• The Story Behind the Photo: "The Tempest"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 23, 2020
    The Tempest
    Nate Dendy (Ariel), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest (2014). Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey.

    About The Tempest

    Transformed onstage into a travelling tent show, this is The Tempest unlike anything you—or the Bard—ever envisioned! As the wizard Prospero plots revenge on the enemies who banished him, the exuberant epic takes on a new life—thanks to the music (haunting ballads by the inimitable Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan), the magic (by Teller, of the legendary Penn and Teller duo) and the movement (by Pilobolus, the dance troupe Newsday called “mind-blowing…wildly creative…and physically daring”). This show was produced in association with the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University and The Smith Center, Las Vegas.

    In 2014, magic burst forth on the Segerstrom Stage with a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, adapted and reimagined by acclaimed playwright Aaron Posner and magician Teller. As part of a 17-member cast, magician and actor Nate Dendy portrayed the spirit-servant Ariel. “I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment,” he says, of the photo, above. Read on to find out more about what he found magical and powerful about this moment.

    What moment does this depict?

    Simply, it’s one last dance. Prospero is giving his only child away to marriage. He’s a magician doing one last amazing magical trick with his daughter. He gets to perform with her one last time. It’s their version of a game of basketball in the driveway or fishing or working on a jigsaw puzzle together. Prospero is approaching the end of his own life and so it’s the two of them getting to share one last dance together. You can see me off to the side as Prospero’s spirit-servant, Ariel. I watched this moment from beside Prospero more than 500-plus times, maybe more, and it never got old.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    As so many moments require, there was a team of minds that fine-tuned this moment from every direction. It’s going to sound like I’m just listing people, but each one had a hand in why it looked, and most importantly felt, the way it did. Tom Nelis (Prospero) Charlotte Graham (Miranda) and I worked through the scene with our directors, Teller and Aaron Posner. And, of course, the late and great illusionist Johnny Thompson. Not to mention the band, sound design, lighting, set and costume teams. This isn’t a moment you can just wing​; ​everybody has to be on their game. It requires a lot of grueling work to make something look that effortless. I still wish I could have watched it just once from the audience. 

    What’s the power about this moment?

    From where I stood on stage, I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment. I could go on and on about its power, dramaturgically or metaphorically, but really, it just took people’s breath away. Plain and simple. And there just isn’t anything better than that right?

    Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

    All I can say is how grateful I am to have ​been a part of the team that built this production from the ground up. All of our casts and crews from theatre to theatre, and the entire creative team, taught me so much. I’ve gained some lifelong friends from the experience and it has literally changed the path of my life. Theatre. Is. Important.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 17, 2020
    Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
    Ann Noble in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2015, Theatre for Young Audiences). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    The Story

    Edward, a very large, very dapper china rabbit is given as a birthday present to 10-year-old Abilene, who loves him almost as much as Edward loves himself. But when he gets lost, Edward finds he has a lot to learn. He bounces from person to person until he finally discovers the transformative power of love.

    Director Casey Stangl helmed The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2015, Theatre for Young Audiences Family​ Series). This touching story, adapted from the book by Kate DiCamillo, is about a ​large rabbit doll who goes on a fantastic journey and learns to love and be loved—and this is something Stangl believes people of all ages need to know. She selected the photo above as an important moment from the play.

    • What does this moment depict?

      Casey Stangl: In this photograph, in a scene near the beginning of the play, actor Ann Noble plays Abilene, a little girl who lovingly cares for her china doll, named Edward, and dresses him impeccably. But Edward doesn't appreciate his fortunate situation and doesn't pay any attention to the girl. I've directed nearly 10 Theatre for Young Audiences shows at SCR and Edward Tulane remains my favorite. It's a beautiful story and this very theatrical adaptation featured the actors playing multiple characters AND each played an instrument. 

    • How did you work to make this moment happen?

      CS: The amazing construction of seven Edward dolls and, in particular, the incredible costumes he wore, really sold the idea that Edward had feelings and he seemed almost human. Ann [Noble] and I talked about how lonely her child character is and how much she needs a friend and an ear. Edward's giant ears are perfect for her!

    • What’s the power/depth/humor/other emotion about this moment?

      CS: I love the juxtaposition in this scene of the young girl's innocence and need, contrasted by Edward being oblivious to her emotions. It beautifully sets up the journey of the play, and Edward learning how to love and be loved.

    • Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?
      CS: The dolls weren’t puppets. Part of the story is how all of the characters project what they see and what they need onto Edward.  He learns through their suffering and joy.
  • Behind-the Scenes: Creating an Audio Performance of "A Christmas Carol"

    by 
     | Dec 14, 2020
    A Christmas Carol

    This was supposed to be the year that South Coast Repertory Founding Member Richard Doyle stepped into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, about the only role in the play he hasn’t done. And this was to be the year that longtime assistant director Hisa Takakuwa was set to take the helm as director of the show. Enter: the pandemic. Exit: plans for 2020.

    So, Takakuwa and others brainstormed a different way to mark the yuletide: an audio performance of the Charles Dickens’ tale, newly adapted by John Glore, associate artistic director, with original music and a soundscape by David R. Molina.

    “We really crafted this idea with Richard Doyle in mind—he’s such an amazing actor!” says Takakuwa.

    For Doyle and Takakuwa, the audio performance also became a bridge that connected the past 40 consecutive years of producing A Christmas Carol to today’s unique circumstances and the future: they started their partnership around the Dickens text with an eye toward the return to a live, on-stage production of A Christmas Carol next year on the Segerstrom Stage in late 2021.

    Read on to learn more about how this audio production came about.

    Why is the Christmas Carol story so special?

    Doyle
    Richard Doyle (Performer): It was the first real play I ever saw and I was taken by the story. I had been a child entertainer but, when I was around age 9, my older brother Robert (Bobby), played Scrooge in his senior class production of A Christmas Carol. He was, as I recall, quite good! Though I worshipped him as a brother, it annoyed me that he was so good on stage.

     

    Hisa Takakuwa
    Hisa Takakuwa (Director) I’m a Dickens nerd: Love the whole cannon; love the storytelling and the colorful characters! A Christmas Carol has such heart and power in showing the possibility of transformation by anyone at any stage of life. ​It shows that true riches come from shared experience and human connection. I also love that Dickens keeps a child and the less fortunate as crucial focal points—as he did in all his great stories​; ​this resonates ​with me. Plus, SCR’s A Christmas Carol has been at the center of my holidays for more than half my life!

     

    John Glore
    John Glore (Playwright/Adaptor) Growing up, I enjoyed watching the many different adaptations that were available on television—personal favorites included the Alastair Sim version, the Mr. Magoo version and the Muppet version. I never saw a stage adaptation of the story until I arrived at SCR in 1984 and I think what makes it special is the obvious importance it has for the community. I'm moved by how SCR's stage version has become a holiday tradition for so many families across generations. I love watching it with high school audiences, many of whom may be encountering it for the first time. And, I particularly enjoy the screams from those young audiences when Marley pops through the door of Scrooge's bedroom!

     

    How did this audio performance come about?

    Takakuwa: We knew that Richard would be able to bring all the characters to life and be a lovely guide through and into this world. He grew up with radio and loves this format and he also has wide professional experience with audio work. This seemed perfect: a way to “nest” in SCR’s Christmas Carol tradition with a talented actor, who has a deep history with the story, and to experience it in a comfortably familiar and new way, simultaneously. In terms of process, Richard and I talked about the story: why we loved it, what we needed to tell and how, and then he took it from there. We agreed on the touchstone moments for Scrooge in his growth on his journey, those with the most emotional resonance and discovery. And, we wanted to trust our long history and connection with the story, while experiencing it fresh. Richard would record and I would provide some outside guidance, mainly to help clarify.

    Doyle: I worked on the text, re-read my two or three books on Dickens and re-read the text of Dickens’ live-read version [used by Dickens during his tours] that John Glore had adapted for this audio performance. I approached this project in a way similar to how I do the live narration each year at Pageant of the Masters, where I get to play all the parts (not just one) and support the thematic arc as well. For SCR’s audio performance, I brought all of that to bear on my storytelling, plus play every character, some in scenes with each other, while using my 40 years of experience as a voice talent. I did all of the voice recording work for this project from my home studio. Normally, when I record for a video game, animation, commercials or documentary narration, I stand in a recording booth while a booth director and audio engineer guide and record my performance. For this project, because of COVID-19 restrictions, I had to record and edit my performance myself. I sent Hisa a rough-cut track of the audio, she would make notes and observations and I then would adjust my performance.

    Glore: Dickens did his own abridgement of the full novella, which he performed himself all over the world including here in the U.S. It's quite good, as you might expect, but it doesn't exactly conform to the story that SCR tells in our stage version—it leaves out some moments that I think our audiences would consider important to their experience of the story. Most of my adaptation involved restoring some passages from the full novel and making some other trims here and there, so the duration would remain approximately the same. For example, Dickens cut the scene in which the Spirit of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to visit his boyhood self at school, and I couldn't imagine leaving that moment out because it's so critical to Jerry Patch's stage adaptation for SCR. I do want to emphasize that I didn't change a word of Dickens' text. My favorite line is the one that compares Marley's ghostly face to "a bad lobster in a dark cellar." I did some research and learned that dead lobsters, as they go bad, sometimes give off a bioluminescent glow.

    What have been the most fun and challenging moments?

    Takakuwa: The most fun has been diving into a world that I love with someone I really respect. To know that we’re doing this as a gift for our community and that it’s really needed just now is meaningful. And for me—Dickens, Dickens, Dickens and words, words, words! The most challenging: working remotely, being physically separated.

    Doyle: The most fun has been the challenge of it! Could I do it? Would I learn more about a story I had help tell nearly 2,000 times? My answer was, yes, and that was the fun! Even though I had told the story so many times, I still learned more about the story and the characters in it. Also, I learned why the people who watched the story told, over and over again, kept coming back to take that journey. Reinvesting in A Christmas Carol meant I now understand why I could not forget the story I saw, all those years ago when I saw 17-year-old Bobby Doyle play Scrooge as fully invested as he could be as a high school drama student. As a lifelong storyteller, you never forget or let go of a good story.

    Why is the story’s message of transformation, redemption and hope so important?

    Takakuwa: Because we need it more than ever right now. I get a chance to work with students of all ages in my daily SCR life. I see daily the incredible strain of this time in the faces of our students—the loneliness, depression, lack of anchor and longing for connection. But I also get to see how resilient people are on a daily basis as well. This is a time to share our humanity, our fragility and vulnerability, but also to share the strength we gather from and offer to each other. And, stories always help get us through, yes?

    What can you say to people—children, in particular—who may be feeling isolated or disconnected right now?

    Takakuwa: It’s totally okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. Be willing to reach out, to ask for help and let folks know how you feel You are not alone in your experience; emotions and realizing our humanity and frailty can be really tough, but they are the parts that ultimately make us strong and give us our fullest experience of life. Find new ways to reach out and to express yourself. Let’s all try to really value and cherish each other just now.

    Doyle: I suggest that you sit with your favorite person or family member (hopefully they are one and the same.) Gather round a listening device with a plate of your favorite holiday treats and a cup of grog, wassail or eggnog. Then listen to our reading of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol adapted by John Glore, directed by Hisa Takakuwa, and read by yours truly.

    Pick Your Drink: Eggnog or Wassail

    Takakuwa: Wassail!

    Doyle: Eggnog.

    Glore: I've never actually drunk wassail, as far as I can recall, so I'd have to say eggnog. It's not something I'd ever find appealing the rest of the year (too sweet, too thick, too fattening), but it hits the spot at Christmastime.

    Listen to the audio performance of A Christmas Carol featuring Richard Doyle, Dec. 15-31, 2020.

  • Mask-Up as a Prelude to Restarting the Arts Safely in California

    by 
    SCR Staff
     | Dec 11, 2020
    Mask Up for the Arts

    Last week, Californians for the Arts kicked off a dual campaign to encourage residents to wear masks and to advocate for the creation of re-opening guidelines for the arts industry, similar to those for other businesses across the state (#ReStartArtsCA). Currently no such guidelines exist; they would be the base on which safe re-openings would need to be built. The heart of the campaign is to recognize the power of the arts and entertainment industry as an economic driver and as a necessary outlet to heal communities.

    The Impact

    South Coast Repertory is one of more than 11,500 nonprofit organizations in California. The state’s arts and entertainment industry formed roughly 15.4% of all jobs in the state, pre-pandemic, with direct, indirect and induced workers paying nearly $13 billion to support the state general fund and local governments through property taxes, personal income and sales taxes. At the same time, the creative industries generated $650.3 billion output each year into California’s economy.

    Think of the arts as small investments that deliver big returns. Pre-pandemic, they ​encouraged people ​to leave their homes to spend money in the community. Every visit to an arts event or venue generated $31.47 per person beyond the ticket cost because people ​spent on dining, retail, parking and even lodging. Those dollars provided vital income to local merchants, energized business and retail districts, and paid salaries and wages in non-arts sectors.

    In the past nine months, the arts, entertainment and recreation sector has seen a 40.3% job loss rate, which ripples out to impact the state’s economic well-being. At SCR, we had to lay off more than 60% of our permanent and part-time staff.

    According to a study by Americans for the Arts, 81% of Americans surveyed said the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world” and 72% believed that the arts “unify our communities regardless of age, race and ethnicity.” In these troubling times, we need the arts more than ever.

    Artists can be thought of as second responders because, through their work, they help to rebuild lives and communities during crises by providing critical services. For example, arts programs are one of the most effective treatments for trauma, depression and anxiety including among our nation’s veterans. Arts and creativity reduce our susceptibility to stress-related diseases, and art therapies can help to forestall the onset of Alzheimer’s and promote lifelong brain health.

    How You Can Help to #ReStartArtsCA Safely

    While the state of California has issued re-opening guidelines for businesses such as restaurants, retail, gyms and other places, it has not created re-opening guidelines to help the arts plan for when it will be safe to again welcome the public to theatres, museums, concerts and more.

    We join the Californians for the Arts in asking for state-issued guidelines that are reasonable and measured for the arts and entertainment industry to help us plan for safe reopening when the time is right. And we ask you to help spread this message and support us by:

    • Letting your state legislator and the Governor know that you support the arts as a vital part of California’s economy
    • Letting your state legislator and the Governor know that the arts need public support and an industry-specific reopening plan

    How You Can Help SCR Directly

    In these uncertain and challenging times, South Coast Repertory is working to connect with the community and spread joy through free online theatre offerings. In the spirit of the season, please consider a tax-deductible gift, in any amount, in support of what we are doing.

    Make a Gift

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Once"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 10, 2020
    Once
    Rustin Cole Sailors (center) and Amanda Leigh Jerry (kneeling on the bar) with the cast of Once (2017), photo by Jordan Kubat.

    About Once

    “Glorious and inspiring” (Time Out New York), “fun and heartfelt” (The New Yorker), Once tells the story of a Dublin street musician about to abandon his dream when a beautiful woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to new heights, and their connection becomes more than an everyday romance. A captivating tale that will draw you in from the very first note.

    South Coast Repertory’s production of Once (2017) earned raves from reviewers and audience members alike. The Los Angeles Times called ​the musical “joyous” and said it “resonates with an emotional truth all its own.” The show also resonated with the cast, drawn together around the music and story. For Amanda Leigh Jerry (who portrayed “The Girl”), the final song of Act I (pictured above) marked a turning point for her character. Read on to learn why this scene still shines brightly for her.

    What moment does this depict?

    Amanda Leigh Jerry: This is the finale of Act I, the song is titled “Gold.” The Girl takes The Guy to a local bar and goads him into performing one of his songs. He gets heckled at first but, slowly, he wins over the crowd and they join him, one by one, in the performance. The Girl wanders through the joyful crowd in awe, eventually takes a seat on the bar to watch. 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    ALJ: This song was the most-rehearsed moment in our production. Everyone else in the cast would be on their feet, playing, singing and dancing for hours, but I had a different sort of challenge. The song “Gold” is a revelatory moment for The Girl—she's not only seeing the fruits of her emotional labor with The Guy and basking in the communal joy of making art, but she also is realizing that she has fallen in love with a man who is not her husband. I had no technical challenges during this scene, it was all about being present and noticing things. Kent [Nicholson, director] had to keep a lot of plates spinning while we worked on this song, but he always checked in with me about my experience and emotional journey. It ended up being my favorite part of the show.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    ALJ: For me, this moment is all about the liberating act of making art and the power in witnessing it. In a way, The Girl is a direct conduit for the audience in this scene—she is the audience. It was absolutely delightful for me to spend an entire song (and a gorgeous one, at that) just witnessing and reacting. There was almost no acting required. My castmates were incredibly talented, kind and beautiful people. At this point in the production, we had all fallen in love with one another. I didn't have to act to in awe of them—I just was! 

    Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

    ALJ: This was a life-changing production for everyone involved; I gained so much from being a part of it. My gratitude and love go out to all the Oncers—makers and witnesses alike!