Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

by Kimberly Colburn

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities invokes the singular city of Santa Ana. Or is it Sant’ana? Perhaps it is two cities.

First there is the light, bright downtown Fourth Street with its sidewalk vendors selling plump fruits and happy merchants calling out in Spanish right next to the trendy new restaurants and hipster bars.

There are generations of families that have lived here and a real sense of neighborhood pride. But there’s another version of Santa Ana: a city with dark struggles that has worked hard to overcome its many challenges, a population that faces addiction, gangs, immigration and a lack of open space. That’s often the Santa Ana that grabs headlines, meaning that the darker version is the only one that people outside the city see.

Over the past two years, playwright José Cruz González has been gathering all of the stories he can from the people of Santa Ana. You’ve probably read or seen something about the Dialogue/Diálogos project already, because José, the creative team, and SCR have scoured the city high and low to get the scoop on what Santa Ana is all about.

These stories have been gathered and transformed, and serve as a starting point of inspiration. What has come to fruition is so epic and sprawling—much like Santa Ana—that it cannot be contained within a linear narrative. Instead, it’s developed into a rotating funhouse collection of scenes taking place throughout the Civic Center in the heart of Santa Ana.

Maybe you’ve glimpsed at the plaza behind the library but hurried to the garage to avoid the homeless gathered outside—or perhaps you hurried through the courtyard on the way to take care of a traffic violation. But have you ever looked up and noticed the cement sculptural mural by Sergio O’Cadiz that wraps around City Hall?

The Long Road Today /El Largo Camino de Hoy is a bilingual play that follows the fates of two families: the Guerreros and the Recuerdos.

The play opens with four guides, who spring to life from lotería cards—a traditional Mexican game similar to Bingo. La Muerte, El Diablito, La Dama and El Valiente are the guides through this journey, and they set up the tragic event that binds these two families together.

It happens in the blink of an eye: a young boy, Andrès, is playing near the street, since there are few safe parks for him to be in. His red ball rolls out into the street. His mother Dolores, holding a pink cake box, calls out to him, just as a car whips around the corner. A teenage Salvador is driving. He’s spotted a police barricade and is desperate to avoid getting stopped. The distracted Salvador strikes and kills Andrès.

All of this takes place on the steps of the Civic Center. After the opening scene, the audience is split into four groups—each one led by one of our lotería card narrators. Each audience group is then led to four different locations and begins to see the repercussions of the accident.

During short scenes, we see the grieving Dolores look for her lost little boy; Salvador as he goes to prison; Andrès’ sister, Luz, and her abusive husband, Mundo; and Socorro and daughter, Estrella, among others. Woven throughout are scenes that will feel familiar to any Santa Ana resident or visitor and depict a community that gathers together and refuses to give up. The audience moves to each of the four locations and sees all of the sides of the stories, piecing together the narrative from the brief flashes of the lives they witness.

Some of the characters speak English, some of them speak Spanish and some of them whip back and forth between the two.

Monolingual speakers will appreciate a third layer of this production—the visual elements. Projections, dancers, and puppets of all shapes and sizes help to tell the story. You’re not meant to understand every word unless you speak both languages; the experience is a rich metaphor for the city of Santa Ana and its denizens.

The game of lotería inspires not only the characters of the four guides but is woven into the fabric of the play. Each scene is named for one of the iconic cards and, like the game itself, these characters’ lives have an element of chance. You must play the hand you are dealt in life and, as the play informs us, “You can’t change your fate … but you can change your future.”

The notion of change resonates for the Santa Ana community that has witnessed many rebirths of its downtown, from a movie star heyday mid-century to the family owned businesses that have dominated the landscape and are beginning to give way to a new generation. The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy is a portrait of a city in flux but held together by the strength and will of the people within it.

After the audience has traveled to each of the four sites, the guides bring everyone together to the plaza of the flags, to embrace all the stories—the light and the dark, the history and the present—and to celebrate the community of Santa Ana. And Santa’na.

Reserve your free tickets.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"The Tempest" Bewitches First Nighters

A transformative production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest brought gasps of delight and sighs of wonder from the First Night audience on September 5. Adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, the production was filled with magic while remaining true to the text—a rare combination.

Paul Hodgins of the Orange County Register considered what Shakespeare himself might have thought: “I have a hunch he would have approved of this dazzling Tempest and probably gasped along with the rest of us.”

The Honorary Producers agreed.

According to Joan and Andy Fimiano (Honorary Producers with Jean and Tim Weiss), “We and our guests were blown away by the magic, the music and the overall production. We followed The Tempest through rehearsals to opening night, and it was very evident that the cast and the entire production team had great chemistry … Our guests have decided to go back for another night and bring their parents!"

The accolades were whispered during the show, enthusiastically discussed at intermission and shouted out during the standing ovation. After the applause ended, everyone gathered on Ela’s Terrace for the Cast Party—with its tent show/carnival atmosphere reminiscent of the play’s setting—and tried to recognize the amazing cast members, now transformed back to their normal selves.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Magical Gala Opens With A Sensational Patron Party

Every season at South Coast Repertory begins with two special events.  The first is a Patron Party to honor those who contribute significantly to the second—SCR’s Gala, which traditionally opens both the social and theatre seasons in Orange County. 

On August 21st,  SCR Trustee Sarah McElroy and her husband, Thom, opened their home to major Gala donors with a Patron Party that kicked off the 51st Season spectacularly.

Part of that spectacle was news of the upcoming “Grand Illusions” Gala and part was the McElroy’s mid-century modern home, designed by Steven Ehrlich at Ehrlich Architects, and built around a central open-air courtyard.

Strolling from one beautiful setting to another, guests sampled an array of scrumptious Crème de la Crème fare, set out in the expansive open kitchen, and gathered beside the pool to sip martinis, courtesy of Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Later, they joined Board President Sophie Cripe, Gala Chair Olivia Johnson, Managing Director Paula Tomei and Artistic Director Marc Masterson to applaud the Gala Committee.  “They continually put their hearts into planning ‘Grand Illusions’ to make our most fanciful visions become reality,” said Olivia, reminding guests that even the McElroy home reflected the Gala theme with its glass doors that pocket to reveal dramatic ocean views and create the illusion of being both outside and in.

“We’re all about illusions!” she added.  “And just wait until you see the surprises we we’ve conjured up on Saturday, September 13, when we bring you a Gala inspired by SCR’s imaginative production of The Tempest.”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

A Sister’s Loss, Enduring Love and Hope Inspire Core Story of "The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy"

by Melody Gonzalez

Melody González, her husband, Hector Luis Rivera and their son, Tonalli. Rivera is a cast musician in The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy. Photo: Gallo Studios.
NOTE: Santa Ana resident Melody Gonzalez participated over a two-year period with South Coast Repertory’s Dialogue/Dialogos project, which collected the stories of community residents, trained them in theatre craft and resulted in a new play inspired by Santa Ana. The new play is called The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy. Gonzalez shared her personal story of loss during the project and it served as the core of the play—the death of a child that brings a community together. What follows is her personal essay about the experience.

“Atropellaron a Sandy!”

I can still hear that cry from 20 years ago—the cry that made my heart stop and that changed my family’s lives forever: on June 24, 1994, the day of my fifth grade promotion, my three-year-old sister was hit by a car while she attempted to cross the street alone in our neighborhood.

Six days later, my sister transitioned, leaving behind a wealth of memories from her short life, but also a huge void and pain for my mother, father, brother and me. For 20 years, I have honored my sister and kept her alive in my life as my greatest inspiration and guardian angel.

Never would I have imagined that the central story in The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy would be so connected to my family’s story. I was shocked and honored.

I remember when we first learned about the Diálogos project. My husband, Hector, and I have always seen the arts and culture as essential tools for our communities to tell our stories, to celebrate our victories and to heal our pains.

We knew we wanted to participate in the first story circle. A few months later we were contacted as part of the many interviews Diálogos did throughout Santa Ana. We mostly shared about how we met organizing and doing street theatre in Chicago working alongside the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and about all the music, dance, and community work that sustains and heals us.

Rehearsal for The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy, with cast member Angela Apodaca portraying El Diablito (The Little Devil), foreground. Photo: Laura Bustamante.
I also shared how my sister’s accident and transition, right outside our home, was the main reason my parents decided to not move from Santa Ana. We shared about our own son’s birth and our decision to have a home water birth. After our meeting, I sent José a piece I wrote about our home birth. One of the things I highlighted from the experience was feeling my sister’s presence in the final moments of Tonalli’s birth. With each contraction, I screamed and wailed. In part from the pain, but also I had stepped outside of my body and could hear myself—my 10-year-old self—releasing pain held back since my sister’s transition. It was a very healing experience. Sharing my story through writing has been a large part of that healing as well.

I was able to participate in one of the last staged readings of Jose’s play, The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy and it was the first time I had read the play since sharing my stories with José.

I cried through most of it—going back to that tragic day 20 years ago—but it also was a very liberating experience. It helped me embrace the pain, the longing, the memories, the love, the healing journey and all the lessons that tragedy has taught me.

As Luz, the sister of the young boy who is hit by a car in the play, was introduced, I couldn’t help but see myself in Luz. Luz—light—bringing to light our stories is what this project has done.

The Long Road Today/ El Largo Camino De Hoy is created from the stories of hundreds of people in Santa Ana who have participated in this project and I applaud and honor this important cultural work.

Through a play—through the arts—is how our community can heal, as well as celebrate. Together bringing our stories to light.

Find out more about The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino De Hoy and buy tickets 


Anything Goes With Instrument Designer Kenny Wollesen

Musical director for The Tempest Kenny Wollessen on set at The Smith Center. Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun.
Think twice when you think about getting rid of that chest of drawers. Or throwing out or recycling coffee cans. Those items could be the makings of a quirky musical instrument in the hands of Kenny Wollesen. His truly distinctive instrument designs create a sonic experience in Aaron Posner and Teller’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. We caught up with him by email while he was on tour in eastern Europe for a conversation about his musical beginnings, instrument inspirations and working on The Tempest.

The Wheary Grinder
What inspired you to get into music?
In the fourth grade, I was asked what instrument I wanted to play in the school band. I immediately said trumpet; they said I would be playing drums. I have no idea why that happened; anyway, it stuck! All my gang of friends play music, too, so I mainly was inspired by them.

We started a band—The Jazz Delinquents aka The JDs—and started playing gigs. I was obsessed with jazz—Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy and the like—and I was so inspired by the few records that my dad had. To this day, Miles Davis’ “Bags Groove” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” are still my favorite records!

What about instrument design—when did that come along?
The first instrument I built was back in the early 90s. It was a poor man's copy of Tom Nunn's “Bug.” Nunn is a great instrument builder and musician from the Bay Area. Tom Waits had me play one for his opera, Alice, which premiered in Hamburg at the Thalia Theater.

My version of the “Bug” wasn’t nearly as sophisticated and beautiful as the one made by Tom Nunn, but mine did the job and I was able to use it on many recordings and at gigs. Shortly after that, the great composer John Zorn asked me to make some instruments for a piece he was writing for bass flute and two foley artists, The Prophetic Mysteries of Angels, Witches and Demons. A foley artist is the person who makes sound effects for movies.

Zorn described what he wanted sound-wise and I came up with a gaggle of instruments, from which Zorn picked three for the work’s premiere at Columbia University. He chose The “Wheary Grinder,” “Prepared Rifle” and “Prepared Slide Projector.” The “Weary Grinder” is used in The Tempest when Ariel is in the twister box!

I’m intrigued with instruments from “found” objects—like coffee cans, aged shoes and the like. Where do you find things?
Flea markets—I love flea markets! One of my very first gigs was at a flea market, so I go every weekend I get a chance…anywhere in the world. Flea markets are a treasure trove of ideas and possibilities and materials and there is an ever-changing flow of new and strange “goodies.”

Let’s talk The Tempest—how did you approach the instrument design possibilities for this show?
It all came from Shakespeare himself. His descriptions of the sound and noises of the island of Prospero are clear, beautiful and exciting. Check it out from the bard himself:
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
 Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again.”
Or words and phrases like: “whistle,” “storm,” “cry,” “thunderclaps,” “fire and cracks” and “roaring.” There’s a lot of meat on the bone to work with!

Can you talk about some of the instruments you created for this show?
I built a smaller version of the “Mbrain” for Teller and Aaron’s take on “the Scottish play” some years ago at the Two Rivers Theater in New Jersey. I wanted to create a sound for Macbeth as he begins to contemplate his murderous rampage of his king—and everyone else—and then as he realizes he is doomed when he sees Birnam Wood actually move to Dunsinane. His brain kind of fries and melts, so I wanted to create a sound for that. In The Tempest, it is used for Prospero’s spells on Caliban.

The “Marimbula” is kinda a hyped-up Kalimba—or thumb piano. It was challenging to make, but I’m pleased with it. I made it out of drawers from a thrown-away cabinet and antique dinner knives. I made it especially for this show and it’s the first instrument i made with a full chromatic scale. It has a great percussive bass tone.

The “Glass Armonica” is the one instrument in the show that I didn’t make. It was beautifully built by Seattle artist and musician Bliss Kolb. He built it for Gina Lieshman, theatre composer and multi-talented musician. It is a wonderful instrument, with a completely new design from the “traditional” one that was built by Benjamin Franklin. Hats off to Bliss and Gina for letting it be in the show.

How do you interact with the musicians who use the Tempest instruments?
Similar to the drums, my instruments are very, very easy to play, but hard to master! Really, there are three secrets to mastering any instrument: practice, practice, practice.

One writer has said that you are to percussive instrumentation what Teller is to the art of magic. How accurate is that assessment?
I’m not so sure about that! I consider Teller a bonafide true master of his art. His knowledge and the skill of his craft are so inspiring to me, yet he also is continuously curious and searching for new ways and ideas to add to his mastery. I think that’s where we meet; I’m not a master but I’m still searching for new ways and ideas.

I see many parallels between music and magic; so much depends on the small, small details, the slight twist of the hand, the way one holds or touches the instrument, use of the right kind of string, how much rosin is put on the bow.

What do you like most about what you do?
The constant change! Every moment, every second is different in music that it’s never ever the same.

Learn more and buy tickets.