• Hope Through Bravery

    by 
    John Glore
     | Jan 31, 2020
    Mountain Meets the Moon Logo

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon tells the story of a young girl named Minli, who lives with her Ma and Ba in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain. As its name suggests, Minli’s homeland is a desolate place; among the few sources of color and delight in her life are the stories her Ba tells her, full of mythical creatures and legendary characters like the Jade Dragon and her children and the villainous Magistrate Tiger. These tales so captivate Minli that she doesn’t always tend to her chores conscientiously, much to her practical-minded Ma’s frustration.

    Goldfish

    One day, Minli spends one of the two coins her parents have set aside for her to purchase a goldfish from a mysterious peddler, who promises that the fish will bring Minli good fortune. Her mother scolds her for wasting her money on a fish​—but then, much to Minli’s surprise, the goldfish speaks to her and provides information that sends her on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon. The Old Man knows the answer to every question, the goldfish tells her, and thus can provide the solution to the problem that plagues Minli’s village. Leaving a note for her parents, Minli sets out on a journey to the home of the Old Man of the Moon, at the top of Never-Ending Mountain.

    Along the way, Minli meets a timorous dragon​—named Dragon​—who sprang to life from a painting created by the great artist Chen. Minli knows about Chen from one of her father’s stories about the origin of Fruitless Mountain. Dragon joins Minli on her quest, hoping the Old Man of the Moon can provide him with the answer to why he can’t fly.

    Meanwhile, Ma and Ba set out on a journey of their own, to try to find their missing daughter. Ma is especially distraught by Minli’s disappearance and regrets that her own harsh words may have contributed to Minli’s decision to leave.

    Minli proves herself both kind and brave as she takes on a series of challenges, making good use of the wisdom in her father’s stories and the help of some other characters that she and Dragon meet on their journey. They finally reach Never-Ending Mountain, whereupon Minli faces the greatest challenge of all when she learns that the Old Man of the Moon will only answer one question every 99 years. Which question will she ask? How will both she and Dragon find what they’re looking for? And will Minli ever be reunited with Ma and Ba?

    Dragon

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a musical by Min Kahng, adapted from Grace Lin’s Newbery Honor book of the same title (published in 2009). In writing the book, Lin was inspired by Chinese folk tales and ​wove a number of them into her Wizard-of-Oz-like story. The novel and the musical it has inspired demonstrate the power and wisdom of stories, especially the myths and legends that help us to make sense of the world we live in. In adapting the book for the stage, Min Kahng made use of both Chinese and Western musical forms and instrumentation.

    SCR’s production of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is directed by Jennifer Chang, who is no stranger to SCR’s Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) program, although this is the first time she has directed one of its productions. She performed in TYA productions of Charlotte’s Web (2008), The Brand New Kid (2009) and Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business (in which she stood in for another actor for several performances in 2009). A co-founder of LA’s Chalk Rep theatre company, Chang’s directing credits include Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone (East West Players), Jiehae Park’s Hannah and ​the Dread Gazebo (The Fountain Theatre) and Rajiv Joseph’s Animals ​Out of Paper (East West Players, ​Los Angeles Times Critic’s Choice).

    Chang’s cast consists of seven actor/singers who are all new to SCR: Chloris Li (Minli), Aja Wiltshire (Ma and other characters), Randy Buiaya (Ba and others), Miller Tai (Dragon), Albert Park (Old Man of the Moon and others), Michael C. Palma (Magistrate Tiger and others) and Nicole Javier (Goldfish and others). The multi-talented cast sings under the music direction of Deborah Wicks La Puma (known to SCR audiences as a composer and/or music director on numerous TYA shows). The fight choreographer is Thomas Isao Morinaka.

    The production’s designers include Tesshi Nakagawa (sets), Anthony Tran (costumes), Lonnie Alcaraz (lighting), Yee Eun Nam (​video) and Melanie Chen Cole (sound). They have collaborated with director Chang to create a world whose sights and sounds are rooted in Chinese tradition while taking advantage of the opportunities the story provides for flights of fancy and imagination, sometimes inspired by our own contemporary culture.

    Learn more about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and buy tickets.

  • It’s Magic: Designing Costumes for "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Jan 27, 2020
    Mountain Meets the Moon Costume Renderings
    Costume design renderings by Anthony Tran for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.
    Goldfish costume rendering
    ​​Goldfish costume rendering by Anthony Tran.
    Green Tiger costume rendering
    ​Green Tiger costume rendering by Anthony Tran.

    Costume designer Anthony Tran is breathing life into some 30 costumes that the seven actors in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Feb. 7-23, 2020) will wear to help tell the story. The musical, adapted from Grace Lin’s award-winning 2009 book by the same name, follows young Minli, who sets out on a big and magical adventure to help her village find prosperity and health again. During her journey, she draws strength from the folktales that her father (Ba) told her, as she encounters many strange and wonderful creatures along the way—including a dragon and a green tiger.

    Tran is a Los Angeles-based designer for stage, film and television. His recent credits include “Teen Beach 2” (Disney) and “Star Trek: Picard” (CBS All Access). We caught up with him during rehearsals for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

    What inspired you to get into costume designing?
    As a kid, I drew all the time. I would watch movies and draw my own versions of the characters. When I discovered that costume design could be a profession, it clicked that I had unintentionally been preparing to be a costume designer since I was a little kid!

    What’s your favorite part of the job?
    My favorite thing about being a costume designer is that it is a combination of many things I enjoy—art, design, history, research and storytelling. I am always learning something new and enjoy collaborating with other artists. There's never a dull moment.

    What interested you most about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon?
    What intrigued me about the show is that it's the quintessential hero's journey, only our protagonist (Minli) isn't the traditional trope. The scope of the story is epic and I was excited to take on the challenge of designing the costumes for the various creatures Minli encounters.

    How do you develop both the designs and color palettes for the costumes?
    Our director Jennifer [Chang] and I both agreed that we didn't want the look of the costumes to feel too traditional. Rather, we wanted to blend different aesthetics to create an east meets west feel. For example, Minli wears her traditional qipao top with contemporary graphic overalls. Because Minli travels to many different places, I wanted to create distinct cultures for each location that are reflected in what the characters wear.

    We start in Fruitless Mountain, where the villagers toil away, so I kept the color palette in sunset tones a la an arid desert. When Minli arrives in the City of Bright Moonlight, there is a metropolitan feeling and all the fabrics are rich brocades (pseudo-inspired by The Wizard of Oz). For Moon Rain Village, all of their clothes are patchwork to reflect the tight, small-town nature of the community.

    Tell me about designing costumes for the creatures that Minli meets along her journey.
    The fantastical creatures Minli encounters also follow that same mixing of references and aesthetics. Dragon's look was inspired by costumes worn in Beijing Opera, mixed in with a 2016 Dsquared² runway collection that was filled with these interesting tattoo shirts. Goldfish's dress is traditional Chinese Hanfu, but we added clear plastic bubbles (a la Lady Gaga's bubble dress!) to simulate sea foam. Tiger wears traditional Chinese set and Tang dynasty-era head and also wears his Liberace-meets-stuffed-animal fur coat. The idea was to mix traditional garb with modern taste, keeping things elegant and playful at the same time.

    What type of fabrics and textures do you favor for this show?
    I keep a pretty open mind when it comes to materials. Fruitless Mountain is full of solid colors of cottons and linens. The City of Bright Moonlight is mostly brocades. Moon River Village is mostly cotton prints. We're getting really crafty with all the creatures’ costumes and using everything from foam to newspaper to old Christmas ornaments.

    What is the life journey of a costume—from design, to build to performance—how does it come together?
    The journey from design to finished product involves the work of so many skilled people. I start by making renderings of my designs. Then, it takes a village to turn that into reality. We source clothing, fabrics and supplies from all over the world (thanks to the magic of the internet). And SCR has so many skilled artisans in the Costume Shop who help realize everything. We hone things in during fittings with the actors and they breathe new life into it over the course of technical and dress rehearsals. Sometimes things work exactly as envisioned and sometimes we adjust. It's a very collaborative process that's ever evolving.

    Do you have a favorite folktale or fairy tale from childhood—and why do you think it appealed to you?
    I have so many, but Cinderella stands out. I'd seen the classic Disney version and then my parents showed me a video of a Vietnamese version. The fantasy and drama are fun and exciting for a kid, but they also exposed me to the universality of storytelling. There's a version of the Cinderella tale in so many different cultures. That really is the beautiful thing about stories: they tie us all together.

    Learn more about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and buy tickets.

  • A Conversation with Alex Jaeger, Costume Designer of “She Loves Me”

    by 
    Beth Fhaner
     | Jan 24, 2020
    Alex Jaeger and Costume Renderings
    Costume designer Alex Jaeger and some of his renderings for She Loves Me.

    For the nostalgic Broadway musical, She Loves Me, costume designer Alex Jaeger had to define the look of 1930s Europe, style-wise, for the characters’ wardrobes. The Los Angeles-based designer admits that this project required him to create a hybrid of what people actually were wearing in the ’30s, combined with the glamorous escapism that was being produced by the entertainment industry at the time. She Loves Me—with its charming characters and beautiful music—was a world that Jaeger enjoyed living in while he worked on the play’s sartorial splendor.

    After graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Jaeger earned an MFA in costume design at University of California, Los Angeles. His background includes working in the performing arts and film, where he’s contributed his artistry to more than 100 productions. Learn more about Jaeger in this Q&A including his process of creating the ​chic fashions for She Loves Me.


    Georg Costume Rendering
    Georg costume design by Alex Jaeger.
    Ilona Costume Rendering
    ​Ilona costume design by Alex Jaeger.

    What was your design inspiration for She Loves Me?

    Well, She Loves Me is such a perfectly constructed musical with a lovely score. The idea was just to support that. Make it pretty and romantic and not try to reinvent the wheel. No need to fix something that isn’t broken.

    Since the play is set in Europe in the 1930s, what kind of research did you need to do regarding the fashion during that time?

    The ’30s were an interesting time, style-wise. There were so many things happening globally with war, economic struggles and politics.

    America was experiencing the Great Depression. Europe was also experiencing economic challenges and the rise of Hitler. In response, filmmakers and theater creatives were producing the most glamorous escapism imaginable. Think Busby Berkeley, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, etc. Researching the period is tricky, because of the divide between the reality of what most people were wearing and the glamour that was created by the entertainment industry. Even though this musical was created at a later date, it really evokes that time. What I’m trying to do with my designs is create a hybrid that will appear “real” while providing high style and glamour that is appropriate to this jewel box of a play.

    What’s the best part—and the biggest challenges—about working on costumes for this show?

    The play is so rich. It’s fun to live in the world with these characters and this beautiful music. The styles are very chic and a musical by its very nature gives you license to push the envelope with color, line and character. I think that the biggest challenge is creating a cohesive look by combining pieces that we can build with rentals and modern purchases. A lot of the available costumes from this period are “dust bowl” and not at all what I want for this show.

    What initially piqued your interest about She Loves Me and made you want to be involved with this production?

    I have always loved this musical. It’s charming and romantic without being sappy. I’ve never designed it before, so that was a plus. Also, [SCR Artistic Director] David Ivers is one of my favorite directors, as well as one of my favorite people. He always puts together amazing casts and design teams, so it was a no-brainer to say “yes” to this production. The cherry on top is that SCR is producing. I’ve done many shows here and am happy to be back with all the fantastic artists behind the scenes who support me and bring my designs to life on the stage.

    Tell us about your background. What do you enjoy most about being a costume designer?

    It’s a bit of a journey. I grew up in a family involved in the high fashion industry. As with most children, I wanted nothing to do with it. I studied performance. Acting, singing and dance. That wasn’t the best choice for me. I finally realized that I could combine my love of theatre with my inborn knowledge of design. I went back to school and got a degree in costume design. It was the best decision I ever made. I love my work. The thing I enjoy most is that every day brings a different challenge, new people and unexpected opportunities for creativity.

    What advice do you have for someone interested in a career as a costume designer?

    I think that most people have the impression that costume design is mostly shopping at fancy stores and going to red carpet events. My advice is that you have to need a passion for costume design. You have to love history and people and characters. It’s not about making pretty dresses. It’s about telling a story. If it speaks to your soul, it’s right. If you’re not afraid of long hours and hard work, it’s right.

    What are some of your favorite productions that you’ve designed costumes for?

    Wow—that’s a tough question. One of the things I love best about my job is that I get to do all different sorts of things. It is equally rewarding to create an exquisitely beautiful gown as it is to design rags that tell the history and experience of the character. That said, for me, it’s more about the total experience and collaboration with the actors, director and other designers. With those parameters, I'd say that Arcadia by Tom Stoppard; Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play; and Grey Gardens are at the top of my list.

    What’s next for you?

    Designers in this country need to work on many productions at once to make a living, so there are many! I am currently designing a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in Cleveland that will tour to Boise, Idaho, and Lake Tahoe, Calif.; a production of The Wedding Singer in Seattle; and a play with music about Rosemary Clooney called Tenderly in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can follow my work on my website: alexjaegerdesign.com

    Learn more about She Loves Me and buy tickets.

  • The Sweet Subtlety of an Enduring Classic

    by 
    Andy Knight
     | Jan 21, 2020
    The Cast of She Loves Me
    Marlene Martinez (Ilona Ritter), Brian Vaughn (Georg Nowack), Erin Mackey (Amalia Balash) and Sam Ludwig (Steven Kodaly) from She Loves Me.

    In 1930s Europe—in a city reminiscent of Budapest, Hungary—Maraczek’s Parfumerie sells all the finest scents, creams and beauty accoutrements. Business is steady but slow, although Mr. Maraczek, the owner, hopes things will pick up now that the nearby department store, Hammerschmidt’s, has closed. Georg Nowack, the manager, hopes so, too; perhaps then they can hire another salesperson for the floor. The rest of the staff at Maraczek’s includes Ladislov Sipos, middle-aged and married; Arpad Laszlo, the young delivery boy who hopes to do something more; Ilona Ritter, who looks for love in all the wrong places; and Steven Kodaly, a dashing lothario with whom Ilona is having a secret affair.

    But Ilona and Kodaly aren’t the only employees at Maraczek’s with a secret romance. Georg has been exchanging letters for weeks with his “Dear Friend,” a woman who responded to his personal ad in the paper. Their connection is undeniable and they have much in common. However, they’ve never met in person, nor do they know each other’s names or professions. Georg worries that when they do meet, Dear Friend will no longer be interested.

    Georg’s personal insecurities temporarily recede, however, when his professional life starts to unravel. That unraveling coincides with the arrival of Amalia Balash, the new sales clerk hired by Maraczek. From the moment Amalia enters the shop, she and Georg can’t stand each other. To make matters worse, Maraczek has become particularly ornery as of late and seems to direct all of his anger at Georg. The change in Maraczek is a mystery to Georg, and he’s not quite sure what he’s done to deserve such ire.

    What neither Georg nor Amalia know is that they are each other’s Dear Friend and have—unknowingly—been exchanging letters for months.

    Finally, in early December, the two pen pals decide to meet. Both Amalia and Georg arrive at work the morning of their date nervous and excited to finally meet their Dear Friend—and still completely unaware that they have, in fact, already met. But as the workday progresses, things take a surprising turn. In the heat of an argument with Maraczek, Georg quits his job and then picks one last fight with Amalia before storming out.

    That evening, Amalia waits at a restaurant—with a single rose and a copy of Anna Karenina, so Dear Friend will recognize her. Georg arrives with Sipos, whom he’s asked to pass along his regrets to his mystery date; after the day he’s had, Georg doesn’t feel equipped to meet the woman of his dreams. But then, Georg and Sipos see Amalia and realize just who Georg has been writing to. Suddenly, everything changes for Georg. And it’s only a matter of time before it will for Amalia, too.

    Miklos Laszlo
    Miklós László in 1937​. Passport used by permission of his Estate.
    She Loves Me on Broadway in 1963
    Daniel Massey ​and Barbara Cook In ​the 1963 Broadway musical ​She Loves Me.
    She Loves Me on Broadway 2016
    Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski in the 2016 Broadway revival of She Loves Me. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

    She Loves Me, which is based on a 1937 play by Hungarian playwright Miklós László, has a score by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Together, Bock and Harnick collaborated on some of the 20th century’s greatest musicals, including Fiorello!, which won both the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize; Fiddler on the Roof, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical; and The Apple Tree. She Loves Me’s book was written by Joe Masteroff, best known for his work on the musical Cabaret. The original production, which opened on Broadway in 1963, was directed by legendary director-producer Hal Prince.

    Although the original production wasn’t a commercial success—it ran for only 301 performances and failed to recoup its investment—it was a favorite among critics. “She Loves Me has probably gotten the best reviews of any show I’ve ever written,” Joe Masteroff said in a 2016 interview. “Reviews constantly would come in from all over the country from distinguished critics [saying], ‘This is the best musical I’ve ever seen.’”

    It’s no surprise, then, that the musical has endured. In the same interview, Sheldon Harnick noted that “little by little, [the musical] established itself as a cult show,” with productions around the country. Since then, She Loves Me has had two successful Broadway revivals, in 1993 and in 2016.

    There is, after all, something undeniably charming and romantic about She Loves Me. It tells a story of ordinary people and everyday love—but it feels exceptional. The book, both funny and unexpectedly moving, seamlessly glides into songs that simultaneously delight and endear. Take “Dear Friend,” Amalia’s solo that ends the first act. What begins as a somewhat amusing song about finding herself stood up by a blind date subtly transforms into a heartbreaking expression of vulnerability and tenacious hope. It lacks the flash of a typical act one finale, which encapsulates She Loves Me perfectly: unpretentious, yet emotionally full.

    “The score is complex and stunning and it adds so much to the plot in how it moves the narrative and characters forward. It’s extraordinarily exciting, musically,” says David Ivers, who makes his SCR directorial debut since being named the company's artistic director. But Ivers—a self-professed romantic—adds that “the more I dug into it, the more I found that there’s so much book work that grounds the musical.”

    For SCR’s production, Ivers has assembled a top-notch team of designers to bring the world of She Loves Me to life, a world Ivers calls “incredibly beautiful and highly detailed.” The set is designed by a new face to SCR, Jo Winiarski, while the rest of the design team, Alex Jaeger (costumes), Jaymi Lee Smith (lighting) and Jeff Polunas (sound), are all SCR veterans. The creative team is rounded out by music director Gregg Coffin, who returns to the theatre after music directing One Man, Two Guvnors in 2015 (also directed by Ivers), and choreographer Jaclyn Miller, who makes her SCR debut.

    The cast of sixteen is led by Erin Mackey, who appeared in SCR’s 2014 production of The Light in the Piazza, as Amalia; Brian Vaughn, in his SCR debut, as Georg; Marlene Martinez as Ilona; and Sam Ludwig as Kodaly. Read more about the cast here! She Loves Me runs Jan. 25-Feb. 22, 2020, on the Segerstrom Stage.

    Learn more and buy tickets to She Loves Me.

  • Taking an Acting Class Leads to Exceptional Life Experience

    by 
    Art Brueggeman
     | Jan 13, 2020
    Art Brueggeman and Daniel Reichert
    Art Brueggeman, left, working with actor Daniel Reichert during an Acting Intensive Program summer class.

    Art Brueggeman is retired. He started taking acting classes in SCR's Theatre Conservatory in 2019. We asked him to share with us some of his experiences.

    “What on earth prompted you to do that?”
    “Did you ever do any acting before, like in high school or college?”
    “Man…you’re brave.”
    “I could never do that.”
    …that is what I heard from friends and family when I told them I signed up for acting classes.

    To which I said…

    1. On a complete lark.
    2. No, never.
    3. No, I’m not, unless the bar for brave is very low.
    4. You not only could. You should.

    I retired from a career in finance and accounting years ago. Although I thought my creative and art-appreciation side was alive, in retrospect I can see it was undernourished and underdeveloped. My left brain had basically dominated my life, though there is nothing inherently wrong with an over-developed left brain. I could have lived out my years, happy…and oblivious…to what I was missing. My outside interests, mostly reading and playing guitar (the latter which I also took up late in life), kept me entertained. My family and friends are a continuing joy. Yet, there was a longing that I couldn’t put my finger on. One thing I did know: I wasn’t done learning and growing.

    "How the Hell Do Actors Remember All Those Lines?"

    On a “lark” I signed up for Acting l at SCR in the fall of 2016—three hours every Tuesday evening for 8 weeks. I was anxious before walking into class, thinking that I might not be able to engage without embarrassing myself. I’m self-conscious. I like to be in control. Besides, how the hell do actors remember all those lines anyway? Finally, what am I going to do with “acting?”

    It turns out, a lot. But it isn’t what you might think.

    There is a dichotomy in people’s impression of the craft and skill of acting. Fear of doing it is rooted in the same rocky soil as the classic No. 1 fear—public speaking, which is, after all, performing in front of an audience. Subjecting oneself to being “judged.” Well, take public speaking up a few notches and you have acting. 

    Then I heard this: “But, as long as you’re not afraid of being the focus of attention and you remember your lines…the ‘acting’ part itself must be pretty easy, right?” Not.

    If it was easy, anyone could do it and it wouldn’t be any more remarkable than mastering walking upright. The only people who think acting is easy are those who don’t know how to do it. Acting is a craft. Developing the skills to appreciate and hone the craft is worthy of the same dedication and focus as any other. It is in the process, in the learning, where joy and fulfillment live.

    Exhilaration

    I walked out of that first class exhilarated. Whatever worries and concerns I had about the world situation and other things going on were at least temporarily pushed to the background. It was fun and eye-opening. The teacher was an enthusiastic, supportive and experienced actor. The class included students in their early 20s all the way up to retirees. Some had acting experience, mostly from high school and college, though quite a few had done community theatre as well. Very few were complete rookies like me. The evening flew by.

    In the ensuing months, I signed up for Acting II, Acting III and Improv, repeating each several times along the way. I treated my new endeavor as I would any other skill-building path. We focused at first on acting games ​and exercises and monologues, eventually moving to scene-study work, (i.e. acting with a fellow student as a scene partner, in character, from a selected play.) This required memorizing dialogue, outside-of-class rehearsing, presenting it in class and getting “notes” from the teacher (think: what to do differently), then doing it all again the next week. It became clear why the best definition of acting is: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances.

    The Acting Intensive Program (AIP) ​two summers ago came next—7 weeks, six hours per day (plus outside work), under the direction of Matthew Arkin and numerous other experienced, working actors, directors and skill coaches. ​We worked on multiple scene studies, auditioning (under the direction of Joanne DeNaut, CSA, SCR’s casting director), acting for camera, voice and movement, and more. What a ride! The culmination of all the summer work was a full-on production of selected scenes from highly regarded plays, with invited friends and family in the audience, on the Julianne Argyros Stage.

    I enjoyed the AIP so much that I did it again last summer and benefitted from it even more the second time around.

    So, what did I get out of it? I spent seven weeks getting to know and work with delightful, high-energy human beings of all ages, most with significantly more acting training than I had. I grew and witnessed stunning growth in my classmates. I stepped outside myself and I’m the better for it. I sweated, but held my own, giving me a sense of accomplishment. My respect for the craft and skill of acting grew by magnitudes. It has informed and deepened my awareness of and appreciation for live theatre performances and film. If I want to, I can certainly audition for theatre anywhere, but I don’t feel compelled to do that for this to have been a rich and worthy life experience.

    There's an acting class for you in SCR's Theatre Conservatory​—any time of the year. Check out the upcoming class schedules for kids, teens and adults to learn more.