• Playwright Allison Gregory’s Inspirations for "Red Riding Hood"

    by 
    John Glore
     | Apr 15, 2021
    Allison Gregory
    Playwright ​Allison Gregory

    Allison Gregory is no stranger to writing plays for young audiences. In fact, South Coast Repertory has produced two other Theatre for Young Audiences adaptations by Gregory— Junie B. in Jingle Bells Batman Smells! (2011) and Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook (2018). In the following inter­view, Gregory chats with Associate Artistic Director and Production Dramaturg John Glore about inspiration and her writing process.

    John Glore: Why did you decide to create a stage version of Red Riding Hood?

    Allison Gregory: I’m always looking at old stories and how they relate to today’s questions and challeng­es; how they fit into our lives—or how our lives affect those stories. When Seattle Children’s Theatre came forward with a commission, it felt like the exact right moment to explore Red Riding Hood and the beliefs and biases the fairytale perpetuates.

    JG: The play sometimes has the feel of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Were those cartoons in your mind as you wrote? Did anything else inspire your approach?

    AG: Ha, no—at least not consciously. That’s just the way I think. I imagine the room inside my brain is made of rubber and feathers—it’s an endless loop of pratfalls. Physical humor and wordplay are my favor­ite ways to communicate. Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton, Tim Conway, Dick Van Dyke, Molly Shannon, Kristen Wiig—they’re all big influences in my book.

    JG: How long did it take you to write Red Riding Hood? What was the hardest part?

    AG: I was offered a great opportunity by The New Harmony Project to attend a writer’s retreat; the tim­ing was perfect to begin outlining an idea I had for the play. After 10 days in a very tiny town in south-eastern Indiana in the dead of winter, I had a full first draft. There truly was nothing else to do but write.

    JG: How and when did you get involved in doing theatre?

    AG: I took dance lessons with my sisters when I was a kid, then got bored and stopped. When I reached high school, I got involved in the dance club, and kept dancing in college—which lead to roles in a couple of plays. From a dancer I became an actor and, much later, a writer. It seems like now people have a more deliberate plan of action. I never had a concrete plan. I had some talent and some luck; you really need both, but a plan is good, too.

    JG: When you were a kid, did you write stories and plays?

    AG: When I was a kid I played horses, dress-up, ‘hos­pital’ and kickball. Nothing I did then ever made me imagine I was going to do theatre, much less become a playwright. I took a very circuitous route, then landed in just the right spot—thankfully.

    Learn more about our digital production of Red Riding Hood and buy tickets.

  • Creating the Textures of Tree Bark for "Red Riding Hood"

    by 
    Jen Stringfellow, Scenic Charge Artist
     | Apr 12, 2021
    Trees
    Birch and Maple trees for Red Riding Hood.

    In this show-and-tell, Jen Stringfellow, South Coast Repertory's scenic charge artist, shares how her team created the realistic textures of tree bark found on the set of Red Riding Hood, a Theatre for Young Audiences Family show streaming from April 21-June 13.

    First off, the birch trees were repurposed from last season’s Scarlet Letter—they never made it to stage because of the pandemic, but got a new chance to debut in Red Riding Hood. Set designer Shaun Motley was very excited about them. We eventually had to tone them warmer to be less spooky-looking. They were made by applying brown paper dipped in glue over large cardboard tubes, usually used for pouring concrete. We took larger tubes to make our maple trees, as Shaun didn’t want a forest of only birch trees.

    Follow Stringfellow's process in the slides below.​

    • Photo 1: This is how we got the unit from the carpenters. The upper curved part was foam and the bottom part was cardboard tubing.
    • Photo 2: We used brown paper on the larger trees, but on this smaller unit we used muslin. This is because it’s easier to get more movement (those linear gestures) across a smaller area with fabric. We dipped our muslin in a mixture of flexible white glue and Jaxsan (a flexible acrylic latex coating) and applied our fabric over the unit, pulling and pinching where we wanted texture.
    • Photo 3: After the muslin step is dry, I mixed up a texture to apply over the fabric. Oftentimes, physical texture (think joint compound for example) will crack when you don’t want it too. I wanted it to crack for some “barkiness,” so I made sure to mix something up that would crack on me. For me this meant adding a lot of fumed silica to my mix.
    • Photo 4: I put my first coat of paint on, and you can really see how the applied texture mixture cracked.
    • Photo 5: When I’m painting over texture I usually start with the darkest color and work my way up. This way I can highlight all the raised bits of the texture I worked so hard to create. We “drybrush” by taking a dry brush and very little paint and lightly grazing over the top of the texture.
    • Photo 6: This was our lightest drybrush step, to really bring out the peaks of the texture.
    • Photo 7: To bring it all back together and add some warmth, we toned the whole unit down with a clear chocolatey glaze.
    • Photo 8: Our Props Shop really brought this unit to life by adding vines and greenery!

    Learn more information Red Riding Hood.

  • A Novelist Supports Emerging Writers, Including Playwrights

    by 
     | Apr 12, 2021
    Pacific Playwrights Festival

    In 1999, best-selling novelist Elizabeth George wanted to do something to help writers at the start of their careers—so she created the Elizabeth George Foundation. The nonprofit provides grants to writers across genres to support them in the creation of their new works. ​Over the last 20 years, the foundation has partnered with SCR to commission works from nearly 60 emerging playwrights. Among the recipients have been some of the American theatre’s most celebrated writers including Julia Cho, Noah Haidle, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Rajiv Joseph.

    SCR is thrilled to announce the recipients of the Elizabeth George commissions for 2020 and 2021: Spenser Davis and Charly Evon Simpson (2020) and Aurora de Asua, Benjamin Benne and Bleu Beckford-Burrell (2021). Continue reading below about each of them.

    In 2020, playwright Shayan Lotfi also received an Elizabeth George Commission. In May 2021, his play Park-e Laleh will have a digital, staged reading as part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival.

    2020 Elizabeth George Commissions

    Davis,-Spencer​Spencer Davis

    Spencer Davis is a Chicago-based​, Arkansas-born writer-director. He’s a longtime member of Broken Nose Theatre, an ensemble member of The Factory, and current Michael Maggio Directing Fellow at The Goodman Theatre. His play Plainclothes won the 2019 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award and was a finalist for the Harold & Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. Last year, his critically acclaimed virtual play The Spin was called “my favorite online production since theat​res began shuttering last March” (Stage & Cinema). His short plays have been produced around the world and have been published by Smith & Kraus. As a director, he has been nominated three times for the Joseph Jefferson Best Director Award, winning once. His production of At the Table was named “One of the Best of the Year” by Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones and “One of the 25 Best Shows of the Decade” by Storefront Rebellion. He’s a series writer and director of “Squid,” a short-form comedy series now available on Amazon Prime. He’s proud to be represented by Luke Virkstis at William Morris Endeavor.

    Shayan-Lotfi-Headshot-to-SCR​Shayan Lotfi

    Shayan Lotfi has written a few plays and thankfully still wants to write. He’s been fortunate enough that some really cool institutions—like South Coast Repertory, The Lark, Roundabout, and Boston Court—have helped develop his work, and that some really cool residencies—like SPACE at Ryder Farm and the Millay Colony—have fed and housed him as he tried desperately to be productive. When he’s not writing, he works as an urban policy consultant, splitting his time between New York and Los Angeles.

    Simpson,-Charly​Charly Evon Simpson

    Charly Evon Simpson is a playwright, TV writer and teacher based in Brooklyn. Her plays include Behind the Sheet, Jump, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Lark, P73, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company and others. She is a recipient of the Vineyard Theatre’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award and the Dramatists Guild’s Lanford Wilson Award. This fall, she will begin her seven​-year residency with New Dramatists. She currently has theatre commissions with MTC/Sloan, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Cleveland Play House and PlayMakers Repertory Company. She’s also currently working on TV shows for HBO and teaching playwriting at State University of New York at Purchase. Simpson has a BA from Brown University, a an MA in women's studies from University of Oxford, New College, and her MFA in playwriting from Hunter College.

    2021 Elizabeth George Commissions

    de-Asua,-Aurora​Aurora de Asua

    Aurora de Asua is a California​-born playwright and actor based in Chicago. Her plays have been workshopped at Chicago theatres such as Victory Gardens Theater, ​Sideshow Theatre Company, Rivendell Theater, Greenhouse Theater Center and The Story Theatre. As an actor, she has worked with The Goodman, Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, The Hypocrites and Victory Gardens, among others. She has a BA in theatre from Northwestern University. auroradeasua.com

    Beckford-Burrell,-Bleu​Bleu Beckford-Burrell

    Bleu Beckford-Burrell is a first-generation Jamaican-American actor/playwright. Born and raised in New York City, she works for non-profit organizations where she teaches acting to teens, as well as writes and directs plays. Her plays include P.S.365 (2019 O’Neill Finalist) showcased at EST (Youngblood Workshop Series) and The National Black Theatre (Keep the Soul Alive reading series). Her play Lyons Pride (2020 Burman New Play Award ​finalist, 2019 The Kilroy’s Honorable Mention, and Yale Drama Series Award runner-up, 2018 BAPF, Princess Grace Award ​finalist) was showcased at Playwrights Realm (Ink’d Festival of New Plays) and EST (Bloodwork Reading Series). Her play La Race (2020 Normal Ave ​finalist and Theatre503 International Playwright Award, O’Neill, Bay Area Playwright Foundation semi-finalist) is currently being showcased at Faultline Theatre (Irons in the Fire, upcoming) and Page 73 (Virtual Residency). She is a Page 73 Fellow (2021), The Playwrights Realm Fellow (2018), Playwrights' Center New Voices Fellowship (2018, ​finalist), NYTW/2050 Fellowship (2019, ​finalist) as well as an I73 playwright (2020), Colt Coeur resident (2021), PWC Core Writer (2020, ​finalist), WP Lab (2020, ​finalist)​ and Working Farm (2019, ​semi-​finalist). She received the 2020 Playwrights Horizons, Jody Falco & Jeffrey Steinman Commission for Emerging Playwrights. MFA Rutgers University BleuBeckford.com 

    Benne,-Benjamin​Benjamin Benne

    Benjamin Benne was born and raised in Los Angeles County and completed a BA in ​theatre ​arts at Cal State Fullerton. Benne has lived in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and currently resides on the East Coast, where he is a Yale School of Drama MFA ​candidate in ​playwriting. ​His plays, including at the very bottom of a body of water, Alma and In His Hands, have been seen and developed coast to coast—and a few points in between—including The Old Globe​, Boston Court Pasadena, Teatro Milagro , Seattle Repertory Theatre, Theatre Battery, Denver Center for the Performing Arts , Texas Tech University, The Playwrights’ Center, Pillsbury House Theatre, American Blues Theater, Two River Theater, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, The Playwrights Realm , The Lark, and Roundabout Theatre Company. He is a recipient of Portland Stage’s 2020 Clauder Competition Gold Prize, Arizona Theatre Company’s 2019 National Latinx Playwriting Award, American Blues Theater’s 2019 Blue Ink Playwriting Award, the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival's 2019 Latinx Playwriting Award and a 2017 Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Playwriting Award. He is a Playwrights’ Center Affiliated Writer and member of Primary Stages’ Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group. benjaminbenne.com

    Learn more about the 2021 Pacific Playwrights Festival.

  • The Story Behind the Photo: "Vietgone"

    by 
    Tania Thompson
     | Apr 09, 2021
    Vietgone
    Samantha Quan, Raymond Lee, Paco Tolson, Maureen Sebastian and Jon Hoche in Vietgone by Qui Nguyen (world premiere, 2015). Photo by Debora Robinson.

    About ​​​Vietgone

    An all-American love story about two very new Americans. It’s 1975, and Saigon has fallen. He lost his wife. She lost her fiancé. But now in a new land, they just might find each other. Using his uniquely infectious style The New York Times calls “culturally savvy comedy”—and skipping back and forth from the dramatic evacuation of Saigon to the here and now—playwright Qui Nguyen gets up close and personal to tell the story that led to the creation of…Qui Nguyen

    Three of the four South Coast Repertory productions actor Raymond Lee appeared in have been world premieres—Vietgone by Qui Nguyen (2015), Office Hour by Julia Cho (2016) and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee (2018).

    Vietgone was the first in a series by playwright Nguyen to tell the story of his family’s escape from Vietnam in the mid-1970s. The play is set in both Vietnam and a U.S. relocation center in Arkansas, where his parents met and courted. Lee portrayed the playwright’s father, Quang. In this Q&A, he talks about why he picked the photo (above) as the point of no return for audiences.

    What moment does this depict?

    This is at the very top of the show, before all of the rapping, fighting, helicopters and love making. Qui Nguyen (the playwright),​ portrayed by Paco Tolson, sets the stage and lays down the rules of the world in which this play exists. I love this moment because 1) we’re all on stage at the same time, rare for this play as someone was usually quick-changing in the back, and 2) the audience has no idea what they’re in for as we address them face on.

    How did you work with the director to make this moment happen?

    It was very important to start the show off on the right foot. In my case, I was directed to say my first lines to the audience with as much conviction and belief as possible, which was “Sup Bitches?, and then my next line was, "Any of you..."Any of you fly ladies wanna get up on my Quang wang?”!

    What’s the power about this moment?

    Qui (Nguyen, playwright) and May (Adrales, director) made sure to use this opportunity to disarm and ready the audience for the possibility ​that anything ​could happen. This prelude almost worked as a disclaimer to say, if you’re offended by this language and behavior now, you’re likely not ready for your history to be rewritten either. Qui and May knew that once the audience's guards were down, their hearts would be left vulnerable to let in this re-envisioning story of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War.

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

    Vietgone was an unforgettable experience because it marked many firsts for me. It was my first time working with Qui and May—relationships that are continuing to deepen. My first time getting to be a lead, no less a romantic lead. My first Pacific Playwrights Festival and my first time in a main stage production at SCR—another creative relationship that I’ve come to value immensely. The cast—Maureen Sebastian, Paco Tolson, Jon Hoche and Samantha Quan—literally had to hold my hand through some of these firsts and, for that, I am forever indebted and grateful​.

  • Making Theatre in the Time of COVID

    by 
    Tania Thompson, with photos by Leanne Covis
     | Apr 09, 2021

    Nothing compares to the feeling of being back.

    Red Riding Hood Rehearsal
    ​Director Shannon Flynn, stage manager Kathryn Davies and actors Nell Geisslinger and Larry Bates in rehearsal for Red Riding Hood.

    In March, after a yearlong hiatus, South Coast Repertory returned to producing theatre—creating and filming the Theatre for Young Audiences Family show, Red Riding Hood, streaming April 21-June 13. SCR followed Actors’ Equity Association guidelines, which included COVID testing, mandatory masks and other protocols. The skilled artisans in SCR’s Production Department also worked under strict protocols to safely create the environment for the play.

    “I feel so privileged to have been part of SCR’s first production back from the pandemic, to have been in the test group for these protocols, and count myself as part of the team that demonstrated they can work,” says actor Nell Geisslinger, who is making her SCR debut in Red Riding Hood. “This production feels like concrete proof that the theatre community will bounce back with more creativity and passion than ever before. That brings a lot of joy.”

    To learn more about the challenge of making theatre, we talked to a number of those involved with the creation of Red Riding Hood.

    Red Riding Hood Costumes
    ​Fabric and Trim choices for Red Riding Hood's costumes

    In the Shops

    Costumes cannot be shared under the health and safety protocols, which was a challenge because the actors switch characters quickly between​ Red Riding Hood, Grand-Mama, the Wolf and the Woodsman—each actor portraying each character, but not at the same time. Costume designer Amy Hutto’s solution called for each to have their own nightgown, red hooded cape, wolf gloves and close-fitting jerkin or vest.

    Fittings were done remotely with the actors trying on costumes in their dressing rooms then showing them to the Costume Shop staff over FaceTime or Zoom. Costume pieces had to sit untouched for 24 hours before being delivered to actors Larry Bates and Nell Geisslinger. Once the actor had tried on the piece, notes were taken remotely and the costume piece sat, untouched, for another 24 hours before alterations could safely be made by stitchers in the shop.

    “We became very flexible with the changes,” says Ramzi Jneid, design assistant in the Costume Shop.

    Red Riding Hood Actors
    Actors Larry Bates and Nell Geisslinger in rehearsal.

    In Rehearsal and During Filming

    Each day began with COVID testing, outside on Ela’s Terrace at SCR before everyone directly working on the production gathered, socially distanced, in the Nicholas Studio for rehearsals. Six days a week, for three weeks, the actors worked with Flynn and her team to rehearse and fine-tune this play that would be filmed. Everyone in the room was distanced and masked.

    Bringing a new play to life is a complicated process of creativity, practicality, intuition, elbow grease and team work. From her home in Texas, playwright Allison Gregory virtually sat in the California rehearsal room each day via Zoom, listen, watch the intimate dynamics between the characters and track the story.

    “Plus, I was able to have crucial discussions with the actors and director in real time when necessary,” Gregory says, crediting director Shannon Flynn with establishing a fun and collaborative environment. “She immediately put me at ease and made everyone feel confidant and excited about this project.

    One of the adjustments for Flynn, an Emmy Award-winner, was looking at the play with an eye toward filming it.

    “When you design for the theatre, you know that the audience will see the whole stage,” she says. “For Red Riding Hood, the design team and I had to think about what we’d be able to see through the camera lens. During technical rehearsals, just before we filmed on the Segerstrom Stage, I stood at every point where the camera would be, to make sure that we had the best angles.” 

    “So many things are hard-wired into a stage manager’s DNA,” says Kathryn Davies, who has stage-managed not only at SCR, but globally for theatre, opera and film festivals. “It was challenging to not just lean over and whisper something to the director of production assistant. We’re so used to being quiet while actors rehearse and try not to draw attention to ourselves. Wearing masks and being physically distanced led to us text each other and use chat apps.”

    Normal parts of the rehearsal the stage management team include working with props and costumes and giving actors “prompts”—or reminders of script lines.

    “Giving an actor a line from behind a KN95 mask was difficult,” Davies says.” “It was so muffled that we would repeat words or lines a few times in order to be understood. The actors were great about it and we had quite a few laughs!”

    The theatre’s health and safety protocol, developed with advice from the University of California, Irvine, saw the addition of an infection control specialist to the Red Riding Hood team. She focused on cleaning, advised everyone of best practices and kept protocols top of mind, the cast and others could focus on the work they needed to do.

    “Everyone in the rehearsal room was on the same page and game to accept the challenges to create some fun theatre—and assume that everyone is smiling under that mask!” says Larry Bates, an SCR veteran of both Theatre for Young Audiences Family shows and mainstage productions. “I did miss the fun moments though that usually occur outside of rehearsal like grabbing a bite, grabbing a drink, having conversations and getting to know each other outside of the production.”

    Bates and Geisslinger rehearsed with only being able to see each other’s eyes over the mask.

    “When we finally got to take the masks off for filming—wow!” says Geisslinger. “We immediately started finding new things, getting more specific and detailed, and just having fun on the next level. Being able to see him was a joy. I’ll never forget that and will never take it for granted.”

    Red Riding Hood Rehearsal
    ​Director Shannon Flynn, stage manager Kathryn Davies and actors Nell Geisslinger and Larry Bates in rehearsing Red Riding Hood in the Nicholas Studio.

    Perspectives and Looking Ahead

    With filming completed for Red Riding Hood, the cast​ and creative team are eager for what’s next.

    For Bates, being a part of Red Riding Hood brought a measure of healing. “It has been a hard year for so many, especially in our industry,” he says. “To be able to come to a rehearsal hall, collaborate and play—in in person—with this team was the definition of joy.”

    Jneid says nothing compares to the feeling of being back in the theatre: “To be back with creatives, happy and hungry for the chance to be doing something together again, was a rush; as was seeing coworkers stitch great pieces that translated beautifully on stage and screen.”

    Davies found the experience to be a joy from start to finish, and says, “Everyone was so happy to be back doing what we love. I’ll take all the health and safety protocols you can throw at me in order to be back at work!”

    Gregory looked back at lessons learned and ahead: “My hope is that, going forward, I will retain some of the useful habits I’ve developed during this extraordinary period,” Gregory says. “Slowing down, being more thoughtful, more appreciative, nurturing specific goals rather than racing around like a banshee, savoring the people and places that bring me creative sustenance and

    Learn more about Red Riding Hood.