The South Coast Repertory Theatre in 1982 embarked on what local scholars regard as one of the most ambitious socio-history projects ever undertaken by a California theatrical company.
Called "The Contemporary Immigrant/Refugee Experience in Orange County," the goal was nothing short of sweeping: to join social scientists and local immigrants in a new study on the enormous problems of assimilation and acceptance.
One of the products of that project was "Second Lives," an SCR production of stage readings based on immigrant experiences. "Second Lives" toured campuses and other community auditoriums in early 1984.
Now SCR's final phase in the project--a full-scaled video version of those stage readings--is completed and being offered for airing by educational districts, cable systems, public television and other community organizations.
Produced by Videovision Corp. of Mission Viejo, the 45-minute video adaptation of "Second Lives," with music score and documentary footage added, will be screened Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. in SCR's 507-seat Mainstage playhouse in Costa Mesa.
"It's the appropriate finale to this project--to be able to share the feelings and findings of these experiences with even more people in the community. That (sharing) has been the overall goal, the overriding reason from the very beginning," said SCR's Jerry Patch, who staged the original readings.
According to the California Council for the Humanities--which gave $19,632 to the SCR project--and many local social scientists, the project is one of the most comprehensive involvements of a theatrical company with other community organizations on such a socio-history study.
The SCR project attracted grants from other sources: Mervyn's Department Store, Pacific Bell, the California Foundation for Community Service Cable Television and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The project began with interviews conducted by SCR aides Michael Dixon and Valerie Smith with dozens of immigrants now residing in Orange County. Among the countries these immigrants represented are Vietnam, Laos, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Pakistan, Romania, Poland and Russia.
In late 1983, the interviews, combined with essays by some of the immigrants and analyses by several university and government specialists, were published by SCR in a 135-page volume. Included were recent photographs of immigrants by Orange Coast College students.
Spinoffs from the book quickly followed:
--A symposium, "The Drama of Immigration," was held in November, 1983, at SCR's Mainstage. Featuring a panel of social scientists, agency counselors and immigrants, the symposium was one of the largest to be held in Orange County on the issue.
--A children's musical based on the immigrant experience, "Finding Home," was SCR's 1984 Educational Touring Production. Written by Dixon and Patch, with music by Diane King, "Finding Home" is a parable about an American youth who finds himself a bewildered newcomer on a Pacific island called "Aboland."
Directed by John-David Keller, the production was one of SCR's most successful ventures in that longtime touring series. "Finding Home" was performed before 70,000 schoolchildren in 240 community halls throughout Southern California. The venture was underwritten in part by a $25,000 grant from Mervyn's Department Store.
--The "Second Lives" readings, which Dixon and Smith based on the original compilation, were first given at SCR's Mainstage in January, 1984. Performances followed at nine other sites, including UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and Bowers Museum.
Assisted by Jose Gonzalez, Patch staged the readings with four performers (Kathryn Johnson, August Lobato, Marie Masuda and Russell Terry) who depicted immigrant experiences that ranged from the tragedies of war and exile to the joys of finding roots in a new land.
The upcoming "Second Lives" video isn't the first time the SCR project has been involved in broadcasting.
Last January, a videotaping of an actual stage performance of the "Finding Home" musical was aired by 21 cable systems in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties. The taping was done by Dimension Cable Services of Orange County.
This multisystem airing of "Finding Home" was described by cable industry representatives as the largest such cable collaboration in California for a theatrical production.
Naturally, South Coast Repertory is hoping for the same wide exposure for the "Second Lives" video.
"Our production isn't a taped performance. From the beginning, this version was made with video and broadcast qualities and impact in mind," said Deris Jeannette, who produced the "Second Lives" video for Videovision.
With the original four SCR readers, the immigrant vignettes were performed before cameras in the Videovision studio. For documentary scenes of Southeast Asia and other regions, the firm used footage from KOCE-TV's film library. A music score by SCR composer King was also added.
According to Jeannette, the venture is costing Videovision about $50,000. SCR has already received $8,900 from Pacific Bell to help underwrite SCR's video presentation expenses. (Pacific Bell had also donated $5,375 for the 1984 readings tour.)
To emphasize the "community partnership" of the entire immigrant-experience project, SCR's Sept. 30 video screening will be before civic, corporate and other community leaders. A co-host of the event will be the Orange County Business Committee for the Arts, the corporate liaison organization.
"It's only fitting that these leaders be at the ('Second Lives') screening," explained SCR's Patch. "None of this would have happened if it were not for a real gathering of the financial, academic, artistic--and human--resources of this community."