Backstage Blog

The Drag Glossary

In case you didn’t know, Drag culture has it is own vocabulary. Here is the beginner’s guide to drag-speak. We’ve selected 20 words to get you started. What are you waiting for? Get to werk!

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1. Bar Queen

n. a drag queen who only performs in small bars. Typically used as an insult.

2. Beating Face

v. to apply the perfect amount of makeup on the face, resulting in a flawless look. The term references the motion of constantly dabbing a makeup sponge or brush against one’s face.

DSC075583. Boobie Bib

n. a false breast piece worn by drag queens to give the impression of female breasts. They are often made of flesh-tone silicon of rubber.

4. Busted

adj. a dilapidated drag queen who can’t make up or style properly, looking unkempt, unrefined, unpolished, generally poor presentation.

DSC072095. Boy Name

n. a drag queen’s given name as opposed to her stage name.

6. Butch Queen

n. a masculine-looking drag queen.

DSC071027. Cakes

n. a slang term used to describe butt cheeks.

8. Camp Queen

n. a type of traditional, over-the-top drag act, with little effort at female impersonation.

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9. Chicken Cutlets

n. a slang term used to describe padding worn by drag queens to give the illusion of having female hips and thighs.

10. Corset

n. an undergarment worn, that tightly fits around the abdomen of the queens to help create a proportioned, hour-glass figure.

DSC0743511. Diva

n. a slang term for any woman or drag queen who is self-important, demanding, temperamental, or hard to please.

12. Drag King

n. a woman who dresses as or impersonates a man for entertainment/show purposes.

DSC0760813. Drag Mother

n. an experienced drag queen who acts as a mentor and guide to a younger, up and coming, less experienced, or apprentice drag queen.

14. Fierce

adj. a term used by drag queens meaning to possess a good, intense, satisfying, powerful, or beautiful quality.

DSC0707315. Polished

adj. a term used to refer to a drag queen whose look is considered to be flawless, well executed, seasoned, and perfected.

16. Sashay

v. to strut with an elaborate roll of the shoulders and hips, from the ballet term chassé.

DSC0730417. Shade, or Throwing Shade

n. the casting of aspersions, bluntly pointing out a person’s flaws in an insulting manner.

18. Showboat

v. to impress in a self-aggrandizing manner, as a big well-lit, noisy theatrical riverboat.

DSC0757719. Tuck

v. to place the penis back between the legs.

20. Werk, or Work

v. a slang term to put in the effort necessary to impress or stun

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Catch The Legend of Georgia McBride through November 12th!

The Artistic Fellows at Cygnet Theatre

Kate and Magali

Kate and Magali

“This summer I had the pleasure of having Kate Pittard and Magali Trench as the Artistic Fellows at Cygnet Theatre. They read hundreds of new and already published plays for our season and for the Bill & Judy Garrett Finish Line Commission. They observed what goes on day-to-day at a professional theatre, acted as scene partners and readers for auditions, assisted in marketing and board events, organized countless head-shots and resumes, represented Cygnet in the community, and discussed theatre and art  for hours on end with me.

They are now in the middle of another year at school (The University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University) but before they left I asked them to write letters to themselves exactly one year ago. What they wrote I find useful for future Artistic Fellows and insightful advice for any young theatre practitioner looking for the next step in their career.”

-Rob Lutfy, Associate Artistic Director

Kate Pittard

Kate Pittard

Kate Pittard:

Dear me (one year ago),

Three summers ago my acting teacher told me, “From the minute you were born, you were tapped.” He told me that as an artist I am a fundamental part of something special and crucial. Three summers later, I am sitting across from him in his office on the opposite coast. In 21 days I embark on my second year of training at UNCSA School of Drama. When I close my eyes and imagine this impending adventure, I am standing at the beach looking out to the water, and I see the same vision I saw one year ago: a very tall and dark blue wave. And it’s coming towards me. I stand with feet in the ocean. One year ago, I cautiously waited for the water to splash. This year, I’m diving in.

For four and a half weeks, my best friend Magali Trench and I have worked as Artistic Fellows at Cygnet Theatre Company in San Diego across the country from our homes in Virginia and Florida. Our mentor and the aforementioned acting teacher Rob Lutfy– who is the Associate Artistic Director at Cygnet– leads a commission in the winter that provides playwrights with the means to finish their “dream plays” in need of a home. Our main job this summer was to choose those plays.

We were utterly steeped in scripts, absorbing the words like sponges. We read plays about identity, love, sex, heartbreak, death, birth, family, school, power, abuse, a cardboard lover, a Nigerian family, a rising drag queen, a villainous protagonist, a family-owned Italian restaurant, a retiring flight attendant, a school shooting, Barack Obama, Michael Jackson, Donald Trump; we read plays that made us laugh, plays that made us sob, and plays that made us question everything. I started to really recognize the stories that I love. I noticed how my heart pitter-patters in plays about families, how I gravitate towards plots led by strong women.

Rob Lutfy told us to write down our mission statements as artists, our “due norths.” Then every single decision in our careers can be guided by what we hold most important. My passions spilled out onto the paper as I tried to distill my north star into words. I want to empower women. I want to remind people they’re not alone. I want to create empathetic role models.

One year ago I stood on the shore, and I wouldn’t dare to jump into the wave. In this “business” it’s easy to scrutinize my reflection in the mirror, to compare the way my body moves to other bodies in the dance studio, to long for someone else’s voice. But every artist is special. And that axiom includes me.

One year ago the wave was thrilling, but it was terrifying, and the frightened part of me couldn’t bring herself to fully dive in. I wrote inspirational quotes all over my journals but I don’t know that I fully trusted them: I am enough. My body, my senses, my brain, my heart, my voice, my instincts are enough to face the wave.

One year ago I slid into a wave and now it is circling back around, as it always does. This time my heart is pressing me forward. I remember I was born to do this. I remember I will continue to try, learn, and grow my whole life. I remember why I am the right one for the job. I look up and see my north star, and I remember what is most important. And I dive.

Dear me (one year ago), dive!

Magali Trench

Magali Trench

Magali Trench:

Dear me (one year ago),

Right now, as you read this, you think you know who you are, what you want, even who you are as an artist, and although I laugh looking back on that now, I am so glad that you do because by the end of this year’s adventures, you will be a different person. So no, this letter is not where I will tell you what happens or what to do to prepare for what is to come. Because trust me you’d hate me if I did. You’ll want to live through the blood, sweat, and tears first hand. You will crave the breakdowns and breakthroughs, unfiltered, raw and with no warning because they just taste sweeter that way. I have no spoilers for  you, just some advice or rather reminders:

Expect nothing but be open to everything. Experience each new thing deeply and fully before assigning a point of view towards it. Listen. Trust that sometimes the question you need answered most can only be done so by yourself and that your gut instinct is almost always correct. Love your hunger for this art. Feed it everyday and let it fuel your every decision. Live for your passion and surrender to each next adventure it takes you on.

This year you get to dive into the artistic side of the world, a concept you have only dreamed about until now. Understand that it will test everything you know or thought you did. You will come to realize that there is no fixed self and that every part of you is constantly shifting and growing. So when a surprising, serendipitous opportunity or adventure or conversation falls in front of you, take it. Grab it by the horns because I promise there is a lesson to be learned. I say this to you with confidence because right now I am sitting in San Diego, California, across from one of my greatest mentors, Rob Lutfy, and besides my best friend, Kate Pittard, who has been my partner in crime for this Fellowship at Cygnet Theatre. Say yes my friend, seek it out and see it through because this last month, for example, has been an entire education of its own.

You will leave here with a journal overflowing with invaluable knowledge, an understanding of how a successful theatre is run day-to-day and truly experience what would’ve taken years to understand otherwise. Cherish every conversation, every brainstorming, stream of consciousness moment with Rob Lutfy, Sean Murray, Tim West, Kate Pittard and really everyone you meet because they each have experience to be shared and insight to learn from. Get ready to question and start solidifying your understanding of what work you want to be a part of and what actually speaks to your core from the new material and scripts you will be reading. Truly soak in every word Rob says; that man is pure magic and is a living reminder of what theatre has the ability to be. Invite every opportunity to push what you thought was possible and be grateful. Grateful and humble to everything you have yet to learn and for the fight you get to be a part of everyday.

This past month is one that will open up your scope to what you can do with this art. Yes, there is a lot of work that has yet to be done, not only for theatre, but for the world, but allow this understanding to fuel your passion, make you hungrier and get you ready for battle. Follow Rob’s advice and let Sean’s words resonate with you for the rest of your life. Start building your due North and follow it. Follow it with everything you have. You are an artist, a creator and now it is time to just get to work. So this is it. Get ready. Get stoked and most importantly enjoy every god damn second of it.

Kick some ass my friend, a slightly older you.

Kate and Magali are going places; this is just the beginning for them. We are glad Cygnet was a step in their journey.

Q&A with the cast of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds

This Pulitzer Prize-winning lyrical drama tells the story of a wounded family unraveling at the age of innocence and at the age of no return. Life in the 1960s with Beatrice, an embittered single mother, resembles a hell more than a home for her two daughters. But Tillie, the youngest, finds her own way to connect the world with resilience and hope. Tillie – keeper of rabbits, dreamer of atoms, true believer in life, hope, and the effect of gamma rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.

To get to know this talented cast better, we asked them a few questions about the show and their experience.

Abby DePuyAbby DePuy (Tillie)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

I think Gamma Rays is relevant today because it reveals the heartbreak which results from broken families and loss. These are things that many people, unfortunately, can relate to. Tillie offers hope to the victim of loss and brokenness that a person can rise above her circumstances.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

I am super excited to work with such an incredibly talented cast who put so much heart and effort into their art. Our director Robby is brilliant, and I know he is going to propel me as an actress and create an unforgettable, unique show. Tillie is an inspiration to me because she does not allow her circumstances to define who she is or what she will become.

I am looking forward to the challenge of playing Tillie because of her complexity. She is hopeful and optimistic while looking for ways to bring her family into some kind of harmony. But she also hides or tries to be invisible to avoid conflict.

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

I have spent the majority of my years in the musical theater world. Gamma Rays will be my first professional play and first time performing an American Classic. I am looking forward to working with the cast and creative team, who are all new friends since meeting at callbacks.

DeAnna DriscollDeAnna Driscoll (Beatrice)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

Anytime a play is as well written as this one, you can always find connections to our time. The characters are so rich and their dilemmas are so present and deep that I think audiences will allow themselves to have empathy for these females. There are so many issues right now that make us fearful of what is coming next. This is the exact world that these characters live in – the fear of what is coming next. It’s relatable for everyone.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

It is true that these types of roles don’t come along very often. When they do, I like to stay open and learn as I go. I have ideas, questions and feel confidant that we are going to go on a journey together as we work through this play. I believe that often times roles come to actors when they are supposed to and I am not certain yet why an alcoholic, abusive, insecure, frightened mother role just came to me. I am not going to judge it but rather run with it!

Just like all of us, the flaws in my character are deep and painful. She is a stunted woman trying desperately to raise her daughters the best she knows how. That’s a great character to have the honor to play. I feel very fortunate to share the stage with these ladies and work on this phenomenal play with Robby.

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

No. That is actually one of the most exciting elements for me! I love the idea of working with a director and fellow artists that I have never worked with before. Every show I do, I learn something from each and every person involved and so I can’t wait to see what my new lessons are during this process.

I played Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ years ago in NYC, and I played Grace in “Bus Stop” at The Old Globe. I love the experience of doing “steeped in realism” American Classics. This opportunity is giving me another chance to experience that, which is one of the many things I am excited about.

Rachel Esther TateRachel Esther Tate (Ruth)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

Fear and love are universal. They lead us to almost every decision we make. This play zooms in on a family of women who are struggling to find the ways to cope, to escape fear and live thoughtfully in their love. It shines a light on the little inner struggles that consume us as we try to move along through life as siblings, parents, and humans in general. Throughout the story, Tillie discovers what it means to be special and realizes her role as a tiny, but important part of the universe. It is beautiful and captivating, structurally simple and poetic, raw and real.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

I have to say, I’m pretty psyched to be onstage with only women. This play is a goldmine for actresses as individual artists, but especially as an ensemble. It is a story of four strong and beautifully complex women that explores the strength and trials of sister/motherhood. I have never been in a cast of all female actors and I can’t wait to see what each of these talented women bring to their roles.

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

This is my first time with this group of actors and also my first full production of an American Classic. However, this is my second time working with Robby at Cygnet. He is not only one of my favorite directors to collaborate with, but he also happens to be my life partner. I am so excited to be diving into the beauty of Paul Zindel’s words with such fantastic artists.

Carm GrecoCarm Greco (Nanny)

Why do you feel this play is relevant today?

Gamma Rays beautifully explores issues that are relevant today; poverty, alcoholism, child abuse, bullying, forgotten or throw-away seniors, educators who recognize the courage, curiosity of a child…the list goes on. Yet it really is about hope and the indomitable spirit of a young girl who rises above her miserable circumstances.

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

Nanny is an enigmatic character. What does she know? What does she really see and hear?

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

No, which is why it is so personally exciting and rewarding.

Michelle Marie Trester Michelle Trester (Janice Vickery)

This is often described as a play with “roles for actors”. What are you most looking forward to about either your role, or working on the play as a whole?

I love making people laugh and am so looking forward to providing some comic relief in the show. Janice Vickery has a special place in my heart because of her quirky humor and offbeat personality. With any script, I love diving in and investigating the text to find clues the playwright has left to help build the backstory of my character. Paul Zindel left such yummy little details about Janice throughout Gamma Rays. I am really looking forward to exploring her in the rehearsal room with Robby. I can’t wait to breath life into her!

Do you have history working with any of the other actors or creative team? Have you worked on any other American Classics in the past?

I am very excited to be making my Cygnet debut with this production! I have not had the chance to work with Rob Lutfy or other members of the cast or the creative team before so I am just over the moon. Since moving to San Diego, I have admired Robby’s directorial vision with each of his productions and Cygnet’s stellar reputation for creating powerful art. I am thrilled to be joining them on this adventure. Much of my time in NYC was spent creating and working on new work. I am thrilled to be revisiting the American Classics once again. Many years ago, I had the chance to play Laura Wingfield in one of my favorite American Classics, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I am honored to tap into a very different character with Janice and can’t wait to share this production with San Diego!

Catch these talented actors through September 24th!

Talk to Cloudy for informations.

Q&A with the Cast of Animal Crackers

Amy PerkinsAmy Perkins

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersWorking at my favorite theater for the summer and working with Sean Murray!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I had no idea who they were- in fact I confused them with the 3 Stooges. Now I have seen all the movies and am comforted by seeing Harpo, Groucho, and Chico on the screen.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? Playing multiple characters is always a challenge because you want to make sure the audience can tell who you are each time you are onstage.

Josh Odsess-RubinJosh Odsess-Rubin

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersI enjoy their taste. I found myself in the snacks aisle at my local grocery establishment, but the Chips Ahoy appeared rather caloric, I’m allergic to Oreos, and the Keebler Grasshoppers gave me a dirty look, so I went with Animal Crackers.

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I’ve read some works by my favorite Marx Brother, Karl, and I’ve enjoyed his extremely dry wit.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? They cast me alongside a newly-immigrated Italian and a mute; it’s been rough. The snacks have been excellent.

Samantha Wynn GreenstoneSamantha Wynn Greenstone

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe zany world! It pushes the limits both in content and style. The ambiguity of the mechanics of some of the scenes was a challenge I was excited to embark upon!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I was. Most of my knowledge was pulled from my research. I love that Harpo adopted multiple children. I’m adopted myself and it is the greatest blessing in my life. To have that in common with him is pretty cool because it is another testament to the importance of family within the Marx unit. Family is equally as important to me. I have two brothers. In this show, I have 3. They all treat me like I’m their sister (even though I insist that I’m their BROTHER). There’s a certain level of comfort and freedom to play that comes from that bond and I’m having so much fun having that safety net of support from my cast mates.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? It’s challenging trying to find the balance of how much to pull from the movie/how much Marx humor to bring to it and how much Samantha I can bring to it. Naturally, you want to do justice to the iconic nature of the piece, but it’s important to me to show that I can make a vintage art form my own. If we can communicate that an earlier art form is still relevant and can be improved upon in a modern world, I think we are being responsible as actors.

Russell GarrettRussell Garrett

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe chance to work with Sean Murray (who I have known since SDSU days in college) and Cygnet Theatre after seeing and enjoying many shows at Cygnet over the years.

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? Somewhat exposed to the Marx Brothers when I was younger. I mainly have fond memories of seeing A Night At The Opera. But more of my memories of the brothers were based on other things, like Groucho on You Bet Your Life and other TV appearances, and Harpo doing his mirror routine with Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? It will be challenging to not laugh at the silliness of the other actors and what they are doing. It will also be challenging to play the “straight man” as the Brothers wreak havoc. I’ve played several silly characters in recent years and in this I have to be more the straight man to them.

Bryan BanvilleBryan Banville

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe taste! The iconic personalities of the characters, and the old school physical and punny comedy!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I knew of Groucho (the iconic glasses we all have worn) and had seen some clips. I was introduced to Groucho when I was doing Forever Plaid and had to do a Groucho “cross” in one the numbers. I am most excited to explore the various bits they do and work on adding even MORE puns to my vocabulary.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? I think anytime you are in a show playing two or more characters that have extensive stage time, it is finding a way to differentiate them. With Jamison and John Parker, I have the added challenge of having two similar archetypes to portray that still have their own idiosyncrasies. This leaves me both excited and scared (musical theater ode for you) for the creative process. There is nothing more rewarding than finding a character for the first time, especially when you first feel it click! Sometimes it can be equally gratifying killing a character at the end of the run of a show. I remember after doing Spamalot at Moonlight, I ceremoniously killed off all 6 of my characters at the end of their last scenes. This helps me in the creative process to not bring in the same character over and over and over again, which can also pose a challenge for character acting!

Spencer RoweSpencer Rowe

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersI’ve always been a fan of the Marx Brothers comedies and have wanted to play Chico for years!

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? Yes!

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? The physical side of the comedy. The timing has to be perfect!

Chaz FeuerstineChaz Feuerstine

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersThe comedy, the Marx Brothers, and a chance to work at Cygnet.

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I always knew about Groucho, because of the famous mask, and his appearance in random Saturday morning cartoons. But I actually had never watched a Marx brother movie until I was hired on for this show.

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? I find the challenge in the characters I play to be the straight society member for the Marx brothers to riff off of. I love that Sean set us up for this success right in the beginning… to always play the action of the scene, not the comedy.

Melinda GilbMelinda Gilb

What first attracted you to Animal CrackersSean asked me to do it. Seemed like it would be fun and I liked that I would be playing a straight character (meaning, not the funny one).

Were you familiar with the Marx Brothers before this? And if not, what are you excited to learn about them through the rehearsal process and show? I was familiar with the Marx Brothers. They used to show reruns of You Bet Your Life with Groucho and I thought he was brilliant. Harpo kind of scared me!

What do you find most challenging or exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? Learning the lines has been slow going!

Catch Animal Crackers through August 13th!

Q&A: Shockheaded Peter

There is nothing really that compares to Shockheaded Peter. Our creative and design teams were tasked with building an entire production based on less than 30 pages of dialogue. Difficult? Yes. Challenging? For sure. Yet, everyone involved in this extraordinarily original and creative production has remarked that it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of their theatrical careers.

We asked them a few questions about the making of this wild and crazy ride.

Marc Caro-WillcoxMarc Caro-Willcox

What attracted you to the show?  Choreographer Michael Mizerany!

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it?  Scary, fantastic, thrilling, dark, smart.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process?  Creating an entire show from 23 pages of text was such a wonderful experience. The rehearsal room was so open and encouraging. Learning how to clown was quite the experience!

Sarah ErringtonSarah Errington

What attracted you to the show? Rob Lutfy. I had never heard of the show and he spoke about it to me about a year ago. I listened to some of the soundtrack by the Tiger Lillies and it’s about the weirdest thing I’ve ever listened to. So of course I was fascinated! Being a weirdo myself, I looked forward to not only working on the show but working with and under Rob’s direction. It’s the kind of show that can be anything you want it to be. There is no structure. The script is a barely 30 pages and no written music for the band. So what you see here, you’ll never see again. This is all from the minds that have come together for this project here at Cygnet. It’s been an experience I’ve never had before. Pure collaboration and overwhelming generosity. I have learned so much from this entire process and couldn’t be more thankful.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? I think it is morbidly beautiful. It’s grotesquely awe inspiring. Human. There is a strange juxtaposition of beauty that comes from the horrible things that can happen in life.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? It’s been such a generous group of people that I have felt nothing but support along the way. I am not the spectacular element of the show, but I am compelling it to happen. It’s also a character that is not something I typically play and yet there is still something within that I am finding I can identify with.

Donny GersondeDonny Gersonde

What attracted you to the show? The bizarre theatrical aspect.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? Frightening, playful, sadistic, unsettling, intriguing.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? It can be difficult to remember all of the content we go through in a single rehearsal, but it’s a very welcomed challenge. Devising theatre is not easy, but it’s one of the most rewarding processes for an actor. To truly create your own track and show with a group of other professionals; absolute bliss. Plus it’s really scary, dark stuff that makes it all the more interesting to dive into.

Siri Hafso Siri Hafso

What attracted you to the show? The creative team, the fact that it hasn’t been done in this area before, and the abstract story.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? Abstract, physical, heart-wrenching, dark, fun.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? It’s pushing the limits and taking me out of my comfort zone, which is exciting and challenging. I am learning a lot and doing things I’ve never done or seen before on stage.

Adrian AlitaAdrian Alita

What attracted you to the show? Rob Lutfy. I love the way he works.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? I understand the adjectives previously used to describe the show, but I believe this production offers a new narrative and context for the horror. One might even see redemption and closure for the show’s main characters.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process?  This is the kind of opportunity actors fear and relish simultaneously! It’s a chance to collaboratively create theatre. A high risk, high reward situation.

Danielle AireyDanielle Airey

What attracted you to the show? I have never worked for Cygnet before, but always heard amazing things about it. I am fairly new to the musical theatre scene and have only done classical shows. This is the first time doing a show so far outside my comfort zone, and I can already tell how much I have learned and gained from doing it. It is an amazing opportunity to push our boundaries and be transported to a new world.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? Artistic, passionate, creepy, distorted, other worldly.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? The most challenging aspect has been breaking my natural habits as a technical dancer to become the creature or character appropriate for the show. It has been about taking what is so ingrained in my body and manipulating it to something new, creative, and distorted. The creative process has been incredibly unique because we are creating something new and organic. From day one, Rob created a comfortable environment that made us feel safe to explore and play. This has been the most collaborative show I have ever done. It is our show, not just a show.

Isaac KalimoIsaac Kalimo

What attracted you to the show? I love all things horror/creature related and out of the norm.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? Creative, out of the norm, reality meets nightmares, and the “What if all the things your parents tried to scare you with really did happen?!” It’s a one of a kind masterpiece of how children who misbehave get punished. It brings you back to those myths you’d believe as a child.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? Being part of the ensemble cast means I’ll be playing different characters, which, I love. But sometimes changes can occur in a flash, and I have to snap out of one character into the next in a matter of seconds.

Kevane La'Marr ColemanKevane La’Marr Coleman

What attracted you to the show? I was most attracted to the music, dark, and bizarre story. It also appealed to me because the script is so short, that I was intrigued as to how the cast along with the director and the production team were going to turn this into a full-fledged musical.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? Intriguing, bizarre, demonic, volatile, strange, scary, shocking, cruel, dark, grotesque, macabre, genius, fun, amusing.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? The most challenging, yet exciting part about working on this production is the idea that the script is simply a road map for the show and that we are having to build a show from the ground up. I am not sure that I was initially prepared for the dark places that this show would take me, but by having the ability go to those dark places and transform, those are the times where I am able to find the humor in the show because the show is so extreme. I think that this show would push any performer out of their comfort zone because it is forcing each of us to step out of what we know as traditional theatre. It is hard to know in a show like this what is going to be too much, but we work together really well collectively, as an ensemble to ensure that we are telling the story the way that each of us wants to.

Mariel ShawMariel Shaw

What attracted you to the show? Working with director Rob Lutfy.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? Your wildest nightmares made reality.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Is there anything you can tell us about the creative process? The most exciting thing is the collaborative, improvisational creative process. Rob excels at hiring exceptional people both cast and production team and then giving them the freedom to create. Through it all, Rob is always there to lend his expert opinion and guide the ship with his vision.

Michael Mizerany Michael Mizerany

What attracted you to the show? The subversive nature of the text and songs but also working with Rob Lutfy again.

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Working with a such wonderful creative team is the most exciting part.

Shirley PiersonShirley Pierson

What attracted you to the show? As a visual artist, designing Cygnet’s production of Shockheaded Peter is a quintessential project because seldom does the costume design play such a defining role for the entire production. Yes, costume always supports the individual character and production, however for me, since Shockheaded Peter is actually a picture book come to life, the picture becomes the focus and the words, or text, play the supporting role. You may be able to establish fear and influence the behavior of someone with words, but visually showing reasons for fearing is clearly more powerful.

It’s been described as vile, despicable, horrific, and absolute bliss. What words would you use to describe it? A visual thriller with a chilling aftertaste!

What do you find most challenging and exciting about working on this production? Even though the text for Shockheaded Peter is a mere 22 pages, the visual presentation requirements found within present large design challenges. The creative team has approached these challenges through the use of physical and visual theatre. There are so many images that have helped shape and frame the design language being used. Strongest influences for me have been: the picture book itself, German Expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Tim Burton, Grand Guignol, and Comedia Del Arte. Collectively, the creative team is striving to bring the audience member into that dark imagination, incite a bizarre discomfort and alarm that would manifest as nervous laughter. And when they are asked in the show, “What is under your floorboards?” hopefully an almost audible shiver will be felt throughout the theatre.

Catch Shockheaded Peter through June 18th!

4 Key Influences of Shockheaded Peter

John Heartfield set for Bertolt Brecht's Die Mutter (The Mother), 1951.

John Heartfield set for Bertolt Brecht’s Die Mutter (The Mother), 1951.

EPIC THEATRE was a theatrical movement that arose in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and method of a number of theatre practitioners (namely Bertolt Brecht) who responded to the political climate of the time through the creation of new political theatre. Epic theatre is often characterized by a series of loosely connected scenes that avoid illusion and often interrupt the storyline to address the audience directly with analysis, argument, or documentation. Brecht wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognize social injustice and exploitation and be so moved as to effect change in the world outside the theatre walls. By highlighting the constructed nature of a theatrical event and employing various techniques used to remind the spectator that a play is a representation of reality, and not reality itself, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience’s reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.

Commedia Del'arteCOMMEDIA DELL’ARTE is a theatrical form that emerged in northern Italy in the fifteenth century and rapidly gained popularity throughout Europe. It is characterized by improvised dialogue and a cast of colorful, masked stock characters. Performances were based on a set schema, or scenario—a basic plot, often a familiar story, upon which the actors improvised their dialogue, leaving actors to tailor a performance to their audience, allowing for sly commentary on current politics and bawdy humor that would otherwise be censored. The characters of the commedia usually represent fixed social archetypes, or stock characters, such as enamored lovers, foolish old men, devious servants, or military officers full of false bravado.  And each stock character of the commedia evolved a distinct set of attributes—characteristic speech, gestures, props, and costume—that became standard to the portrayal of the character. All characters except for the lovers and the comic servant wore masks, a tradition deriving from ancient Roman comedies that featured similar character types. Because the mask partially or entirely obscured facial expression, emphasis was placed on dialect (often reflecting regional stereotypes) and exaggerated gesture to convey emotion and intention.

A still from Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, a 1922 German Expressionist horror film directed by F.W.Murnau.

A still from Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, a 1922 German Expressionist horror film directed by F. W. Murnau.

A still from The Cabinet Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German Expressionist horror film directed by Robert Wiene.

A still from The Cabinet Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German Expressionist horror film directed by Robert Wiene.

GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM refers to a series of related creative movements beginning in Germany before World War I that reached a peak in Berlin during the 1920s. As part of the larger Expressionist movement in North and Central Europe in fields such as architecture, dance, painting, sculpture and cinema, it emphasized directness, frankness, and a desire to startle the viewer. German cinema in particular had a major influence on American films, particularly in the genres of horror and film noir. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German silent horror film directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, is considered by many to be the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema.

"Crime in a Madhouse" photograph by Hans Wilder, 1947.

“Crime in a Madhouse” photograph by Hans Wilder, 1947.

THE GRAND GUIGNOL (1897-1962) was a theatre in the Pigalle area of Paris that specialized in naturalistic horror shows. Its name is often used as a general term for graphic amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre through today’s splatter films. Their popular and well-known horror plays featured a distinctly bleak worldview, as well as notably gory special effects in their notoriously bloody climaxes.

 

Fall into the world of Victorian steam-punk nightmares as a manic music box spins stories of naughty children and misguided parents. Silly and sinister, Shockheaded Peter dares us to ask what’s beneath the floorboards.

Don’t miss the most damning tale ever told on stage! Runs through June 18th.

Actor Q&A: The 20th Century Cast

For many in our cast, musical theatre is in their blood and they jumped at the chance to perform in this rarely produced comic gem. For musical theatre fans, On the Twentieth Century has almost a cult following. In the 1978 Broadway season, the show garnered nine Tony nominations, winning five but it is barely produced because of the challenge of depicting the luxury train on stage. We can’t wait to show you how we did it!

Meanwhile, we asked our cast a few questions about the show, their favorite musicals (hint: Think Sondheim) and of course, trains.

20thCentury-873Amy Perkins

Have you ever seen a production or better yet, appeared in On the 20th Century?  In 2011, I was a porter in a production at Theater at Monmouth in Maine.

 

 20thCentury-870Morgan Carberry

Why do you love Musical Theatre?  I love how music & language work together.

What is your Favorite Musical?  Into the Woods

Do you have a favorite train memory?  I fondly recall backpacking through Europe on trains in college.

 

 20thCentury-859Bryan Banville

Why do you love Musical Theatre?  It’s the best! Storytelling through music!

 

 

 20thCentury-885Debra Wanger

Why do you love Musical Theatre?  It has it all. Music, passion, heightened emotion & silliness.

Have you even seen a production of On the 20th?  I saw LA Encores production with Carolee Carmello.

Favorite Train Story?  The Little Engine That Could & Polar Express

 

20thCentury-862Melissa Fernandes

Favorite Train Story?  Murder on the Orient Express

Favorite Musical?  I am not sure I have a favorite musical, but I do have a favorite composer. Stephen Sondheim speaks to me like no other composer can. He writes strong yet vulnerable women and his music is challenging and honest.

Have you ever seen a production or better yet, appeared in On the 20th Century?  I was in the staged reading at Cygnet theatre 7 years ago. I was in the ensemble the first night but the 2nd night, the actor playing Owen (Phil Johnson) got sick and couldn’t perform. After searching all of San Diego frantically for a male to play take over, he called me at 11am that morning and asked if I could do it. Always up for a challenge (never being able to say no to Sean), I went on that evening with about 2 hours rehearsal. Of course that was the night Cy Coleman’s widow was in the audience. It was crazy insane and fun!

 

 20thCentury-275Melinda Gilb

Why do you love musicals?  I love Musical Theatre because it’s hard to do and I like to sing and act…two birds one stone!

Favorite Musical?  Too many favorites to pick.

Favorite Train Story?  Polar Express

 

20thCentury-890Steve Gunderson

Why do you love Musical Theatre? Do you have a favorite?  I love theatre, plays, not specifically musicals. I think my all-time favorite musical is Sweeney Todd, which I got to do at Cygnet! I also write musicals and have had many produced, such as Everybody’s Talkin’ and Suds (co-written with castmate Melinda Gilb) which started in San Diego and moved to New York and has had dozens of productions worldwide.

 

20thCentury-864Samantha Wynn Greenstone

Why do you love Musical Theatre?  Sometimes the only option is to break out in song.

Do you have an all-time favorite musical?  The Drowsy Chaperone

 

20thCentury-877Trevor Cruse

Why do you love Musical Theatre?  It allows the actor to dive into a character and give the audience a truthful, honest performance which allows the audience to enjoy themselves and forget about life for 2 hours, as well as potentially learn something new about themselves or the world from the lessons and themes conveyed in the show.

 

20thCentury-880LaFras Le Roux

Why do you love Musical Theatre? Do you have a favorite?  I love singing, and I love performing in a heightened reality. I’ve been doing Musical Theater since I was eight, it’s pretty much a part of me at this point. All-time favorite…Bonnie and Clyde the Musical, or Urinetown, or Rent, or Spring Awakening.

 Catch all these talented actors through April 30th! 

HOW TO PUT A TRAIN ON STAGE

Our production of the screwball comedy On the 20th Century literally takes aboard the Twentieth Century, a luxury train traveling from Chicago to New York City. The original production is partly famous for its breathtaking silver art deco train. We challenged our cracker- jack design team to find a way to bring that magnificent train, and the era it evoke, to life on the Cygnet stage. Sean Murray, Sean Fanning and Blake McCarty tell us how they brought their “mad genius” to the project. Hint to our loyal readers: think projections! 

20thCentury-176

Sean Murray in On the 20th Century

Sean Murray, Director

The biggest challenge of this show is that one of the main characters is a very famous luxury train of some opulence. My suspicion about why this great musical hasn’t been produced as often as it deserves is the challenge that poses to most companies. It has baffled me for years. It is intimidating to try to recreate that today, let alone on our stage.

I found the hook into how to do it while reading an adaptation of the original play. (Yes, it was a play first.) It opened in the early 30s and was an enormous hit. The play was adapted into a film with John Barrymore and Carol Lombard in the early 30s. It was considered to be one of the first “screwball comedies” of that era. The play was revived in the 1950s with Jose Ferrer and Gloria Swanson. In the 90s, Ken Ludwig did an adaptation of the play, reducing the number of actors and characters to make it more producible. This played at the Roundabout with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche.

As I was reading this play, it suddenly occurred to me that none of these stage versions had presented the train as anything near what the original Robin Wagner (Tony Award for Best Set Design, 1978) set was. It was a basic one set show and the three compartments of the Pullman car were always present. If we can do the train car as it was originally done in the play, the new challenge would be how to establish the presence of the mighty train itself. We hit upon the idea of utilizing projections above the train car. These would be atmospheric, cinematic in its portrayal of the train as seen from out outside, spinning wheels, steam, tearing down the track, clouds whistling by etc. Suddenly this idea of projections would help us give a visual of the train itself, and also create a way to take us off the train into the flashbacks and fantasy sequences that are unique to the musical.

Projection and On the 20th Century Set

Projection and On the 20th Century Set

Sean Fanning on the set

Sean Fanning on the set

Sean Fanning, Set Designer

The world of On the Twentieth Century is inspired directly by the Streamline Moderne movement, which came about in the 1930’s. It was a form of art and architecture that took the elaborate detail of Art Deco and simplified it, adding aerodynamic curves and metallic accents, emphasizing speed, movement and modernity. The famous exterior of the train, designed by Henry Dreyfuss, is a recurring icon of the production. It’s the central, stylized image represented in the show curtain, as well.

To incorporate projections into this production, it was necessary to create a framework or proscenium around the train that could both evoke train terminals when we wanted it to, but also take us to other places – particularly in the “flashback” or memory moments.  We’ve been working to come up with a projection vocabulary that can both give us a sense of place and composition with the set, but also the illusion of travel, and visual fantasy to work with the music of the piece. Integrating projections into the set architecture is a reaction against putting a literal, rectangular “projection screen” above the set, which would counteract everything about the Streamline Moderne look and the theatrical feel we’re going for. Made up of deco columns, our portal accommodates the widest singular set piece Cygnet has ever done.

The design takes a little flight of fancy and emphasizes the class level of the passengers on this cross section of the train. It tries to imagine what lives in our imaginations when we think of glamour and travel in the 1930’s. Stained wood paneling, stylized wallpaper, chrome trim and hardware, and customized upholstery. The color palette of the drawing rooms is in what I would call “champagne tones,” with a very tight tonal range that gives it a more vintage feel.20thCentury-165

Ultimately, the phrase I’ve been repeating to myself throughout this whole process is “form follows function.” Everything about this set is intended to allow the screwball comedy to germinate within the finite confines of the train. The layout of doors, for example, is integral to the action of the play (more so than usual). The design of the floor works to demarcate the imagined downstage edge of the train car, and gives us playing area beyond this where the flashback or musical moments can then “overflow” from the parameters of the train.

Blake C. B. McCarty, Projection Designer
portrait“Form following function” speaks to my largest challenge. Projections are not generally integral to plot and the actors almost never interact with them directly. Instead, they serve three primary functions: to heighten the sense of spectacle and awe for the train itself; to provide a consistent sense of place and motion; and to expand the zany, madcap sensibility of the show.

Unlike with Rocky Horror Picture Show last year, this show will have projections at virtually every moment of the performance. And as advanced as the technology may be that we’re using, it’s also important to me that we don’t lose the sensibility of this era. As a result, we’re using a few different modalities or styles that are rooted in the period. First and foremost is film itself, with black and white images and footage that resembles the newsreels that would have played before feature films. Wherever possible, I’m actually culling cinematic material from period sources. Educational and industrial film archives are an incredible resource.

20thAdBrochureIn moments of heightened reality, the visual language will shift to something far brighter and colorful inspired by graphic design from the 1930s. I have always loved travel posters from that era, and looked to artists like Adolphe Mouron Cassandre for inspiration. The WPA also employed a tremendous number of artists, and developed a style that remains iconic to this day. Picture a poster for any of the National Parks and you’ll most likely conjure a bold image with strong typography and a colorful palette constrained to a limited number of colors because most of the posters were silkscreened.

Lastly, we periodically slip into something more purely absurd that doesn’t attempt to maintain period, but rather embraces the sheer silliness of the show.

 

 

National Comedy Theatre at Cygnet

We’re looking forward to National Comedy Theatre’s full-length improvised musical, aChording to us, one night only at Cygnet Theatre April 24th!  We sat down with NCT Artistic Director, Gary Kramer, to learn more about the show.

Cygnet: Tell me a little bit about National Comedy Theatre and specifically aChording to Us, your full length improvised musical.

garyk

Gary Kramer

Gary: This is our 18th season at the National Comedy Theatre, which is located right down the street from Cygnet on India Street – next to Shakespeare’s pub. We have a very talented cast of professional comic actors who perform improvised scenes every night based on suggestions from the audience. We perform around 300 shows every year, and on March 18th will have performed our 5000th consecutive show.

Cygnet: How is aChording to Us different from your weekly mainstage performances?

aChording to Us

The cast

Gary: We have a number of different themed performances that have established their own audience over the years. One of the most popular is aChording to Us, in which our cast improvises a new full length musical theatre piece each night. The audience makes a story line suggestion, the keyboardist starts playing…and a musical is created on the spot. It’s pretty incredible. aChording to Us features some of San Diego’s finest comic musical talents. Chris Daily, Allison Ramsay, Michael Maury, Rachel Pomeroy & Casey Gardner. The talented Yaron Guez is on keys – deciding when the story turns to song….

Cygnet: Why do you think Cygnet Theatre patrons will enjoy this show?

Gary: I am a regular Cygnet Theatre patron myself – and enjoy the creative filter here. Cygnet has the ability to take a familiar story and look at it differently – thinking outside the box. That ability to think outside the box and show stories in a different way is a big part of how National Comedy Theatre operates as well. We create as we go…and adding the musical element into that adds a level of creative energy that I know will resonate with the Cygnet audience. Plus, the show is just flat out funny and unexpected. The cast and audience both go on the same journey during the performance, and the discovery of where the story leads is a major component of the fun quality to the show. We honestly do not know where there show will lead, and that creates the edge to the performance for both cast and audience.

aChording to Us
a full-length improvised musical…
by National Comedy Theatre

Monday, April 24th at 7pm
Cygnet Theatre, Old Town

The audience gives ONE suggestion.
And a brand new full-length musical is born…
While. You. Watch.

National Comedy Theatre, San Diego’s long running, professional improv comedy theatre, brings their musical theatre performance – aChording to Us – to Cygnet Theatre. The audience gets the ball rolling… the keyboard starts playing…and a new musical is created as you watch. Improvisation at its most adrenaline-surging finest.

Musical theatre lovers, improv fans and those of us who are just WAITING for someone to screw up…this one is for you! aChording to Us, a NCT production, features some of San Diego’s finest comic talents. Chris Daily, Allison Ramsay, Michael Maury, Rachel Pomeroy & Casey Gardner. The incredible Yaron Guez is on keys – deciding when the story turns to song….

Click here to Purchase Tickets or call the Cygnet Box Office at 619-337-1525

NCT-logo

 

Good Jew or Bad Jew?

Good Jew or Bad Jew? It’s a pretty good question and one that is not easy to answer. We asked our talented cast anyway and here is what they had to say. We asked a few other questions while we were at it!

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Danielle Frimer

Danielle Frimer

Are you a Good Jew or a Bad Jew? A medium Jew? Most of the Hebrew has left the ol’ noodle, and I only sporadically observe the holidays, but I like to think that some of the moral/ethical underpinnings of Judaism have made their way into my value system.

Who are your Jewish influences in the arts or theatre? To name a few…Deb Margolin, Tony Kushner, Tom Stoppard, Jill Soloway.

How does this family dynamic relate to your own life?  I relate to arguing as a way of expressing deep love, and to the familial grappling with questions of religious and cultural identity.

 

Josh Odsess-Rubin

Josh Odsess-Rubin

Josh Odsess-Rubin

Are you a Good Jew or Bad Jew? Definitely in a traditional sense am a “bad Jew” in that I almost never go to temple, I don’t fast when you should fast, or keep kosher or anything. But I like to think I’m an “okay Jew” in that I try to live my life by some key ideas like the golden rule, and Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of healing the world.

How does this family dynamic relate to your own life? I should remain vague to not get into trouble, but echoes of Bad Jews’ plot strongly reverberate on both sides of my family! Luckily, however, I get along very well with all my cousins, and personally have never had a crazy battle of wills like that between Daphna and Liam.

 

Katie Sapper

Katie Sapper

Katie Sapper

Are you a Good Jew or a Bad Jew?  I’m not Jewish but consider myself a “Good Jew” ally.

Who are your Jewish influences in the arts or theatre? I really admire the works of Tony Kushner. The dimension he brings to his characters are so grounded. I think he keeps such a fresh perspective and challenges his audiences. I’m also a big fan of Eve Ensler – her play Necessary Targets has a special place in my heart and I love her call to social justice.

How does this family dynamic relate to your own life?  Any family that deals with losing a loved one encounters those uncomfortable conversations about keepsakes and what tangible reminders are left behind can relate to this story, as well as anyone who’s ever been introduced to a significant other’s family and tries to make a good impression. That underlying tension and desire to be liked is very real.

Tom Zohar

Tom Zohar

Tom Zohar

Are you a Good Jew or Bad Jew? I don’t believe the distinction really exists. Technically some might say I’m a “Bad Jew” because I don’t keep kosher or observe the high holidays, I am not religious and I migrated away from the holy land when I was very young. But I am also a proponent of Jewish culture, I speak proudly on being a Jew and I am proud of my heritage. So who knows?

Who are your Jewish influences in the arts or theatre? Tony Kushner is a big influence, and his work always deals with themes of Jewish culture and heritage. Harvey Fierstein and “Torch Song Trilogy” made an impact on me as a gay Jew. And of course Fiddler on the Roof is a classic.

How does this family dynamic relate to your own life? There is a history of heated, loud and passionate people within my family and I can definitely see them reflected here. Jonah’s attempt to keep the peace while the others fight is something I can relate to within my own role in my family, especially following my parent’s divorce.

Good Jews runs now through Feb. 12, 2017. Buy tickets HERE.