Thursday, March 6, 2014

As an actor, I've had the honor to work with some fabulous directors. One of my favorites was Trevor Nunn, who ran the Royal Shakespeare Company while I was there. When playing Poins in Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, I thought I'd throw him a curve ball. 'What kind of underpants do you think Poins wears? Boxers or Y-fronts?' Without a pause, Trevor said, 'Neither. He's the sort of fellow who wears purple velvet g-strings ... !'

When I was working with Richard Attenborough on the film Cry Freedom with Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, Richard said to me, 'It's all in the eyes, Miles'— and subsequently put me in a huge pair of dark glasses.

Humor and integrity are the best qualities in any creative artist, but particularly directors. I try to bring the lessons I've learned from those wonderful directors like Nunn and Attenborough into my work with the cast of Grapes.

Coming to California really was living the American dream for me, just as it was for the Joads. And just like the Joads, I came at a time of financial stress. 2008 was probably the worst economic downturn that America had seen in decades. What a time to arrive!!

I've known nothing but generosity since then, and always from those who don't have huge amounts to give themselves. Actors are used to living on the smell of an oil-rag which is why I love Ma Joad's comment that it's not CAN they take Casy with them, but WILL they— and of course they WILL. I aspire to the same ethos. Coming from Zimbabwe, I have friends who will share with me their last slice of bread, literally. Not that things are that bad at the moment! After all, my wife has a job at UC Davis! And for the moment—so do I!!

-- Miles Anderson (Granada Artist-in-Residence/Director)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Since my youth, I’ve had a close relationship with music as a drummer/guitarist in multiple 70's and 80's rock-jam bands. My music minor led me to spontaneously discover auditions for The Grapes of Wrath the day before casting.

Just one-minute into the audition, I was cast as "Man with Guitar" symbolizing a man traveling west with his guitar to create musical enjoyment for himself and others.

When I’m not busy studying at UC Davis, I devote time to working towards my private pilot's license, staying fit, and researching LED lighting at the UC Davis California Lighting and Technology Center.

-- Cole Sutliff (Musician)

My first audition was for the play Annie when I was about seven years old. My eldest sister took me to the audition and had to give me a pep talk in the parking lot because I was a nervous wreck. When my turn came to go onstage, I stood in front of the directors and opened my mouth to sing but nothing came out. Then I blurted, "I'm scared!" and RAN off stage to my sister.

I expected her to comfort me but I was so wrong. Instead she looked me straight in the eyes and forced me back to the audition. With an already defeated soul I sauntered back onstage and miraculously sang my song.

Needless to say, I was very surprised to have made the cast list. This play was my first taste of performing and I was hooked!

I performed off and on throughout elementary and high school, but stopped after graduation so I could join the work force. I then worked in property management for a decade. A few years before I resigned, my eldest sister once again lit a fire under my feet to go back to school. This was when I decided to return to the stage.

UC Davis had been my school of choice when I wanted to be a veterinarian. Unfortunately that didn't happen but once I learned that UCD had a dramatic art department, it was a no-brainer for me. I busted my butt at junior college over four years to get here. It's only my second quarter, but now I am back onstage, taking wonderful classes, and loving everyone minute of it.

-- Nakeema Brooks (Ensemble)

I was introduced to the world of theater at a very young age because my dad is a professional opera singer.

The first time I saw him perform in a big role, I couldn't believe that all of these people around me were watching him, and eventually applauding him. I felt a gust of pride and inspiration and thought to myself, I want to do that. I want to be a performer.

-- Matthew Skinnner (Ensemble)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

As a UC Davis staff member joining the cast of The Grapes of Wrath and working with Miles Anderson is like attending some sort of fantasy camp.
I auditioned to be in the band but figured I would do whatever I could to be a part of telling this story. 

I was drawn to The Grapes of Wrath mainly because I grew up in California and lived and worked alongside migrant workers. I have picked peaches, walnuts, tomatoes and chopped wood. I have seen firsthand how even today, migrant workers are mistreated and denied justice by prejudices passed down since the time when Steinbeck penned his novel.
I have always found it ironic that the hardest working people, the people that harvest the manna of the earth and deliver it to our tables, are treated worse than any other group. 
I think Steinbeck's work really holds up a mirror to the human race. It is layered with biblical stories which highlight the hypocrisy of prejudice which the migrants faced.

-- Jason Votaw (Uncle John)


By the time I was 18 years old, I was already married, had a career in banking and an almost paid-off hatchback. My entire life was figured out—or so I thought.

I had wanted to act for as long as I could remember—this dream started when watching Star Wars at seven years of age and wishing I could be Princess Leia—but I always took the more 'responsible' path.

Suddenly, at 19, I plunged into the theater community and began acting in ALL of my free time, until it was hard to think about anything else. And everything changed. It became clear to me that I could not be happy with doing theater on the side—I needed it to be my career.

I also knew that the life I had planned out was not what I needed, so I left all that was safe and started over. I began formal training as an actor with the Dramatic Art program at UC Davis, diving into what it takes to tell truthful stories on stage. I hope my work in The Grapes of Wrath does just that.

-- Megan Caton (Ensemble)

Growing up, I was always shy, but acting in theater offered me an outlet and an opportunity to come out of my shell. I believed that a life in the sciences was to be the life for me, but after being recommended by a friend to join the theater tech program in high school, my love of theater ignited and I decided to do a complete 180 and focus my life on the arts.

While a theater technician at heart, I appreciate the art of acting and embrace it. I unleash my energy while acting. Upon hearing that The Grapes of Wrath was to be produced here at UCD, I was excited for the chance to land a role in the play—any role would have been fine.

I am excited to join such a wonderful cast and look forward to sharing the bittersweet story of the Joad family.

-- Kevin Chung (Al)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My father never read much fiction but he showed me John Ford's film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath when I was too young to see what he’d hoped I would. I just knew that it made me want to yell.

My father was six during the drought that inspired The Grapes of Wrath, the same age as Winfield, Tom Joad's little brother. Like the Joads, my dad’s family grew up dirt poor. They were hungry in Oklahoma, he was hungry in an Italian-American ghetto in Waterbury, CT.

When Dad was a boy working in a store at the age of 10, Waterbury was already dying a post-industrial death, the mayor and 22 others went to jail on corruption charges that year. That was 1940; a year after the novel won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer.
The film was released that year.

The disease that was killing Waterbury—like the disease that turned America's farm country to dust and blew it away along with the livelihoods of millions of farm families—was unnamable. It still is. Calling it "greed" may have satisfied some but my father didn't think it was so simple that you could get the whole story into one word. My dad and Tom Joad never trusted “talkin'.” Dad hated the phrase The Great Depression. These three words elevate misery to greatness so that people who come later can tell morality tales about how to overcome insurmountable obstacles. The Grapes of Wrath, incidentally, isn't that kind of a story, and, because of that, I'm still interested in it. For me, the story lives.

In many ways I've been rehearsing the role of Tom for thirty years; that's more years than Tom is supposed to have been alive. I'm way too old for this and I'm not much of a romantic any more despite the tone of this post. I'm not waiting for the ghost of ol' Tom Joad, like Springsteen sings in that fantastic and sad song. It's hard to hope for better days in post-modern, neo-colonial America where the freedom to Frack is guaranteed but social security is perpetually on the long march to the gallows and people of certain gender, race, or economic status remain invisible. It's strange to play Tom at this point in my life.

Passionate speeches now all sound a bit false to me—especially when I give them, and when they promise a way to a better world for my son Django who is sharing the role of Winfield in this production. I look at him and I see my dad, who he never met, and I see Tom Joad too. I wonder what he sees when he watches this play. Someday he'll leave home to do whatever he does out in the world. Maybe he'll make passionate speeches. I want to tell him, don't trust heroes, gurus, preachers, or revolutionaries. I want to tell him to trust art, especially the art of theater. I'm still confident that there are things in this story (still waiting to be found) that, when played (or yelled) on a stage, can energize people in ways they don't expect and perhaps provide ways of thinking that nobody's yet thought of, ways of hearing things that we don't yet have ears to hear, and ways of seeing what we don't yet have eyes to see. I ‘m glad my son is here to see me play this role … I wish my dad were.

-- John Zibell (Tom Joad)

I am a graduate student in the agricultural and environmental chemistry group, in the veterinary medicine department (anatomy, physiology and cell biology). I do research in the Aquatic Health Program, studying heavy metal accumulation in coral skeletons and the effects of storm water runoff on coral health.

I grew up in the middle of a cornfield, southern Indiana, and got my B.S. in biology at Purdue University (boiler up!). I recently moved to California, lost my redneck accent, yet still refuse to use the word, hella, in my everyday speech.

My love for music brought me to The Grapes of Wrath. Violin is my passion, but I also enjoy playing the piano and mandolin and am currently attempting to learn the art of yodeling.

My latest performances include playing my violin at a few weddings and rapping for a local Davis band (tha dirt feelin'). My favorite performance onstage: fiddling, singing, and dancing in my back yard around a bonfire with friends.

-- Kristen Guggenheim (Musician)

Upon receiving my MFA here at the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance many moons ago—I never left!

My emphasis was acting but my experience in broadcasting, in a previous career, is what parlayed into a staff position. I have designed sound for hundreds of UC Davis productions over the years.

The most exciting of them all was Noises Off in 1993, directed by Harry Johnson, UCD faculty emeritus.

-- Ned Jacobson (Grampa)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I came to this show because Bella Merlin encouraged me to attend the audition.

I came to the show because I have a personal and professional love for, and interest in, performance—I am a recovering high school drama club geek, and a sociologist who studies theatrical and everyday performances.

I came to this show because, after doing mostly movement-based performances the last eight years, and no performances in almost two, I needed to get out of my head and into my body.

I needed to reconnect with a part of myself. And I wanted to immerse myself into a community of people I love and appreciate.

I came to this show to learn from what has turned out to be a truly wonderful cast, and a director who is funny, thoughtful, professional, supportive, and a master at his craft.

-- David Orzechowicz (Pa)

In 2009 I decided to change everything. I left the place where I had grown up and spent almost all of my life (Los Angeles), and moved to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere (Laramie, Wyoming). I stopped pursuing a career as an actress, left a job I'd had for eight years, said goodbye to all my friends, and ended a ten-year relationship.

In Wyoming I did every strange thing the place had to offer: I went to rodeos, demolition derbies, pig wrestling, Rodeo Queen pageants, monster truck races, a dinosaur-themed town called Thermopolis, my first football game. I lived through minus 50 degree weather, after only having seen snow about twice in my entire life. 

I mourned all I had left behind, which took about two years. I started teaching acting there, which changed my life immeasurably. I taught theater to college students who grew up on ranches, or had already been to war in Afghanistan, or had not yet had a chance to be exposed to the arts. I went to Walmart on Friday nights for fun. In 2011 I returned to LA with a totally different relationship to being alive. That move, that time in Wyoming: it was the most treacherous, most beautiful thing I ever did.

-- Lindsay Beamish (Granma)

To be honest, at first I didn’t want to talk about my past because I’ve seen and lived through things that really shouldn’t be brought up. However, after rehearsing since January, I’ve realized that the Joad family has suffered many things, a few of them similar to life events that I’ve lived through. Specifically, the care and death of Granma.

I worked for two years both as an EMT and a caregiver for my grandmother who proceeded to become very ill. I was present at the time of her death.

Like the Joad family, I learned to push on, that death was a part of life; no matter how unfair it is—that the only way to honor their memory is to live. 

I play Noah Joad, Tom’s eldest brother. When I first was cast in this role I was hesitant because I hadn’t read the novel since middle school and I’ve never had a chance to read the play. Miles encouraged all of us and stated that it was a learning process, in which it was ok to fail. He told us, that if we didn’t pull in an audience or lost the audience’s attention, that it was not a single actor’s fault; that it was his alone.

Miles telling us all this gave me the confidence to perform this role with all of my heart. If he has the courage to take on that big of a responsibility then I should have the courage to act my heart out for an audience and not worry about the impact it has, just about the story itself. People are going to want to come and see this show because of the heartfelt story that is told so fluidly and gracefully by a beautiful group of people. We have all come together over these past few months and created something that is truly beautiful.

-- Cody Holguin (Noah)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to perform onstage. I had dreams of being a musician or actor, but they were flights of fancy, not serious—until my sophomore year of high school. I then performed a scene with a classmate which we took to the California State Thespian Festival in Anaheim. 

The powerful scene was from one of my favorite musicals, Assassins. We had managed to perform it well enough in class, but I felt like I wasn’t truly connecting as my teacher said I should be. I hadn’t ever felt that full connection before, it had always been a character I was PLAYING. We practiced the scene in the months leading up to the festival audition, but I continued struggling with the connection.

The morning we were scheduled to perform for the judges, we rehearsed it one last time. Still no spark in me. While waiting, we were able to witness performances of the two scenes before us. One was the same as ours. Instead of freaking out, I became engaged in watching them, and started seeing the choices the actor playing my character was making. He didn’t seem to connect to the character either. This confused me, because, looking from the outside, I was able to see the disaster this character’s life had become and was surprised that the actor wasn’t crying.

When we finally started our scene for the judges, I suddenly understood everything about this character, and what had brought him to this moment. The spark ignited, and it no longer mattered what score we received for the scene because I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That realization—that knowledge—continues to be worth so much more to me than any score.

-- Mark Merman (Ensemble)

Once upon a time in the year 1936 there was a couple from Oklahoma and their three children who traveled west to California looking for a better life. 

This family was my maternal grandparents and one of the kids was my mom who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After coming to California they had two more children and raised them all in a little town near Santa Barbara.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and learned a great deal from them. My grandma had a real knack for stretching a dollar out of a dime. She recycled everything! Definitely ahead of her time. No matter how many people would show up she would somehow feed them all.

My grandpa had the best sense of humor and was always ready to drop everything and go shopping in town. They both could grow a bountiful garden of tasty vegetables and fruits. I've never tasted any produce as good as theirs.

From my grandparents I learned, among other things, to treat others the way you would like to be treated, to work hard, help those less fortunate, don't let any disparaging words from other folks stop you from doing what you think is right, and if you do get knocked down then get back up. This is why I'm back in school after a long time away in the "real" world. I've done many things so far in life and am grateful to be able to go back to school.

I wanted to be a part of The Grapes of Wrath because of my own family history

-- Wendy Wiedmeier (Ensemble)

Like Steinbeck, I hail from Salinas. Being born and raised there, I feel a special connection to the legendary writer.

I recall when the National Steinbeck center opened in 1998. Looking at the various exhibits gave me a much deeper understanding about what he was saying in his works—especially about agriculture which Salinas is famous for. Seeing people work the fields growing up, gave me an understanding of what Depression era workers went through.

As a life-long rail fan, my love of trains also drew me to this production of The Grapes of Wrath. 

One memorable experience was attending Railfair ‘99 in Sacramento with my father. Seeing the various steam and diesel engines taught me about how railways evolved for improved transportation of goods. I enjoyed seeing the steam engines used in the golden age of railroading with refrigerator cars that were once filled with Salinas produce that was delivered to markets throughout the country.

-- Garrett Warren (Ensemble)

Friday, February 21, 2014

I grew up in Las Vegas, a city full of wild entertainment and plastic values. It wasn’t until I found my home in the theater that Vegas felt anything less than uncomfortable. I tried various avenues to fulfill a need I had for being a part of something larger than myself. I played sports, took music lessons, art classes, and participated in boy scouts, and then almost by accident I stumbled into the world of performing arts. This newfound passion for theater catapulted me on a trajectory towards a professional career in the industry.

But after graduating from high school I didn’t take the path outlined for me. I didn’t apply and audition for prestigious BFA programs; instead I went to the Pacific Northwest in search of a more “practical” future. I was fearful I could never make a career out of acting, and I was also curious if I was meant to do something else. I attended The Evergreen State College, and after my first two quarters at I realized that this school was not for me. The interdisciplinary educational style left me feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of my academic goals. As a young 18-year-old, straight out of high school, I was easily distracted and felt great insecurity about my career path. It was at this time that my insecurities and fears consumed me and I found a deadly and unhealthy escape in drugs. I began a love affair and a battle with heroin that would degrade the next eight years of my life.

I’ll fast-forward through the nitty gritty details and the periods of utter chaos and degradation to the summer of 2009, where everything that I had built up and held together by sheer luck came crashing down on me and I found myself alone in a jail cell. It was at this point in time that I awoke from a very long coma and found recovery. I knew theater was what I wanted to do, and getting an education also became important to me, so I cleaned up my act and went to community college in order to transfer to UC Davis and finish up my degree. Now at another turning point in my life, about to graduate from UCD and possibly go on to graduate school, I have arrived at the amazing blessing of playing Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath.
-- Cooper Wise (Jim Casy)


It was always my dream to move to New York and pursue a career in theater.  In 2009, newly married, my husband and I moved there. Just a few months after we arrived, my husband was unexpectedly offered a spot in the MFA program at the USD/Old Globe program in San Diego.  We decided to say “yes” to that opportunity and moved back to California less than one year after we'd left. 

Given his intense  training program, twelve hours a day, six days a week, my husband could not work elsewhere. So I put my New York aspirations behind me and set to supporting us for two years. Eventually, I came to a crossroads in my own career, and thought for the first time about quitting acting. It was a 'come to Jesus' moment as things were not working out as I had hoped. Shortly after that, my husband was cast in the Old Globe Shakespeare Festival, and began working with Miles Anderson.

After meeting Miles, and subsequently Bella Merlin, and learning about the new MFA program in the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance, I became hopeful for a new artistic path. The mentorship I have received from Bella has been invaluable. Knowing and working with Miles has been exceptional.  As Steve Jobs said:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path; and that will make all the difference.”

-- Amanda Vitiello (Rose of Sharon)

When I was a child, from
time to time I entertained 
myself with visions of 
grandeur imagining
myself performing in front of an audience. I remember it vividly: I would be sitting in the middle row of our family's van and I would rest my head on one of my grandmother's shoulders before I closed my eyes and retreated into the recesses of my adolescent mind.

It wouldn't take long before I would see myself in some spectacular situation in front of an audience. I saw myself as a musician mesmerizing the crowd with various musical instruments, or as an actor of sorts, performing some piece written by Shakespeare alongside other brilliant actors.

I never imagined that years later, the visions inside my head would come to life.

-- Daniel Ferrer (Ensemble)