Backstage Blog

The Set Design of Cabaret: Part 2

You Just Can’t Cheat!

What can I say about executing a set at the Theatre in Old Town? It’s not your everyday scene shop. As I pull up to the parking lot next to the theatre, I find myself peering over the rustic fence at the lumber racks, sawhorses, and various bits of flats from old productions. This is the shop, where the thermostat seems to vary as much as San Diego weather, and the paint takes eons to dry on a damp day, or dries too quickly in the hot sun. And the rain is a constant threat that can set us back days at a time!

The talented team of carpenters under Technical Director Andy Scrimger use the yard behind the theatre to pre-build our scenery in parts. It’s a tricky planning process, due to a few approaches we use on our sets, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Andy began working with Cygnet in 2009, and has consistently been one to balance the needs of the budget with the demands of quality. Any technical director would tell you this is not an easy task. These days, we work together to implement strategies towards putting up a set by being very frugal, and as a byproduct (and a constant goal) using green, sustainable methods of creating scenery. Continue reading

The Set Design of Cabaret: Part 1

Cabaret as an Alcoholic Beverage

Last year, Sean Murray asked me to work with him on Sweeney Todd.  It was our seventh production together.  Working with Sean and co-director James Vasquez was

possibly the most freeing experience that can be asked of a designer for a musical theatre setting: we threw out all preconceived notions of the staging, we started from scratch and found our own voices in the piece.

And I discovered that doing a musical on a thrust stage means that, despite the amount of decorative flourishes I may apply to a setting, my eye always becomes inexorably riveted to the performer.  Out there on that thrust surrounded on three sides by a rapt audience, and commanding a story.  In one breathless moment, I can forget about everything I’ve been hired or trained to do as a designer, as I sit back and watch energy flow. Continue reading

Meet Stephen Metcalfe

In January 2011, Cygnet Theatre will have the honor of producing its very first World Premiere – The Tragedy of the Commons, by celebrity playwright Stephen Metcalfe.

Stephen Metcalfe, a nationally renowned stage writer, is possibly most recognized for such Hollywood blockbusters as Pretty Woman (with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere) and Mr. Holland’s Opus (with Richard Dreyfuss).

CT: Did you start out writing for film?

SM: I started out as a playwright. Between 1978 and 1985 I wrote five full length plays and perhaps half a dozen one act plays. Even though all the work was produced, I was in no way, shape or form making a living from it. At one point I thought it might be a relief to go into advertising.

CT: What are some of the differences between writing for film versus the stage?

SM: I discovered early on how difficult plot can be. In the theatre, plot is an excuse for people to talk. In a movie, it’s a reason for them to blow things up. Here’s another difference. If a play is a house, others can decorate, but they can’t tear down the walls. It’s yours, you own it.  If a screenplay is a house, people can tear it down to the foundation, dig a deep hole and throw away the key. They own it. (This doesn’t mean that sometimes you don’t get the credit – or blame – for what they did.)

In the theatre no one is asking you to be a playwright – in fact, if pressed, they’d probably tell you to go into advertising – but if you write a play, they’ll read it.  In film, no one reads anything. But if they hear you’ve done something that’s pretty good, they’ll pay you to do something else.

CT: What impact did your success with Pretty Woman have on your career as a writer?

SM: For better or for worse, in 1991 I wrote the production draft of the screenplay for Pretty Woman. And so for the next ten years the phone rang pretty much on a weekly basis with someone – who, as mentioned, had usually never read my work – asking me to re-write a romantic comedy. The problem was I didn’t consider myself a writer of romantic comedies. But as I was trying to do silly things like pay a mortgage and raise a family, as often as not I’d take the job. But in between re-writing romantic comedies I continued to write my own screenplays on spec. This, to some extent, took the place of my writing for the theatre. It felt the same. My own screenplays I hoped/felt were character and dialogue driven and were emotionally grounded; they felt to me as if they were about real things. Of course, they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting made.

CT: What prompted you to begin writing for the stage again?

SM: In 2005 I had a growing realization that though I’ve made a living as writer, the best work I’ve done is probably sitting on shelves in LA somewhere. Did I mention that a dramatist writes for actors and an audience? The writing is not the end unto itself, seeing it done is. And so, with this in mind, the desire to see work done, I find myself writing plays again. I have no fantasies I’ll make a living doing it but that’s okay. I’m also going into advertising.

How I Conquered Norman…
(One Woman’s Journey into an Oversized T-Shirt.)

I’ll admit it…When it comes to fashion; I’m a girly-girl.   Almost everyone who knows me has ultimately asked me if I OWN a shoe without a heel.  Skirts and sundresses are my summer uniform and a day without earrings is a day spent tugging naked earlobes.   So my brown “i conquered norman” t-shirt was something of an anomaly to me on the morning of Cygnet’s THE NORMAN CONQUESTS All-Day Opening Extravaganza. Three full-length plays taken-in with a theatre full of audience members I’d known or met through the years and nary a piece of clothing in my closet to match that ringspun cotton crew-neck.

Noon-time found me anxiously awaiting the first CONQUEST of the day…Round and Round the Garden. I admire every one of those gorgeous actors, (not to mention both of the gifted directors and all of the amazing designers and crew) and I am an Alan Ayckbourn fanatic.  There was so much talent ready to bring the story of the “quirky assistant librarian” and his “oddball in-laws” to life.  I tapped my foot nervously – my foot, donned in a suede knee-high boot picked to match my jeans, jewel-encrusted belt and a thin-belted, rich red sweater…  (My Norman t-shirt peeked out in protest.)   Well, at least our new Cygnet logo was visible.  It matched my sweater perfectly.  And I WAS wearing the t-shirt…my show-support evident, if anyone was inclined to check. Continue reading

Straight from the horse’s mouth

One of the questions we often get about The Norman Conquests is regarding the order in which the plays should be seen.  Up until this point, we have said that part of the beauty of the trilogy is that it doesn’t really matter what order you see them in.  All three plays stand on completely on their own, and since they are all set during the same weekend, the order they are viewed in doesn’t matter.

I have recently, however, discovered an article from Alan Ayckbourn himself, in which he explains in his own words the order in which you should see them for best viewing pleasure. The article was taken from The Ayckbourn Guides which were compiled by Simon Murgatroyd.

Enjoy!

Alan Ayckbourn Explains…

If you are in the process of reading this Programme, the chances are that you are already about to see, are in the midst of seeing, or have already seen, at least one of the plays that form The Norman Conquests. In which case, this advice is not for you. Do not read on.

For those who have seen none of the plays but may be wishing to do so, it is hoped that the following notes may prove useful.

The first thing to remember is, understandably, don’t see Table Manners first. This will give you a wrong time sequence and will only confuse you when you come to see, say, Living Together which, incidentally, you are strongly advised not to see second. Ideally, Round and Round the Garden should not be seen before you have seen Table Manners – but do not, on the other hand, fall into that old trap of seeing Round and Round the Garden after Living Together as this again will confuse the sequences of dramatic events. Do not see Living Together first as this will severely curtail a lot of the pleasure you gain from seeing Table Manners for the first time which latter play, for maximum enjoyment you should try and save till the end.

In short, do try and see all three plays first, or, if you really can’t manage this, last. This way you will avoid any disappointment. Like most things in this world, there is a logical progression i.e. Parts 1, 3 and finally, of course, 2.

I certainly hope this helped to clear things up.  If not, contact the box office, and they will be more than happy to assist you in scheduling all three plays first (or last, if that is your preference).

Cygnet’s 8th Season!

We are delighted to announce our 2010/2011 line-up. Our eighth season will offer productions ranging from a world renowned classic to a world premiere and kicking it all off will be something never before done at Cygnet Theatre – a trilogy of connected plays performed in repertory!

To start the season, we will revisit the works of Alan Ayckbourn, author of our immensely popular production of Communicating Doors. This time instead of traveling through time, we will visit the same time as seen in three different rooms, all of which get their own play! The Norman Conquests – which includes Table Manners, Round and Round the Garden and Living Together – revolve around Norman a charming library assistant, and the women in his life. Each play stands on its own, however, the fun is in seeing the entire trilogy as each play reveals unique secrets, surprising answers and loads of laughs. Directed by Artistic Director Sean Murray and Francis Gercke, The Norman Conquests will run in rep with the same six actors from July 28th through November 2nd, 2010.

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