• Theatre Conservatory Alumni Return to Assist with “Into the Woods”

    Beth Fhaner
     | Aug 17, 2017

    Theatre Conservatory alumni returning to help with Into the Woods (left to right) Jasmine O'Hea, Kelsey Kato, Chris Huntley and Shane Iverson.

    Meet Three Returning Theatre Conservatory Alumni

    Christopher Huntley: Christopher Huntley (19) has been in the SCR program for 10 years, both in Conservatory classes and in the Junior, Teen, and Summer Players Ensemble programs. When not goofing around in an SCR studio, he’s a rising sophomore at Stanford University, studying themed entertainment design and theatre.

    Shane Iverson: A former Summer Player, Shane (21) was a student in SCR's Teen Theatre Conservatory for five years and performed in shows such as Seussical, Annie, Bliss, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. After graduating from the program, she worked as a conservatory assistant for two years before moving to Boston to pursue a degree in writing, literature and publishing at Emerson College. She serves as the Prose Editor on the literary magazine Concrete. This is Iverson’s second time working as an assistant on a Summer Players production.

    Jasmine O’Hea: Jasmine O’Hea (23) began taking classes at SCR in sixth grade and was a member of the Junior, Teen and Summer Players. Offstage she has worked as a Conservatory assistant, production assistant, child wrangler, substitute teacher and assistant music director. She graduated summa cum laude from Wheaton College, Illinois, with a degree in communication and theatre. She loves sharing her passion for the arts with others and has performed in nontraditional settings including prisons and a Smithsonian Institution affiliate. She currently works at Mariners Church and plans to pursue a graduate degree in communication.

    Each summer, a handful of Theatre Conservatory alumni return to SCR to help with the Summer Players productions, either as actors or assistants. We talk with three former students about what keeps them coming back to SCR and what they’re most excited about regarding the Tony Award-winning musical Into the Woods.

    What draws you back to SCR?

    Huntley: SCR is a unique place because I feel like I grew up in those studios. Coming back makes it full circle. Working again with the people who have seen me develop and change over the years is a powerful thing.
    Iverson: While assisting on the Summer Players show helps develop me as a professional and “looks good on a resume”, it is ultimately the kids who keep me coming back. It is truly inspiring to see these young actors grow their characters through the art of theatre. Since SCR had that influence in my life, I like to be a part of the process that had such a profound impact on my personal growth.
    O’Hea: SCR has been a second home to me since I started taking classes in elementary school. It’s where I made incredible friends, grew in self-confidence and developed a passion for theater. The beautiful thing about the SCR community is that you feel wholly accepted for you are, yet are still consistently challenged to become the best version of yourself you can be.

    Tell us about your role, either as an actor or assistant.

    Iverson: I am the assistant director on this show, which basically means I am a set of eyes and ears for the director Hisa Takakuwa and musical director Erin McNally. My main responsibility is to work with our young actors on their character development, particularly concerning body, movement and voice. Since acting is such a vulnerable experience, I also think it’s my job to be a cheerleader and mentor for the actors.
    Huntley: In Into the Woods, I play Cinderella’s Prince; within the cast, I play big brother to 28 young actors (and literally to one of them). I really enjoy working with everyone because, as Hisa always tells us to “Fresh-mint” our work, the younger actors bring a new life to the rehearsal room in everything they do .
    O’Hea: Into the Woods is the sort of show that, no matter how many times you have heard or seen it, there is something new to be learned from each encounter. I was in SCR’s first production of Into the Woods in 2011, and the play is resonating with me much differently now than it did then. This time around, I find myself thinking about the various ways the characters respond to adversity. Do they use curses and tragedies as excuses for giving up, or do they seize agency in their own stories and pursue their goals with even more determination?... The language of Into the Woods is rich and very specific, and my job as assistant music director is to help the actors understand and emotionally connect with the words they are singing. Our goal is that even in this world of magic, mystery and high stakes, the characters are still grounded in truth and vulnerability.

    What is your favorite part of being involved in an SCR production?

    Iverson: The people, it’s always the people.
    Huntley: The secret to success in any SCR Players production is the incredible people working behind the scenes. My favorite part of coming back is getting to work with the incredible artists and professionals who put in countless hours to make the best show possible: an impeccable design team, an outstanding stage management team, and of course, the marvelous directing team
    O’Hea: I cherish every opportunity I have to be a member of an SCR ensemble. The emphasis SCR places on community means that individuals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences are able to quickly form a family unit, brimming with love for the work and for one another. The ephemeral nature of theater makes the ensemble even more special, as you know it will only last for a moment.

    What are you most excited about regarding this production of Into the Woods?

    O’Hea: I have worked previously with almost every member of the cast, and I am so proud of the way they are meeting the demands of this show. It is a true joy to watch the growth that occurs within the rehearsal room as the actors take risks and learn to trust themselves and each other. Plus, it’s always a treat to watch the masterful Hisa Takakuwa and Erin McNally at work!
    Iverson: I’m so excited for these kids to share their work with those who care about them!
    Huntley: I am incredibly excited to tell the story of Into the Woods with the cast because the work goes deep. Unlike many youth theatre programs, SCR treats their students like adults and holds them to a very high standard. Therefore, every cast member has been firing on all cylinders, whether they be practicing a new physicality for their character, journaling about their character’s thoughts and back-story, or getting together and Improv-ing little scenes between two actors. The work is really going to shine onstage.

  • Striking Up the Band for "Once": Meet Music Director Andy Taylor

    Tania Thompson
     | Aug 14, 2017

    Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Cassidy Stirtz, Alex Nee and Marnina Schon in rehearsal for Once.


    ​Music director, Andy Taylor.


    ​​The cast of ​Once​ during rehearsal.

    On a Tuesday afternoon in the Segerstrom Stage, Andy Taylor is animated as he talks about Once (Sept. 2-30, 2017). For this multi-award-winning musical, he balances two roles: music director and the Bank Manager character, a role he originated on Broadway.

    “Once is so uplifting,” he says. “The music that this ‘rag-tag’ group of musicians performs will just blow everyone away. We’re all going to be transformed through the power of music.”

    His work for Once began the day all the actors were cast for South Coast Repertory’s production.

    “Well, actually it started years earlier,” Taylor chimes in with a caveat. “No one could be cast for any single role in Once without years of experience on at least one of the instruments they play in the show—and some of us play several.”

    Prior to the start of rehearsals, the cast practiced and memorized the music because they are the “orchestra” for Once. But unlike the orchestra for a traditional musical, the cast of Once can’t read from sheet music during performance.

    “Each character in Once is actually an itinerant musician,” says Taylor. “They all have other day jobs, but if you asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would say ‘I wish I could just play music.’ When we go into a song, it’s in the context of one musician saying, ‘the verses are in the key of G and then we go the chorus in the key of D and then there’s a bridge and it kinda goes like this’ and then we’re off. No one is pretending to be someone pretending to play music. We are just people who really can play music.”

    Taylor created the role of the Bank Manager for the Broadway production of Once. He found everything about the story, the music and the way it had been adapted from the indie film for the stage was nearly perfect. He says the only reason the character plays a cello is because “I am a cellist!” Taylor laughs.

    “To put together my two passions of music and acting in a show that well written is truly a once- in-a-lifetime experience,” he shares.

    Learning the Art of Music and Theatre

    Taylor has felt exhilaration at every point in his career, including the time he portrayed Michael Darling in a high school production of Peter Pan. Taylor was eight-years-old at the time and says he got the gig because he was a fluent reader who nailed the audition. In the show, he got to fly—strapped in a harness and twirling around in the air—and found that pretending to be someone “more interesting than myself” was appealing (until he accidentally was flown into a cast iron bed frame on stage and had bruises on his face for a week or two).

    “I still love the part about transforming and telling a good story from a new perspective,” he says. “Frankly I’d love to fly again, but no one has asked me lately. And there’s the whole marks on your face stuff.”

    For Taylor, a native of Missoula, Mont., performance, both music and acting, came out of an arts-filled childhood. The stereo seemed to be on all the time, playing music from an extensive record collection, with “everything from the Beatles to Pete Fountain to Isaac Stern to Victor Borge.” It helped that his parents were pianists (Dad, “a jazz guy all the way,” and Mom, classical, who favored Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) and his aunt was a cellist. Taylor and his musical siblings fought for control of the stereo when they weren’t in practicing with their instruments. After graduating from the Oberlin Conservatory, he launched into a career.

    “I still play regularly, although I make my living as an actor,” he says.

    Creating Roles

    In addition to Once on Broadway, Taylor also originated other roles:

    • J.H. Rodgers in Titanic.
    • Howard the goofy weatherman in Moon Over Buffalo with Carol Burnett.

    “Nothing will ever compare to spending a year of my young life making people laugh alongside Carol Burnett,” he confesses. “I basked in the love that flowed over the footlights at Carol. But, in addition to being one of the funniest humans who has ever lived, she is first and foremost kind. She knew every stagehand and treated everyone with respect. I will never approach her genius, but I can try everyday to emulate her compassion, dignity, work ethic and generosity.”

    Getting Ready for Once in Costa Mesa

    Rehearsals for Once will continue through previews; there’s little downtime and lots of hard work. The delight that Taylor finds for this show is that the synergy created by Once is fascinating and thrilling for audiences and delightful and empowering for the actors.

    “I truly hope that after the show, people leave saying that was one of the greatest evenings in the theatre they have ever experienced,” he says. “Oh, and that the Bank Manager looked much better in person!”

    Learn more and purchase tickets.

  • SCR Acting Student Offers Behind-the-Scenes Look at Rehearsals for "Into the Woods"

    Beth Fhaner and Lauren Dong
     | Aug 11, 2017
    Into the Woods

    ​The Summer Players in rehearsal for ​Into the Woods.

    Meet Blogger Lauren Dong

    Hi! My name is Lauren Dong, and I will be playing Cinderella’s Mother in SCR’s Summer Players production of Into the Woods! I am 15 years old and attend the Orange County School of the Arts and will soon begin my sophomore year in the Acting Conservatory. I’m going into my seventh year of taking acting classes at SCR; I’ve been in classes including Junior Players for three years, Musical Theatre, and I’m excited to be a part of the Teen Players class starting this September. Some of the SCR productions I’ve been in include A Christmas Carol, Seussical, The Witches, Mary Poppins, and Beauty and the Beast. As a seven-year-old, I instantly became fascinated with the world of theatre and started acting in community theaters. At age nine, I was introduced to SCR’s amazing acting classes for kids and it has changed my life ever since. The Conservatory classes helped me build my confidence, grow as an actor and create lifelong friends.

    SCR acting student Lauren Dong is keeping a journal of her experience during the Summer Players rehearsals of Into the Woods, with performances scheduled running through Aug. 20, 2017. On a weekly basis, Lauren has been providing us an inside glimpse into everything that is required to bring a Tony Award-winning musical to the stage. 

    Into the Woods

    ​Students during Into the Woods rehearsals.

    Week of 7/31–8/5

    We started off the week with a very long day for the entire cast. We spent most of the day taking notes and cleaning up our choreography. Doing these things are a really important part of the rehearsal process because we need to slow things down a bit and get everything right before bringing it to the stage. Last week, we finished all the blocking, so this week we’re trying to make a lot of things come together. We spent most of the rehearsal time on running the show and focusing on smaller parts of it. Not only does this give us a chance to get into our own routines set during the show, but we start to become more and more comfortable with the show and each other as we go through the journey of the show together. It’s always beneficial to have a good sense of what your individual path in the show is like before tech week (that’s when we’re on the Argyros Stage and all of the technical portions—like sound, lights, moving set pieces and the like—happens); this gives us confidence in what we’re doing and it helps us to be more organized. On Friday, we did one final run of the show before moving to the stage the next day. All of us took this opportunity to really go full-out and make this run count (not that every other run we do shouldn’t!) This last run went very smoothly, and we are pleased with the work we have done in the rehearsal space. It’s now time to hit the stage!

    Into the Woods

    ​Students during Into the Woods rehearsals.

    On Saturday, we got to see the stage for the very first time! The set is so beautifully designed and feels like we really are in the woods! Goals from Saturday’s rehearsal were to figure out the correct places we need to be on the stage, since it’s a different space from where we’ve been rehearsing. Thus, tech week will be much easier knowing which places to hit on stage and minimize our confusion. We didn’t get through the entire show on stage, but we got through a lot of it. Now, we are more comfortable with our contact with the stage and feel safer as we do the show. Our set wasn’t fully completed, but many of the elements were there and very helpful to work with! I can’t wait to start tech on Tuesday; we are really going to make the show come more alive!

    See Lauren’s previous posts

    *Check back next week for another installment of Lauren’s diary account of Into the Woods

  • Musical Director Has Fun Going "Into the Woods," Inspiring Students with Songs and Storytelling

    Beth Fhaner
     | Aug 10, 2017

    Erin McNally, Musical Director of the Summer Players production of Into the Woods.


    Hisa Takakuwa, Director and Erin McNally, Musical Director of Into the Woods.

    Actor, vocalist and educator Erin McNally is spending her summer working as the musical director for SCR’s Summer Players production of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning Into the Woods, and there is truly no place she’d rather be. She has been inspiring young actors in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory for more than 14 years, including serving as musical director for the past 11 Summer Players shows (and always paired with Summer Players director Hisa Takakuwa). In addition to her many concert and cabaret credits, McNally has been a guest artist at the Hollywood Bowl for a decade and has performed with luminaries such as Patti LuPone, Kenny Loggins and Kristen Chenowith. She is also a teaching artist at Disney Performing Arts at Disneyland. We caught-up with McNally between rehearsals to chat about her musical theatre background and her extensive work with the Summer Players on Into the Woods.

    What first drew you to music and singing?
    I pretty much came out of the womb singing and dancing because it always brought me such joy. I played piano and took dance classes from the time I was 4. It wasn’t until my early teens that music really began to mean something to me, because it became my outlet and my refuge. No matter what was going on in my life, music and singing gave me a positive release of my emotions. Music is my favorite way to communicate—it’s pure.

    What brought you to musical theatre?
    Well, obviously, I was obsessed with musicals as a kid, as singing and dancing were my favorite things in the world. But it wasn’t until high school that it really dawned on me that I could actually do it for a living! I had been cast as Dolly in Hello, Dolly! and, as I was waiting at the top of the staircase to descend during the title song, I had this incredibly euphoric joy that I never knew existed. I decided right then and there that my life would revolve around musical theatre. And it has ever since!

    What has been the most memorable concert that you’ve given?
    That would be a benefit concert I gave in February for Tri-School Theatre, which is not only one of the schools where I teach, but also where I got my start in theatre. It was a magical night! I basically got to tell my life story through song and all of my worlds collided in a beautiful way: personal and professional, teaching and performing, music and storytelling. Plus, I had students and colleagues from all four of my teaching jobs in the audience. It was the most supportive and loving audience I have ever had. Singing on the stage that ignited my career, sharing my personal story with a theatre full of friends and family…it was something I will remember forever.

    What has been the most unforgettable musical theatre experience for you—as a cast member or director?
    That’s a tough question because both performing and directing are essential to my soul’s happiness, but I would have to say directing brings me the most joy, especially at SCR. When I’m directing at SCR, it means I am working with students, many of whom I have had in class from when they were little. Watching them grow is everything to me. And so much growth happens during a rehearsal process! While I love performing with a passion, I will sit in the back during our Summer Players shows and cry my eyes out with pride.

    What elements do you stress with your students in musical theatre classes?
    First and foremost, everything goes back to storytelling. A solo is a monologue, a duet is a scene—we just get to use the emotional language of music to express ourselves. Every word and every note has been painstakingly chosen by the composer/lyricist. Our job is to figure out why our character chooses to say each of those words, and in that way. We have to do our research.

    When did you and Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa first work together—and what makes the two of you such a dynamic team?
    I love working with Hisa so much! The first time we collaborated together was 12 years ago, when she asked me to music direct her Summer Players production of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I immediately knew that we were simpatico because we used so much of the same language when working with young actors. We challenge our young actors to approach the craft as professionals. We don’t talk down to them. We believe in the depth of their capabilities. And we both respect and love each other deeply. But I also think what makes us a dynamic team is that, while we are very much alike, we have very different strengths and complement each other well. And we laugh a lot. That’s important.

    Tell me about the role of the musical director in a production like Into the Woods.
    For a musical director, there are few greater joys than working on Into the Woods! Sondheim is a master. The songs are an actor’s dream, because they are so rich in emotional discovery and propel the story forward, rather than just celebrate the emotion of a moment. But the music isn’t easy. Sprawling melodies, intricate rhythmic patterns, tight harmonies—it’s challenging for any actor, much less young ones. So, my first job is to help them get comfortable with the difficult music, then we pick it apart as an actor. I want it to feel like they are speaking through music, as opposed to singing songs. Another huge part of my job is navigating the copious amounts of underscoring and how it aids the storytelling. But honestly, I am not a typical musical director for Summer Players. Traditionally, a music director teaches the music and then only comes back periodically to check in and then be present for the run. I am actually a co-director for this show! I’m there for every single rehearsal, working alongside Hisa as we stage and direct the show. But the music is definitely my domain!

    Describe the experience that ​Theatre Conservatory students receive through Summer Players.
    Our students are getting an education that focuses more on the process of an actor’s craft, as opposed to just providing the opportunity to have fun performing. Not that doing shows isn’t a wonderful experience! All of our teaching artists are not only dedicated teachers, but also working professionals in the industry. So, our students get to be challenged to grow in a safe environment, guided by loving, working actors/directors/playwrights, etc. And above all, we value the ensemble nature of theatre—working together as a family to tell wonderful stories. It becomes a second home to many of our students. It’s a beautiful thing!

    What else is important for audiences to know about you and Into the Woods?
    Just that I cherish working at SCR. It feeds my soul in every way: as a teacher, an artist, and as a human. This production of Into the Woods is the perfect culmination of everything I love about what we do here: committed artists, beautiful design, emotional storytelling. And these students are doing incredible work. I am insanely proud of them. I hope everyone comes to see this show!

    Learn more and purchase tickets.

  • Making a Musical

    Beth Fhaner
     | Aug 07, 2017
    The Fantasticks

    Perry Ojeda, Nate Dendy, Addi McDaniel and Anthony Carillo in SCR's 2014 production of The Fantasticks. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

    Light in the Piazza

    Erin Mackey and ​David Burnham in SCR's 2014 production of The Light in the Piazza. Photo by Debora Robinson.

    Excitement is in the air at SCR, as we gear up for the multi-award-winning musical Once to launch our 2017-18 season! The sounds of beautiful harmonies will soon be heard floating throughout the building as the actors—with their instruments in tow—begin rehearsals. In addition, our various shops (including Scenery, Costumes, Paints, Wigs and Props) are all moving full-speed ahead on their respective duties to support this heartfelt and inspiring season opener.

    In order to mount a successful musical, several elements have to come together at the right time including the music, lyrics (of course!), a narrative or story, creative elements (such as set design, lighting, sound), costumes, a director, choreographer, a talented cast and much more. Of course, generous support is required to stage a production (and at SCR, Honorary Producers underwrite our productions), not to mention the behind-the-scenes marketing and media support needed to attract a wide audience.

    Learn more about this art form and what it takes to stage a musical in PBS’s essay “The Elements of the Musical.”

    SCR has produced a number of musicals throughout its history, starting in 1969 with The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Other notable musicals include The Light in the Piazza (Craig Lucas, Adam Guettel, 2014), The Fantasticks (Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt 2013), Side by Side by Sondheim (Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rogers, Jule Styne, 1979), In Fashion (Jon Jory, Jerry Blatt, Lonnie Bernstein, 1976), Cloudlands (Octavio Solis, Adam Gwon 2012), A Little Night Music (Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, 2007), Marry Me a Little (Stephen Sondheim, Craig Lucas, 1988) and The Education of Randy Newman (Randy Newman, 2000), among others.

    Whether you’re already a devoted fan of musicals or you’re just curious about this celebrated art form, the 2017-18 season-opener, Once is guaranteed to be a fun and engaging theatrical experience. Don’t miss it on the Segerstrom Stage from Sept. 2-30!