Friday, February 12, 2016

Plays of My Life: Bekah Brunstetter

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter.
To mark the world premiere of her upcoming play, Going to a Place where you Already Are, Brunstetter shares her thoughts about her literary picks and what inspires her.

My favorite childhood book.
Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

The story I read in secret.
I was really into this series of Christian books by Lurlene McDaniel. They were little books about beautiful girls dying of liver cancer and the boys who loved them. 

What made me know I wanted to be a playwright.
When I realized that writing plays was a combination of being alone and in your head while writing, and then collaborating with others. 

A classic play that I’ve never seen.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet. 

The best literary adaptation (play or book into movie).
Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. 

My literary hero.
Sarah Ruhl. I’ll never forget when I read her Melancholy Play, in which a character turns into an almond. I just thought that was the weirdest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Even more recently, her book 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater is an incredible reflection of plays and life and motherhood. 

The play that is my touchstone.
Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. 

The latest play that made me cry.
I am sad to admit that plays do not really make me cry. They make me think and turn inward, but not cry. However, commercials make me cry. Cell phone commercials, in which a grandparent is waiting by the phone for their grandkid to call them and, finally, the kid does. Also, and this really surprised me: Lady Gaga singing the national anthem made me well up with an odd mixture of fear, regret and pride. 

The latest play that made me laugh.
I just saw Barcelona by Bess Wohl at the Geffen. I laughed in a cringe-y sort of way, like, “Oh God, I have definitely said some of those things.” 

The first time I saw one of my plays produced.
When I was 18, my first year of college, I wrote my first play and the theater department (at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) produced it in the gorgeous and haunted Old Playmakers Theater. It was called Age in Spanish. I’m still not totally sure why it was called Age in Spanish. 

Something I wish I’d written.
Ohhhhh, man—sore subject. I am STILL mad that I didn’t write the movie Enchanted, in which Amy Adams plays a Disney Princess that gets transported to the real world. 

The play I would take with me to a desert island.
I would take every play Sam Hunter has written and will write, in a big leather-bound bible-esque book. 

My perfect day.
It’s basically exactly like this. But at the end of the day, I eat an entire family sized frozen lasagna and swallow it down with a bottle or rosè, then drift off to the Amelie soundtrack.

Find out more about Brunstetter’s Going to a Place and purchase tickets.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Send in the Clowns: Five Questions with Dave Honigman

The cast of Pinocchio in a light-hearted moment: (L to R) Joe DeSoto, Jennifer Carroll, Dave Honigman, Kevin Klein and Tyler Bremer.

The Theatre for Young Audiences production of Pinocchio follows the naughty puppet as he learns what it takes to be a real boy. Like most coming-of-age stories, Pinocchio goes on a journey, learns lessons and reaches his full potential.

Cast member Dave Honigman brings his own acting journey full circle by returning to South Coast Repertory for this production. Honigman started down the road to acting at SCR's Young Conservatory and later went to Los Angeles, where he became a member of the clown troupe, Four Clowns, and continued his studies at iO West. Later this year, he will join Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a traveling clown.

As he headed into Pinocchio performances, Honigman took some time to look back at his early years with SCR.

What drew you into acting?
I started acting because I wanted to become a spy! The films Ace Ventura and Mission: Impossible inspired me to take on fun, active characters. But, it turns out that theatre and film are much safer for playing pretend than in the actual fields of espionage.

Honigman in the 2004 Junior Players production of 1212
What brought you to SCR's Theatre Conservatory?
Though I enjoyed gymnastics and music as a child, I found those skills were best used in performance. So, my mom enrolled me in SCR's Young Conservatory, which lead to being a part of both the Junior and Teen Players productions.

What were some of your take-aways from the Conservatory?
SCR taught me how to use my body, voice and mind as tools so that I could be larger-than-life on stage. I came to learn that art imitates life and vice versa, so theatre can be used for any aspect of life. Any time I get nervous or have a task at hand, I remember lessons I learned here: listen, react on impulse, focus on your breath, be here now, you and the group are equally essential and everyone wants you to succeed!

What's a highlight from your early years at SCR?
I was honored to play Ebenezer as a boy in SCR's annual production of A Christmas Carol. I hope someday to play Ebenezer as a Young Man—and maybe even Scrooge himself one day!

What has been the best part about working on Pinocchio?Pinocchio has been so fun! SCR chose such an adventurous show to produce! We've had plenty of fun under the direction of Jeremy Aluma. As clowns, we love to incorporate the audience as much as possible into our shows. In a way, it has been a challenge not to goof off and make each other laugh too much! I think that kids—and everyone—will love this because they'll be able to see what a little imagination can do.

Learn more about Pinocchio

Monday, February 1, 2016

Party Play: Seeing (and Applauding) "Red"

On January 29, First Night of Red on the Segerstrom Stage, the immediate and rousing standing ovation was led by Individual Honorary Producers Sophie and Larry Cripe and Jean and Tim Weiss.  When the applause died down, First Nighters and their guests made their way to the Cast Party, hosted by Room & Board at its South Coast Village store.

Nibbling hors d’oeuvres as they waited for the artists to arrive, guests took advantage of the opportunity to browse the store, which is now featuring the 2016 collection of American-made furniture and accessories, prior to The New Collection Open House held on Saturday and Sunday. 

On the central stairway, young painters, from the mural painting and design classes in Santa Ana College’s Fine and Performing Arts Division, created a painting in tribute to Rothko. As guests admired the work, Professor Darren Hostetter explained that the students had spent the past week painting in the style of the great abstract impressionist—arranged by Room & Board, just for this occasion.

Midway through the party, the Rothko painting was peeled back to reveal another work of art, the students’ painting of Mark Harelik and Paul David Story, who portrayed Rothko and his assistant, Ken.

The party took on an extra jubilance, as guests surrounded the actors and their director, SCR Founding Artistic Director David Emmes, to offer words of praise, led by the Cripes, who said that the eloquent script, masterful directing and dynamic acting captured the tension between an artist and his work to “create a beautiful shade of Red.”

Rothko—and the art scene in general—was what impressed Tim Weiss.  “It seems to me that Rothko was looking for relevance in an ever-changing world. The fact that Rothko's work ultimately became amazingly important and popular seems to have a certain irony, but a good reminder that you just never know what impact, small or large, you have on the world… Red serves as a great reminder that change is important and good.”

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Going Behind-the-Scenes, Building Deeper Audience Connections

Kimberly Colburn and Andrew Knight.
Knight interviews Sandra Tsing Loh at the Inside the Season for The Madwoman in the Volvo.
Knight speaks with actor Paige Lindsey White from Abundance.
Colburn interviews the authors of Images of America: Vietnamese in Orange County, Thuy Vo Dang, Tram Le and Linda Trinh Vo, during the Inside the Season for Vietgone.
Guests tour the set of Abundance.
On a select Saturday morning during each show's run, just a few hours before the first performance that day, an audience gathers as South Coast Repertory staff members prepare for them. Director’s chairs are set in place, microphones readied, special guests arrive and, by 10:30 a.m., it all begins. SCR’s Inside the Season offers a lively two-hour discussion with in-depth interviews featuring cast members, people from the creative team and artisans from SCR’s production staff. The program offers attendees an opportunity to directly converse with the artists behind the production. SCR’s Literary Director Kimberly Colburn and Associate Literary Director Andrew Knight share the responsibilities of organizing and hosting the discussion.

“It’s a little like being a journalist,” says Colburn. “The preparation generally includes identifying guests, thinking up the best questions and gathering information from people around SCR to see if there’s anything we’ve missed or didn’t know about.” Whether it’s learning how the props department created edible sushi for the stage or how rain is created on stage, no detail is too small.

Once prepped and armed with insider information, Colburn and Knight engage the audience in the discussion, fielding questions and interviewing special guests. All these efforts culminate in a deeper insight into the creative process.

“I love that Inside the Season is a very frank behind-the-scenes look at SCR’s productions,” says Knight. “It’s actually rare for artists to have a casual, but supportive environment to speak about their work. We joke that what happens in Inside the Season stays in Inside the Season!”

“I like the sense that anything could happen,” adds Colburn. “I’m always surprised by the questions from the audience. Sometimes they think of questions that are of interest to them that would never have occurred to me to ask. Like what a stage manager’s book looks like or what lighting instruments we used.”

“I also think that the length of the program allows Inside the Season patrons to develop a deeper connection to the production,” continues Knight. “With two hours for discussion, no question is too small and no detail is omitted. The conversation is richer and more surprising because of that.”

Inside the Season allows those seeking a closer look into SCR’s productions the opportunity to explore, question and learn more about the work, challenges and accomplishments of those involved.

“By getting this full picture I think the Inside the Season audiences can truly appreciate the ingenuity of artists,” says Knight.

Special benefit for donors: If you’re a Friend of SCR who has given a gift of $75 or more, one of the benefits is complimentary admission to Inside the Season. Please arrange for your complimentary Inside the Season tickets by visiting the box office or calling (714) 708-5599. These special tickets are not available for purchase online.

If you’d like to become a Friend of SCR and take advantage of this benefit (a $180 value), please call (714) 708-5590.

A Great Teacher Brings Acting Classes to Neighborhood Kids

Teacher Donald Amerson and kids from the Neighborhood Conservatory.
Kids working together in class.
Donald Amerson.
It’s afterschool at an elementary school in Costa Mesa. Donald Amerson walks with purpose into the modular building that houses a series of classrooms. Roughly 20 pairs of eyes follow him, lit up with delight. Amerson has arrived to teach an acting class at one of Orange County’s Title One schools, where arts are not part of the curriculum, and a majority of the children are from low-income households. This is South Coast Repertory’s Neighborhood Conservatory in action.

The same professionally trained instructors who teach in SCR's tuition-supported Theatre Conservatory go into schools and other neighborhood locations where young people—who often are initially shy, maybe withdrawn or stand-offish—participate in a series of exercises that utilize drama, acting, mime and improvisation. These free classes are carefully designed to build self-confidence, teamwork and communication skills, and the results are often transformative.

SCR Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa says Amerson’s nurturing approach to teaching has a big impact on young people.

“He treats the students with incredible compassion and respect, and his enthusiasm for the craft is infectious,” Takakuwa says. “That shows in class, where he explores creatively with his students, making use of puppetry, mask work, music and all theatrical forms of storytelling.”

Amerson also fits comfortably into SCR’s Theatre Conservatory acting program, which stresses “process” over “product.” This means sharing and exploring the craft (process) of acting rather that emphasizing the creation or performance (product) of plays, and it’s at the heart of Takakuwa’s teaching philosophy.

“While these skills can set a strong foundation for becoming a professional artist, they are invaluable life skills, and Donald has a natural affinity for this approach,” she says.

Amerson also is an actor and a director and has worked in shows from Michigan to New York to California, including The Production Club (New York City) and Plaza De La Raza (Los Angeles). He has been an acting coach and teaching artist with Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and a teaching artist at theatres including Young Actors Guild (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Center Theatre Group (Los Angeles). He earned an MFA in drama from Eastern Michigan State University, where he also was an adjunct professor.

If fun was a professional attribute, he’d probably have that in his resume, as well.

Learn more about the Neighborhood Conservatory.

To make a gift to support this neighborhood work, contact Susan C. Reeder, Director of Development, at or (714) 708-5518.