The Sound of Truth in 99 HISTORIES

by Steve Garbade
There is certainly no shortage of music or sounds on this planet. After all, I will only hear a tiny fraction of it in this lifetime. Despite this, playwrights and directors continue to create such incredibly unique, one-of-a-kind productions that require a new usage of sound, re-arranged/re-imagined music, freshly composed music, and silence to help the audience experience the story and take them on an emotional and geographical odyssey. And that is the sound of truth in 99 Histories.
When approached about sound designing for 99 Histories, my first interest was reading the script to see what kind of production this would be and what possibly might be needed from the Sound Designer: Page 1, 99 Histories, Prologue- The sound of a cello. A young girl plays like a master.
Okay, here we go. As a sound designer/composer, I already have a million questions and none of them will be easily answered. Is she playing on stage? Is there even going to be a real cello on stage? If so, are the actors familiar with the cello? What piece is she playing and why doesn’t it tell me if it is important enough to be in first line of the script?

But what really piqued my interest is what made this young girl a master of cello? It just seemed interesting for a playwright to choose cello and to have a young girl (or boy) be masterful at it as a teaser of sorts to arouse the senses of the audience and engage them. Little did I know the answer to that question will take you on an emotional journey from coast to coast in the United States and to Korea and back covering generations - all in a short amount of stage time. (It should be noted at this moment that I am thinking Sound Design is cake as compared to Set Design, Props, and Lighting.)
When scoring a film, I usually don't get heavily involved until post-production with the exception of on-screen performances/singing/dancing. At the start of post-production, I meet with the director and view a very rough cut of the film. At this time, for the most part, all of the on-screen acting is done, which means that the sets, props, costumes, etc. are done as well. Then my work begins.
With AAP and Director Leslie Ishii, it is a completely different experience. The design team, producers and managers are involved from day 1. It is a powerful collaboration of minds at work to create this ever-changing world on a small stage. Every new prop, music, lighting or scene idea brings wonderment and possibility to the production as much as it does excitement.
It was awesome to hear the table reading at our first rehearsal. The characters were already emerging and emotions were pouring out of the words from what already seemed like a soon-to-be evaporating script. I even found it difficult to take notes as I had planned to do during the reading. Leslie has a lot to work with and even more to sort out and direct. However, we are all already enjoying our trek to bringing Cho’s literary world to life.
Does a cellist with a mental illness hear his/her cello playing differently from others? At one point in the production, the audience will be able hear and feel this real fear that Eunice is experiencing as she plays via aural hysteria of sorts; sounds will haunt her, other string instruments will actually duel her playing while footsteps are coming after her. This is something that will require around 30 tracks of recorded audio layered. And yes, I will take pleasure in the audience's discomfort. To me, that means, "job well done."

What kind of sounds/music could sew split-second scene changes to different worlds (both real and dream) together? Also, can learning a C Major scale during a piano lesson actually be kinda ... sexy? Well, I'm working on it. And most importantly, does Eunice's quest for the truth mean anything or everything?
So now, I take out my cello and enjoy the work!
Steve Garbade is a graduate of Berklee College of Music where he studied Composition/Film Scoring while playing cello for the Berklee College of Music String Quartet. He has scored over a dozen films including the multi-award winning films The Immortal Edward Lumley and Zero. For theater, Steve has composed and sound designed for productions at Long Beach Playhouse, Atwater Playhouse, Pacific Residents Theatre and has completed his fifth season scoring productions for Shakespeare by the Sea.


99 HISTORIES: Rehearsal Photos

Check out these sneak peek photos from rehearsals for 99 Histories

Directed by Leslie Ishii, the cast features Brendan Bradley, Julia Cho, David Huynh, Jolene Kim, Sharon Omi, Janice Pak. Photos taken by Michael C. Palma of M Palma Photography. 


99 HISTORIES and Mental Health

AAP co-founder Stefanie Lau
I graduated from UCLA in 2000 and my first job out of college was working for the Mental Health Association of Los Angeles County (now Mental Health America of Los Angeles). I was an assistant in the development department. It was my job to write small grants, send thank you letters to donors and support the department in any way needed.

I had already started on my path to a career in theatre, but needed a paycheck and MHA was able to give me that. I didn’t know anything about mental health, so I had to learn a lot and needed to learn it quick. MHA is a non-profit organization treating people with severe mental illness and one of their most interesting programs to me was Project Return: The Next Step. It was run by and for people with mental illness, and provided peer-to-peer support and resources for individuals as they worked towards their goals of recovery.

Project Return’s director was Bill Compton. He was a theatre artist – an actor, director and producer in New York before coming to Los Angeles. It was in L.A. that Bill suffered a mental breakdown and became homeless. After spending months on the street, Bill made his way to a hospital emergency room and started on his road to recovery. By the time I met Bill, he was a nationally recognized advocate for those with mental illness and a leader in the movement to empower consumers in their own treatment and care. Bill and I bonded because he LOVED theatre. (He was an Ovation Voter and one year saw almost 200 shows!)

Bill was appointed the director of Project Return in 1994 and under his leadership, it grew from a network of 30 peer support groups to more than 100 throughout Los Angeles County.  They developed the “Friendship Line”, an award-winning non-crisis toll free number where people coping with mental illness could call to talk to a friendly, caring and understanding voice. Project Return trained members on advocacy, provided employment opportunities and had many other projects designed to empower consumers. They organized parties, social outings, and of course, lots of trips to see theatre. Project Return worked to create community and friendships in order to combat the isolation that many people with mental illness experience. (In 2010, the program spun-off to become its own non-profit organization, Project Return Peer Support Network.)

I spent less than a year at MHA before being hired by East West Players and making my full transition to arts administration. But I still saw Bill because he would attend every EWP production as an Ovation Voter. He always gave me a big hug and would enthusiastically tell me what shows he saw recently that I had to go see.

Bill passed away in 2007. I had moved on to Center Theatre Group the year before he died and had, regrettably, lost touch. I haven’t thought about my time at MHA for many years. But working on 99 Histories with Artists at Play has brought back a lot of memories of MHA and my co-workers, especially Bill and the consumers who were dedicated to supporting each other on their recovery.

I’m proud to be presenting a show that explores the stigma of mental illness. It’s a disease shrouded in ignorance when the people suffering from it need help and compassion. And I would like to think that if Bill were around today, he’d be the first one to make a reservation as an Ovation Voter.


99 HISTORIES: The One with Two Julia Cho's

Artists at Play co-founder Marie-Reine Velez interviews Julia Cho… not the writer, but the actor and fellow AAP producer. Read on for their conversation about the writer Julia Cho, her play 99 Histories (in which actor Julia Cho plays the role of “Eunice”), and what they think might happen if the two Julia Cho’s ever meet.

AAP co-founders Marie-Reine Velez and Julia Cho

Marie-Reine Velez: So, once more, you’re not the Julia Cho who wrote the play?
Julia Cho: NO, unfortunately. I wish I was that Julia Cho!
MRV: From the moment I met you, and especially since we started Artists at Play, I had a feeling that it was inevitable that you would be in a Julia Cho play and chaos would ensue, or we would create some kind of theatrical paradox. Did you also ever have this feeling?
Julia Cho and Julia Cho
JC: YES. I’ve always envisioned my meeting with the writer Julia Cho to be a colliding of universes, perhaps leading to a break in the space-time continuum – physically represented by Julia Cho and I doing the mirror exercise as everything around us collapses.
MRV: One of the main parts of our selection process is that the co-founders/producers all have to agree on AAP’s next production. What drew you to 99 Histories as a written play that helped you decide on a personal level for AAP?
JC: There are so many elements in 99 Histories that are eerily similar to my life. I couldn’t help but be moved as I read the play, reliving thoughts and moments that felt like my own. Perhaps it’s the Korean, growing up in L.A. experience I share with the writer. And of course, there is also that all-too-familiar conflict/friction between parent and child or the push-pull you have with someone when you love each other so deeply but also know exactly which buttons to push to set them off.
MRV: I love that the main setting for this play is in Los Angeles. Having grown up in Koreatown and other parts of the area, what kind of connection/similarities do you see between the Korean American community in Los Angeles?
JC: Throughout the rehearsal process, our director Leslie Ishii and the cast often find ourselves questioning certain moments or character traits with 'Is this a Korean thing?’ or ‘Is this an Asian thing?’ or ‘Is this a parent-child (or family or American or HUMAN) thing?’ What is familiar to me is how my parents also didn’t share too much of their history unless asked. With immigrant parents, there is a sense of leaving that life behind in the country where they came from. Maybe it’s too painful to revisit; I can’t imagine uprooting my entire existence, leaving behind my friends and family, to start anew in a completely foreign land. And/or maybe that past life is considered of no consequence to the present and the future.
99 Histories rehearsal
MRV: 99 Histories is also a story about mental health, particularly how families address these issues internally. What has been your biggest takeaway from this process so far?
JC: It makes you wonder how many problems could have been alleviated sooner and more effectively had they been acknowledged and dealt with right then and there. When we feel isolated and alone, it feels almost easier to keep everything within. What I’ve learned more and more through working on this piece is how much we can learn and grow once we allow ourselves to share what scares us, what ails us. Because from even the smallest gesture of reaching out, wanting to connect, there is usually someone there who understands your pain or experience or at the very least cares enough to help you through it.
MRV: One of the things we haven’t really talked about in relation to this play is the impact of knowing – or in this case, not knowing – family history. How does 99 Histories build value in discovering events in our near and distant past?
JC: Mental health in this story is also connected to history. There is such a need from "Eunice" to discover more about her past, and in that process she also finds links to her own mental health. There is so much in this family that has been unspoken and untold. History is intrinsically part of who we are, whether it is hidden from or shared with us. Elders might think that they are protecting or shielding us, but there is no escaping the past. It will inevitably catch up to us because it is actually built into the genetic makeup of who we are. So we may as well explore and share and embrace it all.

MRV: Thank you for sharing all this with us! So, are you off-book yet?

JC: Not yet, but I'm getting there!


"Spare some change? Help make Artists at Play's next show happen!"

5 Reasons to Support 99 Histories,
 Artists at Play’s 2014 Production

1.     Great work from local artists.
Artistic work is not volunteer work! Artists are writers, directors, designers, builders, actors, etc. and we value the work they do for our productions. Your support for [99 Histories] translates to support for local artists. If you prefer to shop at the farmers’ market and eating locally, then how about donating to this production and consuming some local entertainment?

2.     Expanding/increasing diversity in L.A. theatre.
We believe in sharing stories and narratives of contemporary Asian Americans in a medium that isn’t as diverse as we’d hope it to be. Alongside other companies, we’re working beyond colorblind casting and tokenism. Cultural representation and breakdown of stereotypes are values that are important to us and the work we do.

3.     Videos that are fun/funny/weird for you to enjoy. 

4.     This production has TWO Julia Cho’s.
Are you a fan of one, but don’t know the other? Did you know there were two Julia Cho’s in our entertainment industry? One is a writer, and one is an actor/producer; and we have them both! 99 Histories was created by the writer Julia Cho, and is being produced by and will star the actor Julia Cho. See? Not complicated at all.

5.     We can only do this work because of YOU. (Yes, you!)
We are a humble organization with a modest budget for a stage production, and while we have raised some money through our yard sale and other events, there is still a $7,000 gap in our income. Since we launched our Indiegogo campaign last Thursday, we have raised [31%]* of our goal, and there are only [8]* days left to raise the money. If [56]* people donated the dollar equivalent to a tank of gas, we’d pretty much be at our goal!

Thank you for your support! 

Marie-Reine Velez 

* THANK YOU FOR HELPING US REACH OUR GOAL! $10 early-bird special available now for 99 Histories. Purchase tickets here.

99 HISTORIES: Indiegogo

Help Artists at Play bring 99 Histories to Los Angeles! Through our Indiegogo campaign, we have until Friday, July 25 to raise $7,000.

See our progress on the right? Click on the image to go to our Indiegogo page. We invite you to watch our video and check out the perks that we're offering. And through our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas, DONATIONS ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE

Please consider contributing and/or sharing our project! For a direct link to our Indiegogo page: 

To view and share our video via YouTube, click below or right here.

We cannot do this without your support and look forward to sharing 99 Histories with you in September. Thank you in advance!

Meet the Cast of 99 HISTORIES

Artists at Play proudly presents our cast for the Los Angeles premiere of 99 Histories! Not the writer but the actor JULIA CHO plays "Eunice," a former cello prodigy who channeled pain into music until mental illness forced her to quit playing. Now pregnant, she has returned home to live with her mother. SHARON OMI plays "Sah-Jin," who immigrated from Korea years ago and loves her daughter but fails to understand her. JANICE PAK is "Girl" and JOLENE KIM is "Young Woman," different figures from the women's respective pasts. DAVID HUYNH is "Paul," a young doctor and potential mate for Eunice in the eyes of Sah-Jin. BRENDAN BRADLEY is both "Joe," Eunice's ex-boyfriend and father of her unborn child, and "Daniel Merritt," an American missionary from Sah-Jin's past back in Korea.

JULIA CHO (Eunice) is a founding member of Artists at Play and played "Desdemona Wong" in our inaugural production Ching Chong Chinaman and "Veronica" in last fall's production of Cowboy Versus Samurai. Film/TV credits include Larry Crowne, The Newsroom2 Broke GirlsNCIS, and Scandal.

SHARON OMI (Sah-Jin) has appeared in Blood Wedding (Odyssey Theatre), Uncle Vanya (American Conservatory Theatre) and Romeo and Juliet (Ahmanson Theatre), among others. She has also been seen in television shows like Shameless, Big Bang Theory and Southland.

JANICE PAK (Girl) is a recent graduate of CalArts with a B.FA. in Acting. At CalArts, she appeared in Trojan Women, All's Well That Ends Well, Uncle Vanya, Our Lady of 21st  Street and 4.48 Psychosis.

JOLENE KIM (Young Woman) has appeared onscreen in television shows like Grey's Anatomy, 24, Pushing Daisies and onstage at many theatres across Los Angeles. Jolene is currently in Theatre @ Boston Court's Stupid Fucking Bird

DAVID HUYNH (Paul) won a Special Jury Prize at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival for Outstanding Newcomer Award and Best Emerging Actor for his performance in Juwan Chung's Baby. He has appeared on stage at Sacred Fools Theater Company, Kirk Douglas Theater, East West Players and Colony Theatre. 

BRENDAN BRADLEY (Joe, Daniel Merritt) has appeared in NCIS, Wizards of Waverly Place, The Legend of Neil, among others. Theatrically, he was seen off-Broadway in Goonies the Musical, Office Sonata and The Oresteia. Brendan was also in Boni B. Alvarez's Marabella, part of the 2014 Artist at Play Readings.

The cast of 99 Histories also includes Desiree Mee Jung (u/s Eunice), Diana Tanaka (u/s Sah-Jin), Kimiko Ann (u/s Girl), Jane Lui (u/s Young Woman), Junot Lee (u/s Paul) and Matthew Mancuso (u/s Joe, Daniel).

$10 early-bird special available now for 99 Histories! Purchase tickets here.