Actors working with South Coast Repertory perform a reading of an in-development play for an audience of UCI students at the campus’s Winifred Smith Hall.
Actors working with South Coast Repertory perform a reading of an in-development play for an audience of UCI students at the campus’s Winifred Smith Hall. South Coast Repertory

After performing a live reading of an in-progress play at UCI’s Winifred Smith Hall, the actors and others working with Orange County’s South Coast Repertory theater company offered the audience of about 80 UCI drama students the kind of career advice they had probably gotten before from their professors.

But hearing it again, from practicing professionals, the guidance perhaps resonated a little more: Aggressively pursue the roles that you’re confident you’re right for. Pay your dues as you hone your craft. Practice continually to keep your chops sharp. Take a lot of gigs at a lot of venues. Protect your reputation by always arriving on time.

These are all basic elements of succeeding in theater, says Don Hill, chair of the drama department at UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

“Sometimes we, as professors, say something, and it doesn’t really sink in for the students. But then a guest artist comes in, and they hear the same advice and say, ‘Wow!’” he says. “This kind of event allows the information to reach eager ears because a different messenger is giving it.”

Between the live reading of “Louder,” by Caroline V. McGraw, and the Q&A, there was a talk-back session in which the students offered their reactions to the in-development play. The whole event was the first in a new series organized by South Coast Repertory called NewSCRipts in Schools. Additional readings are planned.

“Our NewSCRipts in Schools program provides a vital connection for SCR and the educational community of Orange County,” says David Ivers, artistic director of SCR. “And we’re thrilled that UCI is joining us in launching this new series that will mutually benefit the playwright, the work in progress and UCI students. Its enthusiastic response in joining us in this partnership is a testament to UCI and its status as one of the premier drama programs.”

The collaboration is another manifestation of a deepening relationship between UCI and SCR. Many drama faculty members frequently work with the Tony Award-winning theater company on lighting, design and sound, while multiple students fill stage manager, production intern and other roles. In turn, UCI’s links to the theater company draw in prospective students.

“This is the process of a play being birthed,” Hill says of NewSCRipts in Schools. “And students get to see it.”

The UCI cohort had the chance to experience the reading of a play still in development, bringing them into its formation. Rachel Sharp, who’s pursuing an M.F.A. in acting, gained a deeper respect for the craft of dramaturgy.

“I’ve never had an opportunity like this to peek behind the curtain and see what the process is like,” she says. “It will stick with me that, although creating a play takes a lot of time and flexibility, it certainly is an exciting collaborative process.”

Vivianna McCormick, who’s also earning an M.F.A. in acting, has followed SCR since she was an undergraduate at UCI and appreciated being able to help advance the piece from a written work to a staged production by giving feedback.

During the talk-back session, the artists discussed how the script is a living document. Pages are ripped out and put back together to generate new scenes. Edits are made at each reading and rehearsal.

“Nothing is ever finished,” McCormick notes. “There’s always a new revision or a new production to present the play in a different way.”

She says she’ll carry this mindset into her career as an actor.

“I plan on trying to approach each script I read as a new work, because for me it is,” McCormick says. “We just haven’t brought the words to life yet. The possibility of being able to collaborate with a playwright, even though I may never meet them, is a wonderful thought.”