• The Story Behind the Photo: "Peter and the Starcatcher"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Apr 02, 2021
    Peter and the Starcatcher
    Wyatt Fenner (in the air) and the cast of Peter and the Starcatcher (2015). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​the Play

    They call him Boy, the orphan without a name. One day he’s whisked onto the good ship Neverland, and the century-old legend of Peter Pan gets its hilarious, exhilarating and wildly imaginative prequel. Sail with us across the seven seas as Boy becomes Peter in a swashbuckling tale of yesteryear, infused with pop culture imagery of today. Backstage called this winner of five Tony Awards “more fun than the proverbial barrelful of monkeys.”

    “For this brief moment, we all believed we could fly.” That’s how director Art Manke remembers this moment (pictured above) in rehearsals and performances for Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice (2015). Actor Wyatt Fenner’s character, Peter, leaped off the set and landed in a fabric-and-netting catch held taut by his fellow cast members. Here’s how Manke describes the magical moment.

    What moment does this depict?

    This is the moment when Peter takes flight.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    To ensure the safety of the brave and talented Wyatt Fenner (Peter), as well as the safety of the brave and talented ensemble of actors charged with the responsibility of catching him, we rehearsed this moment daily throughout the rehearsal period and prior to each performance through the closing night of the run. 

    What’s the power about this moment?

    This is the essential moment of freedom for Peter, whether we’re discussing the original J. M. Barrie Peter Pan or Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher. The childhood fantasy that we might be able to fly is, perhaps, the greatest—yet least attainable—joy we can imagine. This was the ultimate thrill for audiences and performers alike. I think it provided a communion of sorts: as Peter prepared to jump, nearly 500 people in the audience inhaled together; as he leapt into the air, we held our breath; and as he landed safely, we exhaled as one. For this brief moment, we all believed we could fly.

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

    Thanks to the casting work of the indefatigable and imaginative Joanne DeNaut (SCR’s casting director), we were able to proudly present this play with a diverse cast, providing role models for children of all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, and ​give everyone a world in which they could all enjoy the fantasy of flight.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Light in the Piazza"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Mar 25, 2021
    Light in the Piazza
    Patti Cohenour and Erin Mackey in The Light in the Piazza (2014). Photo by Ben Horak.

    About ​​Light in the Piazza

    Filled with sunshine, light as a summer breeze, this exhilarating musical follows the Italian travels of Margaret Johnson and her stunningly beautiful daughter, Clara. When a dashing young Italian captures Clara’s heart, Margaret is compelled to reveal the secret about her daughter. Even as she struggles with concern about Clara’s future, she must decide whether or not to release her hold—and bravely give the young lovers her blessing. Early in his career, playwright Craig Lucas found a home at SCR, which produced five of his plays in five years. This award-winning play boasts one of the most celebrated scores of the decade by Adam Guettel (grandson of the iconic composer Richard Rodgers).

    When actor/singer Erin Mackey is asked about her dream role, she’s quick to answer—“Clara, in The Light in the Piazza.” She says the musical’s production at SCR in 2014 became her “dream, dream role” and one of her most favorite experiences on stage. In this Q&A, she talks about the role, working with the cast and director Kent Nicholson and why she chose this photo as being a special moment from the show.

    What moment does this depict?

    This is the moment when I sang the title song, “The Light in the Piazza,” towards the beginning of the second act. My character, Clara, has fallen in love with Fabrizio (played by the dreamy David Burnham in our production) and her mom, Margaret (played by my dear, dear Patti Cohenour), is scared of this relationship because of Clara’s condition and the fears about her mental state. It’s very heated right up until the song, resulting in Margaret slapping Clara for some of the things she says!

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    Kent Nicholson, our director for Piazza, is the freaking best! He let Patti and me talk through the complexities of this moment, play around with staging for a while and then he recognized that Adam Guettel’s music is so genius that a person standing still onstage, singing that glorious song, is enough. Patti is just such a dream actor to be with onstage; she’s so generous and thoughtful. I loved every moment of crafting this show with Kent, Patti and the entire team.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    This scene (and song) is an enormously important moment for both Clara and Margaret. It is a song of transformation and awakening for Clara; a time for her to finally express herself and her wants and needs in a more adult way. It’s doubly powerful because Margaret is onstage watching this happen for her daughter for the first time. Ah, I get chills thinking about it!

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

    The Light in the Piazza was my dream, dream role. During interviews, I’m asked a lot about “what’s my dream role?” and Clara was always my answer. And, it will eventually be the role of Margaret! I am so, so grateful that SCR chose this show and that Kent and the whole team allowed me to be there and create my “Clara.” It’s one of my absolute favorite experiences onstage and what I would give to do it all again!

  • Meet the Cast of "Red Riding Hood"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Mar 24, 2021
    Red Riding Hood

    Larry BatesLarry Bates

    My main character in Red Riding Hood is Wolfgang, the storyteller. Most importantly, I am the wolf!

    My previous SCR shows include Charlotte’s Web (I played Wilbur), The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), Sideways Stories from Wayside School (I played Mrs. Gorf) OZ 2.5 (I played the Lion) and The Only Child (I played Toby, better known as Power Boy, and my absolute favorite character!).

    My other credits include “NYPD Blue,” “The Unit,” “Huff,” “Dark Blue, “Numb3rs,” “Boston Public” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”

    What I like most about being in young audiences shows is that they can be wacky and off the wall and I looooooove wacky and off the wall. Randomly bursting into song or breaking the fourth wall, brings me so much joy. They are just plain old fun.

    Young audiences shows are important because young people are the future of theatre. These shows are accessible, fun, and imaginative. I can honestly say that I would not be an actor if not for similar programs when I was little. I remember seeing a production of Aladdin when I was in elementary school and it blew me away. It set my imagination on fire—and I remember wanting that feeling again and again and being mesmerized by its magic.

    My favorite fairy tale when I was kid was “The Three Little Pigs.” Simply because it is the greatest fairy tale ever told. As an adult, no question, it is John Glore's stage adaption of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.

    The thing you should know about *this* Red Riding Hood is that it is fun. It is wacky and, if you have half of the fun that we are having, you will have a blast!

    My favorite dessert is red velvet cake, in general. But, about two years ago, I went to Rome, Italy, and had some tiramisu, and I can honestly say it was the best dessert I ever had. Ever.

    Nell GeisslingerNell Geisslinger

    My main character in Red Riding Hood is the Delivery Person, who has a really big imagination. I think she drives around town in her delivery truck, and every package she drops off has her desperately wondering “What’s IN there!?!?” Luckily she meets someone who likes to daydream as much as she does, and that gives her a great excuse to stop working and get swept up in an afternoon of play. She’s definitely not a pushover—she has some strong opinions. And she probably likes alfalfa sprouts and granola with organic yogurt.

    This is my SCR debut!

    For my other credits, I’ve been lucky to play so many parts—princesses and paupers, a wicked stepsister, a shrew, and even a girl with a hump on her back—she had really high self-esteem, by the way. And there’s a lot I like to do besides acting. I wrote for a TV show called Food: Fact or Fiction?” And I make music for my friend’s online series “Junebug’s Corner,” all about the adventures of a fluffy wiener dog in the forest.

    What I like most about being in young audiences shows is, well, I’m going to be really honest here. Sometimes when you go out on stage in front of adults, they’re leaned back in their seats, all quiet, their arms crossed, with this attitude of “show me what you got”. We actors can feel the audience’s energy—so if they’re skeptical, it’s kinda like pushing a boulder up a hill. With younger crowds, there’s usually a lot of activity in the audience before the lights go down. We can hear that offstage in the wings and it’s a good thing! It gets us juiced up for the show. Just like hearing laughter and responses to jokes and even gasps at serious or surprising moments (which adults are sometimes too cool to let loose). This show will be interesting because we’re filming it to stream for people to watch safely in their homes or classrooms, so we won’t have an audience. But Larry (who plays Wolfgang) and I are having a great time in the rehearsal room, so I know it’s going to be a blast.

    Face it, adults have enough plays and movies and music and, and, and…. But here’s a secret: a good play is a good play. It doesn’t matter if someone says it’s “for young audiences”—it can and should be enjoyed by everyone. And THAT is this show!

    My favorite story when I was kid was…well, this is hard, so can I pick three? Or four? ‘Cause I really liked “Half Magic” by Edward Eager, “The Worst Witch” series by Jill Murphy and “The Thorn Witch” by E.J. Taylor. Guess I have a thing for witches! But, if I HAD to pick a favorite, it’s definitely “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie. Because who doesn’t want to fly??

    The thing you should know about *this* Red Riding Hood is that—and this is true of any play—while you’ll only see me and Larry onstage, there’s a whole team working behind the scenes. Allison Gregory (the brilliant playwright), Shannon Flynn (our most excellent director), and Kathryn Davies (trusty stage manager), just to name a few. One of the joys of being in theatre is this “family” of people that brings the show to life. And I think that’s what the characters in Red Riding Hood discover in each other by the end of the play.

    My favorite dessert is…Oh man, I can’t choose just one favorite! I just can’t. Crème brulee, mint chocolate chip ice cream, Denver chocolate pudding, Nigella Lawson’s chocolate gingerbread…and, of course, CAKE!!

    Learn more about Red Riding Hood and purchase tickets to watch the digital stream of this play.

  • The Story of *This* Red Riding Hood

    by 
    John Glore
     | Mar 22, 2021
    Red Riding Hood
    Delivery Person
    ​​Delivery Person costume rendering by Amy L. Hutto.
    Red Riding Hood
    Wolfgang as Grand-mama costume rendering by Amy L. Hutto.

    An actor named Wolfgang is getting ready to act out the story of “Red Riding Hood.” He tells us he’s going to play all the roles, and he’s going to skip ahead to the most exciting part of the story. But, just as he’s about to start, a Delivery Person walks onto the stage with a package she’s supposed to deliver to someone at the theatre. She becomes interested in what Wolfgang is doing. He isn’t too happy when she decides to join him in performing the story—especially when she insists they start at the very beginning.

    Not only that, Wolfgang and the Delivery Person can’t even agree on how the story begins: he argues that Red Riding Hood is sent on a journey by her mother to deliver a delicious cake to her sick grandmother, but the Delivery Person insists that Red will take her grandmother a tureen of healthy soup. Since they can’t agree, they compromise: Red Riding Hood will deliver a loaf of fresh-baked bread with loads of butter to spread on the bread. It will be delicious—and much healthier than cake.

    Now that they have settled their disagreement, they begin acting out the story, with the Delivery Person playing Red and Wolfgang playing Red’s mother. Mother tells Red to deliver a basket of bread to her grandmother, and to stay on the path and not talk to strangers. Also, she should not skip, because skipping is dangerous. Red says she’ll do as she’s told and then skips off to Grand-mama’s house.

    For the next part of the story, Wolfgang takes on the role of the wolf, who stops Red on the path and tries to convince her that he’s her friend. (He also tries to convince her to open the package that the Delivery Person brought to the theatre, which is now in Red’s basket—but although she’s tempted, she refuses.) Wolf offers to walk with Red to Grand-mama’s house, to keep her company—and then he tells the audience what he’s really up to: he plans to eat Grand-mama once Red leads him to the cottage.

    But Red is in no hurry to cooperate. She decides to pick some flowers for Grand-mama. The impatient (and hungry) wolf tries to speed her along by helping her pick flowers, but then there’s a new problem: a woodcutter is cutting down trees nearby—and the wolf is afraid of the woodcutter and his sharp axe. He hurries off as Red continues to gather flowers.

    Wolfgang now becomes the woodcutter, who warns Red about the wolf and gives her a lantern. “Wolves hate fire,” he tells her. Red looks for three birch trees that her mother said would point her to Grand-mama’s house, but the woodcutter confesses that he just cut down the birch trees. Fortunately, Red finds a quail who lived in the birch trees and is happy to learn that the quail knows how to get to Grand-mama’s house. Red will follow the quail.

    As night draws near, Red becomes more and more nervous. To make matters worse, the wolf ’s hungry growl scares away the quail. Red must now find her Grand-mama’s cottage by herself—with the wolf following her closely. He tries to lure her away from the path, but Red doesn’t fall for any of his tricks.

    Wolf runs ahead and manages to reach Grand-mama’s house before Red, but when he knocks on the door, Grand-mama doesn’t answer at first. (For this part of the story, the Delivery Person plays Grand-mama.) Wolf finally gets into the cottage by pretending to be Red Riding Hood. Grand-mama has a few tricks up her sleeve which she uses to distract Wolf so he won’t carry out his plan—but in the end, Wolf chases Grand-mama around the bed, catches her and eats her in one big gulp.

    But that’s only the first part of Wolf ’s plan: now he puts on Grand-mama’s nightcap and spectacles, climbs into bed and waits for Red to arrive so he can eat her, too.

    He waits and waits and waits, but Red doesn’t come. Finally, Wolfgang (the actor) takes off the Grand-mama disguise and tells the audience he’s going to go look for Red backstage. As soon as he leaves the stage, Red arrives at the cottage. When she finds no one home, she decides to look for Grand-mama in the garden. As soon as she leaves, Wolfgang returns and reports that he didn’t find Red backstage. As Red and Wolfgang keep entering and exiting the stage at different times, they keep missing each other. After a while, Wolfgang gets so frustrated that before he exits again he takes off his wolf costume (which is actually just a pair of gloves that look like wolf paws) and leaves it onstage. When Red returns she finds the gloves, puts them on and magically becomes the wolf. Wolfgang returns and finds Red’s beanie; when he puts it on, he magically becomes Red Riding Hood!

    Now they’ve switched roles, but they continue to act out the story. Red enters Grand-mama’s cottage and Wolf—disguised as Grand-mama—greets her happily. Wolf coaxes Red to come closer and closer to the bed. Red notices what big eyes, what hairy arms and what terrible, big, yellow teeth Grand-mama has—whereupon Wolf jumps out of bed and tries to catch Red. It looks like Wolf is going to get her—until Red remembers what the woodcutter told her about wolves and fire. She grabs the lantern and uses it to back Wolf up until she can push him into a trunk and lock him inside.

    Just then, the woodcutter happens by the cottage. He gets ready to kill the wolf, but then he and Red hear the voice of Grand-mama coming from inside the wolf. The woodcutter tells Red she’ll have to cut open the wolf in order to save Grand-mama. Red reluctantly agrees, but when she climbs into the trunk, the wolf manages to eat her, too. But all is not lost. The woodcutter uses his axe to free both Red and her grandmother from the wolf’s stomach. Happy ending! (Except for the wolf.)

    Having finished acting out the story, Wolfgang and the Delivery Person discover that the package the Delivery Person brought to the theatre is addressed to Wolfgang himself! He tears it open and finds a cake inside! He shares it with the Delivery Person, and they happil agree that their new version of the story is better than all the others.

    This story first appeared in SCR’s Study Guide for Red Riding Hood by Allison Gregory.

    Learn more about Red Riding Hood and purchase tickets to watch the digital stream of this play.

  • The Future is Brightly Lit With New Plays and Musicals

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Mar 22, 2021
    The Lab @ SCR

    High energy buzzed in the rehearsal room at South Coast Repertory in early spring 2020. Actors were in rehearsals for two new productions that would be featured during the theatre’s Pacific Playwrights Festival—a nationally renowned, annual showcase of new works. Five play readings were also scheduled for PPF. Then came COVID-19 and, with the theatre shuttered, the festival took the year off. Now in 2021, PPF returns between April and June with five professionally filmed, staged readings of new works.

    View the 2021 PPF Lineup

    New Play Development: The [email protected]

    When David Ivers took the helm as artistic director, he dove into learning and assessing everything he could about how SCR ‘makes theatre.’ Along with that, he embarked on a visioning process with Managing Director Paula Tomei—what does the future look like for the Tony Award-winning theatre?

    This is how The [email protected] was born—an infrastructure that houses the theatre’s existing and new programs for play development—including the creation of new American musicals, commissions for playwrights at various stages of their careers, the Pinnacle Commission (at $60,000, it’s one of the largest in the nation) along with playwright residences, workshops, readings and more.

    April Snow
    Scott Hylands, K Callen and Jordan Charney in April Snow Romulus Linney (1983).

    “This was a huge expansion and deepening of our commitment to new works,” says Ivers. “It goes directly to how we support playwrights, activate our new work and aim for productions at SCR and beyond. And it’s a natural progression to build on the vision of our founders.”

    New play development has been part of the theatre’s DNA for nearly 40 years. SCR produced its first commissioned work in 1983: April Snow, by Obie Award-winning playwright Romulus Linney. Five years later, the theatre received a 1988 Tony Award that recognized the company’s outstanding contributions to the American Theatre through new play support and development and what The New York Times would later call SCR’s national role as an “incubator of major talent.”

    A Commission Is…

    When SCR commissions a new play, the company provides money up front for a work that has not yet been written. Commissions are a way to invest in writers and their process and to give them the means and time to concentrate on the next play they want to write. While a commission offers needed financial support, just as important, it serves as a vote of confidence in a writer’s talent and ability.

    Mike Donahue, who will direct this year’s reading of Park-e Laleh by Shayan Lotfi, talks about developing a new play in collaborative terms: a community that comes together around a playwright’s new work—including actors, dramaturgs and designers—and the role that each person plays.

    “We all approach it from a particular point of view to help nudge a play along on its journey,” he explains. The different vantage points include: What is the story and how will it be told? What’s the vision of the world of the play and how do things operate in that world? Who are the people in the play and how are they changing each other? What are they doing from moment to moment?

    “The playwright, of course, is at the center of all of that, making the crucial decisions about how to respond to all of the feedback,” Donahue says.

    Playwright Lotfi was finding pathways and options for emerging writers getting narrower. Until he connected with SCR and received an Elizabeth George Emerging Writers Commission. His script, Park-e Laleh, is one of five digital readings at PPF this year.

    “It’s a testament to the theatre that all of their support to me was provided based on their belief in the piece itself—they had never met me or heard of me before reading the script and awarding me a commission,” Lotfi says. “Having a large, influential and nationally significant institution like SCR put their time, resources and belief into early career playwrights and new plays is an essential bulwark against the forces that make playwriting an increasingly difficult proposition.”

    To Champion New Musicals

    Craig Lucas’s play Prelude to a Kiss was commissioned, developed and premiered by SCR in 1988 and later went on to be a major feature film.

    “South Coast Repertory is the premier crucible for new plays in America—and it has been for decades,” Lucas says. “The theatre’s commitment to commissioning, developing and producing new American plays continues to be a beacon to all of us who make new work. I do not know of another theatre that comes close to the fecundity of new writing and the clarity and commitment of SCR.” The theatre has been in development for a musical version of Lucas’ Prelude.

    Prelude to a Kiss
    Lyricist Sean Hartley, John Glore (obstructed), playwright Craig Lucas and Artistic Director David Ivers in rehersal for the 2019 Pacific Playwrights Festival concert-reading of Prelude to a Kiss.

    Ivers is an unabashed fan of musicals and included the development of new American musicals as a priority for The [email protected] More complex to develop than a play, musicals involve the book writer, the lyricist and the composer. Where a play may develop within a year, the development of a musical may take several years.

    “Musicals deal with a scope and theatricality that is unique to them,” Ivers says. “But, like plays, musicals also try to tackle big issues and we talk about how character and story are embedded, clarified and magnified in the book, but also how to capitalize on that in the score.”

    A concert-reading of Harold & Lillian, a new musical with book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis (and based on the documentary film by Daniel Raim) is set for PPF this year. Resources provided through The [email protected] have given the work additional days of rehearsal, workshops and more ahead of the festival. While not an SCR commission, the new musical is benefiting from the company’s fine-tuned approach.

    It’s Worth the Risk

    Little Black Shadows
    Giovanni Adams and Chauntae Pink in the world premiere of ​Little Black Shadows ​by Kemp Powers (2018).

    Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (Soul, One Night in Miami) and playwright Kemp Powers says he had no idea how much support SCR would pour into his play Little Black Shadows, which was developed and premiered here in 2018.

    “Developing a new play is a time of extreme insecurity and stress for a playwright—well, this one, at least,” Powers says. “The theatre’s help blew away my expectations of what could be accomplished on a regional stage. And, most importantly, SCR expressed a true desire to have an ongoing relationship with me as an artist and commissioned me to write another new piece of my own conception.”

    But it’s not without risk.

    “The higher or deeper that a playwright aims, the greater the element of risk,” says Amy Freed, whose commissioned works for SCR include SHREW! (2018) and The Beard of Avon (2001). “SCR understands this and doesn’t flinch from it. It’s truly one of the great theatres in the country.”

    For SCR, the reward comes from the risk. New works are written for today’s audiences and speak to the world we live in: some plays celebrate contemporary society, others challenge it; some are set in another time or place, but are still connected to the modern experience; and some touch on universal themes, while others illuminate little-known issues. No matter their content, new plays are reflections of today.

    “And that’s one of the greatest things about developing new work,” says Ivers. “We have no idea where it’s going to lead.”

    To date, the company has given 340 commissions to 2​41 artists and with each new play, the writer contributes to the art form and helps shape the future of American theatre. Over the years, SCR has championed, developed and premiered plays by luminaries such as David Henry Hwang, Lucas Hnath, Lauren Yee, Lynn Nottage, Julia Cho, Richard Greenberg and Lauren Gunderson, all of whom have written important American plays that will no doubt leave a lasting legacy.

    “We are looking for the play we don’t know we’re looking for until we find it,” says John Glore, associate artistic director and PPF co-director. “We want to be surprised in a way that takes our breath away—and that’s something we can’t anticipate until we encounter it.”

    Cambodian Rock Band
    Brooke Ishibashi, Joe Ngo, Jane Lui, Raymond Lee and Abraham Lee in the world premiere of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee (2018).

    Lauren Yee explored genocide through her SCR CrossRoads commission—Cambodian Rock Band. She came to SCR to explore Orange County and write about what she found. She started with a residency that led her just outside of OC to Long Beach and the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia—and survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Cambodian Rock Band was developed and premiered at SCR in 2018.

    “My new-play experience at SCR changed how I approach the playwriting process,” she says. “It focused me more on observation, community-building and process.”

    Cambodian Rock Band’s journey—having numerous other productions across the country, earning rave reviews, winning prizes, moving to New York and elsewhere—is significant for the theatre because there’s an aspect of pride, of reputation and the possibility of taking the world by storm.

    Playwright Octavio Solis chuckles as he looks back on his early years as a writer. His commissions include Cloudlands and La Posada Magíca and he’s currently working on a new commission for SCR.

    “I thought that you simply wrote the play, put it on stage and made adjustments along the way,” he says. “But SCR’s coterie of dramaturgs and the finely-honed development process demonstrated how to put a new play through its paces—like a deep-tissue development process. Their love for new work gave me the confidence to revise my plays with the precision of a surgeon.”

    For Ivers, the scientific definition of a laboratory fits The [email protected] perfectly: a place for providing opportunities for experimentation, observation or practice in a field of study.

    “That’s exactly what we are trying to do when we develop new works,” he says.

    SCR’s distinctive work in new play development has consistently earned praise from writers.

    Office Hour
    Raymond Lee and Sandra Oh in the world premiere of ​Office Hour by Julia Cho (2016).

    Julia Cho, whose works have been developed at SCR over more than two decades—including, most recently, Office Hour—has great respect for the theatre’s approach to developing plays.

    “When I was just starting as a writer, SCR treated me almost exactly as they do now that I’m a mid-career playwright: always with respect, generosity and a complete lack of agenda,” she says.  “What amazes me is that I’m fairly sure this is the kind of relationship they have with all their writers, not just me. The breadth of the theatre’s engagement with writers, and the amount of new work they engender as a result, is truly unique.”

    Which is music to Ivers’ ears.

    “I hope we are always moving the goal posts about what makes an ‘SCR’ play or musical,” he says. “Curiosity, adventure, boldness and craft guide our development process as we wrap our arms around a variety of diverse and imaginative artists.”

    Learn More About PPF