BWW Feature: GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Meet Your BroadwayWorld Award Winners in Santa Barbara!
Last year, Santa Barbara theatre artists presented projects ranging from kitschy, hilarious renderings of cult-classics to sweeping epics that inspired the community to #SeeMoreTheatre. Your click-votes have been processed! Santa Barbara audiences loved Heathers: The Musical, Out of the Box's irreverent teen-angst murder musical, and Death of Kings, Irwin Appel's comprehensive showcase of Shakespeare's history canon that utilized all the performance and production talent UCSB has to offer.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR FAVORITES:
Best Play (non-musical):
Death of Kings - UCSB Department of Theater and Dance/Naked Shakes
Death of Kings, a compendium of Shakespeare's history plays, was a glorious recital of the history of England--as told by William Shakespeare, as interpreted by creator/writer/director Irwin Appel of the UCSB Department of Theatre and Dance. Death of Kings was a gritty, binge-watchable bonanza that highlighted the aggression, treachery, avarice, and splendor of Shakespeare's Kings.
"Death of Kings was a project unlike anything I had undertaken before," says Appel. "I spent a year on my own, traveling, researching, and editing the plays before we even began workshops or rehearsals. I loved the process so much, getting to know all of these plays, and trying to see this idea through. I didn't know if it would work--I had to get through months of compiling drafts to even know if there was something really there."
Death of Kings represents 400 years of work and input from theatre artists, historians, literature scholars, and dramatists. This enormously ambitious and complex production was met with critical acclaim and audience popularity. Currently, Appel and department grad student Tristan Newcomb are working to push Death of Kings into wider circulation with the creation of supplementary material that could generate interest in future productions. Appel also believes the plays could be used as educational material for teaching Shakespeare and the history plays. "Death of Kings was never meant to end at UCSB," he says. "I'd like to direct both plays again, and also hopefully other directors, theaters, and universities might be interested in producing their own versions. I'm especially interested in finding theaters that might not normally be able to produce all the history plays, but would be attracted to this kind of compilation event."
Irwin Appel - The Death of Kings - UCSB Department of Theater and Dance/Naked Shakes
Naked Shakes is a University-affiliated theatre company that presents the work of Shakespeare without the burdensome material trappings of specific time or location. These shows use unadorned theatre spaces and convey narrative solely through performance. Death of Kings director Irwin Appel, who also directed this year's Much Ado About Nothing within the Naked Shakes aesthetic, feels that this particular style of production is an effective teaching model. "It all comes down to getting actors and students to experience Shakespeare's language fully, to explode it from the inside, to truly connect with it and allow it to reveal its depth, mystery and excitement," he says. Appel uses this focus on essentials to immediately immerse incoming theatre students in Shakespeare's work, and he's excited about the potential for Death of Kings to be used as a tool for teaching Shakespeare's history plays.
Coming up, Appel directs Lydia by Octavio Solis, which he describes as "a highly ambitious pieces that tackles issues of sexuality, immigration, disabilities, forbidden love, family dysfunction, and secrets. The cast and production team are extraordinary, and our rehearsals so far have been very deep and revealing." Lydia, which opens February 17 in the UCSB Performing Arts Theater, will be staged in the round to intensify a sense of intimacy and confinement.
Community/University Theatre Company of the Year:
UCSB Department of Theater and Dance
There are three collegiate-level theatre programs in town, as well as at least twenty smaller community theatre groups--and the favorite this year was the bold work of UCSB's Department of Theatre and Dance. Beyond the masterwork of Death of Kings, UCSB produced a number of noteworthy and inventive shows, including student productions, new plays workshopped in Launch Pad, and provocative dance performances. Irwin Appel, head of the BFA Actor Training Program at UCSB, expresses his pride in the department: "We have a wonderful mix of rigorous, classical training mixed with creation of new work and self-exploration. We have an exceptionally committed and passionate faculty and staff in all areas of our department, and what I am most proud of is how much we care about students and the work. We set high standards and we challenge students and each other to reach them." Appel calls the program ambitious, and applauds the department for constantly striving to break new ground rather than presenting comfortable, pedestrian work. The department has an exciting schedule for the winter/spring semesters--check out upcoming work here: http://www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu.
Best Lighting Design:
Vickie J. Scott - The Death of Kings - UCSB Department of Theater and Dance/ Naked Shakes
An unembellished stage makes atmosphere-rendering lighting elements both essential and conspicuous. Death of Kings featured artfully executed lighting concepts that accentuated scenes with the grounding or expansive effects of color. Lighting designer Vickie J. Scott describes her process: "The foundation of my design approach is always based in visual narrative and storytelling...A Naked Shakes production tends to require fewer light cues; however, those light cues need to be more fine-tuned and sculpted."
As an educator in the UCSB theatre design program, Scott is a frequent and enthusiastic mentor to young designers, and an advocate of arts education. "The arts are an integral part of our development as human beings," she says. "Theater makes us aware of our existence; it makes us aware of our humanity. Academic theatre offers a safe and nurturing environment where this growth can happen. The Department of Theater and Dance at UCSB does this within a world-class, well rounded, liberal arts education. Our students are smart, critical thinking, highly collaborative artists who are citizens of the world. I think that we are trailblazers in the Santa Barbara theatre community. Our commitment to new work and the reimagining of existing work, a la programs like Naked Shakes, takes us and our community places where other theatre organizations don't go."
Best Costume Design:
Ann Bruice - The Death of Kings - UCSB Department of Theater and Dance/Naked Shakes
UCSB Costumer Designer Ann Bruice has been working with director Irwin Appel for a decade, and their process together involves, as Bruice says, "massive amounts of research." Bruice says that the openness of communication she has with Appel makes costuming his shows satisfying. "We take the time to really discuss his vision," she says of her experience on Death of Kings. "The most rewarding part of this process is having an influence on that vision."
Costume design is a fascinating aspect of theatrical design, much more complex than making sure pieces are period appropriate. There're considerations involving character creation, the look of the costumes within the set, and the utilization of costume pieces to support narrative arcs. "Conversations about the approach to the costumes for Naked Shakes had been evolving for a number of years," Bruice says. "The Naked Shakes production of MacBeth, which I designed, took the approach of presenting a chorus look which was unified--and easily transformed (for actors) to become central characters. For Death of Kings, I chose a silhouette that was gothic, but utilized contemporary pieces, keeping a lighter, more accessible, edgy look. The most important task was to make major characters, particularly the kings, instantly recognizable and distinct from each other. The other imperative was to be able to have the chorus instantly switch between the houses of York and Lancaster. I designed armbands with the capacity to flip from red to white roses in a second. Because so much of the text was edited from all of the plays, my biggest job was to help clarify the story wherever possible."
While University work is challenging (they have a small budget and overworked staff, just like the rest of us!) Bruice notes that a rewarding aspect of her work in educational theatre is watching the artistic growth of her students over the 2-5 years they are in school. Bruice is proud that her students are moving on to excellent graduate MFA programs, such as Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, and UCSD.
Best Scenic Design:
Greg Mitchell - Death of Kings - UCSB Department of Theater and Dance/Naked Shakes
The details of scenic design, especially when executed within specific aesthetic constraints (such as for Naked Shakes's stylized productions), are intricate and fascinating. Despite the perceived economy of the no-frills Naked Shakes experience, Death of Kings provided Scenic Designer Greg Mitchell with a specific set of challenges. Mitchell says that he and director Irwin Appel explored the possibilities for the show in almost a dozen renderings of the theatrical space--drawings, digital imaging, and models. Ultimately, Appel and Mitchell chose to expand on a previously workshopped concept in which the performers used found objects as representational scenic elements; the premier of Death of Kings had actors using blocks to literally and figuratively build impermanent set pieces. These blocks were engineered to be robust enough to dependably support the weight of actors during stage combat, but light enough to be moved easily by a single actor, and smooth enough to glide across the stage with minimal resistance. In addition, these blocks had Rare Earth Magnets strategically embedded within them to ensure the proper formation of scenic shapes. This meticulous consideration for the design of these blocks reminds us not to take any aspect of theatrical design for granted--excellent design and craftsmanship creates pieces that are as efficient and purposeful as they are aesthetically appropriate.
Besides his work at UCSB, Mitchell also designs projects worldwide, including theatre in Alaska; operas in Nepal, Panama, and New York City; an outdoor Hip Hop musical in Dubai; and an interactive installation featuring aerial performance in Venice.
Outstanding Performance in a Play:
Jeremy Scharf - Death of Kings - UCSB Department of Theater and Dance/Naked Shakes
"Our generation is marked by hyper-connectivity and I think that ironically, a byproduct of instantaneous and constant communication is isolation," actor Jeremy Scharf says. "The theatre serves as an antidote to that isolation. When you see a play, you experience with others. When you perform a play, you create with others."
Scharf, a BFA student at UCSB, has played some substantial roles throughout his development as a theatre artist, including Jean Valjean and Sweeney Todd. A true believer in the importance of creation and collaboration in theatre artistry, Scharf says one of the most emotionally charged roles he's experienced was a San Jose production of Next to Normal, in which he played Gabe opposite two of his performance mentors, who played his parents. His turn as Richard the Scourge in Death of Kings was a striking enactment that brought tantalizing, demonic magnetism to the misshapen tyrant. Currently, Scharf is in rehearsals for UCSB's upcoming Mr. Burns: A Post-electric Play by Anne Washburn, which he describes as "more Walking Dead than Simpsons." The play, which traces humanity's survival post nuclear catastrophe, examines the true cost of creation.
Best Musical or Opera:
Heathers: The Musical - Out Of the Box Theatre Company
People loved Heathers: The Musical. Not only did the show sell out, but on several occasions, audience members came dressed as the Heathers. Maybe it's the campy nostalgia factor of rediscovering a movie you hadn't seen in twenty years (and then, upon realization of its importance in cinematic history, decide to see it on stage, performed in song); maybe people are seeing that contemporary musical theatre can be funky, subversive, stylized, and tell important stories. Maybe people also appreciate that, due to the inherent unnaturalness of breaking into song and choreographed dance, musicals always have an underlying meta component that winks at the audience in recognition of its own fictitious nature. It's really pretty cool.
Says Samantha Eve, Artistic Director of Out of the Box Theatre Company: "We pride ourselves on producing contemporary musical theatre that challenges pre-conceived notions of what musical theatre can be. Heathers, based on the 1988 cult classic film, captured the tone of the cinematically styled dark comedy and brought it to the stage as a musical with great success-in no small part thanks to the clever, catchy, and occasionally poignant songs written by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy. We are incredibly proud to have produced one of the first regional productions of Heathers in the country, and look forward to bringing more new musicals to Santa Barbara...starting with High Fidelity, to be performed at Center Stage Theater in April 2017." Don't miss it!
Best Musical Director:
Kacey Link - Heathers: The Musical - Out of the Box Theatre Company
Kacey Link is everything. She's a music director, an author, a teacher, a scholar, a killer pianist, and an expert on Argentine Tango. Link's variety of skills means diverse career opportunities, but she enjoys shows like Heathers, which offers the experience of working with, as the says, "the variety of ensemble sizes and colors that are typical of big musicals. For example, Heathers opens with a huge ensemble number, and then breaks down into solos and duets with different characters."
Of her varied experiences in the Santa Barbara music, art, and theatre communities, Link says: "I'm amazed at how much theatre (as well as performing arts in general) there is in Santa Barbara. We are a relatively small town, yet there is something going on all the time. I don't think the theatre community ever rests! I would love for the theatre community to keep raising the bar...to expand and reach a larger, more diverse audience. At the same time, I would love to see the local community support theatre and the arts more. Especially in our current climate, we need each other. The arts need an audience and funding and a community to support it. And the Santa Barbara community needs theatre and the arts to offer entertainment and escape, as well as an opportunity to take a more profound look at human existence."
Outstanding Performance in a Musical:
Katherine Bottoms - Heathers: The Musical - Out Of The Box Theatre
An accomplished local actress with a long list of credits you'd recognize, Katherine Bottoms gave us a lovably hate-able "Heather" in Out of the Box's recent rendition of Heathers: The Musical. Ditzy, Bratty, and vulnerable, Bottoms was the important link between good and evil in a story of 80s-injected teen angst.
"The most fun part of playing Heather Macnamera was getting to have a total transformation," Bottoms says. "She starts the show without a voice of her own, a total sheep. By the end, she's able to open up and take a stance. Getting to dance around in a cute 80's outfit didn't hurt either!" Bottoms says the most challenging aspect of the show was finding a balance between being "the ditzy popular girl" and the underdog. "I wanted to make sure she was likable. I wanted people to be able to connect with her and what she was going through. She's actually very relatable despite the over-the-top nature of the show and characters."
Bottoms, as always, is keeping busy with shows and readings on the horizon. "What draws me back to the Santa Barbara theatre community time and time again is the pure love and support everyone has for each other. If it hadn't been for the amazing theatre family I've made here, I don't know if this is what I would still be doing. They have taught me so much and have believed so full-heartedly in me from the beginning. I'll always be grateful for getting started here."
Youth/Student Theatre Program of the year:
Dos Pueblos Theatre Company
Of the several fantastic youth theatre programs in town, Dos Pueblos High School gets recognized this year for its variety of theatrical and performance opportunities the program provides even the most casual student. DPHS's program features class curriculum that incorporates a cross-genre of academic skills in application; energetic student productions; and a beautiful, state-of-the-art theater space that presents touring performances and is home to The Jeffrey Meek Studio, a performance group whose premier project, Proof, opens in February.
Program head Clark Sayer is exceedingly proud of the ownership the students take over their work in his program. "Not only does the student leadership group plan events and fundraisers like open mic nights and bar-b-ques," Sayer says, "they also approve the theater budget each year--a big responsibility for young people." The students also write, produce, and direct a sketch comedy show and a full-length musical. DPHS Theatre Company also offers opportunities for students to interact with professional actors, composers, lyricists, screenwriters, directors, and producers.
This spring, look for DPHS's student musical: The Addams Family. Sayer says to expect the usual characters--Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, and the creepy kids--but he teases some surprises in the casting. This production will give onstage experience to 35 cast members, and crew and orchestra experience to another 25 students. Sayer feels The Addams Family is an appropriate production for this year because it reflects the deep divide in our country. The Addams (who live in New York) host the Beneke's (from the Swing State of Ohio), and though their worldview differ to the extreme, they recognize the need to find common ground for the sake of the future generations.
Outstanding Performance in a high school production:
Sofia Ross - Grand Duchy - Dos Pueblos Theatre Company
Sofia Ross's name is frequently floated in conversations about Santa Barbara's most talented, charismatic young performers. Involved in community and school theatre for the last decade, Ross has played the title roles in Lysistrata (UpStage Left Productions) and the pilot production of Disney's Mary Poppins (Dos Pueblos Theatre Company). She also sang the role of Johanna in DANCEWork's production of Sweeney Todd with Adam Barruch at the Lobero, and was a featured singing on the MTI Reference Recording of Cheri Steinkellner's musical Hello! My Baby. She also played "twins" Gaby and Sophie in Dos Pueblos's latest musical, Grand Duchy.
Ross will soon be leaving Santa Barbara to pursue a BFA in Musical Theatre at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. She hopes to work in theatre professionally, and to eventually inspire a new generation of young performers through teaching the arts. "Theatre in high school and college is not only a place where we sing and dance, and laugh as we learn it is okay to make fools of ourselves; it also builds us up and creates an unparalleled opportunity for young people to explore and find ways to connect with others, themselves, and the world," says Ross, who believes in the important personal growth that an education in the arts offers. Ross is grateful for the experiences she's had through her own education in the arts, and praises her theatre mentors and teachers for their ability to make students feel welcome, supported, and confident enough to discover untapped authenticity within themselves. "Theatre opens the minds of people who create, participate in, and witness the beauty in a performance," Ross says. "It's a moment everyone should have the ability to experience. Every new generation of artists shows how to be braver, more creative, and 100% more loving and accepting. This is the world we want, and our participation in theatre helps us achieve that result.
Star on the Rise:
Zach Macias - UCSB Department of Theater and Dance
If you've seen anything at UCSB in the last several years, you'll certainly recognize Zach Macias from any of his memorable performances in Venus, The Importance of being Earnest, Bloody Poetry, and his recent, hilarious turn as Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing. Macias began performing young, and continued to tread the boards through high school. When he entered UCSB as a political science major, his hobby turned to a passion, and he committed to theater as a second major. Macias will be graduating this June, and hopes to continue acting on regional stages throughout the country with the eventual goal of making it to New York. He also intends to create original work for the theatre community. "I firmly believe that if I am not seeing the content in the world that I want to see, then it's up to me to generate it," says Macias.
Of his career on the UCSB stage, Macias names Launch Pad's recent production of Lynn Rosen's Bernhard as one of his most significant, challenging roles. "I played a sort of fairytale witch, who was torn between the need to eat and the need for human connection. It was the first time this play had ever been performed, and I really loved being able to work with Lynn and our director, Anne Torsiglieri, to figure out who my character was and bring it to life in my own way."
Though availability of entertainment has proliferated with evolving technology--from the stage to the big screen to the small screen to the even smaller screen with on-demand web content--Macias believes that theater is still a vital aspect of our culture. He asserts that the communal experience of theatre, in which an individual can share a collective, artistic experience with strangers, can never be replaced. "There is a reason that people applaud at the end of a play, but never (or very rarely) at the end of movies," he says, referring to the audiences' ability to connect with the performers working in front of their eyes. He emphasizes the importance of cultivating creative drive in college students. "This generation, who grew up with infinitely more modes of entertainment and stimulation, is the one that will decide whether theater is relevant enough to survive for the future," he says. "They have to want it, or else theater can be swallowed up by other, more accessible mediums." Yet Macias stands firm in his belief that people don't just want theater, they need it-and the specific creative, communal experience it provides."
You Don't See Me!:
KC Buller, Stage Manager, UCSB
There is a vast network of "indispensible invisibles" that create the magic of theatre, and the Stage Manager is their monarch. Have you ever been on stage and heard the voice of God? That God is your Stage Manager, and they live and die for your onstage (and sometimes your backstage) sins. This is the challenging, high-pressure work of UCSB senior KC Buller, an up-and-comer with a bright future in a dark tech booth.
Though she dabbled in performance in high school, Buller found a new love and appreciation for theater behind the scenes when she started her education at UCSB. Buller notes that her position as Stage Manager allows her to build relationships with people involved in each aspect of theatrical production. She credits part of her success to the community of incredible artists, students, and faculty within the UCSB Theatre program. Buller describes the theatre department at UCSB as personal, and says there is something special about coming into a new, college environment as a freshman, and knowing the theatre community is a place you'll be accepted.
Says Buller of the importance of academic theatre: "Theater is a type of literature that has been practiced for thousands of years, and intellectually there is something so wonderful about experiencing and/or partaking in this classic tradition."
Buller is currently applying to graduate school, and intends to continue her work in the arts