• The Story Behind the Photo: "A Doll’s House, Part 2"

    Tania Thompson
     | Oct 16, 2020
    A Doll's House
    Caption: Shannon Cochran in A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath (2017). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About A Doll’s House, Part 2

    The story follows Nora, who in the final scene of Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House makes the shocking decision to leave her husband and children. A door slams. The curtain falls on a stunned audience. Playwright Lucas Hnath continues Nora’s story in this intriguing play with a decidedly modern perspective. Fifteen years have passed when there’s a knock on that same door. Why is Nora back—and what will her return mean to those she left behind?

    Director Shelley Butler is a veteran of nearly a dozen productions at South Coast Repertory—both in the main play series and in the Theatre for Young Audiences family series. In 2017, she helmed the world premiere of the SCR-commissioned A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath. The Los Angeles Times lauded the show as a “quietly gripping production." Butler selected the photo above as an important moment from the play.

    What moment does this depict?

    Shelley Butler: This is the moment Nora [portrayed by Shannon Cochran] first returns and walks back through the door she slammed so famously all those years ago. There’s perhaps a wave of nostalgia and yet distance from a life she can no longer imagine herself inhabiting. Stronger than she was, having more trust and belief in herself but Nora still lacks power in society. She needs something from her husband, not love, not closure, but something legal that only he can give her—even though she made her way on her own—she cannot circumvent the law without her husband’s signature… and so she must return.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    SB: We wanted to amplify all that the brilliant Shannon Cochran was able to bring to this moment and pull the audience even closer—allowing them to share the breadth of her anticipation, apprehension, hopes and desires—so it felt like they were inside her mind or breathing with her. We accomplished this quite simply by irising in on Nora, dimming down on the room with its impossibly tall walls and casting it largely into silhouette and letting the bright white backdrop symbolize the larger world beyond. That contrast between outside and in became a true liminal space with Nora literally at the threshold between what was and what may come next.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    SB: This moment was only a flash, but there was a true synergy between Shannon, this extraordinary design team and myself. Sara Ryung Clement’s striking clothing clearly shows Nora as a woman who has now traveled beyond this home and has returned with her own armor. Takeshi Kata & Se Hyun Oh’s room design created a forum for ideas and space for a series of boxing matches to unfold. Tom Ontiveros' lighting carved out the flash itself. And while you can’t hear it, Cricket S Myers’ sound design here, a literal breath, almost a gasp, proved both arresting and poignant.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Venus in Fur"

     | Oct 09, 2020
    Venus in Fur
    Graham Hamilton and Jaimi Paige in​ SCR's production of Venus in Fur (2014). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About Venus in Fur

    Auditions are over for the day, and Thomas still hasn’t found the perfect actress for his adaptation of a 19th-century erotic novel. Vanda stumbles into the bare rehearsal studio, soaking wet and hours late. Before he can stop her, she strips down to lingerie, wiggles into a white period dress and mysteriously becomes his elusive leading lady. But will the power play for sexual dominance be limited to the stage?

    Director Casey Stangl helmed South Coast Repertory’s production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur in 2014—a two-actor show. The Los Angeles Times said “the most delicious pleasure … comes from watching [the] actors dazzle us in a psycho-sexual pas de deux expertly choreographed for the dramatic stage.” Stangl selected the photo above as an important moment from the play

    What does this moment depict?

    Casey Stangl: In this moment, Thomas still thinks he is in control of the audition and is simply playing along with Vanda's role playing. Little does he know what Vanda has in store for him. Inch by inch, she uses his own hubris to trap him.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    CS: The actors, Graham Hamilton (as Thomas) and Jaimi Paige (Vanda) had previously worked together and had an incredible amount of trust and willingness to be vulnerable with each other. They were game to try anything. We did a lot of experimenting to both illustrate and obfuscate the power dynamics. In this photo, Graham is in the classic power position—standing above her, taking the action of kissing her hand, while Jaimi is prone and allowing the action to happen. So visually, he is in charge; but, in fact, she is about to turn the tables on him.

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

    CS: YES! The shadows on the wall behind the actors. That show was my first time working with lighting designer Elizabeth Harper and she has become one of my go-to designers. The idea of using a lot of shadows was key to our visual plan, which culminated near the end in a literal giant shadow of Vanda on the walls when she stood on the table.

  • It Can't Happen Here

    John Glore
     | Oct 05, 2020
    It Can't Happen Here

    Beginning on Oct. 13, South Coast Repertory community members will have the opportunity to hear a radio play based on Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, adapted by Tony Taccone and Bennett S. Cohen, directed by Lisa Peterson and starring Academy Award nominee David Strathairn. The project, made possible through a partnership with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, ;and more than 75 other theatres nationwide, will air in four segments via YouTube. All four half-hour segments of the radio drama (as well as a post-performance Q&A with the creative team) will begin airing on Oct. 13 and will be available for listening until Nov. 8.

    From Berkeley Rep’s publicity for the production: “Written in 1935 during the rise of fascism in Europe, writer Sinclair Lewis’ darkly satirical novel, It Can’t Happen Here follows the ascent of a demagogue who becomes president of the United States by promising to return the country to greatness.

    In 2016, Berkeley Rep unveiled a new stage adaptation of Lewis’s prescient novel; one week after that production ended, the presidential election roiled our nation. Now, Berkeley Repertory Theatre reprises that production with the same director and much of the original cast, but this time as a radio play in four episodes​, just in time for the 2020 presidential election. The audio drama is being offered free to organizations across the country. Berkeley Rep intends for the project to encourage dialogue and motivate citizens to exercise their civic power and vote.”

    Sinclair Lewis
    Sinclair Lewis in 1944.

    Sinclair Lewis established himself as one of the preeminent American writers of the first half of the 20th century when Main Street, a realistic novel about small-town life, took the country by storm in 1920. The novel’s phenomenal success (more than 2 million copies sold in the first few years after its publication) propelled Lewis to literary stardom and made him a rich man. Over the next 10 years he went on to write such enduring novels as Babbitt, Arrowsmith (Pulitzer Prize, 1925), Elmer Gantry and Dodsworth, leading to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930.

    Lewis’s writing generally offers a critical view of capitalism, materialism and unbridled ambition as exemplified in the lives of men from various strata of Middle American society—from a middle-class businessman (Babbitt) to a doctor and medical scientist (Arrowsmith) to a hypocritical evangelist (Elmer Gantry) to a prosperous automotive tycoon (Dodsworth).

    While his novels typically adopt a satirical tone, they feature nuanced portrayals of flawed men who live lives of privilege but succumb to the temptations their privilege inevitably brings with it.

    With It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis turned his focus to matters of state, and specifically to currents of fascism and demagoguery in American politics during the 1930s, when the Great Depression and political volatility in Europe and the U.S. weighed heavily on the minds of Americans. Critics and historians often cite the career of Huey P. Long as a likely inspiration for Lewis’s story of “Buzz” Windrip, a power-hungry Senator who sets out to ride a populist program and his own personal charisma to the presidency. Long (known as “The Kingfish”) was a fixture of Louisiana politics, a Democratic governor and then senator who exploited economic and class divisions to gain and consolidate power. Although his stance was generally progressive, Long became an outspoken critic of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and, with his populist “Share Our Wealth” platform, he was beginning a campaign against FDR for the 1936 election when he was assassinated—just before It Can’t Happen Here was published.

    SCR’s ties to Berkeley Rep go back many years and remain strong. In fact, Tony Taccone, co-adaptor of the radio play and Berkeley Rep’s artistic director until last year, is currently working with SCR artistic director David Ivers on a new-play project that will appear soon at SCR, either on stage or on SCR’s virtual platform. And Lisa Peterson, director of It Can’t Happen Here, has been a frequent SCR collaborator; most recently Peterson staged Julia Cho’s Aubergine on the Segerstrom Stage​ (2019) and, the year before, directed Culture Clash Still in America in the Julianne Argyros Stage.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: SCR Company on the Beach

    Tania Thompson
     | Oct 02, 2020
    SCR on the Beach
    Click photo to enlarge.
    SCR Beach IDs
    Select the image above to see the ID's.

    Fifty-two years ago, half way through South Coast Repertory's third season, in December 1968, this band of theatre adventurers gathered on the beach in Newport for a company photo. South Coast Repertory, halfway through its third season.

    This group did most everything to bring productions to life, says Founding Artistic Director David Emmes—acting, making costumes, building sets and more.

    This photo was taken for a mid-season subscription brochure sent out in January 1969; the large piece of plywood in the photo had “69” printed on it when it appeared in that mailing. “At the time,” Emmes says, “it was just a photo for a brochure. Now, of course, it is of immense value as it brings individual life and creative texture to our history.”

    Emmes, actor Hal Landon Jr., playwright and dramaturg Jerry Patch and Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson are all in the photo. Can you find them? Whom else do you recognize?

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "The Velveteen Rabbit"

    Tania Thompson
     | Oct 01, 2020
    Velveteen Rabbit
    ​Amielynn Abellera and​ Ricky Abilez in ​SCR's 2019 Theatre for Young Audiences ​production of ​The Velveteen Rabbit. Photo by ​Debora Robinson.

    The Velveteen Rabbit

    For nearly a century, author Margery Williams’ beloved classic has captivated and charmed children and adults, alike. Lonely and forgotten, a stuffed rabbit longs to be real. When another toy is lost, he quickly becomes a little boy’s new favorite. As the rabbit’s dapper appearance gets worn and shabby from play, a wonderful change begins to happen. A moving story about the power of love—and a little bit of magic. SCR produced Janet Allard’s stage adaptation of the story.

    Director Beth Lopes helmed South Coast Repertory’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit in 2019 (part of the Theatre for Young Audiences Family​ Series). The touching, timeless tale came vividly to life through the creative team that Lopes assembled and through the cast. Lopes selected the photo above as an important moment from the play.

    What does this moment depict?

    This is the final moment of the show. The Boy sees a familiar-looking rabbit in the woods and wonders if this rabbit could be his rabbit. 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    Because this was the last time we were seeing these characters, it was very important to me to be able to clearly see both of their faces. Staging that was a bit tricky, though, because they're supposed to be looking at each other. We decided to put Velveteen behind the Boy, with them both looking out, to accomplish the task of seeing their expressions fully, but also to emphasize the distance that is now between them. And it was easier to see the Velveteen Rabbit if the Boy was on his knees (which also reinforces how small an actual rabbit would be!) and if Velveteen was off the ground a bit. Having our actress stand on the tree platform [toward the back of the stage] gave her some height and the gorgeous magical tree as a background. 

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

    I've always thought of this moment as a chance encounter with someone that you had been very close to at one point in your life. There might be an eye lock or a nod from a distance, but no real words need to be spoken. The Boy and Velveteen understand that they are on diverging paths from one another now, but they both can also recognize how formative they were for each other. It's a very bittersweet moment, encapsulating the beauty and pain of what it means to grow up.

    What else would you like to say about the photo or The Velveteen Rabbit? This was one of my very favorite projects. I’m very grateful for the trip down memory lane!