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Santa Monica Rep’s “Proof” Reaches Out to Community  

 

By Melonie Magruder
Lookout Staff

April 3, 2012 -- If it is an article of faith that community theatre must rely on creative partnerships to survive financially in an era of diminished arts funding, then Santa Monica Rep is heading back to its roots for some local collaboration.

The young professional theatre company is staging its second production, David Auburn’s “Proof,” at the Church in Ocean Park starting April 14; and the path to opening night depends not just on great casting and intensive rehearsals, but outreach programs that rope in many elements of the community.

In Santa Monica Rep’s case, that means negotiating deals for something as pedestrian – and necessary – as rehearsal space. Jen Bloom, co-founder of the group and co-producer of the play, worked out a deal to swap rehearsal space at Santa Monica High School for an eight-week theatrical residency in two local elementary schools, Franklin and Grant.

“Working with the Natural History Museum taught me how powerful partnerships with schools can be,” Bloom said, referring to her help developing life-sized animal puppets for a program there.

“I think kids respond more and learn more by going through a theatrical process, so I’m teaching these kids how to create a play working from a novel,” she said.

Bloom will be working from two books the fifth graders are reading, “Johnny Tremain,” a 1943 novel by Esther Forbes set in colonial Boston, and “Maniac Magee,” a 1990 novel by Jerry Spinelli that examines racism.

“I don’t think they’ll ever read a novel the same way again,” Bloom said.

Sarah Gurfield

In return for her teaching labors, the district agreed to allow rehearsal space at SAMOHI, a “blast from the past” that show director and company co-founder Sarah Gurfield says has provided a certain inspiration. She is a SAMOHI alumnus and, while a student, worked “endless hours” in the theatre department, garnering awards for her performances along the way.

“It is so weird to be going back to that same green room,” Gurfield said. “There are old photos of me there from ages ago.”

Sarah Gurfield. Photo courtesy

“Proof” is the story of a gifted young woman coming to grips with her own unstable emotional life following the death of her brilliant mathematician father. In 2001, the play won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Gurfield says she was attracted to the themes of madness versus genius, the intricate subtleties of family dynamics and the cathartic drama of self-fulfillment. The company staged the play as a reading at the Santa Monica Public Library a year ago, and Gurfield said she was surprised at the level of excitement with which it was received.

“It’s so tightly written and evocative that people really responded to it just as a reading,” she said. “Even with a limited budget, I knew we could pull together something really exciting.”

Bloom is hoping to book the show to school math clubs as well as to theatre clubs as the launching point for larger conversations. It’s part of the company’s goal of establishing relevant, “participatory theatre” for the community.

“This play deals with someone who gave up a career to care for an aging parent,” Bloom said. “It lets you walk in other people’s shoes. We’re also reaching out to groups from Emeritus College, and putting together a panel to discuss aging and brain health.”

Gurfield said the production was shaping up just as she would hope, even with a spare budget and design plan.

“It’s hard to get production staff when you can’t pay them what they’re worth,” she said. “But I have a brilliant script and cast. If I can’t make this play work with just two chairs and a light bulb, I probably shouldn’t be directing it.”

Santa Monica Rep’s production of “Proof” runs April 14 – May 12. Tickets can be purchased and more information found at www.santamonicarep.org.

 


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