It’s the 40th anniversary of the San Diego REPertory Theatre (San Diego REP) and director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg is happy to be included. “When I first moved to San Diego, San Diego REP was my first theater home. So it’s a real privilege for me to be a part of the 40th anniversary season,” she told me.
Sonnenberg, who is also the Executive Artistic Director at Moxie Theatre, directs the West Coast Premiere of My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin. The play follows the hopes, struggles and sacrifices of four busboys who work at a high-class restaurant in Manhattan. They’re all trying to save money and accomplish their goals for the future but something happens that will threaten those goals and they all must start to look out for themselves instead of each other.
Actor Jorge E. Rodriguez stars in the play as ‘Jorge’ and he told me that he has a lot in common with his character have a lot in common, namely their love of family and work ethic. On top of that, he’s having a great time rehearsing with the cast and knows that that’s “going to show on stage.”
I recently talked to Sonneberg and Rodriguez about the show, rehearsing, acting in San Diego and more.
How did you both get involved in the show?
Jorge E. Rodriguez: I just got a call to audition. I read the play and I loved it and I was excited to audition for it. I’ve worked with Delicia before and when she offered me the role, I was more than happy to take it.
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: Sam Woodhouse and Todd Salovey sent me a copy of the script and asked me about my availability to direct it. It’s also the rep’s 40th anniversary season and I wanted to be a part of that because when I first moved to San Diego, San Diego Rep was my first theater home. So it’s a real privilege for me to be a part of the 40th anniversary season.
Delicia, you’re obviously involved with Moxie. How do you make a decision to take a hiatus from that and go work at another theatre?
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: What do you mean hiatus? [laughs] I’m doing two things at once. Usually, I go from rehearsal here to check out the rehearsals that are happening at Moxie. It’s a hard decision, especially as Moxie grows to direct outside of Moxie. So, it has to do with timing. In truth, I’m sort of doing both, so my days are longer.
The real decision actually is that I’m a mother, so I have to be available for my kids. It’s really, can I fit it in my schedule? Because I don’t want my kids to ever feel like they suffer from my work.
I think you need to put on a class on time management. I would totally go to that class.
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: Somebody gave me some advice, it was from Deb Salzer from Playwrights Project, and she said that, “If you listen to your kids, they will listen to you.” She didn’t mean literally, she meant when you say, “Mommy’s working now,” they will hear that if you’re really listening to when they need you.
So, for this project for example, I said, “Ok, the Rep wants me direct this play in the fall and school will have already started.” I try not to miss the beginning of school because you have to go to conferences and back-to-school night and all that stuff. And my kids are old enough now that they have a choice of whether I drag them to rehearsal or not. So, in this case I said to them, “I’d like to do this project but I need you to look through your calendars so if there’s anything that you really need me for, I need to work it into the rehearsal schedule now. And if it’s too much of a conflict, then I will not take this project.”
Jorge E. Rodriguez: See, that’s something that I haven’t learned to do yet because every role that I’ve taken in the last three years I get excited to do it. And then when we start rehearsing, I realize all the stuff that I’m missing. Like football. I’m gonna miss my little boys birthday next month because we perform that night. Thank you Delicia for saying that, I need to start doing that.
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: Well, you never get that time back. For me personally, and this is not true for everybody but it is true for me, I know I’m not going to come to the end of my life and say, “I wish I spent more time at work.”
And I had to learn it. It sounds easy now but there’s a lot of times when I failed at that. I was directing a show and I realized I didn’t even who their teachers were and it’s like October. So I learned the hard way. [laughs]
Jorge, you’re like me. I always say “yes” first and then try to figure out my schedule later.
Jorge E. Rodriguez: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s a really good thing. But yeah, we are similar.
Jorge, tell me about your character in the show.
Jorge E. Rodriguez: He’s an illegal immigrant and he’s telling a particular story that we don’t hear about. Which is, people in this country talk about immigration and how people come here and take benefits and jobs. But a lot of people come here just to get a certain amount of money and they end up going back. To me, he’s really interesting because he’s got these dreams and goals in life and what he wants to help out of his family. So, he’s here for only a certain amount of time and then he’s headed back home. Obviously, it doesn’t end up being that simple once the play starts unraveling. I’m very family oriented so there’s a lot of similarities that he and I have.
How long you been in San Diego?
Jorge E. Rodriguez: I grew up in Mexico, right across the border in Tijuana. I went to school, I did junior high and high school up here, so I’d cross the border every day. I’ve been living in San Diego for about 10 or 12 years but even before that I was crossing the border and going to school here so you can say I’m from San Diego.
When you start getting into the theater?
Jorge E. Rodriguez: I got interested in theater about a little over three years ago. Once I did my first show, I was hooked.
Yeah, theater does that to a person.
Jorge E. Rodriguez: I started in TV and film but it’s not even close. I get a particular high from being on stage. I don’t get that when I’m acting anywhere else.
How’s rehearsal going?
Jorge E. Rodriguez: Great. In particular today, we had a great day today. I’m settling more into my character. And it’s also a really fun process because everyone gets along and we all joke and laugh and mess with each other, including Delicia. We’re having a lot of fun and I think it’s gonna show on stage.
Delicia, at the start of rehearsals, do you like everyone to be memorized? How prepared do you want them to be on the first day?
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: Everybody’s process is different and I recognize that. I always want the actors to be off book. Especially for something like this where there’s a lot of business because we’re talking about busboys who work in the back of the house at a restaurant. There’s gonna be a lot of handling of props. So, in this case, I told the guys to get off book as soon as possible and trusted them to do that. And they’ve been good about that.
I always prefer actors to be off book because there’s always that time… You’re an actor right?
Yeah, I am.
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: So, you know, there’s that time where the only thing you’re thinking about is your next line and not about what’s actually happening in the scene. The detail work can only happen when the actors are in the scene with each other and not concentrating on their own work. And so that’s the reason I like them to be off book as soon as possible.
But for this, there were times when would say, “Get your books.” Because I knew we were doing some movement that would be important for them to write down and I didn’t want them to have to worry about what they said next. I think it just depends on the project really.
The last couple of shows that I’ve done, the rehearsal process was so short. I feel like I’m off book only week before the show starts.
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: When you have to do business and lines and be open all the same time, getting the lines out of the way is helpful, even though it’s hard. But these guys have been doing an amazing job at it.
We’re at the end of our second week of rehearsal and we going into tech next week, so you’re right, rehearsal processes are getting shorter. But luckily, our play is a one-act no intermission so that also helps. But, that’s not to say there’s not a lot of lines because there’s a lot of text.
One of the things I’m most impressed with the cast, besides that they are great to work with, is that they’re literally having to rub their stomach and pat their head at the same time. Because in order for the play to work, the business has to look natural. They’re almost always moving. It’s really important that the audience believe that they are authentically busboys, that they look like they work in this kitchen and not like they’re actor saying lines.
Delicia, you’ve been in San Diego for a while now, how has the theater community changed for actors?
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg: I don’t know if I know the answer to that. In the last 10 years, we’ve had a lot of theater start and now we’re having another cycle. Like Circle Dot Dot is new and the Fringe Festival has started. I’ve been here for 16 years, so I would say that in the last 10 years one of the things I’ve noticed is that there are more opportunities for local actors. Even as far north as New Village Arts, which is a theater that I love. And Backyard Productions.
One of things I love is that I can see more local actors because there are a lot more theaters who need those actors. And the actors get to work. Experience is a wonderful teacher.
And the camaraderie is amazing. Even between small and large theaters, there’s no question that I have that I can’t call any theater in San Diego including the Globe and ask. The camaraderie of San Diego theatre amazing. From the top all the way to the smallest theater, there’s a sense of community which I think is fabulous. And the local actors are a big part of that community.