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By Brian Robin

Honorary Producers Experience the Story Behind the Story

Nothing in Steve Duncan’s life experiences included “eyewitness to the Iranian Revolution.” Neither Kristen Griggs, nor her husband, Adrian, have “building a life as an ex-pat in Los Angeles” in their backgrounds.

But playwright Michael Shayan’s mother did, which Shayan turned into avaaz, his hilarious, yet poignant, story about his mother’s odyssey from Iran to a new life in America.

avaaz was one of the featured readings of the 2022 PPF and the Duncans and Griggses were four of the event’s Honorary Producers. This year, as avaaz returns as one of the productions anchoring the 2023 PPF, the Duncans and Griggses join Peter and Joy Sloan, Julia Voce and Jean and Tim Weiss as Honorary PPF Producers.

As Honorary Producers, the Duncans and Griggses had the opportunity to sit down with Shayan and the other playwrights and listen to how they write the plays everyone enjoys.

“The personal interaction with the playwrights, getting to talk to them about their journey as playwrights and with that particular play they’re working with, it makes it so much more real and rich to know the back story and to get to know each of them,” Kristen Griggs said. “When we are at these events before the reading, seeing the interaction between the playwrights is just magical.”

Kristen and Adrian Griggs came on as PPF Honorary Producers in 2019, one year after Adrian joined the SCR Board of Trustees, where he currently chairs the Finance Committee. He said he and his wife decided to support PPF because of not only the play creation process, but what goes on during the reading.

“When you’re at a reading, it’s almost better than the play itself,” he said. “You’re listening to the words and you are shaping on your mind what’s happening. If someone’s going up a staircase, you have your own view of what that staircase is like and the environment they’re in. The fact you get that close to it and engage in it in that way is pretty amazing.”

Duncan, the current board president, is in his third year supporting PPF. A devotee of the new plays SCR is famous for producing, Duncan too is fascinated by the process. Duncan finds sitting in on a rehearsal, talking to the playwrights at the honorary producers dinner with the playwrights and seeing how the words jump off the page so interesting that he and his wife are bringing their two grown sons to this year’s PPF.

“The idea you can go and see actors who spend only a couple of days with the material and watching them convey without costumes, without any sets what the playwright is trying to get across is amazing. If you’ve never seen a reading, it’s amazing to see that happen,” Duncan said.

Like the Griggses, Duncan enjoyed chatting with Shayan at last year’s dinner, where he remembered another reason he and his wife support PPF.

“We get the opportunity to think about things we never expected to think about,” Duncan said. “I don’t have the experience of leaving Iran when the Shah was overturned, but to be able to experience that a little bit as an observer broadens my perspectives. It’s fun, entertaining and energizing. Not every play rings like that, but when it does, you get a chance to learn something you didn’t know before.”

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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