Backstage Blog

Fire Department Santa

Our next Holiday Memory comes from Resident Artist Melissa Fernandes.  Along with appearing in 7 of the last 8 Holiday Radio Plays, Melissa has appeared in Company, Assassins, Little Shop of Horrors, A Little Night Music and The Book of Liz.

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“One of my favorite memories from my childhood was having Santa actually visit our house on Christmas Eve. I lived in a fairly small community and (as I found out when I was older) the local fire department would have volunteers dress up as Santa and visit homes to give the kids living there a present. My grandmother would secretly set out a couple of presents by the front door (again- small town, one could get away with that back then) and then Santa would knock on the door and bring them in to me. The Santa costume was always tattered and the beard was awful, but I will always remember how happy and excited I was to see Santa every Christmas eve.” – Melissa Fernandes

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.

Cygnet’s 8th Season!

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

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

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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.

Revisiting “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play”

Veronica Murphy and Tom Andrew

Veronica Murphy and Tom Andrew. Photo by Randy Rovang

Our theatre is presenting a 1940′s radio version of the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. We all know the movie. I remember the first time I saw the movie. In the olden days, before you could buy the video or dvd or see a movie on television, one of the ways to see an old classic was to catch it at a movie theatre that showed revivals. In San Diego when I was a kid, this theatre was the Ken Cinema in Kensington.

I was a freshman at San Diego State University at the time, and my best friend, Russell and I decided to go see It’s A Wonderful Life at Christmas time. Neither of us had actually heard of it before, believe it or not. This was well before the Wonderful Life TV blitz when you could not turn on the TV without seeing it on every channel. So, for me and Russell, this was a new movie.

Here’s what I remember: being so totally swept up in the film and all of those beautiful citizens of Bedford Falls that I actually forgot I was at a theatre watching a movie. The people around me disappeared. Russell disappeared. My popcorn disappeared. We had no idea that there was going to be an angel or the redemption of the average man. The existential journey of George Bailey took me totally by surprise. By the time the friends came pouring in at the end of the movie, I was as wrecked as I had ever been. Total tears. No, not tears. Sobs. Aching, side holding sobbing. The theatre’s house lights came up and I was jolted back to my own reality: I was not there in the Bailey living room celebrating life and family, but sitting in one of the Ken’s then-famously uncomfortable seats, sobbing and gulping and blinking tears out my dazed eyes. Okay, I was eighteen. I hadn’t had a lot of experiences yet. It’s kind of sweet in retrospect.

I turned around realizing where I was, and Russell, who was sitting next to me was far worse than me! Whereas I had started to come back to earth, he was inconsolable. He couldn’t get up. He was crying to hard, that we had to wait until the theatre emptied before we could leave. Only now, we are laughing through our crying because we begin to realize that it was, after all, just a movie, you know?

I STILL cry at that movie. The tears seem to come at different things as I get older and life’s journey becomes more clear, if it ever actually does become clear. I’ll let you know when I get closer towards the curtain call.

In the meantime, the story stirs up thoughts about life choices, career paths, how the smallest connection can be a turning point without your even knowing it. It raises questions about whether we’re all following a predestined path, or wandering alone blindly forward. Are all of those small turning points lined up for us in advance, or do we alter the predestined path every time we make a choice between two things? Are there infinite predetermined life paths, each completely valid? Or ultimately one life journey with all of our “choices” already made for us?

As long as we recognize the value of each person in our life and their contribution to shaping what we are, we also have to recognize our power over other people’s lives and how our contacts, no matter how small, can change their lives too. All of this is karmic, isn’t it? It’s A Wonderful Life celebrates how interconnected we are all, and that we are truly not alone in this world. We are surrounded by what we create, we ARE what we create, so create something you can be proud of!

I didn’t mean to get so… blah blah blah with this. I was going to write about working on the story as a play and working with wonderful actors to get all of these feelings to happen live on stage. But it brings out the romantic in me.

I love to watch the actors take the journey every time they do it. I never tire of the show. It starts as such a sweet show with its soda fountains, snow sledding, and dreamers. The darker questions in the story seems to come up from behind us while we’re not looking and without realizing it we are suddenly addressing the horrifying notion of non-existence: To be a complete void. No mother. No family. No identity. Nothing.

Tom Andrew, who has played George since our first production, takes this journey with his whole body and soul every night! I admire him so much for the depth of emotion that he shares in telling George Bailey’s story. And all of the other actors in the company, Jonathan Dun-Rankin, Veronica Murphy, Tim West, David McBean, Melissa Fernandes and Amanda Sitton bring each and every one of these rich characters to life as if they were a company of thirty. With the live sound effects provided by Scott Paulson and musical direction and accompaniment by Amy Dalton, this show has become very special to us and to our audience.

It’s A Wonderful Life is such a beautiful story to touch base with every year. It’s a great reminder for us to keep in mind that every tiny choice we make or contact we have with another human has giant consequences for us all. We are all interconnected. It is a wonderful life.

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.