Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Get Into the “Act” This Summer

Could you do it—be an actor? South Coast Repertory gives you the perfect opportunity to find out through summer acting classes for kids, teens and adults.

SCR’s Theatre Conservatory is a great way to learn how acting can help not only creative expression, but build confidence and self-esteem.

“The two-week commitment from kids and teens gives them a chance to see what acting and theatre are all about,” says Hisa Takakuwa, conservatory director. “It’s a great experience for kids who enjoy expressing themselves and for those who may be shy and would like to come out of their shell in an environment that is safe and supportive.”

The Summer Acting Workshops for kids and teens include voice, movement and character development.

Each day includes about two hours of acting work with a “home room” teacher, where  age-specific groups learn together. A guest artist joins the students for a “Putting It Together” workshop that explores the process of creating a theatre production, from the script and casting, through design and rehearsal and finally to the actual production. The emphasis is on how the process works, rather than creating a show.

At the end of the sessions, students share what they’ve learned with an audience made up of their family and friends. It’s a chance to share the learning process with parents and give some insight into how SCR’s Theatre Conservatory works.

Specialty courses for teens include musical theatre and teen improv. Classes for kids and teens start July 13 and July 27.

Kids and teens can also enroll in fall acting classes, building on what they learned during the summer.

In SCR classes for adults, many people take them to become more comfortable and confident in public speaking situations or meetings.

“We have a number of attorneys who take our improv classes because that helps them think on their feet and learn to trust their instincts. 

“I had one student tell me that she wished she had started taking classes as a child because her self confidence in social situations was always low,” recalls Takakuwa. “She felt that just taking the beginning acting class built up her confidence so much.”

Acting classes include fundaments of acting, scene study and improvisation.

Summer session for adults runs June 16-Aug. 4.

Learn more and register.

Matt McGrath: The Actor Behind the Devious Stache

Wyatt Fenner and Matt McGrath in Peter and the Starcatcher.  Photo by Debora Robinson.
Matt McGrath
This will be the fifth time that actor Matt McGrath has been on South Coast Repertory’s stages. He has been chameleon-like in each role he’s taken on. Stealing scenes and leaving audiences laughing until it hurts, McGrath excels in Peter and the Starcatcher as Black Stache, the pirate you can’t help but love.

Between the swashbuckling and shipwrecks, McGrath took time to talk about his first trip in Neverland, his approach as an actor and how this show affected him.

What first drew you to performing?
My local piano teacher happened to be the Mistress of the Children’s Chorus at the Metropolitan Opera and the David H. Koch Theater. After stepping on stage in front of 4,500 people to perform, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What was one of your earliest experiences performing a Peter Pan story?
I was cast in the role of Slightly Soiled in the Broadway production of Peter Pan, with Sandy Duncan. I took over for the actor Chris Farr. The original Lost Boys had outgrown the pirates and the Indians, so we were the second string of young actors. Then, I graduated to the role of John Darling for the national tour and went around the country for two years in the early ‘80s.

Matt McGrath and Kasey Mahaffy. Photo by Debora Robinson.
So you’ve come full circle playing Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher at SCR. Does Peter Pan hold a special place in your heart?
It really is a story that resonates with so many people because it’s about the psyche. Playwright Rick Elice has brought a novel to the stage for the child in all of our hearts, so that we can fly again. This is so tangible when you play this piece in front of a live audience. A prequel to Peter Pan? It’s as if Captain Hook were to post a "Throwback Thursday" on Facebook! And honestly, who can’t relate to the boy who doesn't care to grow up?

You’ve tackled a variety of roles from Hedwig (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) to the Emcee (Cabaret) to Lonny (Boys Don’t Cry). How do you approach each character?  
Gosh, I’ve done some intense projects, huh? I try to bring as much of myself to every role, of course. Stick to what you know, as the saying goes. Some portrayals are more successful than others and this is why a casting director is so important. Fortunately, SCR has one of the best—Joanne DeNaut. And in my role as Black Stache, I’m helping director Art Manke tell this story the way he envisions it.

What do you love most about playing Black Stache?
Truly, it is being with this group of actors. Art Manke has brought us together in such a way that has really astonished me. I'm always game to try new things: approaches to text, exercises in the rehearsal space, and the like, but I’ve never really been a "joiner" per se. This process for this play has changed that in me; I would follow these people anywhere. That may scare some of them when they read this!

Why do you think this show resonates so well with children and adults alike?
Well, it plays with our darkest fears, doesn’t it? Like Oliver Twist, it starts with the idea of not having parents and, therefore, not having a home. Although, this version doesn't have Peter Pan literally wrestling with his shadow in the Darling family’s nursery, he deals with a wrestles with the shadow that is Black Stache. He offers the idea of being constantly at sea with a ticking clock nipping at one’s heels. So, what does "Pan" mean and what is he supposed to be other than fun and frolic? Like reading in general, it teaches us about empathy and the importance of helping others. Even though no one has ever helped Peter, he learns to help someone else—Molly—and look at what they accomplish against all odds.

Learn more about the show and buy tickets

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First Nighters Sail Away With "Peter and the Starcatcher"

On Friday, May 15, First Nighters and their guests went on an imaginary voyage. Joining a boy named Boy, they sailed the Seven Seas along with crafty villains, dancing mermaids, fighting prawns and … well, you name it.  The occasion was First Night of Peter and the Starcatcher, the final play of SCR’s 2014-15 Season, and what a night it was!

As Boy flew away (to began life anew as Peter Pan) the audience stood and cheered, the rain stopped and the party began—a tribute to the director, designers, actors and musicians who brought the fantastical play to life.

Ela’s Terrace gleamed with sky blue lights and shimmering sea blue linens amidst a nautical scene. The more adventurous were sighted wearing stick-on “staches” and sipping “Set Sail,” the evening’s signature cocktail (vodka, with cranberry and orange juices). 

Everyone enjoyed sampling fare from Sally Ann Catering and went back for seconds to the cart hosted by Mangiamo Gelato Café.

But the conversation was all about Peter and the Starcatcher, made possible in part by a large and enthusiastic support group that included four individual honorary producers, two associate corporate producers and a media partner.

And what did they have to say about the show?
  • Wylie Aitken, Honorary Producer with his wife, Bette: “Mesmerizing! Wonderful! Incredible directing and an extremely talented cast, working with a brilliant script. The whole package!”
  • Alan Slutzky, Honorary Producer with his wife, Olivia: “The story is fantastic; fast and funny. The cast looked like they were genuinely having fun up there. Also loved how imaginative the production was; it really allowed the crowd to go along for the ride. Can't wait to bring the kids!”
  • Rick Smetanka, representing Corporate Associate Producer Haskell & White LLP: “This was a great way to end a great season. I thought the script was very clever, and I loved how the production left so much to our own imaginations.”
  • Joan Kaloustian, representing Corporate Associate Producer MUFG Union Bank: “… A charming and beautifully produced night at the theatre.”
  • Mary Marcus, representing Media Partner KPCC:  “Superfun.”

Critics agree! LA Splash magazine called the production “Brilliant!” Read the full review.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

From Mermaids to Pirates: Costuming "Peter and the Starcatcher"

The cast of Peter and the Starcatcher in costumes by Angela Balogh Calin.
Smee costume rendering by Angela Balogh Calin.
She’s often found in the Costume Shop at South Coast Repertory—checking in and working on costumes for an upcoming show. Costume designer Angela Balogh Calin has worked on nearly 50 productions at SCR through the years—including set and costume design—and has earned accolades and honors for her work here and elsewhere.

To wrap up SCR’s 2014-15 season, Calin has designed the costumes for the Segerstrom Stage production of Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice (through June 7). It is a production that, according to director Art Manke, invites the audience to use its imagination. In designing the costumes—that are changed at lightning speed—Calin’s work ranges from street clothes to whimsical designs. We caught up with her just as the production moved from the rehearsal hall to the stage.

Do you remember the first play that you saw? Why did it have such a lasting impression?
When I was very little, my parents used to take me to the Children’s Theatre in Bucharest on a regular basis. Later on, as a teenager—I was 12 or 13 years old—I remember two productions that had a lasting impression: Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill and Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot. Both of them taught me about the emotional impact that theatre can have on people

O’Neill’s play saddened me deeply. I was too young to understand in-depth the family conflict, but I could sense the anxiety, tension and desperation. Diderot’s play made me realize that two exceptional actors on a minimalist set can create magic with words and gestures. I learned then how a mirror and a shear can create an environment for events to unfold. And how sometimes less is more.

Mollusk costume rendering by Angela Balogh Calin.
Who has been a mentor in your career? 

My first mentors were my parents: my mom, Angela, is a graphic artist, and my father, Peter, is a sculptor. They inspired me to follow my dreams and my path, and never to wander too far from the artistic milieu I grew up in.

What originally attracted you to become a costume design?
I studied graphic art at the Fine Arts High school in Bucharest, Romania, and then decided to continue my higher education at the university in theatre design. I knew from an early age that my life will be spent in the theatre. I can’t think of a more magical, creative, exciting environment to work in.

Why is SCR such a special place for you?
Because it has been very good to me! I consider myself very lucky to have been part of this prestigious theatre for so long. I have felt valued and welcomed and I was given so many opportunities to collaborate with unique, talented, artists on a variety of productions over the years.

How did you approach the designs for Peter and the Starcatcher?
I’m trying to tell the story by introducing the actors in street clothes with a hint of the Victorian era and then gradually bringing in the whimsical world of mollusks, mermaids and pirates. One of my favorite times is the research phase of the design. For this project, I drew inspiration from a variety of sources—from street wear to the Victorian fashion, from nature photography to tribal art.

My job as a costume designer is to turn the story from the written word into 3D images on stage and to help actors define their characters.

Mermaid costume rendering by Angela Balogh Calin.
And how do they support other design elements in the production?
At times, the costumes and the other design elements work in perfect unison and harmony; and at other times, the costume designs support other design elements with contrasting and juxtaposing styles. Ultimately, the approach is the decision of our director, Art Manke.

How many costumes/costume pieces are you designing?
This show has about 80 partial and full costumes.

What’s been the most challenging part of the costume designs for this production?
The most challenging aspect is making sure the actors are able to make the quick changes required by the show and to keep them safe.

What’s been the most fun?
Designing the mermaids, mollusks and pirate costumes!

What kind of materials did you use?

We have used textiles and fabric, foam, plastic flowers and plants, yarn, raffia, fur, leather, feathers, beads, wire and paint. We’ve probably used many hundreds of yards of fabric in creating these costumes.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your costume work or the play itself?
Yes, it’s been a wonderful ride and I’m looking forward to opening night.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Video Game is Setting For Rebooted Story of Oz

by John Glore

Munchkin costume rendering by designer
Sara Ryung Clement.
Fourteen-year-old Dee lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry on a farm in Kansas, until a tornado comes along to disrupt her ordinary life and transport her to a fantastic world.  You probably recognize that set-up—but what happens to Dee in Catherine Trieschmann’s OZ 2.5 is likely to seem both strangely familiar and familiarly strange to those who know its source, L. Frank Baum’s beloved book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

First of all, unlike the original Dorothy, Trieschmann’s Dee is a 21st-century girl, who finds life in rural Kansas all too unexciting.  She craves adventure and some real “life-and-death fun,” and since she can’t find it on the farm, she seeks it in her favorite video game, OZ 2.0.  Much to her Aunt Em’s consternation, Dee is forever glued to her tablet computer, playing her game and chatting with her on-line pal, TOTO_BALLERSHOTCALLER14. 

Lion costume rendering by designer
Sara Ryung Clement.
When that fateful tornado hits, rather than retreating to safety in the storm cellar, Dee stays outside to retrieve her tablet, which cost her two years’ worth of baby-sitting money.  The tornado descends on her and knocks her out, and when she wakes up, she finds herself inside her computer game.

With some help from a couple of munchkins—one friendly, the other not so much—she starts her journey on the yellow-brick road, thrilled to be finally having the adventure she’s been looking for.  Just as in Baum’s original story, Dee meets Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, and eventually has to defeat the Witch of the Western Realm—but every time she makes a mistake, she loses a life and the game resets to an earlier level. 

That would be fine if she were still playing the game on her tablet.  But Dee begins to wonder what will happen to her if she loses her last life while inside the game.  Is she trapped in a real life-and-death struggle?  If the witch destroys her … will she wake up back home in Kansas or will she meet a far unhappier and more permanent fate?

The challenges Dee faces become even more daunting when OZ 2.0 spontaneously updates to OZ 2.5 in the middle of her adventure—and the new, improved version proves to have a few nasty bugs.  As she finds herself doubting her ability to succeed—even with the help of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion —Dee begins to appreciate more and more the comforts of the home and family she left behind.

Playwright IS in Kansas: Catherine Trieschmann's Hometown Inspires Oz Reboot

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann.
Playwright Catherine Trieschmann has something in common with the protagonist of her play.  Eight years ago, her husband’s new job required that she relocate to a small town in Kansas—which felt like the middle of nowhere to her.  When SCR commissioned her to write a new play for the Theatre for Young Audiences series, she reread L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the author’s description of Kansas struck a chord for her:  “When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side.  Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it.  Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere.”

While Dorothy’s tedium is relieved by a visit to the fantasy land of Oz —and Dee’s to its video-game equivalent—Catherine has found escape whenever her playwriting endeavors have taken her away from Kansas.  (This has happened with some frequency, since her many plays have been produced by some of the finest theatres in the nation and even in London, England.) But again like Dorothy, she’s always glad to get home again:  “I go away to somewhere bright and beautiful and perhaps a bit dangerous to make a play and then am happy as a pea in a pod to return to my ho-hum life in Kansas when it's all over.”

But unlike her character, Dee, Catherine has never been much interested in video games, so when she conceived her “reboot” of the Oz story for a technology-obsessed generation, she had to consult with her teenage nephew to get some insights into how such games work.

Why change the story in the first place?  “Adaptations don't work when they merely mimic the original,” she says. “You have to re-create the world, so it’s original and arresting, even to people already familiar with the story. You have to put your own spin on the characters and write new dialogue particular to those voices.  I doubt I used even three lines of dialogue from the book.”

OZ 2.5, which is having its world premiere at SCR, retains all the virtues of the story on which it is based—great characters, adventure, fantasy, humor, surprises—with a fresh approach that will speak directly to any 21st-century child (or adult) who has trouble unplugging from time to time.

The play also offers an important message, which the playwright sums up this way:  “I hope audiences remember that the best part of being alive takes place in communion with other human beings, not in front of a screen.”

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Beginnings Found in the Endings

The cast of South Coast Repertory's Peter and the Starcatcher.
“It’s the kind of piece where the director’s imprint on the original production is such an integral part of the text, so I wondered what could I possible bring to this to make it as fresh as possible?”

Director Art Manke is talking about his decision to take on Peter and the Starcatcher, South Coast Repertory’s season finale Segerstrom Stage, through June 7. 

The play—a fun prequel to the story of Peter Pan—brought a creative challenge for Manke. The show had highly successful off- and on-Broadway productions, which spawned two national tours. But the more Manke thought about it, the more the creative challenge of directing the production grabbed him.

Kasey Mahaffy and Matt McGrath in Peter and the Starcatcher.
The story follows the orphan known as Boy who would become Peter Pan. But the story is told of Peter’s life before his adventures with the Darling children. It’s a show that appeals to children and adults and a tale fit for many generations to enjoy together.

“Like any great story there are universal truths and observations about humanity that can be received by both children and adults,” Manke says. “Just as with The Wizard of Oz or Into the Woods there is material that resonates with adults and makes children delightful with glee.”

So, with this all in mind, how does he bring a fresh take to this recent high-flying hit? Especially with audiences that may have seen it recently?

The answer: Aaron Posner and Teller’s The Tempest, which opened SCR’s current season. As Manke and Peter and the Starcatcher scenic designer Michael B. Raiford stepped onto the nearly empty Segerstrom Stage after The Tempest closed, an idea sparked.

“The entire stage was virtually bare, going all the way to the brick walls. There were only a few lights, a couple pieces of scaffolding, a hamper, a clothing rack—things left over from striking The Tempest set. I thought, well that’s the way we should do this,” he recalls.

And so the end of one show was the beginning for another. While looking more at the story, Manke was taken by its universal appeal. He also noticed that his cast could give the tale a sense a broader appeal, so he determined to seek out a more diverse and multi-cultural cast to enhance the universality of the story.

“It’s really important for young people to see reflections of themselves on stage, particularly in plays that are serving the needs of family. It empowers young people to know they can define a path toward their future, no matter whom or where they are,” Manke says.

And with that, Manke laid the foundation for his approach: a fresh visual take on the production that celebrates imagination and the magic of theatre. As well as a mix of 14 actors and musicians—some returning to SCR and many making their SCR debuts—who brought varying cultures and experience.

But that’s only half the battle. Peter and the Starcatcher is highly ensemble-driven, with cast members juggling multiple roles and, at times, physically creating different locations; Manke knew it was vital to jump-start their sense of being a close group. As they began rehearsals, they incorporated daily ensemble exercises to strengthen their trust and familiarity with each other.

That has been one of Manke’s favorite parts of working on this production: helping to build a sense of camaraderie and collaboration among the artists.

“The most joyful part of the experience has been watching the actors come together as an ensemble and work so organically and generously together,” Manke says. “This has led to greater creativity because we all ‘feed’ off of one another.”

Learn more about Manke’s background and his approach to directing in the third episode of our podcast.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Who Is America's Greatest Rock Critic?

How to Write a Rock Play

How to be a Rock Critic is a collaboration between husband-and-wife team, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen; they wrote it, she directs it and he acts in it. Inspired by Lester Bangs’ words, the couple spent two years creating this one-man play. They went through 50,000 pages of Bangs’ writings—both published and unpublished—and whittled it down to an 80-minute play that sheds light on his pioneering voice in music.

Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank
Jensen, an actor with notable roles in “The Walking Dead” and “CSI,” portrays Bangs. The couple's most notable work is The Exonerated, a play they co-wrote based on interviews with exonerated death row inmates. The Exonerated won the 2003 Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle awards and ran for more than 600 performances off-Broadway, toured nationally and was made into a TV-movie. How to be a Rock Critic is a Center Theatre Group commission, where it had a previous developmental workshop production.

Considered "America's Greatest Rock Critic," Lester Bangs was a pioneer—he put the “punk” in punk rock—and broke ground as the most influential voice in rock music. Bangs' story comes to life through the work of husband-and-wife team Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, shedding light on Bangs’ messy life and his revolutionary voice in music in How to be a Rock Critic.

Lester Bangs
Lester Bangs was a gonzo journalist who notably wrote music reviews for Rolling Stone and CREEM magazines. His reviews were known for their radical, take-no-prisoners style, “The reviews I did for [Rolling Stone] really stuck out like sore thumbs.” Bangs said about his time with Rolling Stone. He was fired from Rolling Stone in 1973, “[They] threw me out for being, quote, ‘Disrespectful to musicians,’ end quote. I wrote a review of Canned Heat…making fun of them. I guess you're not supposed to do that."

Bangs immersed himself into the subject of his writing—he lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and was considered a peer to the artists he wrote about. In turn, his writing was honest and matched the excesses, energy and passion of rock ‘n’ roll music. He is considered a visionary of rock writing—Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac rolled into one. His criticism often was filled with cultural references of music, literature and philosophy and his writing was brash, yet intellectual.

“The appeal of Lester shares a lot with Kerouac: that innocence and goodwill and drive to describe and be true to what matters in life. Lester, like Kerouac, reads like a real good friend to a lot of people.” Said punk rock pioneer Richard Hall in a 2003 Village Voice article.

Bangs became the editor the rock ‘n’ roll magazine CREEM in 1971. Under his leadership, the magazine led the punk rock movement and was the first to write about the then up-and-coming music scene. Many claim the magazine—with Bangs’ at the helm—helped conceptualize and invent punk rock. In the 70’s, Bangs was also one of the first—years before the mainstream press—to give massive exposure to artists who would become 1980's icons like David Bowie, Blondie, Kiss and Motörhead. Bangs left Creem Magazine in 1977 and moved to Manhattan, where he became a contributor to the Village Voice. He considered his writings from this period to be some of his finest work and he started researching and writing his book, "Rock Gomorrah."  He died from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 33—he was listening to Human League’s album Dare.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Logo photo by Craig Schwartz.

Teen Players Return to Beloved Author: Charles Dickens’ "David Copperfield"

The cast of David Copperfield during rehearsal.
Charles Dickens is a familiar name at South Coast Repertory, where his A Christmas Carol is a holiday tradition. SCR’s Teen Players also have tried their hand at Dickens—and very successfully.

According to Director Hisa Takakuwa, “Our Teen Players proved their mettle with Hard Times several years ago, when we had many experienced students in the group. Once again, we have a seasoned ensemble that I believe is up to the Dickens challenge.”

For this season’s Teen Players show, Takakuwa has chosen David Copperfield. Performances in the Nicholas Studio run the weekends of May 16-17 and May 22-24.

The Dickens novel first appeared as a serial in monthly installments. It was published in a bound edition in 1850 and today is considered a classic of English literature. The full title is The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account). Blunderstone Rookery is the name of the house, in Suffolk, England, where little Davy was born.

Charles Dickens called David Copperfield his “favorite child,” and scholars believe he is that child, a boy who lived through difficult times and grew up to be a writer. There have been more than a dozen adaptations for stage, screen and television. Takakuwa has chosen one by Thomas Hischak, a 90-minute production intended for the entire family, age 10 and above.

This stage version opens just as Dickens opens his novel, with David pondering whether or not he will be the hero of his own life. In the journey through life, he faces dramatic twists and turns, encounters people who are both caring and conniving and experiences great loss on his way to becoming a writer—and a mature adult. In the end, David may not consider himself a hero, but he is blessed with a home and family and has learned to give—and receive—love.

SCR’s Teen Players are serious acting students in grades 9-12, who were chosen through audition after at least two years in the Theatre Conservatory. They attended classes twice a week during the school year and in the weeks before David Copperfield opens, their rehearsal schedule extends to between four and six hours a day, three times a week and, as Takakuwa says, they’re up to the challenge.

The David Copperfield cast includes: Brooke Boukather (Tungay, Dora Spenlow); Kelsey Bray (Mrs. Gummidge, Bartle {School Boy Salem House}, Mr. Spenlow); Rachel Charney (Bucket {School Boy Salem House}; Agnes Wickfield), Lauren Cocroft (Clara Pegotty); Mia Connolly (Mr. Mell, Mr. Micawber); Henry Ficcadenti (Mr. Eward Murdston, Ham); Lindsay Frazin (Miss Jane Murdstone, Mrs. Steerforth); Chris Huntley (James Steerforth, Mr. Wickfield); Simone Isner (Mr. Creakle, Mr. Dick); Kelsey Kato (David Copperfield); Milan Learned-Swart (Davy Copperfield); Guy McEleny (School Boy Salem House, Dan Peggotty, Uriah Heep); Gracie O’Brien (Little Emily, School Boy Salem House); Jamie Ostmann (Clara Copperfield, Rosa Dartle); Katharine Parrish (Tom Traddles, Janet); Karoline Ribak (Aunt Betsey Trotwood, School Boy Salem House); and Kaylee Wan (Socks {School Boy Salem House}, Mrs. Micawber, Martha Endwell).

Learn more and buy tickets.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pacific Playwrights Festival Attracts SCR's Most Fervent Supporters

The most successful weekend in history of the Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) officially began on Thursday, April 23rd with a group shot of all the participants—artists, artisans and staff—to commemorate their weeks of work The next day, Honorary Producers and Friends of SCR joined a throng of theatre professionals who came from across the country to see (as advertised!) “seven plays in three days!”

Among the most enthusiastic were the four couples who helped underwrite the weekend of plays, programs and parties: Yvonne and Damien Jordan, Sue and John Murphy, Tom Rogers and Sally Anderson and Tod and Linda White. They led the applause after each reading and didn’t miss a moment of the fun. But they weren’t alone.

Fervent supporters of PPF over the years were back in force. Among them, Vicki de Reynal, whose specially-made “I love SCR” t-shirt was the favorite fashion statement, second only to another de Reynal t-shirt emblazoned with the Hirschfeld drawing of Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson—who were also there, in the flesh.

Two former board presidents were spotted with their wives: Tom Sutton (with Marilyn) and Tom Phelps (with Beth), and one current board president with her husband, Sophie and Larry Cripe. Board members (present and past) were everywhere, including Sam Tang, new to the board this season, with his wife Tammy; Olivia Johnson who never fails to miss an SCR-sponsored event; and Laurie Smits Staude who misses very few. Nola Schneer drove in from her home in the desert and Barbara Roberts was joined by her daughter Brooke, visiting from Florida.

Barbara Van Holt (who once acted at SCR) brought her friend Carolyn Weinberger and former SCR Marketing Director Marcia Lazer came down from San Francisco. Other Friends of SCR included Hedda Marosi and her son Marc, Jene Witte and Diane and Chimo Arnold.

And those were only the ones we got pictures of. If you were also at PPF weekend and plan to attend in the future, let us know—and we’ll take your photo next time!

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Inspiration Behind Bringing "David Copperfield" to the Stage

When Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa chooses the Teen Players spring show, many factors contribute to her decision. This time, she felt that her students would be able to meet the challenges presented by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. The numbers tell the story…

Grace O'Brien, Jamie Ostmann, Guy McEleny and Kelsey Kato in rehearsal for David Copperfield.
  • When this season’s cast members step onstage, they’ll feel right at home. Thirteen of the 17 students have been in the program for several years and have appeared in numerous Players productions. It’s second nature to them now.

    Sixteen-year-old Jamie Ostmann began her acting life at South Coast Repertory with the Summer Acting Workshop in 2007. She has been in 12 Players shows, portraying a wide spectrum of characters, from Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the Literary Scholar in The Nightingale to four roles in Seussical—Who, Fish, Circus member and Hunch! According to Jamie, “Getting to be onstage portraying different characters with the same core of people (some of whom have be in shows together since elementary school) never gets boring. You always strive for new ways to challenge each other and discover together. Every show feels like a brand new experience.”

  • Many of the Players are performing in their final show. “This is both exciting and a little sad,” Hisa said. “Inevitably, our most experienced students will leave us someday. This year is unusual because we’re losing more than half of them. We’ll certainly miss these committed young actors, who contributed so much to the Players over the years. I felt this play was a great choice for their last show at SCR because they can relate to the story of David Copperfield, now that they’re growing up and moving on in the world.”

    Over the past six years, Kelsey Kato has appeared in seven productions. David Copperfield will be his last Teen Players show and, fittingly, he has been cast as David. “Playing David is like exploring a thorough example of how to approach the universal problems associated with coming of age,” Kelsey said. “My life influences my portrayal of the role as much as the role influences my life, particularly with David, whose conflicts and relationships so closely resemble my own.”

  • Another reason Takakuwa chose a Dickens play is because many of the students had a feeling for the author. “It just happens that 12 of the Players (including Jamie and Kelsey) have been in SCR’s annual holiday show, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—more than any time in the past,” Hisa said. “Getting the opportunity to perform in A Christmas Carol along with adult professionals was a seminal experience for many of this year’s Players and continues to be one of their important emotional links to SCR. To get a chance to revisit Dickens’ world—with its deep and rich core of humanity—as now older and more experienced young people and actors has been a deeply personal and joyful reunion for them.”

  • Here’s another notable Players number: the stage version of David Copperfield has more than 30 characters—far fewer than the novel but enough to require many of the actors to double in their roles. “Portraying more than one character isn’t new to them,” Takakuwa said, “but I purposefully looked for variety. For each gentle character, I found the opposite, a stern, even vengeful person, so the actor would be challenged. With these Players I’m constantly look for new ways to challenge them.”

  • Ready for more numbers? In addition to their other roles, four of the girls also play boys at Davy’s school, Salem House. “Because the play has more male roles and we have more female students, this was bound to happen. It’s just another challenge—and one they’re used to!” Hisa said.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

"Peter and the Starcatcher": The Fun of Storytelling

by John Glore

Art Manke at the Helm

Art Manke’s directorial debut at SCR came when he staged the Theatre for Young Audiences production of The Wind in the Willows in 2004. Two years later he directed Itamar Moses’ intellectual farce, Bach at Leipzig, on the Julianne Argyros Stage and proved himself an adept at that kind of high comedy and its precision timing, leading to such assignments as Alan Acykbourn’s Taking Steps and Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. He also directed an almost-Broadway-sized production of a musical called Lucky Duck in the 2010-11 TYA season.

Manke runs a tight ship, but he also knows how to have fun on stage. His skill set and background (which also includes work as an actor and choreographer) made him a natural choice to stage this production of Peter and the Starcatcher. With Broadway veteran Matt McGrath as Black Stache (previous SCR appearances include Ridiculous Fraud and Putting it Together), SCR stalwart Wyatt Fenner as The Boy (Rest, The Whale and Misalliance among his many SCR productions), and SCR newcomer Gabrielle McClinton as Molly, Manke has found an ideal trio of actors around which to build the ensemble that literally creates the world of the play—a group that includes such familiar faces as Kasey Mahaffey (Crimes of the Heart, You, Nero and Taking Steps), Christian Barillas (A Christmas Carol and The Motherf***er with the Hat) and Tony Abatemarco (Bach at Leipzig).

Director Art Manke
The musical duo for the show comprises musical director David O, who plays keyboards, and Joel Davel on percussion. Davel also played percussion in the season-opening production of The Tempest. David O, a fixture of the musical theatre scene in L.A., composed the music for SCR’s 2008 TYA production of Imagine.

Find more information about the artists involved in SCR’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher here.
Best-selling suspense author Ridley Pearson is clearly not half-hearted about his vocation, as evidenced by the names he has given his two daughters: Paige and Storey. So when young Paige asked him one day, “how did Peter Pan meet Captain Hook in the first place?” Pearson couldn’t resist the invitation to speculate. Speculation turned to woolgathering, woolgathering to yarn-spinning. Pearson enlisted his good friend, humorist Dave Barry, in the nascent project, and soon the two were hard at work on what would become Peter and the Starcatchers (followed by three more books in the series).

Neither Pearson nor Barry had ever written for young readers before, but they didn’t think of this project in those terms: “We're not trying to write for children,” Pearson said at the time. “We're just telling a story.” Barry added, “This is the most fun I've ever had writing a book. By far.”

That sense of unfettered fun, of tale-telling without regard to the expectations of any particular age group, has survived intact in Rick Elice’s stage adaptation of the book, crafted in collaboration with directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. The play has been made to appeal to anyone with an active imagination and a desire to be swept away by a good story well told.

And like many a good story, this one launches when a boy meets a girl. She is named Molly; he has no name, at least not one that he can remember, so he is simply called The Boy.

This also is a tale of two ships, which have been enlisted in a secret mission on behalf of the Queen. One ship holds precious cargo—something of great value, locked inside a trunk. The other holds an identical trunk containing sand, to be used as a decoy. The Queen has entrusted the valuable cargo to Lord Leonard Aster—Molly’s father—and Molly, a strong-minded girl with a taste for adventure, has insisted that she be allowed to accompany him on his voyage to the distant land of Rundoon. Lord Aster has reluctantly agreed, on condition that she be escorted by her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, and that the two of them make the journey on the slower, safer of the two ships, the Neverland, while Lord Aster travels on the Wasp, the fastest ship in the Queen’s fleet.

Peter and the Starcatcher set design by Michael B. Raiford.
And—as fate would have it—also on board the Neverland is that nameless Boy, one of three orphans from St. Norbert’s Orphanage for Lost Boys who have been sold to the ship’s captain, Slank. Slank—as his Dickensian name might suggest—seems to be a man of questionable character. That impression is confirmed when we learn he has contrived to switch the two trunks so that the one holding the unknown valuables has been placed on board his own ship, the Neverland, instead of the Wasp.

But Slank is only the lesser of two villains in this story, for shortly after the two ships set sail, the seamen on the Wasp reveal themselves to be pirates—including one Mr. Smee—led by their nefarious captain, The Black Stache. Stache wants whatever is in that trunk—gold? jewels?—and he’s none too happy when he opens it to discover only sand. Heads will roll and planks will be walked if Stache doesn’t get what he’s after.

Meanwhile, trapped together on the Neverland, Molly and The Boy get to know one another, helped along when she saves him from drowning after he has been thrown overboard by Slank. When Molly discovers what’s in the trunk of valuables, and also learns about the take-over of the Wasp by pirates, she enlists her new friend to help her put things right—and The Boy proves more than willing, for he too has an adventurous spirit.

As the story unfolds, Molly and The Boy encounter glowing amulets, magic dust, a flying cat, a hurricano, mermaids, a volcano and a crocodile named Mr. Grin, and eventually find themselves stranded on an uncharted island peopled by hostile natives called the Mollusks. Working together to overcome one adversity after another, Molly and The Boy grow closer and even begin to learn the meaning of love. Meanwhile, we discover how The Boy acquires a name—Peter Pan—and how a great many of the surprising elements in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, came to be.

While the book Peter and the Starcatchers may be the origin story of Peter Pan, there’s no question that Molly is its protagonist. “We both have daughters,” Barry has said, “and we wanted there to be a girl character who was strong and brave.”

The stage version of Peter and the Starcatcher (Elice chose to drop the final “s” from the title) began its journey in 2009 at the La Jolla Playhouse, then moved to an off-Broadway run at the New York Theatre Workshop. Ecstatic reviews prompted a transfer to Broadway (2012), where the play earned the most Tony nominations of any play in history—nine—and won five awards.

Part of the play’s wide appeal can be traced to Pearson and Barry’s original story—a fantastic concatenation of elements from J.M. Barrie filtered through the authors’ own fertile imaginations. But for adults in particular, the highly theatrical story-telling method provides at least half the fun. As Elice describes it in a prefatory note, “The dozen actors play everyone and everything—sailors, pirates, orphans, natives, fish, mermaids, birds ... even doors, passageways, masts, storms, jungles.” They are joined on stage by two musicians who accompany several songs sung by the cast (including a show-stopping mermaid number) and also provide live foley sound effects throughout the play. In a nod to British music hall entertainments and holiday pantos, the role of the nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake, is played by a male actor—Tony Abatemarco in SCR’s production—and the prominent moustache that gives The Black Stache his name is painted on, à la Groucho Marx.

Costume renderings for Peter and the Starcatcher by designer Angela Balogh Calin.
SCR’s Segerstrom Stage season opened with a fantastic shipwreck—in a magic-infused production of The Tempest—and now closes with another, as the embattled Neverland splits in two and sends its passengers scrambling to safety on an unnamed island, occupied by characters every bit as surprising as Prospero, Miranda, Caliban and Ariel. Although the two shows are very different in many respects, they also have a great deal in common, beginning with their shared sense of theatre as an ideal home for wonder, man-made magic, character-forging adventure—and unabashed fun.

One doesn’t have to be a child to appreciate Peter and the Starcatcher—in fact some of its delights are best enjoyed by adults—but it doesn’t hurt to adopt a childlike openness and belief that, in the world of theatre, at least, anything is possible. When J.M. Barrie created Peter Pan—a character who has long since entered the realm of myth in Western culture—he understood that growing up can be a difficult adventure, and that at one time or another almost everyone has felt the desire to hang onto or reclaim childlike innocence, playfulness and freedom from worldly cares. Peter and the Starcatcher is a gift to that part of us, wrapped in the brightest imaginable theatrical trimmings.

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