• Meet the Cast: "Fireflies"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 17, 2019
    Christiana Clark and Lester Purry
    ​Christiana Clark and Lester Purry

    Two actors make their South Coast Repertory debuts, bringing to life the gripping drama Fireflies by Donja R. Love (Jan. 5-26, 2020, Julianne Argyros Stage). Lester Purry portrays the Rev. Charles Grace, who travels the South in 1963 spreading hope during the Civil Rights ​movement. Christiana Clark portrays Olivia Grace, the wife who skillfully crafts—in the couple’s kitchen—Charles’ eloquent speeches. But secrets and regrets are beginning to take their toll, and Charles is expected home at any moment. We caught up with Clark and Purry during rehearsals to talk with them about the play’s story, what it means to them and more.

    Christiana ClarkChristiana Clark

    I portray Olivia Grace. She is the devoted wife of Reverend Charles Emmanuel Grace, one of the faces of the Civil Rights movement, and, as far as the world is concerned, that alone is the be​-all and end​-all of who she is or ever needs to be. Until recently, that is all she purposed herself to be, but the pressure and pain she’s been living under as a black woman in the South in 1963 has ignited a powder keg of self-discovery.
    This is my SCR debut!
    My other credits include How to Catch Creation, ​The Way the Mountain Moved, Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, The Wiz, Hamlet, Into the Woods and The Taming of the Shrew (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Blue (Penumbra Theatre); Pure Confidence (59E59, off-Broadway); Othello, Endgame, Constant Star, Lost in the Stars, A Raisin in the Sun and The Trinity River Plays.
    The story of Fireflies resonates with me because Donja [R. Love, playwright] has put fire in the language, whether it’s fire in the language in sermons, given to uplift and encourage in-charge black folks during this unbelievably trying time, or the fire between a husband and wife that can spark quicker than expected or smolder under the surface. Sometimes, the raw, wild realness of a fire can grow out of control but, in the hands of an alchemist, can be controlled and used to a purpose and I really see that there in the language of this piece.
    The play is important right now because if you change some names and references and other specific details that said this play is set in 1963, it could completely be taking place today, right now. As Olivia says early in the play, “Pain has a way of lingering.” I believe that theatre has the capacity to begin facilitation healing, or at least sparking the conversations necessary for dealing with the traumas and tragedies of life.
    The book I’m currently reading is My Life With Martin Luther King Jr. by his widow, Coretta Scott King.

    Lester Purry​Lester Purry

    I portray Rev. Charles Grace. He is a Southern preacher during the Civil Rights movement. His main task is preaching at the funerals of kids killed during the movement, falsely imprisoned and to comfort the families of the victims.
    This is my SCR debut.
    My other credits include Othello, The Darker Face of the Earth and The Big White Fog (Guthrie Theater), Fences, Dutchman, Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson, King Hedley II and Jitney (Penumbra Theatre); Thunder Knocking on the Door and You Can Stop on a Dime (Baltimore Center Stage); as well as Arizona Theatre Company, Philadelphia Theatre Company and Children’s Theatre Company. I was also in the one-man show Thurgood as Thurgood Marshall at Geva Theatre Center.
    The story of Fireflies resonates with me because it looks at the truth of flawed people dealing with people during a time of tremendous oppressions and the truth of a complicated life.
    This play is important now because many of the themes in Fireflies are happening today. It’s a window both into the past and today.
    The book I’m currently reading is The Traveler’s Giftby Andy Andrews.

    Learn more about Fireflies and buy tickets.

  • Making a Musical

    by 
    Beth Fhaner
     | Dec 16, 2019
    Jamey Hood and David St. Louis in Sweeney Todd
    Jamey Hood and David St. Louis in ​SCR's 2019 ​production of ​Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Photo by Jordan Kubat.
    Light in the Piazza
    Erin Mackey and ​David Burnham in SCR's 2014 production of The Light in the Piazza. Photo by Debora Robinson.

    Excitement is in the air at SCR, as we gear up for She Loves Me, a romantic, charming, musical comedy, to launch the new year on our Segerstrom Stage—and the first production helmed by Artistic Director David Ivers! The sounds of beautiful harmonies will soon be heard floating throughout the building as the actors begin rehearsals. In addition, our various shops (Scene, Costume, Wigs and Props) are all moving full-speed ahead on their respective duties to support this heartfelt and joyous play.

    In order to mount a successful musical, several elements have to come together at the right time including the music, lyrics (of course!), a narrative or story, creative elements (such as set design, lighting, sound), costumes, a director, choreographer, a talented cast and much more. Of course, generous support is required to stage a production (and at SCR, Honorary Producers underwrite our productions), not to mention the behind-the-scenes marketing and media support needed to attract a wide audience.

    Theatregoers can learn more about this art form and what it takes to stage a musical in PBS’s essay, “The Elements of the Musical.”

    SCR has produced a number of musicals throughout its history, starting in 1969 with The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Other notable musicals include Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, 2019), Once (Enda Walsh, Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, 2017), The Light in the Piazza (Craig Lucas, Adam Guettel, 2014), The Fantasticks (Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt, 2013), Side by Side by Sondheim (Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rogers, Jule Styne, 1979), In Fashion (Jon Jory, Jerry Blatt, Lonnie Bernstein, 1976), Cloudlands (Octavio Solis, Adam Gwon, 2012), A Little Night Music (Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, 2007), Marry Me a Little (Stephen Sondheim, Craig Lucas, 1988) and The Education of Randy Newman (Randy Newman, 2000).

    Whether you’re already a devoted fan of musicals or you’re just curious about this celebrated art form, She Loves Me is guaranteed to be a delightful and engaging theatrical experience. Don’t miss this nostalgic Broadway hit that was inspired by the story that gave us The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail (Segerstrom Stage, Jan. 25-Feb. 22).

    Learn more and buy tickets to She Loves Me.

    Learn more about SCR’s 2019-20 season.

  • Christmas Comes Early With Surprise $5 Million Gift

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 14, 2019
    Julianne Argyros
    ​Julianne Argyros

    Christmas arrived early for South Coast Repertory when philanthropist Julianne Argyros announced a $5 million gift to the Tony Award-winning theatre. With her signature wit and affection, Argyros shared the news during the curtain call for the Dec. 14, 2019, matinee of A Christmas Carol to the cheers of a full house.

    Julianne and George Argyros have been leading supporters of South Coast Repertory since the 1970s, including major contributions to the Next Stage Campaign, which led to the naming of the Julianne Argyros Stage, and to the Legacy Campaign to build the theatre’s endowment. Julianne is an Honorary Trustee and, in 2013, she served as Honorary Chair of SCR’s 50th Season Gala.

    The Argyroses have supported A Christmas Carol as Honorary Producers for 13 consecutive years, making more heartfelt this announcement, which comes during the show’s 40th anniversary.

    “For 56 years, SCR has thrived as a bright light in Orange County. Its future, under the leadership of David Ivers and Paula Tomei, is truly exciting,” said Julianne. “George and I are thrilled to play a part in that.”

    The gift will make possible an entirely new production of A Christmas Carol which will premiere in December 2021. Additionally, it strengthens SCR’s strategic capacity-building initiatives, which include increasing the endowment to support programming.

    “SCR’s magical holiday tradition is as near and dear to us as it is to the more than 600,000 people who have experienced it over the past 40 years,” said Juilanne. "The best way to pay tribute to Hal Landon Jr., and the other wonderful artists who have entertained us for all four decades, is to ensure that this incredible tradition continues."

    “Julianne and George Argyros continue to inspire us with their leadership and generosity,” said Managing Director Paula Tomei. “So much of our work over the years has benefitted from their support and we are humbled by this extraordinary gift.”

    “The Argyroses’ overwhelming support is a transformational gift for South Coast Repertory and for our greater community. “’Thanks’ does not begin to cover the gratitude we owe to them,” said Artistic Director David Ivers. “It has been an honor to dream, plan and circle in the orbit of such selfless, giving people.”

    “Julianne and George Argyros are the definition of leadership and philanthropy in Orange County. This gift exemplifies their commitment to South Coast Repertory,” said Samuel Tang, president of SCR’s Board of Trustees. “We are eternally grateful for their vision and generosity.”

  • Forty Years in Lights: Meet Tom & Donna Ruzika

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 12, 2019
    Tom and Donna Ruzika
    ​Lighting Designers Tom and Donna Ruzika.
    Hal Landon in A Christmas Carol
    ​Richard Doyle, Hal Landon Jr., William Francis McGuire and Kimberly Scott in A Christmas Carol under the Ruzika's beautiful lighting.

    This year, Donna and Tom Ruzika mark 40 years of creating the lighting design for South Coast Repertory’s A Christmas Carol. They may be one of the few—if not the only—married lighting designers in the American theatre today, and this year marked the couple’s 47th wedding anniversary. In this Q&A, they talked about what drew each of them to lighting design, to SCR and all about A Christmas Carol.

    How did each of you get introduced to theatre and lighting design?
    Tom
    : For me, it was in high school. I started doing lighting because of music, since I played the organ, and that got me into the auditorium, where I started doing lighting and was paid a dollar an hour.
    Donna: I was in college as a business major and I was in search of a new major. I had gone through PE and sociology and a variety of other things. I was cast in a short production of Hair for a weekend college retreat, held in the snowy mountains of Big Bear. During the day, I saw this guy pulling a toboggan and I said, ‘Can I ride on that with you?’ and it happened to be Tom. Ultimately, long story short, they were also doing a production of Hair and he said, ‘Why don’t you come and audition?’ So I did, I got cast and changed my major.

    You celebrated your 47th wedding anniversary this year—are there any secrets that help keep your personal and professional lives strong?
    Donna
    : I think we like each other, of course we love each other, too. [laughs]
    Tom: We understand what the other does and, with all of our travels, we’ve probably only been together for only 20 years. [more laughter]

    What other shows have you collaborated on?
    Tom:
    We’ve had a wonderful run. I think it’s now 15 years at the Hollywood Bowl. Every summer, they do a Broadway musical production, so we have one week to try to put the show together. Donna designs the follow spot cues and I design the lighting cues.
    Donna: Which is really exciting because we get to work with people we normally would not. Both of us have worked at regional and local theatres. Tom did a Broadway show. I’ve never done one, but we get to collaborate with all kinds of musical directors and actors that are purely Broadway. A New York lighting designer friend of ours said, “Tom is the closest thing to a Broadway designer you are going to find in LA or California!” I thought that was really cool.
    Tom: We’ve done other shows together that way and I go see her shows, not that often… [laughing].
    Donna: I was the resident lighting designer for the Fullerton Civic Light Opera for 30 some years and I think Tom saw four shows.
    Tom: I think six or seven but anyway…
    Donna: And I’ve done over 100 musicals…he does come to the Utah Shakespeare Festival and sees all those shows.

    Lighting design seems like an unsung hero of a stage production. Can you tell me a little about the power of theatrical lighting?
    Donna:
    Well, turn off the stage lights and see what happens…. [smiles]
    Tom: We did a show here at SCR and there was a preshow talk with the audience. When they came in, the preshow scenery lights were on. I turned the work lights on to say, “Here, this is what the scenery really looks like.”
    Donna: And then he showed the lighting he had created for a scene and the audience goes, ‘Oooh.’ The power of lighting is to take the audience on the play’s journey. If done correctly, the lighting helps tell the story and helps the audience know where to look and where not to look. It ultimately helps give the play a meaningful impact because the lighting is complementing the story and the scenery and costumes.

    What are some considerations as you look to design lighting for A Christmas Carol?
    Donna:
    A lot of the technology has changed since we started this show. Just before rehearsals started for A Christmas Carol this year, Tom got the original 1980 light plot out; it was hand-drawn and had 163 lights. Today, the lighting plot is computer-drafted and we have more than 230 lights, including LED and automated lights. As the technology has come along, we have utilized all the new equipment to enhance what audiences will see.
    Tom: This show started out more like a storybook tale—right down to the scenery and props—and it was a young Scrooge [Editor’s note: Hal Landon Jr. was 38 years old when he began portraying Scrooge]. Now, the story of the play has gotten much deeper. One of the reasons why Donna and I teamed up 40 years ago when we got the call to do this show was because, at the same time, I got the call to do A Christmas Carol at the Mark Taper Forum, so I was doing two of these holiday shows at the same time.
    Donna: Also, so Tom said if we are going to be doing SCR’s show, we needed to be together for our anniversary.

    What’s special to each of you, personally, about this show?
    Donna:
    To me it’s the people, it’s the cast. Every year we walk in and hear Hal say, “The Ruzikas are here!” and it’s just a joy! It has always been fun to do this show because it’s a reunion every year; it’s also the fun of designing the show.
    Tom: There are beautiful and touching moments for me in the show, such as when Scrooge is looking from behind the scrim over at Belle. Plus, having done the show for 40 years, we know every word!
    Donna: Yes, it’s just so ingrained in us after 40 years! Also JD [director John-David Keller] has been such a joy to work with. It’s a great story; Dickens was a star.

    What fun moments from the show pop for you?
    Donna
    : There are so many moments when Hal will say something funny in rehearsal and everyone will start laughing. Moments like that or the audience reaction.
    Tom:
    Rick Doyle [The Ghost of Christmas Present] being stuck in the closet and not being able to get out…those moments bring a smile to your face.
    Donna: And, of course, Hal when he does his hat trick. I’m delighted he stayed for 40 years because he’s such an excellent actor.

    Learn more about A Christmas Carol.

  • The Ghost of Christmas Past and Cider Joe: Meet Longtime "Christmas Carol" Actors Art Koustik and Richard Doyle

    by 
    Beth Fhaner
     | Dec 09, 2019
    Cast of A Christmas Carol
    The cast of A Christmas Carol with Art Koustik (fourth from the left, with gray jacket, vest and bow tie) and Richard Doyle (center, back, in blue jacket).

    The years add up for many longtime cast members in South Coast Repertory’s A Christmas Carol—a production that is celebrating its 40th anniversary to sold-out houses. Actors Art Koustik and Richard Doyle portray some beloved characters in the show; both are founding artists with SCR—meaning they joined the company in its very early years. Read on to learn more about their combined 75 “years” in Orange County’s favorite holiday show.

    Koustik,-Art-castNAME:​ ​Art Koustik

    Number of Years in A Christmas Carol: 39; he missed one year as he recovered from a motorcycle accident.

    Roles: Joe the Cider Man, Ensemble.

    What are your favorite memories of A Christmas Carol?
    I have too many favorite memories to pick a few! I will say that seeing the new children each year who have been cast in the show is wonderful. To watch their growth, from the beginning until the first audience, is thrilling to see. Their transformation is great. It was particularly fun to watch this transformation in two of my stepdaughters and two nieces in past years. The memories become more precious when prior students from the show come backstage, as adults, with their families.

    Art Koustik

    ​​Art Koustik as Cider Joe.

    What has the show meant to you over the years?
    Forty years ago, when [Founding Artistic Directors] David Emmes and Martin Benson announced they were planning to do a Christmas show as a gift to subscribers, Jerry Patch was given the responsibility to adapt Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. John-David Keller was assigned to direct and Hal Landon Jr. was to do the role of Scrooge. I was blessed to originate the roles of Mr. Fezziwig and Joe the Cider Man. In 1992, I had a motorcycle accident and almost died. Richard Doyle took over my roles. He had been busy doing shows on SCR’s second stage for the previous three years. By the grace of God, I survived the accident and went on to play the parts in the 1993 production. The show has been very special to me, as I can continue to be a part of the gift we at SCR give our audiences. John-David, Hal Landon, Richard Doyle and I are the remaining founding members of the original Christmas Carol. It has been a glorious run throughout the years with the incredible transforming performance of Hal Landon as the iconic Scrooge. J-D continues to bring the spirit of Christmas to each season. Richard Doyle and I remain true to the play and to our roles as storytellers of A Christmas Carol.

    Why do you think this show has resonated so much with Orange County families through the years?
    In my opinion, this story resonates with OC families because it speaks to what we all know to be most important—life is not valued by the accumulation of more things, but rather the love of family, friendships, thanksgiving and hope for the future. As SCR has been a family to me, my hope is that SCR will give to its audiences that feeling of love, goodwill and hope.

    Is there anything you would go back and tell your younger self about when you were first starting work on A Christmas Carol?
    That is difficult. I have enjoyed being a part of A Christmas Carol since the very first day. I guess I would tell myself, “This could be a long, joyous ride, so keep giving and giving and enjoy!!!!”

    Doyle,-Richard-CastNAME:​ ​Richard Doyle

    Number of Years in A Christmas Carol: 36

    Roles: Solicitor, Spirit of Christmas Past, Gentleman.

    What are your favorite memories of A Christmas Carol?
    For context, I have actually played many different roles in A Christmas Carol. Back in the day, the best-laid plans could run up against a clock and freeway traffic in a pre-cellphone world. While shooting a series episode of “M*A*S*H” in Malibu Canyon, on-set delays put me on the freeway late. [Director]John-David Keller was alerted that I might be late, so he and Hal Landon rehearsed a bit and J-D went on for me as the Solicitor in the first office scene. I arrived while the Marley’s Ghost-Scrooge scene was in progress and got into my Ghost of Christmas Past make-up as Marley was haunting Scrooge. J-D tore off the Past Ghost costume so I could get into it. I stepped into, and out of, the armoire just in time to see Hal’s astonished face. He obviously thought I was still “soldiering” on the “M*A*S*H” set! In the story, Scrooge is apprehensive about who or what this Ghost might be; on this night the character and the actor both got more than they bargained for. The show went on without a hitch. In 40 years, that sort of thing has seldom happened. But, SCR from the beginning has been an ensemble company, so if it did occur, our audiences would most likely never have known.

    Richard Doyle

    ​​Richard Doyle as the Spirit of Christmas Past.

    What has the show meant to you over the years?
    Like life in general, A Christmas Carol’s effect on me has changed over time. I had a life-altering experience as a soldier in Vietnam in 1967-68. When I returned to “The World,” as we used to call the USA, I had some adjustments to make. SCR and Orange County audiences helped me do that. I admit that initially the Christmas Carol project did not appeal to me as some of the more gritty, challenging theatre projects (on SCR’s old Second Stage—what is now the Julianne Argyros Stage). When I first joined the cast as Fred and the Ghost of Christmas Past, I confess that it was good to have a little extra change in my pocket at Christmastime, with kids and a house payment. But, the experience and my feelings changed. It became, and has remained, a way for me to acknowledge my gratitude to our OC theatre audience for supporting SCR and giving me a life in the theatre. As a dad and granddad (my daughter once auditioned for ​and appeared in this show as Martha Cratchit ), the family aspect of this effort, indeed in all of SCR productions, is in the DNA. Whatever you see at SCR, that group/ensemble’s “Got Your Back”-theme runs through it all.

    Why do you think this show has resonated so much with Orange County families through the years?
    In the Los Angeles and Orange counties of the ’60s, what was new and trendy and shiny often would get the attention. I think developing traditions in this new OC became important to SCR audiences. They wanted to see challenging theatre and provocative storytelling, but they also wanted to develop some traditional entertainment events. The Pageant of The Masters [in Laguna Beach], which I now narrate, is an example of an enduring OC performing/fine arts legacy. A Christmas Carol became a holiday tradition and its audience grew to include our regular theatregoers who came to see it as part of the mortar of our entertainment and performing arts community. A contributing factor to the growth and staying power of a vibrant community—always look forward but never forget where and what you came from.

    Is there anything you would go back and tell your younger self about when you were first starting work on A Christmas Carol?
    I would say to a young Richard Doyle, “Rick, you have spent many seasons telling these great audiences stories; now they are assembled to say ‘thank you’. Now, Rick, do like your mom taught you, say, ‘You’re welcome’ and give them a show!”

    When audiences leap to their feet, as they have tended to do for decades at the final curtain, it is a celebration of the efforts of literally dozens and dozens of artists and staff over four decades. We share with OC theatre lovers the many joys of the holiday season and a life in the theatre for which I am eternally grateful. The joyous journey continues, as does A Christmas Carol. To be a part of it, just go to the theatre. SCR would be my suggestion, but do go.

    A Christmas Carol runs Nov. 30-Dec. 24, 2019, on the Segerstrom Stage. To inquire about standby tickets, call the Box Office at (714) 708-5555. Learn more.