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A HISTORY OF OUR EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Teachers Helping Teachers

At the backbone of Park Square Theatre’s robust Education Program is the Educator Advisory Board. This working board is comprised of secondary educators whose passion for theatre compels them to volunteer their personal time to ensure that our program serves our young patrons well.

Having been a teacher herself, Education Director Mary Finnerty did not hesitate to ask for help from teachers when she started Park Square’s Education Program in 1994. She knew that the program’s effectiveness relied on keeping a pulse on what was happening in classrooms. A strong program had to offer relevant and engaging programming with usable supporting materials. Who better to ask for input than teachers themselves? Hence, the Educator Advisory Board was formed in December 1994 and consisted of four members. Together, they created the study guide for Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the only production for students that season.

By the following year, membership had grown to ten teachers who gave practical advice on how best to handle ticket disbursement, disruptive students and much more. They met once a month and wrote the study guide for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as well as discussed future programming.

In 1997, the now 14-member advisory board created a new event called “Teacher’s Night Out.” It was a fun way to introduce the Education Program to teachers with an insider’s look at the season’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. One hundred teachers attended the first “Teacher’s Night Out” which remains an annual event, grown in popularity to require a guest wait list. The special evening begins with a complimentary glass of wine before “An Insider’s Look at Park Square Theatres’ Education Program: A Teacher’s Take on the Season,” which is followed by Build a Moment where teachers see how a scene from a play evolves from page to stage. A delicious catered dinner is then served before teachers see the play’s full performance.

With ever more teachers volunteering to help promote and support the Education Program, it experienced huge growth in 1998, attracting about 7,200 students to see Of Mice and Men with 3,600 to take part in its Immersion Days, consisting of workshops and demonstrations to further deepen students’ learning experience at Park Square.

It was time to consider how to expand student matinee offerings beyond one show per season, which Park Square Theatre started doing in 1999 with The Miracle Worker, Taking Sides and Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). About 16,000 students participated in the Education Program that year.

And, as the saying goes, “The rest is history!” Currently, over 30,000 students visit Park Square Theatre each year to participate in our award-winning education program. The Educator Advisory Board continues to advise Mary on programming, scheduling, logistics, discipline policies and workshop topics and artists as well as produce our study guides and organize education events. Park Square Theatre is so grateful for its hard work and dedication. Thank you for your invaluable support!

 

(Look out for the upcoming post “THE EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Creating Our Study Guides”)

——-

 

Current Educator Advisory Board Members:

Marcia Aubineau, University of St. Thomas, retired; Liz Erickson, Rosemount High School; Theodore Fabel, South High School; Craig Farmer, Perpich Center for Arts Education; Amy Hewett-Olatunde, LEAP High Schools; Cheryl Hornstein, Freelance Theatre and Music Educator; Alexandra Howes, Twin Cities Academy; Dr. Virginia McFerran, Perpich Center for Arts Education; Kristin Nelson, Brooklyn Center High School; Mari O’Meara, Eden Prairie High School; Jennifer Parker, Falcon Ridge Middle School; Maggie Quam, Hmong College Prep Academy; Kate Schilling, Mound Westonka High School; Jack Schlukebier, Central High School, retired; Tanya Sponholz, Prescott High School; Jill Tammen, Hudson High School, retired; Craig Zimanske, Forest Lake Area High School

 

NOTE: If you are interested in joining, please contact Mary Finnerty at 651.767.8494 or finnerty@parksquaretheatre.org.

Another Funny Camping Story: The World’s Worst RV Park

From September 15 to October 22, Park Square Theatre presents the American premiere of the international hit Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on its Proscenium Stage. This hilarious comedy by Canadian playwright Michele Riml features Twin Cities actors John Middleton and Carolyn Pool as spouses Henry and Alice, two inexperienced campers who rely on a copy of Camping for Dummies to survive their ordeal.

Camping in the Great Outdoors can certainly be a terrific bonding experience amongst loved ones; but more often than not, it gives you some of the funniest memories to cherish. Before and during the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share some humorous camping stories submitted to our blog. Be prepared to laugh until your stomach hurts after reading this one from Calvin of Asheville, North Carolina:

Calvin, Zach and Isaac before their horrible camping experience.

After riding our loaded bicycles since dawn in the 90+ degree heat, we stopped at the World’s Worst RV Park in East Cape, Ilinois, at about 7 o’clock. I was so hot and tired and fried from riding all day in traffic that I was ready to camp in the gutter. Maybe that’s why the dusty gravel parking lot that was supposed to pass for a campground looked OK to me. When I get really exhausted, my mind is less than keen. Blinded by the sun, I felt my way into the A-frame office, where a woman with a big black wig told me it would cost us $21 to pitch our tent under a leafless tree 20 yards from the highway. Wanting desperately to avoid crossing a busy bridge just down the road during rush hour, I forked over the dough. By the time we set up our tent, we knew we should have kept going, even though we had already ridden 70 miles. Steady traffic from IL Highway 3 assaulted us with noise, dust and fumes. A bouquet of sewage wafted out from under the bathhouse we were camping behind.

“We paid $21 for this dump?” Zach said. “We could get a motel for $30.”

“If we could make it over the bridge without getting killed,” I said.

He snorted. “The smell alone’ll kill us by morning.”

“This is what hell’s gonna be like,” added Isaac.

I bloodied my leg killing a mosquito and walked over to the pay phone on the wall of a car wash on the other side of the parking lot. The receiver of the phone was so hot I could barely pick it up. I stood sweating in the late afternoon sun talking to my wife Maria.

“We’re in an RV park a mile from the Mississippi.”

“That’s great! I can’t believe how far you’ve gotten. What’s all that noise?”

“Could be all the traffic on the highway we’re camped beside,” I told her. “Or maybe the boys kicking the drink machine?”

“How’re you feeling?”

I took a deep breath. “This has been one of the worst days so far. Hot, tons of traffic, incredibly awful camping spot, right by the outhouse. We’re all ready to come home before we kill each other.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll bet it’ll be better once you get back on some better roads.”

“Hope so. We gotta get through Cape Girardeau before we find any better roads.”

“How you gonna get across the river?” Maria asked.

“Bridge is only a mile away. we’ll cross early in the morning before the traffic heats up.”

“Be careful!”

“My middle name.”

We showered in the foul-smelling bathhouse and swatted at mosquitoes while we ate spaghetti and French bread again for what seemed like the hundredth time in a row. The dust settled on my sweaty body and transformed me into a Cape Buffalo.

“This sucks,” said Isaac. “I’m going home.”

“I may go with you,” I said.

“We should have gotten a motel,” said Zach.

Craving sugar, the boys walked across the highway to a restaurant. They returned with six huge slices of homemade blueberry, coconut creme, lemon chess and cherry pies.

Darkness, usually a sign of bedtime, brought to life bright sodium lights that lit up the inside of our tent like a police spotlight. If we zipped up the tent, it got hot as an oven. If we left it open, the bugs feasted on our sugared flesh. We spent a miserable night listening to heavy trucks grind toward the bridge to Missouri, swatting bugs and trying to find a dark spot in the brightly lit tent. We were too depressed even to listen to the radio. It was a lousy end to a long, hard day. The boys complained a little, but then Zach fell asleep and Isaac got quiet, too.

After a night of sweating in the hot tent by the busy highway under the bright lights enveloped by the stench of the bathroom, I knew the World’s Worst RV Park, in East Girardeau, Illinois, had taken its rightful place amongst the worst camping experiences of my life. I lay awake in my self-made hell, waiting for sleep or dawn, whichever might find me first.

Rachel Wandrei: Passion, Idealism and Dedication

In June, Rachel Wandrei joined Park Square Theatre as its full-time Marketing and Engagement Manager, and she hasn’t stopped smiling since. She loves her new job, which involves helping to promote Park Square and finding effective avenues toward community engagement.

Like many theatre professionals, Rachel grew up in love with theatre. Her first theatrical crush was on the musical Chess, which she saw at the age of five. Her affinity for the stage continued to strengthen as she watched each of her four older sisters perform in school musicals.

“I wanted to be a star!” said Rachel with a hearty laugh.

Fast forwarding many years later, Rachel earned a bachelor’s degree in Music and Opera Performance from Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio and continued study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. After realizing she wanted something more than a life on stage, she started working in restaurants where she discovered her knack for management. After a few years in Boston, she moved back to be closer to family in her native Minnesota and continued working in restaurants, including the Bryant Lake Bowl and Barbette.

“Here I was, a woman trained as an artist but with a natural affinity for systems, strategies and spreadsheets. I’d been classically trained, used to discipline and routine. I understand artists but am rooted in the concrete: How do we do it? Is it feasible and possible?” Rachel said. “Then I suddenly had an epiphany moment! Can I do theatre/musical arts and management?”

Rachel “tested the waters” of her newfound interest by interning at Forecast Public Art, which describes itself as “a nonprofit arts organization that connects the energies and talents of artists with the needs and opportunities of communities.” This internship, as well as extensive networking, opened her eyes to what Rachel referred to as “the concept and potential of creative placemaking.”

“I had jumped from being Rachel as the opera person,” she said, “to becoming the restaurant person to contemplating ways that art can be integrated into community development–for theatre to play a role in society, to foster civic dialogue and to make the world a better place.”

At Forecast Public Art, Rachel became a project manager for Making It Public, a workshop for artists who are new to working in public art learn how to do it. (Rachel, in fact, continues her involvement with Making It Public and will be a co-facilitator this fall.)

With her newfound passion, what was Rachel’s next logical step? To attend Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota for a master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management. This is where, according to Rachel, “I learned about the entire nonprofit arts ecosystem. I do not have a specific accounting or marketing degree, but I learned about marketing, fundraising, finance and how they all fit together and how all the moving pieces connect to make the theatre run.”

While earning her degree, she worked as the administrative manager for Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, a small performance troupe started in 1998, and as company manager for Mixed Precipitation’s Picnic Operetta, a company she’d sung with previously. She also came to know Park Square’s Executive Director Michael-jon Pease, whose alma mater is Saint Mary’s, as a student in a class that he was teaching there. They’d hit it off, and she steadily learned more about Park Square through his class lectures. “I’d been to Park Square before, seeing Words By…Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook, but it was through Michael-jon’s class that I learned how forward thinking Park Square is.” Eventually, Pease invited her to fulfill her degree requirement of a residency at Park Square Theatre, which she did as part of the Development, not Marketing, team.

“That’s how I got immersed in Park Square Theatre,” Rachel said. “I loved their approach to theatre and different kinds of plays to promote community engagement–plays such as this coming season’s Dot and Cardboard Piano. Plus I’d been with really small companies and was drawn to a bigger place, but not to a place so big that you don’t have a voice. Park Square has big dreams and the stability, systems and resources to move into the 21st century.”

Having already built a relationship with Park Square Theatre, Rachel was deemed a perfect fit for the organization. Only two months into her job, she’s been steadily busy with mailings, social media tasks, hosting events and taking on the diversity and inclusion elements once handled by former Artistic Programming Associate Jamil Jude, who has moved on to True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta. While the latter can be rather daunting, Rachel is game to learn and help bring Park Square’s vision to fruition, saying, “This is vital work, and I am honored and delighted that I can be a part of it!”

Funny Camping Stories

John Middleton

From September 15 to October 22, Park Square Theatre presents the American premiere of the international hit Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on its Proscenium Stage. This hilarious comedy by Canadian playwright Michele Riml features Twin Cities actors John Middleton and Carolyn Pool as spouses Henry and Alice, two inexperienced campers who rely on a copy of Camping for Dummies to survive their ordeal.

Carolyn Pool

Camping in the Great Outdoors can certainly be a terrific bonding experience amongst loved ones; but more often than not, it provides some of the funniest memories to cherish. Before and during the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share some of the humorous camping stories submitted to our blog. Here’s two to start you chuckling:

One funny memory I have of our many camping experiences is one Memorial weekend when the girls were quite young. We went camping with our family of four and Ed’s brother’s family of four.

Shortly after we had all retired to our tents to go to sleep, a quite impressive thunderstorm began. In the middle of the night, with the storm still raging, our youngest said in a tiny little voice, “Papa, I have to go to the bathroom.”

Ed tried to talk her into a quick pee outside of the tent, given the weather conditions, but she was having none of that. She wanted to walk to the outhouse to pee! So they donned their rain gear and headed for the outhouse.

Upon their return, Ed shared that there were literally RIVERS running through the campground, almost constant lightning lighting up the sky and incredible wind. We stuck it out in our tent until morning and as the sun came up and we poked our heads out of our tents, we realized the extent of the storm. Trees were down everywhere; you could see remnants of where the “rivers” had flowed through the campground and the lake level had risen almost a foot overnight! It was quite the thing to see!

But, when you have to pee, you have to pee. I was grateful she’d asked for “Papa” and not “Mama”!

——-

My family camped throughout the first week of our two-week road trip out West. We were staying at KOA campsites with modern facilities (mostly hot showers and bathrooms with toilets). It was a far cry from diehard camping in the wilderness. Yet, the first night that we spent in a hotel room, my daughter had an immediately strong reaction to its king-sized bed:

 

(Look out for further posts of Funny Camp Stories!)

Henry and Alice: Before the Sequel

With the Minnesota Fringe Festival revving up, it seems apt that Park Square Theatre will soon afterwards start its 2017-2018 season with Henry and Alice: Into the Wild. It is Canadian playwright Michele Riml’s sequel to Sexy Laundry, which got its start in the 2002 Vancouver Fringe Festival, ultimately playing at regional theatres across Canada as well as being produced in Great Britain, Germany, South Africa and the United States. Sexy Laundry played on our Proscenium Stage, proving to be a smash hit during Park Square’s 2014-2015 season. Although both laugh-out-loud comedies are centered around the plight of spouses Henry and Alice, each play can be seen as a standalone. It’s not necessary to have seen Sexy Laundry first.

For those who’d missed its Park Square production, Sexy Laundry is about a middle-aged couple trying to put some romantic spark back into their 25-year marriage with a weekend getaway at a fancy hotel, sans their three children. Henry really doesn’t want to be there; he’d rather keep the status quo. But Alice is revved to go, arming them with a copy of Sex for Dummies for inspiration. Although a comedy, Sexy Laundry also reveals the serious undertones within the relationship of old-marrieds.

In April 2012, Riml continued the story of the longtime couple in Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, which also became an international hit. This time, the pair try to reinvigorate their marriage through a low-budget camping trip, foregoing their usual summer cottage in order to reduce costs after Henry has lost his job of 30 years. With a copy of Camping for Dummies in tow, they are ready to rough it and continue to navigate life’s unexpected challenges together.

In an interview with Nick Miliokas for Backstage at the Globe, Riml cited a camping trip with a high school friend in North Vancouver and their sons as the inspiration for Henry and Alice: Into the Wild. Although the trip ended well, the first day was horrendous with a trailer refusing to shift gear into reverse and a ferocious windstorm that caused them to ditch their tent to sleep in the car.  (Source: “Camping adventure inspired Henry And Alice: Into the Wild writer Michele Riml, January 14, 2013, globetheatreregina.wordpress.com).

Park Square Theatre’s production of Henry and Alice: Into the Wild will be its American premiere. Sexy Laundry’s director, Mary Finnerty, returns to direct this sequel. John Middleton reprises his role as Henry, and Carolyn Pool plays Alice. Melanie Wehrmacher plays Alice’s sister, Diana.

So come on out and camp with us anytime between September 15 and October 22. In the dark with just the stage lights glowing, we’ll tell you a story that will make you laugh hard enough to need to hold it in your seats.

 

Sexy Laundry

Charity Jones and John Middleton as Alice and Henry in Sexy Laundry during our 2014-2015 season
(photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

Remembering Virginia Burke

Virginia Burke

Were you in the audience for Park Square’s production Becky’s New Car in 2009? How about Rock’n’Roll, or Sherlock Holmes and the Jersey Lilly? Or perhaps you loved 2013’s Good People? If you saw any of these plays, you were witness to the remarkable talent of actress Virginia Burke, who passed away in early July only a month after being diagnosed with lung cancer. A frequent performer at many local companies including Frank Theatre, The Actors Theatre of Minnesota, and the Guthrie, she leaves behind a legacy of passion, creativity, and dedication to the theatre.

 

 

Virginia Burke in Becky's Car at Park Square Theatre

Becky’s Car

At Park Square, Burke performed in twelve productions spanning over twenty years.* Wherever she went, she stole the show or the scene. In 2009, Dominick Papatola wrote in the Pioneer Press, “I like Becky’s New Car — the new play by Steven Dietz now onstage at Park Square Theatre — quite a bit. But I love, love, love Virginia Burke’s performance in the title role.” He went on to describe her incredible performance, “her face has a thousand expressions — eyes bugged out in horror or squeezed shut in frustration; lips pursed in thinning patience or gnawed at in moral quandary; chin dipped in guilt or riding high with the excitement of new adventure.”

 

Virginia Burke in Rock 'N' Roll at Park Square Theatre

Rock ‘N’ Roll

 

Mary Finnerty directed Burke in Tom Stoppard’s Rock’n’Roll in 2010 and speaks fervently about all that Burke gave to Park Square, as well as the dedication of her mother, Virginia McFerran. “Whenever Gina was part of an education event at Park Square, she would break the mold and approach the students on a whole new level… utterly authentically — and they were riveted. When I told her she had a rare gift for connecting with teens, she winked, ‘Well… I still have a lot of adolescent left in me ya know, besides, my ma was the best teacher and director on the planet and I learned by watching her.’  Burke’s Mother, Dr. Virginia McFerran, has served for 13 years on the Park Square Teacher Advisory Board, editing and creating study materials and tirelessly brokering connections with Arts Educators. For McFerran, watching Gina onstage was transfixing and the joy it brought beyond description. “She was my theatre buddy. When I was writing, I would call and run a line by her and she would have great feedback. She was so wise… so talented.’”

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Jersey Lily

 

Burke performed in three of Park Square’s summer mysteries, and was first introduced to the theatre by her close friend Peter Moore, director of many shows including Might As Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, which just closed last weekend. In honor of her great contributions to Park Square and the greater Twin Cities theatre community, a seat in the proscenium theatre where she performed so many times will be dedicated to Virginia Burke this fall with her family present.

 

Thank you for sharing your talents with us, Virginia. Your spirit will always be alive in our hearts and on the stage.

*Virginia Burke Performed in Twelve Shows at Park Square from 1992 to 2013
2013  Good People (Margie)
2011  August Osage County (Barb)
2011  Sherlock Holmes and the Jersey Lily (Lily Langtry)
2010  The Last Seder (Jane)
2010  Rock ‘n’ Roll (Candida)
2010  Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure (Irene Adler)
2009  Becky’s New Car (Becky)
2009  Othello (Amelia)
2002  June Moon (Lucille)
1995  Merton of the Movies (The Montague Girl)
1993  On Borrowed Time
1992  Macbeth (Witch)

Personal Highlights of the Past Season

The Diary of Anne Frank at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018 - Actors playing Anne Frank & Father

It has been 75 years since Anne Frank was given a diary by her father. The Diary of Anne Frank remains a perennial favorite of school groups. This coming season, limited evening performances will also be available. (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Always, the Education Program

Park Square takes great pride in its Education Program for good reasons. It’s a powerfully transformative program, not just for its effect on its young audiences but also as an inspiration within our own organization. Mindfully created and led by the incomparable Mary Finnerty since 1994, the Education Program has often served as first exposure of professional theatre to young audiences. But you can see how it’s much more than that in such defining moments as when the lightbulb of understanding lit up for a student while Sulia Rose Altenberg, who played Anne Frank, answered his question as to why the Jews didn’t simply pretend to be Christians or the teacher of a Somali group explained that they came to be exposed to a broader community. Our Education Program provides a safe venue for our young patrons to grapple with self-discovery, self-definition and social interconnectedness. It has also been a catalyst for Park Square to consider those very same issues within its own walls. Impactful is only one adjective that best describes “The Program That Mary Built” (see the August 16, 2016, blog post).

A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018

A Raisin in the Sun knocked our socks off and will be back for another season by popular demand. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Staying In the Thick of It

Park Square Theatre, with its long-held reputation as a white mainstream institution, has had to do much organizational soul-searching to embrace change. Is having to grapple with equity, diversity and inclusion a long and messy process? Does building trust feel hard-won or, more aptly, simply hard? Do they sometimes get things wrong (and, of course, right)? Have they kept forging ahead? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Mu Performing Arts co-produced Flower Drum Song with Park Square Theatre and returns with another production in the upcoming season.

The Independents

Collaborations with smaller independent companies through its co-production of Flower Drum Song with Mu Performing Arts and productions by its Theatres in Residence–Sandbox Theatre, Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions–broadened the season’s scope. I loved the “one-stop shop” to be able to try out new companies and see what they’re all about. Look forward to French Twist by Flying Foot Forum and the return of Mu Performing Arts for A Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity in our upcoming season.

H. Adam Harris and Kathryn Fumie in this past season’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

Having been one of the volunteer script readers to consider this complex, time-jumping, contemporary play for production, it was exciting to see it finally come to fruition on stage. The thumbs up on the script was actually a tough call, surmising its challenge for audiences to grasp–both its pro and con. The play really made me think about the state of human relationships in our techno-world. Did it do the same for you? It also had one of the most beautiful sets ever by Set Designer Lance Brockman and moving performances by actors Kathryn Fumie, Adam Whisner and H. Adam Harris in roles that let their own true souls shine through their fictional facades. Hope you were there! Note: Contact John White, Literary Management Volunteer (white@Parksquaretheatre.org), to discuss your interest to become a volunteer script reader.

Jamil Jude with Hope Cervantes, who was in this past season’s The House on Mango Street
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude, Park Square’s former Artistic Programming Associate

When Jamil had just been on board for several months, someone asked me, “Do you even know what he does here?” Guess what a young man with an expansive heart and the passion to build bridges and break down walls has done within his relatively short time in the Twin Cities community? Break a leg at your new gig in Atlanta! (Refer to past blogs “Jamil Jude, Artist Plus,” “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?” and “Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You.”)

The Conversations That Became Real

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

In an industry that endlessly tries to grab a piece of you, remaining guarded is an act of self-care and self-preservation. You’re constantly navigating the minefields of others’ self-interests and being put in compromising situations. Who do you want to be in those circumstances? Who must you become? Who are you really? Whenever you get a glimpse into a theatre professional’s inner humanity, it’s a golden moment for sure! Theatre professionals rock!

Vincent HannamMy Fellow Bloggers

Getting Eric “Pogi” Sumangil on the team for this past season and blogging for another year with the wholehearted Vincent Hannam were awesome, to say the least. As the only blogger without a theatre background and career, following these two’s works online and onstage served as terrific learning tools. Each of us wrote around complex schedules due to multiple gigs and personal responsibilities. Thanks for being there!

 

How Do You See It? (Let’s Talk About It!)

It was a lazy Sunday morning on June 27, 2017. I was drinking my cup of joe and reading the Star Tribune. Specifically, an article by Rohan Preston–“About face: Actors on Twin Cities stages increasingly reflect the diversity of their audiences. But they’re hardly ‘colorblind.'” I noted a comment made by Randy Reyes, the artistic director of Mu Performing Arts: “Where nontraditional casting doesn’t work is where you, a person of color, is cast as a white character in a white context.” I had just seen Might As Well Be Dead, the Nero Wolfe mystery, at Park Square Theatre two nights before and had a disparate reaction to a casting decision than my guest. I am an Asian American woman. He is a white male.

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries fall within the “pulp” or “hard boiled” fiction genre, which is noted for its tendency toward “casual misogyny” and “glee with the unseemly parts of human nature–boundless greed, lust, and corruption,” as described in Park Square’s playbill. Might As Well Be Dead is specifically set in 1956, a time when anti-miscegenation statutes were still legal in the United States (until they were struck down in Loving v. Virginia in 1967) and interracial relationships were deeply frowned upon.

It was within this context that I couldn’t help but notice that the female characters in the production, played by the talented Am’Ber Montgomery, Marisa B. Tejeda and Austene Van, were all women of color portraying either a spouse or mistress to high-society white men. Austene also played the businesswoman who, as described on our website, “came begging for help” from Nero Wolfe. While my guest was also initially jolted by this, he was able to “go with it” for the ride in this fictional story, whereas I remained bothered.

Were each of the women of color “cast as a white character in a white context”? Or is this play not about race at all so simply the most capable actor was aptly cast? I’m curious about what you think and so are Artistic Director Richard Cook and Executive Director Michael-jon Pease. You may reach them at cook@parksquaretheatre.org (651.767.8482) or pease@parksquaretheatre.org (651.767.8497).

 

A scene from Might As Well Be Dead

Don Maloney as Pat Degan in Iconic Nero Wolfe Mystery

Tell me about your character. What makes you excited about playing him?

Actor Don Maloney in Park Square Theatre's production of Might As Well Be Dead, A Nero Wolfe MysteryI play the character of Pat Degan, who is the head of the Mechanics Alliance Welfare Association and is personally connected to the victim, Bill Malloy. When Peter Moore cast me in this role, I was most excited to have the chance to workshop the character. It is a rare opportunity that you get to work with the writer and director to help shape the character in both his demeanor and dialogue.

For readers who aren’t familiar with the practice of developing a new play, could you tell us about this process?

Workshopping is a unique opportunity for the actor to work with the director and writer on developing the character while the script is still in development. I love the freedom that comes with this type of process. For Might as Well Be Dead, it was fun to play with the character and bring my own creative vision, which was a more blue collar take than the writer originally had in mind. Both Peter and Joseph really embraced the direction I was going and as a result, Joseph tailored the dialogue so that we could steer the character in that direction. This type of character development happened across the entire cast. It was so rewarding as an actor to collaborate in this way with such a talented group of people.

Is Degan typical of the characters you portray? What kinds of roles have you performed recently? Is the play’s blend of suspense and comedy typical in that sense?

I would say that Degan is a larger than life character and that aligns with some of the characters I have played in the past. Although, the last character I played was Marco in View from the Bridge, who is a man of few words but a man of action when it comes to his family. In my career, I have had the privilege of playing a wide range of characters and I have enjoyed having the opportunity to develop Patrick Degan into the character he is now on stage.

I see that you received your BFA in 1994. I wonder if you could talk about where you feel you are as actor right now in your career. Where do you feel you come from artistically.

I am proud of the career I have had as an actor from my high school and college days to my time in Los Angeles to coming back home to the Twin Cities theater scene. I think the most identifiable growth I have seen in my acting is that in my younger years it was more about the performance I was giving to impress others, and now, it is about the process. I am having more fun simply creating characters and collaborating with my fellow actors. There is so much talent here in the Twin Cities and so much support from the community. It is good to be back.

Without revealing too much about the plot, what’s your favorite moment in the play to be onstage?

With this show, it is less about a specific moment on stage than it is about being a part of this show as a whole. You rely so much on each other in a mystery to keep the audience guessing. It has been so fun to be a part of a 1950s iconic mystery where the dialogue is snappy and fun. It was great to work with Peter Moore and Joseph Goodrich as they really keyed into what the actors were bringing to the characters and fine tuned the interactions to make this show a successful suspense. Honestly, it has just been incredible to be back on the stage at Park Square, it really felt like coming home.

Marisa B. Tejeda: Catch Her If You Can

by Matt DiCintio

Tell me about the characters you play in Might As Well Be Dead. What kind of women are they? What makes you excited about playing them? Do you find it exciting to play multiple characters within one play?

 I love both of the characters that I play. And although they both are quite different than who I am as a person, they have traits that I can definitely connect with. Rita Arkoff is a rich society woman who is quite ditzy and unaware of her surroundings. Delia Brandt is a hipster beatnik who is a junkie and liar; she is very smooth and owns her sexuality. They both have been really fun to play because they both are extremely different than one another. And for a gal who loves character acting, they both have been a blast to play.

I know you’re early in your career, but do you find Nero Wolfe typical of the genre you’ve performed in? Are the characters typical for you? Perhaps in that vein, I see you trained at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. I wonder if you could tell me about that training, and maybe how you see it fitting into/giving life to your acting career. 

I’ve been in one murder mystery musical before, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but nothing prior to that. I’ve been very blessed that I have played so many different types of people, from romantic leads in Shakespeare plays to kooky characters in new works and musicals. I am so thankful for all my training that I have received at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Brian B. Crowe, Stephen Brown Fried, Bruce Cromer, Benard Cummings and Donnie Mather who taught classes in the three-month program have helped and shaped me immensely as an artist. I was one of the apprentices cast in the Main Stage show and got to work with topnotch artists who made me really want to pursue this life as an actor/artist. It was the toughest three months of my life, but I believe that I am a working artist today because of all the tools I was given at that program.

I see that you graduated from Concordia last year. Are you from the Twin Cities area? If not, I wonder if you could talk about why you’ve stayed and decided to pursue theatre here? And even if you are from the Twin Cities, could you give me your perspective about theatre in the Twin Cities? 

I’m originally from Hastings, Minnesota, but at 16 I wanted to start auditioning for shows outside of school. I worked with Young Artists Initiative, Youth Performance Company and Stages as a student actor. When I was 17, I moved to the Twin Cities so I could be an actor in A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie and I transferred to a project-based high school that allowed me to perform more often. I decided to stay here in the Twin Cities because I felt like I belonged here and had a lot more to learn from the artists I have met here. I decided to go to Concordia in Saint Paul because of the head of the department, Mark Rosenwinkel. Mark has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration and support, and I owe so much to him for helping shape me and push me as an artist, and not just an actor.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in 20 years?

Well, I just started a new theatre collective called Theatre Unchecked. It’s a theatre company dedicated to producing original work created by young POC, Queer and Female-Identifying artists. Although our city is very diverse, I see a lack of diversity in the people creating, directing and producing the work. I wanted to be a part of changing that, so my dear friend Ben Swenson-Klatt and I started Theatre Unchecked. Our show was accepted into the Twin Cities Horror Festival 2017 at the Southern Theatre, so we will be producing that this fall. I hope in 20 years that Theatre Unchecked is producing full seasons of original work, and I hope I am fulfilled by all the art I am creating, whether that be acting, educating, directing, writing or producing.

Of all the roles in all the world, what’s your dream role?

It is a three way tie: Cassius in Julius Caesar, Medea and Natasha in Natasha Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.

What’s next for you after Might As Well Be Dead finishes up at Park Square?

 I am in GIRL Theatre’s Broad Sex in the Twin Cities, playing at Strike Theater in Minneapolis, as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival going on August 3-13. It’s a fun comedy inspired by the cult classics Broad City and Sex and the City and follows two quirky millennials who enjoy love, laughter and the light rail. Our show times will be August 4 at 10 pm, August 5 at 5:30 pm, August 7 at 8:30 pm, August 10 at 5:30 pm and August 13 at 4 pm.

A scene from Might As Well Be Dead (Marisa is in red)

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