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Calendar Girls: Featuring Carolyn Pool

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Carolyn Pool:

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ROLE:  Celia, 40s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

The fact that Celia is in the WI is the greatest justification of its existence.  A woman more at home in a department store than a church hall, . . . she always feels like she’s drifted in from another world.  Which she has.  She is particularly enamored of Jessie [see blog featuring Linda Kelsey], and despite the fact Jessie has very little time for most Celias of this world, there is a rebelliousness in Celia to which Jessie responds.  It’s what sets Celia apart from the vapid materialism of her peer group and made her defect.  Ideal car—Porsche, which she has.  Ideal holiday—Maldives, where she often goes.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT: 

Carolyn Pool had a deep feeling for Celia as a human being but also for the physicality of an upper class English society woman who is ready to live among middle class women as an equal.  Carolyn also has a great comedic sense and incredible sense of space.  Carolyn always seems to instinctually move where and how Celia would.  She also has a very deep understanding of the play as a whole and I love that about working with her.

QUESTION FOR CAROLYN:

Celia, more than the others, must move in a circle of upper-crust society with its unspoken but strict mores.  What did you learn from playing her?

When it comes to issues of class within this play, Celia is sort of on her own.  She is called a “trophy wife” by her friends, her husband is older and retired, and probably doesn’t pay enough attention to her.  She is considered beautiful by all and probably has been considered so her entire life.  This is probably why she doesn’t seem to have many female friends in her own “class” (the golf club girls).  But, the women of the WI hold her affection I think because they treat her as one of their own.  True, they don’t always know what to make of her, but I do believe she has, for the most part, become one of them, and is especially close to Jesse and Cora.

As for what I have learned playing Celia, it’s been interesting playing a woman who is used to being primarily valued for her beauty, but who does not let it define, limit or shame her.  She has a quiet and dry sense of humor, and, while she may be considered a bit “cool” and superficial on the outside, she does care deeply about issues affecting the women of the WI and shows her affection in subtle ways.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square 2 Sugars, Room for Cream; August: Osage County; Dead Man’s Cell Phone; The Sisters Rosensweig; Proof; The Last Night of Ballyhoo; Born Yesterday
Representative Theatre Hippodrome Theatre: Women in Jeopardy; Old Log Theater: Almost, Maine; Illusion Theater: Three Viewings; Gremlin Theatre: Orson’s Shadow; Jungle Theater: Honour
Training B.A., Augsburg College
Awards/Other Artist/Mentor for The Chicago Avenue Project; Ivey Award winner 2008 (Ensemble, Orson’s Shadow) and 2013 (Ensemble, 2 Sugars, Room for Cream); Best Actress 2011 SoCal Film Festival (Rotations of the Earth)  Upcoming Projects 2016 MN Fringe Festival: Sometimes There’s Wine

Playwright Victor Maog Talks About “tot”

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As Park Square Theatre presents its regional premiere of Calendar Girls on the Proscenium Stage this week, Mu Performing Arts will stage the world premiere of totThe Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a filipino) Hulk Hogan on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage.  The play is written by Victor Maog, who was named one of American Theatre Magazine’s “20 Theatre Workers You Should Know” (October 2015).

Victor Maog received the Mu Performing Arts/Jerome Foundation New Performance Program commission to write tot, his first full-length play.  This opportunity came about after a fortuitous encounter with Rick Shiomi, founder and — at the time — Artistic Director of Mu, in 2013 at a conference in Philadelphia.  Although he was known more as a director, Maog accepted Shiomi’s offer to write a play even though he did not yet know what to write about.  Many months later with the deadline looming, Maog finally gave into his fears to dig deep within himself to examine what it means to be Asian and American.  And tot was born.

Despite being one of the largest immigrant groups, Maog notices that Filipinos appear to not be as visible as other Asian groups, lacking much literature, films, or other documentation; the Filipino story tends not to take center stage.   In Mu’s press release, Maog stated, “I’m proud to build upon the too-few produced works that explore the Filipino-American experience.”

As described in Mu’s press release, “the play follows the life of an immigrant boy named tot who travels from the Ferdinand Marcos-ruled Philippines to the San Francisco Bay Area to meet his long lost parents.  He journeys from a country full of strife and military rule only to find himself in his lonely American bedroom conjuring a pro wrestling fantasy to escape his new life.”  The lead character, tot, will be played by current Mu Artistic Director, Randy Reyes, who said, “Victor Maog wrote a play that I connect with in so many ways, it’s scary.  It’s as if he wrote it about me.  Not literally, but emotionally and spiritually.”

The character tot is also not literally Maog.  In the play, tot comes to America when he is 9 years old; Maog immigrated from the Philippines at 6-1/2.  Like tot, Maog played with wrestling figures and watched a lot of wrestling on television; unlike tot, wrestling did not overtake his everyday life.  Much of what Maog conjures on stage is his reality and imagination mixed together— a way to create a play with suspense which will entertainment and delight the audience as much as to carry the personal emotional truths that will resonate with those who understand the sense of loneliness, the need to be seen and loved, and the struggle to figure out one’s identity which tot experiences.  As Maog puts it, “tot echoes my own life questions.”

 

(Note:  Also be sure not to miss Park Square Theatre’s co-production with Mu Performing Arts, Flower Drum Song, in our 2016-2017 season.)

Calendar Girls: Featuring John Middleton

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to John Middleton:

Middleton-John

ROLE:  John, 50s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

John is a human sunflower.  Not a saint.  Not a hero.  Just the kind of man you’d want in your car when crossing America.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT: 

John Middleton, whom I had also directed in Sexy Laundry, has an uncanny ability to burrow into the hearts of an audience quickly.  In the stage directions, the playwright says that when John dies, a light should go off in the room.  John only has less than 20 pages onstage to establish that character for us, and I knew he could do that.

QUESTION FOR JOHN MIDDLETON:

Your character, John, offers up the sunflower as the primary symbol of the play, but what is your favorite symbolism or metaphor in the play?

I’ve been considering your question, but I don’t think I can do any better than John in the play and his sunflowers.  The world is feeling particularly dark these days, and we can’t ignore it.  We need to acknowledge the darkness and fight against it.  But we also need to look for the light, no matter how weak, just as the sunflower does.  That, as John says, is such an admirable thing.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Romeo and Juliet, Sexy Laundry, The School for Lies, American Family, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Becky’s New Car 
Representative Theatre  Jungle Theater: Detroit; Theater Latte Da: C.; Torch Theater: Prints; Gremlin Theatre: Hedda Gabler; Carlyle Brown & Company: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…; Girl Friday Productions: Street Scene

Baring It All: What Stage Nudity Actually Reveals

Once a decade, it seems, a debate erupts among theatre practitioners, critics, and audiences about the merits and hazards of stage nudity. Creative teams weigh the metaphorical values of baring it all against the concern that actors’ bare bodies may distract from a play’s themes.Tim Firth was aware of such potential sensationalism when he wrote Calendar Girls, based on a true story.

In 1999, when her husband John died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Angela Baker enlisted her friends to raise money for a sofa for the visitor’s lounge in the hospital where John was treated. They created a calendar they thought might sell better than the usual landscape scenes. And sell it did: a half-million copies within three years. Four more calendars and a cookbook have followed, and the modest amount they’d hoped to raise for furniture has become, to date, more than five million dollars for UK’s Leukemia and Lymphoma Research foundation.

Calendar Girls is a fictionalized account of the venture, but the play’s use of nudity reveals more about the characters than merely documenting the deeds of their real-life counterparts. People have appeared nude on stage since time immemorial, for very different reasons. In the 1960s, stage nudity gained political potency, as agitators like The Living Theater bared it all to protest status quo values. Peter Shaffer’s 1973 Equus (which Mary Finnerty directed for Park Square in 1995), used nudity to represent freedom from religious oppression. In the 1980s and 1990s, plays about AIDS, including Angels in America, turned naked bodies into political bodies. In 1999, Wit (which Linda Kelsey has directed) used nudity to represent freedom from the same disease that took John Baker.

Calendar Girls is part of this modern theatrical phenomenon, in which characters lose their clothing but gain much more. Annie responds to her husband’s death with a benevolent act that strips her and her friends bare, literally and figuratively.

“The story wouldn’t be as powerful if we did not see them pose nude,” director Mary M. Finnerty says. “They do it to memorialize one friend and give hope to another. Each must become vulnerable and expose her flaws and recognize her strength. When the women see themselves pictured nude, they accept themselves in a new way and become a stronger community. Watching them confront their fear helps us to love them more.”

Calendar Girls: Featuring Linda Kelsey

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Linda Kelsey:

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ROLE:  Jessie, late 60s/70s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Get on the right side of Jessie as a teacher and she’ll be the teacher you remember for life.  Get on the wrong side and you will regret every waking hour.  A lover of life, Jessie doesn’t bother with cosmetics—her elixir of life is bravery.  Jessie goes on rollercoasters.  Her husband has been with her a long time and is rarely surprised by her actions.  Jessie bothers about grammar and will correct stallholders regarding their abuse of the apostrophe “s”.  Ideal car—strange-looking European thing which is no longer manufactured.  Ideal holiday—walking in Switzerland or Angkor Wat.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

I have worked with Linda in two other productions and love working with her.  In auditions she drew such a deep and funny interpretation of Jessie, who is a former teacher.  I knew she had the acting chops and sense of comedy which would give both aspects of the character of teacher and girlfriend in the room.

QUESTION FOR LINDA: 

Jessie is opinionated and quick to make up her mind.  I love the “a woman of your age” speech that she delivers.  What did you draw from yourself to play her versus what had to be learned through Jessie?

Well, you don’t have to spend much time in Hollywood, as I did for 25 years, to see ageism at its worst.  I have a great well to draw from in that regard.  It takes courage and gratitude to face aging as a woman in this culture.  I don’t share this often, but my sister Judy died at the age of 49.  When I turned 50 I felt an overwhelming gratitude, realizing that some, like my sister, would never have the experiences that I am now having as a mother of adult children and a grandmother.  There is so much life to be experienced at any age, and I have been on a bit of my own crusade to make sure that women past the age of 40 are recognized, appreciated, and given opportunities to expand their horizons.  I love that I can speak these thoughts through Jessie’s words, especially when she says, “I have never had a problem with age, my dear.  Age has only every had a problem with me.”

CAST BACKGROUND: 

Park Square The Other Place, 4000 Miles, Mary T. and Lizzy K., Doubt, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Frozen, The Belle of Amherst  Representative Theatre Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company: The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife; Guthrie Theatre:  The Tempest, When We Are Married; Torch Theater:  Dangerous Liaisons; Mixed Blood Theatre: Agnes Under the Big Top  TV/Film (series regular) Lou Grant, Sessions (HBO), Day by Day; (mini-series) Eleanor and Franklin; guest starring) MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones  Training B.A. and McKnight Fellowship in Acting, University of Minnesota  Awards/Other Five Emmy Nominations: Lou Grant; Two Golden Globe Nominations: Lou Grant; Cable Ace nomination: Sessions

Calendar Girls: Featuring Charity Jones

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Charity Jones:

Jones-Charity

ROLE:  Chris, 50s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

You want Chris at your party.  She will talk to people she doesn’t know, find things to say to fill silences and generate laughter.  Part of this is because Chris is at home in crowds, holding court, being the centre of attention.  Without Chris in her life, [her best friend] Annie would be better behaved, her life less fun.  The two are like naughty schoolgirls.  Ideal car—who cares, as long as it’s a cabriolet.  Ideal holiday—Algarve.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Charity Jones is one of the most committed and technically and emotionally gifted actors that I have ever worked with.  She establishes the moment and refines it, but each time she performs the moment, it seems like the first time.

QUESTION FOR CHARITY:

Chris is the rebel/ringleader on the group.  I admired that she is a woman of action.  Of course, she also has her flaws.  What was the most difficult part of playing her?

In the words of the playwright, Tim Firth, “Chris is at home in crowds, holding court, being the centre of attention.”  Yikes!  Chris and I are polar opposites!  So I worry a lot that I won’t be believable as the life of the party.  Fortunately, my stellar cast mates really help me sell it by behaving as if my Chris is the most hilarious, magnetic presence in the room.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Sexy Laundry, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club, The Sisters Rosensweig  Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater, Shakespeare Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theater, Jungle Theater, History Theatre

Finding Truth and Beauty

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Like me, you may have already seen the lighthearted film Calendar Girls from a few years back.  But as with a good book versus its movie, the play is richer in theme and character development than in the film version.  According to Director Mary Finnerty, “the play is actually funnier than the film.  It is also more touching because the characters are more fully drawn in the play.  We get to know each woman better and see her fears and insecurities more.  I think the play is more spiritual and the male characters are stronger as well.  We see them more clearly.”

In fact, the play runs deeper than even its own title suggests. The term “calendar girls” brings up a pin-up image—an emphasis on the shiny surface; whereas, the play depicts a strong community of women who come to recognize that a life well-lived ultimately depends on developing an inner truth and beauty that is then reflected from inside out.

As the play progresses, the emphasis shifts from “girls” to “calendar” as one begins to recognize how the marking of time denotes some of the strong themes running throughout the play: coming of age, coming into self-acceptance, coming to terms with mortality, how love transcends death, and mindfully living in the present.  In a way, the play may be considered a study in the formation of girls into fully realized women through the course of time and life-changing experiences.

Park Square Theatre’s decision to produce the regional premiere of Calendar Girls, according to Finnerty, gave them “a way to feature some of the amazing female talent in the Twin Cities—especially women over 40.”  In Calendar Girls, as described by Finnerty, “a group of women decide to pose nude for a calendar to raise money for cancer research in memory of their friend Annie’s husband, John, who died from cancer at 52.  As the calendar rockets to success and the women are more famous than they imagined, tensions arise and friendships are strained and broken.  It is the reminder of John’s message (how he believes in her and life and love and beauty even as he faces his death) that brings the women home to each other and gives Annie the strength to ‘turn her face to the sun’ and carry on without her mate.”

It is rare to find a play featuring such a large cast of strong female and male characters that are allowed to be revealed in complex layers.  Do not miss this opportunity to see it!

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Calendar Girls is ideal for family viewing by teens and older.  It would be a terrific gift to mark a graduation or Father’s Day as well as simply a gift to the ones you love every day.

 

The Best According to Whom?

There are without a doubt, subjects that can be defined as “best” and . . . “not best.”  For many things, however, the line is distinctly less obvious, and the difference between what’s good and bad often comes down to one person’s opinion.  “Everyone’s a critic” rings painfully true for artists, who often feel as if their entire life’s work can be made or broken depending on whether or not the critic was able to find adequate parking or hasn’t fallen ill from an undercooked fish.

“He abandoned me… and now I have no eyebrows.” – Mona

Artists will devote countless hours on a project, plumbing the depths of the human condition, often at the expense of their own pleasures.  Da Vinci once said that “art is never finished, only abandoned” and, as an actor, I get that.  Weeks go by and you’re still tinkering with the artwork, knowing that at some point you’re going to have to let it fly on opening night.  It’s hard to do that, especially when you know there are people actually getting paid to sit in the dark to critique you on all of that devotion. Exposing yourself like that is, in short, a leap of faith.

Yes, the critic is there to do a job but as for power?  I believe we give critics only as much power as we let them.  The simple question is “Who do we do it for?”  To serve ourselves in the hope that a “good” review will grant us the keys to a sort of acting El Dorado or to show audiences a glimpse of their own forgotten humanity? In my short career, I’ve come to learn that by focusing on the former you lose sight of the latter, leading to a weak foundation that will eventually crumble in on itself.

I ask then:  Who determines what’s “the best” theatre?  The reviewers, the audiences, the artists themselves?  All of them are intrinsic to the welfare of the art and have a voice.  Inevitably those voices clash and no more so than during big “oo-lah-lah” events such as the Tony Awards, where suddenly anyone who has seen a play–any play–speaks out about the nominees and not always in the most positive light.

These are the same people who annually disparage the Oscars for not amounting to a hill of beans.  Why should we care about an awards show that rewards bloated and stale Broadway?  Because I believe, for better or worse, this is the face of the industry–practically the only thing Joe the Plumber may think of when someone says “theatre”; and dang it, if Joe the Plumber thinks anything about theatre at all then we’re off to a good start.  Of course, we artists sticking it out here in the hinterlands know that the American theatre is so much richer than what the Tony’s represent, but it pays to be informed about what’s happening in New York, no matter your position.  So I would recommend not forgetting to take your grain of salt and just appreciate the fact that Theatre gets its day in the mainstream sun for at least one night a year.

“The Best.”  Can we define it?  Can we spot it in a line up?  Sometimes absolutely; but more often than not, we’re just comparing apples to oranges, whether it’s the critics or the Tony Awards.  I say we, the artists, raise our voices a bit more in solidarity and less in sniping at each other.  Then we can enjoy the big oo-lah-lah events as the giant self-celebratory parties that they ought to be.

Totally the Ivey Awards, right? I mean, that’s Craig Johnson in the back, right? They waaaay back?

 

Remember Us. (yes us)

About seven years ago, Park Square Theatre introduced its tagline, theatre for you. (yes you.).  However, on the first announcement of the 2016-2017 season was a different tagline, a season for us. (all of us.).  Was this to be Park Square Theatre’s new slogan?

According to Executive Director C. Michael-jon Pease, Park Square Theatre has not made an official switch, though we may see both in use throughout next season.  The original tagline was developed with the help of a branding company and involved rigorous testing with focus groups and audience surveys to ensure a good fit.  In contrast, a season for us (all of us.) was proposed by Artistic Director Richard Cook without pre-testing for public reaction.

Surprisingly, theatre for you. (yes you.) was initially unpopular with in-house staff when given a list of brainstormed options.  Yet, it was the one that they kept coming back to again and again as they whittled down their choices.   It defines Park Square Theatre’s belief that, without the audience’s presence, the show would merely be a rehearsal; the audience—you–reacting to the actors is what creates theatre.  Watching the play also becomes a personal journey, an individual experience of interpretation and discovery.

Although all the above is true, a season for us. (all of us.) denotes Park Square Theatre’s forward momentum to become ever more inclusive and expansive in its programming, certainly aided by the opening of the new Boss Thrust Stage and collaborations with diverse artists.  The tagline is a gentle reminder that what is on stage may be experienced simultaneously as specific yet also universal.  A play such as Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue that features a Puerto Rican family is a play for all of us, with its common theme on the tolls of war on a military family.  Love Person is a play that features a deaf character but is again for all of us, with its common themes on communication, connection, and finding love.

Both Pease and Cook plan on keeping Park Square Theatre relevant to its audiences.   To that end, they proclaim in an open letter to Park Square Patrons within the recent Sons of the Prophet program, “Park Square is New theatre for you. (yes you.).”  As ever, they welcome your feedback regarding its plays, programming, and, yes, taglines.

Contact information:

Michael-jon Pease, Executive Director, CFRE
651.767.8497 | pease@parksquaretheatre.org

Richard Cook, Artistic Director
651.767.8482 | cook@parksquaretheatre.org

Job Description: The Mentor

Producers, writers, directors, dramaturgs, choreographers, agents, actors, singers, coffee runners.  You name it and it exists in show biz, where just about every facet of the theatre has its designated leader–the one who takes control of that job.  This is done for obvious reasons: No man is an island, and burnout should be avoided.

But what about the mentor?  What function does this title serve?  Is it even a position worth considering when it comes to describing the jobs of the theatre?  I would unequivocally argue:  yes!

More than a teacher, the mentor takes the student-teacher relationship to the next level, instilling not just knowledge but wisdom upon the fortunate.  The lesson does not end when the bell rings or the class is over; the guidance continues after school and throughout life.  Through the mentor you are opened to the fact that the world is your classroom and, if you are of age, even the bar.  I had wonderful acting training in my undergraduate years, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that I learned more about what drives an actor (life, love, loss, etc.) by grabbing some beers with two or three individuals who truly transcended the role of “teacher.”  They became mentors.  I maintain close friendships with them now, well beyond graduation, still asking for their advice as I navigate the always tricky waters of professional theatre.

Not everyone can attain this lofty mark, however.  Indeed, what makes the role so special is its exclusivity.  Personally I would count only two in my life, and they shepherded me through the trials of high school and college theatre, respectively.  They were men whom I looked up to for being themselves in the face of adversity and completely selfless in their work as well as patiently listening to the seemingly endless problems that can befall a student of the theatre.  Will I have more in my life?  It is hard to say, for while anyone can be a mentor, you can’t find one simply by looking through the classifieds or applying for one.  It just happens.  

While I believe everyone should benefit from a mentor’s guidance, the door swings both ways: You must take some initiative as well to cultivate the relationship in the same way you would with a best friend, faithful dog or trusted lover.  Anything lasting has to be built on a foundation of mutual respect and accountability.

As I grow older with various real-world experiences of my own, I’m learning to “send the elevator back down” and give a hand to those younger than me.  Not that they’re much younger, of course, but age has very little to do with experience.  I’m finding that with even the little amount that I possess, I can share some with kids whom I meet in elementary and high schools.  They’ve got a long way to go so if I can give them just a nugget of insight, it could be the difference in having them reach the next level.  Such was my case so, to all the mentors out there, thank you; and to those of us who have them, appreciate what you have and never let go.

 

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