Normally, when a performing art organization announces a new season, the main order of business is talking about the subject at hand: all the shows that will tempt the public over the next year.
This year, of course, is different.
“I was up until midnight last night trying to figure all this out,” said David Ivers, South Coast Repertory’s artistic director, on Friday. He was referring not to the season announcement, but a massive undertaking that the 56-year-old Costa Mesa theater company had never tried before: filming a production of one of its plays, “Outside Mullingar,” on the last night it would be performed before all public performances ended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are working to make the performance available to you online, so that you may view it from the safety of your own home,” said a special notice to ticketholders posted last week on SCR’s website.
“We filmed the entire performance last night,” Ivers said. “It went well. The unions came together and allowed it to be filmed and put on a platform once we edit it.” Ivers said more details would be announced about where and how to watch the filmed version “as soon as possible — probably in a few days.”
Ivers said his theater is prepared to do the same thing for its upcoming world premiere production of “The Scarlet Letter,” playwright Kate Hamill’s version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s celebrated classic, which is scheduled to begin previews on March 28.
“Our cast (for ‘The Scarlet Letter’) is fantastic. We’re keeping them and all of our staff on payroll. If they want to work from home, they can.” While the stages are dark, the theater complex is being cleaned top to bottom, Ivers said.
Ivers acknowledged the tremendous burden of cancelling performances and losing revenue, but he was confident his theater could manage the hardships. “We’re doing what many businesses are trying to do: making certain our employees are taken care of and our patrons are safe.”
Here’s a look at SCR’s 2020-21 season, with comments from Ivers.
On the Segerstrom Stage
Two Trains Running by August Wilson (Sept. 5-Oct. 3)
“I have a strong commitment to August. Not a lot of people have seen ‘Two Trains’ compared to ‘Fences’ and many of the others plays in his 10-play cycle. It is set in the year of my birth (1969). It’s all about how what’s happening in the world outside of this diner ignites what happens inside of it. August Wilson is the Shakespeare of America in a way. It’s a wordy play, but an extraordinary piece, and I thought, ‘Let’s open with that.’”
Quixote Nuevo by Octavio Solis, based on the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha Book 1 by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Oct. 17-Nov. 14)
“This play just had its world premiere, and it will have a lot of productions next year. To me it’s about bringing home a friend and a playwright who has a long legacy here. It’s highly theatrical, musically vigorous and textually vigorous.”
Our Town by Thornton Wilder (Jan. 23-Feb. 20)
“For me, this play is the anchor and the center of the season. It hit me like a ton of bricks a couple of months ago. It’s about who we are as Americans in the face of polarization and the lack of hope, and (the) need to be made great again. I was looking for something cathartic. I was sitting on the floor, I opened the script, and an hour and a half later I had read the whole play. I thought, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ It’s as present and vital now as it was when Thornton Wilder penned it. I find it totally life-affirming, even though I cry every time I read it. It felt cathartic to me.
“I went back through the history here at SCR and looked at some of the (productions) that made this place what it is. There was always this strong commitment to the classics and how they anchor everything and talk to the new forms and pieces. These two plays (“Two Trains Running” and “Our Town”) represent that. They’re exciting and personal in ways I didn’t expect.”
Vladimir by Erika Sheffer (world premiere), part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival (March 27-April 24, 2021)
Prelude to a Kiss, the Musical, with music by Dan Messé, lyrics by Sean Hartley and Dan Messé, and book by Craig Lucas (world premiere), directed by David Ivers (May 15-June 12, 2021)
“Of course, SCR has a strong relationship to this play. (It debuted at the theater in 1988.) When I arrived, I had greenlit a very early workshop version of (this musical adaptation of) it. It had very few songs. After that workshop, which was filmed so I could watch it because I wasn’t in residence yet, I put it into a more vigorous development scheme. I believed in it and felt very strongly about it. That was well over a year ago. Since then it has had another workshop, and it still has another two-week workshop in September in New York. We’re not done with it, but it’s come a long way.”
On the Julianne Argyros Stage
Threshold, co-created by Amy Brenneman and Sabrina Peck, written by and starring Amy Brenneman, choreographed by Sabrina Peck (world premiere) (Sept. 27-Oct. 18)
“I love Amy; I’m a huge fan. We’ve become very close. She has this very personal story, which was workshopped on the east coast. A close mutual friend of both of ours, knowing what she does and about my own life, said, ‘Look at this — it intersects with things in your life.’ I looked at it and said, ‘How can we develop it further?’ Basically, it’s a very personal story for her: The journey of her daughter in obviously a loving family who is struggling to be diagnosed with her disability. It’s about what it means to navigate the California health-care system, as part of a (group of) parents dealing with things that we don’t want to name, and about how things get misdiagnosed. That’s a big part of my life with one of my sons. It felt so powerful to me. This piece is told by two actors and three or four dancers. The form will be unique: there is dance, narrative, cinematography. And Amy anchors it.”
Tiger Style! by Mike Lew (Jan. 3-24)
The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan from the film by Alfred Hitchcock (March 7-28, 2021)
“It’s actually almost 10 years ago that this show was popular. It’s such a love letter to the theater, and the Argyros is the perfect space for it. SCR has a history of putting a lot of dark, new stuff in there, which is great, but I want to open up that forum and give a little bit of balance. At this point in the season it will be really nice to have a lift, something joyful. It celebrates the theatrical form in a different way. I’m playing this season with a mix of genres and delivery modes. I think this show adds to the range of the season in a way, creating an opportunity for it to be fun and muscular and loose.”
TBA world premiere, part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival (April 11-May 2)
Theatre for Young Audiences Family Series
You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz; book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner (Nov. 6-22)
Last Stop on Market Street by Cheryl L. West, based on the book by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, with music and lyrics by Lamont Dozier and Paris Dozier (Feb. 5-21)
TBA (May 28-June 13, 2021)
Special to the Season
These shows are not part of subscription packages.
A Christmas Carol (Nov. 28-Dec. 27)
This will mark the last time for the original production, written by Jerry Patch. Longtime SCR actor Richard Doyle will step out of his 36-year-role as the Ghost of Christmas Past to portray Ebenezer Scrooge, replacing longtime Scrooge Hal Landon Jr. A brand-new production will replace this show in 2021. Single tickets will go on sale to the public in June; subscribers have early access.
“I love that Richard is doing Hal’s part. I’ve gotten to admire and really be close to him. He’s a class act. The new (Christmas show for 2021) is in the planning stages right now. It starts its path to being written next spring. Two workshops will happen next season, with a third presentation late in the summer.”
Pacific Playwrights Festival (April 23-25, 2021)
An annual showcase of new work features seven new plays over a weekend in a combination of readings and full productions. The three-day festival attracts theater professionals from across the nation, as well as local and regional new-play fans.
The Mozart Project (June 10-12)
This collaboration between South Coast Repertory, the Pacific Symphony (Carl St.Clair, music director and conductor) and the Pacific Chorale (Robert Istad, artistic director), brings Wolfgang to life for an all-Mozart evening at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The program includes the charming Don Giovanni Overture and the transcendent Requiem in d-minor, interspersed with a portrayal of Mozart’s greatest rival, Antonio Salieri, performed by Ivers. Subscribers receive exclusive access to tickets before the general public.
“It’s been a while since I’ve done this character. We’ll see how it comes back to me. Carl St.Clair and I are going to start putting it together, and we will hire a director. It’s important for both of us to do this. I approached him and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And he immediately said yes. I love working with the guy.”
Ticket information is available at scr.org.
Paul Hodgins is the senior editor of Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at [email protected].