• The Story Behind the Photo: "American Mariachi"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Nov 12, 2020
    American Mariachi
    Alicia Coca, Gabriela Carrillo, Luzma Ortiz, Marlene Montes and Satya Jnani Chavez American Mariachi by José Cruz González (2019). Photo by Jordan Kubat.

    About American Mariachi

    In this big-hearted comedy with live music, Lucha spends her days caring for her mother and yearning for more. But it’s the 1970s and women can’t be mariachis…or can they? Defying tradition, Lucha and her spunky cousin hunt for bandmates and take up instruments. A loving gesture for a mother becomes much more as the young women dream big and embrace the transcendent power of music.

    Christopher Acebo is most readily known to South Coast Repertory audiences as a scenic designer—think La Posada Mágica, The Countess, The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, Cloudlands or Culture Clash (Still) in America. But to kick off SCR’s 2019-20 season, he wore a different hat: director of American Mariachi by José Cruz Gonzales, which The Los Angeles Times said was “A joyous blast of music ... inspirational ... exhilarating.” Acebo selected the photo above to tell us about the play.

    What moment does this depict?

    Christopher Acebo: Oh, this image brings me so much joy! This moment depicts the first performance of the female mariachi group, Las Coronelas, at a twins’ Quinceañera celebration. Over the course of the play, we’d been watching these women go through their personal challenges at home and also learning to be musicians and this is their “Opening Night.”

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    CA: To me, the scene was clear in how it needed to be executed: we had to move from a place of fear to joy in the course of just one song. We had to hit the right tone in terms of humor, trepidation, the growth of confidence and the exuberance of success. But each character was entering this situation with various layers of self- doubt or fake-it-‘til-you-make-it energy so that was a fun path to navigate. I loved working with the cast on this moment and balancing all those multiple levels to reach an exciting performance within a performance and having the audience experience that same rollercoaster of emotion, which always ended with a powerful ovation to experience these women's triumph!

    What’s the power about this moment?

    The power of this scene lies in that joy of taking a giant step in moving closer to realizing a dream. We can all relate to taking risks—and when those risks pay off, they represent a very special happiness in realizing your own potential.

    Anything else you’d like to say about American Mariachi?

    This production represents the highlight of my own work in the theatre. I have had the immense privilege to work on this play with many extraordinary artists and friends in two productions and this experience holds a very special place for us. I hope we get to do it again and again!

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Cambodian Rock Band"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Nov 05, 2020
    Cambodian Rock Band
    Brooke Ishibashi and Joe Ngo in Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee (2017, world premiere). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About Cambodian Rock Band

    Part comedy, part mystery, part rock concert, this thrilling story by playwright Lauren Yee toggles back and forth in time, as a father and daughter face the music of the past. Neary, a young Cambodian American has found evidence that could finally put away the Khmer Rouge’s chief henchman. But her work is far from done. When her Dad, Chum, shows up unannounced—his first return to Cambodia since fleeing 30 years ago—it’s clear this isn’t just a pleasure trip. Cambodian Rock Band has gone on to numerous other productions around the country with one—at New York’s Signature Theatre—garnering a prestigious Obie Award for Joe Ngo as Chum. A national tour has been announced.

    Actor Joe Ngo was part of the 6-person cast that worked over the course of two years to bring to life the world premiere of Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band, an SCR commission. After workshops and a 2016 reading at the Pacific Playwrights Festival, the play received its world premiere production at SCR in 2018, to much acclaim. Broadway World said, “Yee constructs a riveting play that's part mystery, part history lesson, and part unabashed jukebox musical concert. …[a] drama which can go from haunting to devastating. For a world premiere piece, the play feels close to perfect.” Ngo selected the above photo as an important moment from the play.

    What moment does this depict?

    Joe Ngo: ​This is where Neary (played by Brooke Ishibashi), in growing irritation, is attempting to disseminate the reasons for why her father Chum (played by me, Joe Ngo) has ambushed her in a surprise visit to Cambodia. While in the midst of her incredibly important NGO [non-profit, non-governmental organization] work, Neary ends up having to deal with the whirlwind that is her father.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    JN: The most interesting aspect about this first scene is that right away we understand the dynamic of this father-daughter relationship. Director Chay Yew worked with Brooke and me to develop a sharpness between us, which encouraged a rapid-fire, unspoken undercurrent of energy that would come out much like a ping-pong match while we were onstage.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    JN: Look at our positioning, blocking and expressions, and notice how alive in the space we are as actors. We’re literally on the edge of our seats, constantly ready to redirect, force or avoid conversations, while always sharply focused on each other, ready to pounce. Even when my character, Chum, is joking around with Neary, you can see from the drive in her eyes that this scene has happened before somewhere else, at some other point in their lives together: it is the epitome of their relationship.

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

    JN: While Brooke and I are the subject of this photo, so much of the credit should be given to the design and production teams behind every little detail that made this scene so memorable. And even though the audience was able to see the band's peformance platform behind “the hotel room” part of the set, ​the design details invite us to believe that we are in an entirely different space—from our shoes, to my fanny pack, to the Wayne Gretzky book sitting on the hotel nightstand, to the radio-alarm-clock—and we are absorbed into a very clear time and space with very distinct characters. ​Subconsciously, notably in reference to the floor tiles and the file folders​: Chay [Yew, director] and the designers already, in this very early scene in the play, ​had started to trickle in hints about what's to come: that in no way should the audience start to get comfortable.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Ella Enchanted: The Musical"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Oct 29, 2020
    Ella Enchanted
    Ann Noble, Joel Gelman, Ella Saldana North, Caitlyn Calfas and Arielle Fishman in Ella Enchanted: The Musical by Karen Zacarías (2017, Theatre for Young Audiences Family Series). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About Ella Enchanted

    As a baby, Ella is given the “gift” of obedience by a misguided fairy and cannot disobey any order. Now a teenager, the strong-willed Ella must outwit her evil stepmother, escape hungry ogres and hold on to her best friend, all while getting rid of the troublesome curse and finding her own voice. Delightful music and plenty of girl power abound in this wonderfully modern and musical Cinderella story.

    Actor Ella Saldana North has been in a handful of productions at South Coast Repertory—the majority being Theatre for Young Audiences Family shows. Among her favorites is SCR’s 2017 musical retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, Ella Enchanted: The Musical, where North portrayed Ella. She selected the photo above as an important moment from the play.

    What moment does this depict?

    Ella Saldana North: It marks the beginning of Ella's hard times. Her mom, whom she adored, has just died, and this strange woman [Dame Olga, left] and her two daughters suspiciously show up at the funeral. The woman starts overtly flirting with Ella’s Dad, which is so inappropriate since he just lost his wife and, well...the rest is fairytale history.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    ESN:  I think it comes from the great juxtaposition of these two people [Ella and her Dad] grieving by a headstone, with Dame Olga and her daughters: larger-than-life, dressed to impress and who clearly are outsiders. Both Ella and her Dad are looking at Olga like, "Who are you and what do you want?" Meanwhile, Olga grins from ear to ear because she is that confident about her manipulative and cunning skills.

    What else would you like to say about Ella Enchanted?

    ESN: This production was so beautiful—and looking at this picture makes me miss live theatre even more than I already do! I feel very blessed to have played Ella in and to have been able to work with this fabulous cast. 

  • Safe and Welcoming Learning for Kids & Teens

    by 
    SCR Staff
     | Oct 28, 2020
    Musical Theatre Class
    Teacher​ Erin McNally, top row center, and accompanist Robert Nafarrete, lower right corner, work with Musical Theatre students.

    Our brand of learning in the Theatre Conservatory is informative and fun! In a safe and welcoming environment, students learn about the craft of acting and develop important life skills.

    SCR’s curriculum is progressive, meaning that each year, students build upon what they learned in the session before. And ,once students have had a little acting experience—or by audition—they’ll also be able to choose from specialty classes including musical theatre, improvisation and ensemble work. Our faculty is made up of professional teaching artists who are experts in their craft and in the business of professional theatre.

    New students are welcome in Fall, Winter and Summer; Spring classes are for returning students only.

    Read below about our stellar faculty.


    Joe Alanes

    Joe Alanes
    Year III: Teen Ensemble, Grades 5-7
    He has been involved in South Coast Repertory for 15 years as instructor in the Kids and Teen Programs; director of the Junior Players (The Jungle Book, Riding the Wind: Story Plays from Old China and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court); was an actor (Educational Touring Shows My Mom’s Dad, Badwater Blues and Power Play and in the Theatre for Young Audiences family series production of The Emperor’s New Clothes). Alanes is director of theatre arts at Mater Dei High School, where he has been involved in productions, competitions and festivals and directed plays including Little Shop of Horrors and All Shook Up. He is co-artistic director of Modjeska Playhouse in Lake Forest, where he has directed The 39 Steps, First Night, The Odd Couple, and the young audiences shows Blue the Book-Loving Buccaneer and The Frog Prince. Alanes directed and acted in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged along with his fellow co-artistic directors, Josh Stecker and Chris Sullivan. Previously, he was a director and program supervisor for Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre, where he managed and directed the Drummin’ Up Peace program and the middle school program, Someone Like Me, among others. Alanes has toured the country as an actor with Magic School Bus Live (children's theatre) and as a stage manager and company manager for Wimzie’s House Live. He has appeared in productions from San Diego to New York City, with his favorite role being Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. He is a member of the California Educational Theatre Association and a graduate of UCLA with a BA in theatre.


    Jenna Cole

    Jan Cole
    Year I: Exploration, Grades 4-5
    Year II: Development, Grades 4-6
    Year III: Teen Ensemble, Grades 8-12
    She is an actor, educator and director who has taught in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory since 2006. Cole appeared most recently at SCR in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and in the Theatre for Young Audiences family series show, The Wind in the Willows . She teaches acting at Orange County School of the Arts and has taught at Geva Theatre Center, Pomona College, Chapman University, Point Park University and West Virginia University; her teaching expertise includes voice and speech, beginning and intermediate acting, text analysis, playwriting, acting Shakespeare, acting style, scene study, acting for the camera and advanced directing. As a director, she has helmed productions of As You Like It, Under Milkwood, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, La Ronde, The Beard of Avon, Blithe Spirit, Old Times and The Shape of Things. As a longtime resident artist at A Noise Within, Cole taught Youth Acting, Summer With Shakespeare and Acting Internship programs; she also performed in numerous plays including The Way of the World, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Hay Fever, The Three Sisters, The Seagull, King Lear, The Winter’s Tale, Much Ado About Nothing, Design for Living, A Flea in Her Ear and Tartuffe, as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. She has performed at the Pasadena Playhouse, Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson Theatre, Shakespeare Orange County, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Sacramento Theatre Company, Geva Theatre Center, Arizona Theatre Company, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Pittsburgh Playhouse and PlayMakers Repertory Company, among others. On television, she has been seen in shows such as “Picket Fences,” “The George Carlin Show,” “Pros and Cons” and “Her Last Chance,” along with numerous commercials, voiceovers and DVD narration. Cole holds an MFA in acting from the American Conservatory Theater and is a certified associate teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework.


    Estella Garcia

    Estella Garcia
    Year I: Exploration, Grades 6-8
    Year II: Development, Grades 4-6
    Year III: Truth in Acting, Grades 9-12

    She is a multi-disciplinary artist who specializes in physical performance styles such as mask, movement and puppetry, whether she is acting, writing and/or directing. Garcia received her BA from UCLA in Chicana/o studies and her MFA for ensemble-based physical theatre from Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre. She also studied mask, movement and sculpture in Mexico with El Laboratorio de las Mascaras. She has collaborated with Rogue Artists Ensemble on many of its award-winning shows as creator, actor, assistant director, movement coach and teacher including Hyperbole: Origins, which was nominated for Production of the Year by the LA Weekly Awards. She has been a teaching artist for South Coast Repertory's Theatre Conservatory since 2013 and worked on SCR's Dialogue/Diálogos project. She teaches for VoxBox Arts Collective’s Spanish Immersion Arts program, Center Theatre Group and Pasadena Playhouse. She has been a guest teacher at the University of California, Irvine, Cal State LA, Cal State Northridge, Cal State San Bernardino, Chapman University and the University of LaVerne​. ​She was a lead teaching artist for Cirque at the Playhouse, a circus arts program for kids and adults at Pasadena Playhouse. Garcia is in development for her play Remedios Varo: La Alquimista, which she wrote as part of the Los Angeles-based Latino Theatre Alliance’s eight-month Writers Circle that had a reading at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. She is the community liaison for the “Community as Creators” program hosted by Center Theatre Group in collaboration with El Teatro Campesino, working with the community of Boyle Heights.


    Erin McNally

    Erin McNally
    Year III: Musical Theatre, Grades 6-8
    Year III: Musical Theatre, Grades 8-12
    Year III: Advanced Musical Theatre, Grades 9-12
    Taught with accompanist Robert Nafarrete
    She is an accomplished actor, vocalist and educator. She has been inspiring young actors at SCR for more than 12 years including musical direction for the last nine Summer Players shows and the creation of musical theatre classes for the advanced teen students and Summer Acting Workshop. Armed with a BA in acting and musical theatre form CSU-Fullerton, McNally has been a guest artist at the Hollywood Bowl for 13 years and has performed with such greats as Patti LuPone and Kristen Chenoweth. She has worked at the Pasadena Playhouse, Segerstrom Center for the Arts and the Honda Center and was the headliner for many Concert Under the Stars for CSUF. Her favorite roles have included Little Red in Into the Woods, Amy in Company and Rona in Spelling Bee. Her concert and cabaret credits are extensive including two sold-out solo concerts at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. When she is not performing, McNally also shares her passion for acting and voice with students at Tri-School Theatre, St. Juliana School and Disneyland, where she is a teaching artist for Disney Performing Arts. Learn more about her.


    Jasmine O'Hea

    Jasmine O’Hea
    Year I: Exploration, Grades 4-6

    She is an alumna of South Coast Repertory’s Theatre Conservatory and has served as production assistant and assistant music director for multiple SCR student productions. As an actor, she has performed in nontraditional settings including correctional facilities and a Smithsonian affiliate, where she was a costumed historical interpreter. O'Shea has taught at Christian Youth Theater, the Young Singers of Orange County and the Newport Mesa Unified School District. She graduated from Wheaton College (Ill.), with a degree in communication and theatre.


    Soto

    Richard Soto
    Year I: Exploration, Grades 5-6
    Year III: Truth in Acting, Grades 7-9
    He is a professional actor, teaching artist, fight director and writer, who journeys where the stories need to be told. Soto has performed in theatres throughout Southern California, including San Diego Rep, The Old Globe, A Noise Within (where he was a resident artist for 16 years, performing in more than 30 productions) and South Coast Repertory, which has been his creative home as an actor, stage manager and instructor for 30 years. His film and television credits include Believers, Firebirds, “The West Wing,” “Third Degree Burn” and “General ​Hospital.” In addition to being a faculty instructor with SCR’s Theatre Conservatory, Soto is an adjunct professor of stage combat at Vanguard University and a member of Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble (Santa Ana). His acting classes are socially active environments where students of all ages and backgrounds engage their creativity, expression and empathy. As a fight director, he has choreographed stage fights around the SoCal region including SCR, Latino Theater Company, Teatro Meta, Los Angeles Theatre Center, American Coast Theater, and Actors Co-op, where he was recognized for his outstanding fight choreography. His written work includes the Latinx superhero comic book, “The Legend of El Lobo”; and plays including The Black Book and Los Invisibles (The Invisible Ones, which address the inhumane treatment of immigrants) for Protest Plays Project’s #TheatreActionImmigration Initiative, and Freedom to Speak, I Leave You Hope, It Ain’t Perfect, and Something Worth Pursuing (for the We the People Theatre Action Program, Sacred Fools Theater Company). He currently is working on projects for theatre, television and film involving his passions of people, art, history, education, comic books and making the world a better place. He is a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity Association.


    Sullivan

    Christopher Sullivan
    Year III: Truth in Acting, Grades 7-9
    Year III: Teen Improvisation/Sketch Comedy, Grades 8-12
    He is an actor, improviser and educator. He has worked in improvisational theatre, street performance, clown theatre, puppetry and traditional stage work. Sullivan is a founding artist of Modjeska Playhouse, where he serves as co-artistic director. He is also director of Modjeska Unscripted Theater, where he and a resident cast create and perform improvised plays in several genres as part of Modjeska Playhouse's Main Stage season. His numerous film and television credits include Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. ​He is a former company member of Los Angeles Theatersports and several resident theat​re companies. A graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and SCR’s Acting Intensive Program, he has ​been teaching improvisation and acting in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory since 2007 and is currently a teaching artist at Orange County School of the Arts, where he teaches ​improvisation. Learn more about him.


    Hisa Takakuwa

    Hisa Takakuwa
    Teen Players (by audition only)
    She is the Theatre Conservatory director and heads up all education programs at South Coast Repertory. Takakuwa is a classically trained actor, director and educator. She has worked at many theatrical institutions around the country including the Sundance Children’s Theatre, The Music Center on Tour and the Indiana Repertory Theatre. At SCR, she appeared in The Man Who Came to Dinner and in ​14 seasons of A Christmas Carol and Education Touring Productions. She has directed many past Players* productions ​including Metamorphoses, Hard Times, Cinderella, Mansfield Park, two productions of Into the Woods, Snow Angel, Seussical, Annie, Bliss, Peter Pan, David Copperfield and Mary Poppins. While a longtime resident artist at the classical repertory company A Noise Within, she appeared in many productions including The Triumph of Love, The Comedy of Errors, The Misanthrope, Another Part of the Forest, The Seagull and Our Town. She directed Henry V, Twelfth Night and Shooting Stars at the Actors Co-op theatre in Hollywood. She holds a BA from Smith College and an MFA in acting from the California Institute of the Arts. She received an honorable mention by the Tony Award's Excellence in Theatre Education Awards and the California Educational Theatre Association's Professional Artist Award in 2019.


    Mercy Vasquez

    Mercy Vasquez
    Year III: Advanced Training, Teen Ensemble
    Junior Players (by audition only)
    She is an actor, playwright and theatre instructor. In 2014, she had the pleasure of being ​assistant ​director on ​SCR's critically acclaimed production of The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy. Her directorial work was recognized by the California Educational Theatrical Association in 2013, when her production of Our Town at Newport Harbor High School won the title of Best Play in Orange County. A strong believer in building community through theat​re, she has participated in SCR's community outreach by teaching classes through its Neighborhood Conservatory program. She taught and worked with other community and charitable organizations such as Voices Unheard Educational Outreach, Virginia Avenue Theatre Project, Cornerstone Theatre Company, NOHO Theatre Company, Tayer Theatre Company and the St. Francis Center.


    Learn more about acting classes for kids and teens.

  • The World of Amy Freed: Comedy of the Outrageous

    by 
    John Glore, with additional material by SCR Staff
     | Oct 26, 2020
    Amy Freed
    Amy Freed

    About Amy Freed

    She is the author of SHREW!The Monster Builder, Safe in Hell, The Beard of Avon, Freedomland and You, Nero, all commissioned by or performed at SCR. Her other plays include Them That Are Perfect, Restoration Comedy, The Psychic Life of Savages, Still Warm and Claustrophilia. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama (Freedomland) and the recipient of both the Joseph Kesselring Award and the Helen Hayes/Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play (The Psychic Life of Savages). Freed’s work has been widely produced in a variety of houses including Arena Stage, Playwrights Horizons, New York Theatre Workshop, The Flea, Goodman Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Aurora Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theater, California Shakespeare Theater, The Canadian Stage Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. She lives in San Francisco, where she is an artist-in-residence at Stanford University.

    The Freed Players

    "Amy is one of the smartest people I know," Art Manke, director, colleague and longtime friend of Freed’s said in an interview with Theatre Times. "You have to find actors with keen intelligence and a sense of irony and a sense of humor and not every human is born with a sense of humor. They also have to be imaginative and emotionally grounded so that they’re playing truthfully, but yet with a sharp eye on the punch lines and on the comic turns. It’s a tricky balance to find those kinds of actors. So, Amy has found a group of them along the path of her career that she clings to very passionately.”

    The group has coalesced into something akin to “The Freed Players” and at SCR includes Danny Scheie. He has played the title roles in You, Nero and The Monster Builder. Scheie interviews her about her playwriting in the premiere of the video series, #Commissioned.

    ​What is a Commission?

    Through commissions, SCR provides support—in both literary and financial terms—for playwrights to write new works. It’s a seal of approval by a Tony Award-winning regional theatre to commission a playwright. The process for developing new plays is customized for each commissioned work; playwrights are asked “What do you need in order to advance this work?” and the theatre works to do the right thing for each individual play. Through in-house workshops, public readings, the Pacific Playwrights Festival and productions, commissioned writers are able to hear their works and see them come to life.

    This overview of Amy Freed’s work appeared as a dramaturgical blog for the world premiere of her play, SHREW!, in 2018. It has been updated for the inaugural episode of #Commissioned, featuring Freed being interviewed by actor Danny Scheie.


    Since South Coast Repertory began its relationship with Amy Freed in 1996, eight of her plays have appeared at SCR in productions or staged readings for the public. In them, her comedy of the outrageous has zeroed in on people behaving badly—or in some cases, humans behaving all too humanly—in first century Rome, England of both the Elizabethan and Restoration eras, Puritan America and even the domestic realm of a modern-day American family. But in each case, she has had her eye on what’s happening in the world today.

    “I’m a satirist to a degree and my work is to try to use sometimes satiric forms to address contemporary topics,” Freed told the Orange County Register in 2018. “I’m spontaneously drawn to subjects I think are of major social importance, and the form of satire is where you can make those arguments.”

    Freed says SCR is “the most profound patron a playwright could have in America, and has been absolutely enormous in my development as a writer. They’ve remained interested in my work and will read with interest things I write and send to them—the kind of thing every playwright I know is longing for.”


    An Overview of Amy Freed’s Plays at SCR

    Freedomland
    Heather Ehlers, Peter Michael Goetz and Annie LaRussa in Freedomland.

    Freedomland
    (SCR commission, world premiere on the Segerstrom Stage, 1997)

    The Underfinger family, led by patriarch Noah, is falling apart at the psychological seams. Daughter Polly can’t finish her dissertation on “the secret lives of the women of the Iliad,” after years of trying. Her sister, Sig, has cornered the market on sad clown paintings. Their brother, Seth, is a survivalist with violent tendencies. When they all come home to the family farmhouse in upstate New York, lugging their neurotic baggage with them, things don’t go well. But the Underfingers find their way to a moment of respite in reminiscing about the family’s last happy day, which came many years earlier on a visit to the now-shuttered amusement park, Freedomland—the day before Mom committed the kids into Noah’s incapable hands and left for good.

    In an interview about the play, Freed spoke of growing up “among a generation of lost fathers profoundly affected by the early 1970s, when families were dropping like flies. They were hit by the raised consciousness of the ’60s, the Vietnam War, drugs, the quest for complete self-gratification. The lightning that strikes this family has to do with a cultural shift. They haven’t found a language for their belief and self-definition... They’re trying to live in an age of unbelief, when they’re all really believers by nature.”

    A CurtainUp review of the play’s off-Broadway production said, “Freed, like John Guare, is an inspired wordsmith with a gift for surreal touches in situations grounded in familiar and real territory.” The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

    Beard of Avon
    The cast of The Beard of Avon.

    The Beard of Avon
    (SCR commission, world premiere on the Segerstrom Stage, 2001)

    Only Amy Freed could write a wildly funny romp about the centuries-long scholarly controversy surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. With tongue in cheek, she proposes that the plays were actually written by an assortment of Shakespearean contemporaries (including Queen Elizabeth herself), whose high station forbade them from taking credit for their writing, but whose egos demanded that their plays be staged. The hapless (and not untalented) actor/poet, Will Shakspere, agrees to serve as their front after falling under the sway of the licentious Earl of Oxford.

    A New York Times review said, “What is especially satisfying about The Beard of Avon is that it is not only shrewd and ambitious but also modest in its authorial tone. In several sly instances, Ms. Freed suggests how recurrent themes in Shakespeare—mistaken identity, for example—might have been inspired by real-life occurrences. Equally cagy is her suggestion that Shakespeare’s understanding of human relations is informed by a sexual orientation that is open to all possibilities. These are big ideas, but they aren’t trumpeted and you don’t have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to appreciate them. Indeed, like the rest of ‘Beard,’ they are delivered with a genuine awe and delight at the genius in the 37 plays, whoever is responsible.”

    After its SCR premiere, the play went on to numerous productions at major theatres nationwide.

    Safe in Hell
    Suzanne Jamieson, Robert Sella and Graeme Malcolm in Safe in Hell. Photo by Ken Howard.

    Safe in Hell
    (SCR commission, world premiere on the Segerstrom Stage, 2004)

    Using the 17th-century Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, as its protagonist, the play satirizes the religious zeal that led to the Salem witch trials, suggesting that the insecure Cotton’s fraught relationship with his powerful preacher father, Increase Mather, contributed to his witch-hunting mania. Freed also has fun with the lust lurking beneath Cotton’s God-fearing demeanor. “Cotton drew his power from fear,” said Freed in an NPR interview. “His sermons were about devils and Satan and the presence of hell... [He] is driven enormously by his desire to have a breakthrough to the spiritual world that has eluded him so far. And the avenue that is presented to him is this connection with these possessed girls, who contain all this crazy sexual energy and bottled up rage and all these things he can’t touch in himself.”

    Counterpointing Cotton’s fire-and-brimstone obsession is the feel-good vibe of Reverend Doakes, a proto-New Age preacher who wants to help his “red brothers” find Jesus. “He’s my reproach,” Freed explained on NPR, “to what I see as the failures of the left in this country. He’s a guy who is all for the softness and pleasure and ease of God, a well-meaning fellow...without any sense of the sacrifices of free speech or a free society.”

    The Los Angeles Times review of SCR’s production said, “The play is rife with references to contemporary American culture. Most of these produce audible guffaws...But the humor isn’t mindless; Freed clearly wants her audience to think about parallels with events in our own times.”

    Restoration Comedy
    The cast during the NewSCRipts reading of Restoration Comedy.

    Restoration Comedy
    (NewSCRipts reading, 2005)

    Freed dusts off two obscure comedies from Restoration England to create her own mash-up, having fun with such comedic staples as disguise and sexual dalliance, while lacing the proceedings with liberal doses of anachronism. Freed’s writerly act of “restoration” points up the ways in which the foolishness inspired by love and lust hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

    In a prologue, the play’s lead character confesses to the audience that the sole reason for presenting Restoration Comedy is simple: “So we can wear the clothes!” —and in truth, Freed is mostly interested in having fun with the extravagance of the characters and language; the plot is secondary, but a Variety review of the play’s Seattle Repertory Theatre premiere does a good job of summarizing it: “Unfaithful husband Loveless, who has been roaming the world on a hedonistic binge, learns of his wife’s death in London and decides it’s now safe to return to his stomping grounds. However, his wife, Amanda, turns out to be not the least bit dead, and she promptly tries to woo back her prodigal husband by learning the ‘art of lewdness.’ In the first act, she succeeds. In the second, Loveless backslides and Amanda, too, is tempted to stray. Freed knows well that, as one character puts it, words can be ‘as intoxicating as flesh,’ and the repartee between Loveless and Amanda is as energetic and tantalizing as their sex play.”

    You Nero
    Danny Scheie and Kasey Mahaffey in You, Nero. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

    You, Nero
    (SCR commission, world premiere on the Julianne Argyros Stage, 2009)

    Once again Freed takes a playwright as her protagonist—in this case a fictional one named Scribonius, who is commissioned by the maniacal emperor Nero to write his life story and help him repair his reputation among the people of Rome. Hanging over the playwright’s head at all times is the prospect of a painful death should he fail to satisfy Nero’s every whim. Scribonius also has to contend with Nero’s mother, Agrippina, and new wife, Poppaea, both of whom want him to center his play on them, thereby serving their lust for power and their need for survival in the cut-throat world of Nero’s Rome. When Scribonius falters, Nero finally takes matters into his own hands by creating an autobiographical one-man show, which he performs at the climax of the play; it culminates in a pyrotechnical display that—legends of fiddling aside—sparks the city-consuming conflagration for which Nero is now most famous.

    You, Nero may deal in ancient history, but its awareness of what’s happening in America today—politically, socially and pop-culturally—drives the play to its outrageous finale. “After I started working on it,” Freed has said, “the parallels were obvious: Two civilizations in decline and crumbling under the weight of their own decadence.”

    She added, “The button in me that got pushed by writing this was a great sadness and rage that so much is falling apart... All the bonds of fellowship and society are weakening, and I really don’t know if human beings can survive with nothing but On Demand entertainment.” That Freed’s sadness and rage spurred a riotously funny comedy is par for the course for this playwright.

    Monster Builder
    Danny Scheie, Susannah Schulman Rogers, Gareth Williams, Colette Kilroy and Aubrey Deeker in ​The ​Monster Builder.

    The Monster Builder
    (Pacific Playwrights Festival Reading, 2010, titled Right to the Top)

    The plot of Freed’s satirical comedy, The Monster Builder, hinges on the fate of a decaying boathouse, hidden away in a city park. The city planners are of a mind to tear the old boathouse down, but Dieter and Rita, a husband-and-wife architect team with their own little boutique firm, have put forward a proposal to preserve it. They have in mind a respectful, restorative design that will retain all the vernacular charm and simple serenity of the original, while fortifying it and reclaiming it as a gathering place for the community.

    Freed gives vent to her own dismay at some of the trends in contemporary architecture, and her sense that our cities are being despoiled by the work of today’s starchitects. “I try to bring these concerns into a language that’s theatrical, that’s fun, that’s a little outrageous,” said Freed, “to provoke discussion and reaction.” The reactions the play provokes are likely to range from hilarity to a kind of delighted horror.

    Shrew
    The cast of SHREW! Photo by Debora Robinson.

    SHREW!
    (Workshopped and developed at the Pacific Playwrights Festival Reading, 2017; world premiere, Segerstrom Stage, 2018)

    In 2014, Freed was among the 36 playwrights commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to write “translations” of all of Shakespeare’s plays. Freed asked for The Taming of the Shrew. But even before she’d finished that translation project, which had strict rules about what could and couldn’t be done, Freed made up her mind to write her own free adaptation of Shakespeare’s Shrew. She was convinced that if the mature Shakespeare had written the play, rather than that young playwright just learning his trade, he would have brought a different, more complex sensibility to the characters and their story. Freed’s take delves into Kate’s and Petruchio’s back stories. For Kate, it’s breaking free of the constraints on women of the late 16th century and enjoying all the rights and opportunities that men in her society enjoyed. For Petruchio, it’s a smoothing-out of his stock braggadocio with more complicated dimensions and creating in him a suitable spouse for Kate.

    Theatre Times’ review called SHREW! “a triumph that is brilliant and innovative, all the while being respectful of Shakespeare. There is plenty of iambic pentameter and her textual innovations include some hilarious anachronisms. If you love Shakespeare and like to laugh, this is your show.”