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SCR Veterans Reflect on Life in the Footlights

South Coast Repertory means many things to the artists and craftsmen who have worked there over the years. Many, asked recently to cite its most striking asset, mentioned the company’s ability to offer steady employment in the often volatile world of theater. Here are further remarks from some of SCR’s founding members:

Actor Hal Landon Jr., 47, of Long Beach, on occupational hazards:

"(In 1969) I was playing a character called Blick in ‘The Time of Your Life’ who was the big villain in the show. (Because the dressing room was so small,) I used to make up at home, and then get to the theater about the time the show went up. The makeup wasn’t that overdone, but it did make me look a little more severe and villainous. One night I was leaving my house in Corona del Mar on my way to the theater. I hadn’t gone more than a block, when all of a sudden there were these sirens and all of these police cars came up, and it was ‘Up against the wall, hands up,’ shotgun in my back, the whole works . . . .”

"(The police were skeptical of his story that he was an actor on his way to a performance but) luckily there was a cop there who had pulled me over that week for a busted tail light, and he remembered me. He told me, ‘You look like a dead ringer’ for some guy who had escaped that night from the Orange County Jail. . . .”

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The next time around, Landon took precautions:

“I played the good guy, Joe, that time.”

Landon on one of the ways that SCR and directors David Emmes and Martin Benson have changed:

“There was a period of time back in the early 1970s when (running SCR) was a more democratic process. David and Martin were the artistic directors, but there were three or four of us who were assistant directors. And frankly, it was a mess. Guys rambling on, and so many different opinions floating around, that we never really got much done. Martin and David decided to take in into their own hands, and they were probably right. . . .”

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Actor Don Took, 49, of Newport Beach, asked to pinpoint the worst part of belonging to Orange County’s premier nonprofit arts organization:

“Having to go to fund-raisers. They used to send us out to guild meetings to perform scenes in people’s living rooms. At least we don’t have to do that anymore. . . .”

Took on how backstage life at the theater has changed:

“We used to dress in the mixed dressing rooms, you know, boys and girls together. It was raw . . . I used to be able to tell you who was sleeping with whom, but it’s all changed. No one is sleeping with anyone anymore. It’s the age of AIDS, and everybody’s married and settled down. It’s boring.”

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Why Took enjoys the actor’s life in Orange County:

“I enjoy being a big fish in a little pond. I highly recommend that to everybody. . . . I’ve been acting here for these 25 years, and it’s not at all strange for someone to come up to me as I’m leaning over the frozen-food counter, and say, ‘I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed you over the past 25 years.’ ”

Martha McFarland, 44, of Costa Mesa, who started with SCR as an actress and now works as its casting director, though she still acts with the troupe on occasion:

“The only down side is that if I had chosen another path, I might have made a little more money. I see friends who have made movies and TV series, and I wonder what that would have been like. I could have owned a house. . . .”

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Actor Art Koustik, 52, of Tustin, on the triumphs of SCR’s 25th anniversary year:

“The Tony award was just a mind blower. Twenty-five years ago, we were a bunch of kids out of college, just starting a theater, and now we’re a multimillion-dollar operation, our bosses are out there on national television. . . . Not many people in this life can say that they’ve had a dream come true like this.”


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