On Theater: SCR's nurturer of young talent

"Young people are the best audiences really. You have to take them with you on the journey when you do a play and have to be amazingly committed and truthful — or they won't buy it, so to speak."

This is the credo of Hisa Takakuwa, director of South Coast Repertory's Theater Conservatory, who's found a career sharing her love of theater with young people and helping them nurture their own talents.

At the moment, she's putting the finishing touches on David Lindsay Abaire's "Snow Angel," which SCR's Teen Players will present for two weekends, beginning Saturday. The teens are high schoolers who have completed at least two years of Young Conservatory training.

"There are countless rewards personally for me in working with young people," Takakuwa maintains. "Again, I get to share and continue to explore my love of language, creativity and communication."

Takakuwa has spent virtually a lifetime in the theater. Her first memory of it, she recalls, is adapting and directing a Japanese folk tale for a second-grade class project.

Growing up in the suburbs ofWashington, D.C., she remembers her parents taking her to shows at the Kennedy Center when she was quite young.

"It's always just naturally seemed like a part of my life and something I can always remember doing," she declares.

Before landing at SCR, Takakuwa earned her bachelor's from Smith College and a master's from the California Institute of the Arts. She spent 14 seasons as a resident actor with the classical repertory company A Noise Within and worked with the Indiana Repertory Theater, Sundance Institute's Children's Theater and Playwright's Lab and the Grove Shakespeare Festival.

She began her SCR career playing the toy lady in the company's annual retelling of "A Christmas Carol" before moving to the Youth Conservatory where she mounted productions of "Crow and Weasel," East of the Sun and West of the Moon," "Time Again in Oz,""Peter Pan"and "The Secret Garden," among others.

"During that time, I also started teaching all age groups and really just loved it — exploring and sharing the process with others," she comments.

Turning to "Snow Angel," she says, "I really wanted this Teen Players group to work on something that felt close and relatable to their own life experiences."

The play concerns a handful of New England kids whose school is closed by the worst blizzard in 200 years. They're enjoying their sudden snow day when a mysterious girl named Eva steps from a snowbank and into their lives.

"I wanted them to concentrate on creating truthful and specific characters while being asked to share emotional vulnerability on stage and have to work closely and simply with their fellow actors," Takakuwa explains. "'Snow Angel' is a perfect fit for those tasks and also exposes them to one of the most prominent and current voices in the American theater.

"Young people also are refreshingly truthful and open," she observes. "They keep me young, they keep me inspired, they don't let me ever slide by or phone things in.

"I get to continue to grow and explore the creative process every day and share that process with others," she declares. "The kids I work with get to grow and spread their wings in an environment that is both safe and challenging that encourages them to discover themselves and their own voice.

"The best compliment the program here receives — and I'm lucky enough to hear this from graduates every year — is that SCR is where they felt they could truly be themselves, that SCR helped them discover and explore who that self is and is becoming. That's priceless."

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Snow Angel"

Who: South Coast Repertory Teen Players

Where: Nicholas Studio, South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

When: 4 and 7 :30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. May 25 and 26, and at 1 and 4 p.m. May 27

Cost: $10

Call: (714) 708-5555 or online at http://www.scr.org

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