Friday, December 19, 2014

Discover Your Voice—As a Playwright

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Kristina Leach knows how to tell a story. Oh, boy, does she know how, and if you give her a few minutes of your time, she’ll tell you one.

And you’ll love it! Because Kristina is a born storyteller; in person or on paper, her words will grab your interest. Here’s the best part: she’s also a great listener. If you have a story to tell—and who doesn’t?—she wants to hear it.

So bring your story to Kristina’s new playwriting class.

It’s called “Discovering Your Voice:  An Introduction to Playwriting,” and it’s the newest addition to SCR’s Adult Program in the Theatre Conservatory. A class description and a short biography of Kristina are on the website. (There, you’ll discover her background at SCR as a literary associate and Pacific Playwrights Festival co-ordinator, as well as a teen and adult acting instructor.)

Because she’s so good at it, we’ve decided to let Kristina her tell students what to expect in her playwriting class, which starts on Monday, January 12th at 7:30 p.m.

According to Kristina, "You can either talk about it, or you can do it. But you can’t do both. Admit it, there’s a tale you’ve been thinking about telling. So let’s work on it, together. In my class, you will have time to write, hash it out and eventually finish the thing. Bring a notebook and something to write with—a pen, a pencil, a quill—and we’ll explore the ups and downs of creating something new. I’m also a firm believer in reading other works—so we’ll be taking a look at some scenes from new playwrights as well as some tried and true scribes. Don’t be afraid to tell your story—my classroom is an “applause only” environment. I look forward to meeting you!"

Register now

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Grads Look Back—As They Step Forward

Guy McEleney, center, with members of the boy band in Bliss, left to right Christopher Huntley, Jamie Ostmann, Guy, Kelsey Bray and Lauren Cocroft
It happens every year. High school seniors, who’ve attended acting classes at SCR since they were little kids, prepare to move on. As two of these young people get ready to take the next step in their lives, let’s look back at what they’ve achieved and what’s in store for the future.

Grace O’Brien, right, with Chaney Liberman, in Annie
Grace O’Brien first walked through SCR’s doors when she was in the third grade, and her parents signed her up for the Summer Acting Workshop—her initial step on a nine-year journey. “I grew up at SCR,” she says. “This has been my home, my stability and refuge in the craziness of life.”

Grace’s theatre experience included much more than just learning to act. She has taken from the program exactly what Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa hopes for every student. “It has benefitted me in all my studies, giving me new perspectives, introducing me to enlightening texts and teaching me the importance of self-discovery.”

Guy McEleney, who also entered the program through the Summer Theatre Workshop, shares Grace’s views. “SCR isn’t just about acting, singing, dancing, etc.,” he says. “It also teaches you how to be responsible, trustworthy and supportive in many ways.”

SCR audiences don’t see the process—the training that has helped these students through their formative years and made them freer, more confident, responsible and supportive young adults. But theatregoers have been able to witness the product—their work onstage.

“Grace remembers, “When I was ten, I’d look to the older Teen Players, wishing that one day I could be as brave, creative, experienced as they were.” Since then, she has appeared in five Players productions and portrayed both Cratchit daughters in A Christmas Carol, Belinda (2008) and Martha (2013).

Guy also appeared in A Christmas Carol, alternating in the role of Peter Cratchit in 2010, which turned out to be more than just a fun experience. “When I was in the show, I learned the responsibility of working with an adult cast,” he says. That experience also taught Guy to understand the emotion behind the text, which was particularly helpful last season, when, as a Teen Player, he had the opportunity to portray an original character in Bliss, a coming-of-age story by Laurie Woolery.

Performing with the Players allowed Guy and Grace to bring their classroom training onto the stage, maturing and developing as they moved from Junior to Teen Players. This spring, they’ll appear in their final Teen Players production, which Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa will announce in the next few weeks. (Stay tuned!) Meanwhile, they continue training in class twice a week.

 “As I was welcomed back into Players in September, I was overjoyed by the sight of my closest friends,” Guy says. “Under Hisa’s direction, I expect to continue learning how to work as an ensemble and what it means to become a character.”

And for the future?

“SCR has been a second home to me, with the students and teachers as an extended family,” says Guy, “Because of my training here, I’ve decided to major in theatre when I start college next fall.”
Grace also has chosen theatre as her major. “I’m sad to leave my ‘home’ behind as I continue my journey on to college,” she says. “But I know the lessons I’ve learned at SCR will be with me, guiding me to embrace the process, every step of the way.”

Karoline Ribak, another senior who’s moving on, recently talked with the Orange County Register during her run as Ebenezer Scrooge’s sister, Fan, in A Christmas Carol. See what Karolina had to say.

Learn more about classes on the SCR website.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bringing the Spirits of Christmas to Life

James MacEwan, Richard Doyle, Hal Landon Jr., Gregg Daniel and Timothy Landfield in the 2013 production of A Christmas Carol.
Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four spirits who aim to change his ways and save him from a lonely, haunted end. Each spirit enlightens Scrooge about what he needs most—from humanity to love to a warning of what could be.

Gregg Daniel as Jacob Marley's Ghost.
The Ghost of Jacob Marley

“Mankind was my business!  The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, patience, kindness were all my business!  And now, I cannot rest.”
  • Jacob Marley is the first spirit to visit Scrooge and warn him of his impending visits from the spirits of Past, Present and Yet-to-Come. He is punished to wander the Earth in chains for living a life full of avarice and uncaring attitude towards others. He warns Scrooge not only of what is to come but what he could become if he continues on his current path. Despite being the only spirit who personally knows Scrooge and the only friend he ever had, Marley is direct and as A Christmas Carol director John-David Keller puts it, “The least friendly.”
  • Jacob Marley’s chains represent the selfishness he exhibited in life. He unwittingly forged it through his many careless acts, "I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol) Jacob Marley died seven years before the events of A Christmas Carol.
  • Many adaptations have stayed true to the Dickens descritions. Although, in A Muppet Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley is split into two characters, Jacob and Robert, played by the heckling duo Statler and Waldof.

Hal Landon Jr. as Ebeneezer Scrooge and Richard Doyle as The Spirit of Christmas Past
Spirit of Christmas Past

“These are but shadows of the things that have been. They have no consciousness of us.”

The Spirit of Christmas Past is Scrooge’s second visitor that Keller believes, “Is there to reawaken Scrooge’s humanity.” This shows Scrooge who he once was and the moments that have led him to be the curmudgeon he is. In the original novel, the spirit is described as a childlike figure with an illuminated head—similar to a candle—that is ever changing in number of arms and legs. The light it omits is often thought to represent the illumination of the mind the spirit presents to Scrooge.
  • Due to the unique description of this spirit, many adaptations have interpreted the look and characterization of the spirit differently.
  • In SCR’s production, the wand the spirit carries acts as a representation of the illuminating light that Dickens describes in his novel. His costume is also from an earlier time period.
  • The Spirit of Christmas Past has been interpreted as elderly men, angelic women, children and even as a cab driver in the movie adaptation Scrooged.
  • In a 2009 movie of A Christmas Carol the Spirit of Christmas Past receives an adaptation faithful to its Dickens description.

Timothy Landfield as The Spirit of Christmas Present and Landon as Scrooge
Spirit of Christmas Present

“They know me wherever they hum a Christmas tune, or have a Christmas thought, or remember some bygone Christmas Day and the hopes that went with it.”

Jolly, giant and only able to exist for a single year’s Christmas, the Spirit of Christmas Present offers Scrooge the idea of empathy and community. “He shows Scrooge what he is missing. The other aspect of life he needs,” Keller says. The spirit guides Scrooge to both moments of joy and festivity as well as moments of hardship. At the end of their journey he presents two children to Scrooge, Ignorance and Want. He warns him to beware of them and at the stroke of midnight fades away.
  • The Ghost of Christmas present represents many of the Christmas ideals including generosity, empathy and celebration.
  • He is typically first seen on a throne of a large feast in Scrooge’s home to further illustrate the idea of sharing one’s riches with the community.
  • In Dickens’ novel he is able to freely change size and towers over Scrooge when they meet.

James MacEwan as The Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come and Landon and Scrooge.
Spirit of Christmas Yet-To-Come

“Spirit, I know that I, like all men, must die—but not having lived as I have! Not alone, unmourned, so poor in heart.”

A silent specter that leads Scrooge on his final journey through a Christmas that could occur if he continues on his path. A cold spirit who is reminiscent of the grim reaper, that offers Scrooge two forms of grief and as Keller puts it, “Who forces him to figure it out on his own.” The final moment with the spirit thrusts an awakening upon Scrooge and reinforces the idea that he shouldn’t waste time.
  • The Spirit does not utter one line and simply points Scrooge towards his answers. J.D. believes, “He says nothing but at the same time says the most.”
  • In the novel, Dickens does not refer to this character as a spirit or ghost like the previous two. He simply refers to it as a “phantom.”
  • Scrooge is quick to dismiss the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present initially. When the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come arrives, he is quick to seek its message and even begs mercy from it at the end of their journey.
  • His interaction with the final spirit shows how much Scrooge has learned from his vistors.
Act now and get your tickets to A Christmas Carol before the spirits visit you!

Learn more and buy tickets now.

Dynamic Cast Breathes Life into "The Whipping Man"

THE CAST:  Jarrod M. Smith, Charlie Robinson and Adam Haas Hunter.
Award-winning veteran performers and a new talent making his professional stage debut form the cast for The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez. Stage, screen and television actor Charlie Robinson last appeared at SCR as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He has received accolades and awards, including the NAACP’s Theatre Image Award for Best Actor in a Play for The Old Globe’s production of The Whipping Man. Adam Haas Hunter is making his SCR debut. He has earned or been nominated for numerous awards, including Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Ovation awards and has done extensive theatre work regionally. Jarrod M. Smith is making his professional debut, having fallen in love with acting while he pursued a history degree in college. But there’s more to each of these actors; read on to learn more about them.

Adam Haas Hunter (Caleb) is making his SCR debut. He is the co-founder of Poor Dog Group, an L.A.-based arts collective. He theatre credits include The Importance of Being Earnest and Cymbeline at A Noise Within; Prometheus Bound at the Getty Villa; The Nether at Kirk Douglas Theatre; The Government Inspector and Dark Play or Stories for Boys at The Theater @ Boston Court; The Walworth Farce at Theatre Banshee; Medea at UCLA Live; and Romeo i Julia 1968 with Ulysses Theatre in Croatia, to name a few. His appearances with Poor Dog Group include Brewsie and Willie (part of RADAR LA), The Internationalists and The Midnight Sun. Hunter has won or been nominated for Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly and Garland awards. He is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts.

Charlie Robinson (Simon) is becoming a well-known face on SCR stages. His work at SCR includes The Piano Lesson; My Wandering Boy; Fences, which earned him a 2006 Ovation Award for his portrayal of Troy; and Jitney, which earned him a Los Angeles Drama Critics award nomination for his portrayal of Becker. He is the proud recipient of the NAACP’s Theatre Image Award for Best Actor in a Play for The Old Globe’s production of The Whipping Man. Another theatre home has been Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He is best known for his television credits, as a series regular in “Night Court,” “Buffalo Bill,” “Love & War” and “Buddy Faro.” He has had recurring television roles in “Home Improvement,” “The Secret Life of an American Teenager,” and “Hart of Dixie.” His guest roles include “House,” “Big Love” and “Cold Case.” He is the CAMIE Award-winner for the made-for-television movies Miss Lettie and Me and Secret Santa. His feature film credits include Apocalypse Now, The River, Gray Lady Down, Beowulf, Set It Off, Antwone Fisher, Even Money, Jackson, Steam, Natural Disasters, Sweet Kandy and House Bunny.

Jarrod Smith (John) is making his South Coast Repertory and professional debut. He is an actor from LaPlace, La., a suburb right outside of New Orleans. Smith attended and graduated from Southern University of Baton Rouge with a bachelor of arts in history in 2011. In 2008, while at Southern, he took an interest in acting, and was immediately bitten by the acting bug. His interest and talents soon led him to the training grounds of the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he worked towards a master of fine arts. Smith now resides in Los Angeles.

Learn more and buy tickets.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Frontline Faces of South Coast Repertory

Volunteer ushers working at SCR's concession stand.
They’re the ones who scan your ticket as you enter the lobby. They help you find your seat. They sell you that cookie that you eyed. South Coast Repertory’s team of ushers is dedicated to making your experience as comfortable as possible. By day, they are doctors, teachers, ministers and retirees; by night, they’re dedicated volunteers. For SCR playgoers, they’re the familiar faces that have become part of a great night out at the theatre.

Why do they take on this role? Because they find a personal satisfaction in helping patrons. That’s what keeps them coming back to volunteer—some of them for nearly 20 years. A true love and appreciation for theatre—and SCR’s work in particular—adds to the satisfaction. Remember, ushers get to see the show for free!

For many of them, ushering began on a whim. “A veteran usher I met recommended I sign up, and I found the SCR team to be warm and accommodating,” says current usher John Nguyen. What starts off as quick conversation soon becomes an experience that flourishes through a love of theatre. Ushers begin to meet patrons who share the same appreciation for theatre and over time they begin to learn more about the patrons personally, which can quickly build connections that form a sense of community. Husband-and-wife ushers of 19 years, Stephen and Nanci Schrieber-Smith, see their roles in a specific way.

“We like to think that ushers are the ambassadors for SCR and that it can even be interesting for the patrons to meet us,” says Stephen. “We would encourage other people to stretch their horizons from ‘just their job’ lives and become ushers to see great plays and meet great patrons.” It fuels their work and brings both the ushers and patrons together. It’s an energy that can be electrifying.

Duane Legg has been ushering for nearly a year and can feel how this energy binds the team together, “There is an excitement that permeates the theatre as we prepare the programs, lobby and the house for patrons. When our team of ushers works together to help make a memorable and professional experience for the audience, we take satisfaction in knowing that we had a small part in making magic happen.”

That’s all they need. Meeting other theatre lovers, talking about each production and experiencing the unique response each audience member brings to every performance. That excitement and magic can be found in moments such as watching children experience a live performance for the first time through the Theatre for Young Audiences series or catching up with the regulars at SCR. Ushers discover that they become an important element in the productions at SCR.

John Nguyen, who began ushering on a whim, sums up his volunteer work as an experience that continually gives back. “Being an usher at SCR is one of the few great volunteer opportunities where you actually get something back the moment you show up to volunteer. And SCR is a wonderful place to meet new like-minded people. Whether you love theatre or simply like it, as an SCR volunteer usher, you are bound to learn more about the inner workings of this grand tradition.”

Interested in ushering? Go online to our website or email usher@scr.org to get details and volunteer your time.