• The Story Behind the Photo: "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"

    Tania Thompson
     | Apr 23, 2021
    Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
    Jenna Cole and Tim Bagley in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang. Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​V​anya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

    In Bucks County, Penn., Vanya and Sonia share a country house where they fret endlessly—and amusingly—about their hapless lives. When Masha, their self-absorbed movie-star sister, and her much, much younger boy toy, Spike, visit for the weekend, the entire household gets hilariously upended. Rivalries are rekindled, resentments rage, the housekeeper blurts out strange prophecies and Masha announces she’s selling the house. A tongue-in-cheek homage to Chekhov, this Tony Award-winning comedy was described as “deliciously madcap” by USA Today.

    If you have siblings, chances are you’ve experienced moments of rivalry. That’s what happened to the brother and two sisters in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang (2018). Jenna Cole portrayed Sonia who, with her brother, Vanya (Tim Bagley) had stayed at the family home taking care of their elderly parents while sister Masha pursued a highly visible movie career. Cole selected the photo above as a funny and poignant moment from the show.

    What moment does this depict?

    This is the first scene of the play, when Sonia and Vanya, brother and sister, are having their morning coffee and diet Coke together while looking out at the pond by their home.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    I absolutely adored working with Tim Bagley (Vanya) and if I had a brother, I would want him to be Tim! He was so giving and fun to work with. Director Bart DeLorenzo encouraged us to develop our brother/sister relationship, with all of its comfort and irritability, as well as our environment. The play takes place in the family home where Sonia, Vanya and Masha grew up, overlooking a pond in Pennsylvania. Creating a truthful relationship and environment onstage is so important for an actor. Tim and I are both from the Midwest and had many common points of time and history, which helped to connect us as brother and sister. We also had experience with family members who lived on a lake or pond and watched wildlife from the windows. The windows to the pond are the actor's Fourth Wall onstage—looking out toward the audience. For Sonia and Vanya, the pond and the search for the Great Blue Heron represents their hope for the future.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    We can all identify with getting irritated with the people who are the closest to us; there is a knowing humor in that frustration. Sonia has already smashed Vanya's coffee cup on purpose and can't explain why​; it's​ a life crisis of unfulfilled and unexplained potential. Also, there were so many lines and situations that paid homage to Chekhov's plays... and hopefully the audience had an added chuckle of familiarity.

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

    I liked sitting in those wicker chairs onstage with Tim so much, that I bought them after the show was over!  They now sit on my balcony overlooking a line of Eucalyptus trees. Calliope hummingbirds have replaced the Great Blue Heron.

  • Four Questions With PPF Playwright York Walker

    Tania Thompson
     | Apr 19, 2021
    York Walker
    Playwright York Walker

    South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for ​nearly 150 plays and playwrights, including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel Qui Nguyen's Vietgone and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee.

    The first of the five readings at the 2021 digital festival is Covenant by York Walker. The story is about blues guitarist Johnny “Honeycomb” James, who returns home to his small Georgia town where rumors fly that he may have sold his soul to the devil to attain his musical genius. But in this twisty folk-horror drama, jealousy, distrust and superstition determine Honeycomb’s fate—even if the devil does play a part.

    In an email exchange, Walker talked about his favorite places to write, the moment he knew he wanted to be a playwright, his best find at Ikea and more.

    Walker at Work: Lucille's in Harlem and his home office.Walker Work Spaces

    About York Walker

    He’s an award-winning writer based in Harlem, New York. Walker is the inaugural recipient of the Vineyard Theatre's Colman Domingo Award, where he is currently an artist in residence. He is also a member of Marcus Gardley's New Wave Writer's Workshop. His work includes Holcomb & Hart (Victory Garden's New Plays For A New Year Festival), Asè (Harlem9, Harlem Stage, and Lucille Lortel Theatre's Consequences digital series), The Séance (Winner of the John Singleton Short Film Competition, 48 Hours… in Harlem), Covenant (Fire This Time Festival, Access Theatre’s 4 Flights Up Festival, Arizona Theatre Company's Digital Play Series), White Shoes (Fire This Time Festival), Summer Of ’63 (The Actors Company Theatre’s New TACTics Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Apprentice Reading Series) and Of Dreams To Come (American Conservatory Theatre’s New Work Series). York received his MFA in acting from American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.

    What’s your favorite place to write?

    York Walker: My favorite place to write pre-pandemic was a little coffee shop in Harlem called Lucille’s. It's very chill and, in the spring, they have the windows open to let in the breeze. It's such a peaceful environment to write in that I would often lose track of time and be there for hours. In the evenings, it turns into a bar, which is great because you can stay as late as you want to write. Post-pandemic, I write in my room. Since I was spending so much time at home this year, I bought a desk from Ikea that makes me feel very fancy when I sit down to work on something.

    As a kid, did you read any books in secret?

    YW: I was a pretty voracious reader as a kid, so I didn't have to read anything in secret. Everywhere I went, I had a book glued to my hand. It wasn't until my teachers forced us to read in school that I had to start keeping secrets. For some reason, the idea that someone was requiring me to read made me stop reading altogether. I think it was because it felt like work instead of something I did for fun. I got through most of middle and high school with SparkNotes—that was the part I had to keep a secret because if my Mom ever found out I wasn't doing my assignments, it would not have been good. Haha!

    What set you on the path to playwriting?

    YW: I realized that I wanted to be a playwright when I was in graduate school for acting in 2012. There was a freedom in writing that I had never really experienced while acting. I think part of it was the level of control I had over the work I was making. I could literally write what I wanted to see on stage and I found that to be really empowering.

    What play changed your life?

    YW: Tarell Alvin McCraney's Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet completely changed my life. I saw it at Steppenwolf in Chicago and it was the first time I truly saw myself on stage. I was in the process of coming out of the closet and it was so comforting and affirming to see a character on stage expressing exactly what I was going through. I was feeling really isolated and alone in that period of my life, but seeing that show reminded me that, when it was all said and done, I would be ok. I think all really good plays have a way of doing that.

    What should audiences know about Covenant?

    YW: One of the big inspirations for Covenant is the myth of blues musician Robert Johnson. It was said that Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to attain his musical genius. The idea that maybe the devil could exist and grant you whatever your heart desired in exchange for your soul was fascinating to me. It felt like a great entry point into a story about the power that our secrets and beliefs have in our lives. But beyond all of that, I think it's just exciting to imagine being in a theatre as the lights go down to hear a good, old-fashioned scary story.

    Watch this video interview with Walker for #PPFPlaywrights.

    Learn more about Covenant and the 2021 Pacific Playwrights Festival.

  • Playwright Allison Gregory’s Inspirations for "Red Riding Hood"

    John Glore
     | Apr 15, 2021
    Allison Gregory
    Playwright ​Allison Gregory

    Allison Gregory is no stranger to writing plays for young audiences. In fact, South Coast Repertory has produced two other Theatre for Young Audiences adaptations by Gregory— Junie B. in Jingle Bells Batman Smells! (2011) and Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook (2018). In the following inter­view, Gregory chats with Associate Artistic Director and Production Dramaturg John Glore about inspiration and her writing process.

    John Glore: Why did you decide to create a stage version of Red Riding Hood?

    Allison Gregory: I’m always looking at old stories and how they relate to today’s questions and challeng­es; how they fit into our lives—or how our lives affect those stories. When Seattle Children’s Theatre came forward with a commission, it felt like the exact right moment to explore Red Riding Hood and the beliefs and biases the fairytale perpetuates.

    JG: The play sometimes has the feel of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Were those cartoons in your mind as you wrote? Did anything else inspire your approach?

    AG: Ha, no—at least not consciously. That’s just the way I think. I imagine the room inside my brain is made of rubber and feathers—it’s an endless loop of pratfalls. Physical humor and wordplay are my favor­ite ways to communicate. Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton, Tim Conway, Dick Van Dyke, Molly Shannon, Kristen Wiig—they’re all big influences in my book.

    JG: How long did it take you to write Red Riding Hood? What was the hardest part?

    AG: I was offered a great opportunity by The New Harmony Project to attend a writer’s retreat; the tim­ing was perfect to begin outlining an idea I had for the play. After 10 days in a very tiny town in south-eastern Indiana in the dead of winter, I had a full first draft. There truly was nothing else to do but write.

    JG: How and when did you get involved in doing theatre?

    AG: I took dance lessons with my sisters when I was a kid, then got bored and stopped. When I reached high school, I got involved in the dance club, and kept dancing in college—which lead to roles in a couple of plays. From a dancer I became an actor and, much later, a writer. It seems like now people have a more deliberate plan of action. I never had a concrete plan. I had some talent and some luck; you really need both, but a plan is good, too.

    JG: When you were a kid, did you write stories and plays?

    AG: When I was a kid I played horses, dress-up, ‘hos­pital’ and kickball. Nothing I did then ever made me imagine I was going to do theatre, much less become a playwright. I took a very circuitous route, then landed in just the right spot—thankfully.

    Learn more about our digital production of Red Riding Hood and buy tickets.

  • Creating the Textures of Tree Bark for "Red Riding Hood"

    Jen Stringfellow, Scenic Charge Artist
     | Apr 12, 2021
    Birch and Maple trees for Red Riding Hood.

    In this show-and-tell, Jen Stringfellow, South Coast Repertory's scenic charge artist, shares how her team created the realistic textures of tree bark found on the set of Red Riding Hood, a Theatre for Young Audiences Family show streaming from April 21-June 13.

    First off, the birch trees were repurposed from last season’s Scarlet Letter—they never made it to stage because of the pandemic, but got a new chance to debut in Red Riding Hood. Set designer Shaun Motley was very excited about them. We eventually had to tone them warmer to be less spooky-looking. They were made by applying brown paper dipped in glue over large cardboard tubes, usually used for pouring concrete. We took larger tubes to make our maple trees, as Shaun didn’t want a forest of only birch trees.

    Follow Stringfellow's process in the slides below.​

    • Photo 1: This is how we got the unit from the carpenters. The upper curved part was foam and the bottom part was cardboard tubing.
    • Photo 2: We used brown paper on the larger trees, but on this smaller unit we used muslin. This is because it’s easier to get more movement (those linear gestures) across a smaller area with fabric. We dipped our muslin in a mixture of flexible white glue and Jaxsan (a flexible acrylic latex coating) and applied our fabric over the unit, pulling and pinching where we wanted texture.
    • Photo 3: After the muslin step is dry, I mixed up a texture to apply over the fabric. Oftentimes, physical texture (think joint compound for example) will crack when you don’t want it too. I wanted it to crack for some “barkiness,” so I made sure to mix something up that would crack on me. For me this meant adding a lot of fumed silica to my mix.
    • Photo 4: I put my first coat of paint on, and you can really see how the applied texture mixture cracked.
    • Photo 5: When I’m painting over texture I usually start with the darkest color and work my way up. This way I can highlight all the raised bits of the texture I worked so hard to create. We “drybrush” by taking a dry brush and very little paint and lightly grazing over the top of the texture.
    • Photo 6: This was our lightest drybrush step, to really bring out the peaks of the texture.
    • Photo 7: To bring it all back together and add some warmth, we toned the whole unit down with a clear chocolatey glaze.
    • Photo 8: Our Props Shop really brought this unit to life by adding vines and greenery!

    Learn more information Red Riding Hood.

  • A Novelist Supports Emerging Writers, Including Playwrights

     | Apr 12, 2021
    Pacific Playwrights Festival

    In 1999, best-selling novelist Elizabeth George wanted to do something to help writers at the start of their careers—so she created the Elizabeth George Foundation. The nonprofit provides grants to writers across genres to support them in the creation of their new works. ​Over the last 20 years, the foundation has partnered with SCR to commission works from nearly 60 emerging playwrights. Among the recipients have been some of the American theatre’s most celebrated writers including Julia Cho, Noah Haidle, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Rajiv Joseph.

    SCR is thrilled to announce the recipients of the Elizabeth George commissions for 2020 and 2021: Spenser Davis and Charly Evon Simpson (2020) and Aurora de Asua, Benjamin Benne and Bleu Beckford-Burrell (2021). Continue reading below about each of them.

    In 2020, playwright Shayan Lotfi also received an Elizabeth George Commission. In May 2021, his play Park-e Laleh will have a digital, staged reading as part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival.

    2020 Elizabeth George Commissions

    Davis,-Spencer​Spencer Davis

    Spencer Davis is a Chicago-based​, Arkansas-born writer-director. He’s a longtime member of Broken Nose Theatre, an ensemble member of The Factory, and current Michael Maggio Directing Fellow at The Goodman Theatre. His play Plainclothes won the 2019 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award and was a finalist for the Harold & Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. Last year, his critically acclaimed virtual play The Spin was called “my favorite online production since theat​res began shuttering last March” (Stage & Cinema). His short plays have been produced around the world and have been published by Smith & Kraus. As a director, he has been nominated three times for the Joseph Jefferson Best Director Award, winning once. His production of At the Table was named “One of the Best of the Year” by Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones and “One of the 25 Best Shows of the Decade” by Storefront Rebellion. He’s a series writer and director of “Squid,” a short-form comedy series now available on Amazon Prime. He’s proud to be represented by Luke Virkstis at William Morris Endeavor.

    Shayan-Lotfi-Headshot-to-SCR​Shayan Lotfi

    Shayan Lotfi has written a few plays and thankfully still wants to write. He’s been fortunate enough that some really cool institutions—like South Coast Repertory, The Lark, Roundabout, and Boston Court—have helped develop his work, and that some really cool residencies—like SPACE at Ryder Farm and the Millay Colony—have fed and housed him as he tried desperately to be productive. When he’s not writing, he works as an urban policy consultant, splitting his time between New York and Los Angeles.

    Simpson,-Charly​Charly Evon Simpson

    Charly Evon Simpson is a playwright, TV writer and teacher based in Brooklyn. Her plays include Behind the Sheet, Jump, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Lark, P73, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company and others. She is a recipient of the Vineyard Theatre’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award and the Dramatists Guild’s Lanford Wilson Award. This fall, she will begin her seven​-year residency with New Dramatists. She currently has theatre commissions with MTC/Sloan, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Cleveland Play House and PlayMakers Repertory Company. She’s also currently working on TV shows for HBO and teaching playwriting at State University of New York at Purchase. Simpson has a BA from Brown University, a an MA in women's studies from University of Oxford, New College, and her MFA in playwriting from Hunter College.

    2021 Elizabeth George Commissions

    de-Asua,-Aurora​Aurora de Asua

    Aurora de Asua is a California​-born playwright and actor based in Chicago. Her plays have been workshopped at Chicago theatres such as Victory Gardens Theater, ​Sideshow Theatre Company, Rivendell Theater, Greenhouse Theater Center and The Story Theatre. As an actor, she has worked with The Goodman, Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, The Hypocrites and Victory Gardens, among others. She has a BA in theatre from Northwestern University. auroradeasua.com

    Beckford-Burrell,-Bleu​Bleu Beckford-Burrell

    Bleu Beckford-Burrell is a first-generation Jamaican-American actor/playwright. Born and raised in New York City, she works for non-profit organizations where she teaches acting to teens, as well as writes and directs plays. Her plays include P.S.365 (2019 O’Neill Finalist) showcased at EST (Youngblood Workshop Series) and The National Black Theatre (Keep the Soul Alive reading series). Her play Lyons Pride (2020 Burman New Play Award ​finalist, 2019 The Kilroy’s Honorable Mention, and Yale Drama Series Award runner-up, 2018 BAPF, Princess Grace Award ​finalist) was showcased at Playwrights Realm (Ink’d Festival of New Plays) and EST (Bloodwork Reading Series). Her play La Race (2020 Normal Ave ​finalist and Theatre503 International Playwright Award, O’Neill, Bay Area Playwright Foundation semi-finalist) is currently being showcased at Faultline Theatre (Irons in the Fire, upcoming) and Page 73 (Virtual Residency). She is a Page 73 Fellow (2021), The Playwrights Realm Fellow (2018), Playwrights' Center New Voices Fellowship (2018, ​finalist), NYTW/2050 Fellowship (2019, ​finalist) as well as an I73 playwright (2020), Colt Coeur resident (2021), PWC Core Writer (2020, ​finalist), WP Lab (2020, ​finalist)​ and Working Farm (2019, ​semi-​finalist). She received the 2020 Playwrights Horizons, Jody Falco & Jeffrey Steinman Commission for Emerging Playwrights. MFA Rutgers University BleuBeckford.com 

    Benne,-Benjamin​Benjamin Benne

    Benjamin Benne was born and raised in Los Angeles County and completed a BA in ​theatre ​arts at Cal State Fullerton. Benne has lived in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and currently resides on the East Coast, where he is a Yale School of Drama MFA ​candidate in ​playwriting. ​His plays, including at the very bottom of a body of water, Alma and In His Hands, have been seen and developed coast to coast—and a few points in between—including The Old Globe​, Boston Court Pasadena, Teatro Milagro , Seattle Repertory Theatre, Theatre Battery, Denver Center for the Performing Arts , Texas Tech University, The Playwrights’ Center, Pillsbury House Theatre, American Blues Theater, Two River Theater, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, The Playwrights Realm , The Lark, and Roundabout Theatre Company. He is a recipient of Portland Stage’s 2020 Clauder Competition Gold Prize, Arizona Theatre Company’s 2019 National Latinx Playwriting Award, American Blues Theater’s 2019 Blue Ink Playwriting Award, the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival's 2019 Latinx Playwriting Award and a 2017 Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Playwriting Award. He is a Playwrights’ Center Affiliated Writer and member of Primary Stages’ Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group. benjaminbenne.com

    Learn more about the 2021 Pacific Playwrights Festival.