CrossRoads: Igniting Inspiration

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Linda Vo, Julia Lee, CrossRoads playwright Lauren Yee, Literary Director Kimberly Colburn, Assistant Literary Director Andrew Knight at the OC & SEAA Center, UCI.

With nearly 1,000 square miles and more than 3 million strong, Orange County, Calif. is a unique area with a rich resource of cultures and stories ripe for the telling. It’s a place that trumps numerous stereotypes perpetuated by shows like “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” As demographics shift and grow, so do the faces of the people who represent the county. Orange County is a place of multiple intersecting cultures and groups—with each one calling out to be heard.

Playwright Mona Mansour (center) during her August 2013 residency.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Time Warner Foundation, South Coast Repertory is answering that call with the CrossRoads initiative. The program commissions playwrights from all over the nation, but unlike a typical SCR commission, their process begins with the playwright undertaking a residency to explore the county’s diversity.

Playwrights first spend 10 days in Orange County, fully immersing themselves in the county’s rich cultural, social and political life. Through their explorations, they discover diverse stories and personal connections, meeting with community organizations and individuals from all walks of life. They will then write plays either directly or indirectly informed by their residency experiences and follow their own artistic impulses.

When CrossRoads launched in 2013, SCR selected a playwright class of emerging and established names, including Luis Alfaro, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Carla Ching, Aditi Brennan Kapil, Qui Nguyen, Mona Mansour and Tanya Saracho.

In the spring of 2015, four playwrights’ works were workshopped and further developed at SCR and portions from those plays were presented to the public as staged readings. Since then, many of the plays realized through the initiative have gone on to additional staged readings, further development and are scheduled for upcoming productions at SCR and around the country.

Playwright Qui Nguyen (left) with the PPF 2015 cast of Vietgone.

Among the first group offerings were Nguyen’sVietgone and Kapil’s Orange, which were presented at SCR’s 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival. Vietgone also will open the 2015-16 Julianne Argyros season. Following the premiere, it will be produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2016.

In July 2015, Ching’s Nomad Hotel received development as a part of the prestigious National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Mansour’s unseen continued development at New York Stage and Film in April 2015 and during a Studio Retreat at the Lark Play Development Center in June 2015. unseen was also featured on The Kilroys’ The List 2015—a list of the top un- and under-produced plays by female playwrights.

CrossRoads will continue to tap into Orange County’s varied stories through a generous renewal of the grant from the Time Warner Foundation. With this renewal, a new class of playwrights will join the fold and experience their own residencies within the area. The second round playwrights include Dipika Guha, Adam Gwon, Octavio Solis and Lauren Yee.

Playwright Octavio Solis with Josephine “Pepa” Chindemi-Dodge during his July 2015 residency.

“These are four writers who all are at different stages of their careers,” says Artistic Director Marc Masterson. “Octavio Solis has been working with SCR since the late 1980s, but will be able to explore the community like he never has before. He and Adam Gwon spent a great deal of time working onCloudlands at SCR a few years ago, and we’re lucky to have them both back. Adam is going to be breaking the commissioning mold of straight plays by working on a chamber musical, and we’re excited to begin new relationships with Lauren Yee and Dipika Guha.”

CrossRoads is an exciting and personal way for playwrights to approach new works. As they explore the community, they discover unique stories and form connections with individuals. It has lead playwrights to surprising discoveries and lasting connections. It’s also leading SCR to new discoveries.

“It’s having an impact on how we think about our commissioning program and playwright residencies,” says Masterson. “We’re developing an exciting model for the future.”

Learn more about CrossRoads and the playwrights.