Theatre Corner

FULL EPISODE

Backstage: The Old Globe's Grinch

Theatre Corner Backstage takes a look behind the curtain at San Diego’s most iconic theatrical production, “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at The Old Globe. Hear from cast members and artistic director Barry Edelstein on their experiences with the production and how The Old Globe is managing to overcome a theatre-less world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AIRED: December 10, 2020 | 0:26:45
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TRANSCRIPT

m Michael Taylor,

host of "Theatre Corner."

Today, we bring you "Theatre Corner Backstage,"

which takes a look behind the curtain

at iconic onstage productions we've all come to love.

Join us as we explore one of San Diego's most famous

theatrical performances, Dr. Seuss's,

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Hear from the cast members and artistic director

Barry Edelstein on theirexperiences with the production

and how the Old Globe has adjusted to

a rapidly changing theatre worldduring the COVID-19 pandemic.

Explore the history of the production,

its roots in San Diego, the diversity of the cast,

and how the Grinch has proven to be a timeless tale

that will persevere in spite of mounting challenges.

So, silence your cell phones, folks, and enjoy

"Theatre Corner Backstage: The Old Globe's Grinch."

female announcer: The Old Globe Theatre,

a fundamental place of communityin the heart of San Diego.

Their plaza, usually filled witha bustling crowd eager to enter

an evening performance, now lays barren.

The theatre doors locked, plushvelvet seats collect cobwebs.

Yet in the middle of December, a whimsical Christmas tree

remains flickering with light ina seemingly dim Balboa Park.

To San Diegans, this tree marksthe annual tradition

of the Old Globe's most iconic theatrical production

in its history, Dr. Seuss's,

"How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

♪♪♪

♪ You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch ♪

Barry Edelstein: I'm Barry Edelstein,

Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director of the Old Globe.

2020 would've been the 23rd yearof Dr. Seuss's,

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas"at The Old Globe.

My predecessor as artistic director of the Old Globe

was Jack O'Brien, one of the great directors

in the American theatre.

He decided one year that it might be a good idea to try

and create an annual holiday show.

Many theatres do, "A Christmas Carole"

or some other Christmas classic.

And it was Jack's notion to do Dr. Seuss's,

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Everybody knows the story of this thing.

It's this guy who lives in the mountains

above this little town, and he hates Christmas.

And he's got this shrunken, shriveled heart,

and he wants to stop everybody else from enjoying things

because his life is so narrow and so circumscribed.

And over the course of the action of the show,

he learns that togetherness is better than loneliness,

that community is better than isolation,

and his heart grows three sizes.

announcer: This musicalproduction premiered all the way

back in 1997, and returns every single holiday season,

garnering thousands of San Diegans who have made

this viewing experience an annual tradition.

But there's more to this production

than just a lovable story.

There's a personal connection between the Old Globe,

the famous author,

and the people who make it happen.

Barry: Dr. Seuss is a San Diegan.

Dr. Seuss lived in La Jolla for a large chunk of his life.

And his wife, Audrey Geisel,

Dr. Seuss's name was Theodore Geisel,

his wife Audrey Geisel was on the board of the Old Globe.

And she was a great arts philanthropist,

and we're incredibly grateful to her.

She was a huge part of the lifeof the Old Globe.

So, there was this family connection between

the Old Globe and Dr. Seuss.

Charlotte Mary Nguyen: I was a kid and Audrey Geisel

came to be in one of our productions.

They put her in this beautiful Who-inspired outfit,

and she did a cross on the stage.

I remember the kids, we were all so excited,

and we all got a picture with her backstage.

But to be like, "Oh, it's Dr. Seuss's wife,"

like it was so-- it was really special

and something that I'll always cherish.

Barry: Over the course of 23 years,

we've had people become important supporters

of the Old Globe who were introduced to theatre

for the first time as children by seeing "The Grinch"

with their family.

We've had people who were kids in the production of,

"The Grinch" 15, 20 years ago who've grown up

to be adult actors.

There's one this year, Charlotte Mary Nguyen

who was in the show as a kid, and now she's in the show

as an adult.

Charlotte: My name is Charlotte Mary Nguyen,

and from the years 1999 through 2006,

I played various ensemble members and members

of the Who family.

And in 2020 this year, I'm playing Mama Who.

I remember as an eight year old coming to "The Grinch"

on opening night.

There was just so much excitement.

The community of people around you at the Globe is

so supportive and kind, and I think the adults

made the environment really funfor the kids.

This is weird to say, but I think the word

really is magical.

Like as a kid, it feels magical.

You feel like you're part of something that's truly,

like, beyond this world.

You're like, "Whoa, I'm here, and I'm part of this,

and I made it here."

announcer: Though many ofus know the story all too well,

the amount of work that goes into this production every

single year is no easy feat.

With a rotating class of children for each performance,

coupled with the artistic and physical demands

that the world of "The Grinch" requires, the cast members

and creative teams have their work cut out

for them every season.

Barry: A huge part of "The Grinch" is this placed

called Whoville, where thesepeople live who love Christmas.

And there's a lot of children there.

And so, the production of Dr. Seuss's,

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas"has a huge company

of minor children, kids.

These kids are so talented and so generous.

And you know, you just--you watch the poor guy playing the

Grinch, who's wearing this hugefat suit and a green fur outfit,

and he's done this thing three times in a day.

And it's like, you know, the oxygen tanks get sent down

to his dressing room to try and,you know,

help him recover from this thing.

And yet these kids come running out,

you know, just as bright and fresh as can be.

♪♪♪

Leila Manuel: My name is Leila Manuel,

I played Cindy-Lou Who in 2018, '19 and '20.

The Globe stage is a lot biggerthan a school stage.

The first time I saw it, it was like twice the size

of my school stage.

It was like, "Whoa, this is humungous."

But there's a lot of room 'causethere's a lot of moving around,

and it just like--we just get used to it and you're like,

"Oh, my school stage is super small now."

Faith Nibbe: It was amazing.

I loved performing and being in Whoville.

It's so festive, and Christmas time is just

a special time of year.

We're all close and we're all together.

And it's amazing, I had so much fun.

Viviana Peji: You can even see the history backstage,

they have like all these, like, images of old costumes.

And when I got fitted for the show,

you could see old costumesthat were used for other shows.

They have this board where theymeasure your height every year,

and they mark it with a sharpie,and you sign your name.

And I got to see Vanessa Hudgenslike sharpie writing,

and I was like star struck 'cause she was

the first Cindy-Lou.

It was surreal to know that I was performing

in the same theatre that she was.

William BJ Robinson: My name isWilliam BJ Robinson,

2019 I played Palm Springs Who.

And in 2020, I am still a citizen of Whoville.

Every moment and every day ofmy experience with "The Grinch"

and being at the Old Globe, it was so happy,

it was so blissful.

At first, it felt very much like a dream,

just day after day taking the bus over to Balboa Park,

and walking through the park, and knowing that

like I'm walking up towards the theatre.

Oh no, now I'm actuallygoing across the street from the

theatre, the secret rehearsal place that isn't necessarily

a secret, but no one knows it's there unless they know.

And there were--there were so many moments where

it just kept feeling like, is this really happening?

Is this really me?

I remember when we got close to Christmas,

I started having this new fear that I was never going to be

as happy as I was doing, "The Grinch" and thought,

it's all downhill from here.

And on the last day of it, I thought, "You know what?

Even if it is downhill from here,

that's okay because these were the best three months ever."

announcer: What you see on stage is just as important

as what goes on backstage.

The Old Globe's "Grinch" is madepossible by a myriad

of talented artists.

Barry: Although Jack O'Brien created the show,

he does not come back out every year to restage it.

So, for years now, we've had adirector whose responsibility is

to remake the show every year, put it in again,

make sure that it's at the levelof excellence that it was

at when it was created 23 years ago.

And that director is the very, very talented James Vasquez,

who is--not only lives in San Diego,

but is a native San Diegan.

He directs a lot of stuff at the Globe,

and he directs all over the country.

And every year, it's his responsibility to be the

shepherd and the custodian ofthis very important production.

Charlotte: Working with James was so much fun.

He's such a wonderful director,and I love

how he talks to actors.

For me, it was really fun to work with him as an actor

and him as the director, whenthe dynamic I was used to was us

working together as actors.

And of course, in both settings,I look up to him so much.

William: Working with James Vasquez has felt like

working with a best friend.

James and I had plenty of talksduring rehearsals because

he would make the time to speakto every member and allow

every person to really check in with every rehearsal,

with every performance, and beyond.

Barry: James has this ability to work with kids that,

as a parent of young children, Ican tell you is pretty uncanny.

He just makes them feel at ease and makes them feel safe,

and he treats them like professionals,

doesn't condescend to them in any way,

treats them like grown-ups.

And he brings the best out of them.

Viviana: He thinks like a kid,

so he really helps you get into the character and imagine

what it's like to live in this Whoville world.

And he is so whimsical, so creative,

and he made the experience of performing at

the Old Globe 1,000 times better.

William: He is so in tune of the challenges we all face

as artists, as human beings in our own individual lives,

and especially with artists of color as to how many more

challenges are in our paths that go unseen and often

go unacknowledged by powers that be in the arts.

There's not a moment of discomfort with James.

Barry: Every year, one of the very big questions is,

who's going to play the Grinch?

It's an extremely complicated part.

First of all, it's a very toughsing 'cause he's got to sing

some big, big numbers with a big,

big vocal range.

You have to have a comic becauseit's basically a comic part.

You have to have somebody who can really move because if

you've ever seen the production,he's climbing all over the set.

He's jumping, he climbs up the proscenium arch,

he's got children running all over him.

It's a part for a virtuoso, it's a part for a star.

J. Bernard Calloway: I think the training in football,

you know, summer camp was worth it.

At the age of 40 years old,I don't know if I didn't do that

type of training if I would be physically ready to do

what I do out here every night.

You have the green leotards on,you have the Who belly,

the Who stomach.

You got these claws on, you're climbing up,

you're jumping up.

It is very taxing, but the payoff once again is

the effect that this show has onthis city and the world abroad.

Barry: So many San Dieganswere introduced to live theatre

for the first time by coming to see "The Grinch"

at the holiday season.

And as San Diego has changed demographically,

as the composition of the city has changed,

so has the composition of our audience.

So, when we try and put the production together,

we really try and reflect the city that we're in.

Now, of course, the main guy in the show is green,

so color becomes this extraordinarily

kind of slippery concept.

It's this wonderful fantasy about a town coming together

around the spirit of Christmas.

And so, it's a wonderful opportunity to reflect back

to San Diego all the richness and complexity and diversity

of the city itself, and that's how we go about

putting the show together.

J. Bernard: You know,it's a deep story about identity

and being accepted.

And that's where--that's where my blackness comes in it,

you know?

And I use that as I'm in Whoville,

understanding that there's something that's happening

to this lost individual through the eyes of a child.

William: When I walked into the audition room,

there were more people of colorthan there were white people.

And that was I think only the second time I experienced

that in going to an audition.

When I got cast and I walkedinto the first day of rehearsal,

it was a pretty diverse mix in the room again.

And that just felt so comfortingin a way I was not used to.

By the time we were done introducing ourselves,

I realized that my identity as aqueer black man was really only

my concern, and was already justbeing accepted by everyone else

and wasn't being questioned.

In fact, there were great moments with costuming

and makeup where, you know, they wanted to make sure

they were really getting things right for having,

you know, everything match my hair and my skin tone

the right way, and all the right shades are right,

making sure I was comfortable with everything.

And there was such an awarenessand inclusion that it--

again, it was--I never felt that happy in a production.

Charlotte: As an Asian actress,

seeing young Asian children in the audience,

I think it's really exciting for me to know

that they're seeing representation.

I think about a lot of the showsor the things that I watched

growing up, even in theatre, and there wasn't as much

Asian representation I felt like,

or I didn't see myself represented on stage.

And therefore, it made me feel like I wasn't as good,

or I wasn't good enough.

And it's really cool to knowthat people can look up on stage

and see someone who looks likethem and know that it's possible

for them to be in the same spot.

female: While it seems that many theatres struggle

with diversity and inclusion,particularly with lead roles on

stage, the Old Globe has taken these challenges in stride,

each year creating an even morediverse cast than years before.

However, their commitment to this cause was steeped

with more challenges in 2020.

Barry: 2020 has been an immensely challenging year

for the Old Globe and for thelive performing arts everywhere

around the world because there's just terrible virus.

And what the virus wants morethan anything else is for a lot

of people to get together in close proximity to each other,

that's how the virus strives.

So, we have to stop the virus, and the way to do that is

to stop allowing people to gather in close proximity.

And that means no theatre.

It has put a huge number of people out of work.

And I think many people,when they think of the theatre,

think about actors.

Actors may be musicians, the people

that are obviously there, and think,

"Wow, it's awful that these wonderful artists are

out of work," and it is.

But they're just the top of the iceberg.

There are actors on that stage,there are musicians in the pit,

but then there's stage crew thatare moving the scenery around,

that are pressing the buttonsthat make the automated scenery.

There are wardrobe professions who make sure that everybody

is dressed in the right thing, who are maintaining

and cleaning the costumes in between shows.

The number of people who are affected by this in the world

of the theatre, artisans who manufacture the scenery,

who make the props, the professionals

in the administrative life of the theatre who are minding

the spreadsheets that are-- who are making--

selling the tickets,

who are counting up the receiptsfor that day,

who are manning the concession stand,

who are selling merchandise outside,

who are printing the program that gets distributed

when people come, it's this enormous field,

and it has been shut down.

Charlotte: I will be honest in that there have been days

that I wake up and I'm so sadabout the fact that we can't be

going to theatres right now, we can't have that theatre

community, we can't see our cast members or everyone

in production and work on theatre together.

Because I think a lot of the reasons why actors decide

to go into acting is because of the collaborative process,

and because there's such strongcommunity that you have that

you share with other people to create something

that you literally can't do on your own.

So, I've had a lot of days during this pandemic

where I feel really low and downjust because I miss--

I miss the community so much.

William: When everything started to shut down

as we learned more and more about this pandemic,

the one thing I held onto was believing that there was

some way Whoville was still going to come back,

because I knew it had to for San Diego.

There was so much I had no certainty to,

as we all have dealt with this year,

but there was always something that said,

"Grinch will be back, Grinch will be back."

♪♪♪

♪ Welcome, welcome, fahoo famus ♪

announcer: Then in the 11th hour,

they had an idea.

In collaboration with the OId Globe Theatre and KPBS,

the cast and crew committed toputting on an audio performance

of this iconic play, avoiding aninterruption of the 22-year run

of entertaining families during the holiday season.

Barry: We decided early on that we weren't going to go

into hibernation, that we had an obligation to our community

to continue to make theatre that matters.

So, a series of pivots beganto see what we could do online,

what could we do via Zoom, what could we do with video,

what could we do with podcast, and what could we do

with other digital platforms?

And then a second impulse happened,

which was the impulse of collaboration.

Because even for a big and mighty theatre like the Globe,

which before COVID was the thirdlargest in the United States

of America outside of New York,we couldn't make a go

of this alone, we needed some help.

And so, we started thinking about ways to reach out

to other organizations in the community,

universities, community-based organizations, and now KPBS,

which is the local NPR affiliateand an amazingly wonderful

organization with a great community spirit,

as the Globe has.

So, I called them up, and I saidto the people in charge at KPBS,

"Would you be interested in a series of radio drama?

And the first thing that we'd like to do is 'The Grinch.'"

And they immediately said yes.

Radio theatre goes back to the beginning of the medium,

you know, 100 years ago.

In the 1920s, people with this crazy wireless technology

started doing plays, doing dramas.

So, that part wasn't so hard toimagine how you could turn

this musical into an audio work.

Leila: We recorded at home.

My dad built me this box, and he put blankets

on the walls of the box so there wouldn't be echo.

We met on Zoom when I wassinging and rehearsing my lines,

recording.

I had this picture on my wall,and it's all the sixth graders,

and I just looked at that and I had my own audience.

Charlotte: I had a mic thankfully

from doing voiceover on the roadand stuff, so I had a mic.

I had a laptop, and they kind of just stepped me through it,

like, "This is what you need to do.

This is--you'll need to pad all your walls

with blankets and pillows."

And because of that, now I have a kind of a little

voiceover setup in my bedroom, which is kind of nice.

Barry: So, we had this very high quality digital capture

of the orchestra playing the score of the show.

And then each actor waswherever they happened to live,

New York, San Diego, Los Angeles,

various places around the country,

and they had the orchestra track.

The director, James Vasquez, was here in San Diego on Zoom,

so the actors can interact with each other via Zoom

so they can see each other as they were performing.

And then they were capturing recordings of themselves

digitally that they then uploaded to San Diego, where,

in an audio studio, the thing has been put together.

Charlotte: Everyone is going to be able to listen

from the comfort of their home.

You can't bring food into a theatre,

but you can literally sit around with your family,

and make hot cocoa and make some food,

and listen to us, and use your imaginations

and see Whoville for yourself.

William: I think there's evenmore magic in this radio version

that we've put together this year

in these unprecedented times.

And it's been so just special and transforming to know

that we can keep on keeping on,as I like to say, in this year.

Our first day together was all in a Zoom,

as is things for 2020.

And I just--I didn't know how todescribe how I felt when there

were even more people who lookedlike me in the Zoom room

and in our Whoville cast than there had ever been before.

It was wild.

It was just a wild feeling.

And then everything starts racing in my head

of how many shows have I been in where it's actually been

a diverse cast and I'm not the only black man in the room?

And it's been so few experiences,

but this was--I couldn't find the words to describe it.

But as soon as we got off of our I think it was maybe like

45 minutes of a call together, I just sat and cried for like

ten minutes because I never feltso normalized

in such an incredible way that,you know, it wasn't about having

to focus on, "We're celebrating diversity."

It was like, "No, we just are diverse."

And it was there, it was in the room,

and it's in this production.

And it just builds, it builds everything,

it builds the community, it builds my hope

and my inspiration that San Diego can do this,

the world can do this, theatre can do this.

Charlotte: And I know that we're not in a room together

and we can't feed off of each other's energy like we would

normally, but we all got to cometogether to create something.

Barry: It's exciting, and I think it's stuff

that we'll probably do once we're back to normal when

the pandemic is over because itreally resonates with people.

Radio's intimate and magical, you know?

And it brings the material up so close and makes it

a real one on one experience.

And I'm really thrilled to see how audiences

are going to respond, I think very positive.

And I'm so glad that we've figured out a way

to bring it to San Diego.

The prospect of not doing it was just heartbreaking,

and there was no way that the Old Globe was going

to allow this thing to just go dark, go fallow.

We just had to find a way to bring it to San Diego,

and I'm so delighted that we've been able to do it.

♪♪♪

announcer: And so, "The Grinch" goes on,

adapting and changing, stillbringing joy to all San Diegans.

With a future so unknown, one thing is certain.

Theatre has a gift hiding right behind the curtain.

What happened then?

Well, in San Diego, they say the Grinch's small heart grew

three sizes that day.

♪♪♪

♪♪♪

announcer: Support for this program comes

from the KPBS Explore Local Content Fund,

supporting new ideas and programs for San Diego.

♪♪♪