By Brian Robin
Director Hisa Takakuwa On Her Journey
Hisa Takakuwa remembers her first audition for A Christmas Carol. It was her first audition as a member of Actors Equity, the theatre actors’ union. She remembers reading for the part of Belle.
And she remembers not getting the role.
“Then, I did an educational touring production for SCR and came back the next year,” Takakuwa said. “I joined the cast in a different role—Sally and the Toy Lady—which I played for 14 years.”
From such humble beginnings, legacies are born. During her run playing Sally and the Toy Lady, Takakuwa became director of SCR’s Conservatory. That made her eventual move into the assistant director’s role a seamless one. And her 14 years there, honing her craft with longtime director John-David Keller, made last year’s transition to director equally as seamless.
A Christmas Carol runs Nov. 26-Dec. 24 on the Segerstrom Stage. This is the 42ndannual production for the Orange County holiday tradition.
It returns with SCR Founding Member Richard Doyle back in the top hat and scarf of Ebenezer Scrooge. It returns with several familiar actors in new roles, such as Larry Bates—who played Jacob Marley in previous productions—returning as Fred. Other SCR veterans debuting in the production include Elyse Mirto (Mrs. Cratchit), Preston Maybank (Bob Cratchit), Alicia Coca (Belle) and Eduardo Enrikez (Joe/Young Marley).
And it returns with Takakuwa not only aware of her role as shepherd of a beloved tradition, but with a comfort and a trust level with her cast that allows her to stretch her wings as a director. This means audiences will see a few new twists in this year’s production. Twists we’ll allow Takakuwa to describe without any spoiler alerts needed.
“We’re trying to freshen, spark and punctuate the Ghosts a little bit, explore the ghost story of A Christmas Carol,” she said. “We may have an exciting new prop we’re working with that will spark the Ghost arc. … We’re also trying to enhance the magic of the ghost scene and the power they do have over Scrooge and the power they don’t.”
When it comes to power, Takakuwa understands the power of this production as well as anyone. A strong believer in story and going where the story leads, she relishes the entire experience of being in the room with Doyle and the rest of the talented cast, including several of the children she’s mentored as Conservatory Director. There are 16 children in the cast, broken up in two teams of eight that alternate performances.
“My job is to help gather this amazing company of artists together and harness the creative potential they bring to A Christmas Carol,” she said. “That’s the exciting part of this. As a director, you have a strong idea what this story is about and how you feel about it. What kind of story are we trying to tell and how can we bring that to life?
“You go in with all these ideas and then you start from ground-zero, in a way, because when you bring all these artists in the room, you see what energies and talents they bring. And you work with certain designers because they’re bringing something to the story. You talk with them about the story. ‘This is what the story is about, what do you think the story is about’”
Takakuwa remembered a conversation she had with Lighting Designers Tom and Donna Ruzika, who handled lighting design for all 42 years of the run. She marveled as they told her about the evolution of technology in lighting standards and techniques over the show’s duration. The Ruzikas’ task is different in 2022 than it was in 1982 and Takakuwa loves the fact they carried their voice forward.
This illustrates how Takakuwa understands her role. Find talented artists and put them in positions that give them the best chance for creative success.
“I approach A Christmas Carol different than I approach something else. It’s a legacy production. It’s about honoring that legacy and nurturing and evolving that legacy to resonate in our community now,” she said. “The elements in the story that were powerful before are still powerful, but maybe in a slightly different way because of COVID, because of coming out of a pandemic and because people weren’t together in a community for a year-and-a-half.
“There are elements in the story about community, about being generous, about being patient and kind. They were always there, but they resonate to artists and audiences in different ways now.”
All of this took Takakuwa back on her own journey from first audition to winning a part she made her own for 14 years, to assistant directing to directing a production enjoyed by generations of families.
“I think the more mature I became as a person and as an artist, the more I want to trust a story, especially a classic like A Christmas Carol,” she said. “The more I want to trust the writer, both Charles Dickens and Jerry Patch—who wrote the adaptation—as guides. I have never been a writer or creator in that way … but the world of language is an exciting place for me.
“Hopefully, I’ve become more confident as a director. Working with the people in the Conservatory and directing here and in other places, I now bring an openness and confidence in the room that I probably wouldn’t have had 10 years ago.”