Backstage Blog

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.

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.

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.

Moving forward…

We have announced that Cygnet Theatre will be producing a revival of our very first production, Hedwig and the Angry Inch in the Rolando Theatre this spring. When we first put hammer to drywall and carved out the Rolando Theatre from the Actor’s Asylum in 2003, Hedwig was our leading lady. Well, lady of sorts. There we were in our brand new space with the paint fumes still in the lobby having just put the finishing touches on the walls and trim as the doors opened for our premiere show, a glam rock and roll musical about the heart break and joy of the lead singer of the Angry Inch, Fraulein Hedwig.

Basically, no one had heard of us, how could they have? We had not done ANYTHING yet! We were tucked in a corner of the Aztec Village Mall in Rolando, near SDSU. Who would FIND us? But the power of Hedwig brought people to us and set us off on our Cygnet-y journey. The show ran for twelve weeks! Hed-Heads flocked to the theatre and we loved them for it.

We’ve expanded a little since that summer of 2003! And we find ourselves wanting to grow into the kind of theatre that can support two spaces filled with challenging, entertaining and memorable productions. We have moved into our new home at the Old Town Theatre and have begun producing theater in that space and loving the larger range of opportunities for us and for our patron’s enjoyment there. We are finishing up this current season with overlapping productions of The History Boys, MauritiusBed and Sofa and, now we are adding Miss Hedwig and her Angry Inch. Performances for Hedwig and the Angry Inch are June 4 through August 9, 2009.

What we couldn’t have prepared for in all of our dreaming and planning was this dark looming cloud over the economy. It is just not a wise time to be thinking about growing.  We have made the difficult decision to make Hedwig will be the final Cygnet production in the Rolando Theatre. We won’t be renewing our lease on the Rolando Theatre when it expires.

The Rolando Theatre has proven to be a wonderful venue for intimate and exciting theatre and we are so proud of what was created there. And so happy to have brought theatre to the Rolando community and its neighbors, so it makes us sad to end our tenancy in the space.

To continue to produce seasons at both the Old Town Theatre and the Rolando Theatre, we had anticipated increasing the staff to facilitate the new direction we wanted to go in. But, this is a challenging economic environment that we, and arts organizations across the city and nation, are currently facing and we want to survive it by making choices that simplify and reduce our costs before it is a problem, not when it becomes a problem. So, we have decided that, for the time being, the most prudent and financially responsible option would be to concentrate our resources at our new larger venue in Old Town and put off our goal to grow until things settle down a bit.

We have spent so much time creating an exciting theatre space in Rolando, that it’s very important to us that the theatre be passed onto another company that will fulfill the theatre’s potential. The Rolando theatre and neighborhood has been very good to us, and we want to be sure that good theatre is continues to be created there. We have been talking with an arts organization about that opportunity. We’ll post you on the progress!