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By Brian Robin

Tackling An Epic Challenge—Directing An Epic Journey

As debut directorial projects go, SCR Artistic Director David Ivers could have chosen something less complex for Kim Martin-Cotten. All the moving parts: the music, the demanding casting of multi-skilled actors who are also musicians and puppets, illustrate that directing Outside SCR’s production of The Old Man and The Old Moon at Mission San Juan Capistrano will require every ounce of her theatrical experience and knowledge.

But Ivers and Martin-Cotten were literally on a mission. For the first SCR play she would direct, Martin-Cotten—SCR’s associate artistic director—wanted that challenge. She wanted to direct an adventure that provided her the same. In The Old Man and The Old Moon by Pigpen Theatre Co., running July 20-Aug. 11 at the Mission, she found that adventure.

“(SCR Artistic Director) David Ivers and I have been looking for a project for a while, but I’ve been primarily needed as an artistic producer, so this is the first time I’ve been free to direct a project here,” she said. “We were talking about finding a piece for Outside SCR that was music-driven and something that could be appealing to audiences of all ages.

“As we were discussing a number of plays, I recalled that PigPen Theatre Co. had a piece that was an adventure story filled with music that could be done beautifully in the Mission. I thought the size and the scope of the magical fun of the adventure could meet the magic of the environment that is ingrained in that historic setting.”

Martin-Cotten’s previous setting before she came to SCR—Kansas City—introduced her to The Old Man and The Old Moon. Kansas City Repertory, where Martin-Cotten previously held the positions of Artistic Producer and Associate Director of New Works, was one of numerous theatres producing the work. It checked all of the boxes Martin-Cotten and Ivers were looking for in a summer production. Now, it came to how to cast a play that requires its performers to go above and beyond the triple-threat.

“This play is the onstage musicianship of Once meets the physical humor of Peter and the Starcatcher meets the physical athleticism of Moby Dick,” Martin-Cotten said. “I needed to have seven performers who were all super musicians and could play multiple instruments, shapeshifters who could play different characters and people who were physically able to do things that are acrobatic. It took time, but it was an exciting collaboration with a music director who is also a performer in the piece (Matt MacNelly).

“We met with people who came from different places around the country, but who had the ability to play music and could step into a troupe of actors who needed to very quickly seem like they’ve been playing music and telling stories together forever.”

Fortunately, Martin-Cotten had a deep bench to call upon. Five of the seven actors—Jess Andrews, Tommy Beck, Armando Gutierrez, Matt MacNelly and Joe Ngo—were all SCR veterans. All but Andrews were in SCR plays featuring music. Talented musicians and SCR newcomers Alex Lydon and Ana Marcu—who plays six instruments overall and four in the production--complete the cast.

With that cast in the fold, Martin-Cotten approached the direction in stages, or “layers,” as she called it. Week one of rehearsal started with the musical element. The movement and puppets—fabricated and designed by Martin-Cotten’s brother, Matt—were introduced in the second week. Matt Cotten is an accomplished puppet fabricator who brings 20 years of experience in the craft to the production. The next two weeks, including tech week, will focus bringing in the remaining pieces and integrating the sets, costumes, lights and sound effects to create an epic production.

“We have to start with the music, because we have to anchor the songs and underscoring into the story, so they get stronger and stronger throughout the weeks we have to build the production,” she said. “We also have to decide who needs to play what instrument during each section of storytelling.”

During the movement layer, Martin-Cotten and the cast will also learn how to integrate eight puppets—and counting. As of now, Cotten’s puppet creations are a boy, a dog, three or four ships, a house, seagulls and a goose. There are two dimensional puppets, hand puppets and a bit of Bunraku—a 17th-century, traditional Japanese puppet art form.

Martin-Cotten understood her role in integrating those puppets, that music and that gifted cast into an enjoyable production. But along with that, came an understanding of the demands on her creative team. She repeatedly praised the production's creative team that sees the epic nature of creating an epic nightly journey as the same welcome challenge she does. She relished what she called a “collective conversation that pulls us into the excitement of creating a world.”

It’s a world she’s patiently waited to create.

"I have been looking forward to directing at SCR since I joined the staff two summers ago and it's always a joy to collaborate with a team of excellent artists on bringing a script to life. It’s been something David and I have been talking about for a long time and I’m thrilled it’s happening now,” she said. “Being able to direct in a beautiful, outdoor location is truly a delight. I believe it’s the kind of event that will be fun for young people and their parents.”

See how Martin-Cotten and The Old Man and The Old Moon cast and creative team create that world. Tickets are available at the SCR Box Office or at

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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