By Brian Robin
Engage in a Variety of Ways
H. Adam Harris knew going into this Actor Talk that something interesting was forthcoming. At Actor Talks inquisitive audience members ask questions to outgoing actors. But even Harris and his usually attuned radar never expected what came from the Actor Talk for last winter’s What I Learned in Paris.
Harris, SCR’s Artistic/Audience Engagement Associate, was moderating a post-show chat with actor Erika LaVonn, who played Eve Madison in the romantic comedy. The conversation took a turn that turned Harris’ head.
“What was really profound for me was there was a lot of vulnerability from Erika LaVonn. She shared some personal details in her life and how it really made her connect with the character,” Harris remembered. “In return, an audience member shared some intimate details about her life. It went beyond the actor on the stage and really landed in a place where people were communicating how a piece of literature helped them unpack and discuss a personal trauma in a positive way.
“Some of the best talkbacks are when people see themselves in the characters on stage. It’s like ‘I saw this play and it made me think about this.’ I think that’s very, very special.”
You never know when one of these very special moments will arise from one of SCR’s post-show discussions, which give theatergoers the opportunity to not only engage with the actors, directors and creative team about their crafts, but open the curtain to how theatre is made.
SCR offers a variety of ways for theatregoers to engage and learn about the art of theatre. The varying subjects and programs are offered for every play this season, except Snow White and A Christmas Carol.
The most in-depth is Inside the Season, a 90-minute session taking place on a Saturday morning before a matinee performance. It’s a crash course in theatre, taught by professionals giving you a front-row seat into the process.
“This is an opportunity for folks to ask questions and engage with the play and the making of theatre in a way you don’t get with any other engagement opportunity,” said Harris, who moderates Inside the Season. “With that much time, you’re hearing from someone directly connected with the show and someone directly connected with theatre. You learn about the craft of theatre and the making of theatre, at the same time you’re learning about the play. Everything is interactive and intimate.”
The Inside the Season for Nina Simone: Four Women is Saturday, Oct. 15 at 10:30 a.m.
The other engagement sessions take place after evening performances. They generally run for 25 minutes and follow a specific focus.
The first of these is the Director/Designer Conversation, These are generally held during preview performances at the beginning of a run, because the directors and designers are no longer in residence after a play officially opens. They are exactly as advertised: directors and designers talking about how they direct and design while in the process of directing and designing. There will not be a Director/Designer Conversation for Nina Simone: Four Women.
There are the Actor Talks. They too, are as advertised: discussions with one or more of the actors in that production. The two Nina Simone: Four Women Actor Talks are Wednesday, Oct. 12 and Sunday, Oct. 16.
“That’s the classic thing that people think about when they think about a post-show conversation,” Harris said. “You hear directly from the actors: what they think is valuable. What their process is like. You’re hearing from some really talented actors from all over the country.”
For Performance Perspectives, Harris brings in a local expert who is fluent about one particular element of the play. For example, Harris brought in two family therapists for the Performance Perspective at last season’s A Shot Rang Out. They discussed the trauma present in the play regarding the post-pandemic isolation and how the character—played by SCR Artistic Director David Ivers—handled it. The Nina Simone: Four Women Performance Perspective follows the Thursday, Oct. 20 performance.
“I pick a theme, based on what the play is about, then I say, ‘Where can I find an expert in that theme?'” Harris said. “… Normally, I’m reading articles and asking myself, ‘What’s the theme of the play?' Then, I try to find a local expert, ideally from Orange County, to talk about it, calling on their background.”
The final engagement program is The Deep Dive. This gives audience members the opportunity to speak candidly about what they liked and what they didn’t like about the play, without members of the cast or creative team present. The Nina Simone: Four Women Deep Dive is Wednesday, Oct. 19.
“I’m always inspired when people tell stories about their lives,” Harris said. “Very often, those aren’t connected to the play itself. The power of theatre is it unlocks catharsis. What happens in the post-show conversations is you get an opportunity to process that experience. When you’re processing that, the story you were told on stage makes you think of another story in your life.
“Zora Neale Hurston said ‘Tell a story, get a story in return.’ What happens in the post-show conversations is you were told a story and you ended up giving a story in return. What you discover are plays, regardless of focus, unlock something people feel and offer that thing up in a way they might not have offered it up before. For me, that’s the most profound thing.”