Photo of the Week

JN2This photo was taken on the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China.

© Janna Nichols

Of Note

starrynightStarry Night,” an evening of performances by alumni, caps off PCPA’s 50th Anniversary Alumni Reunion Weekend on Monday, August 11 at 8 pm in the Solvang Festival Theater. Tickets are still available for the special fundraiser at $75 each, which includes a backstage tour following the performance. Premium tickets also are available at $150 each, which in addition to the backstage tour include a pre-show champagne reception, meet and greet with the actors, and intermission hospitality.

Catalina Island recently invested $40 million to revitalize its tourist industry. Now the severe California drought threatens the recent tourism boom on the island. New York Times

SXSW15Are you a filmmaker, musician, or game designer? Do you like to watch, listen or interact with others who do the same? SXSW 2015, scheduled March 13-22 in Austin, Texas, is open for you to submit, register, or at the very least make plans to attend.

Paul McCartney played a three-hour set of nearly 40 songs before a sold-out concert at Dodger Stadium Sunday night, his first performance there since the Beatles played in 1966. If you weren’t at the concert, check out the review. Sounds like we missed something special. LA Daily News

ACTThe Academy of Creative Theatre at SLO Little Theatre is now accepting registrations for fall after-school classes for youth ages 5 to 18. Scholarships are available thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County, so cost shouldn’t stand in the way of talented and motivated students enrolling in classes at both beginning and advanced levels. It’s a great way to involve kids and teens in the arts!

Braun“Visual Encounters,” a new show at the Morro Bay Art Association, opens August 14. A reception with featured artists Carolyn Braun, Flo Bartell, Park Merrill and Ron Myers is scheduled 2-4 pm on Sunday, August 17 at the Art Center Gallery in Morro Bay. Braun specializes in soft pastels, Bartell shows her encaustic work, and Merrill and Myers exhibit large works in oils.

Central Coast writer Sarah Linn profiles playwright José Cruz González, whose months-long collaboration with PCPA in Santa Maria produced the recent world premiere of the historical drama The San Patricios. The production also features music by Zoot Suit composer and actor Daniel Valdez. Artbound

flowersA memorial service will be held for Marysia Maziarz, wife of former San Luis Obispo poet laureate Ray Clark Dickson, on Thursday afternoon, August 21, at the United Church of Christ in San Luis Obispo.  Further details are to be announced.

Asked & Answered

Suzy Newman, Theatre Director

“It’s so fun to work on a play. It’s the perfect blend of artistic touchy-feelyness and elbow grease.”

Suzy Newman

August 5, 2014 (San Luis Obispo, CA) — If you follow the theatre scene on the Central Coast, you know the name Suzy Newman. Director, actor, company manager—this talented professional has done it all. She has appeared with PCPA, she recently directed San Luis Obispo Little Theatre productions of Independence and The Santaland Diaries, and she has worked for more than a dozen years in various roles on- and off-stage at The Great American Melodrama. Her current directing project is The Shaughraun at the Melodrama, which runs through September 21 at the Oceano playhouse.

Charlotte Alexander: Let’s start with your current production, The Shaughraun at The Great American Melodrama. What attracted you to the play and made you interested in directing it?

Suzy Newman: Usually when being offered directing jobs, you don’t have a choice of the play you will direct. It so often depends on availability of your time and that of the other directors considered for the theatre’s season. In the case of the summer shows at the Melodrama, I did express my preference for The Shaughraun, which is a Victorian-era melodrama. I worked on several of the “classic” melodramas while there as an actor, and I find them really fun to do. They are their own unique animal in theatre, and yet not so obviously distinct as, say, a musical. When in the audience watching a musical, you are prepared for something different than when watching a modern comedy or Arthur Miller, or Shakespeare, or ballet. The old melodramas aren’t really in most of the public’s experience of theatre. My main goal for The Shaughraun was to make the story as clear as possible―challenging because of multiple plot points, a lot of wordy exposition right up front, and language unique to the time and style of writing. I didn’t want it to seem pedantic, but to use a physical style that acknowledged the importance of the storytelling. One of the great things about these old melodramas is the marriage of the stereotyped characters with the honesty of emotion with which they are played. There is no subtext in the lines and the stakes are always extremely high. The actors in this cast all have the ability to say these old―sometimes admittedly corny―lines with great honesty and emotional commitment. They then incorporated a presentational physical style to aid the storytelling. I think it makes it really fun to watch. Historically, this is one of the plays from which clichés were born. Trying to disguise them would be disingenuous. We’re not poking fun at the play or the genre at all. But we can’t ignore what we’ve experienced from 150 years of theatrical evolution. I wanted the audience to get emotionally caught up with the characters, while still giggling because the heroine is tied up with ridiculous amounts of rope.

CA: How long have you been directing? Are you an actor or a director first?

SN: I am definitely an actor first. But I now really love directing. I have been directing for about 10 years. John Schlenker (owner of the Melodrama) asked me to direct A Christmas Carol  while I was an actor there. I really wanted to say “no” because I was so scared. But I did it because I wanted it to be something that I knew how to do.

CA: Give us some insight into your process as a director. For example, what is your approach to working with actors, and is your approach different if you are working with amateurs or professionals?

SN: I have finally come to terms with the fact that as much as I study a play before I start rehearsals, I can never seem to know it fully. I can’t intellectually put everything together. So I prepare as much as I can, but then I start rehearsals with a lot of unknowns, and listen to my gut when need be. Seeing everything unfold physically before you, and working with the actors and their responses to what the script is giving them, reveals the true play and your particular production of it. I love to get to the point in rehearsal when it’s time to do the nitty gritty scene work with the actors. The relationships of the characters are always the heart of a play. I want each actor to be confident in what their intentions are for each moment of the play. That is the same for whatever group of actors I work with. No two actors, regardless of their personal history or on-stage experience, get to that point in the same way. I see it as my job to collaborate with actors individually on their path in the play, but also to make sure they all fit in to the play as a whole. It’s so fun to work on a play. It’s the perfect blend of artistic touchy-feelyness and elbow grease. Everyone has to tune in to their instincts, be open and creative, and then put in the grunt work. And then sometimes, it’s just telling someone to stand in a certain place at a certain moment because it looks good.

CA: Do you have certain people you try to work with on shows behind the scenes, such as particular stage managers, costumers, lighting designers, set designers, etc.? Do you have a “dream team” of collaborators?

SN: Usually you don’t get to choose your team, since they are hired by the theatre and, again, subject to availability and what the artistic director may see as their strengths. But it’s actually really fun to work with so many different people who approach things in their own way, yet know that we are all aiming for the same goal. You all come in with your individual expertise and opinions and then collaborate to make it happen. Luckily, I get to work with several who would be on my “dream team” pretty frequently.

CA: What is your general impression of the theatre scene on the Central Coast, both for amateurs and professionals? Are there too many productions, too few? Are there missed opportunities?

SN: I’m always amazed at the amount of theatre going on around us. I don’t really think there can be too much. It’s nice to see theatre be a commonplace entertainment option. It means you can’t see every production from every theatre, but if you want to go to or be involved in a show, there’s always something right around the corner. There is some really good amateur theatre in our area. Of course, selfishly, I’d love to have more resident professional theatre and paying work.

CA: What does the future hold for you? Will you still be directing in 10 years? Will you still be doing theatre? What do you like to do besides theatre?

SN: I can’t imagine what would stop me from doing theatre. There’s always the financial challenge that comes from making a living in the arts, but… so be it. If someone wants to pay me for trail running or snorkeling or petting dogs, I’ll take that too.

By David Congalton

On Books and Film

August 11, 2014 (San Luis Obispo, CA) —Congratulations to my friend and former KVEC colleague Suzan Vaughn on the publication of her new memoir: Dear Oprah: Confessions of a Middle-Class White GirlSuzan will join me on the radio this Wednesday at 4:05 p.m. to discuss the book, followed by a signing on Thursday, August 14 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo.

Meanwhile, another local author is about to become very busy. Jay Asher, author of the bestselling Young Adult novels 13 Reasons Why and The Future of Us, is embarking on a 50-state tour to speak out against bullying. Organized by Penguin Books for Young Readers, Jay will discuss bullying in at least one school in each state between October 2014 and May 2015. You can read more about the tour here.

And former New Times reporter Christy Heron has a new novel out, Unrequited: One Girl, Thirteen Boyfriends, and Vodka. Heron, who currently lives in Florida, is already at work on her next novel.

If you have friends in Kern County, please let them know that I will be speaking about the movie Authors Anonymous at the monthly meeting of Writers of Kern on Saturday, August 16. The group meets at 10 a.m. at The Clarion Hotel, 3540 Rosedale Highway in Bakersfield. Details of upcoming presentations are available here.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay bemoaning the lack of good movies this summer, at least for the older gang. Someone must have been listening, because currently there’s a wealth of good movies playing on the Central Coast. Begin Again is likely in its final week at the Downtown Centre in San Luis Obispo (showing only at 4:40 p.m.), but Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley have fun in this story about two musicians getting a second chance. The reviews have been mixed for Helen Mirren in The Hundred-Foot Journey, but the movie about competing restaurants is getting rave word-of-mouth. And the critically acclaimed Boyhood from director Richard Linklater is filling two screens at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo all week (and likely for awhile). Finally, A Most Wanted Man marks the final starring role for the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this thriller based on a John LeCarre novel. Pass the popcorn.

John Sayles fans won’t want to miss the upcoming release of his 18th film, Go for Sisters, to VOD August 12 and on DVD August 19. The movie, which premiered at SXSW 2013, was released in theatres last fall. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calls it “a movie that stays inside your head long after you see it.” The cast features LisaGay Hamilton, Edward James Olmos and Yolonda Ross, who received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance.


The San Patricios: A World Premiere in Our Backyard

By Charlotte Alexander

August 2, 2014 (Santa Maria, CA) – So . . . after more than a year of workshops and collaboration and sweat, PCPA has introduced a brand new play to the world. That’s an impressive accomplishment, and one that Central Coast theatre professionals and audiences deserve.

The San Patricios, by José Cruz González with music by Daniel Valdez, recently made its debut at the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria to appreciative audiences that appear to include large contingents of history buffs and technical theatre types. That’s no wonder, given the development process of the work—which included five workshops over the last 16 months with designers, musicians, actors and dramaturges—and the nature of the story, set in 1846 during the Mexican-American war.

The production values are excellent, as the community has come to expect from this vibrant and rich company. Such consistent attention to details of design, acting and showmanship can be laid squarely at the feet of Mark Booher, who as both artistic director of PCPA and director of this production played a major role in the collaborative process that formed it.

Taking the chance on presenting such a rich—and yes, raw, not to mention unfamiliar—work as part of PCPA’s regular season of shows, Booher has accomplished an amazing and wonderful thing: he has kept the company’s 50th anniversary season honest and true to its mission, which includes the belief that “theatre has a vital role and responsibility in the community to enrich cultural literacy and improve the quality of life.”

santaannaThere’s no doubt that The San Patricios is still a work in progress. The mixture of personal stories—those of Irish immigrants, U.S. soldiers and Mexican patriots, both male and female—and commentary, primarily in the form of Ringmaster Polk (played by Erik Stein in fine form) and Santa Anna (played by the equally entertaining Leo Cortez), is problematic. It is both help and hindrance to understanding the action, sometimes slowing the forward motion of the script while providing nuanced and quite clever exposition on the whys and wherefores that modern-day audiences may not understand.

The rest of the cast is remarkable as well, including Megan C.C. Walker, Paul Henry, Anna Lamadrid, Kevin Rico Angulo, Elizabeth Stuart, Jim Goza, Mike Fiore, Nik Johnson, Sean Peters and Jeff Salsbury. Especially notable is the inventive costume and scenic design by Pamela Shaw and Dave Nofsinger, respectively. A special mention must go to Jahana Azodi as stage manager—managing the multiple scene changes and myriad comings-and-goings is a tall order well executed.

sanpatriciosIf there is confusion on the stage about the playwright’s intentions on the page, it must originate in the fact that this tale cannot be told from just one perspective. Multiple points of view about who is hero, who is villain, what is right and what is wrong, are presented. Ultimately it’s the playwright’s job to sort through the confusion and present an answer—whether it is an acceptable one and whether that answer speaks to an audience’s current questions determines the play’s ultimate viability. It will be interesting to see where this playwright and this play go next.

In the program notes, Booher sets his parameters for the success of this particular production: “Did we attempt something great? Did we try to tell a story that needed to be told? Will our audience be intellectually challenged, emotionally engaged, relationally expanded…?” The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Bravo!

The San Patricios is onstage through August 17 at PCPA’s Marian Theatre in Santa Maria. It moves to the Solvang Festival Theater on August 28, playing there through September 7.