A Fond Farewell

November 4, 2010

So the saying goes: all good things must come to an end. Now that Yellow Face has officially closed, such is the case with my time at Mo`olelo. My friends and family will attest to the fact that over the course of the last several months, my face-time with anyone outside of the Yellow Face production team has been minimal. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to offer insight into some of the outcomes of the project as proof that I wasn’t just avoiding everyone. (And of course, by that I mean brag.) So here’s what all those hours at the office, in the car, and at the theatre turned into:

Fourteen of the twenty performances were sold out by the time advance online ticket sales were closed for that day.

-In the end, we served 2,088 audiences.

Three hundred and seventy three were middle and high school students who participated in the Three Parts Arts Program which included the pre-show preparatory classroom visit, viewing the play, and a post-show workshop in either History, Playwriting, or Acting (lesson plans drafted by yours truly).

And of course, there were a couple of reviews that made everyone on the team breathe a sigh of relief upon reading them:

‘Yellow Face,’ the comical yet slyly wise play now getting an ace production at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Co…. And as smartly realized by artistic chief Seema Sueko (showing a deft touch for comedy) and her multi-ethnic Mo`olelo cast …the show proves as subversive as it is touching and funny. (James Hebert, San Diego Union Tribune)

I saw “Yellow Face” at the Taper years before, and this production at Mo`olelo blew it out of the water! I can honestly say that this has been one of the best theatre experiences of my life… I left the theatre moved, overwhelmed and inspired. This truly is a MUST SEE production. As an actor, having been in a dozen productions myself, this is what I believe theater aspires to be. (A review on YELP)

Now before I leave for good, I have one final thing to say… “because I’m a writer… and in the end, everything’s always about me.” And that is thank you. My time spent at Mo`olelo working on this production has proved to be an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. And that’s not just because oh my God I got to meet and have drinks and eat dinner with David Henry Hwang, the inspiration for everything I now want to do with my life… (Calm down, Taylor… *BREATHE* Okay, now… continue.) In all seriousness though, through all the sweat and tears, working on this project has been a dream come true. As soon as I came on board, everyone treated me like family. And as time went on, it was clear that everyone involved in the project- Seema, the cast, the designers, the board members, the artists from Answers from the Universe, the many partner organizations… even the ushers!- shared a passion and commitment incomparable to anything else I’ve ever worked on in my short 23 years of life thus far. So to everyone, I say thank you. It has been an honor.

Sincerely,

Taylor M. Wycoff
Dramaturg & Production Manager

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She’s directed at The Old Globe (Opus, Orson’s Shadow, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and coming up in 2011 Groundswell by Ian Bruce), the O’Neill Theatre Festival, Off Broadway for the Roundabout Theatre, Steppenwolf, Goodman, and the list goes on and on, and she’s the head of the M.F.A. Professional Actor Training Program at UCSD. Now you can chat with Kyle Donnelly at Mo`olelo’s Wine, Cheese & Wisdom on Tuesday, July 27. Reception at 5:30 PM, Wisdom at 6:00 PM. Bring something to drink, or food to share, or  make a $10 donation at the door. RSVP at tickets@moolelo.net.

Mo`olelo’s Wine, Cheese & Wisdom events are part of the Tuesdays at the 10th series and are opportunities for local artists and audiences to glean wisdom from a nationally-recognized theater practitioner and to close the gap between artist and audience and between local and national.

What: Wine, Cheese & Wisdom with Kyle Donnelly

When: Tuesday, July 27, 5:30 PM reception, 6:00 PM wisdom

Where: The 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
Downtown, on 10th Avenue between Broadway and E Street

Reservations: email tickets@moolelo.net or call 619-342-7395

Admission: Bring something to drink (bottle of wine, liter of soda, whatever you fancy), food to share (cheese & crackers, hors d’oeuvre, or some other munchie), or make a $10  donation at the door.

About Kyle Donnelly:
KYLE DONNELLY most recently directed Spoon Lake Blues by Josh Tobiesson at the O’Neill Theatre Festival. She directed the American premiere of Brian Friel’s Give Me Your Answer, Do! Off Broadway for the Roundabout Theatre and has directed at the  Old Globe (Opus, Orson’s Shadow, Midsummer Night’s Dream), Seattle Repertory (Constant Wife, Three Musketeers), Williamstown Theatre Festival (Philadelphia, Here I Come!), Goodman Theatre (The Rover, Dancing at Lughnasa), Steppenwolf Theatre (Molly Sweeney), Huntington Theatre (Ah, Wilderness!, Hyde Park, Aristocrats, Little Foxes), American Conservatory Theatre (Constant Wife), McCarter Theatre and Berkeley Repertory (Polk County), Ford’s Theatre (State of the Union), Court Theatre (Pygmalion, Paradise Hotel), the Humana Festival at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville (Zara Spook and Other Lures), A Contemporary Theatre (Collected Stories) Alabama Shakespeare Festival (The Rivals), Studio Theatre (Baltimore Waltz), Signature Theatre (Three Nights in Tehran), Alliance Theatre (To Kill a Mockingbird) and other regional theaters around the country. She has had a long association with Arena Stage in Washington, DC , having been Associate Artistic Director from 1992 to 1998 and directed such productions as Well, She Loves Me, Born Yesterday, Tom Walker, The Women, Lovers and Executioners, The Miser, Molly Sweeney, A Small World, Dancing at Lughnasa (winner of Helen Hayes Award for Best Production), Summer and Smoke, A Month in the Country, The School for Wives, Misalliance, Polk County (Helen Hayes Award for Best New Musical), Plough and the Stars, Shakespeare in Hollywood and others. She founded her own acting studio called the Actors’ Center in Chicago which was a leading training center for actors in that city from 1982 – 1992. She is a member of SSDC and winner of the Alan Schneider award from TCG, AT&T Onstage Award, the Helen Hayes Award and the Joseph Jefferson Award and holds the Arthur and Molli Wagner Endowed Chair in Acting at University of California, San Diego where she heads the M.F.A. Professional Actor Training Program.

From Audition to Rehearsal Room – Acting Class
Instructor: Seema Sueko, Artistic Director, Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company
Dates: Mondays, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., July 27 – August 31, 2009
Location: NTC Dance Place San Diego (Point Loma)
Fee: $200 / $175 for AASD or AEA Members

From Audition to Rehearsal Room is an acting class that addresses the actor’s job from general audition, to callback, to table work, to blocking, to performance. In each session, students will work on audition monologues, callback sides or scenes and explore what the actor’s job is at each of these phases of their work in theater. How to strategize an audition? How to mine the script during table work? How to be open and contribute to the collaboration in the rehearsal room? We’ll explore these questions and more on our feet with text. Admission into the class is by approval of the instructor. Please email your headshot and resume to classes@moolelo.net to be considered. Space is limited.

Introducing Jazmarie

February 5, 2009

The New High Tech High International Intern

The New High Tech High International Intern

Hello Theater Community,

My name is Jazmarie Capps, I attend High Tech High International, as part of our 11th grade curriculum we are all required to complete an academic internship. My internship is with Seema Sueko, It’s only my second day on the job but I am confident in the affect it will have on me. Hopefully throughout the internship I will learn not only how to put on a successful production but as well learn if theatre production could be a potential career path.

We’re looking forward to our birthday party on Saturday, Feb 14 at 2 PM at The Old Globe. As of Feb 4, we have only 6 tickets remaining. Call 619-342-7395 or order online at www.moolelo.net to get your ticket.

If you’re on the fence, here are some reviews of SINCE AFRICA:

North County Times
“Director returns to Since Africa with even better results”
by Pam Kragen

San Diego Reader
“Help too much”
by Jeff Smith

ShowMag.Com
Since Africa
by January Riddle

La Jolla Light
Losses mended, hope renewed in ‘Since Africa’
by Diana Saenger

Hope to see you at the Birthday Bash!

*** Updated 2/5/09 at 5:33 PM – Now only 4 tickets remaining!

since_africa_info

diversity?

December 21, 2008

James Hebert, Theater Critic at The San Diego Union Tribune, wrote an important article in today’s paper about diversity (or lack of it) on San Diego’s stages.  You can read it here:

Stages of change

For local theaters, achieving diversity is an ‘ongoing, everyday effort’ — progress has been made, but the goal has not been reached

12:02 a.m. December 21, 2008

Ken Prymus and Lillias White in the Rep’s “Princess and the Black Eyed Pea.” – Sean M. Haffey / Union-Tribune

Live theater has long been an intellectual free-fire zone, a place for dreams and ideas of all kinds to mingle and mix it up.

But in a time when it’s popular to talk of a “postracial” society – and when our nation’s first nonwhite president is preparing to take office – has theater also embraced a multitude of cultures and voices to match its bold range of ideas?

In San Diego, that question is still being answered. Overall, theater is more diverse here than it was 20 years ago, when San Diego Rep launched its first Latino outreach program. Diversity has increased even in the past five years, with the rise of such adventurous and inclusive companies as Moxie Theatre and Mo’olelo Performing Arts (both headed by women).

Still, a look at the current seasons of San Diego’s two powerhouse regional theaters, the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, offers a mixed picture, depending on what prism you use.

In terms of key creative roles: For the Globe’s eight shows, six directors and six playwrights are white males. For the Playhouse’s six shows, the tally of white males is four playwrights and five directors.

Contrast that with San Diego Rep, a pioneer of diversity in San Diego: Of the Rep’s five 2008-09 season shows, three were written by Latino or black playwrights and two were helmed by nonwhite directors. (The lineup also takes in two female playwrights and one female director.)

Delicia Turner Sonnenberg guides a rehearsal for the women-centered Moxie Theatre. Charlie Neuman / Union-Tribune

Seema Sueko and Tom Andrew in Mo’olelo’s “Night Sky.”  - <em>Earnie Grafton / Union-Tribune </em>
Seema Sueko and Tom Andrew in Mo’olelo’s “Night Sky.” – Earnie Grafton / Union-Tribune

And yet there’s more to the story. The Globe, for example, opened a new technical center in racially diverse southeastern San Diego this year, the centerpiece of extensive outreach efforts that include an internship program for residents of the area. In February, the theater will produce “Kingdom,” a hard-edged, hip-hop-driven musical about gang life, to be staged partly at Lincoln High School in the southeast neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

Over the summer, the Playhouse mounted the musical “Memphis” with a mostly black cast, as well as a new solo show by the African-American artist Charlayne Woodard. It also staged the hip-hop show “Seven” in January (though that wasn’t part of the current season, the first programmed by artistic director Christopher Ashley).

And in April, the La Jolla theater chose Mo’olelo as its first resident theater company, giving the small but ambitious troupe access to Playhouse resources and performance space.

“Accomplishing diversity is an ongoing, everyday effort,” acknowledges Ashley, who succeeded Des McAnuff as artistic director in October 2007. “And you never arrive there, and you never do as well as you want to do, and you have to think about it all the time.

“Looking at our past 12 months, I’m actually really proud of our diversity onstage – between ‘The Seven’ and Charlayne Woodard and the cast of ‘Memphis,’and to some extent even the cast of (the current show) ‘Xanadu,’ which suggests ‘sisters’ can be multiracial, multigender.”

Ashley adds, though, that directors are “clearly an area we have to keep pushing at. I think if you call us on that, you are calling us on a thing we need to do better at.”

Making progress Louis G. Spisto, CEO/executive producer of the Old Globe Theatre, says that “if you look across the year, I’d say we have a pretty diverse group of stories,” pointing to the plays “Cornelia,” which deals with issues of race and class, and “Since Africa,” about a young Sudanese immigrant (a work both written and directed by females), among other productions.

“We don’t set out to choose a play or hire a director based on a quota system,” but diversity is a key part of the Globe’s larger mission, Spisto says. But choosing a diverse season can be complicated by the fact that “there aren’t as many female directors in our world as there are males, and there aren’t as many female playwrights,” he adds.

Those at smaller companies around town, the ones that often are most likely to take risks on little-known plays or work from other cultural traditions, say the local scene seems to have grown more open-minded about new and different voices.

“I feel in general that in this community, people are making an effort to think outside the box or the norm,” says Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, artistic director of the women-centered Moxie Theatre. “That’s one of the reasons I feel lucky to be part of it.

Sonnenberg recalls that when the Rep hired her to stage “Intimate Apparel” in 2006, “I was the black female director who directed the black female playwright. But then they also called me to direct in the next season – the Christopher Durang play.

“That’s what I appreciate about this community. At Cygnet Theatre, Esther (Emery, a Moxie associate artist who is white) directed ‘Yellowman,’ which has a black cast and is about blackness.”

Still, she agrees with Ashley that diversity here is a work in progress.

“I don’t think people say, ‘You know what? I don’t think I’m going to produce any women (playwrights),’ ” Sonneberg says. “I don’t think people are being excluded (purposely). I just think more attention needs to be paid.”

Elsewhere in the nation, criticism about theater diversity have been voiced more sharply of late. In New York, a group of prominent female playwrights staged a town-hall meeting recently to protest how few women were seeing their work produced off-Broadway.

On Broadway, the nation’s de facto theater capital, only a few of the 30-plus shows playing in mid-December were by female writers. The only show with a strong multicultural presence was “In the Heights,” the 2008 Tony Award winner for best musical, which is set in a barrio of Manhattan’s Washington Heights.

For nonwhite theater artists, says Broadway producer Scott Sanders, a big issue is getting pigeonholed into “ethnic” productions.

“I still think that today, no matter the progress that’s been made, there are still a lot of people who get stuck,” says Sanders, whose hit “The Color Purple” came to San Diego in its touring version recently.

opened – a lot more people to let in. (It’s about) giving them a shot. And not just saying, if someone writes a musical called ‘In the Heights,’ that only Hispanic people will go to see it.”

If you build it … The Rep’s artistic director, Sam Woodhouse, agrees that reaching out to new audiences is as important as – and maybe inseparable from – providing a forum for minority and female artists.

“Back in the day, people would say, ‘How do you get audiences to come to a Latino play?,’ ” recalls Woodhouse, whose theater’s seminal Teatro Sin Fronteras (“Theater Without Borders”) initiative was launched in 1988.

“And I would say, ‘Well, first of all, do a Latino play.’ If you never do one, how would you expect a culturally focused audience to come out?”

When the Rep started its outreach, it was based on the simple reality of running a theater based in a border region.

“It was sophisticated as, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if our artists and our audiences were as diverse as the population you see in the 7-Eleven (every day),” Woodhouse says.

But pursuing that mission does not come without potential sacrifices, Woodhouse acknowledges. The risks include alienating less adventurous audience members.

“The world of culture, of art and entertainment, struggles with the tension between reconfirming the familiar and discovering the unfamiliar,” Woodhouse says.

But “people who are not curious and not interested in ‘the other’ usually don’t come to our theater. And some of them used to. But I’m not programming for their tastes and desires.”

For Seema Sueko, co-founder and artistic director of Mo’olelo, one of the biggest boosts to diversity has been the funding provided by the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture. Drawn from taxes on hotel and motel visitors, the money is awarded based partly on arts institutions commitment to audience inclusiveness and diversity.

“Unless it’s tied to power and money, when you’re in the dominant class it’s hard to see that you’re not diverse,” says Sueko, who will direct “Since Africa” at the Globe next year. “Because you’re comfortable, it’s hard to see the lack of opportunities. It’s hard to see how you’ve marginalized people when you’re comfortable.

“I believe there are theaters and other arts organizations that have made specific choices about diversity because of that (funding) initiative. Those are probably choices they wouldn’t have made otherwise.”

But there can be a paradox in pursuing diversity across the board. At Diversionary Theatre – which is dedicated to serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community – artistic director Dan Kirsch has mixed feelings about the suggestion (offered by one city funding-panel member) that the theater’s board include more non-gay people.

“There’s definitely a balance,” says Kirsch. “We don’t want to be mainstreamed. What the board supports, and my artistic vision, is we serve the (GLBT) cultural legacy.

“I hope we’re welcoming of everyone. Most of the actors and designers and directors are not gay, but probably only 20 to 30 percent of the audience is non-gay. We don’t want to be like every other theater company. Our mission is very specific – to tell our stories.”

Hearing those stories – the ones from artists and communities who’ve in the past been left out of the loop – is one of the ideals of those who champion diversity in theater. For upstart companies like Moxie, the progress toward that spirit of openness is encouraging, but the work isn’t finished.

“I always say, I hope one day our mission isn’t necessary,” as Sonnenberg puts it. “But right now it is.”