Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Bizarre Love Triangle

Hannah Vassallo and Dominic Marsh in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult.
Want to Know Even More?

If you just can’t get enough of this legendary love story—here are some further reading and viewing options:
Kneehigh’s own take on itself. Visit the company website.

"If this show doesn't make you fall in love with theatre, there's no potion on Earth that can help you." The Guardian (UK)
Chances are you’ve heard music from Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. Even just the first 12 minutes might ring a bell or two, with its sad, sweeping melody that mixes with the longing of the strings and the foreboding wind section.

If you’re attending a performance of Kneehigh’s adaptation of Tristan & Yseult expecting to see a dusty old opera, you might go home disappointed. The production you will see is the literal definition of “spectacular.”

First, you’ll need to forget what you know about the actual story of Tristan and Yseult. Wait. You don’t know about Tristan and Yseult? Well, pull up a chair.

Mike Shepherd, Hannah Vassallo, Kirsty Woodward and Dominic Marsh.
There are several versions of the Tristan and Yseult legend to choose from; however, the story always starts with an uncle, a nephew and a pretty girl. After defeating an Irish knight, Tristan goes to Ireland to bring back the fair Yseult for his uncle, King Mark, to marry. Along the way, Tristan and Yseult ingest a love potion which causes the pair to fall madly in love, thus making things a tad bit … well … awkward.

In Other Words: Reviewers Love Kneehigh

New York Times
“Tristan & Yseult” is equal parts exaggerated whimsy and overwhelming rue. It presents romantic passion as a force that makes lovers levitate (and I mean literally) and then sends them crashing to the earth.

New York Daily News
The British Kneehigh Theatre company puts its vivid and inventive stamp on a legendary story of star-crossed love.
If this story sounds familiar, it might be because Tristan and Yseult is a precursor to the renowned tale of the Knights of Round Table. Remember The Lady of the Lake with Lancelot and Guinevere? This is a love triangle that is just as juicy as the Arthurian tales of old.

Setting this adaptation of Tristan and Yseult's bizarre love triangle apart from all other incarnations of the story is Kneehigh itself. You'll see for yourself in their performances at SCR. Kneehigh describes themselves as having “built a reputation for creating vigorous and popular theatre for audiences throughout the UK and beyond..” And with their critically acclaimed production of Tristan & Yseult (originally created in 2004), Kneehigh launched itself onto the international stage.

In their words: “This is the original tale of forbidden desires, broken hearts and the agony of choosing one human being over another. Seen through the eyes of the 'Unloved', Tristan & Yseult blends comedy, live music, grand passion and tender truths, in an irresistible night of love.”

The New York Daily News had high praise for this production:
"The visually and emotionally intoxicating “Tristan & Yseult” takes you on a journey, which, as love itself often does, goes from happy hijinks to hapless heartache."
This highly inventive, electrically charged account of love gone wrong has toured internationally, making American stops at major theatres including Berkeley Repertory, the Guthrie Theatre and St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York. Blending acrobatics, live music and unconventional story-telling, Kneehigh’s production is an exhilarating take on a vintage yarn. So, come in, sit down and join us in the Club of the Un-Loved. We guarantee you’ll never look at love (requited or otherwise) the same way again.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

First Night Audience Deeply Moved by "The Whipping Man"

On Friday, January 9th, First Nighters and their guests gave The Whipping Man a rousing—and sincerely felt—standing ovation.

But the enthusiasm didn’t end with their applause. Playgoers had the opportunity to talk about the gripping drama with its artists (including Director Martin Benson and actors Charlie Robinson, Adam Haas Hunter and Jarrod M. Smith) during the Cast Party, co-hosted by Antonello Ristorante.

The Honorary Producers (Barbara Roberts & Brooke Roberts-Webb and Mary Beth Adderley) weren’t able to attend First Night but will have the opportunity to see the play and congratulate the artists soon. Until then, First Night conversation was glowing, as were the reviews which followed.
  • “A powerhouse … anchored by two crucial ingredients—compassion and … faith.”—OC Register
  • “Exceptionally riveting drama … Richly structured, depth-layered performances.”—Huntington Beach Independent
  • “Multi-dimensional story…brought to life in incredibly dynamic ways.”— Splash

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

"The Whipping Man": Milestone Production for Composer Michael Roth

Michael Roth
Roth’s Moments—Fond Theatre Memories

“It’s not so much that I have favorite shows, as much as there are moments from a lot of productions that I remember where all of the elements—including what I was doing—worked really well together and created a moment that was unique.” Those theatre moments for Roth include (in chronological order, with some of his thoughts):
John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman in
Man and Superman, 1990.

Man and Superman George Bernard Shaw, 1990-91) – “At the end of the first act, as a prelude to Don Juan in Hell, I used Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” as the cast danced offstage, leaving Jack Tanner alone, to end the act. It rocked in a pretty great way, and was funny and sort of eerily beautiful, too.”

The Education of Randy Newman (Randy Newman, Michael Roth, Jerry Patch, 1999-2000): “We developed a piece that Randy was very much a part of and it continued beyond SCR. Randy learned a lot about theatre working with us, for which I know he’s grateful, and personally, I got to play two hours of rock’n’roll piano every night. The play was called by a reviewer, ‘a graduate course in what songwriting can do, and how smart theatre people can make ideas into events that move, amuse, and engage us.’”

Mr. Marmalade (Noah Haidle, 2003-04): “I recorded the score, as I often do, with my dear friend the great guitarist Peter Sprague, at his studio. Peter, when he recorded the first guitar part, counted himself in, saying, ‘One, two, three.’ It sounded so perfect for the play to have someone count and then start to play that we kept it, and it started and ended the play itself—I loved it so much, I’ve used if for a few other projects as well, though none so special as the world premiere of Mr. Marmalade.”

Sight Unseen, Dinner With Friends, Brooklyn Boy (Donald Margulies, 1991-92, 1998-99, 2004-05): “Three world premieres, two directed by Daniel Sullivan, and all of them moved to Broadway or off-Broadway. I’m very proud to have written the scores and collaborated with Donald and Dan.”

Nothing Sacred (George F. Walker, 2006-7): “I translated the stage directions into Russian, and the cast sang them as change of scene music. At the end, the stage direction says the characters are “Sitting, chuckling, eating apples—blackout.” I had the two actors sing those words in Russian, and somehow it did communicate a sense of their going on (and the Russian Revolution maybe). Music can do that.”

Misalliance (George Bernard Shaw, 2010-11): “There’s a plane crash just off stage, and using the sound of a lawn mower and embellishing it slowly (with the help of LCS), I almost made you think an old plane traveled slowly from the parking structure, entered the Segerstrom house left, traveled across the stage and slammed into a crash box off stage left—a pure sound design moment, not bad.”

The Whale, Rest (Samuel D. Hunter, 2012-13, 2013-14): Roth is proud of his recent work on two Samuel D. Hunter productions, The Whale and Rest. Roth was delighted to find out that Hunter had studied music composition and was sensitive to how contemporary musical choices could deepen the impact of his play. “My music and sound is heavily influenced by American composer John Cage—his use of silence and how elements sound all go into a composition. Sam was very appreciative of the Cagean elements of my score for The Whale, especially the prepared piano. In Rest, the sound of the door was a realistic sound element that took on almost iconic importance. I actually filmed what an automatic door would do, foleyed the sound and showed the new film to Martin.”
Michael Roth sits in a room with keyboards, multiple computer screens and even more equipment set up in South Coast Repertory’s recording studio. He’s composing the music and sound for The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez, directed by Martin Benson; it is Roth's 55th production at SCR over a quarter-century.

American Theatre Magazine described Roth's work—including his chamber music, opera and music and theatre, film, and more than 200 projects for theatre—as “music one could imagine Charles Ives composing had he lived long enough to encounter rock-and-roll and beat poetry.” Roth’s many projects include work with PBS, Disney, Canada’s Stratford Festival, collaborations with Culture Clash, Sarah Ruhl, Des McAnuff, accompanying Alicia Keyes, Tom Stoppard, two recent projects with Christopher Plummer (The Tempest and Plummer's one-man show, A Word or Two), and many projects with Randy Newman, including their acclaimed SCR collaboration, The Education of Randy Newman (2000), for which Roth was music director, arranger and pianist.

“I am a composer who creates and exploits a lot of sound in my work, so I don’t see them as separate jobs; sound is always a ‘musical gesture.’” Roth adds, “Thrilling as it is to work as often as I have with great directors, actors and designers, the most joyous part of what I do is to get to work with great musicians. They bring a skill set, imagination, and passion to every note you write that inspires and never ceases to amaze me.”

SCR is a special place for Roth—it’s where he first got to work with a computerized sound system back in 1988, when Benson directed Roth’s first SCR production—the award-winning production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It included a 30-minute pre-show where Roth changed the “sound picture every 30 seconds. That was the first time I was able use the computer as a compositional tool in a theatre space, something we pretty much take for granted nowadays.”

Kandis Chappell and James Sutorias in SCR's 1988
production of The Crucible.
Roth adds, “Martin and I have such a good relationship, and I'm grateful that he trusts me to bring a certain sensitivity to what he’s working on.”

Benson enjoys working with Roth, saying, ‘Michael is a gifted composer and musician who does fabulous work. I appreciate that when his work calls for music, he brings live musicians into the studio to record.”

Roth’s work often has caught the attention of Orange County Register theatre critic Paul Hodgins. “Michael’s stylistic range is astounding,” Hodgins says. “He shows a chameleon-like ability to create a score that is perfect for the context.”

Libby West, Sue Cremin and Rob Nagle in SCR's 2014
production of Rest.
For The Whipping Man, Roth has been intrigued by several characteristics.

“For example, in the play, it’s raining all the time, so I had to find ways for the rain to be present without being a distraction. And there are the Jewish themes in the play, as well the Civil War—all of these come together in the score, including the use of the Shofar, recorded voices, strings, trumpet, and piano—all in the rain.”

Roth worked tirelessly in SCR’s studio for The Whipping Man, using the multiple keyboards—computer and musical—in the room.

“When I’m not doing a gig somewhere, I try to compose as much as I can every day. That is what I really like and it's my job—to write,” he says.

He’s never one to be still for long. Roth’s upcoming projects include a chamber music/theatre treatment of Beckett’s Imagination Dead Imagine—which he describes as “my most personal piece, Beckett himself gave me permission to set his text”—a sonata for toy piano, to be premiered in LA in the spring, and a new opera for YouTube.

Find out more information about Roth and his work online. http://rothmusik.wix.com/rothmusik

Learn more and buy tickets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Meet the Cast of "Tristan & Yseult"

The cast, with Kristy Woodward center, in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult. Photo by Richard Termine.
Hannah Vassallo and Dominic Marsh in Tristan & Yseult.  Photo by Richard Termine.
Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult is an imaginative retelling of the Cornish love myth of the same name. Live music, dance, aerial acrobatics and sharp wit come together in this wildly ambitious production. And, with so many diverse elements in the show, it’s only fitting that the cast reflects the same diversity.

Tristan & Yseult teems with talent; its international cast of actors and musicians has resumes that span many different artistic forms. Whether in original works, theatre, dance, television or film, they all flex their creative talents and bring varied experiences to shape Tristan & Yseult. Best of all, each is making his or her SCR debut this month!

Niall Ashdown (Morholt, Brangian) is an actor/writer/performer with an extensive background in improvised theatre and comedy. His stage work includes regular guest appearances with London’s Comedy Store Players, improvising operas with Impropera, and as part of Improbable’s Animo and Lifegame. He has written and performed two solo shows, Hungarian Bird Festival and The Man Who Would Be Sting. On television, Ashdown has been seen in a number of shows, including “Whose Line Is it Anyway?” He has written to the poems from A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad. 

Damon Daunno (Frocin) is an actor musician of New Jersey and a graduate from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is thrilled to be making his first appearance at South Coast Repertory. His other Kneehigh shows include Brief Encounter and The Wild Bride. He is a multi-instrumentalist and composer and has scored feature length and short films. His original music can be found on iTunes.

Tom Jackson Greaves (Lovespotter, Brute and Animator) was born in Cornwall and trained at Laban and London Contemporary Dance School. His performance credits include extensive touring for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures including Cinderella, Nutcracker!, the 25th anniversary tour of Early Adventures and most recently the principal role of Carabosse/Caradoc in the worldwide tour of Sleeping Beauty. Greaves also has created his own dance-theatre work, including Seven Deadly Sins and Vanity Fowl. He was a winner of the New Adventures Choreographic Award 2012, and is a member of the dance faculty at the Musical Theatre Academy. 

RĂ³bert Luckay (Lovespotter, Brute and Animator) received his training at the University of Arts in Bratislava, Slovakia. His theatre credits include Aloysius Mogarich in Master and Margarita, The Red Shoes (Kneehigh), The Overcoat (Gecko Theatre), A Matter of Life and Death (NT/Kneehigh), Iachimo in Cymbeline (Royal Shakespeare Company/Kneehigh), Pericles in Pericles and Adam in Man Falling Down (Globe) and Dionysus in The Bacchae (Kneehigh). His film and television credits include Mission Impossible 5, “Foreign John,” “Strike Back” and the radio program “Solo Behind The Iron Curtain.”

Dominic Marsh (Tristan) has numerous theatre credits, including Macheath in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) (Kneehigh), Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice (Bury St. Edmunds), The Actor in The Woman in Black (West End), Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Prince Charming in Cinderella (Oxford Playhouse) and Jonathan Harker in Dracula (Derby Playhouse). His film and television credits include Lucky Stiff and “DCI Banks.” In collaboration with Dougal Irvine, Marsh recently wrote the book for The Other School, a new musical commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre.

Mike Shepherd (King Mark) started Kneehigh in 1980 and has worked almost exclusively for the company ever since. He is an actor, director and teacher and has an ongoing preoccupation with the conditions of creativity. He is currently joint artistic director with Emma Rice and most recently directed Kneehigh’s new version of The Beggar’s Opera, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). His recent shows as an actor include Tristan & Yseult, The Red Shoes, Cymbeline, A Matter of Life and Death, Steptoe and Son and the film, Anna Karenina. His recent work as a director includes Hansel and Gretel and A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (with Little Angel Theatre). Shepherd portrays a pirate in the forthcoming movie, Pan.

Hannah Vassallo (Yseult) received her training at Rambert School. She has been a principal dancer for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and has performed and created numerous roles at Sadlers Wells in London, throughout the UK and internationally. Her theatre credits include Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Clara in Nutcracker and Kim Boggs in Edward Scissorhands. She also has performed in London’s West End, including the leading role of Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing. Earlier this year, Vassallo was nominated by the Critics Circle National Dance Awards for Outstanding Female Performance for the role of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.

Kirsty Woodward (Whitehands) received her training at National Youth Theatre and Kneehigh. She has worked with Kneehigh in Cymbeline, Rapunzel, A Matter of life and Death, Blast, Midnight’s Pumpkin and Steptoe and Son. Her other theatre work includes Stuart, A Life Backwards (Hightide), The Way of the World (Sheffield Crucible), Beauty and The Beast (Told by an Idiot), A Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, The Grainstore, American Trade and Romeo & Juliet (Royal Shakespeare Company). 

Stu Barker (Musician) has worked extensively as composer/musical director with Kneehigh Theatre over the last 20 years. His shows include A Matter Of Life And Death and Tristan & Yseult (Royal National Theatre), Brief Encounter (Broadway/West End), Cymbeline (Royal Shakespeare Company), Hansel and Gretel (Bristol Old Vic), The Bacchae and The Wooden Frock (West Yorkshire Playhouse), The Red Shoes (Lyric Hammersmith), The Wild Bride, Rapunzel and Midnight Pumpkin (BAC) and Pandora’s Box (Northern Stage). Recently, Barker has been touring as trombonist with C. W. Stoneking & His Primitive Horn Orchestra.

James Gow (Musician) is a multi-instrumentalist and composer from Kent who earned a BA in music from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Outside of theatre, he performs with Cocos Lovers, as well as other Kent- and London-based bands, including the genre-hopping jazz-fusion group Lunch Money. Tristan & Yseult is Gow’s third show with Kneehigh, following tours of Brief Encounter and Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other Love Songs). Most recently, he appeared as Glowworm in James & the Giant Peach (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

Pat Moran (Musician) has composed original music and lyrics for over a dozen professional theater productions and served as resident composer/lyricist/music director for the San Francisco Mime Troupe from 2007-13. He recently performed as a multi-instrumentalist in the world premiere of An Audience With Meow Meow last year at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Originally from Boston, he received an MFA performer-composer degree from the California Institute for the Arts and a BFA in philosophy with a concentration in ethics and public policy from Clark University. He has been an artist-in-residence at universities including the University of San Francisco, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Cal State Fresno.

Justin Lee Radford (Musician) is a Cornish-born composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and writer. As a child, he was taught music by his father and has since busked and played his way across the lands, enjoying international touring and festival stages. He also composes for film, poetry and installations as a member of the Human Suits Collective. He assists in musical workshops aimed towards empowering local children, and writes and produces music for other artists. He has just finished a UK tour of Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs). 

Lizzy Westcott (Musician) has scored and musical-directed for several shows with the Bristol Old Vic and the Bike Shed Theatre; she is co-director for the Bristol-based company Twisted Theatre. Westcott performs with Eleven Magpies, a quartet featuring original music by Kneehigh’s Ian Ross, and is co-directing Death and Treason, Rhyme and Reason, a song-cycle for adults based on the dark and dirty origins of nursery rhymes. This is her second tour with Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult.

Learn more and buy tickets

Monday, January 12, 2015

Win a Segerstrom Stage 3-Play Subscription!

Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult.
Photo by Richard Termine.

Contest Details

Grand Prize
A Segerstrom Stage three-play subscription with two tickets each to see Tristan & Yseult, Of Good Stock and Peter and the Starcatcher!

How to Enter 
  1. Make a video where you act out a love song as a monologue or scene with a friend
  2. Keep the video length between 30 seconds and one minute 
  3. Upload your video on YouTube and subscribe to SCR's YouTube channel
  4. Tweet the video link to @SouthCoastRep or email your video link to nicholas@scr.org
Deadline: Jan. 30, 2015. A panel of judges will choose the most outstanding video as a winner. The winner will be announced on Feb. 2, 2015. 
The story of Tristan & Yseult is a romantic epic about true love—played out by Kneehigh with stunning theatricality and full of endless surprises! Here’s another surprise: we want to see how theatrical you can get when it comes to love. 

Enter our “Lover-Logues” contest and show off your acting skills—or dust them off—by turning your favorite love song into a monologue! Film it and be dramatic, hilarious or even a little bit weird; but most of all, have fun. We’ll share our favorites on SCR’s social media and choose one grand prize winner.

Watch our video for examples of  "Lover-Logues!"

See Tristan & Yseult on the Segerstrom Stage, Jan. 23-Feb. 22! Click here for tickets and more info.