News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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The stage is set: Curtain rises on academy’s Liggett Theater

The+cast+of+%E2%80%9CA+Piece+of+My+Heart%E2%80%9D+on+stage+at+San+Dieguito+Academys+new+Clayton+E.+Liggett+Theater.+Director+Stephanie+Siers+is+at+far+right.+%28Photo+by+Ariana+Drehsler%29
The cast of “A Piece of My Heart” on stage at San Dieguito Academy’s new Clayton E. Liggett Theater. Director Stephanie Siers is at far right. (Photo by Ariana Drehsler)

It would be difficult to walk into the Clayton E. Liggett Theater at the San Dieguito Academy and not think about the man behind the legacy.

During his 20-year career as a drama teacher at the high school, Liggett made a lasting impression upon many of his students. So when the school decided to build a new performing arts center on its Encinitas campus, several of those former students, including Hollywood producer Joe Drago and Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, did their best to make sure that Liggett’s name was attached to it.

Designed by John Sergio Fisher, whose work includes the La Jolla Playhouse, the $9 million performing arts complex features a 200-seat black box theater, several practice rooms and a digital production studio. The design also includes a flexible seating platform system, which allows for various types of staging modes.

Liggett died in 1995, having retired from teaching a decade earlier. But many of his students never forgot him. Some even still keep in touch with Liggett’s wife, Marty.

“He would have been thrilled with this theater,” Marty Liggett said. “He would hardly believe that it was named after him.”

Despite offers to teach theater at the college level, Marty said Liggett turned them down because of his passion for teaching high school students.

“He just loved teaching those kids,” she said. “He felt that no matter what kind of career they may go into, if they’d had some theater, it just helps them.”

Stephanie Siers, the current theater director at SDA, said that although the curriculum in the program isn’t specifically designed around Liggett, the students are aware of who he was, and of his contributions to the school.

According to Siers, the new theater space has allowed the program to tackle more challenging and ambitious shows. The set of “Noises Off,” the first production performed in the new space, featured a two-story set that made a complete rotation, something that wouldn’t have been possible in the old theater.

The old theater, known as “The Roundabout,” consisted of four converted classrooms with 9-and-a-half-foot ceilings.

“It was frustrating to produce in the old theater because the space felt so limiting,” said SDA senior Kristin Perkins, who is also the current Thespian president. Perkins has been involved in the theater program at SDA for four years. “The new theater helps display the talent in the theater department in such a better way. I have noticed a huge difference.”

The theater saw its first performance in November 2011, and was officially dedicated as the “Clayton E. Liggett Theater” on Jan. 20. Liggett’s family, including Marty, her children and five grandchildren, attended the reception where they met with a number of Liggett’s former students. The dedication also featured a performance of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses.”

The theater’s most recent performance, Shirley Lauro’s “A Piece of My Heart,” which chronicled the lives of several military nurses who served in the Vietnam War, was also a benefit for the Veterans Village of San Diego.

Marty Liggett attends many of the performances at SDA, often accompanied by her family.

“The youngest of the grandchildren was about 9 when he (Liggett) died,” she said. “So they all remember him. And they’re all so proud.”

Upcoming performances include the musical “Urinetown,” which is scheduled to run May 31, and June 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9. More information about tickets and the SDA theater can be found by going to the department’s website.

Chris Earley is a San Diego freelance writer