• The Story Behind the Photo: "tokyo fish story"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jan 14, 2021
    tokyo fish story
    Jully Lee, Lawrence Kao, Sab Shimono and Ryun Yu in tokyo fish story (2015) by Kimber Lee. Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About tokyo fish story

    Generations, gender and tradition collide in tokyo fish story, a new play by Kimber Lee, with its world premiere at South Coast Repertory. Koji is a sushi master whose fine, traditional sushi restaurant is on the decline at the same time the new sushi place down the street packs them in. A quiet play that has a big heart, a touch of poetry, a hint of mystery—and just the right amount of enticing comedy.

    Director Bart DeLorenzo helmed Kimber Lee’s tokyo fish story (2015), which unfolded on the Julianne Argyros Stage. The story’s recipe appealed to him: food, combined with a subtle yet engagingly universal drama about people who suppress emotions for the sake of tradition. He remembers fondly the choreography needed for sushi-making scenes [one is featured above].

    What moment does this depict?

    Not many plays are about food. This photo is from the first dinner service in tokyo fish story, the moment when we see for ourselves the kind of sushi mastery that chef Koji is capable of. Kimber was inspired to write this play by the wonderfu documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and, although we can’t taste, the film allows us to see in extraordinary close-up the beauty and lusciousness of the dishes. Theatre as an art form isn’t great at depicting flavor or showing the close details of an object, so we knew we had to fashion a beautiful metaphor. Kimber’s script says, “The sushi bar is lit like a stage,” so we pursued this thought to perform the sushi preparation as an elaborate, choreographed dance.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    We all had gone on a field trip to James Hamamori’s delicious restaurant to observe and learn from him and his generous sushi-makers. Then, we devoted a whole day of rehearsal to the creation and refinement of our sequence. SCR provided us with all the working tools of a real sushi bar and we began with the actors playing freely with the props, knowing that, unlike the film, we would never see any actual food. I watched the improvisations for interesting gestures or defining sounds. We decided which moves were the most compelling and, over many trials, gave the piece a momentum that we liked. While we had simultaneously created a natural live percussive score, our sound designer John Zalewski watched and later built a subtle complementary orchestration. Then Elizabeth Harper lit it like theatre, as you can see above.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    The sequence gave a holy hush to the act of sushi preparation and I think it conveyed the seriousness and devotion of Koji’s artistry. I was raised Catholic and you can perhaps see traces of the mass in this configuration. Tradition, ritual. And, as the play moved forward and we later watched Takashi, Koji’s son, prepare dinner, we were able to see how the future generations might respectfully progress the customs of the past.

    Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

    If you look closely, Sab Shimono who played Koji, hasn’t tied his apron the way chefs typically do. This is a very special time-consuming knot that Sab himself insisted on, a knot that itself comes out of a tradition and a history. Sab said that he was taught the knot by Mako when they performed together on Broadway in Pacific Overtures in 1976. This passing on reflects the spirit of Kimber’s play.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "The Whale"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jan 07, 2021
    The Whale
    Matthew Arkin as “Charlie” in The Whale (2013). Photo by Scott Brinegar.

    About The Whale

    Charlie is different from most of us. First, he’s an online writing teacher with one friend, a nurse who nearly kills him with kindness, and one acquaintance, a troubled young missionary who’s determined to rescue his soul. Second, he’s in bad health but refuses to be hospitalized.  And third, he weighs in at 600 pounds. When his estranged daughter turns up suddenly, Charlie makes a deal to buy her time, if not her affections. He hopes their connection will give her life—and his—meaning at last.

    When the lights came up on a dingy apartment living room set on the Julianne Argyros Stage, a large man was seated on a small sofa. Audiences gasped​ when they saw Matthew Arkin, appearing to be several hundred pounds heavier than normal​, thanks to some ingenious prosthetics. He had become “Charlie,” the main character in Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale (2013). The Los Angeles Times lauded Arkin’s performance, saying that he “makes the audience feel for the morbidly obese, grieving … Charlie in Samuel D. Hunter’s funny, angry and moving play.” And Broadway World called it “beautifully acted and heartbreakingly stirring.” The tour de force performance was a journey for Arkin and in this Q&A, he talks about the meaning behind this particular photo [above].

    What moment does this depict?

    In The Whale, the amazing play by MacArthur Fellow Samuel D. Hunter, one of the central plotlines follows my character Charlie's efforts to heal his relationship with his daughter, Ellie [portrayed by Helen Sadler] and to awaken her to her own potential before his impending death from congestive heart failure and complications of extreme obesity. He left Ellie and her mother when Ellie was three; she's now in high school and an extremely angry and troubled young woman. But Charlie knows that she's also incredibly intelligent, and so he bribes her into coming to visit him every day and to do some writing. At one point, Charlie picks up Ellie's red notebook when she's not around to see what she's been working on. He opens it and reads a phrase from it out loud: “This apartment smells. This notebook is retarded. I hate everyone.” He then reads it again: “This apartment smells. This notebook is retarded. I hate everyone." He reads it a third time:
    This apartment smells.
    This notebook is retarded.
    I hate everyone.

    What's the power about this moment?

    To me, the power of this photo is that it captures the exact moment that Charlie realizes that what his daughter has written is a haiku, thus confirming for him that she is incredibly talented and intelligent and, also, that on some level his efforts to reach her are working; even in her rebellion, she can't help but express her innate strengths and abilities. This strengthens both his resolve and his hope for her future.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    When we were in rehearsal, I asked Helen Sadler, the wonderful actor playing Ellie, my daughter, to write the phrase in the notebook we were using as a prop. That way, at every performance, I’d be looking at her writing and it would help me to connect with her. One of the things that helps me, as an actor, is to have as many “real” things around me or in my memory as I can. I feel that those kinds of touchstones can ground a performance. As another example of doing that type of work, I remember a time when I asked Lisa Emery, who played my wife in Dinner with Friends, to bring in a photograph of her at the age that we would have first met and fallen in love. Then I would have that image to hold in my mind when we were working on the last scene of the play, when the couple is discussing the difficulty of keeping marriage and love alive through the long haul.

  • South Coast Repertory Partners With The Story Pirates on "Sleep Squad"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jan 04, 2021
    Sleep Squad
    ​Lilli Cooper as the Dream Queen.

    Two Ways to Enjoy Sleep Squad

    Families may order Sleep Squad two ways, and watch as many times during the steaming window (Feb. 1-14):

    • Video Only: $35
    • Video + a Dreamtime Kit: $50. The kit is shipped directly to purchasers and includes a dream journal, a sleep mask, stickers and a star globe nightlight. Recommendation: order early to allow time for shipping the kit.

    Pre-order Now

    The Team Behind Sleep Squad

    Sleep Squad is produced by The Story Pirates and Tony Award-winning producer Eva Price (Oklahoma!, Jagged Little Pill). It is created and directed by Olivier Award nominee Jennifer Weber (& Juliet) and Drama Desk nominee Lee Overtree (Artistic Director, The Story Pirates). Read more about the full creative team.

    It’s bedtime…and your kids don’t want to go to sleep. Sound familiar? It’s what many parents face. Enter: The award-winning Story Pirates with Sleep Squad, a family-friendly, interactive, virtual theatre experience that turns your home into a rocket ship to launch kids into their dreams. This brand new, unique, kid-driven comedy theatre is something you can’t see or hear anywhere else. And, this world premiere, on-demand production creates a new kind of bedtime ritual for kids age 4-12. Sleep Squad is available to stream on-demand from Feb. 1-14.

    In Sleep Squad, Tony Award-nominee Lilli Cooper (SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, Tootsie) portrays the Dream Queen, who guides adventurers through three enchanting virtual experiences, adapted from stories written by real kids. These include a visit to a desert island (Stuck Island), a dinosaur’s birthday party (Spinosaurus’ Birthday), and an intergalactic nightclub (30 Moons) and allow kids to take ownership of the imagination-powered storytelling. Sleep Squad concludes with soothing music that will help lull adventurers to sleep.

    “We’re excited to partner with The Story Pirates on this innovative, theatrical adventure for kids,” says SCR Artistic Director David Ivers. “Sleep Squad offers kids an immersive storytelling experience that engages their imaginations, helps them settle down to sleep and gives them the tools to record their dreams. As a parent, I can identify with how challenging bedtime can be. Sleep Squad, and its nightly routine, will have kids looking forward to going to sleep.”

    Parents LOVE Sleep Squad

    Parents and reviewers are raving about Sleep Squad since its launch in late November. Review Wire recommended it as a “‘stellar’ new bedtime ritual for the whole fam!” and Motherhood Later remarked, “The best part was watching the smile on my son’s face as he listened to the stories, paused to write in his sleep journal, and watched the stars dancing on the walls of his room.” And The New York Times theatre critic Alexis Soloski remarked that her kids enjoyed creating their own stories behind their sleep masks. She added, “This is the first time in 20 years of theater criticism that I can unashamedly make this claim: The show put me to sleep.”

    The Story Pirates, one of the Sleep Squad producers, “believe that kids are creative geniuses. All of them.” Winner of the 2020 iHeartRadio award and the 2020 Webby Award for Best Kids and Family Podcast, Story Pirates Podcast is one of the top three kids and family podcasts in the world. Downloaded more than 25 million times and featuring songs and sketches based on stories written by kids, their special guests include top talent like Billy Eichner, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dax Shepard, Amber Ruffin, Bowen Yang, Claire Danes, John Oliver and Lake Bell. The Pirates have released three critically acclaimed middle-grade books with Penguin Random House and three award-winning albums, all based on ideas from kids around the world.

    Sleep Squad is part of SCR commUNITY, the theatre’s digital storytelling platform.

    Learn more and order your family’s Sleep Squad streaming pass.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Destiny of Desire"

    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 29, 2020
    Destiny of Desire
    Esperanza America (as Pilar), Cástulo Guerra (Armando Castillo), Ruth Livier (Fabiola) and Ella Saldana North (Victoria Maria del Rio) in Destiny of Desire by Karen Zacarías (2016). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About Destiny of Desire

    On a stormy night in Bellarica, Mexico, two baby girls are born—one to poverty, one to privilege—and then secretly switched by a scheming former beauty queen. Eighteen years later the girls meet, brought together by misfortune. Or is it destiny? In this fast-paced comedy inspired by popular telenovelas, forbidden love, revenge, infidelity and burning passion abound. (And musical numbers make it the perfect guilty pleasure!) This was a co-production with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

    Love, jealousy, dark secrets, hidden identities and shocking surprises. That describes both telenovelas and Karen Zacarías’ play, Destiny of Desire (2016). Audiences loved the reveals at nearly every turn of this tale—and the cast loved telling it. Actor Ella Saldana North is an SCR veteran of both mainstage and Theatre for Young Audiences Family Series productions; she portrayed Victoria Maria del Rio in Destiny of Desire, one of two young women (the other is Pilar) whose fates are intertwined. She selected this photo (above) as an important moment from the lively play.

    What moment does this depict?

    This is the moment of truth when Fabiola (Ruth Livier), who secretly is the biological mother of my character, Victoria, must decide between protecting ​Victoria, or pleasing her husband and continuing to pretend that she doesn't care what happens to this maid. In a few seconds, she will end up pushing her out of the house and into a sandstorm. 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    Lots of rehearsal centered around Fabiola: What were her natural impulses? As a mother? As a wife? When does she care and when does she switch and make that decision to be ruthless. As someone who isn't in her home and is no longer a welcome guest—not to mention is having trouble breathing—Victoria is pretty much at the mercy of these three people.  

    What’s the power about this moment?

    ​It perfectly depicts the status of everyone involved and really tells the story about that moment. You see Fabiola's posed stance and haughtiness; Armando's anger, authoritativeness, and need to control; Pilar looking ever-so-slightly hopeful but being pretty much powerless; and Victoria feeling ashamed, unwanted and scared. 

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "The Tempest"

    Tania Thompson
     | Dec 23, 2020
    The Tempest
    Nate Dendy (Ariel), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest (2014). Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey.

    About The Tempest

    Transformed onstage into a travelling tent show, this is The Tempest unlike anything you—or the Bard—ever envisioned! As the wizard Prospero plots revenge on the enemies who banished him, the exuberant epic takes on a new life—thanks to the music (haunting ballads by the inimitable Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan), the magic (by Teller, of the legendary Penn and Teller duo) and the movement (by Pilobolus, the dance troupe Newsday called “mind-blowing…wildly creative…and physically daring”). This show was produced in association with the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University and The Smith Center, Las Vegas.

    In 2014, magic burst forth on the Segerstrom Stage with a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, adapted and reimagined by acclaimed playwright Aaron Posner and magician Teller. As part of a 17-member cast, magician and actor Nate Dendy portrayed the spirit-servant Ariel. “I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment,” he says, of the photo, above. Read on to find out more about what he found magical and powerful about this moment.

    What moment does this depict?

    Simply, it’s one last dance. Prospero is giving his only child away to marriage. He’s a magician doing one last amazing magical trick with his daughter. He gets to perform with her one last time. It’s their version of a game of basketball in the driveway or fishing or working on a jigsaw puzzle together. Prospero is approaching the end of his own life and so it’s the two of them getting to share one last dance together. You can see me off to the side as Prospero’s spirit-servant, Ariel. I watched this moment from beside Prospero more than 500-plus times, maybe more, and it never got old.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    As so many moments require, there was a team of minds that fine-tuned this moment from every direction. It’s going to sound like I’m just listing people, but each one had a hand in why it looked, and most importantly felt, the way it did. Tom Nelis (Prospero) Charlotte Graham (Miranda) and I worked through the scene with our directors, Teller and Aaron Posner. And, of course, the late and great illusionist Johnny Thompson. Not to mention the band, sound design, lighting, set and costume teams. This isn’t a moment you can just wing​; ​everybody has to be on their game. It requires a lot of grueling work to make something look that effortless. I still wish I could have watched it just once from the audience. 

    What’s the power about this moment?

    From where I stood on stage, I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment. I could go on and on about its power, dramaturgically or metaphorically, but really, it just took people’s breath away. Plain and simple. And there just isn’t anything better than that right?

    Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

    All I can say is how grateful I am to have ​been a part of the team that built this production from the ground up. All of our casts and crews from theatre to theatre, and the entire creative team, taught me so much. I’ve gained some lifelong friends from the experience and it has literally changed the path of my life. Theatre. Is. Important.