Backstage Blog

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.


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).

Sweeney Todd Music Rehearsals

We celebrated the opening of Sweeney Todd last night.  The performers were all outstanding, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.  Afterwards we enjoyed a wonderful post show party hosted by gracious folks at Casa Guadalajara.

Over the past couple of weeks I have caught glimpses of the show in rehearsals, and watched as the entire collection of artists, one of the largest we’ve ever assembled at Cygnet, have come together to create an exciting evening of theatre.  During that time I managed to also capture some video of the rehearsals, including the first time the cast and band rehearsed together, and the first rehearsals on the completed stage.  Please enjoy this peek behind the scenes.

Come to the Cabaret – Cygnet’s Gala

What is it about leading a fundraiser’s auction that makes it so appealing?

Interacting with Sean and Bill, Veronica and Manny, Jason and Jessica (a theatre’s dream team) off stage, behind the scenes, sharing a common vision of providing this little theatre with the means to produce big, relevant and important works is so satisfying.

It’s my raison d’etre. In addition, it’s provided me a grand occasion to meet people in my broader San Diego community with whom I normally would not cross paths.

Wow! What I am experiencing through this fundraising process has far exceeded any expectation.

Like everyone these days, I’m a busy person with way too much on her plate. Besides being haunted by a daunting calendar, auction canvassing is time spent on activities that don’t directly increase my bottom line. Never mind that! More importantly, it compromises family time, which is primo to me. But being on this auction committee and having the opportunity to support something for which I passionately believe is just plain irresistible! I’m a sucker for a good time. That’s why I do it. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Cygnet Theatre

CygLogo_bug1. The Cygnet Theatre Name has a Cheeky Origin.

As most theatre buffs will tell you, the Globe Theatre in London has long-been considered one of the “most magnificent” theatres the city has every seen.  Shakespeare’s legendary theatre was built in the 16th century by carpenter Peter Smith and his workers, and most arts-lovers of the day felt that no other theatre would ever match its accomplishments or stature.  Nor did many dare try.  The Swan Theatre became the Globe’s one major rival, continually striving to reach new heights in theatrical achievements, despite its later eminence.  Artistic Director Sean Murray was inspired by this driven-and-able historical theatre, and has held in the highest regard Craig Noel, the founding director of San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre.   As cygnet is the name for a baby swan, Sean liked the tongue-and-cheek title for his theatre.   Cygnet Theatre may have begun as a fledgling playhouse in a strip-mall, but we’ve got some big ambitions and some real cheek.

2. There’s a swan in every Cygnet set.

We at Cygnet love our namesake.  For this reason, every Cygnet set pays tribute with a swan hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) within the scenery.  The very first Cygnet show – Hedwig and the Angry Inch – included a giant paper mache swan head made entirely of paper plates which guarded the band’s drummer.  Copenhagen’s swan was displayed on the multiple chalk-boards. Set designer, Sean Fanning hand-drew a swan, along with notes, phone numbers and doodles on the Mauritius set’s bulletin board.  Escanaba in da’ Moonlight featured crates with a company logo swan stamped on their sides and A Little Night Music continued the tradition with a swan carved into Frederick’s elaborate bed.   Although they’re sometimes challenging to spot, the Cygnet swan will make its appearance in each and every season’s show.  Just another reason to enjoy a look around your next Cygnet set.

3. There’s a Ghost in the House.

Sure we’re theatre people and drawn to the dramatic, but we can’t deny the feeling that we’re not alone in here.  Our move to Old Town not only provided us some new digs, it seems that it came with a complimentary company member.  Nothing to worry about, of course.  The Old Town ghost – or Charlie, as he’s been named – seems to appreciate the entertainment.  We assume it’s why he’s stuck around and made his presence known to other theatre companies who made their home at the Old Town Theatre before us.  But he also seems to love a practical joke or two.  While we’ve become accustomed to his slamming doors and bumps in the night, we do wish he’d return the various props and costume pieces that have gone missing from our latest Cygnet productions.

The artist formerly known as Thom with Marci Anne Wuebben in A Little Night Music

The artist formerly known as Thom with Marci Anne Wuebben in A Little Night Music

4. Sean Murray isn’t His Real Name.

Artistic Director Sean Murray isn’t who he says he is.  His real name is Thomas Murray, but you tell that to Equity.   In order to get his Equity card, he had to choose a name that wasn’t already in their system, and his middle name seemed to be the next best choice.  Plus, Mama Murray was all for it.  When he asked her what she thought his Equity name ought to be, she told him that although he was a fifth generation “Thomas Murray”, if she’d had her druthers, his name would have been Sean anyway.  Of course, we love him as “Sean” as much as we’d love him as “Thom” but we DO wonder what else he’s not telling us.

5. Cygnet Theatre’s Wonderful Life Includes Some Real Radio Royalty.

Lovers of Cygnet Theatre’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, have come to recognize actor Jonathan Dunn-Rankin as cantankerous, old “Mr. Potter.”   But listen closely and you’ll hear the golden pipes of real radio royalty in his between-scene radio announcements.

Jonathan Dunn-Rankin in It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Jonathan Dunn-Rankin in It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

At only 17 years old, Jonathan began working in radio in 1940s Florida.  He grew up to become one of the recognized, big-voiced 40s radio announcers of the era.  That broadcast history eventually brought Jonathan to San Diego where he spent many years as KFMB’s principle television newscaster. Artistic Director Sean Murray remembers watching him on Channel 8 regularly, never realizing they would one day work together.  Now Jonathan has become part of Cygnet’s annual holiday tradition.  This will be his third year of bringing his life experience to the stage.  As the station chimes play and he opens the show into the radio mike, don’t be surprised if you feel as though you’ve slipped back in time.

Cygnet Tech Pancake Breakfast

We enjoyed treating the cast to our tech pancake breakfast this morning. It is a way to start tech stress free, full of food, and time to bond.
Here’s my pancake recipe. No Bisquick for this one!

Sean’s Pancake Recipe
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup Ground Flax Seed (optional)
1/2 cup Oat Bran (optional)
Sprinkle of Wheat Germ (optional)
2 tsp. Baking Powder
2 Tbs. Sugar (or Splenda)
1/4 Tsp. Salt
Dash of Cinnamon

1 Large Egg
1 Tbs. Melted Butter
Vanilla to taste
1 Cup Milk (more or less to create the batter consistency you prefer)
Chopped Walnuts
Fresh Blueberries

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the Flax and Oat Bran to taste. I eye it.

Add the egg, vanilla, and milk. For thinner pancakes go with a thinner batter (more milk), for thicker pancakes, a thicker batter (slightly less milk) Stir the liquids into the drys until the batter looks like you like it. Add the melted butter. Mix well.

Add the walnuts and blueberries.

Let it sit for a few minutes while the griddle gets hot.

Spray the griddle with Pam or something like that. You don’t want too much butter on the griddle.
Spoon the batter onto the griddle. When the edges begin to look cooked and small bubbles begin to form in the middle of the pancake, flip it over and let it finish cooking. Don’t let it burn!!

Add butter, of course and real maple syrup.
and above all, enjoy.

Millennium babies introduced to a new kind of interactive media… LIVE THEATRE!!!


Kids enjoying Storytelling on the Green

“Ladies and Gentleman! Boys and Girls! Children of all ages! Gather ’round the flag pole in the Old Town Park and enjoy a 15 Minute performance of Living Shakespeare!”

Last Tuesday morning I snuck away from my usual Box Office abode and skipped over to the green in the middle of Old Town Park to watch our education departments regular performance of a 15 Minute Shakespeare. Here I was treated to a two-man rendition of that lamentable comedy, Pyramus and Thisby, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Dressed in their authentic 1850’s garb, Actors Extraordinaire, Mr. Brian Mackey and Mr. Daren Scott gathered a group of touring 1st graders for a performance. A great relief to their exhausted teachers aids. Throughout the piece Brian and Daren hand picked 3 children to play the rolls of Lion, Wall and Moonshine, to the delight of their classmates.

Since birth, the adorable children of Generation Z have been inundated with mediated performance through movies, television and the internet.  The meaning of “live” performance has been reduced to a clip on YouTube, shot in one take.  For these children, “actors” live on the other side of a plasma screen and remain inaccessible and impersonal.  But not this time…

The children were fascinated, as if it were nothing they’d ever seen before.  Their eyes remained fixed on Brian and Daren’s hilarious range of characters, voices and gestures, not to mention their giggling classmates that had been chosen by the actors to take the stage… or in this case grass.

These actors weren’t walled off by a pixelated screen.  Instead of being separated from their entertainment the children were in the thick of it, interacting with the characters and becoming a part of the story as it unfolded before their young eyes. One little girl even captured the memory by recording the entire piece on her cell phone. Oh the irony!

“We are the Cygnet Players!  We need an audience and we need a cast! Gather ’round one and all!”

The Best Kind of Madness


Albert Dayan as Lloyd DallasPhoto by Daren Scott

Jason Heil drove up to my hometown of Los Angeles to see a play, not cast one. But there we were, sitting in the audience of a theatre in Glendale, when my friend of many years floated a completely insane idea.

“Hey, you interested in auditioning for a play that begins rehearsals in a week?”

“I doubt it. Wait. Where’s it going up?”

“At Cygnet. In San Diego.”

What’s so insane about that? Well, for one thing, I am the father of an 11-month-child. And by father, I don’t mean a “show-up-in-the-evenings-and-pat-him-on-the-head” dad. No, I’m talking about a “full-time, daddy-day-care, I’m-the-one-who-gets-him-to-take-his-nap” dad. Moving to San Diego in a week’s time would effectively turn my wife into a single mom for the month it would take her to join me with our son, and leaving would also mean shuttering my tutorial business smack dab in the middle of its most profitable time of year. Jason, as usual, was entirely out of his mind.

“Sounds great. I’ll check with Katharine,” I told him.

A week later, there I was in the rehearsal room at Cygnet’s office, getting ready for the first read-through of Noises Off. It had all happened so fast. Seated around the table was a spectacularly talented cast. As luck would have it, a few among them were students or former students of mine. I’ve long taught a weekly acting class in San Diego and now, to my great delight, I’d be performing opposite several of them. Also in the show were San Diego luminaries Jonathan McMurtry and Rosina Reynolds, who I knew by reputation to be dauntingly talented actors. My role? Director Lloyd Dallas, the one who bosses them around.

Rehearsals turned out to be a blast, albeit a mind-numbing, exhausting blast. Anyone who’s done Noises Off can confirm for you two key things: one, it’s a hell of a good time and two, performing it is like running a marathon… in a blender… with a blindfold on. It’s the kind of show that leaves you with war stories. Just ask Rosina about her daily battle with the phone cord, or Sandy Campbell how I spit all over her, or Craig Huisenga how hard it is to make your pants fall off on cue. Ask Sean Murray how he manages, day in, day out, to keep us from accidentally killing each other.

Heading into previews I’m excited as hell. From the beginning, this whole journey for me has been absolutely the best kind of madness. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As my character Lloyd so aptly puts it in Act One, “That’s farce, that’s theatre, that’s life.”

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 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.

Hedwig past and present

Mathew Tyler as HedwigWow does time fly.  I can’t believe it is already June and Summer is almost here.  What is even more amazing is that we are about to start our 7th Season.  When Sean and I started Cygnet, I never realized that it would put my life on the fast track and the years would start to fly by.   It’s been so much work and fun.  Nevertheless, I don’t think I would change a thing that we did.  The mistakes we made were as valuable as the great successes we had.

The first production we did was Hedwig and the Angry Inch.   It seemed like the perfect first production for us, it was obnoxious and loud with great music and would make a statement but also, we hoped, attract the kind of cult audience that The Rocky Horror Show enjoyed.  It seemed to work, we received a lot of attention and the production was very well received.  We were on our way.

It seems like yesterday when we built the Rolando space and put on that first production.  Now this Saturday we will be opening our last production at the Rolando space.  The last production will once again be Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  It seemed like the right choice for us.  It’s really a fun show, a little twisted, and music is just wonderful.

I think  Sean would agree that this a bittersweet time for us.  We put so much of ourselves into the Rolando theatre and will definitely miss that great space but in life the time comes when you need to move on.  Hedwig was a great start for us and I can’t think of a better swan song for the Rolando space.