• Working Toward the Write Stuff

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 17, 2017
    Playwriting Class

    Playwriting teacher Kristina Leach, left, looks over writing prompts with her class.

    Kristina Leach

    ​Playwriting teacher Kristina Leach.

    As a 10-year-old, Kristina Leach was drawn to both acting and playwriting; she found them amazing. And still does. As the instructor in South Coast Repertory’s Theatre Conservatory playwriting class, she hopes that students share her love for playwriting and especially for dialogue, which sounds like music to Leach.

    “I love asking just the right question of any one writer that helps them break open the scene they've been working on,” Leach says. “Or, if by bringing in just the right prompt, they are able to see, perhaps, the end of their play. This is my favorite thing—helping out.” 

    Why should you give playwriting a try? Leach has a two-part response: “Why not?!” and “If you're human, you have at least one story to tell. If you love theatre, you should attempt to tell that story on the stage. Get in here—what do you have to lose?" 

    What’s your approach to teaching?
    I tell my students to think of me as a sort of “play midwife.” I’m here to ask questions, provide positive feedback and empower you (the writer) to bring your play(s) into the world. I say: “It might be painful...but, don’t worry, I’m here for you.”

    My class operates the same, whether you're new to my class or repeating it: we always talk about what we’ve seen—plays, films, TV, art exhibits, etc. I bring a writing prompt to every class, so we always write. Everyone is encouraged to share their work and we talk about it with respect and encouragement. My class is an applause-only environment. I believe the best way for a writer to identify and use their skill is to do it. You never know what you’re capable of until you throw it out there. I try to bring my experience in professional theatre into the classroom to, hopefully, point them in the right direction for that next step. My class is the best place for that. 

    What does a good class outcome look like?
    Finishing a first draft is a successful outcome. Any time a student is able to get to the next level with their work—be it a second draft, a public reading or even submitting it to a play festival—I feel like these are successes. But honestly, even if the goal is just to finish something—to put “end of play” on that last page—I am thrilled and feel like I’ve done my job. My hope is that, during the eight weeks, they're able to say they've made progress. 

    What resonates with you about scripted storytelling?
    I tell people all the time that my favorite way to experience a play is to hear it in a reading. Sure, I love productions—who doesn't? But listening to the words the way the playwright intended, without the bells and whistles, is the most exciting part for me. I tell all of my students that my two favorite words in the English language (and most likely all the languages) are: “Lights up.” That first moment—all those possibilities—that’s the stuff. 

    What play do you wish you would’ve written?
    This is a tough question for a girl who has worked in a literary department for 13 years.  I have four plays, in no particular order: Equivocation by Bill Cain, Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety by Kristoffer Diaz. Wait! I just thought of a fifth one: Our Town by Thornton Wilder. I love that play. You know what? There are too many. Can I do a couple of Top 10 lists instead? I mean, I really should divide this into genre. Oh, and I haven't even considered the Absurdists yet... 

    What script or play has had a lasting impact on you?
    I’m going to answer this with two plays. The play that has resonated with me the longest is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It’s probably one of the first plays I really READ—and not just because I had to for school. It made me think about the intricacies of playwriting: what it entails and what it can do. It stuck, and continues to be one of my favorites. But the second play with impact for me is last season’s Vietgone at SCR. I was lucky enough to watch that play become the thing it is now—and the story is still evolving because there are sequels coming. To me, what Qui Nguyen accomplished in Vietgone, and continues to create both with words on the page and stylistically, is the future. I love having that to look forward to. 

    Where is your “happy place”?
    My Monday night playwriting class.

    Learn more and enroll.

  • Role Call: Meet the Cast of "Orange"

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 17, 2017
    The cast of Orange

    THE CAST: Pia Shah, Anjali Bhimani and Karthik Srinivasan.

    Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Orange is the story of Leela—a teen from India who is on the autism spectrum; she draws about life in a journal book. She travels to Orange County, Calif., for a family wedding, but is spirited away for a one-night adventure by her cousin. It’s a wild ride, but a journey of discovery for everyone. Two of the cast members were in the reading of Orange at the 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF).

    Anjali BhimaniName: Anjali Bhimani
    Orange Role(s): Cousin Priti and all the other female characters.
    Hometown: Tustin, Calif. “Yup, I ACTUALLY grew up in Orange County, just like Priti (Leela’s cousin)!”
    Credits include: Bombay Dreams (Broadway); “Modern Family.”
    Last time at SCR: Read the role of Priti at the 2015 PPF.
    “I knew I wanted to be an actor when…”  Hmmm, I don’t think there was a specific moment, but I do remember seeing a production of Kismet in Fullerton and thinking “Ooooh, people actually do this for a LIVING?” Also, the fact that the female lead was a fellow brown girl AND a soprano made me feel like there was a chance I could actually do this for a living. 
    Recently binge-watched: “The Night Of.” So,so,so, so good…the storytelling was so intense, and even just the first episode felt like an entire movie…
    Fruit preferred with breakfast. Grapefruit or blueberries. 
    Observation about Orange County: I love working across from South Coast Plaza because it reminds me of so much of my childhood. Every time I turn right to go to SCR, I want to go left and go inside the mall and go to the carousel. 
    "I’m drawn to the story in Orange because…” so much of it is like my life growing up here. The character of Priti is very different from who I was, but at the same time, I really identify with her. And the relationship between Leela and her mother is so beautiful.
    Memorable teen adventure: Oh heck no…I am not sharing that one. My mom is coming to see this show. 
    Advice teenaged self: Don’t worry so much about what other people think of you…or rather, recognize that the harshest criticism and judgment is in your own head.

    Pia ShahName:
    Pia Shah
    Orange Role: Leela.
    Hometown: Born in Chatham, N.J. and moved to Bombay at age 5. Moved back to New Jersey at age 10; back to Bombay at age 13; and returned to New Jersey at age 15. “Dizzy yet?!”
    Credits include: Noms de Guerre (Pasadena Playhouse); “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
    Last time at SCR: Read the role of Leela at the 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival.
    “I knew I wanted to be an actor... until after I graduated college. I thought I would be a human rights lawyer and almost went to law school!
    First play seen: I think it might have been a touring show of Evita in Bombay.
    Recently binge-watched: “Search Party”—I loved it! 
    Fruit preferred with breakfast: I have to say orange, right?! Actually, I'll say blueberries.
    Observation about Orange County: I'm struck by the amazing and dedicated audiences I've seen come to see the current shows at SCR. When I pop out of rehearsal for a break and see the crowds rushing to make their shows, the energy reminds me of New York City. But we're in Orange County, so it's pretty special.
    I’m drawn to the story in Orange because…” of how freeing it is to accept yourself and be who you are—even if it's painful and you're sometimes misunderstood. 
    Memorable teen adventure: I once drove from Baltimore to NYC and back in the same night to see a ​band. And then went to class in the morning! 
    Advice to teenaged self: Work hard. Know your worth. Remember that boys are dumb. Let go of anything that isn't serving your best interest." That can be hard to know when you're a kid though!

    Karthik SrinivasanName:  Karthik Srinivasan
    Orange Role(s): Gar (Priti’s boyfriend) and all the other male characters.
    Hometown: Born and raised in New Dehli, India; moved to Springfield, Va., at age 13.
    Credits include: “Shameless” and “Bold and the Beautiful.”
    “I knew I wanted to be an actor…”  While pursuing my degree in electrical engineering, I took Intro to Acting as an elective to graduate. My final scene for class was True West, where I got to portray Lee dictating his story to Austin. The out-of-body experience I had during that performance was enough of a defining moment for me to know that I had something I needed to tap into. 
    First play seen: In the U.S., I saw our high school's production of Guys & Dolls and thought "you'll never catch ​me on stage doing that.”
    Recently binge-watched: “Stranger Things”
    Fruit preferred with breakfast: Practical answer: whichever fruit my son doesn't finish for breakfast, really. Ideal answer: bananas!
    Observation about Orange County: The number of people who immerse themselves in the vibrancy of the numerous arts programs that OC offers.
    I’m drawn to the story in Orange because…” of its universality and the message of love and acceptance no matter who we are and where we come from, is in every fiber of its words. This work is a testament to the fact that heroes don't need to wear capes. Sometimes they just need to ​be there for those who need them. 
    Memorable teen adventure: Moving to the U.S. was a pretty huge adventure in itself. If ever there's an age to not leave your house, family and friends behind in a country 12,000 miles away, it's 13. 
    Advice to teenaged self: This too, shall pass. 

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  • The Play That Transforms Lives: Simon Family Scholars See "Moby Dick"

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 15, 2017
    Simon Family Foundation

    Simon Family Foundation "Simon Scholars" at a performance of Moby Dick.

    "The feeling of excitement that continued throughout the whole performance was something memorable for me. My self-acknowledgement that I loved theatre was crystal clear after watching Moby Dick.”

    That’s one way Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Moby Dick connected with Jessie, a junior as Los Amigos High School and a Simon Family Foundation “Simon Scholar,” who recently saw the show.

    The foundation serves students from disadvantaged backgrounds and provides them with tools, mentoring and support to create successful college applicants with the ultimate goal of developing confident individuals who remain highly competitive throughout their college years and beyond.

    The arts—and in this case, a theatrical production at South Coast Repertory—have been another opportunity to introduce the students to experiences that can be transformative. Student scholars from the Newport Mesa School Unified District, Garden Grove School District and the Santa Ana School District saw Moby Dick.

    “South Coast Repertory is so close to where our students live,” said Megan Barnes, the foundation’s chief operation officer. “It was a perfect opportunity for them to experience a literary classic like this and enjoy it on so many different levels.” 

    For the students, those levels of engagement with the show included the acting, the set and costume designs, the sound, acrobatics and hands-down great storytelling. For SCR, it was another chance to bring the live theatre experience to more young people.

    Here are some other comments from the Simon Scholars:

    • “I greatly appreciated the opportunity to attend Moby Dick [and to see it] brought to life. It was my first time [seeing a play] and it was amazing—an unforgettable piece of living art. The best part was the very end, when one of the actors came out to mingle with us. It was a great experience.”—Eliasar M., Simon Scholar alumna
    • “The show was just spectacular—I loved the stunts they did. It was funny, adventurous, and fulfilling.”—Manuel, Los Amigos High School
    •  “I have a deep appreciation for the arts and enjoyed how well this performance of Moby Dick incorporated the different styles of art to bring the show to life, fully immersing the audience. The show exceeded any and all expectations I had and I am glad to have had such an amazing opportunity.”—Jesus B., Costa Mesa High School
    • “Being able to attend Moby Dick was incredible! I sincerely enjoyed every second of it. This event gave me the opportunity to see my Simon Scholar Family from other schools and spend time with them. I do not see them very often but events like these help bring us all together, which I genuinely love.”—Eric L., Saddleback High School
    • “Thanks for the opportunity to see one of your amazing plays live.”—Walter R.
    • “The play was a pleasant experience, the actors and staff were amazing!”—Fatima O., Saddleback High School
    • The scholars and I really enjoyed the evening out being able to be together and watch the wonderful play, Moby Dick. Thank you again.”—Celine O., Saddleback High School

    Find out more about the Simon Family Foundation.

  • Illustrating a Travel Adventure: "Orange"

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 14, 2017
    Orange Logo

    Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Orange is an action-adventure story with a lot of humor and a huge heart. It follows Leela, a teen from India who comes to Southern California for a family wedding and then goes on a wild ride through Orange County with her rebellious cousin. Director Jessica Kubzansky calls Orange a “delicious directorial challenge because it’s so important that this play comes from Leela's perspective.” As a young person on the autism spectrum, Leela’s view of the world will be created through projections onstage of her journal drawings that illustrate her journey.

    Recently, Kubzansky, set designer Michael Raiford and projection designer Mike Tutaj talked about bringing Leela’s story to life.

    Kubzansky: Leela draws things she sees in her journal, and takes it with her everywhere. It is, in some ways, a record of her experiences. One of the things the play reveals as it goes on are the differences between what we see when we look at her drawings, which start as very simple geometric shapes, and how these drawings expand as we watch the world from more inside her perspective. As her action-adventure deepens and continues, we get more and more inside her head and the illustrations start to reflect how rich her experience is.

    Raiford:  The starting point for the set design was inspired by Leela’s journal. The set has four large, blank moveable surfaces that function like stand-alone journal pages. We can combine those into different configurations and project illustrations of what Leela sees and draws. The large panels that you see on stage are all covered with the pages from Leela's journal.

    Kubzansky: For example, Leela and her cousin find themselves at the Tustin Blimp Hangars, which, as perhaps you’re aware, are vast structures. All four panels can come together with a large projected illustration of both the fence in front of the hangars and then expand to the hangars themselves to help us see how she experiences this location. Conversely, a single panel may be used to show us an airplane window, which is a much more contained space. Essentially, we see what she sees on her wild ride through Orange County.

    Raiford: Visually, the set will be spare, with two benches and a tower that come in and out to create various locations. For example, the benches can pivot to represent many different things like seats on a plane or in a car.

    Tutaj: Michael has given me a lot of great tools to work with in his set design. The set feels very theatrical, so the projections will layer on the sense of location, like the hangars, a store or the beach. The illustrations help shine a light for us into Leela’s perception of the world.

    Learn more and buy tickets.

  • Audience Sets Sail for Adventure as Moby Dick Opens

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 01, 2017

    On Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, South Coast Repertory First Nighters had the chance to go down to the sea in ships—well, one ship in particular, The Pequod—for the west coast premiere of Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Moby Dick.

    This reimagined epic adventure of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the White Whale—told through director David Catlin’s adaptation—caught up audience members in the thrill of its theatricality, acrobatics and physical daring, as well as its humor, humanity and heartbreak. The stunning blue cloth of the sea, the eerie and compelling Fates and Sirens of the Sea, the ship’s crew climbing the “mast” and swinging from rigging all came together for a night to remember

    After giving a thunderous standing ovation for the performance, the First Night celebration moved to The Plaza Ballroom at The Westin South Coast Plaza (co-sponsor of the Cast Party). First Nighters and other VIPs—including our special guests, Carolyn & Bill Klein and Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, the individual honorary producers for Moby Dick, along with Corporate Associate Producers Haskell & White and Mellon Wealth Management—enjoyed the nautical-themed menu and décor

    The seafaring menu included fish sticks with tartar sauce, clam chowder with oyster crackers, flatbread creations and many choices at the pasta station. Delicate miniature desserts, along with cookies and brownies, gave a certain sweetness to the party

    At the bar, the popular signature drink was another nod to Captain Ahab’s nemesis: the “Great White Whale,” a mix of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Kahlúa and heavy cream

    First Night subscribers will have memories not only of the play, but this joyous after-party

    Said Rick Smetanka, partner with Haskell & White: “’Bravo’ for an awesome opening on Friday! It was a terrific show and an enjoyable evening.”

    Bill and Carolyn Klein added: “It was one of the most engrossing stories told through the uniquely creative staging and convincing acting we've seen in a long time. It was a real treat to see.”

    Honorary Producer Sandy Segerstrom Daniels added: “It is an honor to support the outstanding artistic achievements South Coast Repertory has realized through the years. Moby Dick is but the latest show to confirm my commitment to supporting this important work for years to come. It was breathtaking.”