Backstage Blog

Spicy and Sassy…Miss Industrial Northeast

Up next for the  Pageant the Musical contestant feature is Max Cadillac who portrays the vivacious Miss Industrial Northeast, Cosuela Manuela Rafaella Lopez. 

What makes your character a winner?

Consuela is bright and bouncy with a big personality and even bigger smile. She’s “living la vida loca” and loco for her loving family and friends!Miss INE

How did you prepare for this show?

Besides twirling and dancing around my living room since birth, I’ve been researching and talking to pageant friends, as well as watching pageant movies like Miss Congeniality and Drop Dead Gorgeous.

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

I learned how hard it is to wear and change jewelry and accessories so often and so quickly. There are so many times where I needed to wear diamond rings, earrings, or bracelets. Luckily, most of the fashion jewelry was inexpensive so I didn’t have to worry so much about being careful with the pieces. I even remember a time when I wore these cheap gold chains with a diamond pendant hanging and I was expected to take them off and change it with another piece of hip hop jewelry in 15 seconds!

What will you never do on stage?

I will probably never play the king in The King and I, but one can dream.

Do you have a role model?

My role models for this show are Sofia Vergara, Cindy Crawford, and Bianca Del Rio.

What inspired you to be an actor?

My biggest inspiration came from seeing my first show on Broadway when I was 5.

What is your favorite part of a show?

This whole show is my favorite, but I must say strutting down the runway in a bathing suit really makes my night!

What is your favorite part about working at Cygnet Theatre?

Cygnet is such a fun and intimate theatre space, I love getting to really engage with our audience.

 

Happiness, Defined.

Greg Watanabe & Jo Anne Glover in Maple and Vine. Photo by Daren Scott

Greg Watanabe & Jo Anne Glover in Maple and Vine. Photo by Daren Scott

One of the joys of being a dramaturg is the simple task of discussing the core of whatever script you happen to be working on with anyone and everyone who is willing to engage you in conversation.  A few weeks ago I had the privilege of talking with our teaching artist for Maple and Vine, Tim West, while he presented his lesson plans to me as part of our Engaging the Stage workshop series.  As a fellow passionate history buff and seasoned theatre artist, he and I delighted in geeking out over the many social issues threaded throughout the script.

In many ways, Maple and Vine is a dramaturg’s dream.  It is rich in historical content, touching on everything from the most popular car model in 1955 to gender roles and social attitudes towards various minority groups.  I got to look up the most popular ring tone in 2011, what Sanka was (or is, given that it is still currently sold in stores), and when spray paint was invented.  I had to research the history of the LGBT rights movement and post-WWII attitudes towards Japanese-Americans.  I learned that the year Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama was the same year the McDonalds Corporation was founded, two dogs slurped a spaghetti noodle and ended up smooching, and the happiest place on earth opened for business.

Now as much as I enjoyed this work, deep down I knew… that’s not what this play is about.  Not REALLY.  It’s all essential information for making sense of the world in which this story takes place, sure.  And one of the key functions of a dramaturg is ensuring the accuracy and dependability of the world in which the characters exist.  But is the play about glamorizing the role of the 1950’s housewife over the 21st century powerhouse corporate woman?  Is it about the wrongful treatment of Japanese-Americans during and after WWII, or the struggles of being a homosexual man during a time when loving someone of the same sex was widely considered a psychological disease?  No.  At least not in my opinion.

What is happiness and how do you define it?  What would you sacrifice for happiness?  What does it mean to live life authentically?  These are the questions at the heart of Jordan Harrison’s thought-provoking play.  Maple and Vine strategically presents the downfalls of 21st century living right alongside the positives of life in 1955, forcing us to question whether or not we really are happier in this age of progressiveness and convenience.  And as our director, Igor Goldin, states in his program notes, “Everyone will have their own opinion which will be informed by their own histories, but with every answer will come a contradiction… As in life, nothing is black and white.  Life is messy and untidy.  There are no easy answers, nor does Mr. Harrison try to create any.  He just presents the hypothetical and leaves the rest for us to debate.”

So won’t you join us on Sunday, February 9th after the 7:00pm performance of Maple and Vine for what is sure to be an engaging talkback on the matter of happiness?  We are pleased to welcome back Dr. Edith Frampton, professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.  Joining her in leading the talk will be SDSU colleague Dr. Peter Herman. You can purchase tickets here.  See you there!

Bringing back the 50s with director Igor Goldin

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, last month we were able to Skype with Maple and Vine director Igor Goldin from his New York apartment where he was working on a new musical. He provided some very interesting insights about the process of bringing the new comedy to the Cygnet Theatre stage. Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison, runs January 16 through February 16.

CT: This is your first time directing at Cygnet Theatre. How did you get connected?

DSC_0221

Igor Goldin and Sean Murray

I was in San Diego directing for Diversionary Theatre and had a chance to see several productions and fell in love with Cygnet. I saw Cabaret and It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play and loved the creativity and specificity in which they were performed and directed.  I also had seen a Caryl Churchill play produced years ago at the Rolando Stage, A Number, and was extremely impressed with the texture and gray areas in the piece and how it didn’t spoon feed the audience, but trusted them to come up with their own answers. Sean [Murray] and I went to North Carolina School of the Arts together. He saw my production of Yank! and thought of me when they put Maple and Vine on the season. We had both wanted to work with each other for some time so I’m thrilled that it worked out with Maple and Vine.

CT: Maple and Vine is about a modern day couple who choose to leave the big city and move to a gated community where the residents live like it’s 1955. How will you present these opposing settings?

Set Model by Sean Fanning

Set Model by Sean Fanning

I’ve been skyping with set director Sean Fanning and we are both excited about the addition of a turntable to the Cygnet stage. The structure of the play is very episodic with short scenes involving quick scenic, costume and lighting changes.  The turntable provides an opportunity to shift eras and locations quickly and keep the show fluid. It’s a dark comedy that deals with important social issues and I’m certain audiences will debate them after the show, but during the performance, it’s important to keep things moving, with each scene flowing seamlessly into the next.

CT: What about the look and feel? How are you working with designers to create both eras?

We are limited by the resources and economy of a nonprofit theater, but that is a challenge I rather enjoy. I’d much rather solve problems creatively within constraints than have a bloated budget and throw everything at the audience. We’ll be working with simple iconic set pieces that are clearly grounded in the era they represent. In fact, the concept of limited resources is one that resonates within the play because going back to the 50s means we don’t have everything at our fingertips as we do today

Costumerendering3gray_crop

Preliminary costume design by Jeanne Reith

I’m also working with costume designer Jeanne Reith to capture the quality and specificity of each era. The 1950’s Ozzie and Harriet/Leave it to Beaver look has a warm and cozy feel, while the urban sleek style of today’s New York has a totally different feel. We’ll also be working with a variety of rigging solutions for quick changes. The lighting and scenery will define the 2 eras with a sleek, angular, urban starkness for 2011 to a saturated, warmer and softer look for 1955.

CT: The comedy looks at attitudes about gender, race and sexuality. What is it “really” about for you?

It’s a light but penetrating comedy that explores what happens when we are stripped of the liberties of this world and forced to live within the narrow social structure of 1955. In the 50s there is a veneer of contentment that cloaks what’s lurking underneath. It’s about what we are hoping to reclaim within ourselves by living in a world with less freedom and equality, what we are willing to walk away from and what we lose and gain through the process. It about what it means to live your life authentically.

CT: What would you miss most if you had to return to the 1950?

My freedom as a gay man.

CT: What would you miss the least?

The constant bombardment of information and the false sense of connectivity and accessibility that we get with our hand held devices and social media.

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).

I’ve been Advocated!

Jason HeilWhen Sean Murray offered me a part in Noises Off, he didn’t have to go very far – he just strolled the ten feet from his office to the “Development Suite”, as we affectionately call the corner office that houses Development Director Veronica Murphy and myself. I casually accepted and continued working on my grant proposal, while internally turning cartwheels!

I’ve been a part of the Cygnet team for over a year and a half, but this will be my first time appearing on the Cygnet stage, and I’m honored to be joining such an amazing cast in a production helmed by Sean. As Veronica’s part-time right hand, my workload typically consists of assisting with processing donations, grant writing, donor appreciations, special events, and of course, making our morning coffee! For the past few years, when my Cygnet day has ended, I drove off to theatres in Coronado, San Diego, Solana Beach, and Vista to do my acting and directing work. Now my commute consists of walking to the rehearsal space in the back of our offices!

Several times a year, Cygnet sends out various mailings. When we do, we send out a call to volunteers, I make some extra coffee, and we have a great time folding letters, stuffing envelopes, and adding labels and stamps. (Quick plug, we will be doing a mailing this week and need volunteers on Wednesday, June 10 from 9:30am-1pm – contact me at jason@cygnettheatre.com if you want to join us!). It’s always a fun time chatting about theatre with board members, donors and other people who just want to help Cygnet out.

Recently, I came into work to find out that I had been Advocated! One of those volunteers (with whom I had debated the pros and cons of San Diego, New York and London theatre) had chosen to sponsor me through Cygnet’s Artist Advocate program. Thanks, Marilyn!

Jason Heil (right) with Judith Harris and Bill Schmidt

Jason Heil (right) with Judith Harris and Bill Schmidt

This program allows donors to direct their donations to an artist of their choice (actors, directors, designers and stage managers). All monies go directly toward the artist’s salary. Since its inception, Cygnet has made paying a competitive wage to artists a priority. This is made possible through the support of our donors!

As I write this, we are nearing the end of our second week of rehearsals. We’re at that bumpy stage where we’re still trying to remember all of the lines; where we’re juggling plates of sardines, slamming doors that aren’t there yet, pretending to run up and down stairs that are really taped squares on the floor, all the while trying to create real people who are experiencing real chaos. It’s maddening, frustrating, overwhelming. In other words, it’s theatre! And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

So, a big thank you to Arthur & Marilyn Neumann, who helped make it possible for me to be a part of this wonderful production. And thank you to ALL of the Advocates who are sponsoring artists, casts, and even productions. In the Development Suite, we are always looking for new and fresh ways to thank people. Sometimes, the simplest can be the best: We could not do this without your support. Thank you.

Postage Stamp Style

Jessica JohnMy mother is an art teacher. She’s been teaching since I was 13 years old. She used to tell me that she was surprised to find she never ran out of new ideas for lessons.  She always thought the day would come when she’d need a lesson on Van Gogh or Matisse and…nothing… No ideas. Blank slate.  But that day never came. She said that was the beauty of art and creativity. It’s endless.

On costuming modern day shows… Sean Murray seems to think I have a pretty good eye for dressing people in current fashions and has honored me with the title of costume designer for three Cygnet shows – all taking place in present day. But the innate difficulty of costuming a show that doesn’t depend on a historical time period for colorful expressions of the day is that – if you do it well – it will very often go unnoticed. And let’s face it… no artist (ofJack Missett any sort) wants their work to go unrecognized.

To deal with this, I approach each show with a secret concept…something I’m pretty sure the audience won’t pick up on but satisfies me none-the-less. In Dying City I allowed the Iraq War to exist, not only as the background for the play, but on the stage within the costumes; the war between the characters playing themselves out in Peter and Craig’s all-American dress and Kelly’s subtly Middle Eastern-feeling fabrics, colors and jewelry. In Love Song, Beane requests “a rainbow” as a birthday gift, and upon his discovery of his new love Molly, the grays in the costumes dissipated into brilliant hues – even and especially in Joan and Harry’s apartment.

Manny FernandesSo when it came time to costume Mauritius, I began my musings for my special secret concept. I read the play. I read it four more times… Nothing. I went on-line and perused everything I could find about stamp-collecting, looking for the hook. Zippo. I thought about my mother. Where was that endless creativity?  Maybe there was an artistic limit.  Apparently my max for Cygnet was two shows.  The gig was up.

Finally…I admit it… I went on-line to look at the Broadway production photos. Then, other production photos. I felt uninspired. They were all the same. Dennis donned in a sleazy leather jacket. Jackie attired in the Sandy Campbell and Jessica John. Photo by Daren Scott.apparently requisite jeans and a hoodie. Mary bequeathed with the unflattering matronly threads of a spinster. Where was the whimsy? Worse… Why the stereo-types? This was a play submersed in cons and trickery, after all.

My inspiration came mid-conversation. Anytime I mentioned Mauritius to a friend, their response was the same. “Stamp collecting? Does anyone even do that anymore?” They imagined a production rife with antiquated lessons on the creation of the postal system. The delightful irony of the Quentin Tarentino-esque ride our audiences will take amused me. But then, there it was! These characters ARE submersed in a world of vintage collections. They are the world’s most obsessed tiny-art collectors. They LOVE the beauty of a bygone era. And they are suckers for the most intimate details.

John DeCarloI began my search for modern-day clothes with a vintage-feel. Aside from Jackie, who discovers the crazy under-belly trade as the play progresses, the other characters seemed to naturally slip into each vest, tie, spectator shoe and hat; their love for classical elegance expanding into their fashion and limited only by the size of their billfolds. And, as luck would have it, the gorgeous cast of actors embraced and enhanced each handkerchief and glove with a modern-day spin. Sandy Campbell can wear a hat and Jackie-O sunglasses like no-one’s business and Manny Fernandes seems born to wear tailored suits and luxurious watches. John DeCarlo’s natural charm and humor lends itself to the feather in his hat and I’m quite certain that Jack Misset wore a bow-tie in another life.

I love art. I love theatre. And I love my mom. As is often the case, she was right.

Mauritius; Scary, Funny and Suspenseful

Yesterday was our first preview for Mauritius. It’s always exciting for me when we open a new production but I especially get excited when the audience really get’s into a show. Last night was no exception. There was plenty of gasping and nervous laughter, just what you hope for with a suspenseful thriller.

All of us at Cygnet were pretty excited to assemble such a great cast.  Three of the principal characters in Mauritius worked together previously in our 2007 production of Communicating DoorsCommunicating Doors was such a fun production and these actors have a wonderful chemistry together.  Manny Fernandes once again plays the guy everyone is afraid of, and Sandy Campbell and Jessica John play the eccentric half sisters.  Rounding out the cast is John DeCarlo, last seen in Cygnet’s production of Bug and Jack Missett from Cygnet’s Curse of the Starving Class of a few years back.  The characters in Mauritius are pretty quirky and the actors have tapped into their characters perfectly.  I think the actors are going to have a lot of fun with this one.

The production is staged by Cygnet Associate Artistic Director, Fran Gercke.  Fran gets great support from the spot-on design team of Jessica John (yes, she’s also doing the costumes), Eric Lotze (lighting), Matt Lescault-Wood (sound), Bonnie Durben (props) and Sean Fanning (set).  I do love it when all of the components come together so nicely and click.  I just can’t wait for the theatre goers to come out and see  it for themselves.

Mauritius is a San Diego premiere and one of the newest plays by Theresa Rebeck, one of Broadway’s hottest playwrights.  We’re so excited to have been able to secure the rights to this one.   Mauritius runs at the Cygnet Rolando stage through May 10th.

Lights! Sound! Pancakes!

It’s Saturday morning and we are getting ready to begin technical rehearsals for Mauritius.  Technical rehearsals can be exhilarating, because you finally get to see all of the elements start coming together.  The lights and sound are added. The finishing touches are put on the costumes and the set.  And while the twenty or so hours can make for a grueling couple of days of “hurry up and wait,” it is always amazing to come out of it on the other side and see the huge leaps the production has taken towards being a final product.

At Cygnet, tech means it’s time for a couple of traditions.  The oldest being the magic of watching Eric Lotze work his wizardry on the light board.  Eric has been designing lights for Cygnet since the very beginning, and I’ve never seen any designer who can manipulate the lights as fast as he can.  With his eyes darting across the ceiling from one light to the next, his fingers fly across the light board’s buttons.  It always reminds me of those accountants in old movies with their sleeves rolled up, visor pulled down, a stogie firmly planted firmly in one corner of their mouth, their right hand a blur producing a steady and rapid clicking from the keys.  I swear I’m always waiting for his left hand to reach out and pull the lever.  There’s no doubt why he has won several awards.  His designs always add another level of dimension to the production.

Matt Lescault-Wood, is doing the sound design.  Matt has done several designs for Cygnet this season, including the fantastic collection of 80′s music that was on display during The History Boys, but this will be my first experience watching him work.  What I’ve heard of the sound design so far, it is going to be jazzy, hip and cool. It’s always great fun to hear a musical representation of your character and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has for my sadistic stamp collector.

The other tradition, which just began this season, is a pancake breakfast to kick off the technical rehearsals.  It’s really nice to have a few moments before we delve into the work for the designers, cast and crew to come together like a family and share a meal.  Plus feeding theatre folk is always a good idea.  Of course the success of this breakfast may rest on my culinary skills.  Somehow I was designated the flapjack flipper for this production.  Oh, the pressure.  I hope I don’t burn them.

Announcing our 2009/2010 Season

Bill and I are really excited to be able to finally announce the slate of plays selected for our 2009/2010 Season.  It takes a very long time to assemble a good variety of stories that we think fit our mission and that you might want to see and we think we might just have done it! Our seventh season is a line up of productions celebrating an eclectic series about strong individuals in extreme situations. With the exception of a revival musical which will play at Rolando, the entire season will be presented at our new home, the recently renovated Old Town Theatre. Therefore, we are saying a sad goodbye to the Rolando Theatre we have called home since 2003.

Our ‘swan song’ at the Rolando Theatre will brings the return of the show that started it all, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with book and lyrics by John Cameron Mitchell and music by Stephen Trask.  Hedwig announced our beginnings as a company and after 40 shows, she’s bringing us full circle in our Rolando space! The story of a wannabe rock headliner and her search for identity, love and her “other half” will be directed by James Vasquez and feature Jenn Grinels as Yitzhak.  Filled with comedy, camp and serious rock and roll, Hedwig will touch your heart and ears!

The 09/10 season officially begins with the wildly funny Noises Off, by Michael Frayn (Copenhagen).  I am already working on the casting for this Tony-Award winning play about a motley and disorganized theatre company attempting, against all odds, to rehearse and perform their own production of a slamming-door farce called Nothing On.

In September, we will present the San Diego Premiere of Man from Nebraska by Tony-Award and Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Letts (August: Osage County, Bug).  It’s the tale of an ordinary middle-aged man on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery.  The production will be helmed by Associate Artistic Director Francis Gercke (Mauritius, Curse of the Starving Class).

For the holidays we bring the return of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, adapted by Joe Landry.  Our audiences demanded that this show return and we listened!  As one subscriber noted: “There are several Scrooge’s in San Diego, but only one George Bailey!”  Tom Andrew returns with his award-winning performance as George Bailey, and the brilliant Scott Paulson will once again reign over Bedford Falls with his old-fashioned Foley sound effects ‘orchestra’.  This year the cast of the fictitious “WCYG Theatre of the Air” will take over the Old Town stage as they recreate the classic story in a “live” 1940’s radio broadcast filled with music and the beloved characters from the film.  In it’s fourth year, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is quickly becoming a San Diego tradition.

2010 will kick off with The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (Fences). We are bringing back several of the artists that made our production of Fences so amazing and powerful. The Piano Lesson will be directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg (San Diego Critic’s Circle Award Best Director for Fences) and star Mark Christopher Lawrence from NBC’s “Chuck” and our very own Fences, Monique Gaffney (San Diego Critic’s Circle Award Lead Actor, Yellowman) and Antonio TJ Johnson (San Diego Critic’s Circle Award Lead Actor, Fences). August Wilson won his second Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson, his fifth play in the “Pittsburgh Cycle”.  The story of a brother and sister in a war over the fate of a family heirloom, a unique, one-of-a-kind piano carved with the images of the history of their family.  It’s a spiritual, funny, moving and beautiful story of family, ambition, and tradition. 

The Piano Lesson will be followed in the spring by a musical.  I’m still working on rights and availability, but I do have my sights set on a couple of different shows, and any way you slice it, either of them will surely delight fans of musical theatre.

We wrap up the season with the classic comedy of style, Private Lives by Noël Coward.  Still considered one of the most flippant and witty plays ever written. I plan on being in this production, playing Elyot Chase and look forward to diving into the elegant Coward world of moonlit balconies over bone-dry martinis. Private Lives will be directed by James Vasquez, who choreographed A Little Night Music.

It will be a fun and interesting year, that’s for sure. I’m really looking forward to it.