• The Story Behind the Photo: "Rest"

    Wyatt Fenner
     | Jul 23, 2021
    Lynn Milgrim and Wyatt Fenner in Rest by Samuel D. Hunter (2014). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​Rest

    In northern Idaho, a retirement home is shutting down. Only three patients remain—and one of them is lost. Gerald, 91 and suffering from severe dementia, has disappeared, leaving his wife, Etta, and her friend, Tom, behind. The facility’s remaining staff includes a new 20-year-old cook and two longtime nurses, women who suddenly face a crisis of their own. In the midst of a record-breaking blizzard, the search for Gerald takes an unexpected turn.

    More About the Play

    Reflections on the Moment

    Wyatt Fenner has appeared at South Coast Repertory in both mainstage and Theatre for Young Audiences and Families shows. In back-to-back seasons, he appeared in two plays by Samuel D. Hunter, including the world-premiere of Rest, directed by SCR Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson (2014). The play has special meaning for Fenner—from being able to create the role of Ken to working with a stellar cast, from the joy of performing at SCR to a deepening friendship with the playwright. In this essay, he talks about all the memories the photo above brings back to him.

    There are thousands of happy feelings and experiences that contributed to us getting to this moment onstage for the world premiere of Rest.

    I see in this photo the orange-and-pink sky brightening over the 405 as I listened to KCRW during my early morning drive. I’d arrive early to get in a good workout at the 24-Hour Fitness around the corner from the theatre before a day's rehearsal. 

    I smell from this photo the scent of fresh cookies blasting me in the face as I rush into Specialty's Cafe during a 20-minute break to grab a snack and then sit in the sun with friends on the theatre’s terrace, reflected in the gorgeous glass lobby doors.

    I feel my feet sticking to the floor as we find a booth for post-rehearsal or post-performance drinks at Tin Lizzie or, if we are feeling fancy, The Westin, where the sticky floor would be replaced with those lush comfy chairs and that very prestigious snack mix with wasabi peas. 

    I hear Stage Manager Jenny Butler sternly, but kindly, reminding me to keep my parking receipt in a spot where it won’t (again) get whipped out the window and into oblivion on my drive home. “No matter what, just put it in your center console whenever you’re driving, Wyatt.”

    These feelings, these impulses, they just go on and on and I love each of them. But let me start at the beginning: What most of all strikes me when I look at this photo is the kindness that overwhelms my body with a feeling of joy when I look at it.

    Years ago, Casting Director Joanne DeNaut brought me on board to do a Pacific Playwrights Festival reading; Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson saw me in that and asked me to do Misalliance. When my dad came out from Virginia to see the play, I brought him around the theatre’s administrative offices to introduce him to everyone and while Dad and I were hanging out in Martin's office, Martin suddenly says, "You know, you have the exact same bright smiling eyes as your dad." 

    That's the way that Martin moves through the world and works as a director. Seeing the everyday, beautiful things there in front of all of us and, instead of letting that beauty pass by unacknowledged, maybe unnoticed, Martin says "Look at this. Right here." He brings your attention to beauty you might have missed, even in seemingly sad situations, and he adds value to our experience. SCR has always been an institution made up of loving, intelligent, curious people willing to invest in challenging, hilarious, life-affirming plays and that is why work like Rest gets produced. The work that helps people do better out in the world by saying to them: “Look at this beautiful, special thing that is right here in front of you, maybe unnoticed. Look at it and appreciate it.  The team of people at SCR is what makes it the sort of place that can, and does, do such great good in the world. The sort of place you want to take your dad around the offices to make introductions. The sort of place where you can't wait to run into your friends from different departments.

    I look at this photo and I can feel the rough crispy texture of the fabric on my seat. During previews, Scenic Designer John Iocavelli treated the chair with a coating that transformed it, to become the more weathered piece of furniture just biding its time in an assisted living home about to be shut down, the setting for Rest

    I can smell the melting, icy shards that had, just before entering, been placed on the soft fuzz of the ruff on my coat, which Costume Designer Angela Calin had fixed with a new zipper so that we could use exactly the right one which we found together during one of my fittings with her down in the Costume Shop in the theatre’s basement. Angela and John are two great, inspiring friends of mine and I see them in their beautiful work in this photo and I think of all the laughter and creativity we’ve shared. 

    This is the first scene in the play. Lynn Milgrim and I would stand together backstage until the lights began to dim, at which point I would wrap my right arm around her waist and take her left hand in mine. She'd give my hand a squeeze and whisper a little giggle noise in my ear while the lights settled into blackness and then together I'd walk us out of the wing and through the darkness of the stage to her couch; once she was seated then I'd hop over to my chair. The lights would pop up on us and, together, Lynn and I would dive into the evening. Staring into one another's eyes, navigating the initial responses from the audience with our actor antennae stretched peripherally out from us, feeling them climb on board and ease into the story we were going to be sharing with them that night. Using those first few pages of the play to elicit their laughter and help them let go of whatever their day, their week, their year, had tensed up their shoulders with. Like a friendly pair of bank robbers Lynn and I wouldn’t take the audience's attention from whatever had been occupying their mind and get them to do just what we want by making them feel what we feel. 

    In this photo, I can feel my body as the character of Ken. During a Saturday morning talkback event, I remember a man in the audience who had seen me play Puck over at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles the summer before. Now he asked, “How do you make your body do such different things, because in Midsummer you looked like a completely different person.” I stood up, thought about Puck and suddenly I had musculature and airiness. Puck felt like a vine stretching up along a wall reaching towards the sky and the sun. Then, I thought about myself as Ken and everything covered up and cloaked over itself. My body reduced the space it needed to take up in the world by about thirty percent. Being Ken felt like being looked at was the last thing in the world I’d want. Any character takes over your nervous system. Someone like Ken, dealing with such uncertainty, that feeling takes hold of your limbs in a kind of way that piles them up to best and quick as possible tuck your existence away and hopefully find placement on the back of some dark shelf in a laundry cupboard that maybe smells like dryer steam several times a day. As uncomfortable as that sounds, I love it. I love being someone brave enough to be that uncomfortable but persist—to have the kind of faith that, despite every indication that things won't work out, there is still a willingness to try your best. It's inspiring to be an all-powerful forest god, sure—but the power it takes to carry on when you feel powerless, to be self-sufficient when you've been told you're worthless. That's another kind of inspiration.

    When I look at this photo I think of my friend, playwright Sam Hunter. Sam is a genius. Literally. He actually was given a cool award that says so [Editor’s Note: Hunter was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called ‘Genius Grant.’]  But, when you’re spending time with a mind and heart like Sam has, you can’t just sit there continuing to say, “Oh man you’re a genius. Oh boy, you are really brilliant!” So even though I always feel that way when I’m at work with him, and we've collaborated on many of his plays, I learned to funnel my admiration for him into the project we are making together. Fortunately, we also spend a lot of time outside the rehearsal room, where it’s less about the realization of his brilliant writing and more about just kicking back and cooking a good steak, driving down to the Stone IPA Brewery on our day off, pulling our feet up off the sticky floor of Tin Lizzie. Our friendship is littered with moments of being in the right place at the right time, or sharing an idea before either of us says it out loud. I think those experiences of synchronicity are an indication of things lining up and cooperating. When you are spending time with someone special, you can feel life, invisibly without words, saying to you, “You're on track." 

    Sam and I first met when Joanne introduced us to work on his play, The Few, which we went on to workshop in Colorado and Massachusetts. Then we did The Whale at SCR and, on the morning of that play’s opening, we did the first in-house reading of Rest. I look at this photo and I see the sky full of stars above the hot springs in Steamboat. I see the Dunkin Donuts bags we both had grabbed for our train from New York up to Massachuestts. I look at this photo and I can taste the delicious Trader Joe's French Roast coffee, which I had about 19 cups of that morning of our Rest reading. 

    This is all a part of how we got to do this play—and how we will all get to the place where we do the next play and the next. Everyone involved allowed the world of the play to work on them to get to the right place through caring for the people we are all meant to share our time with, shared the beauty you see in the world and encouraged your friends and loved ones. This photo reminds me of the gift of our ability to do that every day, and how when you live your life that way you find yourself in a position to create something incredible with an unbelievable company of people.

    I can’t wait to be back onstage! Love to each and every one of you.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Orange"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jul 01, 2021
    Karthik Srinivasan Anjali Bhimani and Pia Shah in ​Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil (2017). Photo by ​Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​Orange

    Leela is different. A teenager from India, she draws life’s important moments in her journal. When a family wedding gets boring, her rebellious cousin decides to run for it with her boyfriend—and take Leela along. As they careen through Orange County, navigating dangerous situations from dusk to dawn, Leela challenges their view of her—and each other. A touching story about a unique young woman’s search for her place in the world. 

    Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil, directed by Jessica Kubzansky (2017) is an action-adventure with a lot of humor and a huge heart. It follows Leela, a teen from India on the autism spectrum, who comes to Southern California for a family wedding and then goes on a wild ride with her rebellious cousin. It was a role that actor Pia Shah loved for the challenge it brought her. “As an actor, I was used to taking in all the stimulus from the environment and usually expressing it and releasing it back into the world in more typical ways,” says Shah. “But as Leela, I was processing the world without necessarily showing it or expressing it verbally in obvious ways.” She selected the photo above as a favorite moment from Orange.

    What moment does this depict?

    This was an amazing moment Aditi Brennan Kapil created for us in which Leela's, cousin, Preeti, played by Anjali Bhimani, and her boyfriend, played by Karthik Srinivasan, have left the wedding we are supposed to be at and are out on a joyride at night. The lovebirds are having a little make-out session in the parked car (the bench seen here).

    Leela, after patiently sitting there and trying to figure out what's going on, asks from the backseat if they are at the beach and, after receiving no answer, asks again. Finally, while they share this never-ending kiss, Leela decides to take action: she gets out of the car and says, matter-of-factly, “Okay. Bye.” And then she wanders away to explore. It's a dangerous moment that's also really funny, which is so much fun to play as an actor. 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    The timing and rhythm of the scene were so interesting for me to work on with Director Jessica Kubzansky and Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil. It was such a funny moment and the silences while Preeti and her boyfriend were making out were so full. It was hard to keep a straight face.

    Leela was this awkward third wheel and the audience would howl with laughter. She decides to switch on the headlights, which requires her to lean forward in between their tangled bodies and turn the switch on the dashboard and see where they are and she realizes excitedly they are indeed at the beach, which is her own personal goal on their adventure. 

    Any final thoughts?

    Leela has her own rich inner life and internal clock. She weaves in and out of the more (to her) banal, everyday moments, as well as newer, more confusing situations—interpreting things in her own way—and finding treasure in unexpected places. It's a powerful mix, and Aditi created many such subtle, innocent and poignant moments of hilarity. It was an incredibly unique and special production.

  • Why Your Cat May Be Interested in the Floor of This Set

    Jen Stringfellow, Scenic Charge Artist
     | Jun 21, 2021
    Outside SCR

    Jen Stringfellow, South Coast Repertory’s scenic charge artist, documented her team’s work on the stage platform floor for the Outside SCR productions of American Mariachi and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. In the article below, she shares photos and talks about how an unusual item helped make the flooring surface—one of the largest parts of the set—resilient.

    There are many ways to mask off areas that you don’t want to paint, such as painter’s tape, paper and drop cloths. But what about odd-shaped sections, specifically areas you want to have a fuzzy edge? A common one that scenic artists use is non-clumping cat litter! I felt it could be helpful in painting the stage floor for Outside SCR, our summer series.  

    The stage for the two productions that are part of Outside SCR was created by talented set designer Efren Delgadillo Jr. to match some wonderfully aged concrete at Mission San Juan Capistrano. I noticed interestingly shaped chunks that were more bleached-looking so, instead of painting those areas lighter, I decided to paint the floor from lightest-to-darkest and mask off (to avoid having paint in an area) those areas early on. My masking choice of course—cat litter. We made a mess, but it was Febreze-scented so it was a nice change from our normally smelly paint!

    • Photos 1, 1a: I based the floor with the lightest color in a heavy-duty paint, specifically formulated for exterior decks. All of the paint had to be rated for exterior use because we want the stage to be able to survive outside with as little damage as possible. I also mixed some safe-grip crystals into the paint to prevent a slippery surface—the morning dew can sometimes make surfaces slippery. After the base coat, I poured the cat litter where I wanted my bleached-looking areas.
    • Photo 2: I began to spatter over top of the cat litter, again from lightest to darkest.
    • Photos 3, 3a: We didn’t want to wait until the very end to remove the cat litter; this will cause naked spots of base coat surrounded by all the interesting spatter. We removed the cat litter in the middle of the process so that we could work back into it and blend.
    • Photos 4, 4a: Of course, this faux concrete had to have some lovely cracks. They were painted with a scenic fitch brush on a bamboo pole.
    • Photo 5: Once the cracks were laid in, I started toning. This meant throwing paint into a garden sprayer and just going to town!
    • Photos 5a,6: Once all the toning was done, I went back in with a darker color to emphasize some of the cracks. Done!

    Learn more information Outside SCR and buy your tickets.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 18, 2021
    Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed
    Marqell Edward Clayton, Nicole Cowans, Melody Butiu and Daniel Bellusci in ​Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience, script and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma (2019, Theatre for Young Audiences show). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

    Wilbur is different from all the other naked mole rats. He wears clothes—and he likes it. His friends think it’s ridiculous and needs to stop—that’s just a naked mole fact. After all, what will happen when Grand-Pah, the oldest and wisest elder in the colony finds out? Filled with tail-shaking good tunes, this outrageously fun musical proves it’s okay to be yourself. Rock on!

    Six actors transformed themselves into a colony of naked molerats in the fun musical Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience (2019, Theatre for Young Audiences), adapted by Mo Willems from his book and directed by Casey Stangl. Daniel Bellusci portrayed Wilbur J. Mole Rat Jr.—above in the blue plaid suit—a character who wanted to be true to himself. Bellusci loved this comically shocking moment from the show.

    What moment does this depict?

    This ​is Wilbur (me), along with other mole rats Tall and Grande, while Venti is pressing the Grand-pah Grand Panic Button. It is only to be pressed in the state of a dire emergency and, from the look of Wilbur's attire, the mole-rats seem to be in the middle of a truly shocking situation! 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    This was one of those moments that Director Casey Stangl had us rehearse over and over. We had a lot of freedom in our delivery, but Casey made it clear to us that the timing of this had to be spot on. It was written in the script as a "Who's on First?" moment, so the timing of each line was crucial in order for it to be as funny as it could be. We did a lot of repetitions of this scene to find the timing and deliveries that felt the best and most funny to us. 

    What’s the emotion in this moment?

    The emotion for us, in this moment, as molerats is true terror. But to everyone in the audience watching, I am sure they were able to see how silly and fun it really was. 

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

    I really loved the theme of this show. I think everyone needs to have some kind of experience of self-discovery. Once we find out who we are, or who we might want to become, it would be rather nice if we lived in a world that celebrated and accepted differences. I think the world has a lot to learn from Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

  • Meet the Cast of "Harold & Lillian"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jun 10, 2021
    PPF Logo

    The Story of Harold & Lillian

    The musical follows the Hollywood romance of storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson. Beginning with their elopement after Harold came home from World War II, their marriage spanned six decades—during which they overcame daunting personal challenges and made surprising movie magic. Harold was the storyboard artist for such classic movies as The Ten Commandments, West Side Story and The Graduate. Lillian conducted research for numerous films including The Birds and Fiddler on the Roof. Harold passed away in 2007, but in 2017, the Michelsons received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Dramatic Arts—the first behind-the-scenes, non-actors to have been given the honor. Lillian will celebrate her 93rd birthday on June 21, 2021—the day that SCR’s concert-reading of Harold & Lillian is released. She still resides in Los Angeles.

    Actors Michael McKean and Annette O'Toole lead a cast of six to tell the true-life, six-decade Hollywood love story that is the Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) concert-reading of Harold & Lillian. This new musical by Dan Collins (book and lyrics) and Julianne Wick Davis (music) is based on the popular documentary film by Daniel Raim—and it streams June 21-27​.

    Get to know the cast as you continue reading.

    McKean,-MichaelMichael McKean (Harold)

    has had a distinguished career in theatre, television and film. His Broadway credits include The Little Foxes, All the Way, The Bandwagon, The Best Man, Superior Donuts, The Homecoming, The Pajama Game, Hairspray and Accomplice. His off-Broadway credits include The True, The Exonerated, King Lear and Our Town. His other theatre credits include Father Comes Home From the Wars and Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels (both at Taper Forum, Los Angeles), Superior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre) and On the Razzle (Williamstown Theatre Festival). His films include Used Cars, This is Spinal Tap, Clue, D.A.R.Y.L, Light of Day, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. His television credits include “Laverne & Shirley,” “Dream On,” “Better Call Saul” (Emmy Award nomination) and “Good Omens.”

    O'Toole,-AnnetteAnnette O'Toole (Lillian)

    is making her SCR debut. Her New York and regional theatre work include A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, The Show-Off (Theatre at St. Clement’s), The Traveling Lady (Cherry Lane Theatre), Man from Nebraska (Second Stage Theatre), Southern Comfort (The Public Theater) for which she received the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Actress in a Musical, and Drama Desk and Drama League nominations, Hamlet in Bed (Rattlestick Theatre, Edinburgh Festival), The Good Book (Berkeley Repertory), Magnolia (Goodman Theatre), Third (Two River Theatre), Heresy (Flea Theatre), The Quality of Life (Arena Stage), Kindness (Playwrights Horizons) and The Seagull (Classic Stage Company). Her film and television performances include Blow the Man Down, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Women Who Kill, 48 Hours, Superman III, Cat People, One on One, “Virgin River,” “Kidding,” “The Good Doctor,” “The Punisher,” “Search Party,”“11.22.63,” “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Smallville” and “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” for which she received Emmy and Golden Globe award nominations.

    Foreman,-KaroleKarole Foreman (The Matron, Others)

    has been in the PPF readings of Prelude to a Kiss, the Musical and Intimate Apparel. Her theatre credits include Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (Ovation Award, Ebony Repertory Theatre and International City Theatre), A Little Night Music (San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award nomination), Stupid Fucking Bird (Cygnet Theatre); Haunted House Party (Getty Villa); Porgy & Bess, Sweeney Todd, Intimate Apparel (Ensemble Theatre Company); Fences (NAACP Image Award nomination, PCPA and International City Theatre); Wedding Band (Stage Raw Award nomination, Antaeus Theatre Company); Next to Normal (OC Weekly Theatre Award, California Repertory Company); Difficulty of Crossing a Field and Queenie Pie (Long Beach Opera); Caroline or Change (PCPA); Parade, Jelly’s Last Jam (Suzi Bass Award, Mark Taper Forum, Alliance Theatre, Atlanta); and Mamma Mia! (Las Vegas). Foreman worked with the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and numerous regional theatres across the country. Her television credits include “Monster,” “Good Trouble,” “NCIS,” “Brooklyn 99,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Rebel,” “GLOW,” “Kingdom,” “Training Day,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Stitchers,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Adam Ruins Everything,” “Switched at Birth,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Murder in the First,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Bones,” “Medium,” “Law & Order” and “Bold and the Beautiful.” Her film credits include The Banality, I’ll Be Next Door for Christmas, 42, Rebirth and Buddy Solitaire.

    Rusinek,-Roland​Roland Rusinek (​Mr. Wesley, Others)

    was last seen at SCR as Adolfo Pirelli in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2019). His film and TV appearances include Figaro in “Coop And Cami Ask The World,” streaming on Disney+, Jack Lapidus in The Producers streaming on Peacock. Frank in the first BearCity on Amazon Prime and as Caesar in the upcoming short film, Who Guardeth the Guards. His New York theatre credits include Piangi in The Phantom of the Opera (Majestic Theatre, Broadway); Fezziwig and others in A Christmas Carol (Madison Square Garden); Beadle in Sweeney Todd and Ciccio in The Most Happy Fella (NYC Opera); Jerry Springer: The Opera, in concert. (Carnegie Hall); Kismet (Encores!, New York City Center) to name a few.

    Smith,-Jacques​Jacques C. Smith (​Lt. McGowen, Others)

    was performing as Mafala in the national tour of The Book of Mormon when the pandemic halted all theatrical performances. He has performed on Broadway and internationally in RENT, as well as in the national tour of If/Then. Regionally, he has performed at The Old Globe, Ebony Repertory Theatre (Ovation Award), Pasadena Playhouse (NAACP nomination), Theatre Under The Stars, La Jolla Playhouse, Cleveland Playhouse, Goodman Theater (Black Theater Alliance Award, Joseph Jefferson nomination), Paper Mill Playhouse and many others. His television credits include “Marlon,” “Eagleheart,” “General Hospital,” “OZ” (HBO, series regular), “CSI:Miami,” Issa Rae’s “The Choir,” “American Masters” and “Law & Order,” among others.

    Warren,-Jennifer-Leigh​Jennifer Leigh Warren (​Leila, Others)

    is a critically acclaimed actress/singer lauded for her show-stopping Broadway performances as the original Alice’s Daughter in Big River (“How Blest We Are” was written for her by Roger Miller), the original Crystal in the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken hit Little Shop of Horrors, the original Lincoln Center cast of Marie Christine and the original Muse in the Drama Desk Award-nominated Lonesome Traveler. In RENT: Live on FOX TV, she showcased her acting versatility as Mrs. Jefferson, Mrs. Cohen, Support Sue and the infamous homeless bag lady. She starred as “The Blues Singer” in all four national tours of A Night with Janis Joplin (USA, Canada; now streaming on BroadwayHD.com) and performed her Diamonds Are Forever: The Songs of Shirley Bassey concert at the Renberg Theatre in Los Angeles. On “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” she performed with Broken Bells, The Kills, Trombone Shorty, Moon Taxi, Lisa Loeb and OK Go.

    Learn more about the concert-reading of Harold & Lillian and purchase tickets.