Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bloggers of Neverland

Christopher Huntley, center, rehearses Peter Pan with other members of the cast.
Our Summer Players are hard at work—rehearsing five days a week—getting ready to bring the story of Peter Pan and Neverland to life. There's a lot going on behind-the-scenes with this cast of 37 kid and teen actors working through music and dance rehearsals. This week, three of our student-actor bloggers take you there as they reveal show secrets, give you an insider look into their process as performers and take you inside rehearsal. Meet all of our bloggers, here.

Acting at SCR: Our Neverland
by Christopher Huntley


Christopher Huntley, center, during rehearsal.
1 p.m. is hardly the time to start a job. Is it a job if you really love what you do? Are these 37 young actors working or playing, or perhaps both? J.M. Barrie may have had the best idea when he wrote, "I won't grow up, I don't want to wear a tie, or a serious expression, in the middle of July."

Many of these actors have been passing through SCR's iconic glass doors for years—in my case, seven—beyond them is something quite extraordinary. These sacred halls, rooms, nooks and crannies conceal our Neverland, an island of perpetual adventure and marvelous make-believe. Though we have grown up in our time at SCR, like the Lost Boys, we remain kids inside. All of us came to the theatre a few inches, maybe feet, shorter and na├»ve beyond our own current belief. Each day, we are reminded by our sage mentor, Hisa Takakuwa, that the heart of the story of Peter Pan is a child's ability to build and live in worlds that have imagination and make-believe.

Since I'm only 16, it isn't hard to reach back into my childhood. In fact, that is my claim to Peter. No, I'm not the usual casting choice—think about it: the most famous performances had a former female gymnast cast as Peter Pan. But I'm at a pivotal point in my life, with childhood fleeting and adulthood looming ahead. This role is a vehicle to reclaim the childhood I am leaving behind, which is truly a blessing.

Day after day, we come home with sore legs, weary voices and scrambled minds. Do we regret it? Not for a second. At SCR, we are pushed to explore and discover characters, and in turn, ourselves. I would never know how "vertical" I carry myself if it weren't for Hisa and musical genius Erin McNally. These partners-in-crime, together with their whole team, do something magical: they encourage 37 Orange County kids to push their boundaries as actors and as people. I have been incredibly lucky to have worked alongside these phenomenal directors for six summers now and to grow up in this theatre.

By the time the curtain rises on Peter Pan, our cast will have spent more than 150 hours rehearsing together. The blood, sweat and tears shed onstage everyday are apparent in each scene and song. From the initial audition to final curtain, Peter Pan has been, and will be, a journey to rival Barrie's fantasy tale itself. Come see for yourself and join us on a trip to Neverland this August, as the Summer Players present Peter Pan. 

More Than Just a Game
by Ben Susskind


Jamie Ostmann (Slightly) directs a a meeting with Lost Boys.
The cast of Peter Pan at SCR has been hard at work rehearsing the show. Besides learning the show, we each are learning about acting in general. I have learned how to add more emotion in a scene, how to build a story and how to never never lose thought of what character wants in a scene and his/her emotion towards other characters. These skills can make an actor look as if he/she lives in the show. When performing a classic like Peter Pan, every detail counts to make a show perfection. These are the kind of directions that make SCR's Summer Players shows so amazing every year.

When doing a show, you always need to be a team player by helping others. This means you need to always be at you best helping other play up the best in them. To be a successful cast member, you always need to check in with others to make sure they know what they are supposed to do. We are always learning from other cast members, and they are learning from us and that helps keep things in balance.

In our Peter Pan, we are down a more figurative route. Instead of making all the sets, and other design aspects very literal, such as Peter really flying around in the air, we are taking this show though a whole new light. We are putting a new meaning to a play as this show is basically one big game on a stage.

In our version of the show, Peter is showing the Darlings how to have fun within their own household; all they have to do is believe. When Peter "flies," he really is just jumping on the bed, but the Darlings believe he is flying. We never lose sight of the nursery, which helps to support the fact that we are just playing, building blanket forts, playing tug of war.

A Day in Rehearsal
Photos by Emme O'Toole




Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Want to learn more? Come and see the show playing August 9-10, 15-16.


It's the Gala Prep!

A picture really is worth 1,000 words when it comes to South Coast Repertory’s annual Gala, its biggest and best fund-raiser of the season.  Photos of the Gala, taken by SCR’s professional photographer Debora Robinson, are posted on Party Play every year and are among the theatre’s most treasured images.

However, some of us non-professionals run around the theatre when the Gala Committee is here, shooting “candids” of members at work and play.  (We even caught a quartet of members enjoying the Annual Dinner reception.)

In anticipation of the upcoming “Grand Illusions” Gala, here are a few of the photos which—we hope—will encourage you to find out more about the event that everyone is having so much fun planning.  It’s happening right here at SCR on Saturday, September 13, 2014.  For further information, please contact Director of Development Susan Reeder at (714) 708-5518.



Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

See Neverland From the Inside!

Go behind the scenes in Neverland with our Peter Pan cast bloggers! Our student-actor bloggers will catch you up each week, sharing their experiences with the production—from rehearsals to performances. Meet our bloggers:

Kelsey Bray, age 15, portrays Nibs and is excited to find her inner seven year old and portray that part of herself to the audience. Fun fact: “I am a klutz and whenever you see me I will have bruises all over my legs from running into objects and falling and tripping over myself all the time.”

Rachel Charny, age, 16, portrays Tiger Lily and is excited to be working on this show because of the “the magic of the story and the idea that no one is ever too old to have a young spirit.” Fun Fact: last summer her dog played Sandy in the Summer Players production of Annie.

Christopher Huntley, age 16, portrays Peter Pan and is excited to work on building his stamina for such an immense production. Fun fact: Christopher is one of four brothers who have all had at least two years of training at SCR.

Sean Kato, age 10, portrays Otis and is excited for the opportunity to work with actors he’s seen in shows time and time again. Fun fact: Sean biked over the Golden Gate Bridge when he was six years old.

Maddy Nickless, age 13, portrays Thundering Waterfall and is excited about many things, especially getting to do the battle scene against the pirates. Fun fact: “I can eat the most extreme sour candy there is without puckering!”

Emme O’Toole, age 13, portrays Jane and an Indian and is excited to perform the big Indian dance numbers in the show and getting to showcase Indian body language and many different dance moves.  Fun fact: “I love baking cookies!”

Jamie Ostmann, age 15, portrays Slightly Soiled and is excited to relive the story of Peter Pan—she was in another production of Peter Pan when she was nine years old. Fun fact: Jamie’s first Summer Players show at SCR was Peter Pan, six years ago—she played Michael Darling.

Ben Susskind, age 12, portrays 1st Twin and is excited to make new friends and learn more about the story of Peter Pan from a new meaning and direction. Fun fact: He wrote, directed and starred in a play performed by his kindergarten class.

Read the first blog here from actor-student bloggers Christopher Huntley, Ben Susskind and Emme O’Toole!

Learn more and buy tickets

Friday, July 18, 2014

There’s More to Acting Than Memorizing Lines; Go Behind the Scenes with "Peter Pan"

When they're not onstage, Christopher Huntley (Peter Pan) and Shane Iverson (Wendy) can be found in the hall outside the CoLab, rehearsing a scene


Monday, July 7.  It’s the first day of rehearsal for Peter Pan, and all 37 (yes, 37—the largest cast ever!) young actors are assembled in the Nicholas Studio.

Getting into the music rehearsal
Although they auditioned together in the spring, most of them haven’t seen each other since and—except for their own roles—don’t necessarily know who else is in the show. It’s a time for greeting old friends, meeting new ones and extending congratulations.

Afterwards, they gather in a circle onstage for the read-through/sing-through of the script.  Now it’s official.  Rehearsals are underway…

Was that strains of Peter singing “Never Never Land” coming from the Nicholas Studio?  Or Captain Hook’s “Pirate Song” bursting out of the chorus dressing room and into the hall?  Or, could that be the entire cast joining in “I’ve Gotta Crow,” their voices wafting throughout the building?

No time is wasted.  When not onstage, Nick Slimmer (Captain Hook) and cast members watch the action or make notes
Yes! In the early days of rehearsal, the songs from Peter Pan are in the air.  Even during breaks, cast members can be heard singing on the terrace, in the lobby and along the hallways.  Music Director Erin McNally encourages them to use down time for anything they feel needs work or can be improved—and their compliance is both serious and enthusiastic.    

After three intense days of singing, the cast meets with Director Hisa Takakuwa in the Nicholas Studio for a full rehearsal, combining the words and music (or “score”) with the script (or “book”) of the play.  Under Takakuwa’s direction, the next four weeks will about the process and working as an ensemble.

But first, each cast member must “discover” his or her character.  Writing in a play book—that will fill quickly with notes—they begin with physical traits.  This can be specifically physical (“I bounce on my toes when I walk”) or more emotional (“I’m really scared but try not to show it”).

Grace Tomblin-Marca (Canary Rob) and Sydney Pardo (Robert Mullins) working on a song in the chorus dressing room
Then comes a deceptively simple exercise called “three words.”  Taking turns, each actor speaks the words that best describe the character he or she is portraying.  Happy, energetic, aware.  Serious, strong, conflicted.  Stubborn, intrigued, observant.  Excitable, social, quick.  Alert, lovable, optimistic.  These words—which can be ever-changing—also go in the play books, along with questions they have or discoveries they’ve made about their character.  It’s day one, and those books are filling up quickly!

Finally, the cast gathers around the perimeter of the stage, sitting in groups (Darling family, Pirates, Lost Boys, Indians) and standing as their scenes are played out—for the second read through/sing through of the script.  This time, it’s different.  They’ve made specific choices and become familiar with their characters.  Now they’re a real ensemble, and whether performing or just watching and waiting, the concentration is intense and the joy is palatable.

As the last line is read, the last note sounded, a collective sigh goes out.  They’ve made it through the first week!

Learn more and buy tickets

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Write Stuff: Karen Cruise Kirby’s Playgoer Journaling

Karen Cruise Kirby and husband, Dan.
Among SCR subscriber Karen Cruise Kirby’s favorite SCR productions are:

Noises Off by Michael Frayn: “It’s just hilarious! It’s so funny and slapstick and one of my favorite plays of all time. was thrilled when we saw that.”

Golden Child by David Henry Hwang: “It showed me something I was not aware of—these women living in China and what was done with them. The whole production was something brand new to me and it was kind of risky; but I appreciated something new.”

Chinglish by David Henry Hwang: “I thought that was hilarious! My husband said it was like Willy Loman goes to China. Another reason why we loved the play is that when we travel in Europe, we take pictures of funny sign translations.”

Wit by Margaret Edson: “Her play really hit me and evoked a personal response because I have friends who have had cancer.”
Karen Cruise Kirby has a routine following each play she sees: she writes down her impressions on the playbill page from SCR’s program. She keeps all of the playbills in a binder.

“Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I write a lot,” she says. “It’s for my entertainment and I do go back and look at what I’ve written.” For South Coast Repertory performances, Kirby has been writing her impressions about plays for three decades.


Following her evening with Tartuffe, she came home and started writing and kept writing.

“This was one of my favorite productions over several seasons,” she shared with Artistic Director Marc Masterson.  “Never have I seen Tartuffe done with such dark humor.”

Growing Up With A Love For The Arts
Kirby says theatre “makes you aware of where your life is in relationship to what’s going on onstage. It makes us look at humanity, and it’s uplifting. It’s so rewarding personally and fulfilling to be involved in that onstage world for two hours, where you are taken in and drawn into the story. I was a teacher for 38 years, so I know that storytelling is important.”

For Kirby, arts also are “in our family’s blood.”

“I was an emoting child,” she laughs. As a child, she and her friends would put on play productions and she was involved in dance. It came naturally to her, since her father was a singer and her mother a pianist. At the University of California, Irvine, Kirby earned a degree in drama (now theatre), with a minor in dance.

As a parent, Kirby instilled a love for theatre in her daughter (who now teaches theatre at Sunny Hills High School). In sixth grade, her daughter came home to report that her class had read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“She told me she hated the play!” Kirby recalls. So for the next eight years, Kirby took her daughter to Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., to see five plays in three days.

“So, yes—theatre has been a big part of my life for a long time,” she says. “And we have been with SCR for a long time as well.”

Karen's notes on her Tartuffe program.
Tartuffe—“I Could Do Nothing Less Than Express My Appreciation”
She wrote about Tartuffe extensively and sent a copy to Artistic Director Marc Masterson. Among her observations, she loved how:
  • “Tartuffe slithered on the ground like a serpent, a devil in disguise”
  • “Elmire melted within that voluminous dress until she was flat on her back”
  • “the two ‘twin’ maids were like bookends, and their running from place to place kept the play in constant motion”
  • “Cleante and Laurent were the yin to maids’ yang … Their affectations were the perfect foil as they portrayed acolytes to the false zealot, Tartuffe. Disrespectful, fawning, arrogant, they commanded the audience’s attention.” Read more from Kirby’s impressions here.

Theatre for Kirby and her husband, Daniel, is a shared experience, a tradition that goes back to when they married. At that time, they struck a friendly deal: he would teach her about NASCAR and she would teach him about theatre. They have been SCR subscribers for three decades now.

“Being a subscriber simply sets us up on a schedule to go see the plays,” she says. “It gives us an evening out together and it gives us something to talk about before and after the play. If we didn’t have a subscription, I’m afraid we would miss some of these great plays!”

She encourages others to “just give theatre a try—find something you can identify with. That first performance will give you a connection to what’s going on onstage and will be something that you appreciate, be it comedy, drama, suspense or a musical.”