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Calendar Girls: Featuring Laurel Armstrong

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

armstrong-laurel (1)

ROLE:  Cora, around 40

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Cora’s past is the most eclectic, her horizons broadened by having gone to college.  This caused a tectonic shift with her more parochial parents.  She came back to them pregnant and tail-between-legs, but Cora has too much native resilience to be downtrodden.  She is the joker in the pack, but never plays the fool.  Her wit is deadpan.  It raises laughter in others, but rarely in herself.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Laura Armstrong is an actor who feels her character deeply.  She had an affection for Cora in the audition that moved me.  Laurel is a mother so when she talks about her child in the play, she is so believable.  She also has a gorgeous voice, which you’ll hear when she sings “Jerusalem” at the play’s opening.

QUESTION FOR LAUREL:

Cora is a very complex character.  What did you learn from playing her?

I found that Cora reminded me a great deal of a friend of mine from college.  My friend was a brilliant musician, a good judge of character, and had a sense of humor that was deadpan but bitingly honest.  Playing Cora reminds me of my friend’s ability to see both the best and worst in people and how she tried to balance disappointment with humor and sincerity.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square: Debut
Representative Theatre: Flying Foot Forum: Alice in Wonderland, Heaven; Girl Friday Productions: Camino Real, Street Scene; Workhaus Collective: A Short Play About 9/11; Nautilus Music Theater: Reach, Rough Cuts; Sesame Street Live: 1-2-3 Imagine!; Bloomington Civic Theatre: City of Angels, Into the Woods, Les Miserables; Theatre Latte Da: NEXT: New Musicals in the Making 
Training: Studied Music Theater at Brigham Young University

Spanish Immersion: “The Palabras Project” Comes to Park Square

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Imagine a world where anything is possible.  That’s what Ricardo Vazquez and Jessica Huang did.  Together they formed Other Tiger Productions, a new company bent on outside-the-box creativity to be able to make whatever it wants via theatre, film, movement, storytelling, visual arts–you name it–in the process, carving out opportunities to highlight multicultural talent that may otherwise remain hidden from a broader audience.  And they are doing it all on their own terms.  Good for them; great for us!

From July 8 to 17, Other Tiger will present its inaugural production, The Palabras Project, at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage.  It is billed as “an immersive musical and theatrical experience featuring some of the Twin Cities’ top Latino talent,” involving several artistic forms of expression:  flamenco dance by Susana di Palma, hip-hop influenced Boricu music by Maria Isa, indigenous art by Armando Gutierrez G., masks and puppets by Gustavo Boada and storytelling by Dario Tangelson.

The idea for what ultimately became The Palabras Project evolved from Vazquez and Huang’s initial vision to create an outdoor festival centered around the words of legendary Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.  Years of visioning clarified and distilled the project into its current form, a production inspired by Lorca’s play Blood Wedding, a tale of star-crossed lovers caught in a generation-old feud, that will be a “complete sensory immersion” that weaves throughout the theatre.

Asked to describe how the performers will actually take over the theatre, Vazquez chuckled and revealed little:  “No one has adapted Blood Wedding in this way before.  The audience can come with that exciting question.  We shall surprise them.”

 

(Look forward to more in-depth blogs about The Palabras Project and Other Tiger Productions!)

Calendar Girls: Featuring Bill McCallum

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

McCallum-Bill

ROLE:  Rod, 50s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT

You have to be a certain kind of guy to stick with Chris [his wife] and Rod loves it.  He can give back what he gets, and has a deadpan humor which has always made Chris laugh.  He drinks a lot but never so much as to have a problem.  He would work every hour to make his shop a success.  And John [see blog featuring John Middleton] was his mate, even though the relationship was originally channeled through their wives.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT

Bill McCallum has great dramatic instincts but also makes a strong impression quickly.  He represents John’s cadre of male friends so needs to carry an easy masculinity as a counterpoint to the women.  I loved the chemistry between Bill and Charity Jones as a couple on stage.

QUESTION FOR BILL

To me, Rod seems to be a sensitive man who is comfortable in his own skin as well as the life-of-the-party type, especially when with his wife Chris.  How do you view him and try to play him?

Whenever I play a supporting role like this, I try to figure out what I need to do to contribute to the story and to help the folks who are carrying the show (in this case, the Calendar Girls, especially Chris and Annie).  Which means that Rod needs to be kind, present, supportive of his wife and alive (in contrast to John, who is dead).  I don’t think he’s particularly fun or outgoing because that is the role Chris plays in the relationship, but I think you’re right that he is sensitive and comfortable in his own skin.

CAST BACKGROUND

Park Square Debut
Representative Theatre (as Actor) Guthrie Theater: Over 40 productions since 1996; History Theatre: Civil Ceremony; American Players Theater: 7-Season Company Member; Dark & Stormy Productions (Associate Artistic Director 2012-2014): Speed-the-Plow, The Receptionist, The Hothouse; (as Director) The Comedian’s Tragedy; Dark & Stormy Productions: The Drunken City; New Group Productions: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like it 
Upcoming Projects Cantus: Romeo and Juliet

Calendar Girls: Featuring Christina Baldwin

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

Baldwin-Christina

ROLE: Annie, 50s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Annie will join in mischief but is at heart more conformist and less confrontational than [her best friend] Chris.  After Chris has put a waiter’s back up in the restaurant, Annie will go in and pour calm.  The mischievousness Chris elicits saves Annie from being a saint.  She has enough edge to be interesting, and enough salt not to be too sweet.  Ideal car—who cares, as long as it’s reliable.  Ideal holiday—walking in English countryside.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Christina Baldwin, as Annie, is the emotional center of the play.  I love how authentic and vulnerable she is onstage, but she also has a deep strength.  She has a humor and twinkle about her that makes her not so much a victim, but someone you want to help.  She has a winning quality as an actor.

QUESTION FOR CHRISTINA:

Annie’s part requires a vast emotional range.  What was your favorite scene to tackle and why?

Any of the scenes with all of the “calendar girls” en masse.  It is a special treat to be with so many talented women on stage all together— a rare treat in the theater. The challenge is letting the story be told and allowing the main story of the strong friendships be the cushion upon which the text sits.  Those unsaid moments, looks, exchanges are the virtuosity of the piece.  The audience must believe this is a tight group of friends.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Ragtime, Grey Gardens, Well 
Representative Theatre  Nautilus Music-Theatre: The Fantasticks; Ten Thousand Things: Dear World; The Moving Company: Liberty Falls 54321; Jungle Theater: In the Next Room; Guthrie Theater: Roman Holiday; Theatre de la Jeune Lune: Carmen; American Repertory Theater: Don Juan Giovanni, Figaro; Berkeley Repertory Theatre: Figaro 
TV/Film 
I Am Not a Serial Killer; A Stray; Stay Then Go; MNOriginals (PBS); Great Performances HMS Pinafore (PBS); Jona/Tomberry; Beheaded; Flourtown 
Training M.M., Vocal Performance, University of Minnesota; B.M., Vocal Performance, Lawrence University
Awards City Pages Best Actress (2014), Ivey Award winner (2009), Star Tribune Artist of the Year Honorable Mention (2003)
Upcoming Projects Jungle Theater: The Oldest Boy; Guthrie Theater: REFUGIA (The Moving Company)

Calendar Girls: Featuring Shanan Custer

As a part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Shanan Custer:

Custer-Shanan

ROLE:  Ruth, 40s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Ruth’s journey is from the false self-confidence of the emotionally abused to the genuine self- confidence of the woman happy in her own skin.  Ruth is eager to please but not a rag doll, and . . . she is desperate to be the cartilage in the spine of the WI and keep everyone happy.  She has spine herself—if she was too wet, no one would want her around.  But they do, and they feel protective of her because they sense there is something better in Ruth than her life is letting out.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Shanan Custer is a comedienne of great talent.  She has a connection to audiences that is remarkable.  As Ruth, she is fearful but not annoying.  There is a strength underneath the comedy that I love.

QUESTION FOR SHANAN:

Ruth is a pleaser but not a pushover.  What pleased you about playing her?

I love the challenge of playing the underdog character — in this case the most nervous and unconfident of all the women — and making her real.  Ruth is a very comedic character with several lovely turns throughout the play that mostly focus on her dealing with her benign mix-ups and hang ups, but she is also shown as having a great deal of empathy for others and ultimately having a change of heart about herself and her place in the world.  I love the comedy and the interplay between these characters, but what I really love about playing Ruth is that I get the chance to make her funny but whole, silly but truthful and — I hope — relatable to our audiences.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square 2 Sugars, Room for Cream; Dead Man’s Cell Phone  Representative Theatre Interact Theater: Hell is Empty and ALL the Devils are Here; Casting Spells Productions: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune; Workhaus Collective: The Mill; Theatre Pro Rata: Emilie: Le Marquis du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight  Training M.A., Theater History, Theory and Criticism, University of Maryland, College Park  Awards/Other Ivey Award 2013 (Ensemble, 2 Sugars, Room for Cream)  Upcoming Projects 2016 MN Fringe Festival: Sometimes There’s Wine; Park Square: The Liar, Theatre Pro Rata (at Park Square): Up: The Man in the Flying Chair

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:

pool-carolyn

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:

kelsey_linda

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

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