The world is used to watching actual or fictitious Orange Countians on television in “Arrested Development,” “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and “The O.C.”
South Coast Repertory, the county’s flagship theater company, is doing its own part in cultivating indigenous O.C. stories and characters for the stage.
In the newly announced “CrossRoads Commissioning Project,” South Coast Rep will use a $150,000 grant from the Time Warner Foundation to send six playwrights into the field for encounters with O.C. communties – ethnic or other -- from which they’re expected to draw inspiration for new plays.
Kelly Miller, SCR’s literary director, said the Costa Mesa theater is networking with many Orange County community organizations, hoping they can help the playwrights connect with people and experiences that will foster their O.C.-awareness and feed their imaginations.
Marc Bamuthi-Joseph, a poet-playwright-performer who’s director of performing arts for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and a regular collaborator with Michael John Garcés, artistic director of L.A.’s Cornerstone Theater Company, will look into the African American experience in O.C.
Carla Ching, whose play “Fast Company” will premiere at SCR in October, is expected to scout for stories involving Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans.
Aditi Brennan Kapil, a Minneapolis-based writer-director-performer of Bulgarian-Indian heritage who was raised in Sweden and is interested in punk rock, might go for something as hyphenated as her thumbnail bio. Delving into O.C.’s punk scene could be fruitful, given the many colorful characters it has generated since 1978. Kapil’s credits include “Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy,” due to premiere in Minneapolis in the fall.
Mona Mansour will focus on Orange County’s Arab American and Middle Eastern communities. Her play, “The Hour of Feeling,” about a Palestinian scholar in 1967 London, premiered in 2012 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky. “The Way West,” a play-with-music that Mansour set in a faded patch of today’s California, will premiere next April at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre.
Qui Nguyen, a Brooklyn-based writer who’ll focus on the Vietnamese American community of Little Saigon in Westminster and Garden Grove, is co-artistic director of New York’s Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company, whose website says it prides itself on “a comic book aesthetic.”
Tanya Saracho will interface with O.C. Latinos. She’s a Mexican-born, Texas-raised veteran of the Chicago theater scene who recently moved to Los Angeles, where she writes for the Lifetime television series, “Devious Maids.”
Joining the six grant-commissioned writers are two well-established Los Angeles playwrights, Luis Alfaro and Julia Cho.
Each was working on a play commissioned by SCR before the “CrossRoads” grant came through, literary director Miller said, and their themes dovetailed with its concept. They can now tap into the workshop opportunities and community access afforded by CrossRoads. Alfaro is exploring evangelical Christian mega-churches in Orange County, while Cho’s play features Korean Americans in an O.C. setting.
The playwrights are expected to deliver a first draft by next summer, with in-house workshops and readings to follow. It’s not certain whether CrossRoads will have a public dimension.
“That’s a decision to be made later,” Miller said, but if the cards fall right, SCR might present a public festival of workshop performances or readings.
Last fall SCR announced “Dialogue/Dialogos SCR,” a two-year effort in which playwright José Cruz González and project director Sara Guerrero aim to build a play around stories shared by regular people in the Latino community of Santa Ana.
The effort is funded by a $600,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation. A series of 12 “story circles” have taken place, in which community members shared their experiences as potential material for playwright González. The project will continue with workshops over the summer providing theater training for Santa Ana residents, said Kimberly Colburn, SCR’s associate literary director, and Gonzalez may use them to test ideas as he develops his script.