bring to the public.

But, what does SCR look for in a script?

“Every playwright wants to know the answer to that question—they’re looking for that silver bullet that will enable them to get a play produced at South Coast Repertory,” Glore says. “But the answer is typically frustrating to them. We don’t really know what we’re looking for until we see it—which is to say that we want a play to surprise us, we want a play to have something unique in its DNA that is exciting to us.”

SCR tends to favor plays that use language in interesting ways, either the playwright has a sense of lyricism or poetry the dialogue or there’s muscularity to the dialogue that creates a sense of driving momentum as it moves forward. The company likes plays that are plays—in other words, works that were born to be done on a stage rather than on a screen somewhere—and that have a sense of theatricality to them, whatever that might be. Something about them speaks of theatre rather than television or film.

Megan Cole and Mary Kay Wulf in the 1995 world premiere of Wit by Margaret Edson.

From Page to Pulitzer: A Dramatic Journey

A play came to South Coast Repertory in the 1990s from an unknown playwright named Margaret Edson. She had submitted her script for a play called Wit to nearly 200 theatres and had it turned down by each. Until it came to SCR, where Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson read it. Something clicked with him, and SCR made a commitment to produce the world premiere of the play.

“The material is tough,” says Associate Artistic Director John Glore. “It’s a play about a woman who is dying of cancer, specifically ovarian cancer. And not only that, the woman in question is a scholar who studies the work of poet John Donne. It spoke to Martin and he knew from the get-go that it was a play he wanted to direct.”

Benson directed a NewSCRipts reading and then the world premiere production, which was a huge hit with SCR audiences and critics alike. But after that tremendous start, the play just languished for several years “because we didn’t have the apparatus to let the world know about the play and how extraordinarily well it connected with audiences,” says Glore.

Finally, Wit found a second production at the Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut, and “was reviewed by some of the New York critics. Then it moved into New York, where it was a huge hit and ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize that year. It was the first SCR work to win the Pulitzer Prize,” Glore adds.
Once a commission is granted, Glore and SCR’s literary director talk with the playwright, to find out what’s on the writer’s mind in the way of possible ideas for a play. The first priority is to commission something that the writer is personally passionate about, which tends to generate the most interesting work.

Through the commission process, the writer gets feedback notes from SCR or sometimes a reading of the script's first draft is done—with actors adding more life into the words on the page. When a second draft of the play is submitted, a decision is made, whether SCR wants to move forward with the project in some way or whether the play will be released back to the writer to do with it what s/he wants.

If SCR elects to move forward, the commission enters a formal development phase, which often includes one or more readings or workshops designed to facilitate the rewriting process. SCR tailors the developmental process to the specific needs of the writer and the play.

“Development is where the real magic happens,” playwright Joseph affirms. “Readings, discussions, the encouragement and counsel of the wonderful staff at SCR—this is where a first draft works its way into something that needs to be seen on a stage. That process is necessary and remarkable.” 

Another option in the development phase is a public reading, such as a NewSCRipts reading. For each of the three readings during the season, actors have two-and-a-half days to rehearse, and then they give a reading on a select Monday evening before an audience of up to 200 people. Following the reading, the audience is invited to give their response to the play.

Public readings also are part of the annual Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) each April.

“The works we feature at PPF have vitality and a range of expression that reflect the best of new American theatre today,” says Artistic Director Marc Masterson.

Now in its 18th season, PPF brings out an audience of roughly 300 local new play fans, as well as up to 200 theatre industry professionals from around the country to see seven new plays (at least two full productions and four staged readings) over the course of three days. Actors will have rehearsed during the four days prior to each reading.

If SCR doesn’t opt to produce a work read at PPF, then another theatre company can opt for it and produce the world premiere. 

Playwrights like Joseph find PPF “unlike any other in the country, and it has done wonders in connecting playwrights with each other, and strengthening the community of American playwrights,” he says.

“For playwrights, finding artistic homes is as crucial to the process of being a writer as the writing itself,” says playwright Melissa Ross. Her SCR-commissioned play, Of Good Stock, had a reading at the 2014 PPF and premieres as a full production in April 2015. 

“I feel so blessed to count South Coast Repertory as an artistic home and family,” she says. “Their support over the past four years has been hugely inspiring and rewarding and instrumental to my growth as an artist.  And their audiences—who love theater—and speak of it so insightfully and passionately—are some of my favorite people to write for.”

Of the 113 new plays featured during the first 17 years of the festival, 58 have earned productions at SCR and 87 have gone on to productions at other theatres across the country."  Glore says this validates one of those founding principles: “to get these plays out and into productions at other theatres.”

Both NewSCRipts and PPF invite engagement to help a play take its next step toward production. The post-reading discussions do not ask audience members to re-write the play—that’s the writer’s job. The audience is asked to tell how they responded when they heard the play, what they loved about it and even what may have troubled them about it.

“Certainly by offering eclectic programming here at SCR we hope to give a lot of those people at least some of what they’re looking for each season.”