• The Story Behind the Photo: "A Christmas Carol" (Sally & Fred)

    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 03, 2020
    A Christmas Carol
    Melody Butiu and Sol Castillo (foreground), with the cast of A Christmas Carol (2018). Photo by Jordan Kubat.

    About A Christmas Carol

    Recapture the spirit of an old-fashioned Christmas in 19th-century London with this timeless Dickens classic and all your favorite characters—Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family, the Fezziwigs, the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come—and everyone's favorite curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge. The play was adapted by Jerry Patch and this production went on to a 40-year run with Hal Landon Jr. as Scrooge. In 2021, SCR Founding Artist Richard Doyle will step into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge when the production returns to the Segerstrom Stage.

    Actors Melody Butiu and Sol Castillo are South Coast Repertory veterans of both main stage series and Theatre for Young Audiences shows. In 2018, they stepped into the theatre’s longest-running production, A Christmas Carol, in the roles of Fred (nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge) and Sally​ (Fred’s wife). “Seeing this photo [above] again made me miss being on stage, telling stories in little moments that add up to a bigger picture, and seeing and audience full of families ready to go on a journey with you, whether it was their first or fourteenth time witnessing the show,” Butiu says.

    What moment does this depict?

    Melody Butiu (Sally): This is during the Christmas party that Fred and Sally throw for their friends and loved ones. Uncle Scrooge, who has declined Fred’s invitation, becomes the topic of conversation and Sally chides Fred for being a bit naïve when it comes to his uncle. She views Uncle Scrooge as miserly, withdrawn and rejecting, but Fred insists on offering up a toast to him and the rest of the party relents. When Sally takes this moment to look into Fred’s eyes, she recognizes that his unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness are the things she loves most about her husband, so she sets aside her reservations to adopt his Christmas spirit.

    Sol Castillo (Fred): This was after an exciting game of “Yes and No,” which was always fun for me to remember when to answer Yes or No. This was after Fred tried to convince everyone at the party that his uncle is deserving of love, care and a simple invitation to dinner.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    MB: One of the unique aspects about A Christmas Carol is its storied history. There are cast members who have been in this production for many years, so returning each year to it feels like riding a bike. Sol and I were brand new to the production when this photo was taken (2018) and, while we were pretty much plugged into the blocking [where to stand and when to move], we knew that our unique experiences and chemistry would bring something new to each moment we shared. Working with John-David [Keller, director], we knew he trusted us to fill the moments with a sense of playfulness, a little frustration and, ultimately, connection throughout the scene. The moment captured lasts only a couple of seconds, as it goes right into a waltz, but it says a lot.

    SC: I remember Melody, John-David and I wanted to ​show that Fred still loves Uncle Scrooge very much, even though everyone at the party feels one way about Mr. Scrooge. And Sally supports Fred, even through his willingness to be shunned by his uncle again and again.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    MB: It think it’s a moment when two people, who may not agree with each other’s perspectives, can pause, let the small things go and know, in an instant, that they have each other’s back. To be seen and loved, even in the three beats before a waltz, can have an impact. I hope our audiences can have that flicker of recognition when they see it.

    SC: I felt the power of this moment was that Fred was fully supported by Sally, that she understood his love for his uncle, and that she would always be there for him no matter how long it took to get through to Mr. Scrooge.

    Anything else you’d like to say about the show?

    MB: Being invited to do A Christmas Carol embodies everything I love about the SCR family, with a sense of joy, community, tradition, giving kids a chance to shine and celebrating the spirit of the season. Seeing this photo again made me miss being on stage, telling stories in little moments that add up to a bigger picture, and seeing an audience full of families ready to go on a journey with you, whether it was their first or fourteenth time witnessing the show. I look forward to sharing stories once again at South Coast Repertory.

    SC: Being allowed to do this production was one of the greatest pleasures of my life and career. To be able to tell an uplifting story, to give hope, to work with some of the most amazing talents on, off and backstage, was such an honor. I will never forget my time with this production. I hope I was able to help bring a bit of Christmas spirit to folks who saw it.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "A Christmas Carol" (Scrooge)

    Tania Thompson
     | Nov 23, 2020
    A Christmas Carol
    Hal Landon Jr., Alex Knox and Erika Schindele in A Christmas Carol (2018). Photo by Jordan Kubat.

    About A Christmas Carol

    Recapture the spirit of an old-fashioned Christmas in 19th-century London with this timeless Dickens classic and all your favorite characters—Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family, the Fezziwigs, the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come—and Hal Landon Jr. as everyone's favorite curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge (“The quintessential Ebenezer Scrooge!” according to the Daily Pilot. The play was adapted by Jerry Patch and this production went on to a 40-year run with Landon as Scrooge.

    Over the course of 40 years, Hal Landon Jr. portrayed miser-turned-good-man of Ebenezer Scrooge in South Coast Repertory’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It became the theatre’s ​beloved holiday ​tradition and a favorite play for Orange County residents. Landon selected the photo above as an important moment from the play.

    What moment does this depict?

    In this scene, the Ghost of Christmas Past has taken Scrooge to the Fezziwig’s Christmas party. This is where Scrooge sees his younger self dancing with Belle, the young woman who later became his fiancé.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    The only real difficulty we had was in staging the scene itself. It takes place while Belle and Young Ebenezer are dancing and, at the same time, the rest of the guests are dancing as well. Everyone had to be strategically placed so that, even though everyone is ​in motion, Belle and Young Ebenezer are the focal point. Fortunately, staging such a scene is one of John-David’s [John-David Keller] strengths as a director so, while it took plenty of rehearsal, the scene always worked.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    This scene is pivotal in the transformation of Scrooge from the cold-hearted miser we see at the beginning of the play to the kind and generous old man we see at the end. The characteristics we associate with Scrooge, such as greed, anger and suspicion, are the result of an unfortunate childhood. His mother died when he was a child, his father was abusive and, while Ebenezer was extremely close to his sister, Fan, sadly she died when he was still a boy. As a result, he was left feelweing precariously insecure. His remedy for this sense of insecurity became the acquisition of money. The more money he acquired, the more secure he felt; it was not long before this desire for wealth became an irrational obsession. However, before this obsession had taken hold of him, Scrooge was the young man he sees [pictured above, ​right, with his beloved Belle] at the Fezziwig’s party. ​The older Scrooge sees a young man capable of laughing, dancing and falling deeply in love with a spirited, compassionate and beautiful young woman. In the scene that follows, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge the graveyard where Belle’s father is about to be buried, and that's where we see a change has come over the young Scrooge. Avarice has begun to exert its influence on him. Belle, realizing the direction Scrooge is heading, decides to break off their engagement. The older Scrooge is so devastated by seeing what he has lost that, for the first time, he begins to question the values of the man he has become. And now, his transformation has finally begun.

    Anything else you’d like to say about A Christmas Carol?

    Yes—the considerable degree to which these scenes affected me as the actor playing Scrooge was due to Erika Schindele as Belle, Alex Knox as Young Ebenezer and Richard Doyle as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Erika’s depiction of Belle was so delightful that it was no wonder Young Ebenezer fell in love with her—and much later mourned her loss. Alex skillfully brought out the innocence and insecurity of Young Ebenezer and, later, his desperate quest for financial gain. And I cannot say enough about Richard’s performance as the Ghost of Christmas Past. We built the relationship between our characters over many years and its impact on my ability to sustain the role of Scrooge was immense. 

  • Four Questions With Playwright Ana Nogueira

    Tania Thompson
     | Nov 23, 2020
    Ana Nogueira
    Ana Nogueira

    About Ana Nogueira

    She is a screenwriter, playwright and actor living in Brooklyn, New York. Her play, Empathitrax, received its world premiere in New York at HERE Arts Center in September 2016, with the acclaimed theatre company, Colt Coeur. The play also received a workshop production as part of the Unfiltered Series at Ensemble Studio Theatre, where she is an alumna of the Obie Award-winning writers group, Youngblood. Her most recent play, Here She Is, Boys, was selected for the 2018 Pacific Playwrights Festival at South Coast Repertory. (It's title was originally Mask Only.) She wrote it under the Elizabeth George Emerging Writers Playwrights Commission. In November 2019, it had its first New York reading at the off- Broadway theatre company, MCC, where it will have its world premiere production in the summer of 2021. As an actress, she has appeared in multiple off-Broadway productions, most recently in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice at The New Group. She can currently be seen on the critically acclaimed Starz series “Hightown.” Born and raised in Philadelphia, she is an alumna of the Boston Conservatory, where she earned a BFA in musical theatre.

    A couple of years ago, South Coast Repertory audiences got to know playwright Ana Nogueira through a Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Mask Only. Her other theatre credits include Empathitrax, which had an off-Broadway run at Colt Coeur, among other productions. In addition to being a writer, the Philadelphia-born Nogueira is an actor with credits that include “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods” and “Hightown.” In this Q&A, she talks about her favorite place to write, the moment she knew she wanted to be a playwright and more.

    What’s your favorite place to write?
    Editor’s Note: Pre-pandemic, Nogueirastated that her favorite place to write was a mix of public and private places, with her top choice being writing while riding New York’s subways. She found energy with people around and the low hum of conversation.

    Ana Nogueira: Of course, writing on the subway hasn't been an option during lockdown, but it remains my favorite place to write. I cannot wait to return to the rumble of the city, where packed subway cars make for great ideas. As a New Yorker, I have full expectation that our city will be back and better than ever in the next couple years. When I'm home alone and trying to write, I just end up taking a nap; there's no energy for me to feed off. I also have to set strict rules for myself. I hide my phone (literally putting it in a cabinet) and I have an app that turns off my internet for an allotted period of time. Also, I need snacks! I’m very picky! I guess the place that makes all of this [my writing] possible, with the least effort on my part, is the subway. As long as you can find a seat, it's one of the best places to write in New York. Plus, having to finish writing a scene is one of the best ways to keep yourself from feeling homicidal towards the MTA [Metropolitan Transit Authority] for all the delays!

    As a kid, what story did you read in secret?
    AN: I wish I had been cool enough to read something in secret—that sounds like a badass move for a child! There was no Lady Chatterly's Lover under the covers with a flashlight happening for me. Everything I read, I read in public.

    When did you know that you wanted to be a playwright?
    AN: I absolutely stumbled into this job. I'm an actress as well and that's what I spent my life working towards and studying. My mother was always telling me that I was a writer, but I ignored her because it felt like she was telling me I wasn't a good enough actress (she wasn't saying that—I’m just overly sensitive!). When I was in my mid-20s, I had an idea for a play and I sort of gave myself the challenge to see if I could finish it. It was really just an exercise, but I clearly fell in love with the process. Writing is hard work and takes a ton of discipline, but there is also this liminal space that you can slip into, where time expands and the play seems to be writing itself through you. It is quite a delicate state and it can't be forced; but, when it happens to you, you want to try to make it happen again and again. Add to that the joy of working with actors and a director on something you wrote and you have a job that's sort of an addiction.

    What play changed your life?
    AN: There are so many, but the first one that really shifted my perspective was Into the Woods. I was obsessed with it as a child. I would build forts in the TV room so I could camp out and watch the PBS “Great Performances” VHS tape of it on loop. I was really young, probably 8 years old, and I think the mixture of familiar subject matter (fairy tales) and the deeply universal and complicated adult themes simultaneously drew me in and also forced me to rise to a new level of thought. I think about this a lot: the way too much musical theatre panders to its audience, to its fan base, without forcing them to step outside of their comfort zone. The great musicals do and I believe that's why they've withstood the test of time and deserve a place in the history books next to Shakespeare and Chekhov and all the rest. I think falling in love with Into the Woods at such a young age put me on a lifelong search for theatre that balances darkness and light. I'm always trying to find that sweet spot.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "The Fantasticks"

    Tania Thompson
     | Nov 18, 2020
    The cast of The Fantasticks (2013), featuring Nate Dendy (center) with fire in his palms. Photo by Henry DiRocco. (Click the image to enlarge.)

    About The Fantasticks

    A carnival midway of magic, mischief and theatrical thrills! Amanda Dehnert, celebrated throughout the American theatre for re-imagining classics, added a multitude of visual delights and fantastical illusions to the original charm and beautiful ballads (like the haunting “Try to Remember”) of The Fantasticks. The Washington Post called her vision, “Fresh and alive again.” When two scheming fathers conspire with the mysterious El Gallo to keep their daughter and son apart (to be sure they’ll fall in love!) the dewy-eyed lovers venture into the real world. But as fantasy turns to reality, El Gallo is there to remind them that “without the hurt, the heart is hollow” in one of the most popular musicals of all time.

    South Coast Repertory audiences had their introduction to magician and actor Nate Dendy in 2013, when he portrayed The Mute in The Fantasticks. The production was notable for its re-imagined setting—to an abandoned amusement park—by director Amanda Dehnert. The show is a favorite of Dendy’s for a number of reasons. Learn about those below as he talks about the ​story behind the photo he selected.

    What moment does this depict?

    This was during the song “Round and Round.” Essentially, it’s the moment in the story where the young girl and young man are pulled into a world that, from the outside, seems pretty, fun and exciting. In reality, it is anything but. It’s ugly, brutal, dangerous and perhaps worst of all… manipulative.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    What I liked about this number was that every cast member was involved. It literally was a whirlwind onstage—a chaotic moment in the story and the staging reflected that. And, there was a lot of magic! Holy cow, was there a lot of magic. There was a teleportation, a transformation, fire manipulation, swords shoved through a poor soul, blood and a person even vanished. I almost laugh when I look at this photo because it’s clearly a staged photo—we all seem to be standing still. The live performance was the exact opposite: a tornado of visual vignettes blowing past you. We spent more time rehearsing this number than any other moment in the show, and it was to the credit of everyone in the room that we pulled it off night after night.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    So, what about all that staged chaos? All of that, including the magic, was in service of what was happening in the heads of our two naïve lovers, Matt and Luisa. We see two innocent young people being manipulated by the world. One is physically manipulated, the other mentally manipulated. So, this moment serves a bigger purpose: the audience watches the world chew them up and spit them back out. It’s necessary for the two characters to go through the darkness in order to recognize the light at the very end. They gain a deeper and richer understanding of the world and themselves.

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

    This production of The Fantasticks is very close to my heart for all kinds of reasons. I was able to work with the same core creative team since we started work on it in 2006. Amanda Dehnert (director), Sharon Jenkins (choreographer), and Jim Steinmeyer (illusion designer) are like family to me now. I got to meet and work with tons of other wonderful people along the way, and even went to Disneyland for the first time in my life while at South Coast Repertory. I could talk about the show all day long, but I’ll take a lesson from the role I played in the show (The Mute) and leave it at that for now.

  • Designing the Holidays to be Merry & Bright

     | Nov 16, 2020
    Christmas Tree
    Christmas Tree
    Click photo to enlarge.

    About Our Holiday Tree

    Designed in vibrant tones of red, gold and silver, the tree features toys, drawings from the story, tiny London houses, Ebenezer Scrooge’s signature top hat and a red scarf.

    Bring SCR's Tree Home for the Holidays!

    The Pavilion of Holiday Trees is a benefit for more than 30 arts organizations. The trees are being auctioned, with proceeds benefiting each organization. Bidding on SCR’s tree starts at $300. The winner will have the SCR tree delivered to their home in time for the holidays and receive a gift pack including a storybook and four premium seats to see A Christmas Carol in 2021.

    Outstanding Designs Receive Cash Prizes: The trees also will be judged for Outstanding Design by an independent panel and three prizes will be awarded—ranging from $2,500 to $10,000—with funds donated to the arts organization that designed each of the winners.

    A Theatre Designer Outfits Her First Christmas Tree, SCR-style

    Angela Balogh Calin is well-known to South Coast Repertory regulars as a scenic and costume designer for more than 60 productions over more than two decades. Her first set design at SCR was Play Strindberg (1999) and two years later, she designed sets and costumes for The Lonesome West (2001). Her most recent costume designs have been for Peter and the Starcatcher (2015), Ella Enchanted: The Musical (2017) Theatre for Young Audiences) and The Monster Builder (2017), as well as designing some of the theatre’s recent Galas.

    But​ this Fall, she took on a new challenge: designing and decorating a holiday tree—a first for her—as part of South Coast Plaza's Pavilion of Holiday Trees arts fundraiser.. With a theme inspired by SCR’s holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, Calin created a beautiful ​design with some decidedly un-bah-humbug elements. It took Calin and two volunteers roughly seven hours to finish decorating the tree. The invitation for the design came from South Coast Plaza, hosting its first Pavilion of Holiday Trees exhibit and auction to benefit more than 30 participating arts organizations. When you make the winning bid on a tree, the arts organization that decorated it receives the proceeds and you'll receive the the tree delivered to your home in time for the holidays.


    How did you approach the creative concept for this?

    Angela Calin: In a way, it is similar to what I do when working on a design for a play. I try to gather as much information about the theme—in this case, A Christmas Carol—and then I merge elements from the research with my own vision for the design. I think everyone who grew up on Orange County and Los Angeles is familiar with this beloved and long-running show.

    What has been the most challenging part of your design?

    AC: Finding Victorian-style plastic ornaments! The most elaborate tree ornaments usually are made from glass. While plastic is becoming a good break-resistant alternative to glass when it comes to ornaments, I have found that it still has some catching-up to do in the aesthetic department.

    …And the most fun?

    AC: Everything about this project! It has been such a joy to be involved with it. There’s no better job than roaming the Christmas ornament aisles to find the perfect little stuffed bear or the nicest multi-colored globe to hang in the tree. Or even going online in search of the best caroler doll. And, of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a couple of costume pieces that I enjoyed building.

    What design elements will we may recognize?

    AC: There are a couple of iconic elements taken from the show: Scrooge’s red scarf and his top hat. There are also some traditional winter holiday-inspired pieces including a small Victorian sled replica and some Christmas caroler dolls.

    Why is SCR special to you?
    AC: I'm glad you asked, because SCR has a very special place in my heart for a few reasons. For one, we go back more than 20 years. Yes, my debut here was in 1998. At the time I was still trying to establish myself as a theatre designer in the United States, which wasn't an easy task. When I left Romania, I knew it would take a lot of perseverance and luck in order to make it in my new country. SCR welcomed me when most others wouldn't and has been extremely generous with me throughout the years. I have been able to work with most of the founding artists. I designed for the early Theatre for Young Audiences shows and I have a long history with the Theatre Conservatory’s Teen Players productions. I have made dear friends here and consider SCR my artistic home.

    AC: What three words or phrases describe you?
    Curious, good sense of humor, sociable—at least I hope it is an accurate depiction of who I am! I think all three are necessary attributes in my profession and in the theatre. I feel I belong here and know I picked the right place.