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Behind the scenes, there’s drama in making theater.
To capture that, we’ve been embedded over the past month with Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company. Mo’olelo is a small San Diego theater that often takes on social issues with its productions and tries to involve communities that aren’t normally connected to the local theater scene.
On stage now at Mo’olelo: A two-man play by Amlin Gray called “How I Got That Story” that highlights the fog and confusion of war in “Ambo Land,” a pseudo-Vietnam.
Here’s a guide to what we’ve learned in our Arts: Embedded series about how the production has come together:
• Over coffee in January, company founder and play director Seema Sueko explained why she was going to open her rehearsals to combat veterans, even though there was a risk the fictional play’s absurdity would grate against their real-world experience.
• When those veterans came to rehearsal, they taught actors Brian Bielawski and Greg Watanabe how to move through an ambush and wield an M-16. One took issue with the author of the play, finding “the reporter character unbelievable.” But another vet, Ernie D’Leon, reminded them: “We can’t change him, though. This is who he’s going to be. Though it may be absurd, that’s what it’s all about.”
• Mo’olelo asked combat veterans to share their war stories in short clips posted to YouTube to help both the actors and the theater-goers understand the emotional impact of war.
• A lot can happen in 24 hours. At the play’s dress rehearsal for a small invited audience, Sueko said, “I think we all left feeling, like, ‘Ugh.’” But the next night, the first preview performance where the actors performed from the top, went “really, really well,” she said.
• On top of playing 20 characters in the production, Watanabe had to create all of the sound effects for the production, too. That meant mimicking gunfire and plane flyovers, as well as the Rolling Stones tune that plays in a bar the reporter meets a soldier in. Sound designer George Ye shared audio clips you can listen to.
• Sticking to a budget of $500, costume designer Jeannie Galioto showed us a bizarre mix of motorcycle helmets, garments ordered from the internet and untethered black hair that covered her dining and living rooms as she prepared to clothe the two actors to play 21 characters in the play.
• The day of Opening Night, the company prepared to throw open the doors and invite the scrutiny and exuberance of critics and a sold-out audience. Sueko couldn’t sleep, felt nauseous all day and had to sew the knee of Watanabe’s pants at the last minute. Bielawski tried to clear his head by treating the day like it was his birthday.
Have you seen “How I Got That Story?” We’d love to hear what you think. Tell us in a comment below: Who would you recommend to go see this play? What did it make you think about?
Here are a few images we’ve not yet shared from the play. Photographer Sam Hodgson, who contributes to VOSD, captured these as Bielawski and Watanabe ran through the play in a dress rehearsal:
I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0531.
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