SCV NEWSMAKERS OF THE WEEK:


Fiddler on the Roof
Patti Finley
Co-Director, "Fiddler on the Roof"
Craig Duswalt
Director, "Meshuggah-Nuns"

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Senior Editor

Sunday, July 23, 2006
(Television interview conducted July 18, 2006)

    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Senior Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmakers are Patti Finley, co-director of the Canyon Theatre Guild production of "Fiddler on the Roof," and Craig Duswalt, director of the CTG's "Meshuggah-Nuns." Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: Tell us about the play that's opening this Saturday, July 29.

Finley: "Fiddler on the Roof." It's our big production at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center this year. We're trying to do at least one a year in the big venue. We're finding that musicals are really popular, and with our 281 seats, we can't run them as many weeks as we need to, sometimes. Last year we did "The Wizard of Oz" at COC, and it was a very big success, so this year we're trying "Fiddler on the Roof."

Signal: You have your own theater in Old Town Newhall; is it just not big enough?

Finley: Not big enough sometimes. We've had to add performances, especially of the musicals. And it's just a whole different feel when you do it on a big stage, in a big theater like that. It's a good experience for our actors to be able to perform in that venue, and it exposes us to a lot of members of the community who don't normally come down to Newhall to the theater.

Signal: How did you decide on "Fiddler?"


Patti Finley
Patti Finley
Finley: We actually did "Fiddler" 11 years ago. It was my first show with the Canyon Theatre Guild. We did that one at Valencia High ... and it was very well-received. We thought of which shows we might like to do and checked on the availability of rights.
    People don't realize, you actually have to get permission to do the shows, and sometimes they're playing somewhere else and we can't get permission. So we narrowed down our choices and decided that "Fiddler" would be the one that we would do this year.

Signal: Craig, you're doing a play that has something to do with "Fiddler?"

Duswalt: It does. We're doing "Meshuggah-Nuns," which has something to do with Fiddler because (the character) Howard in "Meshuggah-Nuns" is Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." It's a spoof on "Fiddler on the Roof" with the "Nunsense" nuns. The Nunsense nuns meet Howard — Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof."

Signal: That doesn't sound very kosher.

Duswalt: It's not kosher at all.

Finley: But it's very meshuggah.

Duswalt: It's very funny. It's very meshuggah.

Signal: Where is this happening?

Duswalt: This is happening at the Canyon Theatre Guild. (The two plays) are running concurrently. "Meshuggah-Nuns" opens Friday, July 28, so we have our special opening night. And then "Fiddler" opens Saturday, July 29, so they have their special night. But we run concurrently.

Signal: So the comedy spoof is in Old Town Newhall—

Duswalt: Correct. And the real show is at COC. ... The idea is for one person to go see "Fiddler" first and then go see us totally destroy "Fiddler"

Signal: (To Duswalt) There was a time when you weren't affiliated with the Canyon Theatre.

Duswalt: That's correct.

Signal: People who are familiar with your name probably associate it with the Repertory Theatre. Are you with the Canyon Theatre now?

Duswalt: I'm a guest director there (Canyon Theatre). I'm a supporter of the Canyon Theatre Guild, and I am not with the Repertory East Playhouse anymore. I have a passion for theater and decided to go with some friends over at the other theater and do a show.

Signal: This is community theater, so these are people in the community who are not professional actors, right?

Finley: Not necessarily. I was a professional for most of my life before I got married and had my son. Now I do it as an avocation, I do it because I love it.
    Many of the people who are in our shows were professional, and for one reason or another are not doing it professionally anymore. So in that sense, we're not professional; we don't get paid, but our shows are very professional. Many of our actors are very professional.

Signal: This is not a union affair.

Finley: No.

Duswalt: Correct.

Signal: (To Finley) Isn't your husband, Greg, a professional actor?

Finley: He's a voice-over actor, yes.

Signal: And he is involved with the Canyon Theater once in a while.

Finley: Yes, that's right. In fact, he is in "Fiddler on the Roof." He is playing Lazar Wolf, the butcher.

Duswalt: Go figure.

Finley: Go figure, but I'm not the only director so it wasn't only my choice.

Signal: Who isn't in "Fiddler"? It's a big cast. How many people are in it?

Finley: Fifty-four.

Duswalt: Now ask me how many are in "Meshuggah-Nuns."

Signal: How many are in "Meshuggah-Nuns"?


Craig Duswalt
Craig Duswalt
Duswalt: Five. Much more manageable. ... I can't deal with 54 people in a show. She can.

Finley: I'm beginning to learn how. It's kind of like putting a puzzle together because there are so many different aspects. First we rehearse the music, and it might not be everybody; it would be just the people in that particular number. We try to keep the numbers manageable until about this point in rehearsal, where you have to have everyone there every night so that you can run through things. And then it gets a little noisy and crowded.

Signal: You've been involved in big Canyon Theatre Guild productions in the past.

Finley: (Yes.) This past season I did Oklahoma!, and there were close to 50 people in that, on our stage. The year before I did "Guys and Dolls," and that was also a big cast. I just really love musicals, so I manage to work with the big casts. I don't think musicals are Craig's first love.

Duswalt: Craig really doesn't like musicals. However, "Meshuggah-Nuns" is a musical. But it's a musical comedy. And five people, much like "The Fantasticks." I did "The Fantasticks" at The Rep. Small casts.

Signal: You'll hold your nose and suffer through this one.

Duswalt: I'm not suffering. I'm liking this one. This is fun.

Finley: It's a very funny play.

Signal: Do you worry that maybe people will think it's offensive to make fun of "Fiddler?"

Duswalt: Absolutely! (Laughter.) No, no. We're not making fun, but some Catholics might be offended and some Jewish people might be offended, but the idea is to laugh at ourselves. It's not meant to be offensive at all, and it has been a very successful show off-Broadway. But hopefully Santa Clarita can handle it. It's not offensive.

Signal: When you were with the Rep, you were trying to do some edgier stuff. Is that where this is coming from?

Duswalt: I don't know.

Finley: We have a committee at the Theatre Guild that reads lots of plays to pick our season for each year. And when we decided we were going to do "Fiddler," we started thinking: Last year when we did "Wizard of Oz," we did "Nunsense" at our theater at the same time, because it was a small cast and it was manageable. It's too hard to do two big musicals at the same time. So this year we thought, well, we're doing "Fiddler"; what can we do in tandem at the theater that won't strain our resources?" So we looked into the "Nuns" plays, because there is a whole series of "Nuns" plays by Dan Goggin. My mother actually told me about "Meshuggah-Nuns." She lives in Miami. She said, "There's this funny play," so we read it and listened to the music and we thought it would be really wonderful to do in tandem with "Fiddler."
    It isn't the "Fiddler on the Roof" story. These nuns are on a cruise and everyone in the cast of "Fiddler" gets seasick except for the fellow playing Tevye. So he and the nuns get together to put on a show for the passengers. There are some songs that are kind of parodies of songs from "Fiddler," but the story isn't. We thought they'd go really well together.

Duswalt: And when I say it's not offensive at all, I mean Jewish communities are putting on "Meshuggah-Nuns" all across the country. It's just a fun show. It's not making fun; it's just, the differences between the Catholic community and the Jewish community are kind of spoofed.

Finley: And some of the similarities too. Like guilt. ... Guilt is universal.

Signal: When you put on a big production, don't you usually do a children's show at the same time?

Finley: No. When we do one of our big productions like our musicals and our Christmas show, we do it alone, because usually we have to add matinees to accommodate everyone who wants to come to see it. When we do one of the smaller adult comedies or a drama, we usually run that with a family show so that we have two going, but then they have less complicated sets so they can both work together.

Signal: You must have cast "Fiddler" and "Meshuggah-Nuns" a long time ago—

Finley: Oh, yeah. We're coming into the finish line now with our rehearsals.

Duswalt: I cast my show three times.

Signal: How long are you in rehearsal before opening night?

Finley: I try for 10 weeks when I'm doing a musical. Normally we schedule eight weeks for rehearsal for a straight play but 10 weeks for a musical.

Duswalt: We did six weeks, I think, because it's smaller.

Signal: There are children in "Fiddler," too, right?

Finley: Yes, some. It's a village! You can't have a village without children. Tevye's got five daughters, and two of them are young. And we needed to have some other young children.

Signal: Do they end up taking time away from school? Of course, it's summer—

Finley: No, it's summer. We do shows throughout the year with children, and we try to get them to do their homework when they're not on stage. It doesn't work, though, usually. They're just so excited that they either run around or talk or listen to their iPods and don't get their homework done. But somehow there's a balance and they can do shows and go to school.

Signal: Craig, did you do your homework when you weren't on stage?

Duswalt: I didn't act at that young of an age.

Signal: How did you get into this?

Duswalt: I started when I was in college. In my third year of college I did a play, "When Did You Last See My Mother?" They said I was good, I guess. And I got hooked, and now I have such a passion for theater, I can't get it out of my blood.

Finley: It's a disease.

Signal: And the pay is so great, you don't have to work on the side—

Duswalt: No! Not at all.

Signal: What do you do for a living?

Duswalt: I currently work for Neal Weichel. He's a real estate agent, I'm his marketing director, and I also buy and sell homes, I'm a real estate agent. And I'm trying to bring a minor league baseball team to Santa Clarita.

Signal: Patti, you used to be in real estate, didn't you?

Finley: I did. I had my own Century 21 office in the valley before I moved out here.

Signal: Are you doing Canyon Theater full time now?

Finley: Yes. I'm the director of daytime programs, which means (I'm in charge of) all the workshops we do with children.
    We have some summer workshops going on right now, which are terrific, from the ages of 6 to 17. We have workshops for children.

Signal: Is it too late to sign up for this summer?

Finley: We have just, I think, two or three openings (for) 6- to 10-year-olds. Anyone interested in that can call the theater, 799-2702. And then, starting Aug. 27, I have a home school workshop. We found there were a lot of home-school children who were interested in theater, so we do one program during the day which works around their schedule, and those performances are open to the local elementary schools. They bring their children on field trips to see a real show in a real theater performed by children just like them. And then we're starting, also on Aug. 22, an after-school workshop for 8- to 14-year-olds. That's going to be the musical "Pinocchio," and the daytime program is called "Aesop's Fallibles." It's the fables with a twist, and that's a rock musical, too.

Signal: What's the goal with these kids' programs? Is it to shape future actors?

Finley: No, not necessarily. It's just a wonderful opportunity for kids to get self-confidence, to make new friends, to learn how to use their imaginations. They are able to speak in public more easily after they take the workshops. Some of them find that they do better in school because they're not so afraid of getting up or reading in front of the children. It's a confidence builder, if nothing else.
    And some of the kids do love it and want to try out for other shows and stay in it. And some of them have gone to New York. So it's got something for everyone. The kids who are too afraid to get on a stage — we have those kids, and their parents will sign them up and then they say, "I don't want to do this" — we teach them how to run the lights or the sound or to stage-manage, so that they all find a place at the theater. We like to involve families, and when you get the children involved, you get the parents involved.
    One of my favorite stories is Jeff Hyde, who's designing the set for "Fiddler on the Roof." He brought his son to the callbacks of "South Pacific." ... I said, "Do you sing?" He became one of my men in "South Pacific," and he's been really active ever since. So it works really well with having the children involved.
    Signal: You mentioned that you had done professional acting and then got out of it and went into real estate; now you've found the Canyon Theatre. How did that happen?

Finley: My ex-husband was an actor on Broadway and he said there was only room for one career in our family. So being the time that it was in history, I said, "OK." I just stopped auditioning for things. And then we moved out here for him to do a movie, and subsequently we were divorced.

Signal: This is why he's the ex-husband.

Finley: He's the ex-husband, yeah. But while we were out here and I was working in real estate, I started to really miss being creative and performing, and I got involved in a community theater in the valley and met my current husband — my third and final husband. We did a show together and the rest is history.

Signal: You mentioned that your first Canyon Theatre Guild production was "Fiddler" 11 years ago. How did you find the Canyon Theater Guild?

Finley: They found me. You remember Carmen Sarro. She was doing a fundraiser for the Arts Council. My family and I auditioned for it, and we were performing in that fundraiser. And (CTG Executive Director) TimBen Boydston, with whom I'm co-directing "Fiddler," was going to be directing "Fiddler" and he saw us perform and he asked me to audition for "Fiddler." So I did, and I brought my son with me because he was little and I wouldn't do anything unless he was also involved, and fortunately, they needed kids in that village, too. So he and I were both in "Fiddler," and that was our first experience with the Canyon Theatre Guild.

Signal: Eleven years later, you're still there.

Finley: It's really like an extended family; the opportunity to be either on stage or direct; the creative outlet — it's just wonderful to be able to do this and to make new friends and to explore new things.
    I didn't know that I'd be able to do some of the things that I can do now. I didn't know I could teach. It has really been an awakening for me, and I tell people it keeps me out of the mall; that's a good thing. It's great fun to be able to participate, whether we're building sets — I found that I really enjoy looking for props in our prop attic; helping to paint the sets — I'm not much of a builder. And directing is just a great joy. I love it.

Signal: OK, Craig, with your background working with professional actors, how do you rate the caliber of the acting at the Canyon Theater?

Duswalt: Well, I am blessed to have five great, great actors from the Canyon Theatre. The four females are, I consider, the top four female singers. There are other great female singers there, but these four are phenomenal, and the gentleman I got to play Howard is one of their best, a Goldie Award-winning actor.
    Because there are only five in my cast, I got the cream of the crop as far as singers, female singers, and I think that's why they picked a show like this — because it didn't conflict with the "Fiddler" cast. "Fiddler" didn't have a lot of lead lady roles (other than the daughters, who) are younger.

Finley: Yes, they're younger. And the two main women (in "Fiddler") — the woman who's playing my part, Golda, is new to us. She lives in the valley. And Yente, the other lady, is not a singing role. What we did was, we scheduled our auditions so that people would audition — ours were first. ... They would audition first, and then we told them they didn't have to give us an answer if they didn't get the part they wanted, whether they'd be in our ensemble or not, until they auditioned for the other one if they wanted to. And then if they didn't get that, we wanted to leave it open so that they wouldn't say, "Oh, I can't audition for ¬Fiddler' because I want to try for ¬Meshuggah-Nuns,'" and then they might be in neither.

Duswalt: We negotiated for some parts, too, like, "I'll give you this one if you give me that one."

Signal: Craig, what attracted you to the Canyon Theatre?

Duswalt: Well, I'm friends with Patti and TimBen, and like I said, it's in my blood, and I'm not doing anything at the other theater. So I was out of it for about a year — and a year tends to make you go, "All right, I'm ready to do something." I'm not ready to go back on stage — I used to be an actor, too — but directing is great. You get to do six (or) seven weeks to do the show and you're done, and it's not a three-month commitment whereas acting is. So I get to do something with the theater even though I love acting, but at least I get to direct something and I get out. I get in and I get out. It's kind of nice.

Finley: We always had a really good relationship.
    Signal: Do you want to have him back (after "Meshuggah-Nuns")?

Finley: Oh, we'd love to have him back.

Duswalt: We had a great relationship when I was in the Santa Clarita Repertory. We've always gotten along very well.

Finley: We borrowed things from each other and exchanged ideas, talked about schedulings so we wouldn't conflict with each other. We always had a really good working relationship, so it's nice to have him working with us on this show.

Signal: Since the Canyon Theatre is a nonprofit organization, you've got a board of directors, right?

Finley: Yes, we do. A nine-member board of directors.

Signal: And you've been president already?

Finley: I have been president, yes, I was president for four terms. But now that I actually work for the theater, I can't be on the board. But I do attend the board meetings as a staff member.

Signal: How many staff members are there now?

Finley: Well, TimBen is our executive director, and I'm director of daytime programs. He's the artistic director of our regular season and I'm the artistic director of our family season. And then we have four box-office people and a facilities director who handles the maintenance of the building. ... It's seven people.

Signal: The box office people are part-time?

Finley: Yes, except for right now they're full-time because we've got two big shows and the phones are busy and it's complicated, taking the reservations so we don't confuse them, and because "Fiddler" is at College of the Canyons, and we're doing our own ticket sales, we are mailing tickets out to people. We don't normally do that. We keep them at "will call" at our theater. But for "Fiddler," we're mailing them, so there is an additional step. We need to have people there so they can put the things in the envelope and get them mailed out.

Signal: So who pays for all this? Does the ticket price cover the actual costs?

Finley: Yes, basically. Our fundraisers are strictly for our capital campaign. We've been having fundraisers from, well, way before we opened, so that we were able to be open, and our Phase 2 is almost completed now. We are almost finished with our parking lot — come see it, it's beautiful — and our patio, which will connect our building with the small building next door that we also own. It connects people who park on Railroad Avenue; they can walk through our beautiful patio to the front door. And at intermission, there will be a place to go besides the lobby, and it's almost done. Then we'll be starting on the next phase.

Signal: What's the next phase? Are you planning an expansion?

Finley: We have several needs that the board has to decide which one we're going to do next. We do need a shop. What we are using to build the scenery in isn't anywhere near adequate enough, so we do need to talk about doing that. Maybe additional performing space at some point, because we are outgrowing—

Signal: You've got what, a 299-seat theater?

Finley: It's 281, actually.

Signal: What is it — if it's 99 seats or fewer, you don't have to pay union scale?

Finley: Correct.

Duswalt: For a 99-seat theater, you don't have to pay union scale to union actors. You get a break.

Signal: Since Canyon Theatre is 281 and doesn't pay, that means nobody who acts at the theater is a union member?

Duswalt: Correct.

Finley: You're not supposed to be.

Signal: Unless they're in the family—

Finley: That's a different union.

Signal: OK, so if you don't expand the number of seats, you're talking about having another performance space somewhere else in town?

Finley: Maybe an alternate space. Maybe some place smaller that we could either use for our children's portion, either the workshops and-or the family shows.

Signal: Maybe something like the Newhall Auditorium? What's going on with that?

Finley: I'm not sure. We would love to be able to use that auditorium, but it is controlled by Theatre Arts for Children now, and I'm not sure exactly what direction it's going in.

Signal: There was some word about different groups sharing it—

Finley: There has been talk. They haven't decided yet exactly what they're going to do or what groups will be involved.

Signal: Craig's sitting here grinning. What are you grinning about?

Duswalt: I know nothing. I know nothing.

Signal: Tell us what you know.

Duswalt: I know nothing.

Signal: Do you want to use the Newhall Auditorium for something?

Duswalt: I know nothing.

Signal: OK, so Craig's going to try to beat the Canyon Theatre Guild—

Duswalt: No, no, no. I would help them.

Finley: It's going to be a wonderful facility when it's finished, the Newhall Auditorium. There's still a great deal of work that needs to be done before you can actually use it for performances. I think they're concentrating on trying to do some fundraising and what else I don't know; I'm not on their board.

Signal: So Craig, will we see you form a new theater company some day?

Duswalt: Oh, gosh. You know, I mean I would love to; not yet. I have to chill for a year.

Signal: Give us a final pitch.

Duswalt: "Meshuggah-Nuns" opens this Friday, July 28, and runs through Aug. 27.

Finley: ("Fiddler") opens Saturday, July 29, and runs through Aug. 20 at College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center. For both shows, you call the box office at the Canyon Theatre Guild, 799-2702, for reservations (or visit) www. canyontheatre.org. We have our whole season on our Web site. We even have a seating chart for College of the Canyons if people want to look at that when they're making their reservations.

Signal: So you can reserve by the seat?

Finley: Yes.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.


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