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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE

SCR Makes Moves Behind the Scenes

September 22, 2000|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After losing a valued veteran from its dramaturgical department, South Coast Repertory has continued something of a youth movement on its artistic staff.

Jennifer Kiger, 28, has taken over as literary manager in place of the departed John Glore. As dramaturges, they serve as the in-house literary experts who help scout and refine plays for production. South Coast hired Kiger last October, soon after her graduation from Harvard's American Repertory Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training. David Schulner, a 26-year-old playwright, has stepped into Kiger's former job of literary associate.

Glore, 44, left in July to become the dramaturge of L.A.'s Center Theatre Group, operator of the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre. He had been at South Coast for 16 years.

South Coast is renowned for its stable, tenured leadership. David Emmes and Martin Benson, who launched the theater in 1964, remain the two artistic directors and decision makers. Their chief lieutenant, dramaturge Jerry Patch, arrived in 1967 and became a full-time staffer in 1976. Patch is in his late 50s, Emmes and Benson in their early 60s.

Patch and Benson said Kiger's and Schulner's youth is a plus but there is no deliberate youth movement behind their hiring.

"It comes down to talent, and it's a bonus if that person is young and emerging," Benson said.

"They're both good and smart and of a different generation," Patch said. "It is interesting because they're in very good touch with a generation that is a bit distant from David, Martin and me."

Glore said that he was not unhappy or dissatisfied with his job at South Coast but that personal restlessness and practical considerations led him to jump in mid-July to the bigger Taper/Ahmanson operation.

"It was partly change for change's sake," he said. "As wonderful a place as it was to work, inevitably it's easy to settle in and get too comfortable. . . . I need to light a fire under myself again."

Glore's job change will give him a good deal more time at home in Silver Lake with his wife and young daughter; his commute to Costa Mesa had reached 70 minutes each way, double what it was when he started at SCR. Now he can make it to work in 10 minutes.

Besides lending his expertise and taste to the process of evaluating other writers' scripts, Glore had two plays of his own produced by SCR--"The Company of Heaven" and "On the Jump"--as well as an adaptation, with the Culture Clash comedy troupe, of Aristophanes' "The Birds." Glore, a Yale Drama School graduate, also wrote five plays for South Coast's children's theater wing; he shared first place in 1991 in the Humana Festival's annual 10-minute play competition.

Patch said Glore told his South Coast bosses last April that Center Theatre Group was courting him. Patch put out some recruitment feelers outside the organization, but he said it soon became obvious that Kiger, who had been hired less than a year earlier after an exhaustive search, was the best candidate.

"She's fulfilled all our expectations, or even exceeded them," Patch said.

"She's someone of great dramaturgical acumen," Benson added.

Though Kiger is a career dramaturge--her field of study at Harvard--Schulner is a playwright who until now has earned his living as a waiter.

Craig Lucas, the highly rated playwright who has had a close, ongoing connection with South Coast Rep since 1985, has championed Schulner's writing. Lucas brought Schulner's play, "Isaac," to SCR, and the theater gave it a well-attended public reading last January. The play, still unproduced, is a radical re-imagining of the biblical story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son.

Schulner, raised in Miami Beach, has an undergraduate theater degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Before moving to Long Beach in May, he lived in Minneapolis and helped lead a small theater company there. His first formal assignment as a dramaturge came in June, when he worked on "Dulce de Leche," one of the plays read during SCR's Pacific Playwrights Festival. He quit his restaurant job when the full-time literary associate's job came open shortly after that.

Schulner negotiated a workday that starts at 11 a.m. and runs late, giving him several hours to write in the morning.

"To be in the theater eight hours a day is a lot better than being in a restaurant eight hours a day," he said. "It's an education for me as a writer too. I'm getting an inside look at how a play is produced."

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