• Designing a Magical Set for "The Velveteen Rabbit"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 03, 2019
    The Velveteen Rabbit Production Photo

    Paul Culos, Nicole Cowans, Joseph Abrego, ​Amielynn Abellera, Carina Morales and Nicole Erb in​ SCR's Theatre for Young Audiences ​production of ​The Velveteen Rabbit ​with sets by Keith Mitchell.

    Velveteen Rabbit production photo

    ​Amielynn Abellera and​ Ricky Abilez in The Velveteen Rabbit.

    scale model tree

    ​Designer Kieth Mitchell's scale model tree for the set of The Velveteen Rabbit.

    Set designer Keith Mitchell is drawn to designing shows that are based on books—such as Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience, Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business and Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

    For The Velveteen Rabbit, he found a lot of joy in making the magical world in which the story about the Boy and his stuffed velveteen rabbit doll unfolds. Although he didn't read the book as a child, he did as a teenager and also saw an animated film version of the story in the 1980s. It’s possible that rabbits are special to him because he grew up in the Conejo Valley—which means “rabbit” valley—and saw cottontail rabbits all the time.

    We caught up with Mitchell while he was designing the set for The Velveteen Rabbit (May 24-June 9, 2019), Theatre for Young Audiences) and asked him about the inspiration for his designs and more.

    What was the first play you remember seeing?
    It was Tales From the Arabian Nights at the Indio Date Festival. It was outside and had live camels and I remember the genie disappearing in a puff of colored smoke.

    When did you become a designer?
    I think that happened at a very young age. I remember moving my parents’ furniture around when I was about 6 years old; I'd do that every time they’d leave me alone. I’d get on the floor and push the sofa around.  But, I also made my own movies with friends and I think my favorite part was making the world of the story.

    Do you find a lot of creative freedom in designing shows for young people?
    Oh, there's a bit of radical freedom to be had designing for young audiences! There’s often a level of naturalism in adult plays that is rarely utilized in children’s shows. Adults should see what they’re missing! I would love to approach a play for adults the way I approach a children’s show. It would be exciting.

    What draws you to the story of The Velveteen Rabbit?
    I’m a fan of classic British children’s stories and the golden era of illustrations. I studied those things when I dreamt of being an artist and my favorite color palette comes from those old illustrations. I think the strength of The Velveteen Rabbit story is the power of a child’s imagination.

    How did you go about designing the set?
    The world of play, which is still where I go when I design, can be a very richly detailed emotional place. I remember spending a summer at my grandmother’s house and, to me, it was a place of pure adventure. But the river pirates were all in my head. As I designed this show, I thought about the wall in the Boy's garden as the edge of childhood. The gap in the wall leads to the woods and adulthood. The wall is broken by some unseen cataclysmic event. The woods are sort of vague, like adulthood from a child’s perspective, and maybe a little scary. The nursery feels very bright and safe, but its walls are made of scrim and when the lights are right it becomes transparent and can transport us to the world beyond. We also had to play with scale, since the toys are bigger than the Boy. I wanted to evoke the feeling that you have when you are looking at a blade of grass close up, or you close one eye to play with perspective, to make your toys look bigger than life.

    What was your favorite childhood toy?
    It was a little stuffed bear—his name was Rufus.

    Learn more about The Velveteen Rabbit and buy tickets.

  • Meet the Cast of "The Velveteen Rabbit"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | May 23, 2019
    The Cast of the Velveteen Rabbit

    THE CAST: clockwise from top left: Joseph Abrego, Nicole Erb, Paul Culos, Amielynn Abellera, Ricky Abilez, Nicole Cowans and Carina Morales. 

    Do you remember the childhood toy that you loved the most? The seven actors who bring the beloved tale of The Velveteen Rabbit (May 24-June 9, Theatre for Young Audiences) to life do. In addition to dishing on that kid memory, they talk about their favorite childhood books and more. They’re all excited to bring this show to life—and are moved by the story of the transformational power of love.


    Abellera,-Amielynn

    Amielynn Abellera
    Character:
    Velveteen Rabbit
    Acting: I wanted to be an actress since forever—when I was 5—because my parents took me to see lots of plays and musicals.
    SCR credits: I’m making my debut!
    Other things I’ve done include the TV shows “Just Add Magic,” “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn” and “NCIS.” I also narrate fun middle school and teen audio books at Audible.com.
    A big adventure from childhood: We had a large living room and my big brother and I would pretend the carpeted floor was a shark-infested ocean. The game was that we'd have to travel from one side of the room to the other without getting eaten by a shark. We would use furniture to build an adventure course through the large ocean. Tables became floating towers, the couch became an island, pillows became boulders, chairs turned into safety towers, the fireplace mantle became a rocky ledge to perch upon. We would take turns hopping and jumping from one thing to another and make scary shark sounds for each other when it wasn't our turn.
    A book I loved:  I gravitated toward The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It was a complicated book for me and I would feel different emotions every time I would read it as I grew older. Sometimes, the tree's unconditional love inspired and moved me, and relieved me of my fear of hurting someone with mistakes or bad choices. Other times, I felt that the boy was incredibly selfish, taking and taking from the tree until the tree had nothing else to give but his remaining stump, which still provided relief for the boy. Regardless, it was a story that I always wanted to read over and over. It encouraged me to know that when you love someone unconditionally, you love them and they love you—through the good, the bad, the easy, the hard and everything in between.
    My favorite stuffed animal: When I was five, my favorite stuffed animal was my Baby Fozzie Bear. He had a Christmas outfit on—a red and green scarf with a matching red hat and green holly. This particular stuffed animal was a limited time offer at McDonald’s and was very hard to find. It was Christmas Eve and every McDonald's was sold out. I was so sad; I remember my Dad driving me around one night to five different McDonald's before finding the very last Fozzie available in our town. That made me so happy and every time I see a Fozzie Bear, I remember my Dad's love, determination and how he didn't give up on finding me that stuffed animal.


    Abilez,-Ricky

    Ricky Abilez
    Character:
    Boy
    SCR credits: My last show here was on the big stage, Shakespeare in Love.
    Other things I’ve done include Frederick at MainStreet Theatre Company.
    A big adventure from childhood:  My brother, my aunt and I would use chairs and blankets to build a fort to help protect us from Big Foot and other creatures of the woods! It always worked. Then we’d take down the fort using our magic wands! We were in training to become powerful wizards. This was before we went to Hogwarts.
    A book I loved: Oh, Green Eggs and Ham—I think mainly because I love the color green and I was obsessed with the idea of green eggs. But, as I've grown older, the story, to me, is about embracing the unknown. Sam-I-Am teaches us that being open to things that seem foreign or different is essential to living a happy, full life and that a simple meal can be commonly shared among creatures of all shapes, colors and sizes.
    My favorite stuffed animal: I've had so many special stuffed animals. My turtle, Franklin, and my dog, Pups, really helped me overcome bullying in elementary school. Sometimes they were the only things that could make me feel better—when it wasn't a hug from my Mom, it was a cuddle from one of them! My Dad gave me Pups and my Mom gave me Franklin so, when my parents divorced, the stuffed animals reminded me of them when I spent weekends away. They were very real to me and I still have them!


    Abrego,-Joseph

    Joseph Abrego
    Characters:
    Wooden Lion, Furry Rabbit and Sam the Gardener
    SCR credits:  I was in Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook.
    Other things I’ve done include: Evita, Man of La Mancha, Carousel and In the Heights
    A big adventure from childhood: I loved dressing up with dresses and heels.
    A book I loved: My favorite childhood book was called Milk and Cookies. It was a story about a little boy who was afraid of the sounds that came from his basement. He spent lots of time speculating and worrying about the types of monsters that lived down there. When his Grandfather discovered the boy was afraid of the basement sounds, he took him down there to show him it was just the water heater! They laughed over it with milk and cookies. This book helped me realize that we create a lot of the fears we have—and we can overcome fear by confronting it.
    My favorite toy:
    Barbie dolls.


    Cowans,-Nicole

    Nicole Cowans
    Characters: Wind-up Ballerina, Wild Rabbit and New Bunny
    SCR credits: This is my second show here this season—I was in Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience. Oh, and I was in a concert-reading of the musical Prelude to a Kiss during the Pacific Playwrights Festival in April.
    My favorite animal (this one's not stuffed!) when I was a kid was the mythological creature called the Phoenix. I loved that it was so magical that it could be reborn from its own ashes!


    Culos,-Paul
    Paul Culos
    Character:
    Skin Horse
    SCR credits: I was in last season’s show, Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook
    Other things I’ve done include the television shows “Modern Family,” “The Middle,” “Superior Donuts” and “Shameless.”
    A big adventure from childhood:  As a kid, I remember disappearing into my drawings. I would spend hours sketching images and making up stories in my head about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Batman or the American presidents, whom I had a strange fixation on.
    A book I loved: The Hobbit was one of my favorite books as a kid. My Dad gave me my first copy. It was an exciting, scary adventure and probably the first time I had delved into more advanced reading. I can’t part with it to this day.
    My favorite toys: I had a white, fluffy stuffed dog with black spots that my cousins gave me for Christmas one year. I named him Ruff. He wore a flat cap with my initials sewn into it and I held on to him for many, many years. But my most favorite toys as a child were my extensive collection of Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, and super hero action figures. I would make up new stories every day with them!
    Erb,-Nicole

    Nicole Erb
    Characters:
    Model Airplane, Doctor, Nursery Magic Fairy
    SCR credits: I was here last year in Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook.
    Other things I’ve done include doing stand-up comedy with Upright Citizens Brigade and in the TV shows “Scandal,” “Big Time Rush” and “Hack My Life.”
    A big adventure from childhood: Growing up in Pennsylvania meant there was always some woodsey area to play in. I grew up near a bunch of creeks and forest areas and always liked looking for animals and fish and bugs around me. Pennsylvania is also nothing but old buildings and historic grounds so, as a kid, it feels like everywhere is haunted or you’re hunting for clues. You used to find arrow heads in the woods near my house. I also remember going to Gettysburg on a class trip and people finding civil war bullets and old buttons everywhere.
    A book I loved: The Borrowers! My Mom would read me another chapter every night before bed. I loved the family and I spent a lot of time making tiny furniture and putting it around my room so that when the Borrowers that lived in my house came out at night, they'd have furniture and gifts that were just their size (and they could even keep it if they wanted). I'm sure that I loved the book because my Mom read it to me and made it such a special part of my daily routine. I was also a big fan of Are You My Mother? 
    My favorite stuffed animal: My family had a husky-shepard mix named Frisbee while I was growing up. She looked like a wolf. So, of course, my favorite stuffed animal was a husky that I named Baby Frisbee. I loved Frisbee (the actual dog) so much that when she got older and it was time for us to say goodbye to her, it was nice to have a mini-version of her to hold on to and remember her by. Baby Frisbee still lives in my old room at my Mom's house.


    Morales,-Carina

    Carina Morales
    Characters:
    Nana and Toy Soldier
    SCR credits: The young audiences musical, Amos & Boris
    Other things I’ve done include: The national tour of Junie B. Jones ​and musicals at Hong Kong Disneyland and Universal Studios Singapore.
    A big adventure from childhood: When I was a kid, I loved to play with my American Girl dolls. I pretended that they were my children and I would invent all kinds of dramatic situations for them to play out. Sometimes, my dolls would get in fights with each other and I would help them make up and become friends again; or they would get sick in the middle of the night and I’d have to rush them to the hospital for emergency surgery! Other times, I would take them on exciting imaginary trips to Europe or Disneyland! Much like the Velveteen Rabbit was real to the Boy, my dolls were real to me, and I spent endless happy hours playing with them.
    A book I loved: A Wrinkle in Time. It’s a thrilling story that’s full of exciting characters, and delivers beautiful messages about embracing individuality, and the ultimate triumph of love.
    My favorite stuffed animal: When I was very little, I had a stuffed leopard named Leopard. She was a large stuffed animal, actually taller than I was at the time! I used to carry her around using both hands to balance her across the top of my head. Leopard loved to sing songs and star in shows in the living room with me. She was also very soft and gave the best hugs!

    Learn more about The Velveteen Rabbit and buy tickets.

  • Party Play: "M. Butterfly"

    by 
    Beth Fhaner
     | May 21, 2019

    Celebrated playwright David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, a tale of obsession, perception and the allure of fantasy, opened to an appreciative and mesmerized audience on Friday, May 17, 2019, on the Segerstrom Stage.  M. Butterfly—a Tony Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist—concludes SCR’s 2018-19 season.

    Hwang has a nearly three-decade relationship with SCR, which premiered his Golden Child (1997) and produced Chinglish (2013, with Berkeley Repertory Theatre). M. Butterfly, Hwang’s break-out hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1988, is a compelling drama about the passionate 20-year affair between a married French diplomat and a mysterious Chinese opera diva. Inspired by true events, M. Butterfly captivated the First Night audience, delivering two hours of extraordinary performances, exquisite costumes and wigs, and spectacular acrobatic dance sequences under the expert direction of Desdemona Chiang and choreographer Annie Yee. Theatregoers immediately showed their admiration for this stunning work with enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation.

    Led by Jake Manabat as Song Liling and Lucas Verbrugghe as René Gallimard, the entire ensemble delivered impressive performances while transporting the audience to Paris and Beijing during the decades of the 1950s-1980s. The talented cast also includes Aaron Blakely, Melody Butiu, Stephen Caffrey, Nike Doukas and Juliana Hansen. The ensemble included Annika Alejo, Yoko Hasebe, Andres Lagang and Sophy Zhao, all of whom performed the incredible dance numbers.

    Honorary Producers and First Night attendees Geoff and Valerie Fearns greatly enjoyed seeing the play and commented, “Desdemona [Chiang’s] creativity with the story was captivating! The use of breaking the fourth wall with the audience gave us the ability to feel like we were actually there with René and his ‘Butterfly’. It was a lovely tribute to a delicate story.”

    Honorary Producer Michael Ray was also in attendance on First Night and found M. Butterfly to be as relevant and entertaining as ever. “This production is beautifully staged and acted with great passion and sensitivity,” he said. “While it challenges us to think about timely issues of gender and geopolitics, it also presents us with a timeless story about whom and why we love. It’s a moving, challenging and riveting night at the theatre!”

    Guests who attended the cast party on Ela’s Terrace were welcomed to an inviting scene, as red starlight linen-covered tables and twinkling overhead lights created a festive atmosphere, along with large bouquets featuring red roses and gorgeous crimson florals.

    Crème de la Crème provided the catering for the celebratory soiree, which was sponsored by South Coast Plaza as part of their season sponsorship for Segerstrom Stage’s 40th anniversary. With a menu inspired by Asian cuisine, partygoers feasted on an array of scrumptious hors d’oeuvres such as petite vegetarian spring rolls with a lemongrass-miso dipping sauce, roasted garlic chicken skewers with ginger plum reduction and steak au poivre with Dijon, mustard seeds, cornichons and capers on rye toast points.

    Other delectable appetizers included Angus beef sliders with brie cheese, slow-roasted pear and fig compote, spinach dip with carrot and celery sticks and pomme chips with spicy ketchup. The Asian salad, comprised of Napa cabbage, snow peas, bean sprouts, Julienne carrots, bell peppers, crispy wonton strips and Asian sesame ginger dressing, and served in petite, to-go containers, was also a popular dish. For a sweet finish, guests indulged in tempting treats such as house-made lemon bar bites, chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies in the shape of a butterfly.

    From the bar, the play-inspired signature cocktail was dubbed “Le Papillon”—a delicious beverage that blended Tito’s Handmade Vodka with Lychee Liqueur and pink lemonade.

    First Night theatregoers were delighted to have the opportunity to meet the director and the entire cast during the after-party. As guests mingled with fellow theatregoers into the evening, much appreciation and acclaim continued for the cast and creative team of M. Butterfly, Hwang’s enthralling, remarkable tale of espionage, East-West relations and betrayal.

    Learn more about M. Butterfly and buy tickets.

  • Love and Loss: Growing up with the Velveteen Rabbit

    by 
    Kathryn Zukaitis
     | May 21, 2019

    Velveteen Rabbit Logo

    My Own Velveteen Rabbit

    Katherine and Nana

    Kathryn & Nina’s school photo, 1989

    Shortly before I was born, my grandmother sent a stuffed Peter Rabbit across the country—my very first birthday present. Once I learned to crawl, I would scoot unerringly toward this rabbit, which I called Nina (“Peter Rabbit” being much too difficult to pronounce). We were soon inseparable and I brought Nina to preschool with me every day. To their credit, my teachers decided to work with, rather than against, my attachment; we developed a ritual in which the whole class would help place Nina in my backpack at the end of each school day, making me feel like one very cool kindergartener. Nina eventually stopped attending school but continued to have many adventures and even spent one rather scary night lost in a mall in Omaha. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, Nina has shed some fur over the years and was even partially decapitated at one point—don’t worry, Mom sewed her head back on—but has always been well loved. To date, Nina has lived in seven states and four countries and currently resides in Santa Ana, California.

    Kat and Nina

    Kathryn & Nina, 2019

    “There was once a velveteen rabbit.

    “In the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.”

    So begins the beloved children’s classic by Margery Williams. When the Velveteen Rabbit first arrives in the nursery, the Boy ignores him and the other toys mock his simple construction: he has none of the wind-up machinery or poseable joints that characterize the top-of-the-line playthings in 1922. Only one other toy shows him any kindness: the Skin Horse.

    The Skin Horse is old and worn, but he knows a truth that the other toys don’t: when a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. This secret both intrigues and scares the Velveteen Rabbit, for being loved by a child seems to involve a lot of being sat on or left out in the garden overnight. But when the Boy chooses the Velveteen Rabbit as his new favorite toy, there is no looking back.

    Velveteen Rabbit

    The Boy and the Velveteen Rabbit become inseparable. They embark on a series of fantastic adventures throughout the nursery and garden, and they grow older together. The Velveteen Rabbit is by now quite worn and shabby—and he couldn’t care less. He’s discovered the power of loving and being loved. He has become Real.

    Then the world changes. Scarlet fever strikes and the Boy’s life hangs in the balance. The Velveteen Rabbit stays faithfully at the Boy’s side throughout, whispering encouragement and waiting impatiently for things to return to the way they were before. But when the Boy’s fever finally breaks, the doctor decrees that all of the child’s belongings must be burnt—especially his germ-filled rabbit. Alone on the trash pile, the Velveteen Rabbit wonders if there was any point in learning how to love, if it all ends like this.

    Parents, don’t fear: the Velveteen Rabbit will survive the trash pile—and with a little help from nursery magic, will discover how the transformation wrought by love has prepared him for a whole new reality.

    Playwright Janet Allard’s adaptation hews close to the classic children’s book, bringing the Velveteen Rabbit’s fun-filled relationships with the Boy and the other toys to glorious life. For director Beth Lopes, who also helmed last season’s hilarious Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook, this tale has a twofold message. The first part celebrates the enduring bond between a lonely child and an ordinary toy: together, they learn to harness the power of imagination and build a world of excitement and secrets to share. The second part of the story, though, teaches us that real love demands more than just shared adventures—sometimes it also means learning how to let go. For Lopes, a true celebration of childhood honors both the wonder and the sadness inherent in growing up.

    The result is a beautiful, bittersweet production, supported throughout by original music from Ears Up Sound Design (Matt Caspary and Mark Glenn). Kathryn Wilson’s delightful period costumes transport viewers back to the 1920s and transform actors into wind-up ballerinas, model airplanes, joined wooden lions—and even humans. Keith Mitchell’s storybook sets and Karyn D. Lawrence’s delicate lighting complete the onstage world; and Kathryn Davies, a veteran SCR stage manager, rounds out the creative team.

    Lopes has assembled a talented cast to inhabit this enchanting world of toys. Amielynn Abellera makes her SCR debut in the title role; Ricky Abilez, who appeared in last season’s Shakespeare in Love plays the Boy; Joseph Abrego, Paul Culos, Nicole Erb (who all three appeared in Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook), Nicole Cowans (Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed) and Carina Morales (Amos and Boris), return to the SCR stage to portray the toys, rabbits, fairies and humans that make up this wonder-filled world. Read more about the cast.

    With its resonant message of love and loss and its design that celebrates the nostalgia and exuberance of childhood, South Coast Repertory’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit promises to delight both longstanding fans of the classic story and those who are meeting the Rabbit and his Boy for the first time.

    Learn more about The Velveteen Rabbit and buy tickets.

  • 56th Season Unveiled—the First to be Programmed by Artistic Director David Ivers

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | May 15, 2019

    David Ivers

    South Coast Repertory’s 2019-20 season build​s on the theatre’s 56-year foundation of stellar artistry. The lineup of 13 plays ranges from a two-person show to a large-cast musical and represent a kaleidoscope of classics and popular hits, along with four world premieres and three shows for young audiences and families.

    “We’re excited for our upcoming season, which is built on the solid legacy of South Coast Repertory’s more than five decades of artistic excellence,” says Artistic Director David Ivers, who ​joined Managing Director Paula Tomei in announcing the ​plays. Ivers is embarking on his first year ​as artistic director.

    “Overall, the season offers gigantic, yet intimate stories about love in all its forms—love that draws us together, that pulls us apart, family love, love of food, surprising love, love of country and unspoken desires. These plays also showcase adventure, heroism and finding the strength to overcome adversity. There’s something for everyone—a wonderful journey and we’re looking forward to sharing it with our audiences.”

    Watch David Ivers talk about the upcoming season.

    The offerings include the world premiere of The Scarlet Letter by Kate Hamill, the musical She Loves Me (directed by Ivers), American Mariachi by José Cruz González, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and the beloved children’s story, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

    "There’s a palpable energy around next season,” Tomei says. “It offers endless possibilities for us to engage our community in new ways, and expand and deepen our existing partnerships. We’re excited by the fresh perspectives, new ideas and enormous talent that these 13 plays will bring.” 

    Check out the full season.


    On the Segerstrom Stage

    • American Mariachi by José Cruz González
    • Aubergine by Julia Cho
    • She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics)
    • The Scarlet Letter by Kate Hamill (world premiere)
    • Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

    On the Julianne Argyros Stage

    • The Canadians by Adam Bock (SCR commission, world premiere)
    • Fireflies by Donja R. Love
    • Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley
    • I Get Restless by Caroline V. McGraw (world premiere)

     Theatre for Young Audiences

    • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (book and lyrics), music by Shelly Markham
    • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: A Musical Adaptation by Min Kahng (book, music, lyrics)
    • Dory Fantasmagory by John Glore, adapted from the book by Abby Hanlon (world premiere)

    And for the Holidays...
    The 40th anniversary of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol by Jerry Patch, Nov. 30-Dec. 24, 2019

    Learn more about the 2019-20 season and purchase subscriptions and season tickets. Single tickets go on sale June 10, 2019.