• The Story Behind the Photo: "The Roommate"

    SCR Staff
     | Sep 02, 2021
    Tessa Auberjonois and Linda Gehringer in The Roommate by Jen Silverman (2017). Photo by Debora Robinson

    About The Roommate

    Sharon is sensible. An Iowan. An empty nester. Curious and very, very talkative. For the first time in her life, at age 54, she takes in a roommate to make ends meet. Robyn, a new arrival from the Bronx, is hiding a lifetime of secrets. But Sharon has a way of getting to the truth—the fascinating, shocking truth. This intriguing and funny play proves it’s never too late to shake things up—for better or worse.

    Tessa Auberjonois has been in nearly a dozen productions at South Coast Repertory—as well as numerous new-play readings as part of the NewSCRipts series and the Pacific Playwrights Festival. In SCR’s production of The Roommate by Jen Silverman (2017), directed by SCR Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson, she portrayed Robyn, a world-wise woman who rents a room from Sharon. The experience was magical for Auberjonois, who selected this photo as her favorite.

    What moment does this depict?

    This play was a two-character story of two very unlikely and mismatched roommates, Robyn and Sharon.  It begins when my character, Robyn, arrives in the home of Sharon (Linda Gehringer) and ends after Robyn has left. Over the course of the play, they form a very unlikely friendship. In this photo, Robyn has just convinced Sharon to smoke a joint with her—something Sharon has never done!—and they are having a really good laugh.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    Because it was just two actors and our director Martin Benson working on a full-length play, we were a very tight company. Martin helped me find the physicality—and padding, wig and make-up!—to create a character who was about 15-20 years older than my actual age.  

    What’s the power about this moment?

    It was not hard work at all to find the genuine laughter you can see in this picture. Linda and I had a really magical time performing this piece together every night. All I needed to do for moments like this was look to Linda to make me laugh and fill me with real joy.

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

    Because the play takes place on one set and has multiple scenes with just the two of us, and also Jen Silverman's writing was very contemporary and specific, this was (one of) the hardest scripts to memorize. Linda and I worked really hard and it certainly paid off. Some writers have an innate sense of language and timing and we found that when we really nailed the words exactly as written and punctuated on the page, it just soared. I'm proud of that because I think it's an example of making something that was really hard look easy and effortless. I also got to stand backstage at the end of the play, after my character had moved out, and listen to Linda's beautiful final monologue, which made me cry every single night!

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "How to Write a New Book for the Bible"

    Linda Gehringer
     | Aug 06, 2021
    How to Write a New Book for the Bible
    Linda Gehringer, Jeff Biehl and Tyler Pierce in How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain (2012). Photo by Henry DiRocco.

    About ​​​How to Write a New Book for the Bible

    “Write about what you know.” Bill Cain took that advice, and this is the dazzling result—a play about a family so appealing that you want to find a comfortable chair and settle down in their living room. When Bill comes back home to care for Mary, his often maddening (but always funny) mother, he tells the family story as it unfolds—in evocative flashbacks. The memories are both bitter and sweet, for this is a family with its own set of commandments. They squabble, yes, but even their arguments are beguiling.

    Linda Gehringer has been in more than 20 productions at South Coast Repertory—in addition to readings for NewSCRipts and the Pacific Playwrights Festival. She had already been involved with How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain (2012), directed by Kent Nicholson, as the play developed and ​had two productions at two other theatres before ​SCR produced it. She fell in love with this story of a strong, feisty elderly woman at the end of her life.

    What moment does this depict?

    We worked on this particular moment over and over—it comes early in the play, soon after we meet my character, Mary Cain. She is dying of cancer and her son has come home to take care of her. He thought his mother needed a cane or some assistance for walking, but she was not happy about it at all. In fact, she ended up kicking the medical helper, who came to test her, across the room.

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    It was, of course, funny—but it had to be believable. Like so many other moments in that play, Mary had enormous strength for someone who was dying, so there was always a balance that could be hard to find. We wanted her to be as funny as possible but always so real—and, of course, so heartbreaking. This moment happened because of everyone involved—the director, the playwright and the actors. It was a wonderful ensemble group where people felt free to express their opinions.

    What’s the power about this moment?

    This was such a victory for her—and emotionally it was so satisfying because she stunned them all.

    Anything else you’d like to say?

    This is such a wonderful memory. I can still hear the audience laughter from this moment and when we finally got it right, it was so right. This was a beautiful play.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Rest"

    Wyatt Fenner
     | Jul 23, 2021
    Lynn Milgrim and Wyatt Fenner in Rest by Samuel D. Hunter (2014). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​Rest

    In northern Idaho, a retirement home is shutting down. Only three patients remain—and one of them is lost. Gerald, 91 and suffering from severe dementia, has disappeared, leaving his wife, Etta, and her friend, Tom, behind. The facility’s remaining staff includes a new 20-year-old cook and two longtime nurses, women who suddenly face a crisis of their own. In the midst of a record-breaking blizzard, the search for Gerald takes an unexpected turn.

    More About the Play

    Reflections on the Moment

    Wyatt Fenner has appeared at South Coast Repertory in both mainstage and Theatre for Young Audiences and Families shows. In back-to-back seasons, he appeared in two plays by Samuel D. Hunter, including the world-premiere of Rest, directed by SCR Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson (2014). The play has special meaning for Fenner—from being able to create the role of Ken to working with a stellar cast, from the joy of performing at SCR to a deepening friendship with the playwright. In this essay, he talks about all the memories the photo above brings back to him.

    There are thousands of happy feelings and experiences that contributed to us getting to this moment onstage for the world premiere of Rest.

    I see in this photo the orange-and-pink sky brightening over the 405 as I listened to KCRW during my early morning drive. I’d arrive early to get in a good workout at the 24-Hour Fitness around the corner from the theatre before a day's rehearsal. 

    I smell from this photo the scent of fresh cookies blasting me in the face as I rush into Specialty's Cafe during a 20-minute break to grab a snack and then sit in the sun with friends on the theatre’s terrace, reflected in the gorgeous glass lobby doors.

    I feel my feet sticking to the floor as we find a booth for post-rehearsal or post-performance drinks at Tin Lizzie or, if we are feeling fancy, The Westin, where the sticky floor would be replaced with those lush comfy chairs and that very prestigious snack mix with wasabi peas. 

    I hear Stage Manager Jenny Butler sternly, but kindly, reminding me to keep my parking receipt in a spot where it won’t (again) get whipped out the window and into oblivion on my drive home. “No matter what, just put it in your center console whenever you’re driving, Wyatt.”

    These feelings, these impulses, they just go on and on and I love each of them. But let me start at the beginning: What most of all strikes me when I look at this photo is the kindness that overwhelms my body with a feeling of joy when I look at it.

    Years ago, Casting Director Joanne DeNaut brought me on board to do a Pacific Playwrights Festival reading; Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson saw me in that and asked me to do Misalliance. When my dad came out from Virginia to see the play, I brought him around the theatre’s administrative offices to introduce him to everyone and while Dad and I were hanging out in Martin's office, Martin suddenly says, "You know, you have the exact same bright smiling eyes as your dad." 

    That's the way that Martin moves through the world and works as a director. Seeing the everyday, beautiful things there in front of all of us and, instead of letting that beauty pass by unacknowledged, maybe unnoticed, Martin says "Look at this. Right here." He brings your attention to beauty you might have missed, even in seemingly sad situations, and he adds value to our experience. SCR has always been an institution made up of loving, intelligent, curious people willing to invest in challenging, hilarious, life-affirming plays and that is why work like Rest gets produced. The work that helps people do better out in the world by saying to them: “Look at this beautiful, special thing that is right here in front of you, maybe unnoticed. Look at it and appreciate it.  The team of people at SCR is what makes it the sort of place that can, and does, do such great good in the world. The sort of place you want to take your dad around the offices to make introductions. The sort of place where you can't wait to run into your friends from different departments.

    I look at this photo and I can feel the rough crispy texture of the fabric on my seat. During previews, Scenic Designer John Iocavelli treated the chair with a coating that transformed it, to become the more weathered piece of furniture just biding its time in an assisted living home about to be shut down, the setting for Rest

    I can smell the melting, icy shards that had, just before entering, been placed on the soft fuzz of the ruff on my coat, which Costume Designer Angela Calin had fixed with a new zipper so that we could use exactly the right one which we found together during one of my fittings with her down in the Costume Shop in the theatre’s basement. Angela and John are two great, inspiring friends of mine and I see them in their beautiful work in this photo and I think of all the laughter and creativity we’ve shared. 

    This is the first scene in the play. Lynn Milgrim and I would stand together backstage until the lights began to dim, at which point I would wrap my right arm around her waist and take her left hand in mine. She'd give my hand a squeeze and whisper a little giggle noise in my ear while the lights settled into blackness and then together I'd walk us out of the wing and through the darkness of the stage to her couch; once she was seated then I'd hop over to my chair. The lights would pop up on us and, together, Lynn and I would dive into the evening. Staring into one another's eyes, navigating the initial responses from the audience with our actor antennae stretched peripherally out from us, feeling them climb on board and ease into the story we were going to be sharing with them that night. Using those first few pages of the play to elicit their laughter and help them let go of whatever their day, their week, their year, had tensed up their shoulders with. Like a friendly pair of bank robbers Lynn and I wouldn’t take the audience's attention from whatever had been occupying their mind and get them to do just what we want by making them feel what we feel. 

    In this photo, I can feel my body as the character of Ken. During a Saturday morning talkback event, I remember a man in the audience who had seen me play Puck over at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles the summer before. Now he asked, “How do you make your body do such different things, because in Midsummer you looked like a completely different person.” I stood up, thought about Puck and suddenly I had musculature and airiness. Puck felt like a vine stretching up along a wall reaching towards the sky and the sun. Then, I thought about myself as Ken and everything covered up and cloaked over itself. My body reduced the space it needed to take up in the world by about thirty percent. Being Ken felt like being looked at was the last thing in the world I’d want. Any character takes over your nervous system. Someone like Ken, dealing with such uncertainty, that feeling takes hold of your limbs in a kind of way that piles them up to best and quick as possible tuck your existence away and hopefully find placement on the back of some dark shelf in a laundry cupboard that maybe smells like dryer steam several times a day. As uncomfortable as that sounds, I love it. I love being someone brave enough to be that uncomfortable but persist—to have the kind of faith that, despite every indication that things won't work out, there is still a willingness to try your best. It's inspiring to be an all-powerful forest god, sure—but the power it takes to carry on when you feel powerless, to be self-sufficient when you've been told you're worthless. That's another kind of inspiration.

    When I look at this photo I think of my friend, playwright Sam Hunter. Sam is a genius. Literally. He actually was given a cool award that says so [Editor’s Note: Hunter was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called ‘Genius Grant.’]  But, when you’re spending time with a mind and heart like Sam has, you can’t just sit there continuing to say, “Oh man you’re a genius. Oh boy, you are really brilliant!” So even though I always feel that way when I’m at work with him, and we've collaborated on many of his plays, I learned to funnel my admiration for him into the project we are making together. Fortunately, we also spend a lot of time outside the rehearsal room, where it’s less about the realization of his brilliant writing and more about just kicking back and cooking a good steak, driving down to the Stone IPA Brewery on our day off, pulling our feet up off the sticky floor of Tin Lizzie. Our friendship is littered with moments of being in the right place at the right time, or sharing an idea before either of us says it out loud. I think those experiences of synchronicity are an indication of things lining up and cooperating. When you are spending time with someone special, you can feel life, invisibly without words, saying to you, “You're on track." 

    Sam and I first met when Joanne introduced us to work on his play, The Few, which we went on to workshop in Colorado and Massachusetts. Then we did The Whale at SCR and, on the morning of that play’s opening, we did the first in-house reading of Rest. I look at this photo and I see the sky full of stars above the hot springs in Steamboat. I see the Dunkin Donuts bags we both had grabbed for our train from New York up to Massachuestts. I look at this photo and I can taste the delicious Trader Joe's French Roast coffee, which I had about 19 cups of that morning of our Rest reading. 

    This is all a part of how we got to do this play—and how we will all get to the place where we do the next play and the next. Everyone involved allowed the world of the play to work on them to get to the right place through caring for the people we are all meant to share our time with, shared the beauty you see in the world and encouraged your friends and loved ones. This photo reminds me of the gift of our ability to do that every day, and how when you live your life that way you find yourself in a position to create something incredible with an unbelievable company of people.

    I can’t wait to be back onstage! Love to each and every one of you.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Orange"

    Tania Thompson
     | Jul 01, 2021
    Karthik Srinivasan Anjali Bhimani and Pia Shah in ​Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil (2017). Photo by ​Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​Orange

    Leela is different. A teenager from India, she draws life’s important moments in her journal. When a family wedding gets boring, her rebellious cousin decides to run for it with her boyfriend—and take Leela along. As they careen through Orange County, navigating dangerous situations from dusk to dawn, Leela challenges their view of her—and each other. A touching story about a unique young woman’s search for her place in the world. 

    Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil, directed by Jessica Kubzansky (2017) is an action-adventure with a lot of humor and a huge heart. It follows Leela, a teen from India on the autism spectrum, who comes to Southern California for a family wedding and then goes on a wild ride with her rebellious cousin. It was a role that actor Pia Shah loved for the challenge it brought her. “As an actor, I was used to taking in all the stimulus from the environment and usually expressing it and releasing it back into the world in more typical ways,” says Shah. “But as Leela, I was processing the world without necessarily showing it or expressing it verbally in obvious ways.” She selected the photo above as a favorite moment from Orange.

    What moment does this depict?

    This was an amazing moment Aditi Brennan Kapil created for us in which Leela's, cousin, Preeti, played by Anjali Bhimani, and her boyfriend, played by Karthik Srinivasan, have left the wedding we are supposed to be at and are out on a joyride at night. The lovebirds are having a little make-out session in the parked car (the bench seen here).

    Leela, after patiently sitting there and trying to figure out what's going on, asks from the backseat if they are at the beach and, after receiving no answer, asks again. Finally, while they share this never-ending kiss, Leela decides to take action: she gets out of the car and says, matter-of-factly, “Okay. Bye.” And then she wanders away to explore. It's a dangerous moment that's also really funny, which is so much fun to play as an actor. 

    How did you work to make this moment happen?

    The timing and rhythm of the scene were so interesting for me to work on with Director Jessica Kubzansky and Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil. It was such a funny moment and the silences while Preeti and her boyfriend were making out were so full. It was hard to keep a straight face.

    Leela was this awkward third wheel and the audience would howl with laughter. She decides to switch on the headlights, which requires her to lean forward in between their tangled bodies and turn the switch on the dashboard and see where they are and she realizes excitedly they are indeed at the beach, which is her own personal goal on their adventure. 

    Any final thoughts?

    Leela has her own rich inner life and internal clock. She weaves in and out of the more (to her) banal, everyday moments, as well as newer, more confusing situations—interpreting things in her own way—and finding treasure in unexpected places. It's a powerful mix, and Aditi created many such subtle, innocent and poignant moments of hilarity. It was an incredibly unique and special production.

  • Why Your Cat May Be Interested in the Floor of This Set

    Jen Stringfellow, Scenic Charge Artist
     | Jun 21, 2021
    Outside SCR

    Jen Stringfellow, South Coast Repertory’s scenic charge artist, documented her team’s work on the stage platform floor for the Outside SCR productions of American Mariachi and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. In the article below, she shares photos and talks about how an unusual item helped make the flooring surface—one of the largest parts of the set—resilient.

    There are many ways to mask off areas that you don’t want to paint, such as painter’s tape, paper and drop cloths. But what about odd-shaped sections, specifically areas you want to have a fuzzy edge? A common one that scenic artists use is non-clumping cat litter! I felt it could be helpful in painting the stage floor for Outside SCR, our summer series.  

    The stage for the two productions that are part of Outside SCR was created by talented set designer Efren Delgadillo Jr. to match some wonderfully aged concrete at Mission San Juan Capistrano. I noticed interestingly shaped chunks that were more bleached-looking so, instead of painting those areas lighter, I decided to paint the floor from lightest-to-darkest and mask off (to avoid having paint in an area) those areas early on. My masking choice of course—cat litter. We made a mess, but it was Febreze-scented so it was a nice change from our normally smelly paint!

    • Photos 1, 1a: I based the floor with the lightest color in a heavy-duty paint, specifically formulated for exterior decks. All of the paint had to be rated for exterior use because we want the stage to be able to survive outside with as little damage as possible. I also mixed some safe-grip crystals into the paint to prevent a slippery surface—the morning dew can sometimes make surfaces slippery. After the base coat, I poured the cat litter where I wanted my bleached-looking areas.
    • Photo 2: I began to spatter over top of the cat litter, again from lightest to darkest.
    • Photos 3, 3a: We didn’t want to wait until the very end to remove the cat litter; this will cause naked spots of base coat surrounded by all the interesting spatter. We removed the cat litter in the middle of the process so that we could work back into it and blend.
    • Photos 4, 4a: Of course, this faux concrete had to have some lovely cracks. They were painted with a scenic fitch brush on a bamboo pole.
    • Photo 5: Once the cracks were laid in, I started toning. This meant throwing paint into a garden sprayer and just going to town!
    • Photos 5a,6: Once all the toning was done, I went back in with a darker color to emphasize some of the cracks. Done!

    Learn more information Outside SCR and buy your tickets.