Tag Archives: San Diego

The A.C.T. Young Conservatory: Homefront

 

Growing up, I often went to see friends perform in musicals put on by San Diego Junior Theatre. JT is the oldest continuous children’s theatre program in the United States. I joined JT in high school, mostly working on stage crews because I can’t sing or dance. I got the role of the housekeeper in The Sound of Music only because she doesn’t have to do either. Living in San Francisco now, I miss seeing the kids perform, especially after attending  JT’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2008. Fortunately, there are talented young people performing here in the Bay Area.

Last night, I took a friend to see the A.C.T. Young Conservatory production of Homefront at the Strand Theater. The Young Conservatory is a professional training program for performers age 8 to 19.  This was the first time we’ve seen one of their productions, and it was also our first time at the Strand. It was a wonderful evening.

Homefront is a musical set during WWI. The three Kolemeir children are sent from Germany to stay with relatives in Vienna, Illinois, just before the United States joins the war in 1917. In Vienna, Curt Jensen has already enlisted in the US army and impatiently waits to turn 18. His sister Kathleen longs for Red Brady, whose twisted knee makes him unfit to serve. Instead, Red embraces the anti-German campaign at home, led by the former boyfriend of school teacher Gretchen Parker. The war may be far away in Europe, but it will change the lives of everyone in Vienna.

The A.C.T. Young Conservatory has many talented performers, so the lead female roles in Homefront are double cast. We attended the second performance, which meant six of the girls were doing the show for the first time with an audience. Everyone was great. Caroline Pernick (Emma Kolemeir) has a sweet face and an even sweeter voice. Kathryn Hasson is fierce as Else Kolemeir. Young Alex Cook (Horst Kolemeir) is vulnerable and affecting, and we were genuinely concerned for him in the second act. I have to confess, both Casey Schryer and Cole Sisser stole my heart as the Jensen siblings. We enjoyed all of the performances, and I’d like to go again to see the other cast.

I also enjoyed chatting with the mother of one of the cast members during the intermission. After the performance, there was a ‘second opening night’ reception in the foyer with cake and drinks. Everyone was invited, so I congratulated some of the cast while my friend enjoyed the refreshments. At JT we always got our programs autographed by the cast, and I was wishing they did the same here. (Yes, I really would get autographs if others were doing it. Even at my age!)

The German accents in Homefront brought back memories of my star turn as Frau Schmidt in The Sound of Music. I tortured my friend on the way home with my favorite line. Just try saying “He never used to whistle for us when his wife was alive” with a German accent. It’s a tongue-twister!

Go see Homefront if you can. It runs through August 19th.

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Remembering Jack Tygett

Earlier this week, Jack Tygett passed away.  In San Diego where I grew up, he was a popular teacher, director and choreographer.  He danced in movies like Mary Poppins and Oklahoma.  He also had roles in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1965) and The Wild Wild West (The Night of the Puppeteer, season 1, 1966).

The news of Jack Tygett’s death brings back memories of the spring and summer of 1981.  I was a senior in high school and member of San Diego Junior Theatre.  I got a call from a friend offering me the job of rehearsal secretary for Starlight’s production of Flower Drum Song.  Starlight (San Diego Civic Light Opera) is a summer theatre company that performs musicals in a large outdoor amphitheater in Balboa Park.  Lots of kids from the Junior Theatre program go on to do Starlight, and I was already planning to submit a resume with the company that summer.   I was thrilled to be offered a position.  Jack Tygett and his wife Marge were the director and choreographer of Flower Drum Song, and I met them the next day.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

April 17, 1981     Casa Del Prado, Room 207
Jenny Woo, Jimmy Saba, Beverly Davis, Lori Hood, Lara Tepper, Jill Brow, Audrey Pritchard, Tori Purdom, Steve Moramarco, Eileen Bowman
All these people from [San Diego] Junior Theatre auditioned today for Flower Drum Song and The Wizard of Oz.  I came to the first audition totally unprepared for what I’d meet.  The first person I met is my director, Mr. Jack Tygett.  He reminds me of Red Buttons.  Mrs. Tygett is okay, too.  I was sooo hungry.  They had food from McDonald’s, but it was Good Friday so Mom wouldn’t let me eat any.  I felt like a baby running over to her to see if I could eat.  We narrowed it down to a few kids.  I kept losing my audition sheets.  After the auditions, I went and got my driver’s license (!!!).

Yeah, the things that are worth writing down at age 18 make me cringe now!  Once I ditched my mother by getting my driver’s license, it felt like I spent every waking moment working (or playing) on Flower Drum Song.   We held fifty rehearsals, but there were also lots of parties and post-rehearsal meals, and even a road trip to Magic Mountain.  I spent many hours at the Tygetts’ home with the cast, and I also got to know daughter Nan Tygett.  Even when I screwed up, the Tygetts always treated me with warmth and patience.  They accepted me as a member of their big extended theatre family.

Flower Drum Song requires a large cast to play Chinese and Chinese-American characters.  The Tygetts cast the best dancers and performers who auditioned, many of them students who’d worked with the Tygetts before.  We had some Japanese performers, many Filipinos,  a lot of dark haired Caucasians, and even a pale blonde or two.  I learned a lot that summer about different Asian cultures, and I also ate my first lumpia and sushi.

I lost touch with the Tygetts after that summer.  Four years later, I was working at the La Jolla Playhouse on Merrily We Roll Along with some students from USIU, where the Tygetts taught.  I asked one of them about Jack and Marge.  This was when I learned that Marge had passed away.  I was saddened by the news.  Now that Jack has joined her, I’m sure there’s a lot more dancing in heaven!

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“This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath…”

I recently wrote about the horrors of adolescence. Last night I was telling a friend this story, which reminded me that not everything about being a teenager was terrible.

The summer I was 15, I joined San Diego Junior Theatre, a wonderful program for kids 8 to 18, then based solely at the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. We got to put on big musicals in a large, well-equipped theatre with a great staff of adults. That summer (1979) we did How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I built sets, painted flats, and during the actual performances I was both house manager and a grip. (As one of the least athletic kids, it amazes me how often I got the jobs that required the most strength.)  I also took acting and stumbled my way through a dance class. Later that year, my dance instructor left for New York, where he joined the cast of A Chorus Line and then Cats. Our lead in How to Succeed… was Casey Nicholaw, and he’s recently been nominated for two Tony Awards for his choreography. In other words, I was working with some really special, talented people.

My family lived 15 miles from Balboa Park, and for a teen without a driver’s license, that was really far away. I spent a lot of time on the number 7 bus. One day, I was riding to a rehearsal when I noticed this really cute older guy.  He reminded me of Luke Skywalker. He got off at my stop in the park, and we both walked the same way, until I came to my theatre and he kept going. My curiosity (and early stalker tendencies?) got the best of me, so I followed him. When he reached the Old Globe Theatre, he went into the outdoor Festival Stage. I asked somebody what was happening there. I was told it was a rehearsal for Julius Caesar. Not only was this guy cute, he was an actor!

The San Diego Old Globe Theatre has a Shakespeare Festival every summer. In 1978, the main theatre was destroyed in an arson fire. While it was being redesigned and built, performances continued at the newly constructed Festival Stage. The plays that year were Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and The Comedy of Errors. I was determined to get involved, so I formed my own group of volunteer ushers and signed up for a bunch of dates. Ushering is a great way to see plays for free, especially if you want to see the same plays over and over. Once I got a festival program, I finally learned my actor’s name and a little bit about him. As a college student and an acting intern, his roles included servant, messenger, and—best of all—a soldier dashing back and forth across the stage carrying a colorful banner. It was difficult to tell whether he had talent beyond banner-dashing, but I wasn’t there to judge. (Here’s a photo of him in the background next to a banner. At least, I think it’s him!)

The first time I ushered, I left my actor a note and yellow roses at the stage door as soon as we arrived. Before the house opened, he came out to meet me while I was standing at my assigned ushering spot. He was smiling, and I was flustered and blushing and so very thrilled. Each time I went back, I would see him at the stage door, or I’d stick my head into the green room, where he was usually passing the time playing backgammon with fellow interns. He was always friendly, and if he was laughing at me and my schoolgirl crush, he never made me feel anything but happy. As the summer progressed, he allowed me and my best friend to take him out to lunch for Mexican food in Old Town. I took up water-coloring that summer, so I spent several afternoons painting the Old Globe Theatre buildings, a tricky business due to the big empty space where the main theatre used to be. The actors would walk by, stop to check out my progress, and say hello. I kept seeing the plays as often as I could, and I never got tired of them.

All good things come to an end. When the summer was over, there was a special talent show at the Festival Stage. The company actors did magic, they sang and danced, and they performed comedy sketches spoofing the plays. I laughed and cheered and went onstage as a volunteer for a magic trick. After the show, I bid farewell to my actor and gave him my Old Globe watercolor. He gave me a quick kiss, which was one of my first, and it was perfectly innocent and perfectly wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.

After I told my friend this story, we both decided I was very lucky. My actor could have taken advantage of my age and innocence. Instead, he played along, keeping it relaxed and fun, and I hope he enjoyed having a fan. We decided to google him, and I was happy to discover that he is still working as an actor. He’s been busy both off and on Broadway. He’s also had roles in some films and TV shows. It looks like he’s still a really nice person, too. Maybe I’ll send him a card to say hello, to thank him for the memories, and to tell him he still has a loyal fan.

Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?As You Like It

The illustrations are paintings by Edmund Leighton. Idealized romance and chivalry won out over my motley collection of newspaper clippings from that summer. The Festival photos linked here are from the SDSU Archive Collection, which has more photos from the festival. It’s disappointing that there are none from The Comedy of Errors, because it was a fantastic production.

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