Spotlight on ASL-Interpreter Extraordinaire, Liz Mendoza

Jason Blitman

For over three decades, San Diego Junior Theatre has been offering American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted performances for each of its productions. And one interpreter in particular, Liz Mendoza, has been devoted to SDJT since the beginning! Every season, Liz oversees booking interpreters for each production and very often takes on the performances herself. We decided it was time to shine the JT spotlight on Liz and her invaluable work!

SDJT: How long have you been working as an ASL interpreter for live performances?

Liz: I have been interpreting theatre since 1984 when I interpreted Candida for my capstone project with two other students in the interpreting program at Mesa College. Since then, I have loved interpreting for the theatre. In 1999, I auditioned for and was accepted into the inaugural year of the Theatre Development Fund’s “Interpreting for the Theatre” weeklong seminar at The Juilliard School in New York City. We interpreted Les Misérables on Broadway for our final project.

SDJT: Wow! That must have been an incredible experience! And how long have you been doing interpretation for Junior Theatre?

Liz: I believe I have been interpreting at Junior Theatre since about 1990. I love interpreting shows at Junior Theatre! It is a wonderful venue to mentor future theatre interpreters. Many interpreters don’t realize how much work goes into interpreting for a show. We have to memorize every aspect of the show, including lighting, blocking, mannerisms, off-stage audio, in addition to the lines and songs.

SDJT: I imagine many audience members don’t realize how much time and effort is devoted to preparation. Do you have a favorite Junior Theatre production that you’ve interpreted for?

Liz: They are all so good! I am particularly impressed with the Shakespeare shows, which provide a unique challenge to interpret into ASL. These shows take much more time to rehearse than non-Shakespeare shows. There is a lot of time-intensive research that we have to do to make a parallel experience for the Deaf audience with the hearing audience.

SDJT: Do you have any stories to share about interpreting for JT shows? Any special moments or highlights?

Liz: Interpreting at Junior Theatre is always such a welcoming experience. Backstage in the green room is always fun because the kids are interested in either learning ASL or showing us that they have learned some signs. My favorite part was when ASL was incorporated into a show. I consulted on that and was so proud of their performance!

SDJT: Do you also provide interpretation for other types of events or situations outside of entertainment?

Liz: I have been a full-time interpreter since 1984, working mostly in the community (education, medical, legal, etc.) in addition to interpreting shows at Junior Theatre, Civic Theatre and the Old Globe. I am currently a full-time ASL-English Interpreting professor at Palomar College, while interpreting part-time.

SDJT: Your passion for this work is so clear. What sparked your interest in doing this?

Liz: A fun fact is that during the summers growing up, I accompanied my aunt, Valerie Victor (Maschner), while she played piano for rehearsals and performances at Junior Theatre in the ‘70s. She inspired my interest in the performing arts and I acted and danced for many years. Theatre interpreting is another aspect of being involved in the performing arts.

SDJT: Amazing! I had not realized your relationship with Junior Theatre began at an early age! Do you have future aspirations with this line of work?

Liz: My goal is to have all theatre accessible to all people. It is important to be forward thinking when planning performances and not adding interpreters as an afterthought. Junior Theatre does an amazing job of providing access and inclusion for its patrons and actors. 

If you are interested in following Liz’s work, please check out her Facebook page: Stage Signs of San Diego. And, of course, make sure to attend our ASL-interpreted performances (the last Saturday of each production) to see Liz and her colleagues make the onstage magic accessible to those in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community!

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Spotlight on Junior Theatre’s Wig & Makeup Designer, Meg Woodley!

Jason Blitman

San Diego Junior Theatre has had the pleasure of working with Wig & Makeup Artist, Meg Woodley on each of our productions since we reopened in September 2021. We thought it would be fun to shine the spotlight on Meg, ask her some questions and take a look at some of her work.

Make sure to check out the photos below the Q & A!

SDJT: What inspired you to get into doing hair & makeup?

MEG: I’ve always loved playing with and doing my hair in different and sometimes crazy styles- there’s a great picture that I have of myself at 12 where I have several pigtails sticking out at random places! Professionally, I went to college for Musical Theatre Performance and my program was very strict about all the students in the program having more skills than just singing and acting. It was required of each of us to learn about every aspect of theatre and to work in all the different positions throughout our years in the program. I fell in love with stage makeup and how to make and style wigs! It allowed me to be creative in different ways!

SDJT: Did you train under anyone early in your career?

MEG: I got a basic education in stage makeup and styling wigs when I was in college but I had the best education when I started working at Alabama Shakespeare Theatre. I was hired as a wig intern and very quickly worked my way up to be the second in charge of the department. I was building wigs and prosthetics as well as running shows! It was a wonderful place to learn the foundation of my skills and I got to work on so many different types of shows and with different designers that it really strengthened my abilities.

SDJT: Aside from Junior Theatre, which theatres have you work worked at, here in San Diego or elsewhere?

MEG: I am the Wig and Makeup Supervisor at The Old Globe Theatre full-time now and have done some side projects for San Diego Opera Theatre, here in San Diego. I spent several years at the Alabama Shakespeare Theatre and with the Prather Production house in Pennsylvania. I have also done three national (and Canadian) tours and two international tours in China, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and have worked in theatres around the country and the world.

SDJT: What are some of your favorite shows you have worked on, both at Junior Theatre and at other theatres?

MEG: I’ve worked on some amazing shows! A few of my favorites are Beauty and the Beast, The Importance of Being Earnest (Alabama Shakespeare); Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Trojan Women (Rockford); The Wizard of Oz (National and International Tours); Come Fall In Love, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The XIXth (The Old Globe); The Jungle Book, Edgar Allan Poe’s Gruesome Gallery of Grotesquerie (Junior Theatre).

SDJT: Can you share some details about the work you did for those shows?

MEG: For most of the above shows I built and styled a lot of wigs, facial hair pieces, and for some I’ve gotten to make prosthetics. For Beauty and the Beast, I got to create the Beast’s facial prosthetics and make a lot of beautiful wigs! For A Midsummer Night’s Dream I got to make a really cool mohawk for Puck and several beautiful wigs! In all of these shows, I got to work with some amazing artists and people who made the whole process so much fun!

SDJT: Have you worked in tv and/or film?

MEG: I have done a little bit in short films- mostly styling hair but I also got the opportunity, recently, to create a character costume for the spooky ‘King’ character for a short film called Henry’s Kingdom.

SDJT: How is it working with JT students? Is it very different from your work at the Globe or elsewhere?

MEG: I’ve loved having the opportunity to work here at JT. I think it’s such a wonderful place for kids to be creative! It’s so important for them to have a space, not only to create, but also to feel comfortable expressing themselves and I think JT has been a wonderful place for that! The JT kids are so much fun to work with- no matter the size of the role or the crew position, they want to make it their own. It’s a real joy to see the kids want to learn anything they can and I try to always show them something new and cool, whether it’s a styling technique or a new makeup skill. I also thinks it’s such a good idea to have them try different crew positions as well as get to perform- I think it’s so important to learn all that you can and have an appreciation for the different jobs within the theatre. Also, my student crews have always been excited to try new things and ready to take on the challenges of the job! There are 22 wigs in The Sound of Music and my student crew is responsible for them throughout the run. I’m so proud of my teams and they have always worked really hard!

SDJT: Do you have any dream shows you’d love to work on?

MEG: I would love to work on lots of shows! Anything that will be challenging! But my top recent dream shows to do hair and makeup on would probably be Shrek the Musical, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton and Six! I love musicals!

SDJT: And finally, do you have any aspirations outside of hair & makeup?

MEG: Now that we’re back in the swing of things after the pandemic, I’d really love to get back into performing! I miss singing on the stage! But I’ve also been thinking about possibly going back to school to get a degree in psychology.

Check out Meg’s latest wig and makeup creations in our 76th season of productions, starting with The Sound of Music, running now through November 12!

Photos below: Meg’s hair and make up creations on such show as How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Beauty and the Beast and Junior Theatre’s The Spongebob Musical.

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SDJT Alum Returns to Compose Original Music for “Gruesome Gallery”

San Diego Junior Theatre’s world premiere production, Edgar Allan Poe’s Gruesome Gallery of Grotesquerie, is based on Poe’s works but was devised from scratch by director Blake McCarty in collaboration with the cast. An original play wouldn’t be quite as original without brand new music to accompany Poe’s dark and moody tales. Cue Morgan Hollingsworth, a Junior Theatre student from 2006 to 2011 who has been working as a performer, musician and composer since his JT days.

While performing was a big part of Morgan’s Junior Theatre experience (favorite JT productions include Into the Woods, Les Miserables and Hairspray), to earn his crew credit, Morgan played violin in the pit of several shows such as Stone Soup, My Son Pinocchio and, arguably, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (“I say arguably because David Siciliano and I went from playing bluegrass instruments off stage to being in full costume with lines and bits, and we even had our photos in the lobby!”). In October, The SpongeBob Musical was Morgan’s first time playing for JT as an adult. Today, voice is Morgan’s primary instrument (“for any vocalist is a musician”), followed by guitar, mandolin and violin/viola. “But hand me any instrument and I can probably figure it out to some extent!”

In recent years, Morgan has worked with McCarty and his theatre company, Blindspot Collective, on a number of projects. He also shares that outgoing Junior Theatre Artistic Director, Desha Crownover has been a mentor of his, both during his time at Junior Theatre and ever since. Both of them had heard of his various musical projects. Last September, during a social “catch up,” Crownover suggested he compose original music for JT’s Poe production. She was aware that Hollingsworth had been working on an original musical called The House of Edgar Allan Poe, the first draft of which he had written while still a student at JT! (He recalls that one day, during a student matinee of A Year with Frog & Toad, there had been a power outage and to keep his fellow cast members occupied, he read The Tell-Tale Heart out loud, by flashlight, in the makeup room.)

Morgan had some concern about doing another project with the same subject matter. He had felt fulfilled by the life his own musical had taken on, with a reading in New York followed by a full production at Weber State University. However, he came around to see that the two shows felt like very different explorations of Poe. Morgan’s musical had dealt more with Poe’s life – his struggles, his romances, his depression – and how they all manifested in his work. “Perhaps I saw a lot of myself in his struggles,” he shared. “JT’s production is much more about his work specifically, and how it still affects all of us in the modern day, especially those in the cast. It’s been incredibly special to see this cast be so impacted and inspired by these stories and poems in the same way I was at that age.”

Musically, the scores are also vastly different. “The House of Edgar Allan Poe was more intimate with just piano, some strings and orchestral percussion, while Gruesome Gallery became this large symphonic soundscape. I had already done so much research in regards to Poe’s life and his incredible body of work, even combining pieces of various poems to create lyrics that could progress the plot. From that process, I got to know his work intimately and therefore knew the exact tone that was needed for moments like ‘Annabel Lee’ and ‘The Masque of Red Death.’ To have the freedom of a limitless orchestra allowed me to explore these moments much further than I was able to before.”

When asked how his experience working at Junior Theatre now, as an alumnus, might be different from the production experience he had as a JT student, he shared, “Just by the nature of this being a devised piece, it’s already very different from the shows I experienced as a student. The craziest part about coming back to JT as an alum is seeing how my life has changed and grown since then and all the nostalgia that comes with it. I’ve gone from the wide-eyed and devoted musical theater actor hoping to make it big to instead becoming more intrigued and invested in writing, creating and pushing the boundaries of theater. Through that, I found so much more of myself. And now, here I am helping these students discover parts of themselves as storytellers, just like Desha and many others did for me, and it all seems to have come full circle.”

“As a writer, I will always applaud any company that produces original work! Not many companies are willing to do original work because they’re always riskier and present considerable challenges that you don’t get with existing material. Yet, because of this, they usually become much more personal and collaborative experiences. One of the great things about being part of an original production is that actors don’t have any point of reference. With any existing show, you can usually listen to the cast recording and pull up videos of the Broadway production to see and hear what was done then; but with an original production, the actor gets to explore their character on their own terms. Blake took this even further by making this a devised piece and working directly with the cast to create the script for this show. That means each student was able to bring a piece of themselves to this script and to these characters and stories through journaling, songwriting, improvisation, etc. And now they get to share that experience with their fellow cast mates and the audience. How incredible is that?!  I feel like so many people consider writing to be an isolated art form, which it very well can be, but I feel like some of the greatest work comes from creating with other writers and artists. I don’t know where else this cast would receive this kind of experience.

But back to Morgan! With his new Poe music all set and the show opening this week, he has several new projects to set his sights on. Morgan again will be collaborating with Blake and Blindspot Collective by scoring a movement piece to be featured at La Jolla Playhouse’s upcoming WOW Festival. Before that, he will be performing in his third production of Once up at Laguna Playhouse. And in addition to The House of Edgar Allan Poe, he is working with New Musicals Inc. in North Hollywood as they help him develop two other original musicals, one of which will be a full-length version of a Mother’s Day podcast musical he wrote called Call Your Mother, which is still streaming on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

To experience Morgan’s rich and haunting music for our production of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gruesome Gallery of Grotesquerie, running January 13 to 22, click here and make sure to grab your tickets today!

Announcing “The George E. Oswell Box Office at San Diego Junior Theatre”

George E Oswell Box Office at San DIego Junior Theatre

George Oswell was a two-term member of the SDJT Board of Trustees, dedicated volunteer, alumni parent and annual donor. George ran the Junior Theatre box office as a volunteer starting in the 1970s, long before computerized ticket systems, credit card purchases or the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. He was diagnosed with Polio while serving in the United States Navy during the Korean War and was confined to a wheelchair. He was a single father raising a young daughter who happened to love the theatre. George’s daughter, Mary Oswell found her passion and community at Junior Theatre, and George found a service. He was the box office manager for over a decade. In addition to training students and volunteers in box office procedures, he helped create Junior Theatre’s Student Matinee Program and assisted with computerization of the ticketing system. George continued his involvement in the program as a season subscriber for many years to follow. (“Best seats in the house!” he would say as he pulled into the front row with his wheelchair.) Mary continued in her father’s footsteps, volunteering as the box office manager and serving two terms on the Board of Trustees.

In 2013, George and Mary both were recognized with the prestigious JT Honors Award for their distinguished service to San Diego Junior Theatre. To this day, Mary continues to be one of Junior Theatre’s strongest supporters. Thanks to the generosity of Mary and her husband, Stan Pedzick, and in George’s honor, the JT box office is now The George E. Oswell Box Office at San Diego Junior Theatre.

Spotlight on THE SNOWY DAY Director, Kandace Crystal

Jason Blitman

Kandace Crystal is an SDJT teaching artist and is currently working with Junior Theatre as the director of The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats. She was recently recognized by the Times of San Diego for directing two of San Diego’s top plays of 2021!

Kandace’s experience working with theatre kids goes way back. She believes there is an incredible connection one builds when working with theatre kids that you don’t get anywhere else. She says, “If the deep dive into social and emotional issues in a theatre class helps to transform one child’s experience as they navigate the muck of life, I am happy to be a part of that journey.” One of Kandace’s all-time favorite experiences was teaching a mime class at Nativity Prep, sharing that the kids were such naturals and jumped in feet first. Kandace has been a teaching artist at Imagine Brave Spaces, Blindspot Collective and Trinity Theatre Co., among others. “It’s one of those positions that I keep coming back to because it really keeps me in touch with the human side of this theatre world.”

Kandace began as a JT teaching artist this past summer and shares, “I didn’t know what to expect but the transition was so easy because the kids were awesome, the aides were professional and the environment allowed me to thrive as an artist and educator.” Her highlight from the summer was creating puppets with her students. “Building puppets from scratch allows for character development in a way that we may not have considered before. JT’s partnership with Animal Cracker Conspiracy for the puppetry in The Snowy Day is allowing the actors to explore this different medium.

When asked what drew her to directing, Kandace shared, “Everything in me tried to stay away from directing. But I was drawn to it, as I love putting the elements together in unique ways while helping people see themselves reflected on the stage and in these stories.” Someone in the field whom Kandace admires is Ava DuVernay, as both a storyteller and educator. “Her commitment to uplifting other storytellers is an admirable feat and that is something I hope to do as I continue in my career.”

Kandace shares that a snowy day is the perfect backdrop for what it means to be a kid and directing The Snowy Day is allowing Kandace to explore a beautiful story with a diverse cast. And, of course, there is the chance to work with puppets. “As an actor, I had to work alongside a puppet in the show Fuddy Meers.  Watching the intricacy that goes into building and operating a puppet intrigues me and I am excited for this opportunity to learn along with my actors as we work hard to get this show up and running.”

She believes that working with youth is a fascinating experience; to see the world through the eyes of kids today. Kandace wishes to remain a student to the craft. “Through it all, I hope to be a student at all times, as they help me continue to grow to be the best collaborative and educational director I can be.”

It should be noted that Kandace is not a fan of spare time. She has been working toward becoming a fully certified Intimacy Director/Coordinator, is Co-Chair of San Diego’s Theatre Alliance and just began a new position as San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Community Engagement and Partnerships Manager.

Kandace will be teaching a JT Studio workshop for our winter session: Tips, Tools and Trick for the Pre-Professional Actor. For more information, and to register, follow this link.

The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats opens on January 21 and runs through January 23. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please follow this link.

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