Snapshot: Scripting SCR 2.0

As South Coast Repertory celebrates its 50th anniversary, artistic director MARC MASTERSON talks about leading the Tony-winning theater into its post-founders era.

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Since succeeding David Emmes and Martin Benson two years ago, he’s cautiously added his perspective. The former leader of the Actors Theatre of Louisville will direct this month’s season-opener, “Death of a Salesman,” with an all-black cast starring Charlie Robinson. Five world premieres dot the schedule, and it all wraps up where SCR began in 1964, with Moliere’s “Tartuffe.”

The play and Charlie [Robinson’s] desire to play Willy Loman came first. My interest in directing it followed closely. He and I performed about half a dozen plays together from when I was 11 until I was 15 or 16. It was a children’s theater company called Studio 7 run by a woman named Chris Wilson, who was mentor to both of us. These were fully produced, semiprofessional productions. We had a lot of fun.

The suspension of disbelief has been a lifelong fascination of mine. I think of it as chemistry because you have this disparate group of people—designers, actors, a director, and so on—and everybody comes at the project with their own point of view. … My job is to be a good chemist, to enable them to do their best work.

I want to create events that are compelling and that keep the medium alive and moving forward. I’m curious. I like to ask questions more than provide answers. So, if that curiosity is felt by audiences, I think it will be successful in its own right.

[Last] season I did a play called “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl, a writer that SCR had produced before. It’s a quirky little play, and I pushed the medium of expression in digital media quite a bit, and used both a very dense and complex sound score for it, as well as a video design that was innovative. … Those kinds of things had not been done a lot at SCR.

The first Broadway shows I ever saw were “Moon for the Misbegotten,” “Sleuth,” and “Follies.” Those three plays could not be more stylistically different, and I loved them all.

[Programming a season is] about a range of expression, and making room for a wide variety of different ways of telling a story. And that I think is exciting. Keep people guessing a little bit, and keep yourself on your toes as well.

Wherever you are, people seem to need to talk about traffic or weather. In Kentucky, they talk about traffic like there actually is traffic, even though there isn’t. Here people talk about weather as if there actually is weather to talk about, whereas in Louisville you had to look out for tornadoes from time to time.

 

Photograph by Van Ditthavong

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue.

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