BACKSTAGE AT THE REP: Current Show


FOOD FOR THOUGHT QUESTIONS

1. When have you been challenged to let something that you love go?
 
2. Do you believe in reincarnation? Do you know of any past lives?
 
3. What effect did the use of puppetry in this play have on you?
 
4. Have you ever traveled a long distance? If so, how did that experience change your perspective?
 
5. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone of a different culture or religion. How did it affect your relationship?

 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from The Curious REPort

Friday, December 4th

A Tibetan Buddhist's View of Reincarnation

Reincarnation is an important tenet of Buddhism. Together with the idea of karma and the central view of the impermanence of all life, reincarnation is a widely held
Buddhist belief.
 
Reincarnation is especially important in the lives of spiritual leaders, the Lamas or Gurus, of the branches of Buddhism in the Tibetan tradition. In many ways, reincarnation could be seen as a balancing principle against the tenet of impermanence. If all of life is regarded as temporary and transitory, reincarnation allows for continuity from one life to the next. The Dalai Lama, in his introduction to an updated version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead entitled The Tibetan Book of Living Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche (1994), noted: “As a Buddhist, I view death as a normal process, a reality that I accept will occur as long as I remain in this earthly existence. Knowing that I cannot escape it, I see no point in worrying about it. I tend to think of death as being like changing your clothes when they have become old and worn out, rather than as some final end” (ix). The Dalai Lama is recognized as the fourteenth incarnation of the Dalai Lama; the first incarnation was born in 1391. They are all believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, an important figure in Buddhist beliefs that embodies compassion.
 
When an important teacher or Lama dies, the monks and followers of that Lama will seek out his reincarnation or tulku. The followers search for the reincarnated Lama while he is still a child, sometimes as young as one year old. In The Way of the White Clouds, it is explained that the tulku is not “a ‘phantom,’ nor an ‘avatar’ of a god or a transcendental being that takes on human form. If, for instance, the Dalai Lama is regarded to be the tulku of Avalokiteshvara, it does not mean that a divine being, or a Buddha or Bodhisattva, has descended from heaven and
appears in the shape of man, but rather that a divine idea has been realised [sic] in a human being to such an extent that it has become its living embodiment” (115). The individual incarnations of that embodiment seem to be a blend, if you will, between the significant spiritual enlightenment they have attained in past lives and the being they are now. So the Dalai Lama speaks about how the place where he was born and the humble circumstances of his family have contributed to his approach to his office and the way he carries on the body of spiritual knowledge he has attained in his life and previous lives. He draws both upon his past incarnations but also on his present incarnation to guide his actions.
 
In The Way of the White Clouds, the Bodhisattva Vow that is embraced by Buddhist Lamas is shared: “Whatever be the highest perfection of the human mind, may I realise [sic] it for the benefit of all living beings. Even though I may have to take upon myself all the sufferings of the world, I will not forsake my aim and my fellow-creatures in order to win salvation for myself only.” Returning to earth to help lead all people toward peace and salvation is a central goal of the Lama.
 
The process of identifying the child that is the reincarnated Lama varies but follows a largely similar path. Those who seek the reincarnation first consult with the religious leaders in their sect of Buddhism. They consult with the Tibetan State Oracles who read signs and provide clues about the child’s whereabouts. The leaders also gather clues about the location of the reincarnation from the body of the deceased Lama itself, perhaps the head of the deceased Lama is looking in a particular direction. Sometimes the clues about the whereabouts come from visions or dreams of other noted Lamas, and sometimes signs are noted in natural formations, such as clouds. After gathering significant clues, the search party sets out. When they have identified the general area of their search, the Lamas visit homes where children are living. When they have reason to believe a child might be a good candidate for the reincarnation, they administer a simple test. The party brings along important items that belonged to the previous Lama (prayer beads, bells, etc) but they also bring along items that are very similar to serve as foils. They place the items in front of the child and ask him which one is his. If he chooses the correct items, it is regarded as very likely that he is the reincarnation.
 
The child, with the permission of the parents, is brought to a monastery of the branch of Buddhism to which the Lama belonged to be further tested and if the consensus of the monks is that he is the reincarnation, he is officially recognized as the reincarnation in an enthronement ceremony. The child then remains at the monastery and in the service of the faith for the rest of his life, if he chooses. Approximately a fifth of the Tibetan population enters religious service. In Tibetan culture, it is regarded as very auspicious for one’s family if a child is recognized as a reincarnated Lama. The child’s material needs will all be met, he will be educated, and highly respected. The parents do need to give permission for the child to follow this path, but in addition to all the positive effects of granting permission, there is something known as Tulku’s Disease which is said to afflict a reincarnation who is not allowed to follow a spiritual path. If his potential is cut off prematurely, a child may suffer from illness, even mental illness, as a result. As a result, few people refuse to allow their children to enter the monastery and the spiritual legacy of Buddhism is maintained in this way.

Curious Clips: Excerpts from The Curious REPort

Thursday, November 19th

 

Sarah Ruhl: Writer. Mother. Person.

Excerpted from an Interview with Sarah Ruhl by Victoria Myers for The Interval
 
 
What inspired you to write this play?
I have three kids and a babysitter who is Tibetan, and she told me a story about friends of hers in Boston who had a child and the child was recognized as a reincarnated Lama. The parents had to decide whether to send the child back to India to be educated at a monastery. And so I said, “Well, what did they do?” They sent their child to the monastery. They shut down their restaurant in Boston and they left. And I thought about it a lot. I thought about what would happen if it was the same situation but if it was someone who came to Buddhism later in life and had to make that decision about a child. So it’s about a white American woman who is married to a Tibetan man and has a child who is a reincarnated Lama.
 
What was it like playing with Eastern influences? Especially in regards to how that might affect theatrical structure?
I’ve always been interested in Eastern structures from the time I wrote my first play, Passion Play. I was influenced with Passion Play by Noh Drama and circular structure and also by the idea of the Noh Waki or traveler who comes and presents the story. So I think this play was influenced by Noh Drama, but I also think Eurydice was.
 
What other areas of culture do you find evocative? What is your relationship like with art and music?
I used to paint and I used to draw, and I probably would have loved to have been a portrait painter if I’d been good enough, but I really wasn’t good enough. I played the piano. I really wasn’t very good at it. But I studied music and visual art before becoming a playwright. I think one thing about playwriting is that it’s a plastic oral form—I wrote poetry too before I wrote plays—I think with playwriting the world kind of cracked open and incorporated these other art forms that I really loved.
 
How much do you think about the visuals when you’re writing?
Quite a bit. I mean I see it all. I don’t know how it will be imagined on stage, but I do see it all.
 
Do you find there’s any resistance to the idea of a playwright directing?
Yes. Nobody wants that. They think it’s insane. María Irene Fornés was a brilliant director of her own work and I think she had a lot of resistance. You look at the film world and it’s just common practice that you write it and direct it. And the work isn’t suffering from it. No, it’s getting better.
 
We’ve been talking to people about the balance between work and kids, but we also talk about how men are never asked about balancing work and kids—there’s no expectation of it. 
It’s interesting because I don’t mind the question because of this thing about motherhood and invisibility. I feel like, “Yes, ask me about my kids.” It’s a part of my life and other mothers should know about it. However, how do we get them to ask men the same question? Women are asked about being in relation to and I don’t think that’s bad. We all exist in relation to the world, our partners, the human race; so now how can we extend that privilege to men? And let’s think of it as a privilege. I think part of it is re-branding it. It’s good to be thought of in
relation to our kids, our society, and our culture. How can men be in a position equally of living in relation to the world and not be living in a little tower? It’s not writing in a tower—that’s not how it is for women or men. How can we re-position even the concept of the artist as someone who includes other parts of life and isn’t hermetically sealed in a tower? It’s a privilege to have kids and not live your life in solitude. But we live in a child-hating culture. No one likes kids. We say we do and we take pictures of pregnant women for People Magazine, but really they’re commodities—we hate them around, we hate them on airplanes, we consider them a grand imposition and almost a style choice. So no wonder women artists are offended about having to talk about them because they’re not considered important [by society]. So, for me, I think it’s about pushing them to the center for both men and women instead of pretending that my mind is an ivory tower that’s above something so mundane as the influence of children. They’re not mundane.
 
 
How can theatre better address the issue of balancing work and kids?
I bring my kids to rehearsal. I insist that they’re allowed to be part of the work place and to not be embarrassed by that. And that they should be at both parents rehearsals. But the first step, to me, is that we aren’t so ashamed and embarrassed by our reproductive lives that we can’t even admit to having them.
 
What’s something you think people can do to improve gender parity in theatre?
For me, the no brainer is: be sure you read women’s work. Make sure it’s getting in front of the artistic director. When I read a diverse amount of work, the diverse, wonderful pieces rise to the top quite naturally. So getting the work read seems incredibly important because the work is good enough; it doesn’t need anything outside of itself to trump it as excellent. If they are reading it, they’ll know. I think the Lilly’s are making an impact. The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is making an impact—it’s like the female Pulitzer since every year often the winner of the Blackburn goes on to be shortlisted for the Pulitzer. It’s like reading an alternative cannon. I think giving a hand to younger women writers if you’re an established writer—saying, “This is how I make a life in a theatre”—something as simple as that. Just sitting down with younger women writers and saying, “This is what I do and you can do this” is hugely important.

From the Rehearsal Hall

Artistic Intern Kayla Cohen Gives You an Inside Look into The Oldest Boy as it Hits Our Stage Theatre

TECH WEEK AND INVITED DRESS

The Stage Theatre is dotted with “tech tables”, desks specifically designed for use by each production department: sound, projections, stage management, lighting, and directorial. I look on their respective offices as artists’ studios, strewn with coffee cups and trade tools, covered in a gossamer of wires. “We are now rehearsing together”, announces Sam, the Director. At once, a dozen designers perk from their screens - an army of meerkats glowing in blue. Tech Week begins.

While the actors are given a backstage tour, Sam scans the stage for anything unexpected. He paces the theatre, checking the visibility of set-pieces from several vantage points. Assistant Director Jacole and I take the seats furthest left and right of the stage, alerting Sam whenever our site-line is severely obstructed. The actors are called to the stage and told to, “walk your blocking, thinking your way through the play”. They trace their movements, mapping exits and entrances, readjusting to the width of the new door-frames and positioning of props. 

Sam’s first ‘theatrical tenet’ comes wrapped in a question (as is the ‘curious soul’s’ way): “Do you see that red light?”, he points centre stage, just above the mezzanine. “The lights are at a 145’ angle" he explains, "If you play it up there, everyone will see you”, before jesting, “you look more attractive if you keep your chin up”. 

We move through the production at snail-pace, carefully combining the tech elements. Sam frequently stops to diagnose problems and rework, getting rid of  ‘dead-time’/unnecessary pauses.  “Kayla”, Sam gets my attention, “It’s like a quilt", he offers without explanation. This is one of the few poetic sentiments he allows himself during Tech Rehearsals - a time for clarity and parsimony.

Nobody knows this better than the Stage Manager, Chandra Anthenill, who finds herself at the epicentre of the production, communicating with all production departments. She speaks to the backstage crew and each designer using different headset channels, she instructs the actors using the 'God Mic', while simultaneously listening for Sam’s instructions. “Let’s be standing by for sound 28.6, cue lights 47 and 48”, she speaks the language of each system before giving the starting line to the actors. When we run the scene, her eyes whip from script to stage, calling, ’stand by’, then, ’go!’. 

This is the first time the actors perform with microphones and are in full-costume. It is thrilling to see how the decisions made by individual designers compliments each other. How the faded colour scheme of the set accentuates the bold Tibetan clothing. How the thunderstorm sound effect is visually-echoed in a projection of rain-blurred city lights. 

However, there is one problem: the blinds necessary to conceal upstage set-pieces, are not working. They are meant to fall from the lighting grid above but the mechanism is unresponsive. Sean Fanning, the set-designer, has 24 hours to find a solution before the Invited Dress Rehearsal begins and a 275-strong audience join us. The set-builders arrive early the next morning to construct his blueprint. Sure enough, just as our first audience files into the lobby, so too do the finished blinds roll on stage for the first time, hanging from their new wooden frames.

The crowd is electric. There are seventy Theatre students from UCSD and a large group of educators from the San Diego Community College District. I sit in the most discrete seat, so as not to disturb others while I follow the script with my I-phone spotlight. My task is to note where we deviate from the playwright's wording, delivering line notes to the actors after the show. This may be the hundredth time I’ve read it, and I mouth along, anticipating every coma, every beat. However, tonight’s performance is different - it is a conversation. For, as the audience watches the production, the production department observes the audience, marking their every laugh and unexpected silence.


Curious Clips: Excerpts from The Curious REPort

Thursday, November 12th

History of Tibetan Buddhism

Hidden in the land some call Shangri-La, isolated by the towering Himalayan Mountains, lies the remote country of Tibet. Here Buddhism has flourished in a form quite distinct from the other schools of Buddhism.

The earliest accounts of Buddhism in Tibet date back to the seventh century A.D., after Songtsen Gampo unified Tibet into a single nation and became its first king in 625. Prior to this time, Tibet was a land of separate tribes, and the prevailing belief was the ancient Bon religion — a mixture of shamanism, magic, and primitive nature worship. The Tibetans initially did not welcome Buddhism.

Only after Buddhism in Tibet had absorbed some of the occultic features of Bon did the Tibetans accept the religion as their own. Tibetan tradition states that Buddhism first came to ancient Tibet while Lhato Thori was ruler — a figure many historians regard as legendary. One day, tradition maintains, a casket fell from the heavens and landed at Lhato Thori’s feet while he stood on the roof of his palace. Buddhist books and a model of a golden pagoda (a Buddhist temple in the form of a tower) were in the casket, and within the books were written six syllables: Om Mani Padme Hum, which became a sacred prayer of the Tibetans. For centuries Buddhism had waves of worry as forces attempted to overtake Tibet. In 1911 revolution in China, the Dalai Lama negotiated a peace treaty with the British and declared the independence of Tibet.

From 1911 to 1950, Tibet experienced relative peace because of the protection of the British. Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, guided Tibet for 21 of those years. Again corruption had become rampant within the religious and political systems of Tibet. Thubten Gyatso fought to reform both religion and government. “The active reformer moved into many areas,” states Laura Pilarski. “He revised scales of taxation to assess the rich more adequately; revamped the penal system, abolishing capital punishment and all severe sentences involving mutilation except for treason; and introduced a few school reforms.” In December 1933, Thubten Gyatso died, but not before warning his country that unless the Tibetans learned to protect their land it would soon be conquered. His words became a tragic prophecy.

Although Tibet emerged from the turmoil of World War II unscathed, turbulent years of political instability within Tibet starting in 1933 were a prelude to a civil war that began in 1947. Since the current candidate for the Dalai Lama was still a child and Tibet was led by a weak regency, Tibet lacked a forceful and dynamic leader in a precarious time when the country had lost its British protection and when the communists took control of the Chinese government.

Fearing an invasion from China, the Tibetans prepared to send “delegations to visit India, Nepal, Great Britain, and the United States to seek official recognition of the country’s independent status, along with some help in keeping out the Chinese. These delegations, however, never left Lhasa because of the negative response from the countries approached. No nation, not even India, wanted to push Tibetan claims against Chinese ones.” Finally, the Chinese communists invaded Tibet on October 7, 1950.

On November 17, Tenzin Gyatso, at the age of 15, was installed as the 14th Dalai Lama. A month later he removed himself to the Sikkim border and out of personal danger so that, if the
Chinese were successful in their military drive toward Lhasa, he could flee to India and thereby take “the heart of the people with him.” In May 1951, China annexed Tibet. The Dalai Lama then decided to return to Lhasa to comfort his people. The Chinese initially tried to convert the Tibetans to communism through peaceful propaganda, but the Tibetans resented having their ancient customs disturbed by a new belief system.
 
Finally, in March 1959, in one of the most dramatic episodes of contemporary history, the Dalai Lama fled his country when he realized that he could better serve his people outside of Tibet.
Disguising himself, joining other members of his family who had taken different paths to the same point, traveling on yakskin rafts, crossing lofty mountains and treacherous rivers and valleys, the Dalai Lama reached the border of India safely after 15 days.
 
 
“Since 1959 the Chinese rulers have completely destroyed the main springs of Tibetan civilization,” say David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, renowned scholars of Tibetan culture and history. Indeed, “religion as a creative cultural force and as the center of life in every village and every house in Tibet is no more.” Meanwhile, thousands of Tibetans have fled their country and joined the Dalai Lama in exile. It is in him that they hope one day their culture, their country, and their religion will be restored.
 
(http://www.equip.org/article/tibetan-buddhism-exiled-from-their-homeland-extolled-in-the-west/#christian-books-2)

From the Rehearsal Hall

Artistic Intern Kayla Cohen Gives You an Inside Look into The Oldest Boy Before it Hits Our Stage on November 12th

REFINING and REVISING

It is midway through rehearsals and, in theory, we’re ready for previews. The actors know their lines, the crew knows their cues, and the dancers know their steps. If this were a high school production, we wouldn’t think twice. But, as I am to learn, in professional theatre there is still a long process of revising and refining before we invite an audience. 

    A minute on stage takes an hour in the rehearsal room. Sam Woodhouse and Jacole Kitchen, our Director and Assistant Director, revisit each scene with the actors. Together, they investigate exactly what’s happening, both plot-wise and internally for the characters. I begin to think of it as police work: Sam is Chief Detective, pouring over the transcript of words spoken at the crime scene (the play script). He is always searching for the reason why… Why does Mother say ‘Hi’ twice? Is she uncertain what to do, or reminding her visitors she is still there? Why does the Monk rephrase his question? Is he reacting to Mother’s surprise or perhaps offence? We file through a plethora of possibilities, slowly reconstructing the scene of the crime. 

    When blocking, Sam is juggling several concerns. He must accommodate for the overall motion of the scene, for example, the action of ‘becoming intimate’ or ‘raising the stakes’. He must convey any hierarchical relations between characters. He must ensure transitions are smooth and find convenient places for props. He must provide variation in tone and stage-picture, while retaining economy of gesture (never blocking two movements where one would do). I observe him searching for optimal positions for actors - the sweet spot - where they can turn any which way and still be seen by the entire audience, allowing for spontaneity and flexibility of choice. 

    With the barebones completed, Sam moves to the details. How many potato chips does Mother eat in the opening scene? Is she manic or poised? How does Mother bow to the Lama? Shall we play this for comedy? How loud should we make the rain sound effect? How long should the baby cry for? Sam applies the same scrutiny to the actors’ characterisation. He wants Lama to elongate his vowels so as to indicate high status and maturity - this will also create contrast between the giddy Monk and his teacher. Privately, the actors work on connecting the stream of thought between their lines. Sam helps them by paraphrasing the text or illuminating subtext. However, he seldom replaces the actors’ choices with his own. Rather, he supports their ideas by adding illustrative pauses and unwritten exchanges. These slight deviations give life to the play and exhibit tremendous imagination.

    Sam is the founding Director, and has been at the REP for 40 years. I feel privileged to watch this master at work. But, beyond his way with theatre, is his wisdom with people. As an ambitious intern, I closely observe how he navigates such a collaborative artform - without ego or gripe - choosing his words and framing positively: “Sure, we can try that!”, he accepts an actor’s suggestion, “You know what would be great?!…” he chimes, introducing a new idea.

    After the first full run-through, the actors are handed a stack of notes, scraps of paper giving suggestions for their next performance. “The rule is, if you don’t understand the note, it’s my fault”, Sam tells the actors, and - without knowing - tells me, it is possible to play a role of authority with grace.  ​


 

From the Rehearsal Hall

Artistic Intern Kayla Cohen Gives You an Inside Look into The Oldest Boy Before it Hits Our Stage on November 12th

Passing Notes with Lama Lhanang

Two weeks into rehearsals, Lama Lhanang joins us for lunch. He is a high Buddhist teacher, invited from Tibet to teach in the United States. He dresses in golden and red robes, his thick black hair swaying in a ponytail about his hips. The cast scramble for their scripts and take a seat with the director, his team, the Lama, and his student. 

When the Lama was nine years old, a famous Buddhist teacher identified him as the reincarnation of Ken Rinpoche Damcho, one of the high realized masters of the 20th century. From ages 10 to 21 he trained at a monastery, learning with masters from diverse lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Today, the Lama’s conduct, clothing, and pace all suggest wisdom. His presence feels both authoritative and calm. I wonder how he perceives us… Does he love us (by virtue of our being human)? Does he have a hyper-awareness of the social dynamics and individual realities in the room? Does he sense my nervousness, awe, curiosity?

Albert Park, acting as the Lama in our production of ‘The Oldest Boy’, begins the session with a question from the play: “Do you think attachment is the same as love?”. The Lama chooses to answer indirectly, and focuses on the distinction between romantic and maternal love: the former is often “controlling”, whereas the mother simply delights at everything her child does. There is an interlude of silence as we jot down his thoughts. I wonder if we note-take in service of the play or for personal purposes?

Next, Sam, the director, wants to know, “what makes a good teacher?”. Our playwright, Sarah Ruhl, features two student-teacher relationships: the monk and his master; the college student and her academic advisor. Ruhl describes how teachers provide their student with ‘order in the universe’, and fulfill the role of the ‘mother and… father both’. The Lama answers by emphasising kindness, developing a genuine connection, and dealing intelligently with wisdom. Our choreographer, Qi Zhang Holtzman, nods in agreement - she has a similarly tender approach when teaching dance-steps to actors. 

Amanda Sitton, the actress playing the Mother, asks how to depict a competent meditator. The Lama smiles at this, and then furrows his brow in mock-seriousness. He is impersonating a beginner attempting the ‘correct position’. His humour is as surprising as it is spontaneous. “The trick is to relax”, he says, “an experienced meditator knows that the mind is like a wandering monkey”. He warns us against the tyranny of expectation and the anxiety to succeed. I start to question, does relax mean letting go of your idea of self? Is meditating the act of relinquishing, of shedding the illusions that give structure to our collective chaos? 

Lunchtime draws to a close, but just before rehearsals begin, I raise my hand. For the last hour I have been battling with which question to ask. If you had the opportunity to ask one question to a Lama, which would you choose?! That morning, I had watched a documentary called, ‘Nechung: The State Oracle of Tibet’, in which they equated "realising emptiness" with "developing a true vision of reality". This had piqued my interest. "What is the true state of reality?", I decided to ask. The Lama did not flinch. “It is in the mind”, he tells me, and goes on to explain (paraphrased): Imagine someone is shouting at you. How do you respond? You can participate in their decision to be angry and feel bad about yourself, or you can feel compassion for this person currently experiencing anger. The shouting person is asserting their version of reality as truth, but it is useful to detach and realise all perspectives are interpretations of absolute reality.

This changes everything. Do we all live in a web of assumptions, perpetually suspended from the true state of things? Is absolute reality neutral, meaningless - empty?

While the intern underwent somewhat of an existential revival, rehearsal continued as usual, and the Lama stayed to watch. Actually, he did not watch so much as he listened. An esteemed artist, he sat with pencil and paper, and, to my surprise, signalled for me to place my thumb on his page. Half an hour later, he hands me his art-piece, titled: ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha’. It is an ornate design of a bird perched on a twig - my thumb for its’ body. I want to give him something in return, and so try drawing his metaphor of ‘mind as monkey’. He continues the dialogue with an image of a bee pollinating a flower. By this point, my drawing capabilities are exhausted, and I turn to words: ‘(my?) friend, thank (you?)’, I deliver to him and his student before I am called to run lines with the actors. 


 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from The Curious REPort

Thursday, November 5th

Fourteen Fundamental Buddhist Tenets

From the website of The Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa.
 
 
These tenets were first set out in 1894.
 
1. Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness towards members of the animal kingdom.
 
2. The Universe functions according to Law (dharma), and not according to the caprice of a ruling god (isvara-deva).
 
3. The truths upon which the Dharma is founded are scientific. They have, we believe, been taught in successive ages (kalpas), or prehistoric epochs, by certain fully illuminated beings defined as human Buddhas (manushi-buddha).
 
4. The fourth World Teacher (shastara) of the present age was Buddha Sakyamuni, who was born in a noble family of the Sakya clan, in India about 2500 years ago. He is an historical personage, and his personal name was Siddhartha Gautama.
 
5. Sakyamuni taught that primordial Ignorance (avidya) produces Desire-to-be (trishna), unsatisfied Desire is the cause of life, and life results in old age, disease and death, i.e., Suffering (dukkha). To overcome Suffering, therefore, it is necessary to escape the Cycle of life and death; to escape the Cycle of life and death, it is necessary to extinguish Desire; and to extinguish Desire, it is necessary to destroy Ignorance.
 
6. Ignorance fosters rebirth on the Wheel of Necessity. When Ignorance is destroyed, the unsatisfactoriness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished.
 
7. The dispersion of Ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing Altruism of Conduct, development of Wisdom, and Non-attachment for the transitory objects of ego grasping.
 
8. Attaining Great Awakening (maha-bodhi), the Buddha Sakyamuni realized four profound Insights: namely, that all created phenomena are impermanent; that due to the mutable impermanence of phenomena, all created phenomena must result eventually only in suffering; that there is no independent absolute 'I'; and that the seeker of Truth can transcend created existence and attain, through spiritual practice and mystical contemplation, a supreme state of peace called Nirvana.
 
9. Sakyamuni thus taught four Holy Truths (arya-satya), viz.
 Worldly existence is Suffering.
 The Cause of Suffering is Desire.
 The cessation of Desire results in the end of Suffering.
 Cessation is obtained by following the eightfold Spiritual Path (arya-marga); viz., Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Remembrance, Right Contemplation.
 
10. Right Contemplation leads to spiritual Awakening, or, in other words, the awakening of the Buddha-nature that is latent in every being.
 
11. The essence of Dharma, as summed up by the Buddha himself, is:
To refrain from all sin,
To practice virtue,
To purify the Heart
 
12. The Universe functions according to a natural law of causation known as "Karma". The wholesome and unwholesome actions of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present life. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects that he now experiences.
 
13. The obstacles to the attainment of good Karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, viz., Kill not, Steal not, indulge not in Harmful Sexual Conduct, Lie not, and do not Intoxicate oneself with stupefying drugs or liquor. Five other precepts, which need not be here enumerated, should be observed by those who would attain, more quickly than the average layman, the release of suffering and rebirth.
 
14. The Dharma discourages dogmatic credulity. Buddha Sakyamuni taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any scripture, or affirmed by any tradition, unless it accord with reason.
 
Feeling that there was a need for a basic statement of Fundamental and Orthodox Buddhist tenets, upon which all Buddhists throughout the world generally agree, this document was drafted in 1889, at the instigation of the Elder Sumangala, by Colonel H.S. Olcott and, with some modification, was then over the next several years signed by representatives of all the major schools of Buddhism.
 
(http://www.dharmafellowship.org/library/essays/fourteen-fundamental-buddhist-tenets.htm)

 

From the Rehearsal Hall

Artistic Intern Kayla Cohen Gives You an Inside Look into The Oldest Boy Before it Hits Our Stage on November 12th

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT 

The rehearsal room floor is taped to show the dimensions of the set. Stage management has meticulously mapped out the semi-circle steps of the Lyceum stage, a square living room, and a circular altar. They’ve collected temporary props and make-shift furniture to stand in for the set pieces you will see in the production: a second-hand sofa, two cushions (one oriental, one leopard print), a baby monitor, a potato chip bag… The place looks both desolate and thoroughly lived in. 

When I arrive, half an hour before scheduled rehearsals, the studio is already buzzing. Tsering Dorjee Bawa, the cultural consultant and actor playing the Oldest Boy, has made Tibetan butter tea for everyone to try. As we sip, the words of our playwright, Sarah Ruhl, ring in our ears: ‘The tea tasted the way tea is supposed to taste. With salt and butter’. It reminds my Western taste buds of soup. Our composer Michael Roth, a no bullshit intellectual from Brooklyn now living in LA, remarks, with some wit, about how easily Americans (especially artists) are, ‘enamoured with all things Eastern without objectively questioning its intellectual or even moral value’. He notes how, ‘if it's Eastern we tend to think it must be beautiful and/or good - if it's Buddhist it somehow must be properly holy - without the same critical examination or judgement that we correctly bring to our art, religions, religious leaders and workers’. This sparks a conversation about cultural appropriation and how we must be careful not to present Tibetan Buddhism simplistically - or as Michael would say, necessarily good or correct. As on-the-spot dramaturgical assistant, I quickly find a topical article by Rebecca Stevens, the Chicago Commons Producer for ‘HowlRound’ theatre blog. She warns against, ‘essentializing characters into mythic figures, reducing deep philosophical concepts into digestible “universal themes,” and merely presenting a silhouette of the cultural setting’. This play is a bi-cultural event, the language fuses Tibetan words with English dialogue. How will an American theatre company make sure to represent both cultures accurately?​

Today, we start the “Research and Development” process. This means going through the script chronologically, understanding the purpose and over-arching movement of each scene. At first, Sam and Jacole, the director and assistant director, watch the actors and silently take notes. Sam wants the actors to feel empowered and free to experiment. Afterwards, he simply asks questions: Do you think this is a rhetorical or genuine question? Shall we try this line as a private thought rather than part of a dialogue? After playing with the scene further, Sam introduces terms such as ‘units’ (of time or topic) and ‘beats’ (subtle transitions). We comb through the scene again, blocking exits, entrances, and turns which illuminate these key structural moments for the audience. We repeat the scene again and again. Then the next scene, then the next… And in this way, the play begins to take shape.


From the Rehearsal Hall

Artistic Intern Kayla Cohen Gives You an Inside Look into The Oldest Boy Before it Hits Our Stage on November 12th

TABLE WORK

10.30am, I pack my lunch and run to the trolley for Palomer Street Station. For the next two days we will be doing ‘table-work’. I am yet to learn what this means… The chairs are arranged in a rectangle, with the director and his team facing the actors. I take a seat opposite the dramaturg, and pay attention to how she contributes - I am to serve as on-the-spot researcher when she is absent.

‘I’m just curious…’, says Sam, director of this production of ‘The Oldest Boy'. He proceeds to ask a landslide of questions to the actors: What is the cultural background of your character? How well do they know the English language? How does this impact their interactions? What surprises them and what puts them at ease? What expectations and assumptions guide their behaviour? The conversation is organic and thorough. Sam is reminding us of what the characters do not yet know - after repeatedly reading a script actors may forget the rawness of an initial response. I watch as they deepen their characterisation - one attempts an Indian-British accent, another experiments with a more introverted interpretation of their role.

I find it remarkably hard not to share my observations as Sam and the actors do. I note how respectful Jacole Kitchen is, assistant director for this production and general theatre polymath. Her comments are sparse and essential. I am bubbling with ideas, and at first I let them spill over into conversation. I wonder whether I am allowed to talk? Whether my contribution is embarrassingly juvenile? I make a deal with myself only to vocalise what I feel is absolutely necessary. I imagine how a comment will impact the direction of conversation, if it will slow down progress, if the comment is simply an intellectual clarification or if it will directly aid the actors’ characterisation / way we tell the story. I realise that most of what I think has already occurred to others around me, and that a little humility will do me good! I love how this lesson has been silently conveyed by Jacole - although, I always prefer to hear her expert perspective…

After two days of ‘table-work’, the cast and production team are much better informed as to the cultural context of the characters and the playwright’s intentions. The genius of Ruhl’s script is illuminated - the subtle changes in the mother’s speech as she shifts mindsets, how her son  emulates her phrasing. It is with this firm grasp on the material, that we are now able to take to the floor… 


Curious Clips: Excerpts from The Curious REPort

Thursday, October 30th

We Are Excited About...

Welcoming Sarah Ruhl’s voice and vision back to the San Diego REP stage after great responses to our 2007 production of The Clean House and 2010 production of In the Next Room; or The Vibrator Play—both of which were Pulitzer Prize finalist plays. Sarah, a MacArthur “Genius” playwright, has won multiple awards for her plays, and has obviously struck a chord with our community. Including our production of The Oldest Boy, there have been seven productions of Ruhl’s plays done in the San Diego area in the past seven years (out of the 13 she has published thus far).
 
 
With The Oldest Boy, Ruhl is at her imaginative best! The story offers a delightful exploration of howparents must walk a tightrope between loving and letting go. It’s not uncommon for a parent to believe their child is special, yet Ruhl molds this primal connection into an extraordinarily touching story that has universal appeal. Imagine an American woman is visited by a high-ranking Buddhist priest and is informed that her three-year-old son is the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan Lama. When asked if she would kindly allow him to take the boy to his monastery in India to begin his spiritual training, she and her Tibetan husband must make a life-altering choice that will test their faith and their hearts. The Hollywood Reporter noted that it was “An extraordinary story that combines existential inquiry with playful humor and unstinting compassion.”
 
 
Ruhl herself noted on the title page of the script that The Oldest Boy was a play told in three ceremonies. This set the tone and challenged us to create three beautifully distinct experiences. 
 
One of the things that we relish within a REP production is the opportunity to offer our audiences a theatrical event supported by all of the design elements. Thanks to the imaginations of many of our longtime REP collaborators—Sean Fanning (set/projections), Jen Setlow (lights), Jennifer Brawn Gittings (costumes), Michael Roth (composer), Kevin Anthenill (sound), Mark Robertson (puppetry), and Shelley Orr (dramaturgy), plus a new creative connection with Tsering Dorjee Bawa (choreography)—our production of this play showcases Tibetan dancing, music with drums, richly colored costumes and settings, and a very creative use of puppetry. We offer a taste of Traditional Tibetan culture mixed with a fusion of East-West that is sure to impress.
 
 
We are also excited to have Amanda Sitton back on our stage, bringing her intimate knowledge to the role of Mother. (Amanda was last seen at the REP in 2010 in Road to Mecca and before that in 2008 in Doubt.) Plus, we are thrilled to be showcasing so many different cultural backgrounds represented in the casting of this play—Samoan, Korean, Filipino, and Chinese—plus Tsering Dorjee Bawa who is actually from Tibet. He received his Masters in Tibetan Performing Arts from the famed Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamsala, India. Tsering is playing the role of The Oldest Boy in our production after having been a Tibetan chorus member at Lincoln Center, and having just played the role of the The Oldest Boy at Marin Theatre Company (pictured in above photo.)
 
There is something magical in Ruhl’s story, something that touched many of us so deeply that some wept and some left the theatre feeling overjoyed (or both). There is something very familiar about this lesson of loving and letting go. In the cutting of the umbilical cord, physical attachment to our mothers ends and emotional and psychological attachment begins. But where is that moment when we have to let go and trust that this new being is safe and ready to explore this world for themselves? It is a question for all.
 
 
"Good parents give their children roots and wings—roots to know where home is and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught them." -Dr. Jonas Salk

From the Rehearsal Hall

Artistic Intern Kayla Cohen Gives You an Inside Look into The Oldest Boy Before it Hits Our Stage on November 12th

I’m Kayla Cohen, 20, an aspiring actress and theatre practitioner from London. I've come to San Diego REPertory Theatre for a five month ‘Briternship’ to work in their Literary, Marketing, and Production departments. Why move 5,000 miles from a world-class theatre hub to work for a regional non-profit? It was intuitive. The REP has an effusive warmth that radiates from the stage, into the audience, and lingers behind the scenes. I came here because I’d be nourished professionally and personally, and theatre calls for both intellectual and emotional intelligence. This is part of an exploration year required by my college, Minerva Schools at KGI where I am one of 28 founding students. In response to my slightly out-of-the-box background, the REP curated a unique internship across departments and focused on larger-goal projects. I will be blogging for the next four and a half weeks about ‘The Oldest Boy’, the third production of our 2015-16 season. I will describe the rehearsal process in real-time, step-by-step, and share my personal perspective as I learn everything for the first time. ​
 
First Rehearsal: OCT 16th
Midday, October 16th, dancers dart between dramaturgs, carpenters brush shoulders with costume designers, and a circle emerges among the crowds. It is four and a half weeks before the opening night of Sarah Ruhl’s ‘The Oldest Boy’, and the entire cast, crew, and staff gather in our Chula Vista studio for the first rehearsal. I join as rehearsals assistant, and diligently document my first insight into behind-the-stage professional theatre.
 
Director Sam Woodhouse, co-founder and 40-years Artistic Director at the REP, goes round the circle and asks every one of the 60 people a production-related question: ‘do you believe in reincarnation?…if you do, who were you in a past life?…if you do or do not, who would you like to be in your next life?’. This discussion-based approach is characteristic of Sam, whose inquisitive and kind nature shifts the mood from formal to personal to almost spiritual. Note to self: questions create a space for the exteriorisation of internal life and let people be known in all their depth and complexity.
 
We then listened to presentations from the production team. The Set Designer described how the ‘stage picture’ should compliment the story-telling, referring to furniture as characters in their own that may be arranged to ‘expose the reality of the house’. The dramaturg delved into the two contrasting worlds of our female protagonist: ’attachment parenting’ and Tibetan culture. The costume designer treats costume as a visual language that reflects mental journeys, and how she mixes authentic Tibetan dress with theatrically-functional, purposefully-built clothing. The sound engineer said there will be a ‘heavy-presence of music’, interweaving recordings with live instruments such as gongs and giant drums. The cultural consultant, Tsering Dorjee Bawa from Tibet, explained how in his home-country each region has different styles and dialects. The puppet-maker went through his sketches and introduced the rehearsal puppet, whom he insisted was a tool, not to be confused with a sentient being...
 
After a 20 minute break we had our first read through of the script. Perhaps it was due to the actors’ genuine realisation of the lines, or because Ruhl fluctuates between Western and Eastern paradigms of time, but suddenly it felt like the play was happening on another plane. As an aspiring actress listening to these esteemed actors, I learnt that the actors job is to tell the story in the most vivid way possible, and so we must understand the role our character has delivering the playwright's ideas. 
 
In the afternoon, Sam led an activity called ‘Cultural Mapping’. He asked the actors to imagine a World map on the floor, and then to “go to the place on the map where your mother was born and share where you are…then where your Father was born...”. They dispersed across Tibet, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, China, South Pacific, and San Diego. Next, Sam asked each of the actors to go the place on the map where they were born, and we saw a sweep of migration from around the world towards the USA. They were then asked to go to the p
 
 
 
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