Sometimes the towns we grow up in, live in, and work in don’t even start as towns. The city of Brea has certainly changed over the years, but the sense of community and what we value has always endured. The hills of Olinda & Brea were first used for oil development starting in 1894, but an actual town didn’t develop until 1911 when businesses formed to supply goods to the oil workers & their families. Starting with a population of 752, Brea is now home to over 40,300 residents.
These residents are what make our city so special and what we really want to celebrate in our Brea Centennial legacy project, Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story. Originally commissioned by the California Council for the Humanities, this original play by William Mittler was created in conjunction with Cal State Fullerton’s Oral History Department to share the lives & history of Brea’s earliest residents. We are thrilled to bring this story to life on stage at the Curtis in early November. With auditions taking place this weekend, we look forward to finding a diverse group of actors & musicians to breathe life into the origins of this town.
“A town is made up by the spirit of its people.”
We were fortunate enough to chat with Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story‘s director, Jesse Runde, about her vision for this particular story & her process going into auditions.
To start off, tell us a little about yourself and give some background on your work as a director.
I’ve been involved in the Performing Arts for over 37 years. I attended Fullerton College, where I now teach, and graduated with my BA from CSU Long Beach. My interest didn’t really turn to directing until I was in grad school at The University of Oregon. Most of my directing work since then has been at the various colleges where I’ve taught, or for Alchemy Theatre Company.
As a director, what excites you about this show?
There’s so much room for invention in terms of how we stage the action. Bill, our playwright, has left plenty of room for theatricality—he hasn’t overmastered the script with a lot of specific stage directions. That means it’s up to me, working with other members of the production team and the cast, to determine how we will tell the story this time. It allows us to be more creative, which is a lovely gift from one artist to another. It’s also exciting to work on a piece that connects so directly with the local history. The show takes on a special significance, one that is more personal than a typical play.
Can you explain your overall vision/concept for this production & how that ties into what you’re looking for in auditions?
I think one of the most important goals I have for this production is that the audience see themselves in these characters from the past; this is done in the hope that we can learn from their stories, rather than simply being entertained. We tend to buy in to stories more fully when we empathize with the people they’re about. So, to that end, when it comes to casting I want to blur the lines of historical accuracy a bit; I want the people on stage to be as diverse as the people in the seats.
“I want to blur the lines of historical accuracy a bit; I want the people on stage to be as diverse as the people in the seats.”
How do you prepare for auditions? Take us through that process.
It goes something like read, research, ruminate, and repeat. And with a play about a town that spans decades, there are dozens and dozens of characters, so it is essential to have a good handle on the breakdown of who all is on stage at what time; I have quite an elaborate spreadsheet to handle that. It’s also important to talk about the project and let people know about the opportunity; it’s not enough to just send out an invitation. Actors are a special breed of humankind. They spend a lot of time making themselves vulnerable and exposing themselves to rejection, which is exhausting, so it helps to actively reach out and let those you want to work with know that you would like to see them at auditions.
In auditions, what do you look for to help you make casting decisions?
It varies a bit from show to show, but there is one thing I always look for as a director, and that is simply whether or not the actor seems like someone that I’d enjoy working with on a production—even if I’ve never met them before, I need to figure that out at the audition. Especially at this level, staging a play is a labor of love. It’s a lot of late hours, and almost everyone involved has one or more other jobs they work on any given day before they step into the rehearsal room. I need to know that everyone we cast is a team player. I need to know they have a sense of humor and a sense of humility, and that they will treat others well.
This show explores the roots & origins of Brea. What’s your origin story? How do you feel connected to Brea now?
Although I am a transplant from the Midwest, I, like the people of Olinda, am from a town that wasn’t really a town. We didn’t have our own fire or police departments, there was one only restaurant (a Dairy Queen), only one grocery store (a SuperValue), and one church (Christian, of course). And you had to get on a bus to ride to the next town once you got past the sixth grade. And like Olinda, everyone knew everyone’s business—which was sometimes quite touching, and sometimes a burden.
My main connection to Brea is through the Curtis. If not for the productions staged there, I don’t know that I would have had cause to discover anything about the place, but I’m so glad I did. The people of Brea and the surrounding communities are fortunate to have the Cultural Center and its many offerings. It’s a great model for other cities because it’s the best of both worlds—there is a focus on both local talent and outside groups that creates diverse programming.What do you want the main takeaway to be for this show? What would you like the audience to walk away with?
I really can’t say it better than the Station Master, who is a kind of narrator of the show: “…a town is made up by the spirit of its people.” If the spirit of the people is strong, so too will the town be strong; so too with the state. We need to be strong individuals, but we also need to find our strength in each other, not despite each other. Whether or not we survive depends very much on how we treat our neighbors.
Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story performs Nov 3-12, 2017. Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us!