• South Coast Repertory Partners With The Story Pirates on "Sleep Squad"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Jan 04, 2021
    Sleep Squad
    ​Lilli Cooper as the Dream Queen.

    Two Ways to Enjoy Sleep Squad

    Families may order Sleep Squad two ways, and watch as many times during the steaming window (Feb. 1-14):

    • Video Only: $35
    • Video + a Dreamtime Kit: $50. The kit is shipped directly to purchasers and includes a dream journal, a sleep mask, stickers and a star globe nightlight. Recommendation: order early to allow time for shipping the kit.

    Pre-order Now

    The Team Behind Sleep Squad

    Sleep Squad is produced by The Story Pirates and Tony Award-winning producer Eva Price (Oklahoma!, Jagged Little Pill). It is created and directed by Olivier Award nominee Jennifer Weber (& Juliet) and Drama Desk nominee Lee Overtree (Artistic Director, The Story Pirates). Read more about the full creative team.

    It’s bedtime…and your kids don’t want to go to sleep. Sound familiar? It’s what many parents face. Enter: The award-winning Story Pirates with Sleep Squad, a family-friendly, interactive, virtual theatre experience that turns your home into a rocket ship to launch kids into their dreams. This brand new, unique, kid-driven comedy theatre is something you can’t see or hear anywhere else. And, this world premiere, on-demand production creates a new kind of bedtime ritual for kids age 4-12. Sleep Squad is available to stream on-demand from Feb. 1-14.

    In Sleep Squad, Tony Award-nominee Lilli Cooper (SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, Tootsie) portrays the Dream Queen, who guides adventurers through three enchanting virtual experiences, adapted from stories written by real kids. These include a visit to a desert island (Stuck Island), a dinosaur’s birthday party (Spinosaurus’ Birthday), and an intergalactic nightclub (30 Moons) and allow kids to take ownership of the imagination-powered storytelling. Sleep Squad concludes with soothing music that will help lull adventurers to sleep.

    “We’re excited to partner with The Story Pirates on this innovative, theatrical adventure for kids,” says SCR Artistic Director David Ivers. “Sleep Squad offers kids an immersive storytelling experience that engages their imaginations, helps them settle down to sleep and gives them the tools to record their dreams. As a parent, I can identify with how challenging bedtime can be. Sleep Squad, and its nightly routine, will have kids looking forward to going to sleep.”

    Parents LOVE Sleep Squad

    Parents and reviewers are raving about Sleep Squad since its launch in late November. Review Wire recommended it as a “‘stellar’ new bedtime ritual for the whole fam!” and Motherhood Later remarked, “The best part was watching the smile on my son’s face as he listened to the stories, paused to write in his sleep journal, and watched the stars dancing on the walls of his room.” And The New York Times theatre critic Alexis Soloski remarked that her kids enjoyed creating their own stories behind their sleep masks. She added, “This is the first time in 20 years of theater criticism that I can unashamedly make this claim: The show put me to sleep.”

    The Story Pirates, one of the Sleep Squad producers, “believe that kids are creative geniuses. All of them.” Winner of the 2020 iHeartRadio award and the 2020 Webby Award for Best Kids and Family Podcast, Story Pirates Podcast is one of the top three kids and family podcasts in the world. Downloaded more than 25 million times and featuring songs and sketches based on stories written by kids, their special guests include top talent like Billy Eichner, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dax Shepard, Amber Ruffin, Bowen Yang, Claire Danes, John Oliver and Lake Bell. The Pirates have released three critically acclaimed middle-grade books with Penguin Random House and three award-winning albums, all based on ideas from kids around the world.

    Sleep Squad is part of SCR commUNITY, the theatre’s digital storytelling platform.

    Learn more and order your family’s Sleep Squad streaming pass.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Destiny of Desire"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 29, 2020
    Destiny of Desire
    Esperanza America (as Pilar), Cástulo Guerra (Armando Castillo), Ruth Livier (Fabiola) and Ella Saldana North (Victoria Maria del Rio) in Destiny of Desire by Karen Zacarías (2016). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About Destiny of Desire

    On a stormy night in Bellarica, Mexico, two baby girls are born—one to poverty, one to privilege—and then secretly switched by a scheming former beauty queen. Eighteen years later the girls meet, brought together by misfortune. Or is it destiny? In this fast-paced comedy inspired by popular telenovelas, forbidden love, revenge, infidelity and burning passion abound. (And musical numbers make it the perfect guilty pleasure!) This was a co-production with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

    Love, jealousy, dark secrets, hidden identities and shocking surprises. That describes both telenovelas and Karen Zacarías’ play, Destiny of Desire (2016). Audiences loved the reveals at nearly every turn of this tale—and the cast loved telling it. Actor Ella Saldana North is an SCR veteran of both mainstage and Theatre for Young Audiences Family Series productions; she portrayed Victoria Maria del Rio in Destiny of Desire, one of two young women (the other is Pilar) whose fates are intertwined. She selected this photo (above) as an important moment from the lively play.

    What moment does this depict?

    This is the moment of truth when Fabiola (Ruth Livier), who secretly is the biological mother of my character, Victoria, must decide between protecting ​Victoria, or pleasing her husband and continuing to pretend that she doesn't care what happens to this maid. In a few seconds, she will end up pushing her out of the house and into a sandstorm. 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    Lots of rehearsal centered around Fabiola: What were her natural impulses? As a mother? As a wife? When does she care and when does she switch and make that decision to be ruthless. As someone who isn't in her home and is no longer a welcome guest—not to mention is having trouble breathing—Victoria is pretty much at the mercy of these three people.  

    What’s the power about this moment?

    ​It perfectly depicts the status of everyone involved and really tells the story about that moment. You see Fabiola's posed stance and haughtiness; Armando's anger, authoritativeness, and need to control; Pilar looking ever-so-slightly hopeful but being pretty much powerless; and Victoria feeling ashamed, unwanted and scared. 

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "The Tempest"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 23, 2020
    The Tempest
    Nate Dendy (Ariel), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest (2014). Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey.

    About The Tempest

    Transformed onstage into a travelling tent show, this is The Tempest unlike anything you—or the Bard—ever envisioned! As the wizard Prospero plots revenge on the enemies who banished him, the exuberant epic takes on a new life—thanks to the music (haunting ballads by the inimitable Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan), the magic (by Teller, of the legendary Penn and Teller duo) and the movement (by Pilobolus, the dance troupe Newsday called “mind-blowing…wildly creative…and physically daring”). This show was produced in association with the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University and The Smith Center, Las Vegas.

    In 2014, magic burst forth on the Segerstrom Stage with a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, adapted and reimagined by acclaimed playwright Aaron Posner and magician Teller. As part of a 17-member cast, magician and actor Nate Dendy portrayed the spirit-servant Ariel. “I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment,” he says, of the photo, above. Read on to find out more about what he found magical and powerful about this moment.

    What moment does this depict?

    Simply, it’s one last dance. Prospero is giving his only child away to marriage. He’s a magician doing one last amazing magical trick with his daughter. He gets to perform with her one last time. It’s their version of a game of basketball in the driveway or fishing or working on a jigsaw puzzle together. Prospero is approaching the end of his own life and so it’s the two of them getting to share one last dance together. You can see me off to the side as Prospero’s spirit-servant, Ariel. I watched this moment from beside Prospero more than 500-plus times, maybe more, and it never got old.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    As so many moments require, there was a team of minds that fine-tuned this moment from every direction. It’s going to sound like I’m just listing people, but each one had a hand in why it looked, and most importantly felt, the way it did. Tom Nelis (Prospero) Charlotte Graham (Miranda) and I worked through the scene with our directors, Teller and Aaron Posner. And, of course, the late and great illusionist Johnny Thompson. Not to mention the band, sound design, lighting, set and costume teams. This isn’t a moment you can just wing​; ​everybody has to be on their game. It requires a lot of grueling work to make something look that effortless. I still wish I could have watched it just once from the audience. 

    What’s the power about this moment?

    From where I stood on stage, I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment. I could go on and on about its power, dramaturgically or metaphorically, but really, it just took people’s breath away. Plain and simple. And there just isn’t anything better than that right?

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

    All I can say is how grateful I am to have ​been a part of the team that built this production from the ground up. All of our casts and crews from theatre to theatre, and the entire creative team, taught me so much. I’ve gained some lifelong friends from the experience and it has literally changed the path of my life. Theatre. Is. Important.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 17, 2020
    Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
    Ann Noble in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2015, Theatre for Young Audiences). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    The Story

    Edward, a very large, very dapper china rabbit is given as a birthday present to 10-year-old Abilene, who loves him almost as much as Edward loves himself. But when he gets lost, Edward finds he has a lot to learn. He bounces from person to person until he finally discovers the transformative power of love.

    Director Casey Stangl helmed The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2015, Theatre for Young Audiences Family​ Series). This touching story, adapted from the book by Kate DiCamillo, is about a ​large rabbit doll who goes on a fantastic journey and learns to love and be loved—and this is something Stangl believes people of all ages need to know. She selected the photo above as an important moment from the play.

    • What does this moment depict?

      Casey Stangl: In this photograph, in a scene near the beginning of the play, actor Ann Noble plays Abilene, a little girl who lovingly cares for her china doll, named Edward, and dresses him impeccably. But Edward doesn't appreciate his fortunate situation and doesn't pay any attention to the girl. I've directed nearly 10 Theatre for Young Audiences shows at SCR and Edward Tulane remains my favorite. It's a beautiful story and this very theatrical adaptation featured the actors playing multiple characters AND each played an instrument. 

    • How did you work to make this moment happen?

      CS: The amazing construction of seven Edward dolls and, in particular, the incredible costumes he wore, really sold the idea that Edward had feelings and he seemed almost human. Ann [Noble] and I talked about how lonely her child character is and how much she needs a friend and an ear. Edward's giant ears are perfect for her!

    • What’s the power/depth/humor/other emotion about this moment?

      CS: I love the juxtaposition in this scene of the young girl's innocence and need, contrasted by Edward being oblivious to her emotions. It beautifully sets up the journey of the play, and Edward learning how to love and be loved.

    • Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?
      CS: The dolls weren’t puppets. Part of the story is how all of the characters project what they see and what they need onto Edward.  He learns through their suffering and joy.
  • Behind-the Scenes: Creating an Audio Performance of "A Christmas Carol"

    by 
     | Dec 14, 2020
    A Christmas Carol

    This was supposed to be the year that South Coast Repertory Founding Member Richard Doyle stepped into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, about the only role in the play he hasn’t done. And this was to be the year that longtime assistant director Hisa Takakuwa was set to take the helm as director of the show. Enter: the pandemic. Exit: plans for 2020.

    So, Takakuwa and others brainstormed a different way to mark the yuletide: an audio performance of the Charles Dickens’ tale, newly adapted by John Glore, associate artistic director, with original music and a soundscape by David R. Molina.

    “We really crafted this idea with Richard Doyle in mind—he’s such an amazing actor!” says Takakuwa.

    For Doyle and Takakuwa, the audio performance also became a bridge that connected the past 40 consecutive years of producing A Christmas Carol to today’s unique circumstances and the future: they started their partnership around the Dickens text with an eye toward the return to a live, on-stage production of A Christmas Carol next year on the Segerstrom Stage in late 2021.

    Read on to learn more about how this audio production came about.

    Why is the Christmas Carol story so special?

    Doyle
    Richard Doyle (Performer): It was the first real play I ever saw and I was taken by the story. I had been a child entertainer but, when I was around age 9, my older brother Robert (Bobby), played Scrooge in his senior class production of A Christmas Carol. He was, as I recall, quite good! Though I worshipped him as a brother, it annoyed me that he was so good on stage.

     

    Hisa Takakuwa
    Hisa Takakuwa (Director) I’m a Dickens nerd: Love the whole cannon; love the storytelling and the colorful characters! A Christmas Carol has such heart and power in showing the possibility of transformation by anyone at any stage of life. ​It shows that true riches come from shared experience and human connection. I also love that Dickens keeps a child and the less fortunate as crucial focal points—as he did in all his great stories​; ​this resonates ​with me. Plus, SCR’s A Christmas Carol has been at the center of my holidays for more than half my life!

     

    John Glore
    John Glore (Playwright/Adaptor) Growing up, I enjoyed watching the many different adaptations that were available on television—personal favorites included the Alastair Sim version, the Mr. Magoo version and the Muppet version. I never saw a stage adaptation of the story until I arrived at SCR in 1984 and I think what makes it special is the obvious importance it has for the community. I'm moved by how SCR's stage version has become a holiday tradition for so many families across generations. I love watching it with high school audiences, many of whom may be encountering it for the first time. And, I particularly enjoy the screams from those young audiences when Marley pops through the door of Scrooge's bedroom!

     

    How did this audio performance come about?

    Takakuwa: We knew that Richard would be able to bring all the characters to life and be a lovely guide through and into this world. He grew up with radio and loves this format and he also has wide professional experience with audio work. This seemed perfect: a way to “nest” in SCR’s Christmas Carol tradition with a talented actor, who has a deep history with the story, and to experience it in a comfortably familiar and new way, simultaneously. In terms of process, Richard and I talked about the story: why we loved it, what we needed to tell and how, and then he took it from there. We agreed on the touchstone moments for Scrooge in his growth on his journey, those with the most emotional resonance and discovery. And, we wanted to trust our long history and connection with the story, while experiencing it fresh. Richard would record and I would provide some outside guidance, mainly to help clarify.

    Doyle: I worked on the text, re-read my two or three books on Dickens and re-read the text of Dickens’ live-read version [used by Dickens during his tours] that John Glore had adapted for this audio performance. I approached this project in a way similar to how I do the live narration each year at Pageant of the Masters, where I get to play all the parts (not just one) and support the thematic arc as well. For SCR’s audio performance, I brought all of that to bear on my storytelling, plus play every character, some in scenes with each other, while using my 40 years of experience as a voice talent. I did all of the voice recording work for this project from my home studio. Normally, when I record for a video game, animation, commercials or documentary narration, I stand in a recording booth while a booth director and audio engineer guide and record my performance. For this project, because of COVID-19 restrictions, I had to record and edit my performance myself. I sent Hisa a rough-cut track of the audio, she would make notes and observations and I then would adjust my performance.

    Glore: Dickens did his own abridgement of the full novella, which he performed himself all over the world including here in the U.S. It's quite good, as you might expect, but it doesn't exactly conform to the story that SCR tells in our stage version—it leaves out some moments that I think our audiences would consider important to their experience of the story. Most of my adaptation involved restoring some passages from the full novel and making some other trims here and there, so the duration would remain approximately the same. For example, Dickens cut the scene in which the Spirit of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to visit his boyhood self at school, and I couldn't imagine leaving that moment out because it's so critical to Jerry Patch's stage adaptation for SCR. I do want to emphasize that I didn't change a word of Dickens' text. My favorite line is the one that compares Marley's ghostly face to "a bad lobster in a dark cellar." I did some research and learned that dead lobsters, as they go bad, sometimes give off a bioluminescent glow.

    What have been the most fun and challenging moments?

    Takakuwa: The most fun has been diving into a world that I love with someone I really respect. To know that we’re doing this as a gift for our community and that it’s really needed just now is meaningful. And for me—Dickens, Dickens, Dickens and words, words, words! The most challenging: working remotely, being physically separated.

    Doyle: The most fun has been the challenge of it! Could I do it? Would I learn more about a story I had help tell nearly 2,000 times? My answer was, yes, and that was the fun! Even though I had told the story so many times, I still learned more about the story and the characters in it. Also, I learned why the people who watched the story told, over and over again, kept coming back to take that journey. Reinvesting in A Christmas Carol meant I now understand why I could not forget the story I saw, all those years ago when I saw 17-year-old Bobby Doyle play Scrooge as fully invested as he could be as a high school drama student. As a lifelong storyteller, you never forget or let go of a good story.

    Why is the story’s message of transformation, redemption and hope so important?

    Takakuwa: Because we need it more than ever right now. I get a chance to work with students of all ages in my daily SCR life. I see daily the incredible strain of this time in the faces of our students—the loneliness, depression, lack of anchor and longing for connection. But I also get to see how resilient people are on a daily basis as well. This is a time to share our humanity, our fragility and vulnerability, but also to share the strength we gather from and offer to each other. And, stories always help get us through, yes?

    What can you say to people—children, in particular—who may be feeling isolated or disconnected right now?

    Takakuwa: It’s totally okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. Be willing to reach out, to ask for help and let folks know how you feel You are not alone in your experience; emotions and realizing our humanity and frailty can be really tough, but they are the parts that ultimately make us strong and give us our fullest experience of life. Find new ways to reach out and to express yourself. Let’s all try to really value and cherish each other just now.

    Doyle: I suggest that you sit with your favorite person or family member (hopefully they are one and the same.) Gather round a listening device with a plate of your favorite holiday treats and a cup of grog, wassail or eggnog. Then listen to our reading of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol adapted by John Glore, directed by Hisa Takakuwa, and read by yours truly.

    Pick Your Drink: Eggnog or Wassail

    Takakuwa: Wassail!

    Doyle: Eggnog.

    Glore: I've never actually drunk wassail, as far as I can recall, so I'd have to say eggnog. It's not something I'd ever find appealing the rest of the year (too sweet, too thick, too fattening), but it hits the spot at Christmastime.

    Listen to the audio performance of A Christmas Carol featuring Richard Doyle, Dec. 15-31, 2020.