Backstage Blog

Playwright Insight: Diana Burbano

PiP logoPlaywrights in Process: New Play Festival is Cygnet Theatre’s annual festival of readings of new plays presented in collaboration with Playwrights Project. The festival introduces San Diego playgoers to new works by local artists and also offers a series of workshops designed to introduce curious audiences to the art of playwriting. In addition, the three-day festival at the Old Town Theatre includes opportunities for informal forums to meet the playwrights.

With the festival around the corner, we asked our playwrights to tell us how the process is going for them. Here’s playwright Diana Burbano talking about her play, Silueta, with playwrights Tom Shelton and Chris Shelton.

L to R:Diana Burbano, Tom Shelton, Christopher Shelton

L to R:Diana Burbano, Tom Shelton, Christopher Shelton

How has working with theatre artists from Cygnet Theatre and Playwrights Project helped your writing for Playwrights in Process?

They are generous and are deeply invested in helping our play grow. It is rather delicious to feel like we have a whole group of people who are “in” on the story. We are very grateful for the time and brainpower that Jessica Ordon, Katherine Harroff, Derek Charles Livingston, Veronica Burgess and Charles Maze have given to us. It feels hugely collaborative and energizing.

Diana on her inspiration for the play: I was and am dismayed at the lack of interesting roles for women of my age and ethnicity. 

About Silueta: Silueta is a two-person show based on the true story of Ana Mendieta, who fell 34 stories to her death in 1985. Almost three decades later her ghost returns to ask her husband a question for which she needs an answer: Did he push her.

Click here for more insight from Diana on her play and Playwrights in Process. 

See Silueta on Sunday, Nov 9 at 2:00pm.View complete information on workshops and plays:http://www.cygnettheatre.com/connect/playwrights.php

A huge thanks to Festival sponsors Bill and Judy Garrett.

Playwright Insight: Paul-David Halem

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Playwrights in Process: New Play Festival is Cygnet Theatre’s annual festival of readings of new plays presented in collaboration with Playwrights Project. The festival introduces San Diego playgoers to new works by local artists and also offers a series of workshops designed to introduce curious audiences to the art of playwriting. In addition, the three-day festival at the Old Town Theatre includes opportunities for informal forums to meet the playwrights.

With the festival around the corner, we asked our playwrights to tell us how the process is going for them. Here’s playwright Paul-David Halem talking about his play, Mannequins.

Paul-David Halem

Paul-David Halem

How has working with theatre artists from Cygnet Theatre and Playwrights Project helped your writing for Playwrights in Process?  

I have been truly fortunate to have Derek Livingston as both my Director and Dramaturg.  He has read my play no less than 7 times, and each time has offered wonderful suggestions for the rewriting process.  I have a wonderful cast of actors with Jason Heil as the lead who have brought my words to life.  All of the actors also have been helpful with suggestions and comments.  This has been the most nurturing experience I have ever had.   There is no doubt in my mind that “Mannequins” has reached a level that could not have been achieved without their generous help. My heartfelt thanks to Derek Livingston and the wonderful cast he has assembled -  Jason Heil, Whitney Thomas, Cameron Sullivan, and Linda Libby.

On his inspiration for the play:  I’ve often been accused of having a warped sense of humor.  As for my inspiration – it is getting to have my characters have outrageous experiences that I would never get to have in my suburban existence.

About Mannequins: Life is more interesting if it’s not what it seems to be. Fade in on a successful actor trying to read a hot new film script. Phone calls, delusional friends, and a hunky burglar disrupt his plans…as the mannequins watch.

Click here for more insight from Paul-David on his play and Playwrights in Process.

See Mannequins on Sunday, Nov 9 at 7:00pm. View complete information on workshops and plays:http://www.cygnettheatre.com/connect/playwrights.php

A huge thanks to Festival sponsors Bill and Judy Garrett.

Playwright Insight: Thelma Virata de Castro

PiP logoPlaywrights in Process: New Play Festival is Cygnet Theatre’s annual festival of readings of new plays presented in collaboration with Playwrights Project. The festival introduces San Diego playgoers to new works by local artists and also offers a series of workshops designed to introduce curious audiences to the art of playwriting. In addition, the three-day festival at the Old Town Theatre includes opportunities for informal forums to meet the playwrights.

With the festival around the corner, we asked our playwrights to tell us how the process is going for them. Here’s playwright Thelma Virata de Castro talking about her play, Cookies for Prisoners.

Thelma Virata de Castro

Thelma Virata de Castro

How has working with theatre artists from Cygnet Theatre and Playwrights Project helped your writing for Playwrights in Process?

Even the interview process was a learning experience! Producer Derek Livingston asked me questions that focused my rewrites for Cookies for Prisoners. I had a great meeting with Dramaturg Robert May in which we discussed the big question, “What is this play about?” Director D. Candis Paule brought out the central theme of family. We had two table-reads with the actors and it’s been so helpful to hear their voices in my head. Veronica Murphy, Nicolette Shutty, Shuan Tuazon-Martin, Tom Ashworth and Austyn Myers take all the craziness quite seriously. It’s just been fun! Robert has said many times that if playwrights want to get their plays produced, they need to write better plays. Well, receiving support from Playwrights in Process has definitely helped me write a better play.

On her inspiration for the play: My idea for the play was to have characters bake cookies for prisoners, but to have the characters be as guilty as the prisoners themselves.

About Cookies for Prisoners: Margie bakes cookies for prisoners, takes in stray people and advocates for underdogs, but all bets are off when it comes to tolerating her own son. All the characters in this play are hiding horrible secrets in the kookiest ways.

Click here for more insight from Thelma on her play and Playwrights in Process.

See Cookies for Prisoners on Friday, Nov 7 at 8:00pm. View complete information on workshops and plays:http://www.cygnettheatre.com/connect/playwrights.php

A huge thanks to Festival sponsors Bill and Judy Garrett.

Very Superstitious!

With the spirit of Halloween & Dia de los Muertos coming up this weekend, Cygnet would like to share some superstitions to be mindful of during your next visit to the theatre.

1. Hauntings: Ghosts haunt theatres and should be given one night a week alone on the stage.

To keep the ghosts of the theatre subdued, there should be at least one night a week where the theatre is empty, this night is traditionally a Monday night, conveniently giving actors a day off after weekend performances.

At Cygnet Theatre, Monday and Tuesday are when the theatre is dark, so Charlie, our resident ghost, gets an additional day to haunt the theatre. Lucky him!

2. Ghost Light: There should always be a light burning in an empty theatre to ward off ghosts.

wide-ghost-lightConventionally, the light is placed downstage center, illuminating the space when it is not in use. This is to give ghosts like Cygnet’s Charlie enough light so that he can see, which keeps him at bay.

Another practical reason for a ghost light is the backstage area of a theatre tends to be cluttered with props and set pieces, thus someone who enters a completely darkened space is prone to being injured while hunting for a light switch.

It prevents the living from having to cut across the stage in the dark, hurting themselves and contributing to new ghosts for the theatre. It’s also known as the “Equity Light” or “Equity Lamp”.

3. Whistling: It is considered bad luck to whistle on or off stage, as someone (not always the whistler) will be injured.

Before the invention of walkie-talkies or “comms”, the cues for the theatre technicians (usually hired sailors) were coded whistles given by the stage manager. If one was whistling backstage it could call a cue before it’s due, which could have disastrous outcomes.

4. Saying Good Luck: To wish someone ‘Good luck’ before a show is bad luck. 

It is considered bad luck to wish someone “good luck” in a theatre; the expression “break a leg” replaces this phrase. There are many theories on the origin of the term “Break a Leg”.  The most popular? In the days of Vaudeville, companies would book more performers than could possibly make it onstage, but would only pay those who performed. Since the Renaissance, stage curtain legs have been used as part of the masking in proscenium theaters, which remain the most popular style of theater to this day. Thus, to make it on stage, one had to enter the line of sight of the audience or “break a leg”, to be paid.

5. The Scottish Play: Saying the word ‘Macbeth’ inside  a theatre will result in extreme bad luck.

Macbeth

Theatre folk avoid saying the name of this play and only refer to it as ‘The Scottish Play’. If the name is spoken in a theatre, there is a cleansing ritual one can perform to rectify the mistake. The most popular way: the offender is required to leave the theatre building, spit, curse and spin around three times, before begging to be allowed back inside. Other variants include: Reciting a line from another Shakespearean work, brushing oneself off, running around the theatre counter clock-wise, or repeating the name 3 times while tapping their left shoulder.

There are several possible origins for this superstition. One of the most commonly held beliefs is due to the play’s infamous reputation as theatres in debt often produced it and it was used as a last attempt to increase sales, but the theatres normally went bankrupt shortly afterwards.

Other superstitious activities to avoid in the theatre:

  • It is considered bad luck to give flowers to actors BEFORE the show.
  • It is also bad luck to complete a performance of a play without an audience, hence the practice of “invited dress” allowing family & friends to attend the final dress rehearsal. Another way around this is to avoid saying the last line of a play.
  • A company should not practice doing their bows until the final dress rehearsal.
  • Peacock feathers should never be brought on stage. Actors associate this accessory with disasters on stage.
  • Stemming from a concern over theft, real money and real jewelry shouldn’t be used on stage.
  • A bad dress rehearsal means you will have a great opening night.

Speaking of ghosts, catch three very well known ghosts this holiday season with Cygnet’s new original musical, A Christmas Carol.  Perfect for the whole family!

Behind the Scenes of TRUE WEST

We asked director Sean Murray how he and his team created some of the theater magic audiences and critics have been raving about on the set of True West by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard.

Q. The set really gets trashed after True West. Tell us about some of the props and how long it takes to put back together.

TrueWest-495Sean: Kudos go to our awesome stage crew. Jen Kozumplik and Trevor Frank take about an hour to clean it up and it’s especially daunting when we have a second show the same day.

While we’re on props, people have been asking why we chose Miller Lite.  Miller Lite did a reissue of their 1981 label for a retro marketing effort. We are using this period label and are recreating the paper carriers. Assistant Scenic Designer Chad Dellinger created the look of the packaging of the carrier from photos of vintage boxes and we glue the print outs onto regular carriers.

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And of course, the toasters. I believe it’s about sixteen. And we destroy about a typewriter a week.                                                                                Q. We love the moody projections in True West. Tell us about your inspiration and process for creating those backdrops.

Sean: The images in True West are of various shots of LA. They all have tall rows of palm trees in the foregrounds. I began to see these tall trunks as suggestive of some kind of barrier that separated the brothers from the mountains and foothills in the distance. The desert and the foothills are a looming presence in the show, a place where man is more in touch with his more primal self, where the answers to unformed questions lie.

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The characters in True West have a desire to reconnect with the desert that reflects their need to reconnect with what is true and authentic in themselves. There is also the opportunity to reconnect with the Old Man out there, their father, even if it’s only symbolic. The slides all try to convey a disorienting view of the suburban world that is LA and how disconnected it all is to the nature that surrounds it. Mountains obscured by smog, freeways that seem endless, rivers paved over by concrete, these are all the elements of a broken world of false promises and cracked dreams. People scurry about in these environments endlessly pursuing success and purpose, and in Shepard’s world, they are as disconnected as the ‘city coyotes’ that howl and prowl in the neighborhoods killing pets.

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See True West in rep with Fool for Love at Cygnet Theatre.  Now showing through November 2nd.  Purchase tickets at http://www.cygnettheatre.com/tickets/buynow.php

 

 

 

In October We “Fall for Kids”

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Veronica Murphy, Director of Development

Director of Development, Veronica Murphy, talks about our educational focus for the month of October: Fall for Kids, and how you can help. 

Last Fall, through the generosity of Kamaya Jane and Diane Zeps in honor of their Mother Elaine Lipinsky, Cygnet launched a pilot educational program, Engage the Stage, that has proved so successful we are expanding it this year. We are providing opportunities for underserved students to experience live theatre, many for the first time. Programs include:

  • Free Student Matinees & post-show discussions
  • In-Class Theatre Workshops
  • Field Trips with performances, workshops & theatre tours
  • Performances of abridged Shakespeare and other classic literature
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Citrus Valley High School Tour

Developed and coordinated by Cygnet’s Director of Education & Outreach, Taylor Wycoff, these programs meet state and district education standards while allowing students to explore the world of live theatre.

“I had the great privilege to take my English students to see “Gem of the Ocean” WOW! It was a life-changing experience for them. Over 80% of my students experienced live theatre for the first time that day. This would not have been possible without the generous gift of free tickets.”  

-Teacher, Southwest High School

“It was really good, and the actors did an amazing job. This was the first play I’ve seen, and I’m determined to come back and watch another play.”  

-Student, Preuss School

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Behind-the-Scenes Tour

Make your donation today!

If you would like more information about engaging students you know, please contact taylor@cygnettheatre.com

If you would like to make a contribution to provide student tickets or otherwise support this important work, please contact veronica@cygnettheatre.com. We have a $15,000 matching gift opportunity for this program that will double the impact of your donation.

 

 

Sitting down with the Director

Artistic Director Sean Murray shares his thoughts on our upcoming Sam Shepard shows – Fool for Love & True West

Cygnet is continuing it’s tradition of plays performed in rotating repertory.  What’s different about this rep? 

This season we are focusing exclusively on the work of a single playwright. Each play stands on its own and you don’t need to see one to appreciate the other. However, when you are able to experience these two different plays side-by-side, one begins to recognize common themes between them.  Both plays explore a crisis of identity and betrayal. Characters in both shows experience an existential soul searching and a feeling that their lives are inauthentic. They also are pretty funny people as they grapple with essential issues such as disconnection, empty searching and a deep sense of betrayal.

Sean Murray directs Fool for Love

Sean Murray directs Fool for Love

When did you first become aware of Sam Shepard’s work?

I first became aware of Shepard’s work in the early 80s when I worked as an actor for the San Diego Repertory Theatre. At an early age, I was cast as Crow, the punk-rock-pirate from The Tooth of Crime. I worked there when they presented the San Diego premieres of True West and Fool for Love, again in the early 80s. Additionally, while I was in school at the North Carolina School of the Arts, I played Weston in Curse of the Starving Class, a show I later produced at Cygnet Theatre.

What are the challenges you face when staging True West?

Biting keys FFL

The set of True West

On a purely technical level, the script has the two brothers literally destroy the suburban kitchen that is the set. We have fifteen toasters, that all have to make real toast, a typewriter that is literally pounded into pulp by a golf club wielding character, the contents of kitchen cabinets thrown across the floor, a wall-phone that become a weapon after it is torn from the wall! The actual aftermath of all of this chaos has to be carefully considered.

The acting challenges are also vast. Each character goes on an existential journey from the quiet, tension-filled first scene to the all out chaotic war of the final scene. Pacing this progression is important. Finding the way into the levels of envy, threat and betrayal that these characters must portray is a frightening and exciting process for the actors.

May Eddie FFL

May and Eddie – Fool for Love

Fool for Love is both arduous and physically challenging. What’s your take on this play?

The biggest challenge we’ve experienced in getting into the depths of Fool for Love has been in determining what is true and what isn’t. The characters accuse each other of lying throughout the play. There is a layering in this play that conceals the actual truth that they are running from. Like Austin in True West, May is attempting to recreate herself anew. She is trying to escape what she was and forge a new self. The sudden reappearance of Eddie, like the reappearance of Lee in True West, forces a confrontation between one who wants to hold the other to who they have been, and the other who is trying to break with their past. As we explore what is actually happening between these characters, and we continue to raise their stakes in the play, that informs the level and veracity of the physical actions.

Can you share some of your thoughts about deciding to take on these plays? 

These two particular plays are rooted in a sort of realism. I say “sort of” because on the surface they take place in a kitchen or a motel. There are real props, etc. The character dialogue sounds like a realistic conversation on the surface. However, there is a very strong poetic quality to the language and imagery. Finding actors who can develop these characters to the marrow and handle the heightened poetic language is not always easy. In addition, when you are trying to cast actors who have to also be ‘right’ for not just one role but two different roles, this adds a new challenge.

Don’t miss Fool for Love and True West Sept. 24 – Nov.2.  

Buy your tickets now!

7 Things to Know: Fool for Love & True West

As part of our goal to help you understand the thought-provoking work of American playwright and icon Sam Shepard, we’ve put together 7 things you should know about Fool for Love and True West.  If you don’t already, follow us on Facebook for daily “fun facts” about Sam Shepard, the plays, as well as behind-the-scenes info and pictures. 

3 things worth knowing about Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love:
-First performed at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco on February 8th 1983 with Kathy Baker as May and Ed Harris as Eddie.
-It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984.
-The play was turned into a movie in 1985, for which Sam Shepard also wrote the screenplay and starred as Eddie opposite Kim Basinger as May.

4 things worth knowing about Sam Shepard’s True West:
-First performed at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco on July 10, 1980.
-It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983.
-It was nominated in 2000 for the Tony Award for Best Play.
-The play was turned into a made-for-TV-movie in 2002, which starred Bruce Willis and Chad Smith.

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Kathy Baker/Ed Harris in Fool For Love (1984) – Bruce Willis/Chad Smith in True West (2002)

“Shep Rep” Survival Guide

Here at Cygnet Theatre, we affectionately call our next two shows, Fool for Love & True West, by Sam Shepard the “ShepRep”. Our dramaturg, Taylor Wycoff, is here to help you prepare for your upcoming visit to our theatre with a bit of insight into what exactly this whole ShepRep thing is…

What does “in repertory” mean?

When a theatre company says that they are producing two or more production “in repertory” it simply means that they are presenting several plays from their repertoire, usually in alternation or rotation. This can take on a variety of forms – for us it means we are presenting two related plays that alternate every night.

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“The themes of family and the American Dream are universal, but few writers attack them so dramatically and brilliantly as Shepard.”

- Sean Murray, Artistic Director

 

What is the benefit of doing two shows in rep?

The idea behind the repertory part of our season is to give the audience the opportunity to see two related shows back-to-back, enhancing the experience of the plays and understanding of the themes. Last year we gave you two very different shows that shared some of the same characters, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and the subsequently inspired Travesties by Tom Stoppard. This year we are excited to again share two very different shows that this time share the same playwright, Sam Shepard

Why these plays?

Sam Shepard is often cited as one of the greatest American playwrights, along with likes of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill. His plays tend to explore themes of love, loss and dysfunctional family life and are often set in gritty small towns and the open spaces of the American West. Other than that, Shepard’s plays are difficult to categorize except for the fact that they blend unanticipated humor and beauty with brutal honesty and painful relationships. In selecting these two plays, Cygnet’s Artist Director, Sean Murray, wanted to give the audience two very distinct lenses through which to view Sam Shepard and his work. That being said and despite one show being about two brothers and the other about two lovers, having the opportunity to see both productions in such proximity will help you find those connections, providing for a much more involved and exciting theatre experience!

 

Lovable & Lighthearted…Miss West Coast

Moving from from East to West, our next Pageant the Musical feature shines the spotlight on Luke Harvey Jacobs, who plays Miss West Coast, the Miss Glamouresse contestant who represents our region!

What makes your character a winner?

Karma Quinn is a winner because she is the quintessence of a wholesome, All-American girl. She is incapable of devising an ulterior motive, so the audience naturally wants to like and trust her.

How did you prepare for this show?

I’ve always been fascinated by the pageant world, so in preparation, I boned up on my Miss America YouTube research, binge-watched pageant film classics like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Smile, and shaved my chest.

What did you learn about beauty pageants that you didn’t know before?

The new knowledge is unending! My favorite pageant technique I’ve learned is to blink every time you change your focus when looking into the house. Little specifics like these are meant to convey a naturalness that is so calculated! It’s fascinating!

 What will you never do on stage?

Forget my lines. (Purely a self-fulfilling prophecy)

 Do you have a role model?

My role models are people who don’t take themselves too seriously and execute their day-to-day goings-on with grace, humor, passion, and compassion.

What inspired you to be an actor?

It was a total ineptitude at sports when I was very young. My parents didn’t know what else to do with me and a neighbor suggested theatre. I’ve been hooked since day one.

What is your favorite part of a show?

Honestly, I love every moment of being in a show. For better or for worse, great production or “meh” production… From first read through to closing show, I love it all.

What is your favorite part about working at Cygnet Theatre?

I feel incredibly supported at Cygnet. The caliber of artists they’ve hired for this production is astounding. I know I go to work every day surrounded by talent from top to bottom, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

 Anything else to add?

PLEASE enjoy the show and ignore the five o’clock shadows.

Mock pageant question:

 If you were given the opportunity to reach every single American girl, what message would you give?

I would remind each girl in the American United States that before you reach for the stars, make sure to stretch your body thoroughly. Seventy-five percent of athletic injuries occur due to not warming up enough, and the other 30% occur from not warming up at all!