• The Inside Scoop on "Poor Yella Rednecks"

    by 
    SCR Staff
     | Feb 21, 2019
    The cast of Vietgone

    Director May Adrales and playwright Qui Nguyen (fourth and fifth from left) with the cast of SCR's 2015 world premiere production of Vietgone.

    “An unlikely intermingling of family play, history play, sex farce, action flick, and cultural critique. It is overtly rollicking and sneakily moving.”—The Guardian about Vietgone


    In the award-winning Vietgone (2015 world premiere at SCR), playwright Qui Nguyen recounted his parents’ hot and hilarious courtship in a Vietnamese refugee camp in 1975. For the next chapter in the family's story, Poor Yella Rednecks, it's six years later and Tong and Quang are building new lives in a foreign land called rural Arkansas. But marriage is hard—especially when she’s having doubts and his first one isn’t over yet. ​This family’s history makes for a raucously funny, deeply moving take on the immigrant story, told with hip-hop style.

    Poor Yella Rednecks reunites Nguyen with director May Adrales. He’s thrilled to work with her again.

    “She’s my perfect artistic partner in bringing this story to life as she’s also the child of Asian immigrants who grew up in the deep ​South and, like me, isn’t afraid to laugh loudly,” he says.

    Adrales calls Nguyen a “mad genius” who “smashes together genres of fantasy, romantic comedy, drama in ​his notorious signature style, along with the theatrical spectacle of movement, music, puppets and projections.”

    Nguyen ​calls Poor Yella Rednecks his most personal play yet.

    “It’s about my family,” he says. “It’s about two people who are very much in love here in America, but also haunted by the ghosts of who they were in Vietnam. And as the title suggests, it’s about living in poverty in the ​deep South as Asian immigrants. That’s the heartbeat of the play, which I’m aware sounds heavy."

    Nguyen is known for shows full of kung fu fights, random ‘90s hip-hop dance breaks, immature puppets, and even more immature jokes. “I can assure you, that’s also this play,” he confirms.

    He credits his mother, Tong, with the humor that infuses his work.

    “After my mom saw the very first play I ever wrote (a “serious” show in 2006 called Trial By Water, about Vietnamese boat people) she remarked, ‘This not sound like you. You funny. This play not funny. Be funny. That you.’ So therefore, this is all her fault. Blame her. And that’s why she’s the lead character in Poor Yella Rednecks. (How ya like that, mom?).”

    Adrales says that this Nguyen play spotlights people who struggle to make something out of nothing to create a better future for their child.

    “In a time where immigrants are criminalized and cruelly punished for fleeing violence and war, Poor Yella Rednecks ushers in a much​-needed reminder of shared humanity,” she says. “I believe everyone will find they have more in common with the Nguyen family than differences. And, along the way, you’ll laugh at some off-color jokes, cry a little and open your hearts a bit more.”

    Learn more about Poor Yella Rednecks and purchase tickets.

    Did you know that Poor Yella Rednecks is part of the 2019 Pacific Playwrights Festival? Check out all seven bold, new plays.

  • Meet the Cast of "Photograph 51"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 11, 2019
    The cast of Photograph 51

    THE CAST: Helen Sadler, Riley Neldam, George Ketsios, Giovanni Adams, Anil Margsahayam and Josh Odsess-Rubin.

    Anna Ziegler’s play Photograph 51 focuses on scientist Rosalind Franklin's work in discovering the DNA double helix. She was a British science pioneer who took hundreds of X-ray crystallographic images and one of them showed the double-helix structure; the team later received a Nobel Prize for the discovery, but Franklin's role in the work went unacknowledged. The six cast members are excited for director Kimberly Senior’s vision for the play, are learning a bit about the science that led to the discovery and, below, they dish on their own science moments and talk about the characters they portray in the play.


    Adams-51

    ​Giovanni Adams
    Previously at SCR:
    I was in the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Little Black Shadows by Kemp Powers and then was in the production on the Argyros Stage.
    My character
    is James Watson. He is an American, which is to say he lacks the social niceties—the English ‘sense of fair play’—when it comes to important matters like discovering the secret of life. Jim is wicked-smart, full of self-confidence and charm, and has an unrelenting drive to win. In another life, he might have made a good salesman or competitive athlete. He pushes his mates to cross the finish line first in the DNA race, leaving little time to count the cost.
    The moment in the play that really resonates with me: The character of Rosalind has this beautiful speech where she shares a bit of wisdom passed down by her father and, to me, it felt very similar to the speech black parents give their children, this idea that you've got to be a cut above the rest when you start at a ‘disadvantage.’ In this case, because she’s a woman. ​I get the sense that Rosalind took this advice to heart and really held herself to an impossible standard. ​What struck me is how, in spite of all the effort she made to be remarkable, Rosalind and her hard work were almost forgotten.
    My science moment in school: As a kid, I was full of questions and naturally gravitated toward the sciences. Photograph 51 actually brings back fond memories of high school, back in Mississippi, where I was lucky enough to be a part of a program called Base Pair, an obvious play on the foundational components of DNA; students were paired with medical researchers just across the street at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. My research focused on the p53 gene found on chromosome number 17, which encodes a protein shown to help prevent cancer. I looked into ways of detecting p53 protein (both healthy and mutated forms) in saliva as a marker for people with high risk of getting cancer, as was the case we found for one of my high school math teachers. I also looked into ways of using viral DNA to infect damaged cells with the good form of the p53 gene as a possible method for cancer treatment. However, my most vivid memory of this time is my Mom discovering me dead asleep in the medical lab late one night without so much as a phone call, she was royally pissed! I was lucky enough to have my research published in the Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences. Pretty cool!


    Ketsios-51

    ​George Ketsios
    Previously at SCR:
    I’m making my debut!
    My other credits include
    “Grimm,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Scandal,” “Shameless,” and the TV series “Lethal Weapon.”
    My character
    is Maurice Wilkins. He’s a man dedicated to his work and to the love of science. When one becomes deeply engrained in the work and nothing more, they become blinded to the world around them and, with that comes the loss of the life that surrounds them. He is a man full of regrets. The arrival of Rosalind Franklin comes with some difficulty, but she quickly turns to a shining light in Maurice's life; he’s both afraid to confess to and or confront her. As his love for her grows over the course of time, his past failures hold him back from expressing this to her.
    The moment in the play that really resonates with me: I don't think I can choose just one​. At the first rehearsal, I found myself laughing more than I expected and embracing all the humor that unfolds between the characters. Perhaps the one scene that resonates most is between Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, working side by side in the lab, while Ray Gosling acts as a mediator between them. The childish act of having Gosling tell the others what they’re thinking and saying just shows the absurdity that comes ​from playing games with one another.
    The science moment in school I knew that it wasn’t for me.
    It was over a period of one month in sixth grade when our science teacher, Mr. Palmer, brought in dead things for the class to dissect. However, my present-day love of science comes from my son Leo's love for Tom Lehrer’s The Elements. To hear him sing this song, and rattle off all the elements, brings pure joy to my life!


    Margsahayam-51

    ​Anil Margsahayam
    Previously at SCR:
    This is my debut!
    My other credits include
    Oh Danny Boy, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Silicon Valley," “The Big Bang Theory" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
    My character
    is Francis Crick. He’s a bit of a multi-disciplined scientist. He has a lot of wit and humor and I think what resonates with me the most is his kindness to his friends. I know he's a bit of a villain in the play, alongside Watson, but there are these moments along the way that he looks out for his old friend Wilkins that make him likable. He also has a bit of a philosophical side that balances out the constant pressures of being a scientist. He ponders and explores and really only speaks when necessary.
    The moment in the play that really resonates with me:
    I am drawn to the scenes at both the beginning and end of the play that talk about an actress in a play that Rosalind had seen that didn't stand out to her. On the surface, it seems like a pretty simple metaphor for Rosalind—not standing out in her field at the time. There are so many layers as to why this idea is so tragic and perplexing at the same time.
    My big science moment:
    This actually happened when I came home from school. My grandfather, who was living with us, was a retired physics professor. There was a basic science quiz we had to study for and he really shined a lot of light on it for me. I remember sitting with him and just being in awe of how learned he was and how patiently he walked me through everything.


    Neldam-51

    ​Riley Neldam
    Previously at SCR
    : The Sisters Rosensweig.
    My character
    is Ray Gosling. He’s a lesser-known figure during the era of this play, but he is a bit of an unsung hero in his own right. While he was working as Dr. Franklin’s assistant, he was often the one who captured and developed the X-ray images including the now famous “Photograph #51.”
    The moment in the play that really resonates with me:
    I particularly like the moment when Rosalind and Maurice warm to each other very briefly when they discover they have a mutual love of Shakespeare.
    The science moment in school I knew that it wasn’t for me:
    I was really interested in physics, but when I was told that my math grades and scores weren’t good enough to take physics, I had to let it all go at that point.


    Odsess-Rubin-51

    ​Josh Odsess-Rubin
    Previously at SCR:
    Sense and Sensibility this season as Edward Ferrars who courts Elinor Dashwood.
    My character
    is Don Caspar, the one man in the play who unabashedly admires Rosalind Franklin, both as a scientist and as a person. Caspar and Watson are the only two Americans in our story and, in some ways, they represent the yin and yang of this country. While Watson is all cutthroat ambition, Caspar is all openness and warmth. An interesting historical note: Watson’s qualm with the real Caspar was that he was simply too unwilling to find faults in his colleagues.
    The moment in the play that really resonates with me:
    It actually breaks my heart, when we see what might have been: ​when Rosalind voices her inner desires—her secrets, her dreams—and then we see what actually occurred. It is both a beautifully human and a wonderfully theatrical moment that you don’t expect.
    My science moment:
    In elementary school, I definitely thought I was going to be a marine biologist. Within a few years, I found out that reading [and loving] a picture book about manta rays (so cool!) are quite different from actually learning about hemoglobins or hydrostatic pressure. The last nail in my science coffin was in college. I had a science requirement and thought I’d take an easy-sounding course geared for non-majors—astronomy​. It was crazy-intense physics and dense mathematics and totally miserable. All I wanted to do was learn about constellations!


    Sadler-51

    ​Helen Sadler
    Previously at SCR:
    One Man, Two Guvnors and The Whale.
    My character
    is Dr. Rosalind Franklin. She was a brilliant bio-physicist, whose pioneering work on X-ray diffraction led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. As portrayed in Photograph 51, she is single-minded, sometimes intractable but passionate and unapologetic in her pursuit of scientific excellence and truth, at great personal sacrifice.
    The moment in the play that really resonates with me:
    There is a wonderful scene where Dr. Wilkins brings Dr. Franklin a box of chocolates to ‘make friends’ after a rocky start. She completely eviscerates him… so much of the humor comes from the difference in how the (male) scientists expect her to act, and what they actually encounter.
    The moment I knew science wasn’t for me:
    When I was in school, the smell of the physics lab didn’t help. It was a pungent combination of the albino salamanders that were kept in a tank (who knows why?) and sulphur from many experiments. All of that just wafted down the corridor to greet us. Lovely…

    Learn more about Photograph 51 and buy tickets.

  • Five Questions for Melanie Watnick, Costume Designer of "Sweeney Todd"

    by 
    Beth Fhaner
     | Feb 08, 2019
    The Cast of Sweeney Todd

    The cast of Sweeney Todd in costumes designed by Melanie Watnick.

    Sweeney Todd Costumes

    ​​Conlan Ledwith and Jamey Hood in Sweeney Todd.

    Melanie Watnick got started in her profession as a student costumer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Following graduation from UCSB, Watnick continued her studies at UC​-San Diego, where she obtained a ​master of ​fine ​arts degree in ​costume ​design. After a stint at the Juilliard School as a guest costume designer for The King Stag, Watnick went on to teach costume design at UC​-Irvine for seven years and then worked as a freelance costume designer, where she designed costumes for theatre and dance companies such as SCR, Seattle Repertory Theatre, San Diego Repertory Theatre, Boston Court Pasadena, Kansas City Ballet and Norwegian Cruise Line, among others.

    As a ​costume ​designer and ​professor at Pepperdine University, Watnick develops curriculum and uses her connections in the performance world to cultivate long-term professional relationships for her student-artists. We recently caught-up with the Los Angeles native to ask her a few questions about designing costumes for Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

    What was your design inspiration for the Sweeney Todd costumes?

    I am a huge fan of this musical and the dark themes it explores. The industrialization of England was not such a pretty thing in reality. There was human suffering, loss, poverty and people were at their wit’s end. I wanted to capture this feeling, but in a fleshy vibrant way versus going dark and Gothic. I looked at a lot of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, paintings as well as still life paintings with rotting fruit and dead game. The use of color and light in these paintings really intrigued me. I relied on them heavily to create a color palette for the show.

    What’s the best part—and the biggest challenges—about working on Victorian-era costumes?

    The best part of working on a Victorian-era costume production is that it is Victorian-era. I love this period, which, to be clear, has several stages within it and can look quite different decade to decade. We set our Sweeney Todd in the 1840s. The hardest part is that we can’t build every costume, so some pieces are shopped. Thank goodness for the people who are interested in historical reenactment clothing—and the cosplayers who take it seriously. They have opened up the options available to buy things pre-made online that can look fairly good with a bit of tweaking and tailoring.  

    What inspired you to delve into a career of costume design? 

    I've been interested in theatre since I was a kid. I used to sing, act and dance but it wasn't my cup of tea entirely—something was sort of missing. Once I got to college, and learned that there was a path in design, I jumped in with both feet. Theatre being a collaborative art form is really what I love and costume design is based in that. From developing a design concept, to working with an actor and draper during a fitting, to the final moment it is seen onstage, it is a joint effort. 

    What do you enjoy most about being a costume designer?

    Fabrics. Finding the perfect fabric and getting to use it to make a garment. Seeing it come to life on an actor and move the way you had hoped. That is when it all comes alive. Knowing again that you succeeded as a team to make that happen is a grand thing. It makes me giddy, honestly. 

    What are some of your favorite productions that you’ve designed costumes for?

    Sweeney Todd, honestly…it is a true pleasure to work with this group. Smokefall at SCR and Hey-Hay, Going To Kansas City and Keep Me Wishing In The Dark, both with Kansas City Ballet.  

    Learn more about Sweeney Todd and buy tickets.

  • An Interview with Composer Deborah Wicks La Puma

    by 
    SCR Staff
     | Feb 07, 2019
    Deborah Wicks La Puma

    Deborah Wicks La Puma

    Meet Deborah Wicks La Puma

    Deborah Wicks La Puma is a composer, music director, orchestrator and choral conductor. Her work for adults and children has been seen by audiences around the globe, from Singapore to Australia to the East Room of the White House. Her awards include the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, the Robert M. Golden Award, a National Endowment for the Arts New American Works Grant, a Helen Hayes Award, two Parents’ Choice Awards, an iParenting Media Award and an LA Ovation Award nomination. Her work has been commissioned and premiered at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Cornerstone Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Repertory, the Alliance Theatre, Boston Court Pasadena, Childsplay, Imagination Stage and Olney Theatre. Wicks La Puma has arranged music for a number of young audiences productions including The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny, Ken Ludwig’s Tom Sawyer and Joan Cushing’s Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business, Miss Nelson is Missing and Petite Rouge. SCR audiences may remember Wicks La Puma’s music in Ella Enchanted, which was produced as a part of its Theatre for Young Audiences series in 2017. The production (with a script adapted by playwright Karen Zacarías) was directed by Casey Stangl, who also directs Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed:The Rock Experience.

    In this interview, composer Deborah Wicks La Puma answers some questions about collaborating with playwright Mo Willems, the music in Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and what the story says to her.

    South Coast Repertory: How did you get involved in this adaptation of Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed?

    Deborah Wicks La Puma: This is my third project with author and playwright Mo Willems, after first working with him on the musical adaptation of his book Knuffle Bunny. Happily, Mo liked my tunes, so he invited me to write Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play, based on his popular books series. We were then excited about creating a rock show about naked mole-rats, as that seemed fun, silly and right up our alley. Now we are working on our fourth show, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus: The Musical!

    How would you describe the music in Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed?

    The music is a celebration of classic rock—I consider it almost a primer for young audiences who might not be familiar with the sounds of some my favorite artists. With nods to David Bowie, Queen, Heart, Pink Floyd and Jim​i Hendrix, I hope to capture the energy of rock to tell the story of a sweet mole-rat who is a little different.

    As a composer, how do you collaborate with a lyricist? What comes first, the music or the words?

    I have been lucky to work with a number of amazing librettist/book writers in my career and each collaboration is different. But we always begin talking through the story and the characters, and then what the world might “sound” like. Often, we will create a playlist of music for inspiration and use it as a point of reference for energy, tempo or vocal range. Mo has a very strong sense of the characters going into each of these projects—since he has already created a book around them—and usually creates a draft of the lyrics first before I start playing around with them. Sometimes the lyrics are fully formed, and the music just seems to flow out of them. Other times, I will start using only catches of phrases that ring in my ear, and then create a musical structure that we rewrite the lyrics into. My favorite part of the job is not to just set the words onto a series of notes, but to see how I can spin them around using all the transformative power of music to create something new and exciting.

    In addition to writing the music, you also serve as the production’s music director. What do you do in that role?

    As the music director, I teach the songs to the actors, coach them to sing their best and work with them as an ensemble to make everything sound good! I love to work on things like dynamics, clean musical cutoffs and harmonies.

    What do you hope audiences will take away from Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed?

    I hope audiences will enjoy this sweet story told in a sassy way— that being your true self is a rockin’ idea. Be a little different and celebrate by singing out loud—why not?

    Learn more about Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and buy tickets.

  • Meet the Cast: "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 04, 2019
    The Cast of Naked Mole Rat

    Melody Butiu, Daniel Bellusci, Gina D'Acciaro, Joel Gelman, Nicole Cowans and Marqell Edward Clayton in ​Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience.

    Six actors transform into a colony of naked mole-rats in the fun musical Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience (through Feb. 17, Theatre for Young Audiences), adapted by Mo Willems from his book. He’s the author of other beloved books including Knuffle Bunny and the Elephant and Piggie series. The cast members love the songs, the fun costumes, the cool set that looks like an underground tunnel—and they love bringing this story about acceptance to life.


    Bellusci

    Daniel Bellusci
    Character: Wilbur J. Mole Rat Jr.
    SCR credits:
    This season, I was in another young audiences show called Nate the Great and I played Nate, a kid detective! Last season, I was in two shows here—one for young audiences, Ella Enchanted: The Musical (as a prince!) and one called Little Black Shadows, where I played a teenage boy in the American south just before the Civil War.
    What I like to wear:
    My most favorite fashion choices include light-colored Adidas soccer pants, with a button-up shirt with any kind of fun pattern. I love to combine casual with a bit of class!
    My favorite animal:
    Lions! When I was a kid, I thought they were so beautiful and majestic (I still do!).


    Butiu

    Melody Butiu
    Character: Grande
    SCR credits:
    A Christmas Carol, Ivy + Bean: The Musical, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (where I played a mom, a sea captain, a native girl and an octopus expert!)
    Other things I’ve done include:
    “NCIS: LA,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Gotham” and “Modern Family.”
    What I like to wear:
    My fashion choice for rehearsals is usually colorful pants, my pink tennis shoes and a comfy sweater. I like comfortable clothes I can dance and rock out in.
    My favorite animal:
    I didn’t have many pets growing up but, for a brief time, I had a turtle that I named Badger because we found him on a camping trip in Badger Lake in Oregon. I brought him to school for show and tell and even shared custody of him with my friend, Bert.


    Clayton

    Marqell Edward Clayton
    Character: Venti
    SCR credits:
    I’m making my debut here!
    Other things I’ve done include:
    Disneyland and a pre-Broadway national tour of Ain’t Too Proud.
    What I like to wear:
    I love wearing boots with cuffed jeans. I wear this combo everywhere—including to parties, church, work and even on holidays! It’s my #1 g​o-to outfit. It’s often accompanied by various forms of collared shirts. My favorite collared shirt has elephants and giraffes on it and reminds me of a safari!
    My favorite animal:
    I didn’t have pets growing up, well, except for a few fish that the biggest fish in the tank ate. I’ve always loved tigers though; love their size, stripes and subtlety.


    Cowans

    Nicole Cowans
    Character: Tall
    SCR credits:
    I’m over the moon to be making my debut here!
    About me:
    I have an MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and studied lots of theatre elements including acting, singing, clowning, masking and dancing. I’m Afro-Latina and speak English and Spanish.
    What I like to wear:
    My favorite fashion choice is an earth or jewel tone off-the-shoulder shirt, dark or black capris​-cut exercise pants and classic Converse shoes. I like to be comfy and active, but still feel sexy and stylish!
    My favorite animal:
    When I was a kid my favorite animal was the mythological creature called the Phoenix. Why? Because it's magical and can be reborn from its own ashes. It’s still one of my favorites!


    D'Acciaro

    Gina D’Acciaro
    Characters: Weather Mole, Potential Customer, Secret Service Mole
    SCR credits:
    The Light Princess, another young audiences show.
    Other things I’ve done include:
    “Nip/Tuck,” The Sticks, “The Agency” and “The Fur is Gone.”
    What I like to wear:
    Heels and hoop earrings shaped like hearts! If I’m wearing jeans, a fun colorful pair of high heels and my heart hoops make for a very good day!
    My favorite animal: My favorite pet as a kid was my cat named Guido. She was my best friend. She had a crooked tail and her head always tilted to the right. And she was perfect.


    Gelman

    Joel Gelman
    Character: Stark Naked Mole Rat, Grand-Pah
    SCR credits:
    Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and two young audiences shows, The Light Princess and Ella Enchanted: The Musical.
    Other things I’ve done include:
    “Modern Family” and “Henry Danger.”
    What I like to wear:
    I'm most comfortable and confident in jeans and a sweatshirt—and some wicked-cool sneakers!
    My favorite animal: I've always loved the duck-billed platypus because they look like a mythical creature, but they're real!!

    Learn more about Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience and purchase tickets.