• The Story Behind the Photo: "M. Butterfly"

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 19, 2021
    M Butterfly
    Yoko Hasebe, Jake Manabat, Lucas Verbrugghe and Sophy Zhao in M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang (2019). Photo by Jordan Kubat.

    About ​​M. Butterfly

    When this rich, compelling drama debuted on Broadway, it became an instant sensation, sweeping the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. A married French diplomat. A mysterious Chinese opera diva. A passionate 20-year affair. Inspired by true events, this break-out hit by the author of Chinglish and Golden Child proved much more than a steamy tale of seduction. Obsession, perception and the allure of fantasy make for a remarkable tale of espionage and betrayal described as “visionary” by The New York Times.

    Jake Manabat made his South Coast Repertory debut in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly (2019). The character of Song Liling is dear to him—he understudied the role for the 2017 Broadway revival of​ the play and starred in two other productions. In addition to theatre, his credits include television and film including “Madam Secretary,” “Lillyhammer,” Crane Story: Paper Dolls and The Long Season. He selected this photo [above] from SCR’s 2019 production of M. Butterfly and in this Q&A, talked about why it’s an important moment.

    What moment does this depict?

    Jake Manabat: This moment is the second time the narrator of the play, Rene Gallimard, a French diplomat living in Beijing, sees Song Liling, a Chinese opera performer. The first time, Song performed the death scene, as Cio-Cio-San, from Gallimard's favorite opera, Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. This second time, Song performs from The Butterfly Lovers, a Chinese opera that Song considers to be more beautiful than Puccini. Both times, Gallimard is watching, enthralled. We are witness to the beginnings of a passionate but forbidden love affair that ultimately ends in scandal and tragedy.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    JM: First and foremost, this moment could not have happened without Annie Yee’s beautiful choreography—and her patience teaching it to me! In The Butterfly Lovers, Song is portraying a girl who, in order to be educated, must disguise herself as a boy. And in this moment, unable to hold the truth inside after falling in love with a classmate, her truth bursts forth. I had never done a ribbon dance before, so it was especially challenging—moving the ribbons had to be fast and strong enough to keep them aloft, yet slow and deliberate enough to register shapes and not get tangled. Annie made sure that I brought out the grace, joy and meaning ​demanded by this moment of the story-within-the-story. 

    We had been rehearsing the dance with the idea that Lucas Verbrugghe, who played Gallimard, was stationary watching me. Desdemona Chiang, our director, tried having him sit and stand still while I was dancing—one try with him in the audience. But no matter where she placed him, something just wasn't working. Was there a better way for the audience to simultaneously watch Song and watch Gallimard watch Song? Lucas suggested: what if he was walking around the stage instead of staying still? Des wanted to see what that looked like, so we tried it. We were on to something, so we tried out different ideas that built on the last. What about him circling around me during the dance? Yes. What about a slower walk? Yes. What about him taking some moments to stop and stare to highlight Gallimard's fascination with Song and his difficulty understanding Chinese opera? Yes. What about timing those moments to specific points in the choreography? Yes. What about staging it to avoid crashing into Yoko Hasebe and Sophy Zhao, who were also dancing in the scene? Oops! What if a moment happened so that he ended up between them, upstage center and looked downstage at me, when I swept the ribbons upwards in a grand arc at center? Yes! That is this pictured moment.

    What’s the power in this moment?

    JM: In the world of the play, this moment is Song commanding the attention of the Chinese opera house audience and bringing to life a legend they know very well. We see Song's power over the opera's audience and joy and pride in performing for them. In Gallimard's mind, this is Gallimard processing the performance he is watching. He is bewildered by the opera, yet beguiled by the performer. We see Song's power over Gallimard. You’ll see on the stage, Song is positioned at the center, which is the most powerful position to be, while Gallimard is directly upstage, which is a much weaker position. Visually, we see Song has more power than Gallimard. 

    In the blocking of the scene, we had Gallimard circling around Song. This visual suggests a predator circling its prey, which further suggests that Gallimard actually has some power over Song. This visual, coupled with Song in the power position at center, shows us that they both have power. We see Gallimard and Song's power over, and weakness to, each other. Note that after this, when Gallimard and Song compare their respective favored operas and Gallimard says that they are both tragic love stories, Song replies: “But in mine, the boy and the girl love as equals.”

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

    JM: See the headdress that I am wearing in the photo? I still have it! It is proudly displayed in my living room. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of the passion, love, commitment and truthfulness we shared with each other and the audience in service to this incredible story.  

  • Celebrating Black History Month With Our Commissioned Playwrights

    Tania Thompson & Danielle Bliss
     | Feb 17, 2021
    Little Black Shadows
    Giovanni Adams​ and Chauntae Pink in South Coast Repertory's 2018 world premiere ​production of ​​Little Black Shadows by ​Kemp Powers. Photo by ​Jordan Kubat.

    Over the course of a half-century plus, South Coast Repertory has commissioned more than 200 established and emerging playwrights from a variety of backgrounds through SCR’s new play development program, The [email protected] Through commissions, the theatre is able to support writers—both artistically and financially—which allows them to create new plays and musicals. In the development process, commissioned writers are offered a number of ways to hear their work including in-house workshops and public readings. Some may be selected for the Pacific Playwrights Festival, SCR’s annual showcase of new work. All of these experiences provide artists with the unique opportunity to see their creations come to life. In celebration of Black History Month, meet some of our commissioned playwrights.

    ​Bleu Beckford-Burrell

    Bleu Beckford Burrell

    Playwright ​Bleu Beckford-Burrell

    Beckford-Burrell is a first-generation Jamaican-American actor and playwright. Born and raised in New York City, she works for non-profit organizations, teaching acting to teens, as well as writing and directing plays. Her works include P.S.365 (finalist, 2019 O’Neill Theater Center Playwrights Conference) showcased at EST (Youngblood Workshop series) and The National Black Theatre (Keep the Soul Alive reading series), Lyons Pride (2018 Bay Area Playwrights Festival, 2019 Princess Grace Award finalist, 2019 Kilroy’s Honorable Mention and Yale Drama Series, runner-up) showcased at The Playwrights Realm (INK’D Festival of New Plays) and EST (Bloodwork Reading Series), La Race (2020 Normal Ave/NAP finalist; O’Neill Theatre Center and BAPF semi-finalist). Her work will be featured in upcoming showcases at Faultline Theatre (Irons in the Fire) and Page 73 (Virtual Residency). She is the 2021 Page 73 Playwriting Fellow and has been a Playwrights Realm Fellow (2018), as well as an I73 playwright (2020) and Colt Coeur resident (2021). She was a finalist for the PWC New Voices Fellowship (2018), P73 Fellowship (2020), NYTW/2050 Fellowship (2019), PWC Core Writer (2020), WP Lab (2020) and a semi-finalist at Working Farm (2019). She received the Playwrights Horizons, Jody Falco and Jeffrey Steinman Commission for Emerging Playwrights (2020) and a South Coast Repertory/Elizabeth George Emerging Writer Commission (2021). She earned an MFA from Rutgers University. Learn more.

    ​Ike Holter


    Playwright ​Ike Holter

    Holter's plays include S.L.O.P., Vigilante and Serven. His play, Hit the Wall (2013), about the Stonewall Riots, became Holter’s first work to play off-Broadway in New York City. His other works include B-Side Studio, Exit Strategy, Sender and The Wolf at the End of the Block. He was a writer for the television series, “Fosse/Verdon,” and is developing a new TV series about Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor. Holter is openly gay, but prefers to create works beyond his personal experience. “I am Black and I am gay, but the minute that I only write work that is about being that—I don’t think that’s interesting. I like getting into the head of a white woman in her 30s. I like getting into the head of an Asian dude in his 20s.” Among his honors is the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for Drama (2017). Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minn., Holter later moved to Chicago, where he studied theatre at DePaul University.

    ​Dominique Morisseau


    Playwright ​Dominique Morriseau

    Morisseau is recognized for numerous ​works including The Detroit Project (a three​-play cycle), which includes Skeleton Crew (Atlantic Theater Company), Paradise Blue (Signature Theatre) and Detroit ’67 (Public Theater, Classical Theatre of Harlem and National Black Theatre). Her other plays include Pipeline (Lincoln Center Theatre), Sunset Baby (LAByrinth Theatre), Blood at the Root (National Black Theatre) and Follow Me to Nellie’s (Premiere Stages). Morisseau also has written a book for the musical, Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations (Berkley Repertory Theatre and Broadway). She is ​a graduate of The Public Theater Emerging Writer’s Group, WP Lab and Lark Playwrights Workshop. Her works have been developed at the Sundance Lab, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Eugene O’Neil Theatre Center National Playwrights Conference and she has been commissioned by Steppenwolf Theater, WP, South Coast Repertory, People’s Light and Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival​ and Penumbra Theatre. Most recently, she served as the co-producer on the Showtime series “Shameless.” Learn more.

    ​Kemp Powers


    Playwright Kemp Powers

    Powers is a playwright, screenwriter and storyteller. He adapted his play, One Night in Miami, for Amazon Studios and he is co-writer/co-director of the Pixar Studios hit, Soul.  His plays include Little Black Shadows, The Two Reds, Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue and A Negro by Choice. He received the 2013 Ted Schmitt Award for Outstanding New Play (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle) for One Night in Miami (world premiere, Rogue Machine Theatre). That production earned three additional LADCC awards, four NAACP Theatre Awards and an LA Weekly Theater Award. ​One Night's 2016 production at London’s Donmar Warehouse was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Play. Powers' work has been developed at South Coast Repertory, Denver Center Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Classical Theatre of Harlem. For television, he has been a writer for Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access). He has toured nationally as a storyteller for the Peabody Award-winning series, "The Moth," and was one of 50 storytellers selected for publication in the New York Times-bestselling book, The Moth: 50 True Stories (Hyperion Press). Powers is a founding member of The Temblors, a producing playwrights collective in Los Angeles, where he resides.

    Charly Evon Simpson

    Charly Simpson

    Playwright ​​Charly Evon Simpson

    Simpson's 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, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company and others. She is a recipient of the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award and the Lanford Wilson Award. Simpson was a member of WP Theater’s 2018-20 Lab. She’s a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s Early Career Writers’ Group and Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngblood. Learn more

    ​Mfoniso Udofia

    ​Mfoniso Udofia

    Playwright Mfoniso Udofia

    Udofia's plays include Sojourners, runboyrun, Her Portmanteau and In Old Age and have been seen at the American Conservatory Theater (ACT), New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), The Playwrights Realm, Magic Theater, National Black Theatre, Strand Theater Company, and Boston Court. She’s the recipient of the 2017 Helen Merrill Playwright Award, the 2017-18 McKnight National Residency and Commission at The Playwrights’ Center and is a member of the New Dramatists class of 2023. Mfoniso is currently commissioned by Hartford Stage, Denver Center, ACT, Roundhouse, and South Coast Repertory. Her plays have been developed by Manhattan Theatre Club, ACT, NYTW, The Playwrights Realm, McCarter Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, New Dramatists, Portland Center Stage/JAW Festival, Berkeley Repertory Theatre/The Ground Floor, The OCC, Hedgebrook, Sundance Theatre Lab, Space on Ryder Farm, Page 73, New Black Fest, Rising Circle and others.​ She has worked as a television writer on the third season of “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix) and the first seasons of “Little America” and “Pachinko” (both AppleTV). ​As an actor, she appeared off-Broadway in The Homecoming Queen by Ngozi Anyanwu and in the feature film, Fred Won't Move Out. Learn more

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Mr. Popper's Penguins"

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 12, 2021
    Mr. Poppers Pengins
    Puppeteers Miles Taber, A.J. Sclafani and Scott McLean Harrison with Alex Miller and Marlene Martinez in Mr. Popper's Penguins (2016, Theatre for Young Audiences Family series). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​Mr. Popper's Penguins

    Mr. Popper loves Antarctic adventures. So he’s thrilled when a penguin named Captain Cook waddles out of a mysterious box on the doorstep. The zookeeper donates a female companion and soon—the patter of 20 baby penguin feet! They’ll sing and dance their way into everyone’s hearts in a musical version of the classic children’s book.

    Director and choreographer Art Manke has been part of more than a dozen productions at South Coast Repertory. As a director, he helmed shows ranging from Bach at Leipzig to Noises Off and Peter and the Starcatcher on SCR’s main stages and Mr. Popper’s Penguins in the Theatre for Young Audiences Family Series. He grew to love the penguin puppets created for Mr. Popper’s tale—all 24 of them—and selected the photo above as a memorable moment from that play.

    What moment does this depict?

    Mr. and Mrs. Popper incorporate the penguins into their vaudeville act.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    Bringing the penguins to life was an incredibly collaborative process involving the cast and SCR’s highly inventive Props Department all under the direction of master puppet designer and coach, Sean Cawelti.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    One by one, the penguins—each with its own personality—scaled the blue ladder in the background, jumped onto the adjacent teeter-totter, sailed through the air and assembled into this pyramid shape. It was a moment of sheer delight and accomplishment for these birds, who are known more for awkward waddling than graceful flight. So, for the children in the audience who might consider themselves less-than physically adept, this moment gave them hope that they, too, might fly through the air and land with grace; and of course, it taught them the value of team work.

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

    Over the course of their development, the penguins took on such life that I often found myself giving direction directly to the puppet instead of to the puppeteers. It was a constant source of embarrassment—and at the same time—hilarity!

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "All the Way"

    Tania Thompson
     | Feb 05, 2021
    All the Way
    Jordan Bellow, Larry Bates and Gregg Daniel in All the Way by Robert Schenkkan (2016). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​All the Way

    1963. Lyndon B. Johnson has been catapulted into the most powerful job on earth. No stranger to back room deals, Johnson takes us with him—flattering, backslapping, placating and bullying as he maneuvers to pass the groundbreaking Civil Rights Act. From Martin Luther King Jr. to George Wallace, some of America’s most dynamic leaders stand beside him—or against him—during this tumultuous time, captured vividly in the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit.

    Larry Bates is a South Coast Repertory veteran, with nearly 20 shows to his credit—including mainstage productions and Theatre for Young Audiences shows. In All the Way by Robert Schenkkan (2016), a drama about the passage of the groundbreaking Civil Rights Act, Bates portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was a role that presented him with both opportunities and challenges. In this Q&A, he talks about taking on the role and why he chose the photo above as a meaningful moment from the play. He selected the photo above as a meaningful moment from the play.

    What moment does this depict?

    This is the moment right after Dr. King finds out that President Lyndon B. Johnson was indeed successful at getting the Civil Rights Bill out of committee and to the House of Representatives. It is a great scene because, despite the small victory, there is still a lot at play. The voting rights portion was stripped from the bill and that was a key component and vital to what King was trying to achieve. He is also balancing this small victory in the legislative process with growing impatience and divisions that are developing within his own coalition. There are different factions at play; each was set on achieving the same goal, but one was steadier and more institutional while the other frustrated and growing more radical.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    Luckily, we had a great director and a slew of fabulous actors. Pictured with me [above] are Jordan Bellow, who played Bob Moses, and Gregg Daniel, who played Roy Wilkins. What was great about working on this production was how we all were able to keep everything incredibly light but not forsaking our objectives, the seriousness, or any of the stakes at hand. I laughed so much working on this show with these actors. It really was a great time, and I credit Marc Masterson, our director, with fostering that environment for us especially considering the content.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    There is a lot on the line. First and foremost, there ​was the fierce urgency ​at the moment in history. The stakes ​were high, and the weight of a people was on his shoulders. So, there is a delicate dance between accepting a small victory to move the ball along while also applying pressure to get more done. At the same time, King must achieve it in a way that keeps his various coalitions intact.

    What was challenge for you in portraying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

    These were large shoes to fill for obvious reasons. It was challenging because Dr. King was widely known and his rhetorical style was so uniquely his own that it is tethered to people’s expectations of seeing him. I had the good fortune and opportunity to play Dr. King in another play, several times and in various productions, so I felt relatively at ease. It was still challenging though. What I tr​ied to do ​was let go of any expectation and simply focus on Dr. King’s humanity as it ​was revealed through the script, the direction and my scene partners. I ​did that first and then transitioned to the details that would help meet an audience’s expectation of Dr. King. It was also nice that there ​were a lot of private moments—those are always great chances to contrast a more private man versus his public persona.

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

    In addition to Gregg and Jordan, there were two other actors in this scene: Christian Henley as Stokely Carmichael and Rosney Mauger as Ralph Abernathy. We all moved as a team through much of the play and we had the best time. I would like to think that the relationships we formed while doing this piece enriched our performances and the audience’s experience.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "She Loves Me"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jan 27, 2021
    She Loves Me
    Brian Vaughn and Erin Mackey in She Loves Me (2020), directed by David Ivers. Book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on the play by Miklós László. Photo by Jordan Kubat.

    About ​She Loves Me

    Romantic, charming and brimming with joy, this musical comedy reminds us that one kind deed can open up a world of possibilities. At Maraczek’s Parfumerie, clerks Georg and Amalia are constantly at odds. But outside of work, they’re each falling madly in love with an anonymous pen pal, unaware that it is the other. This nostalgic Broadway hit inspired by the story that gave us The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail is “as sweet and exhilarating as a first kiss” (New York Daily News).

    Sample Songs from She Loves Me

    There was a lot to ​love about South Coast Repertory’s production of She Loves Me (2020)—including the fact that it marked David Ivers' directorial debut as artistic director, had an automated set that opened to reveal a stunning Art Deco perfume shop and had a hugely talented cast. Erin Mackey (Amalia Balash) drew praise from audiences—think song like “Will He Like Me?” and “Vanilla Ice Cream.” With so much to love about this show, why did Mackey select the photo above as an important moment?

    What moment does this depict?

    This is a moment ​from the second act. Amalia has been stood up (or so she thinks…) by her pen pal, “Dear Friend” and was stuck at a restaurant with her least-favorite person ever, Georg. (Spoiler alert: Georg is “dear friend”!). Now, she’s home and sick. Georg shows up to her place to bring her ice cream and they talk/fight about what happened the night before and maybe…kind of…realize they like each other?

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    This scene is such a blast! David Ivers (our director), Brian Vaughn (my ridiculously talented Georg) and I had so much fun staging this scene. It’s very physical—lots of physical comedy and timing to get right. I got to eat “ice cream” (in reality, a non-dairy coconut whipped topping) ​eight times a week and run around the stage, jumping on the bed like a crazy person. There was a lot of coordination to get it all right. Brian is such a fun, confident actor and I knew I could always throw anything his way and he would pick it up and run with it. And, David is such a smart and enthusiastic director; he wanted our staging and scene work to be fun and truthful and smart.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    What's is so beautiful about this scene is that you’ve watched these two characters hate each other for the whole show. They bicker and, eventually, say truly mean things to one another. But, here, they finally realize how much they complement one another. It’s a rather long scene actually and I love that the writers of this show trusted that two people onstage talking to one another and having revelations about their feelings can be so engaging and thrilling to watch. Plus, the scene ends with “Vanilla Ice Cream” and that’s just one of the best musical theatre soprano songs out there!

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

    Amalia in She Loves Me is a dream role for me. It’s a gem of a show and, dare I say, nearly perfect. I so appreciated David’s desire to not have the show be ONLY about the comedy. It’s a remarkably funny show, but the emotions of these characters are real and raw and heartbreaking at times. ​Our production didn’t shy away from that and I’m really proud of all of us for making that happen!