• Get to Know "Poor Yella Rednecks" Before You See the Show

    SCR Staff
     | Mar 14, 2019

    Poor Yella Rednecks Logo

    It’s a Sunday afternoon in South Coast Repertory’s Colab (Collaboration Laboratory), ​the room where all plays here start their rehearsals. The cast of Poor Yella Rednecks is working through a scene when playwright Qui Nguyen jumps up from his chair and helps choreograph a kung-fu fight sequence. Think ninja movie, but in slow motion. The actors and playwright talk through the why, how and where of each motion—from a fall, to a poke in the stomach, to a wide-arc kick, to a jump, to a tumble and more. The action and precision are part of Nguyen’s attention to detail in these iconic parts of his plays—inspired by the rap music and hip-hop dance that he grew up with, living in the American south with his immigrant parents.

    Later in this rehearsal day, Maureen Sebastian and Tim Chiou—who portray the playwright’s parents, Tong and Quang—work through a scene between their characters that ends with a rap by Tong. A music track plays through the room’s speaker system to give her the pacing for the words. For this new play in rehearsal and development, each day brings newness, excitement and fun. A lot of laughter permeates the room.

    So, what else ​should you know about Qui Nguyen and Poor Yella Rednecks?

    The Story
    Though occasionally​ called Vietgone 2, Poor Yella Rednecks is a play that stands on its own. It opens with the character of the Playwright interviewing his mother. At first she resists his questions, but then sets some ground rules. First, he can’t only write about happy romantic things (This is a reference to his 2015 breakout hit Vietgone, which covered the story of his parents meeting in a refugee camp in Arkansas after the fall of Saigon). Second, she wants to sound like he does. He protests that he’s got a potty mouth, but she insists—launching the convention that the Vietnamese characters sound like R-rated action heroes. Her third rule is that the American characters speak the silly way she hears them. The Playwright agrees, and they launch into the interview. Right away, the Playwright finds out it wasn’t the story of “love at first sight” he had been led to believe, because his father (Quang) was already married when he met his mother (Tong). The play then jumps into the past, showing through a rap-duet the pot-smoking proposal Quang pops on Tong and her delightedly stoned acceptance.

    Jump forward six years, and Quang and Tong are living in El Dorado, Arkansas, with their five year old son, illustrated by a puppet named Little Man, and Tong’s mother, Huong. Little Man struggles in school, in no small part to Huong’s influence. Quang and Tong struggle with many issues including making a living, taking care of family, infidelity (she with her former boyfriend, Bobby, and he with a hook-up in Houston) and his still-living-in-Vietnam wife. But love may not be enough for Tong and Quang.

    SPOILER ALERT! Here's a full synopsis of the play. BUT if you don't want to know how it ends, don't read it!

    The Inside Scoop
    Nguyen is known for shows full of kung-fu fights, "random ‘90s hip-hop dance breaks, immature puppets, and even more immature jokes." Those are all in Poor Yella Rednecks. But this play is also his most personal yet.

    “It’s about my family,” he says. “It’s about two people who are very much in love here in America, but also haunted by the ghosts of who they were in Vietnam. And as the title suggests, it’s about living in poverty in the ​deep South as Asian immigrants. That’s the heartbeat of the play, which I’m aware sounds heavy.” Read more from Nguyen and director May Adrales.

    The Cast Talks About the Play
    Cast members Tim Chiou, Samantha Quan, Maureen Sebastian, Paco Tolson and Eugene Young talk about Poor Yella Rednecks "means" and what it means to them.

    Qui Nguyen on​ Rap Music, His Sense of Humor, Martial Arts and Adult Language
    Nguyen is a jumble of pop culture. As described by The New York Times, he “consumed comic books (Spiderman was his hero), studied martial arts (Bruce Lee was an idol) and participated in freestyle rap battles. He joined the drama club in high school because ‘there are cute girls in theatre' in rural Arkansas." We find his sense of humor to be insightful and devastatingly funny. Here’s more on what shapes him as a writer.

    • “I first fell in love with rap when I was freestyling on the corner with my friends. It’s part of who I am. My brain doesn’t think in terms of melody. It’s an extension of being a writer, picking up words and seeing how I can play with the rhythms.”
    • “I used to use humor, to like, distract people from the fact that I’m Asian. I wouldn’t let them get to me ‘cause I’d get to them first. … It’s self-protection. The same thing that got me into martial arts. It’s verbal martial arts.”
    • “When my parents told me stories about Vietnam, they told me the real stories, what actually happened. But what I imagined was kung​-fu movies. Because the only things I ever saw [growing up] that had a lot of Asian people in it, were kung-fu movies.”
    • “When I hear stories about my mother’s fortitude, about the sh*t that she’s gone through, it always gives me perspective. I’m like, 'Oh, I had a sh*tty day today because I couldn’t finish my draft.’ And my parents are like, ‘Well, our sh*tty day at your age was we lost our entire country and everyone we knew.’”

    Costume Design is Personal
    Designer Valérie Thérèse Bart’s family emigrated from Vietnam to France to the U.S.—a refugee journey similar to that taken by playwright Qui Nguyen’s family. Read about how research for the play’s costume designs got personal for her.

    Why We’re Excited for this Play
    Associate Ticketing Services Director Amber Sanders talks about Poor Yella Rednecks in this video.

    Learn more about Poor Yella Rednecks and purchase tickets.

  • Party Play: "Photograph 51"

    Beth Fhaner
     | Mar 12, 2019

    Photograph 51, Anna Ziegler’s play featuring a strong female protagonist, opened at an especially appropriate time: on International Women's Day and at the start of Women's History Month. Based on a true story, Photograph 51 presents an intriguing portrait of British chemist Rosalind Franklin, whose groundbreaking role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure is still often overlooked.

    Intelligent and thought-provoking, Photograph 51 captivated the attention of the First Night audience and never let up, delivering an hour and 40 minutes of extraordinary performances, sharp dialogue and heartfelt emotion under the direction of Kimberly Senior. Along with some laughter—and some tears—theatregoers showed their appreciation with enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation.

    Led by Helen Sadler (Rosalind) as the complex and courageous scientist making her way in a male-dominated field, the entire ensemble delivered impressive performances while giving audiences a glimpse into the scientific research labs at King’s College London in the early 1950s. The cast also includes Giovanni Adams, George Ketsios, Anil Margsahayam, Riley Neldam and Josh Odsess-Rubin.

    Honorary Producers and First Night attendees Jean and Tim Weiss greatly enjoyed seeing the play and commented, “The news around us has finally put a microscope to how women are- and have been treated, not only in the workplace, but as equal citizens in today's world, and this play shows us that it is indeed not ‘news’ at all, that, in fact, this unconscionable behavior has been part of our fabric for a very long time. Kimberly Senior’s minimalist presentation helps us focus solely on the characters in the play, and the actors do not disappoint. Learning from playwright Anna Ziegler that this play has been around for a number of years made me think of her as an early foot soldier in the exposure of the unequal treatment of women, and through her terrific writing, made those who read and watch the play, recruits.” 

    Guests who attended the cast party at the Center Club, which was a co-sponsor of the event, were welcomed to the elegant space with beautiful, springlike floral arrangements consisting of pink tulips, soft pink-tinted hydrangeas and white snapdragons.

    The celebratory soirée’s menu featured an assortment of flavorful bites including passed hors d’oeuvres such as tomato soup shooters with mini grilled cheese sandwiches, chilled jumbo shrimp with spicy cocktail sauce, and smoked chicken on pecan crostini with fig jam. Partygoers also ​enjoyed assorted domestic cheese platters and vegetable crudité platters, as well as assorted dips, artisan breads and crackers.

    In addition to the ​tasty appetizers, First Nighters also savored British-inspired fare such as a fish and chips station with house-made tartar sauce, malt vinegar and ketchup. A mini shepherd’s pie station—with truffle mashed potatoes—was also a big hit with the festive crowd.

    The evening’s signature cocktail was dubbed “The Double Helix”—a delicious beverage comprised of brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice. This cocktail is usually known as a Sidecar. It was a popular drink in the 1950s.

    For a sweet finish to the evening, guests indulged in a scrumptious assortment of lemon bars and vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, while also enjoying hot drinks from a coffee and tea station.

    First Night theatregoers were delighted to have the opportunity to meet director Kimberly Senior, playwright Anna Ziegler and the entire cast. All the while, lively conversation and laughter continued to swirl around Photograph 51, a compelling, poignant drama about one woman’s groundbreaking role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure.

    Learn more about Photograph 51 and buy tickets.

  • A Conversation with Valérie Thérèse Bart, Costume Designer of "Poor Yella Rednecks"

    Beth Fhaner
     | Mar 11, 2019
    Valerie Bart

    ​Costume Designer Valérie Thérèse Bart.

    Huong Costume Rendering

    ​Bart's costume rendering for the character of Huong.

    Playwright Costume Design

    ​Bart's costume rendering for the Playwright.

    Quang Costume Rendering

    ​Bart's costume rendering for the character of Quang.

    Tong Costume Rendering

    ​Bart's costume rendering for the character of Tong.

    Born in France to Vietnamese refugee parents, Valérie Thérèse Bart’s family eventually made their way to the U.S. in the 1990s. For Bart, costume designer for the world premiere of Qui Nguyen's Poor Yella Rednecks, the play’s immigrant story has allowed her to feel a deeply personal connection to the material. Because Bart comes from a multi-ethic/multicultural background and sees the world as such, she aims to create work that is collaborative and truly diverse.

    Bart’s initial experiences with live theatre involved working at the costume shop of a community college. Later, armed with a BA in ​theatre ​arts from UCLA and a MFA in design from Yale University, School of Drama, Bart’s work on costume/scenic design has been showcased at various theatres around the country. In our Q&A, learn more about Bart and her all-inclusive way of telling stories.

    What was your design inspiration for the Poor Yella Rednecks costumes?

    My family went through what playwright Qui Nguyen’s family went through with some slight variations. So I was able to turn to family photographs, interview my mother and a couple aunts for their perspective to get very realistic, first-hand research. It was such a fascinating exercise, in deep diving into my own culture—to learn new things and discover details about these pictures that I have been looking at my whole life.

    Additionally, because Poor Yella Rednecks explores Vietnamese identity in a very American landscape, I also used a lot of American pop culture and fashion images to round out my research.

    What are the best parts and the biggest challenges​ about working on this show?

    The best part has been to feel a very deep and personal connection to this project and have my family actually relate to work I’m doing. I come from a very non-artistic family and the fact that they are just as ecstatic as I am and that the show is happening so close to them, makes for a very sweet homecoming to Orange County.

    There are a few challenges—all the actors are wearing body mics, which makes costume quick changes and wearing hats​ and wigs an extra element to watch for​—there are over 50 looks in the show, all worn between five actors, so backstage will be a constant marathon.

    What inspired you to delve into a career of costume design?

    There are many things I was interested in growing up that have paved the way to costume design—I grew up reading comic books and watching cartoons and anime and would draw and doodle everything I saw. At one point, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I’ve also always loved music and movement and I believe had things been different for our family, I might’ve been a professional dancer.

    I set out to study fashion design because I wanted the ability to create and express outwardly. That eventually led me to working as a technician at the costume shop at my community college as a survival job and discovering theatre for the first time. I instantly loved it because it combined all the things I love about the arts—movement, sound and the ability to tell a story visually.

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

    I was fortunate enough to have designed Denver Center’s Vietgone production last fall. It was my first experience with delving into my own culture and heritage and it was an incredible journey to make with the creative team, cast and crew. A Doll’s House, Part 2 at Actors Theater of Louisville was another recent favorite production. It’s a really great analysis on the complex layers of feminism and what it means to be a woman of that period in conjunction with our modern times.

    What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

    Be ambitious and resilient. Go for the things you want and set goals, but know that the journey there will often trip you up and knock you down, so learn to get up and keep trying. It’s not enough to have talent; one must have marketing knowledge and people skills. In order for people to hire you, they need to know about your experience, so you have to tell them that you exist and get your name out there. Socialize, shake hands and meet people as much as you can, even if you are a shy introvert, which many people in theatre will admit they are. Theatre is a very small world and it’s often about connections. But these connections can turn into very meaningful collaborations and friendships, which result in some great productions that look and feel like a cohesive world.

    Tell us about your long association with SCR.

    My very first professional regional job out of community college was as a stitcher ​in SCR's Costume Shop for Much Ado About Nothing many years ago. I must’ve done a good job because I kept getting hired back and eventually worked my way up to first-hand, crafts assistance and head of crafts on a project-by-project basis.

    I went off to earn my BA in theatre from UCLA, came back and worked up the courage to notify ​Costume ​Shop ​Manager Amy Hutto that what I really wanted to do was design and that she should hire me as an assistant to gain experience. Eventually, she gave me opportunities to assist designers such as Angela Balogh Calin, Alex Jaeger and Ilona Somogyi. Ilona planted the seed of graduate school and, when I received the ​call that I had gotten into the Yale School of Drama, I was here ​in the ​Costume Shop.

    So, SCR had been with me from the very beginning and saw me through many milestones up to the point when I relocated back East. Walking through the old corridors and rooms brings back many warm memories and I’m grateful to the few people in the Costume Shop who had been there and believed in me—Amy Hutto, Laurie Donati, Catherine Esera and Erik Laurence.

    Learn more about Poor Yella Rednecks and buy tickets.

  • Engaging a Community in Conversation: "Sheepdog"

    Kimberly Colburn
     | Mar 06, 2019
    Kevin Artigue

    Playwright Kevin Artigue.

    What’s in a Name?

    Playwright Kevin Artigue drew the title for Sheepdog from a concept discussed in a book titled On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Combat in War and Peace, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a U.S. Army Ranger, paratrooper and former psychology professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In it, Grossman suggests that police officers are like sheepdogs, “who live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” They must have qualities of both sheep and wolf—including a capacity for violence—in order to do their job effectively.

    About Playwright Kevin Artigue

    Kevin Artigue writes plays, TV, and film. He was raised in Redlands, Calif., and calls Brooklyn home. His plays have been developed with The Public Theater, the National New Play Network, New York Theater Workshop, Portland Center Stage, Golden Thread, Theatre of NOTE, the Playwrights Foundation, Long Wharf Theater and the Playwrights’ Center (Minneapolis). He’s a member of the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group at Primary Stages and was a member of the Interstate 73 Writers Group (2016) and the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group (2015-16). His films include Resistance (2014) and Holy Ghost People (2013). He is currently developing screenplays including Imperative, Star Thrower and Scott Free. Artigue earned his MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.

    Kevin Artigue’s Sheepdog (April 14-May 5, 2019, Julianne Argyros Stage) is a mystery within a love story about an African American cop, her white male partner and a relationship that gets shaken to its core. The story told has inspiration in the real world—a police officer who began speaking out against police violence and Artigue’s own interracial relationship.

    As Artigue explains in this Q&A, the story of Sheepdog, he is guided by a personal mandate to create opportunities in his writing for artists of color and women through his work.

    South Coast Repertory: What was your inspiration for writing this play?
    Kevin Artigue: Like most of us, I’m horrified and outraged by the cascade of footage of police violence against people of color. I’m also furious over the fact that these officers—even in the most egregious cases—are not being indicted, despite footage and despite body cams. How can this be happening, again and again?

    It’s easy to jump to reductive conclusions and frame the debate entirely about race—make it black vs. white. Of course it is about race, it always is... but as I began to research and conduct interviews, I saw that the question of why was more layered, nuanced and complicated than what I assumed...especially for officers of color.

    A source of inspiration for the play and the character of Amina is Officer Nakia Jones, one of the first police officers to speak out publicly against police violence and to lay bare her divided heart. I talked with her and interviewed police officers working in departments around the country, particularly officers of color. Giving voice to their unique experience and perspective is why I’ve written this play. But I’m also writing about my own love and experience in a long-term interracial relationship. The play gets very personal on that level. It’s an exploration of how the politics of the outside world can infiltrate a relationship, and inevitably change it.

    SCR: This play first appeared as a reading during the Pacific Playwrights Festival (2018). Has it changed much?
    Artigue: The process was intense and extremely valuable. I took full advantage of the fact I had four readings and I rewrote a ton. Now, I was working my butt off and didn’t get to see anything else and drank more coffee than beer, but I walked away from the festival with a deeper and more focused version of the play. I credit our director Leah [C. Gardiner] for creating a safe, positive, honest space for my actor's who were fearless and curious, and for dramaturg Jerry Patch, who had some mind-blowing new ideas.

    SCR: Sheepdog has a unique structure in that it is a non-linear play that is narrated by the main character—is this typical of your work?
    Artigue: In some ways, Sheepdog is familiar and in some ways it’s new. I’ve never written a play that uses direct address—a character speaking to the audience. But it felt appropriate and a useful tool to create an implicit bridge of understanding. Amina speaks in second person throughout the play—“You do this, you do that”—she doesn’t let us off the hook. And her experiences become shared and communal, which might break down any guard or defense someone may have towards her—because she’s black or because she’s a woman or because she’s a cop.

    SCR: Why non-linear?
    Artigue: Sheepdog is both a love story and a mystery. Amina is trying to solve the case and get to the truth, but to do this she has to actively explore her past. Her memories serve as clues to the present. So like a piece of footage, Amina stops and starts the play. She “rewinds” and goes backwards, interrupting the flow of time. In general with my plays, I try to take a realistic structure and break it up somehow, so the play is active on all levels—language, character and form.

    SCR: This play speaks to our current cultural moment around the discussion of race—do you consider yourself an activist through your work or choice of topics?
    Artigue: I use the word activist lightly. I don’t believe in putting a moral mandate on art. I am a raging Lefty but when I sit down to write a play I take that hat off. I believe the most interesting, truly dramatic work should be willfully agnostic and willing to go deep into the contradictions which make us human.

    When I sit down to write a play, I try to prove myself wrong. That being said, my ideas, my seeds, come from my politics and usually from an ethical question I can’t shake. I care deeply about the ethics of my plays and the moral questions they pose. I wouldn’t call it activism, but I have a personal mandate to create opportunities for artists of color and women through my work and I’ve had this mandate since day one. I do believe strongly in activism around a play—with Sheepdog there is an exciting opportunity to continue the conversation about police violence outside the theatre and contextualize it for an audience.

    I hope the audience comes away with an ache in their gut and a feeling that something has to change—and perhaps that change starts with a more honest reckoning at home in a conversation with a spouse, a family member or even someone in law enforcement.

    Learn more and buy tickets for Sheepdog.

  • Women’s History Month – A Spotlight on Influential Women Scientists

    SCR Staff
     | Feb 28, 2019
    Rosalind Franklin

    Rosalind Franklin at work in a laboratory in 1954.

    March is Women’s History Month, and in honor of this occasion, we thought we’d take a look at some women who have made extraordinary discoveries in the field of science throughout the last several decades.

    The spotlight starts with our production of Photograph 51 (through March 24, Argyros Stage) and British chemist Rosalind Franklin, who is best known for her role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, and for her pioneering use of X-ray diffraction. Sadly, Franklin’s involvement in cutting-edge DNA research was halted by her untimely death from cancer in 1958, at the age of 37, and she never received the recognition given to her male peers.

    Franklin’s name has been in the news again recently, as it was announced that the U.K.-built rover that will be sent to Mars in 2020 will bear her name. The six-wheeled vehicle will search for evidence of past or present life on the Red Planet. Her sister, Jenifer Glyn, recalled to the BBC News that Rosalind had been excited by the news of the Soviet Sputnik satellite—the beginning of space exploration.

    “She could never have imagined that over 60 years later there would be a rover sent to Mars bearing her name, but somehow that makes this project even more special,” said Glyn.

    Learn more about influential women scientists in the following articles:

    Learn more about Photograph 51 and buy tickets.