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.

 

Where the Beauty Began…

We had a chance to sit down with award-winning Set Designer Sean Fanning to find out what inspired him to create our fabulous and glamorous set for PAGEANT. A Resident Artist, this marks his twentieth production with Cygnet over the past 9 years.

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The featured designer showing his ideas for the set of Dirty Blonde.

What are some of your favorite Cygnet shows/sets?

My first show with Cygnet was The Matchmaker, when I was a fresh-faced graduate student back in the 2006/2007 season. My most favorite collaborations include the re-imagining of the musicals Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, and Parade. Those three sets felt like characters of their own, but at the same time had an openness and changeability that allowed for so much interactive range. A personal favorite aesthetically was the Louse Nevelson inspired collage we did for The Norman Conquests during the 2010 season. The economy and focus of that design is something I still look back on fondly.

What do you like about working with Cygnet?

I love the sense of artistic freedom, which goes hand in hand with the challenges inherent in each production. The company’s collective vision is really about finding new ways to tell stories and for me this is also about taking risks as a designer. The thrust stage space of the Old Town Theatre presents a character and personality that cannot help but be reflected in the design approach, often in surprising and very invigorating ways.

How did you get into set design in the first place?

I’ve always loved art, loved drawing, and everything about architecture. And I had a real interest in seeing live theatre, which my mother really supported by making sure I got to see lots of it.  Interestingly, it was my profound hearing loss that would make me focus more on the set, because I often couldn’t hear or comprehend the actors, I would spend lots of time looking at and thinking about the environment. The sets that really supported the story and characters were the most successful ones. In high school, while attempting to be some kind of actor, I found myself assigned to the scenery crew, and I haven’t looked back since. I bought books, taught myself drafting and scene painting. I was determined to make a future out of it. More than anyone else, I owe my career to a person who saw that potential in me, my drama teacher, Jack DeRieux, from Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, CA.

Where did you find your inspiration for the Pageant set?

deluxebeautypageant4Initially, we knew we wanted to have a “stage within a stage,” some sort of portal within the Cygnet space with a stairway as the dominant visual. Early on in discussions with director James Vasquez, I was researching beauty pageants of the 1970’s and 1980’s – we were focused on a very rich era for both fashion and pageantry. The original goal was “cable access meets Lawrence Welk.” Much of what I found was downright tacky to modern eyes. Sill, there was a certain childlike innocence and playfulness that I really wanted to capture. It was when I stumbled upon an eBay listing for a late-70’s Dawn Deluxe Beauty Pageant toy set that I knew I had our inspiration.  It was just this iconic, plastic little princess-pink portal with a little runway. I took the shape and the proportion and blew it up to life size, and really amped up the color saturation and boldness so it felt right to the piece. Pageant_Model_Hi

What is unique, unusual, different, challenging or surprising about this set?

I think the most unique and surprising is the level of intimacy in this set. It feels very interactive, very “live.” James and I have focused on keeping the majority of the action out on the thrust stage. Very little of the action will be lost to audience seated along the sides. It has created some very dimensional opportunities for choreography, and I think it’s very exciting way to use the space.

How have you collaborated with other companies on this production? Is that helpful spirit the norm in San Diego?

We had some great help from the San Diego Opera’s scenic shop. We also had support from Joey Landwehr at J* Company, who let us use a set of silver curtains for our front swags. There definitely is a wonderful sense of community and support in San Diego when it comes to getting sets produced. In the past, we have also used the Old Globe and there is also a “loan-out” network amongst the smaller theatre companies, for props and scenic elements.

Final thoughts?

Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this design is the “rebranding” we did for Glamouresse, the fictional beauty product corporation that has sponsored the pageant. The fonts and brand colors can be seen in nearly every scenic design element and prop. I started Glamouresse Imagewith this very iconic “G” and the script logo with “swoop” soon followed. It was inspired by the Revlon advertising done in the late 70′s and 80′s, but given Revlon1.jpga certain saccharine color sense to offset any elegance. Bold pinks, metallic gold, with an aqua accent color. Props designer Michael McKeon followed suit with his marvelous designs for the various beauty wares that are hawked by the “spokesmodels” throughout the show. It was a very fun collaboration.

The Difference is in the Details

SpringAwakening_BookCover2As you may already know, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening is a musical adaptation of the stage play written by German playwright Frank Wedekind in 1891.  Even though most of the dialogue was pulled directly from the original script, it still took almost eight years, from its initial conception in 1999 to its Broadway premier in 2006, to get the musical version to where it is today.  And there are some key differences that go beyond the mere addition of songs to the originally straight dramatic text:

In the musical, the opening song “Mama Who Bore Me” is derived from a monologue Wendla delivers in Act 2 of the original text.
The entire scene during which Wendla questions her mother about the true nature of how children come to be doesn’t occur until about halfway through the original play.

SpringAwakening_BookCoverThere are many more distinct adult characters in the original text.
The musical cut multiple adult characters, and also designated that all adult roles were to be played by one male and one female actor.

There is no mention of sexual abuse in the original text.
Sexual abuse was something not talked about at the time it was written, and the vast majority of Spring Awakening was inspired by Wedekind’s own experience or those of his close friends.

The sex between Wendla and Melchior is non-consensual in the original text.
In Wedekind’s original play, Melchior rapes Wendla.  The musical version turns this into a consensual act, giving Wendla more control and making Melchior more sympathetic.

After Moritz’ suicide in the musical, his father is depicted falling down in grief at the end of “Left Behind”, whereas he rejects him saying “The boy was nothing to me,” in the original text.
The concept of parenting is vastly different today, and this seems to be a change acknowledging that fact.  While the play is set in the 1890s, the audience still lives in the early 21st century making it extremely difficult for contemporary audiences, particularly parents, to reconcile this shunning of a son after having lost him.

In the musical Wendla is taken to an abortionist by her mother in addition to the “French remedy” (code for abortion pill) she is prescribed in the original text.
This addition of seeing Wendla taken to an abortionist is done largely in the spirit of “showing instead of telling,” and provides more closure to her story.

The musical cuts out the part of the Masked Man who convinces Melchior not to kill himself in the original text.
By giving Melchior himself the power to stop himself, the musical version gives adolescents today the message that they have the power to take control of their own lives.

Moritz comes back and tries to convince Melchior to kill himself at the end of the original text.  However the musical is much clearer about making Melchior the protagonist throughout, so this change in Mortiz’ attitude helps clear Melchior’s conscious of having played a role in his friend’s suicide.

Wendla does not appear again after she dies in the original text.
But much like the Moritz’ appearance in the musical version, Wendla’s presence offers closure for Melchior, absolving him of any residual guilt he has placed on himself for her death.

Meet Braxton Molinaro

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Braxton Molinaro as John Wilkes Booth

Katie Harroff sat down with Braxton Molinaro, who is currently playing John Wilkes Booth in ASSASSINS at Cygnet Theatre. Braxton went to school in North Carolina and currently lives in New York.

Hi Braxton, Welcome to San Diego!  How are you enjoying working with Cygnet Theatre?  How did you become connected to us? 

Oh man, Cygnet Theatre is an absolutely stellar company.  They are as pro as it gets.  I believe the designers, the cast, and all of the work that has gone into Assassins is inspiring.  The actors are remarkably talented!  Sean does such a great job casting unique people who bring a lot to the table.  You can’t overlook the weather out here too.  It’s pretty ideal to get notes in the sun.  I get to smell flowers and see palm trees.  San Diego has become an amazing retreat.

As far as how I became connected to the company- I was in a production of Oklahoma directed by Terrance Mann at my now alumni school: The North Carolina School for the Arts, where Sean Murray had also attended.  In the production I played Judd.  Sean came out to NC to see the show and we became friends.  When the season was announced at Cygnet I saw that they were doing Assassins so I reached out to Sean and asked if I could send him a tape and he said sure.  I was fortunate to get an offer!

Who are you playing, and what is your character like? 

I’m playing the infamous John Wilkes Booth- the very first presidential assassin.  Obviously he is deeply flawed, but he loves presentation.  Booth was the bastard son of a famous acting family.  He had a good career as an actor- sometimes 9 different pieces of material in a week.   He had a plethora of opportunities to get on the stage, and probably what would be considered a very admirable performance career to most people.  Comparatively, however, to other members of his family he was not successful.  This made him very desperate when he came into adulthood.  He wanted to live up to the fame his father had succeeded in achieving.  As far as motives to killing Abraham Lincoln- Booth had strong ties to the south, and had slaves.  He believed it was an important part of being an American.

As an actor, I’ve had to find empathy for a man that is truly full of hate.  While very challenging, finding the theatricality in that has been fun.  Booth has this daring, unapologetic outward buffoonism to him.

Why should people come see this production of Assassins?

I’m biased because I’m so happy to be here.  But I can’t say enough about the importance of this piece.  I believe Assassins is such an important play to be performed right now.  It will inspire theatre goers to have a conversation- which is what theatre is about.  This play gives us the opportunity as a society to look at the people that are causing a lot of turmoil in our country.  The message of Assassins is to listen.  The Assassins aren’t being heard and they think killing is the only way to make that happen.  I think that scary sentiment is shared with a lot of people that live in this country today, and we need to take a look at this.  We need to become aware of the possibilities of the things we don’t want to address.

I think a musical-format in expressing this idea is brilliant trickery that allows audiences to see this message while being wildly entertained.

Assassins runs through April 28th!

Playing a ‘pretty crazy guy’

Geno

Geno Carr as Charles Guiteau.
Photo by Rich Soublet II.

We recently sat down with Geno Carr, who is appearing in ASSASSINS at Cygnet Theatre, to get his impressions of the musical, his character and Stephen Sondheim…

Who are you playing and what is your character like?

I’m playing Charles Guiteau who assassinated President James Garfield.  In this piece Sondhiem wanted to explore who are these people, these “Assassins” and why they did what they did.  What drove them to this magnitude?  What motivates a person to assassinate one of the most powerful people in the world?  It’s been a great challenge to find empathy for this character, and try to make people feel something for this horrible person.

Charles had a very interesting life; he was a pretty crazy guy.  He believed that after he delivered a speech he had written in favor of Garfield during Garfield’s campaign for presidency, that he was responsible for Garfield’s victory. This wasn’t true; however Charles believed that he was entitled to things, like becoming the Ambassador of France, but obviously this didn’t happen.  And then Charles went crazy.  However, I can’t play him crazy- that’s not something an actor should do. It’s our responsibility to understand the mentality of our characters. I’ve been working on his eccentricities and finding out what makes him tick, which is a lot of fun as an actor.

What do you enjoy about Sondhiem what’s special about Assassins to you?

I was fortunate to perform in Cygnet’s production of Sweeney Todd two years ago, but also when I was in college, I directed Into the Woods - which was incredibly cool and really fueled my deep appreciation for him.  Somehow Sondheim is able to take subject matter that no one would ever imagine being a musical, and allow audiences to become invested.

His music is brilliantly difficult- it’s not something you might hum walking out of the theatre, but it’s so smart.  He writes his music to inspire the characters and the story.  Assassins is a musical about America- and so much ‘American’ music pops up throughout it.  John Phillip Souza, a 70’s pop ballad- he draws from American music throughout history, and turns it into a Sondhiem masterpiece.  Like the song ‘Another National Anthem’.  It’s indeed this rousing anthem, but with a twist.   There is this group of people in this country that have a different idea of what it means to be American.  Sondhiem takes something familiar, like a ballad or an anthem, and twists the knife- adding layers and all these intricate elements that tell a story.

It’s fun to sing, and fun to act- it’s music that’s ‘performable’.  His characters have thematic melodies that track throughout his productions. Sondheim does this throughout his work- he provides layers to a character, and that gives an actor and an audience a clear definition to the voice of these people.

Why do you think people shouldn’t miss this production?

I love working at Cygnet. Sean and his team take the work very seriously.  Sean approaches musicals as though they are plays with music. I think in some crowds, musicals get a bad rap that it’s not as fulfilling as say, a Checkov play- but Sean picks musical that are for actors.  Coming to a Cygnet musical means you’re not going to something fluffy.  You’re going to leave wanting to talk about it, you’re going to think of something differently- it will have an effect on you.

Sometimes theatre should be passive, but Assassins will make you think.

I think it will be a huge conversation starter.  This is a fascinating, interesting, fun night of theatre.  You will laugh, you’ll be shocked, and you may cry.  Assassins is one quality evening of theatre.

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

Cygnet Announces 9th Season!

(Updated Jan 25th)
We are excited to announce our 2011/2012 line-up. Cygnet’s ninth season will offer productions ranging from Shakespeare to Williams; and for Cygnet’s musical-lovers, two uniquely thrilling productions!

Cygnet’s season begins with LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, a rock musical based on the 1960s camp film, The Little Shop of Horrors, which follows the story of a hapless florist shop worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood. Cygnet’s production, featuring the amazing Audrey II puppets designed by Monkeyboys Designs, will be a B-movie, campy horror-fest staged in black and white film-noir style! This quirky dark comedy – with music composed by Alan Menken and written by Howard Ashman – received a long off-Broadway run, a subsequent Broadway production and was turned into a 1986 film of the same name. The LITTLE SHOP music features rock-n-roll, doo-wop and early Motown sounds with several well-known tunes including “Skid Row (Downtown)” and “Suddenly Seymour.” Cygnet Resident Artist David McBean (It’s A Wonderful Life, Fully Committed) will feed the horror and the hilarity as the human-hungry plant, Audrey II. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS will run July 28th through September 11th, 2011.

In early October, Cygnet Theatre will present it’s first Shakespearean main-stage production, RICHARD III. This play, which depicts the rise to power and subsequent short rein of Richard III, is widely considered to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. Regarded as an “antihero” of the medieval age, the deformed Richard III was known for being both frighteningly vicious and eerily funny. Shakespeare’s fascinating depiction of his murderous path to the English crown is one of his most beloved and oft performed plays. RICHARD III runs October 13th through November 13th, 2011.

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, adapted by Joe Landry. Each year, Cygnet audiences delight in this new-found wintertime tradition as Tom Andrew performs his San Diego Critics Circle Award-winning role of George Bailey, whose life alters for good upon meeting Clarence the Angel. Once again the 1940′s radio actors of “WCYG Theatre of the Air” will recreate the classic story in a “live” radio broadcast filled with music, sound effects and the beloved characters from the film. It’s A Wonderful Life returns to the Cygnet stage from November 30th through December 31st, 2011.

The new year offers starts off with a bang with the Southern California Premiere of A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE by Martin McDonagh.  The title is just the starting point to McDonagh’s black comedy, his first American-set play. Take a man searching for his missing hand, two con artists out to make a few hundred bucks, and an overly curious hotel clerk, and the rest is up for grabs. Strong, adult language. A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE will  run January 19th through February 19th, 2012.

In the Spring, Cygnet Theatre will present PARADE, with book by Alfred Uhrey and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. The musical dramatizes the 1913 true story of the trial of Jewish factory superintendent, Leo Frank, accused of the murder of a thirteen-year-old employee, Mary Phagan, in Atlanta Georgia. The play, which won Tony Awards for best book and best score and six Drama Desk Awards, is both hauntingly beautiful and bitingly frank in its depiction of love in the midst of adversity and growing racial tensions. The show was Brown’s first Broadway production and his award-winning melodies drew from a variety of influences including pop-rock, folk, rhythm and blues and gospel. PARADE will run March 8th through April 22nd, 2012.

Cygnet Theatre will close its season with Tennessee William’s A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. The Pulitzer Prize winning drama is considered a landmark play. It has also been at the top of Artistic Director Sean Murray’s lists of dream projects for Cygnet Theatre since his award-winning production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2005. The story deals with the culture clash of two iconic characters, Blanche DuBois, a fading relic of the Old South, and Stanley Kowalski, a rising member of the industrial working class. The production received multiple runs on Broadway, was adapted into a film, an opera, a ballet and was even produced for television. The steamy drama comes to Cygnet Theatre May 17th through June 24th, 2012.

Current Subscribers can contact the box office starting Wednesday to renew.  New Subscriptions for the 2011-2012 will be available soon.

We think this is going to be an exciting season, and certainly hope you will join us.

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.

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.

Bed and Sofa First Run-Through

Today I went to see one of the first run-throughs of our next Old Town production, Bed and Sofa. It’s always fun to see a show for the first time, although this particular show was a bit more familiar to me than some of the others.

Bed and Sofa was first produced by Cygnet during our first season in May of 2004. At that time we had about 40 subscribers and a rather small following.  Nevertheless, it was very well received and garnered numerous awards from the local critics including a best Musical Production award from both the San Diego Critics Circle and San Diego Patte Awards.

Cygnet has produced over 35 plays and musicals in our short 6 year history but I have to say that if I were to pick a favorite, Bed and Sofa would definitely be it. The music is wonderful and the book and style of the show are just so clever.   It is no wonder that so many patrons have asked us to do a remount.

Now, onto the run-through.  I had seen the previous production about 5-6 times so I know the play very well.  This was one of the first run-throughs so I was expecting to see a lot of stumbles and a pretty rough take on the script.  The productions usually get there but sometimes at this point in the rehearsal process it can be a little scary.

The truth is, though, the actors are very far along.  The story is a compact 90 minutes with no intermission and once you get into it the whole thing just flies by.   Today was no exception, even without the costumes and the set and all of the pieces that make the production full, I got totally engrossed in it. I really wasn’t all that surprised that they are doing so well.  As we share our office with the rehearsal space all of us at the office have been hearing everything for weeks.

The cast consists of three actors that are all new to the Cygnet Stage.  Lance Arthur Smith, who plays Kolya, Colleen Kollar Smith who plays Ludmilla and Jordan Miller who plays Volodya.  They all have great voices and compliment each other well.  We’re very happy to have found such a wonderful cast for this production and help us bring back this wonderful piece of theatre.

At this point I feel very excited about where the production will be in a few weeks when we open.  Bed and Sofa is a truly unique theatrical experience and if you missed the first time I hope you’ll take this opportunity and see something really special in the theater.