• Four Questions With PPF Playwright Charlie Oh

    Tania Thompson
     | May 03, 2021
    Charlie Oh
    Playwright​ Charlie Oh.

    South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many 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 Lauren Yee's Cambodian Rock Band.

    Among the five readings at the 2021 digital festival is Coleman ‘72 by Charlie Oh. The story follows a Korean American family that piles into the Buick for an all-American road-trip: open plains, rickety camper-trailer, kimchi and banchan. But Korean parents and American kids hold conflicting ideas of what they’re looking for when the real purpose of their journey comes to light. 

    In an email exchange, Oh talked about his favorite places to write, the moment he knew he wanted to be a playwright, his grandmother and more.

    Favorite Writing Spot
    Charlie Oh's favorite writing spot.

    About Charlie Oh

    He is a playwright, lyricist and actor and is a fellow at The Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program. His work has been developed at Manhattan Theatre Club, the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, New York SongSpace, The Brooklyn Generator and Catwalk Writer’s Residency. Among his honors are winning the Disney/New Musicals Inc. New Voices Project (2018) and The Craig Carnelia Songwriting Award; his play Long received an honorable mention for The American Playwriting Foundation's Relentless Award (2019). His is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he studied playwriting under Laura Schellhardt. As an actor, his credits include The King and I, directed by Bartlett Sher, and All These Small Moments (Tribeca Film Festival).

    What’s your favorite place to write?

    I don't know how I got my writing done pre-pandemic! My life was zipping back and forth across New York to shows, auditions (as an actor), rehearsals, meetings and odd-jobs. The most consistent part of my writing life was its inconsistency. I had a series of oases throughout the city—public venues with tables, chargers and WiFi—like The Signature Theater Lobby, the Lincoln Center Archives and the lobby of the W Hotel on E. 17th Street, to name a few.

    I've spent quarantine with my family in the suburbs of Chicago. About half a year in, we integrated our bubble with my Grandmother, who lives in an apartment in the neighboring town. I drive to her apartment and write in her guest room overlooking Lake Michigan until lunch, when we order or cook food and talk about life.

    As a child, did you read stories in secret?

    I come from a family of voracious readers who encouraged me to have a book in hand at all times, so no subject matter was truly off-limits at home. The most covert reading I must have done was in school, where I would ignore the teacher and finish books under my desk. In fourth grade, I finished the last page of a book, looked up and realized that school had been over for 20 minutes. I hadn't realized people had left the classroom.

    When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?

    Even though I took playwriting classes as an undergrad, I think I was scared of the "P”-word for a long time. It felt like an important title for people over there, that I hadn't earned it. It seems simple, but it all changed when I started bribing college friends with pizzas and beer to come to my apartment to read my plays. I realized that I was already doing the thing.

    What play changed your life?

    There are so many... but I keep thinking about Mr. Burns by Anne Washburn. I saw its second preview at Playwrights Horizons and had absolutely no idea what I was walking into. I fell in love with how the play mixed pop culture and philosophy, and the profane and the divine. It also changed how I think about structure and time in a play. 

    What should audiences know about Coleman ’72?

    I never know how to answer questions like this because I hope you can show up (or, in this case, tune in) and not need to know anything else. I'm just really excited to share this play and I hope it starts conversations about family and what it means to be an American.

    Watch this #PPFPlaywrights video where Oh is interviewed by Artistic Director David Ivers.

    Learn more about ​Coleman '72 and the 2021 Pacific Playwrights Festival.

  • 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.