“Understand Your Man”: An Interview with James Garner

James Garner’s Tribute to Johnny Cash celebrates the life and music of the legendary “Man in Black”. Garner and his band faithfully recreate Cash’s biggest hits and presents historical accounts and personal anecdotes about Cash’s life.

JamesGarner's JohnnyCash by Kial James color
James Garner – Photo by Kial James

Since 2008, Garner and his band have performed more than 350 shows, including a special show at Folsom State Prison in 2008 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Cash’s infamous live album recorded behind prison walls. The band then returned to Folsom, California, in January 2018 to perform two sold-out concerts on the 50th anniversary of the prison concert.

We sat down with Garner to talk about the show, and what makes Johnny Cash America’s most beloved singing storyteller

Tell us about what first drew you to Johnny Cash.

I discovered Johnny Cash when I was 11 years old. The first song I heard was “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” a musically sparse ballad about a young cowboy “who grew restless on the farm.” It contained many of the signature elements found in most of Cash’s recordings. The vocals were big, powerful and right in your face. The instrumentation was sparse and rhythmic, supportive of those vocals. The song, based on an old Irish Folk tune, was a story told in two-and-a-half minutes. For me, it was so different than any 1990s contemporary music – country or pop. As I devoured more Cash material through my teenage years, everything about it just resonated with me. Growing up on a California cotton farm myself – and by no means, working nearly as hard as he and his family did in northeast Arkansas –  his songs about agrarian, rural life spoke to me.

How did this show develop?

Little did I know at the time, the show developed in my teenage years. I had dozens of Johnny Cash tapes and CDs that I pretty much listened to exclusively. When my peers were listening to Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam, Weezer, etc., I was jamming “Big River,” “I Got Stripes,” and “Hey Porter” on my Sony Walkman. I had VHS tapes of Cash’s television shows and concerts. I read his autobiographies and other biographical works, studying his career and life. Simply put, I was a big fan. I sang his songs in the car, at school, and at home. When I started playing guitar, I wanted to learn the Johnny Cash songs that I had fallen in love with, so I played along with his music, learning chords and trying to figure out how his thumb seemed to be everywhere at the same time.

Fast forward to my 20s. I was singing Johnny Cash songs one night at a karaoke bar and met some musicians who said we should do something together. Long story short, we put a band together (my first and only) and I applied all the information I had read, listened to, and watched over the years into this show. It’s hard to believe we are in our 11th year and have played more than 500 shows across the country.

Johnny Cash is definitely a larger-than-life figure. What do you do capture that energy when you perform?

No doubt, and so the first thing I do is not pretend to be Johnny Cash. Our show is not an impersonation, but truly a tribute to the “Man in Black” with songs and stories. Never once, have I said “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” or presented the show from a first-person perspective. The energy is in the music and we work very hard and take very seriously presenting his music the way he and The Tennessee Three performed it, especially during their live performances.

CashTribute-JamesGarner+band by Mike Melnyk
Left to Right: Denny Colleret, James Garner, Rick Duncan, Nick Auriemmo – Photo by Mike Melnyk

What’s the rehearsal process like before you go on tour?

Good question! I don’t have an answer because there isn’t one. We’ve been doing this so long together, that it’s just part of us. Every now and then we add some new songs, but we don’t get together ahead of time to rehearse. We each know what we must do on the song and we’ll run through it a few times during sound check before some shows. When we feel good about it, we’ll add it to the show.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

It’s hard to pin down one favorite thing. I love the fact there are people in the audience every night who grew up listening to Johnny Cash and saw him live in concert, perhaps as early as 1955. Folks have said that it takes them back to that time or a special moment in their life –  their first love, military service, riding in the car with their dad, a date-night to a Johnny Cash show, etc. I love when the audience recognizes and applauds the first notes to “I Walk the Line” or “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” They’re not applauding us. They’re expressing their love for Johnny Cash and the impact his music had in their lives. I can relate and I’m right there with them.

Do you have any pre-show superstitions or rituals before going on stage?

I don’t think have any superstitions. The closest thing to rituals would be drinking warm tea, liberal applications of hairspray and pacing backstage a few minutes before going on.

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

I don’t really know… I like researching and learning and have tried to apply that to our show. Maybe a hound dog with a good nose. Or to borrow a Cash lyric, “gone as a wild goose in winter.” We usually do about 25-30 songs in a 2-hour show and it just seems to fly by when we’re on stage.

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

My big hope is that people leave feeling a love for Johnny Cash and his music. I hope that when folks get home, they pull out their Johnny Cash records, CDs or tapes and fall in love with his music all over again. And if they don’t have any of his material, I hope they download it on iTunes, Amazon, etc.

Then I have different hopes for different people. For the Johnny Cash super fans, I hope they notice the attention to detail in the music – the two different leads we play in “Folsom Prison Blues,” one in the style of Luther Perkins (pre-1968) and the other as Bob Wootton played it (post-1968), the Carl Perkins style picking in “A Boy Named Sue,” the W.S. Holland “Ring of Fire” drum fills of the 1980s, and the Marshall Grant tone from the 1965 Epiphone Newport “Batwing” our bass player uses.

For those less familiar with Cash’s music, I hope they recognize just how impactful it was – and still is – for people in this country and worldwide. His songs speak to themes endemic to the human condition: Love, pain, humor, struggle, triumph and redemption.

I also want folks to know that Cash was a powerful force in music and the arts. I think people know that, but I don’t think it can be overstated. His impact and reach transcended the “country music” genre. He supported up-and-coming songwriters and performers, provided inspiration to some of the greats, was a guardian-like figure tasked with preserving the relevance of music icons who came before him, and gave a voice to underrepresented social causes. It’s evident in his musical relationships with Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash, Shel Silverstein, Rodney Crowell, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Tom Petty, Lead Belly, Ervin T. Rouse, The Carter Family, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Carl Perkins, Peter La Farge, and many more.

Thank you for your time.

My pleasure! We look forward to the shows at the Curtis Theatre!

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James Garner’s Tribute to Johnny Cash performs May 19-20. Saturday at 3pm and 8pm. Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM.

Have questions? Contact us! 

Comedy, Magic, And Mischief with Eric Buss

You might have seen him on America’s Got Talent, David Letterman, or at the Magic Castle…Eric Buss’ innovative and high-energy brand of comedy magic has entertained and amazed audiences worldwide.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss

His latest project is a variety show that feels more like a party.  Shenanigans features a live DJ, along with a variety of guest entertainers, and Eric Buss himself. It’s magic in a fun and modern format that aims to blow your mind and tickle your funny bones.

We sat down with Buss and got some answers on all things magic, comedy, and Shenanigans.

How did you first get interested in magic?

I’ve loved magic since I was young. But at age 16 I was working at a small Italian restaurant near my house in Tucson, AZ. There was another busboy working there that was already into magic. He showed me tricks on our breaks, and I was blown away. He also proved to me that you could make money doing magic, without being famous like David Copperfield. He also told me about the magic shop in Tucson, which wasn’t far, and I was hooked. I began hanging out there every weekend, meeting all the magicians that came in. The busboy also told me about the Society of American Magicians’ local chapter. I quickly became a member and started attending meetings once a month. From then on, I never looked back.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the work that you create?

As a kid, I always loved watching Doug Henning. I thought David Copperfield wasted too much time dancing with pretty girls, instead of doing more tricks. Henning was a bit more kid-friendly. However, when I got seriously into magic, I started studying Copperfield as well. They were both huge inspirations.

I also loved comedy. My dad used to do a lot of Steve Martin impressions, which I thought were hilarious. I had no idea he was doing Steve Martin. I thought he was just being funny. When I found out they were Steve’s jokes, I started watching him as well.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

My favorite part of performing for a live audience is the unpredictability. I have a direction I’m going, but based on the audience, it could change at any time. Also hearing the laughter is almost, if not, more satisfying than the “oohs” and “ahs” from the magic.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

Tell us more about the Bubble Wrap Bike. What was the process like from initial idea to finished product?

When my wife and I had our baby in 2012, we were both sleep-deprived. But I was still getting out to my workshop for an hour or two a day to work and create. I happen to have a big roll of bubble wrap and a bike. In a sleep-deprived daze, I thought, I want to ride over that bubble wrap!!! Then I thought, ‘NO, I want to attach the bubble wrap so it’s a continuous popping noise.’ I quickly grabbed some duct tape and set to work. A day or two later, I had built a better version and had a friend come over to film it in the street.

I put it on YouTube almost as a joke, and it went viral immediately. I had over 1 million views in a week. It got a lot of publicity for me; the bike in the video is the exact one I still use. The footage on YouTube has also been seen on many TV shows all over the world.

What is one of your favorite props to work with?

I love performing my looping routine. It’s a musical piece, which is fun, and because I’m making the music live it’s like a concert. It’s also the most difficult routine I do which I also think makes it fun. It’s a challenge every time. I get to live out my fantasy of being a rock star or DJ, all while doing magic. It’s a blast every time!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

I’m not superstitious, but it doesn’t stop me from doing certain things before EVERY show. I usually jump up and down in one place RIGHT before going on. This gets my blood pumping. There are lots of little rituals with my props while setting up… certain things need to be set up certain ways. My OCD really shines through while I’m setting up. While getting dressed, I hate dropping hangers on the floor. For some reason, I think it’s bad luck.  Even though I don’t believe that I get frustrated when I drop hangers. If there is someone backstage with me, I like to tell them that I’m going to go back to my hotel real quick, right when I’m being introduced. They always look at me like I’m crazy. It helps me relax and have fun.

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

If my show was an animal, it would be a Golden Retriever – playful, yet intelligent.

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

I hope the audience walks away with a smile on their face, maybe even with sore face muscles from laughing.

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Eric Buss in Shenanigans performs April 21, 2018, at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

An Interview with Click, Clack, Moo Actor Liana Costable

Fun. Educational. Theatrical.

TheatreworksUSA is all this and more. They deliver incredible theatre productions around the nation for young audiences and their families. With each literary- and historically-based show, they spark dialogue on cultural and social issues. Theatreworks instills a lifelong appreciation for the arts in children that often aren’t receiving that education and exposure in school. Their current touring production of Click, Clack, Moo, based on the popular children’s book by Doreen Cronin, is a hilariously “mooooo-ving” musical about negotiation and compromise. When Jenny visits her grandpa, he declares the farm a tech-free zone and confiscates her laptop. The cows type and send their demands via email; the hens go on strike — what will happen next?!

Cast of Click, Clack, Moo - TheatreworksUSA
Cast of “Click, Clack, Moo” (Top Left – Liana Costable) Source: TheatreworksUSA

Before their tour arrives in Brea for Click, Clack, Moo, Liana Costable, the actor who plays Jenny, typed up her thoughts on the show and emailed them on over (just like those cows!)

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the theatre you create?

I am definitely most inspired by our young audiences. In Click Clack Moo I play Jenny, a 12-year-old girl visiting her granddad at his farm. As an adult actor playing a child, I was excited to create a character that the children could relate and connect to. In particular their vivid imagination, creativity, and ability to stand up for what’s right motivated my choices in this role.

What’s the rehearsal process like before you go on tour?

The rehearsal process flew by! Over the course of two weeks, we learned the hour-long musical as well as our duties as assistant stage managers. We worked with a fantastic creative and production team at Theatreworks USA who taught us the keys to success on the road- providing guidance and tips on staying healthy, safe, and energized for our daily morning shows.


Click Clack Coo - Farmer Brown & Animals
Source: TheatreworksUSA

I hope audiences leave feeling a little more connected to the people around them, more willing to speak up and in return, more open to listening to differing views.  

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

I love hearing the audience’s reactions! Every audience is different and seeing how people react in different parts of the country is really exciting!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

Click Clack Moo cows - TheatreworksUSA
Source: TheatreworksUSA

Before every show, I rub a locket that my boyfriend in the US Army gave me a few years ago. While we are apart and pursuing our own careers at the moment, having the locket reminds me of him and his support for not only my career but also for protecting this country and the people we are performing for.  

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

A cow of course!

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

Click Clack Moo focuses on teamwork, compromise, and standing up for what you believe in. I hope audiences leave feeling a little more connected to the people around them, more willing to speak up and in return, more open to listening to differing views.  


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TheatreworksUSA in Click, Clack, Moo performs April 8, 2018, at 3pm and 5pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

Writing Between the Lines with Playwright William Mittler

While developing Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story, playwright William Mittler discovered both the limitations and opportunities of writing historic stories.  His narrative formed from oral histories collected by Cal State Fullerton and in those histories, he found interest in what wasn’t said.  As rehearsals continue for The Olinda Story, Mittler talks Brea connections, writing between the lines, and play incubation. 

Playwright William Mittler rehearsing the 2006 production of The Olinda Story|Credit: OC Register

There’s a line spoken by the Station Master, one of our two narrators that guides the audience through the play, where he says “I’d like to think a town is made up by the spirit of its people.” Tell us a bit about your origins and connection to Brea. What’s your Olinda Story?

Brea, was out of town.  When I used to live in Fullerton in the late 80’s, I would tell my boss at Bob’s Big Boy that I couldn’t cover someone’s shifts because I was going out of town.  Then I would head to Brea and shop at Tower Records on the corner of Imperial and St. College.   Or head over to Brea Mall to go to the bookshop.  I never really went downtown until about a year before they revitalized it, there was a famous bar there where they would give you a beer in a to go cup and if you tried to talk about your problems the bartender would go, “I know I know…”  This was before social media when the only person that would talk to you was a bartender.  But since I didn’t drink, the real reason I was in old town was there was a record store I had heard about, and I found a comic book store that had ten cent comics pretty cheap.  In those far off long ago days people went places and bought things.  If you got off after work you would head to Tower.  And driving in to Hollywood to browse records till one in the morning was not unusual.  

I also worked in the early 90’s at the Crocodile Café, I was working 3 jobs at that time trying to put myself through school, but really just buying records and VHS tapes.  At the Café, I was a waiter and the weekend bookkeeper.  My last year there I was named employee of the year by the company at Christmas and fired before June.  It happened this way,  they still had non-smoking sections in restaurants then, a party wanted to smoke, and I told them no, a certain city official who I won’t name (not that I knew who they were at the time) was waiting for a table and insisted I accommodate them, and raised Hell.  As fate would have it he then sat in my section, and because he was so rude I gave him horrible service.  I came back for my second shift that night and was told exactly who he was and was fired on the spot as he had called up corporate headquarters on a landline phone. (These were phones that were connected to the walls by wires)  Today he would have Twittered on the Twitter that I was sad like a good honest politician.  It was much harder in those days to be a jerk.  It was sad, my boss was crying as she sacked me.

Walk us through the process of building a show like this. What fueled your desire to tell this story and how has the play developed since its first production in 2006? How long did it take you to write? What challenges did you face during that process?

This show was commissioned through a grant secured by Kathie DeRobbio through the California Stories Project and a collaboration with the oral history department at Cal State Fullerton.  Stephanie George was the Historian and provided me with the details as well as fact checking my script.  One of Stephanie’s brilliant contributions to the play was the end of act 2, there was a long speech by the Old Man of The hills here, but she said it wasn’t needed.  I recall that it was some wonderful writing, so I was hesitant about changing it, but instead of cutting it I thought, what if he couldn’t finish it?  I then instructed Spider Madison, the original Old Man of The Hills, to start the speech, but whenever he felt he couldn’t continue because of the emotions of the moment to stop.  It varied every night.

The cast of Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story, 2017


The main changes to this production are minor; some lines were cut, some humor added.  Some sections cleaned up. The problem was since I was directing the original version, I never had a final script.  As a director when directing my own work, I assume the playwright was a fool and solve problems as a director.  But being both the playwright makes changes as well.  The end result was the original project kept shaping and changing, but was never written down.  To get some of that material I had to watch the original video (on sale at the Olinda Museum) and transcribe it.  To be honest, I couldn’t do a major rewrite. This play has gone through a major change however.  I spent about 6 months writing a very factual play.  A draft that no longer even exists.  The more I read, the more I learned, the more I hated writing the play.  The worst books were the historical texts that had been put out over the years, which constrained the play.  And then while poring over the oral history transcripts I began to see a pattern, not in what was talked about, but in what wasn’t talked about.  And by layering the histories on top of one another, all the lines that may have been read in between were filling in.  Suddenly there was a story in the “better left unsaid” and the “well everybody knew.”  There were a couple of very blunt histories, and I realized these people were not filtering (or filtering other things but not the darkness). Characters began to form, and the hard life that no one wanted to talk about became more than work and land but abuse and social norms.  So the play formed.  The old play vanished and in about 3 months I had a play, most of which was written in two weeks.  Unusual for me, as I tend to write my drafts in three days of intense writing after six months or so of incubation (some plays incubate for years; some are abandoned after 100 pages).

The rewrite process for this production was the rehearsals.   Things changed. Were added (now lost) or cut (for time and flow).  Music became important.  For the cast used to a structured environment it was trying, I am sure, but my structure and style changes with each project, and here I was trying to find the town.   Act two became a whirlwind of events that suddenly ends, much like the town itself.  I’m not sure if this was the right approach, as there was a lot that could have been said.  A lot of stories unfinished and characters that drifted out of the play.  Much like any town.  

What themes or questions from the play do you hope resonate with the audience?

The play was written to reflect the concerns in the present day that could be dramatized through the past.  Everything was subtle, except when it wasn’t.   I made sure, as the director, to keep it that way.  I am more likely to encode scripts than come out and state my viewpoint.  But that was 2006, I am no longer that playwright.  My concerns these days have little room for being subtle.   The harshness of our current political reality has hampered my writing to the point of inertia.  For one who likes to write between the lines, it is hard when all one wants to do is scream at the top of their lungs.  And everything else seems trivial when compared to the horror of what is or may be to come.  Dying embers of the past rekindled for a virtual reality that is no more real than the concept of innocent days past and exploited for our entertainment anyways.  I cannot write this play today.

Why do you think theatre is important?

I don’t know if theatre is important.  I don’t think it has to be. Theatre is not a training ground for Hollywood or Broadway but an experience that is shared at a moment in time. A collaboration of trust between many people including strangers who come to see it.  For me it is the medium I work in.  I don’t over think it.   

When you write a play, where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are easy, plays are hard.  I have reached a point where I have said everything I have had to say, now I only say what I want to say as a writer.  If I never write another word I am content that I created many worlds so far.  My best play is still always my next play, and hopefully that never changes.

Early in the play the Old Man of the Hills says to the Station Master, “Just tell the truth the way it is.” As an author what responsibility do you feel you have when telling this story?

Truth.  Truth is when telling most stories I tend to take on the Russian symbolic attitude, it is not what it is that is important, but what you remember it to be.  I never allow myself to be a slave to research.  But I also try not to be a slave to the past.  A lot of my plays are historical (Punk rock 70’s, turn of the century, 1940’s, 1930’s, 1800’s) but they are not being performed in the past, but today.  With language I try and flavor the scripts, but I always keep in mind that I am writing for today’s audience. I was much more conscious on this project of what I didn’t write.  I didn’t write a cotton candy celebration, nor did I wish to cause anyone still alive any embarrassment.   Names were changed, characters created, situations invented, but always to be found between the lines or layering other research into the play.  I wanted to leave the audience with the idea that everywhere is interesting, not because of names and dates and what actually happened, but that it happened to people and how history is not dead but was of the moment and that these moment affected people and that how they acted affected others. 

Personally, what is your biggest take-away from this story?

Most of all I wanted to capture the spirit of the idea that it is all right.  That we go on living and our present becomes the past.  If anything I want to leave the audience with a conversation.  About how things were.  About how things are.  About the next 100 years being ours.  And it will be okay.  Maybe I could have written this play today, after all.

Olinda Story VISIX.jpg

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Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story performs Nov 3-12, 2017. Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 


Take a tour through CharlesPhoenixLand

Audience favorite and showman, Charles Phoenix returns to the Curtis this October to present his Retro Disneyland Slideshow. Charles has delighted fans from coast to coast with his live performances, slideshows, food crafting & test kitchen, not to mention the numerous coffee table books he has published over the years. What connects all them all? The unique wit and flair that only Charles Phoenix can offer.charles_phoenix_header

Charles brings us back to celebrate and toast the early days of Disneyland, when the park was new and Tomorrowland represented the ‘faraway year of 1986’. Disney fans and audiences alike will delight with photographs and backstories of the theme park, along with Charles’ keen eye for detail. We were lucky enough to ask Charles a few questions about the performance, and the inspiration for his slideshows. He graciously invited us in for a tour of CharlesPhoenixLand —

How did you first get interested in slides?charlesphoenix_Ventura            I got interested in collecting other people’s old slides when I discovered a big box of them in a thrift shop in 1992. The box was  marked “Trip Across the United States, 1957.” I held a few up to the light, was hooked immediately, and have been collecting ever since.


The world is like a great big theme park, we live in a wonderland to discover, and there is something interesting around every corner no matter where you go!

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the art that you create?
To cherish our history, look for greatness and when you find it put in on a pedestal and tell its story for the whole world to enjoy. That’s what I’m doing.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?
The immediate response. The connection. I also always enjoy the Q&A part of the show. You never know what they are going to ask …

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?
Not really … the only thing that I’m slightly superstitious about is that I ALWAYS keep my vintage sparkly Colonel Sanders style western bow ties rolled in the inside breast pocket of the jacket I wear them with. Other than that no … but I never take for granted what a privilege it is to be able to stand on a stage in a theater and share my passion with an audience.


If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?
Hopefully a 500-pound gorilla, or a standard poodle dyed periwinkle blue (w/ vegetable dye, of course) or a pink elephant that flies …  

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

I want my audiences to walk away with a sense of local and national pride. A feeling of shared enthusiasm for the pop culture that we’ve all experienced together. Also, the joy of realizing the world is like a great big theme park, we live in a wonderland to discover, and there is something interesting around every corner no matter where you go!

Charles Phoenix FB Cover

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Charles Phoenix’s Retro Disneyland Slideshow performs Oct 14-15, 2017. Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

Developing the Olinda Story: An Interview with director, Jesse Runde

Sometimes the towns we grow up in, live in, and work in don’t even start as towns. The city of Brea has certainly changed over the years, but the sense of community and what we value has always endured. The hills of Olinda & Brea were first used for oil development starting in 1894, but an actual town didn’t develop until 1911 when businesses formed to supply goods to the oil workers & their families. Starting with a population of 752, Brea is now home to over 40,300 residents.

cover sc000323aeThese residents are what make our city so special and what we really want to celebrate in our Brea Centennial legacy project, Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story. Originally commissioned by the California Council for the Humanities, this original play by William Mittler was created in conjunction with Cal State Fullerton’s Oral History Department to share the lives & history of Brea’s earliest residents. We are thrilled to bring this story to life on stage at the Curtis in early November. With auditions taking place this weekend, we look forward to finding a diverse group of actors & musicians to breathe life into the origins of this town.page93o

“A town is made up by the spirit of its people.”

We were fortunate enough to chat with Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story‘s director, Jesse Runde, about her vision for this particular story & her process going into auditions.

To start off, tell us a little about yourself and give some background on your work as a director.

I’ve been involved in the Performing Arts for over 37 years.  I attended Fullerton College, where I now teach, and graduated with my BA from CSU Long Beach.  My interest didn’t really turn to directing until I was in grad school at The University of Oregon.  Most of my directing work since then has been at the various colleges where I’ve taught, or for Alchemy Theatre Company.

As a director, what excites you about this show?

There’s so much room for invention in terms of how we stage the action.  Bill, our playwright, has left plenty of room for theatricality—he hasn’t overmastered the script with a lot of specific stage directions.  That means it’s up to me, working with other members of the production team and the cast, to determine how we will tell the story this time.  It allows us to be more creative, which is a lovely gift from one artist to another.  It’s also exciting to work on a piece that connects so directly with the local history.  The show takes on a special significance, one that is more personal than a typical play.

Can you explain your overall vision/concept for this production & how that ties into what you’re looking for in auditions?

I think one of the most important goals I have for this production is that the audience see themselves in these characters from the past; this is done in the hope that we can learn from their stories, rather than simply being entertained.  We tend to buy in to stories more fully when we empathize with the people they’re about.  So, to that end, when it comes to casting I want to blur the lines of historical accuracy a bit; I want the people on stage to be as diverse as the people in the seats.page103 d

“I want to blur the lines of historical accuracy a bit; I want the people on stage to be as diverse as the people in the seats.”

How do you prepare for auditions? Take us through that process.

It goes something like read, research, ruminate, and repeat.  And with a play about a town that spans decades, there are dozens and dozens of characters, so it is essential to have a good handle on the breakdown of who all is on stage at what time; I have quite an elaborate spreadsheet to handle that.  It’s also important to talk about the project and let people know about the opportunity; it’s not enough to just send out an invitation.  Actors are a special breed of humankind.  They spend a lot of time making themselves vulnerable and exposing themselves to rejection, which is exhausting, so it helps to actively reach out and let those you want to work with know that you would like to see them at auditions.

In auditions, what do you look for to help you make casting decisions?

It varies a bit from show to show, but there is one thing I always look for as a director, and that is simply whether or not the actor seems like someone that I’d enjoy working with on a production—even if I’ve never met them before, I need to figure that out at the audition.  Especially at this level, staging a play is a labor of love.  It’s a lot of late hours, and almost everyone involved has one or more other jobs they work on any given day before they step into the rehearsal room.  I need to know that everyone we cast is a team player.  I need to know they have a sense of humor and a sense of humility, and that they will treat others well.

This show explores the roots & origins of Brea. What’s your origin story? How do you feel connected to Brea now?

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Although I am a transplant from the Midwest, I, like the people of Olinda, am from a town that wasn’t really a town.  We didn’t have our own fire or police departments, there was one only restaurant (a Dairy Queen), only one grocery store (a SuperValue), and one church (Christian, of course).  And you had to get on a bus to ride to the next town once you got past the sixth grade.  And like Olinda, everyone knew everyone’s business—which was sometimes quite touching, and sometimes a burden. 

My main connection to Brea is through the Curtis.  If not for the productions staged there, I don’t know that I would have had cause to discover anything about the place, but I’m so glad I did.  The people of Brea and the surrounding communities are fortunate to have the Cultural Center and its many offerings.  It’s a great model for other cities because it’s the best of both worlds—there is a focus on both local talent and outside groups that creates diverse programming.back cover 10What do you want the main takeaway to be for this show? What would you like the audience to walk away with?


I really can’t say it better than the Station Master, who is a kind of narrator of the show: “…a town is made up by the spirit of its people.”  If the spirit of the people is strong, so too will the town be strong; so too with the state.  We need to be strong individuals, but we also need to find our strength in each other, not despite each other.  Whether or not we survive depends very much on how we treat our neighbors.

Olinda Digital Audition Notice

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Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story performs Nov 3-12, 2017. Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 


Doo Wop in time for Mother’s Day

18221931_10155088588041263_6842608261233703530_nAudience favorites, The Alley Cats, are back with more Doo Wop hits, & even more personality! They’re just returning from the Moscow Spring A Capella Festival in Russia where they competed with over 167 a capella groups to bring home the 2nd place prize.


When asked by FloVoice how it feels to be a part of such a huge festival, the Alley Cats shared:

“We believe music has no borders and the opportunity to perform in Russia right now is unique and we will savor every moment. It is also a feeling of gratitude and respect for what we have done as a group over the last 30 years it’s a real honor to be chosen to attend.”

The Alley Cats got their start right here in Orange County when founding members, Mando Fonseca & Royce Reynolds, started an a capella group at Fullerton College. They’ve gained new performers since then, opened for Jay Leno and Joan Rivers, and performed at the White House.

Even with all their success this past weekend and their continuous touring, they made some time to share some thoughts with us before their upcoming performance on our stage for Mother’s Day weekend.

Curtis Theatre: How did you get interested in Doo Wop?

Mando Fonseca: My parents listened to this music and I lends itself well to A Cappella and our humor.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the music that you create?

Our audience. We listen to their request and choose new material based on what we are asked for!Alley Cats - Dressing Room

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

Making people laugh!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?Alley Cats - Backstage2

We all circle up our our hands in and say “don’t suck” on three. Then we pat each other’s backs and say “I got your back”. We even have t-shirts that say “I’ve got your back”.

How do you involve the audience in what you do on stage?

We get them laughing and break down that wall.

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

Chimp since we tend to Monkey around…..

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

Joyful and inspired. And hopefully you leave all your worries for a couple of hours!AC-Shoot-1-358


The Alley Cats perform May 13 & 14, 2017. Saturday at 4PM & 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Rehearsal: An Interview with Jonathan Infante

What do you get when you combine Ancient Rome + mistake identity + togas? Comedy tonight! Southgate Productions & the Curtis are bringing just that to the stage this March with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Stephen Sondheim delivers again with this witty & riotous farce filled with plot twists at every turn. 

Our team got together with Southgate Productions’ Artistic Director as well as Producer, Set Designer, and Director of the upcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Jonathan Infante, to chat about the show and his many roles in the creative process.

Curtis Theatre: To start off, tell us a little about yourself and give some background on your work as a director.

Jonathan Infante:  I started directing for theater fairly early. Around my junior year of high school, I got the bug to be in control of a show.  I was also still really interested in being a performer, but I knew I wanted to do both.  In 2000 at age 19, STAGEStheatre in Fullerton gave me a shot to direct a show in their season. It was Picasso at The Lapin Agile.  I had done some shows as an actor and they took a chance on me and helped me achieve an amazing show that we were all proud of. Throughout my career, I have jumped back and forth as a designer and director. I spend most of the year as a designer, but the two shows a year I get to direct really help me get even more creativity out.


Jonathan Infante of Southgate

What inspired you to direct Forum?I was inspired to come back to this show because it was the first LEAD role I ever played. I got to play Pseudolous twice in my early acting career and it has always been one of my favorite roles.  I truly believe that it is one of the most perfect Books for a musical and if you listen carefully to Sondheim’s lyrics, they’re not only brilliant but there is so much hidden comedy in it. Truly, the show has so many layers and I wanted to do something closer to a classic show.


Can you explain your overall vision/concept for this production of Forum?

My vision for this show is to remain as true to it as I can be.  This show has been produced many times and directors often take a lot of creative license with it and add and remove scenes. Again, I think the book is flawless and I want to stay true to it.

What do think will be the biggest challenge in this process?

The biggest challenge for this show will be time. It’s a lot of running around and dancing on top of a lot of words. We only rehearse for three weeks. This is something Southgate has always adopted because we know it’s hard to give up a lot of time for rehearsal when you’re not being paid large amounts of money. The chase scene is 25 pages of non-stop movement and dialogue. That will definitely be a challenge for all!

Sounds like fun! How does your role as Artistic Director of Southgate tie into your work on Forum? With this show, you’re juggling a lot of different roles –how do they all fit together?

My main job as Artistic Director of Southgate is to ensure that our productions meet a certain standard.  My job as director is to deliver a solid show.  These two jobs can go hand in hand at many times.  I fit it all together by surrounding myself with amazingly talented staff that help me meet the expectations of both jobs.  


Set drawings & inspiration

You also did the set design; give us some insight on what the space will look like and the meaning behind it.

We always try to reimagine shows when we mount them. For this show, we’re going the classic way. Three houses on a street in Rome. The entire show takes place on a single standing set. Tall structures with columns, wacky angles, and vivid colors. The whole show is a nod to vaudeville and our set will be as well.

What do you hope the audience walks away from this production with? What’s the main takeaway?

I have one goal with this show. That the everyone remembers that we need to laugh and this show is a great way to remember that.

lets-play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs March 25-April 9, 2017. Half-off Preview Friday, March 24 at 8PM; Opening with Pre-show Reception & Post-show Toast Saturday, March 25. Runs Friday & Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! Let us know your thoughts.


Meet John Carney: the man behind the magic

When you buy a ticket to a theater production, you’re hoping you’ll encounter some sort of magic.  You wish to be swept away, to believe in a new or different reality, to believe in the impossible. With John Carney, you get just that and a little more. It’s more than a magic show, it’s more than a theatre show — it’s theatre magic. 

Now what makes Carney so adept at marrying these two art forms? He’s certainly not new to either scene. As an accomplished actor, he’s participated in a multitude of sketch comedy shows, plays, and even landed roles on TV shows such as Spin City and Two and a Half Men. As a magician, he’s acknowledged by his peers as one of the finest sleight of hand performers in the world with many awards to go along with that. He’s no stranger to Hollywood’s The Magic Castle where he performs often and has been given more awards there than anyone in their history. He’s even shown off his magic tricks on the Late Show with David Letterman!2

What makes John Carney so special is his passion for creating original material. He dazzles us with his ability to make us laugh during an illusion. Maybe it’s so magical because he’s done the prep work — but every time it feels brand new. 

Our operations assistant, Lottie Frick, sat down with John to get some insight on his art, life, magic and everything in between.

LF: How did you first get interested in magic?

JCI started when I was a teenager. I think it helped a lot that I had the benefit of a few mentors who were willing to take me beyond the initial infatuation. Close-up magic was a way for me to perform for small groups without stepping foot on a stage. I would perform for friends after dinner or at parties.

LF: Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the art that you create?

JC: My greatest influence in magic was a man named Dai Vernon, probably the greatest sleight-of-hand master of the last century. He was a real artist, in the truest sense of the word. He taught me that good sleight-of-hand is more than just fast hands. Ideally, it’s more intellectual in nature. It’s about psychology, problem solving, choreography of movement…and it has elegant simplicity. Dai Vernon taught me so much. There were never any formal lessons, and no money ever changed hands. We would just sit and talk about magic for hours. We were kindred spirits, even if we were generations apart.

Mystoimplores-1.croped.dd_.jpgLF: What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

JC: I like the challenge of making a theater of wonder out of simple everyday things. The audience is focused, and I can manipulate the environment with lights and sound. I can create the kind of atmosphere where I can do almost anything, from the silly to the sentimental.

LF: How do you go about creating characters?

JC: Most are based on someone I have known, but exaggerated for effect. Others are amalgams of famous people from real life, movies, and my imagination. A script will get me started, along with a point of view, attitude, voice and speech pattern. From there, I take it on stage and improvise in that frame work, then just keep rewriting, and tweaking it technically. Generally it takes at least 100 performances of a new piece before I feel it has really taken shape. Even then, I can find new touches to add after hundreds of shows.

LF: Incredible that it can still be new after 100 performances. Now, do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

JC: Hopefully, it all looks spontaneous, but my only ritual is checking and rechecking the hundreds of small details that make it look effortless. Most of the real work comes long before, planning out tiny details that no one would ever notice, unless they were neglected. There are countless technical things that could go wrong in the show, and part of my job is making sure that if they do happen, I figure out a way to fix them so they never happen again. I’m more a believer in preparation than superstition.

LF: If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

JC: A chimpanzee: Silly, playful, and charming, but underneath it all, more clever than you think.

LF: What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

JC:  I want to affect people and give them a unique experience. I want it to be fun, with people walking away happy, perhaps with a new perspective on their own beliefs and perceptions – and what is possible.


Carney Magic runs Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 4PM and 8PM at the Curtis Theatre. Tickets range from $16-$32. For tickets, call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 or purchase 24/7 on our website http://www.curtistheatre.com. Use code “HalfOffCarney” for 50% off tickets.

Giving us direction: Stephen John on “Sweeney Todd”

Sweeney_FB-EventCover.jpgDirector Stephen John reflects on stepping into the world of Sweeney Todd 37 years after its Broadway opening. He’s been waiting 20 years to get a stab at directing this bloody tale and has run headfirst at this opportunity with the Curtis & Southgate Productions to re-imagine and re-envision the classic musical. Stephen John will direct Sondheim’s most gruesome musical this October (just in time for Halloween) to kick off the start of our ’16/’17 season.

Don’t know the show or just need a refresher?  Here’s a (very) short synopsis: 

This dark and witty tale of love, murder, and revenge takes you to 19th century London. The road to vengeance leads Sweeney Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop. Mrs. Lovett’s luck sharply shifts when Todd’s thirst for blood inspires a secret ingredient into her meat pies that has the people of London lining up! 

Our operations assistant, Lottie Frick, met up with Sweeney Todd director, Stephen John, to get more information on his vision for this production.

Lottie Frick:  To set things moving, tell us a little about yourself  and give some background on your work as a director.

Stephen John:  I have been directing in Orange County theatre for 16 years, but have also branched out and worked in Arizona and Indiana. When directing a straight play, whether it be comedy or drama, I like to work fairly organically and rely heavily on the script as the primary source. Whereas, when it comes to musicals I am much more into creating a strong concept and beginning from there!

My vision of our production is a cleaner more efficient version of the show that tells the story through the eyes of Tobias.

LF: What inspired you to direct Sweeney Todd?

Stephen John, director of “Sweeney Todd”


SJ:  I am actually the first in my family to be born in the U.S. My Grandparents emigrated with my father and my uncle from London in the early 60’s. My grandfather was a theatre manager in London both for live theatre (primarily Musicals) and then also for a movie house. He had a personal obsession with the horror genre of film and therefore I grew up entrenched in Horror and Musicals; the perfect combination to set me on a trajectory for Sweeney Todd. I must admit that I have loved the show since I first saw it and have wanted to direct the show for 20 years. I can now say that staging the Prologue with this group of actors and on this set has been one of my favorite things to stage and has truly lived up to the hype in my mind!


LF:  Awesome – I can’t wait to see the final product! Can you explain your overall vision/concept for this production of Sweeney Todd?

SJ:  My vision of our production is a cleaner more efficient version of the show that tells the story through the eyes of Tobias. It is my hope to trim the fat away and present a much more streamlined production.

SJ, director, with actor Aaron Stevens who plays Anthony in “Sweeney Todd”


LF:  Layering on that, how is it different from what others may have seen in past Sweeney productions?

SJ:  Our production looks at the two main characters, [Sweeney] Todd and [Mrs.] Lovett, and reconsiders who the worst of the two really is. If you think about it, while Todd kills, it is with revenge in mind and in response to some pretty awful circumstances. Whereas, Lovett sacrifices others for her own advancement of purpose. In our production, we hope to present the idea that she is actually the evil one and Todd is the one that deserves at least a little of our pity.

LF:  An interesting point to think about. What do you think will be the biggest challenge in this process?

SJ:  The original production relied heavily on the spectacle of a grand set, multiple props, and blood, Blood, BLOOD! Our production trims all of these things down dramatically. The challenge for me, our design team, and actors is to tell the story by focusing more on the character relationships rather than spectacle.

A closer look at the tools of Sweeney Todd

 Our production looks at the two main characters, [Sweeney] Todd and [Mrs.] Lovett, and reconsiders who the worst of the two really is.

LF:  I’ve heard temporary tattoos might be used in the design process, can you talk a little bit about that?

SJ:  We are looking at bringing the design of the production forward in time. The idea is to keep the period appropriate silhouette but use fabrics that are more contemporary. Following the contemporary thought, we are considering more modern hair and styles for the actors, including temporary tattoos. By doing so, we will make the show more relevant and approachable to a modern audience.


Actors Rudy Martinez (Sweeney Todd) & Laura Gregory (Mrs. Lovett)

LF:  Along with directing, you also did the set design; give us some insight on what the space will look like and the meaning behind it.


SJ:   I was actually in London this summer and was inspired by the claustrophobic feel in London itself. The buildings are literally stacked on top of each other! Our set is itself very narrow at only 16 feet wide on its main platform. This will force us to work efficiently and when the full cast is on stage will reinforce the claustrophobic feel that I remember from this summer.

LF:  Flash forward to opening night — the audience is walking out from a night with Sweeney Todd. What do you hope they take away from this production?

SJ:  Ultimately, we have to remember that the show should be entertaining. As we are producing the production in October, it is our hope that the audience comes into the production to have fun and walks away with exactly that, some good Halloween fun!


Sweeney Todd runs Oct 7-23, 2016. Half-off preview Oct. 7 with an official opening & reception Oct. 8. Runs Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now for Sweeney Todd. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! Let us know your thoughts on     Sweeney Todd — previous productions    you’ve seen, what you hope to see in this one, etc.