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STUDENT MATINEE FRONT OF HOUSE STAFF: the show before The Show

It was in the fall of 2014 when I sought a job that would match the year-round schedule of my daughter’s new school. I was doubtful that such a job existed when my sister spied and forwarded this job posting to me:

Open Positions – Daytime Usher: Help us to bring live theatre productions to junior and senior high school students as a daytime Usher for daytime weekday matinees at Park Square Theatre in Downtown St. Paul.

I almost didn’t apply, not wanting the hassle and expense of parking downtown. But why not just take a look? My background did include customer service and working with students. I’d even been a regular theatre-goer before motherhood and, in fact, was a Park Square subscriber for a season before giving birth.

My interview went beyond well. We were a good fit. And not only would I have the flexibility to work around my daughter’s school schedule, but it dawned on me that I could park and ride to work on the light rail. The job even came with the perk of free tickets to all the plays, reinvigorating my family’s theatre attendance.

The House on Mango Street was the first student matinee performed on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

Adding to my excitement was the prospect of being a part of Park Square’s new phase. The just completed Andy Boss Thrust Stage would open that fall, with the potential to expand their teenage audience from 25,000 to 35,000 students each year. They needed more Front of House staff to be able to service two shows running on two stages.

Our Student Matinee Front of House pre-season training introduced us to the Education Program’s “Evening of Theatre During the Day” concept for school groups. Basically, we give students the same amenities as our evening and weekend audiences but at a lower cost. The students get reserved seats, an unabridged program and the service of professional ushers–all that create a special outing to see a show. The Front of House staff set the initial tone for the “evening”; we’re part of the show before The Show. We even dress up for our roles: black pants or skirt and white top with permissible pops of color.

As an usher, I’m officially under the supervision of a house manager but, in reality, I work in partnership with her/him. The house manager and ushers also work in conjunction with the stage manager. Together, we aim for seamless service and a superior audience experience.

The ushers carry out many varied tasks. Pre-show duties include greeting buses, helping groups cross the street and into the lobby, tearing tickets, handing out playbills and directing patrons to their proper seats. During the performance, two ushers stay inside with the school groups while two ushers remain in the lobby to set up concessions. During intermission, the outside ushers sell snacks and beverages; one of the inside ushers come out to monitor the bathrooms, returning inside once intermission is over. While the play continues, the outside ushers do a post-count of concessions to check against the house manager’s money count, clean the lobby and throw out trash. An usher checks on bus arrivals and helps patrons cross to their buses post-show. All ushers pitch in to leave the theatre and lobby clean and, if necessary, set up the lobby for the nighttime performance. The house manager stays to complete reports and lock the doors.

While our Front of House duties may sound somewhat straightforward, true to the nature of live theatre, our workdays are open to unforeseen surprises. Snow may delay a group’s arrival; an actor may wake up sick, causing a scramble to bring in the understudy; once all the water in the building got shut off. Another time, Romeo accidentally slid his sword next to a student, who picked it up despite my whispered instruction to let it be. Medical emergencies arise; a section gets rowdy; a chaperone losses his temper. High drama can happen offstage, too. Front of House staff learn the art of letting go–but not letting it go to heck.

And how do we watch the same play over and over? The performance is actually different each time, depending on the synergy between the actors and audience members. As the house manager says in her/his pre-show announcement: “It’s you being here, creating and working with the actors that creates theatre.” Plus who says we’re just watching the play? We’re also watching the students react to the play. That gives us an added perspective. Students are generally less inhibited than adults to show how they feel during the play. I recommend sitting through The Diary of Anne Frank or our new adaptation of Hamlet with them to see what I mean.

If we’re lucky, a pre-show Build A Moment (a presentation by professional theatre artists to explain how a particular scene was created) or post-show discussion is scheduled for the day. Then Front of House staff can opt to come earlier or stay later to watch these fascinating events. We get to learn along with the students.

One thing that I’ve learned is that what Park Square offers through its Education Program travels well beyond our walls. We can be a student’s first exposure to professional theatre, first time to see themselves truthfully portrayed on stage or initial spark to a lifelong love of theatre. Comprised of hundreds of students from a number of schools, an audience may witness acts of racism, privilege, empathy, kindness and generosity in our theatre. All that becomes part of the learning experience that goes back with them as well. Theatre reflects humanity, both on and off the stage.

I’d say that a big responsibility of Front of House staff is to pay attention. Pay attention to what’s happening on the stage and all around us, how the program interconnects to the organization’s mission as a whole and how our role fits and matters in the bigger scheme of things. To care about doing this is the key to Front of House longevity. You need to be inspired, too.

If you would like to consider joining the Student Matinee Front of House staff for Park Square’s upcoming season, don’t hesitate to email a cover letter and resume to kunik@parksquaretheatre.org or contact PerformanceManager Jiffy Kunik at 651.767.8489 (or via email) with any questions. 

Have a Laugh with Carolyn Pool

When Henry and Alice: Into the Wild opens the season at Park Square there will be a familiar face in the cast – Carolyn Pool! A veteran of not only Park Square, Pool has been seen on many stages in Minneapolis and Saint Paul working with such esteemed companies as Illusion Theatre, Penumbra, Theatre Mu, Pillsbury House and countless new works at the Playwrights’ Center. She says, however, that Park Square has been a defining feature of her artistic work with such credits as August, Osage County, Proof, The Sisters Rosenweig, and Born Yesterday. The first time she tread the Park Square boards it wasn’t even at the current location in the Hamm Building, but at the old Lowertown venue in School for Wives.

Now Pool brings her talents to Henry and Alice along with fellow stage cohort, John Middleton. The two are not strangers, having appeared on stage together before at Park Square. That was in Dead Man’s Cell Phone where the two’s chemistry was duly noted. When asked about what she hopes the audience is able to take away from the play, she says aptly:

“I hope they laugh! I also hope they see some of themselves in these characters and maybe realize that they are not alone in their experiences. Telling stories truthfully and beautifully even if those stories are sometimes difficult is my greatest passion as an actor. And, when I can make people laugh and feel good too, that is the most wonderful feeling.” 
Carolyn Pool and John Middleton in the rehearsal hall last week (photo by Connie Shaver)

Making people laugh is definitely something Carolyn Pool has made a career of. If you’re well-tuned into the Twin Cities theatre scene you have probably heard about her two-woman shows, (co-created with Shanan Custer) 2 Sugars, Room for Cream and Sometimes There’s Wine. The former earned the duo a 2013 Ivey Award when it played at the New Century Theatre. Pool and Custer are frequent collaborators who are always looking for projects to write, act and laugh in together.

Indeed having a good time is almost certain when she takes the stage with Middleton and Melanie Wermacher. Mark your calendars and plan to join in on the fun on the Boss Stage September 15 – October 22.

 

Carolyn Pool, John Middleton and Melanie Wermacher  in the rehearsal hall. (photo by Connie Shaver)

Introducing Theatre Ambassador Greta Hallberg

Theatre Ambassador Greta Hallberg
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

In a previous blog post, “The Theatre Ambassadors Program: An Arts Leadership Program,” I’d promised to introduce you to two Park Square Theatre Ambassadors so allow me to first present Greta Hallberg, a senior in Minnehaha Academy. You will meet a second Ambassador in a future post.

Park Square’s Ambassadors Program originally offered only one-year ambassadorships to 10-12th grade students before also giving a two-year option for those interested in continuing. However, a few Ambassadors have wanted to stay for a third year, and Greta is one of them.

While a freshman in high school, a good friend had piqued Greta’s interest in the program, and she joined the Ambassadors during her sophomore year. With Minnehaha Academy being a relatively small school, she loved that Park Square would be able to offer her a more robust immersion in all aspects of theatre than her school could. She would learn about “all things theatre” through personal interactions with a slew of professionals in the field.

“I used to be more one-dimensional in my understanding of theatre,” Greta admitted. “All I knew was acting, but the program changed my perspective on what I may want to do in theatre from my talks with lighting designers, directors, stage managers, and so on. I have a better understanding of what goes into a show, and I’m now more open to my future options.

Another wow factor for Greta was that the Ambassadors Program provided a teaching artist of her choice to hold a workshop in her school, with the expectation that she would do the legwork to coordinate and advertise the event. This perk resulted in a visit by Stephen Houtz, who is a director, music director, actor, composer and vocal coach, to teach “Acting Through Song” in her school.

The community-oriented aspect of the Ambassadors Program was definitely a strong attraction for Greta. Not only did the program outreach to her school community, but it has also provided her with a strong community of theatre-loving peers who can freely and comfortably share and express ideas, opinions and thoughts with each other. That has been HUGE.

“I’m naturally more of an introvert so at first it was intimidating to make connections with people from other schools, but the friendships I’ve made through this program got me out of the bubble of just being in my school’s theatre program and really helped me to branch out a lot,” Greta said. “And each time we see a show together, we meet afterwards for a discussion. The kids are smart and have different perspectives on how they see things. Mary Finnerty (Park Square Theatre’s Education Director) encourages us to be honest about why we liked or didn’t like something, and whatever feedback we give is valued and respected. Mary has even shared our comments with people involved in the show, and sometimes they’ve taken our suggestions. I feel like our opinions really matter!”

Greta steadily became more aware of the interconnectedness in the Twin Cities theatre community as well. She would recognize actors whom she’d met or seen at Park Square Theatre on other stages in town. She noticed that the theatre professional who’d coached her on monologues as an Ambassador was involved in the Guthrie’s Native Gardens.

“I’ve also gained a broader human perspective,” Greta continued, “on how we connect with each other. Theatre creates empathy; it promotes empathy for people with different lives than our own.”

Besides theatre, Greta also has a strong interest in music, just like her mom, who is the band and orchestra instructor at Minnehaha Academy. Greta herself has been in bands and a youth symphony. She prefers the humanities, while her dad and brother veer towards the sciences but are invested in the arts as well. With still one more year of high school left and plans to attend college, Greta has plenty of time to explore her interests. But whatever her route in life down the road, Greta knows one thing for certain; she will always maintain the love of theatre that was further nurtured by her involvement in the Theatre Ambassadors Program at Park Square Theatre.

THE THEATRE AMBASSADORS PROGRAM: An Arts Leadership Program

Theatre Ambassadors Payton Anderson, Mairi Johnson, Catherine Vorwald, Soren Eversoll and Greta Hallberg (l to r) volunteered at Park Square this summer.
(Photo by Quinn Shadko)

The Park Square Theatre Education Program further invests in our teens through its Theatre Ambassadors Program. This program offers 10th to 12th grade students who have a passion for theatre the opportunity to more deeply explore its mysteries through workshops with teaching artists, talks with theatre professionals and discussions with fellow Ambassadors.

Education Director Mary Finnerty proposed the program in 1999, as she had been keenly aware of students she’d taught during her ten-year teaching career who were deeply passionate about theatre and loved to talk about it all the time, but who she described as “artistically lonely” in their schools. The funding for the Ambassadors Program was found in 2011.

In 2012, the Ambassadors Program was launched! Since then, many 10th to 12th grade students have applied to participate in this unique program, which requires a serious time commitment (Theatre Ambassadors meet one Saturday a month, for six to seven hours per meeting, from September to May) and tuition cost of $150 or $35 for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

As Ambassadors, the students:

  • Take Master Classes from professionals in Voice, Movement, Stage Makeup, Acting, Stage Combat and Musical Theatre.
  • Learn about Theatre Design (scenic, costume, lighting, sound) from professional theatre designers.
  • Attend six shows at Park Square and discuss them with their peers and the artists who created them.
  • Get career advice from theatre professionals.
  • Become a part of a group of teens from throughout the metro who enjoy theatre as much as they do.
  • Bring a free theatre workshop to their school or community.

However, the Ambassadors are expected to contribute, too. They must:

  • Attend all seven sessions. (Absences for theatre performances are excused.)
  • Plan and invite three students to an event to introduce them to the Theatre Ambassadors Program.
  • Connect a teacher artist to other students in their community by coordinating and advertising a theatre workshop to be taught in their school.
  • Read excerpts from scripts.
  • Blog or journal about their opinions and thoughts about the shows.

Initially conceived as a one-year program, some participants begged to continue for another year. Now they can do so as Ambassador2’s. As such, they spend the summer to not only help Education staff prepare for the incoming group of Ambassadors but also gain valuable insight into how a theatre runs by doing hands-on work to support various departments. So far, three students have actually done three years in the program so are technically Ambassador3’s.

While not all Ambassadors may ultimately pursue a career in Theatre, Park Square’s Ambassadors Program definitely impacts their lives and further enhances their love of theatre. Certainly, many have gone on to major in Theatre Arts but now with an expanded view of possibilities beyond acting. Past Ambassadors have also started their own theatre company or landed roles on the Park Square stage. And many of these Ambassadors have left the program intending to be physicians, teachers, microbiologists or other occupations who will love theatre forever and probably serve on Theatre Boards or work to keep arts alive in our community. In upcoming blogs, you will meet two Park Square Theatre Ambassadors to hear about their experiences in our program and the effect it has had on their lives.

If you would like more information on our Theatre Ambassadors Program, contact Quinn Shadko at 651.291.9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org.

Role Reprisal: John Middleton

John Middleton

Starting the 2017-2018 season off with a bang is Henry and Alice: Into the Wild by Michele Riml and directed by Mary M. Finnerty. A few of those names may sound familiar to the Park Square faithful, as this delightful rom-com is a sequel to that other delightful rom-com, Sexy Laundry, which brought the house down in 2014. Finnerty also directed the precursor and wouldn’t you know it, John Middleton is also back in the role of Henry, while this time around Carolyn Pool plays his counterpart , Alice. Melanie Wehrmacher rounds out the cast as an interloping family member.

I was able to ask Middleton a few questions about what it’s like getting to act the same character in a new play. After all, that’s not something that happens very often in the theatre. Unlike a movie sequel, you do not have the opportunity to “go back” and catch the first one. For him, the biggest difference will be the fact that in Sexy Laundry he had the even more unique experience to act opposite his real-life wife, Charity Jones. While that may not be the case for Henry and Alice, he is excited to work with friend Carolyn Pool who he says is, “… a terrific actress who’s carried me through productions before – including Dead Man’s Cell Phone here at Park Square.” That production was in 2010, so that gives you an idea of how familiar audiences should be with Middleton. Most recently, he was seen on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Idiot’s Delight by Girl Friday Productions, playing the wily, straight-talking American.

 

Sexy Laundry with Charity Jones. Photo by Petronella Ytsma 

But how far can we go? Middleton’s very first production at Park Square in 1991’s The Marriage of Figaro, and while he may not have had many lines he distinctly remembers moving a lot of chairs around. That was only a year after he first came to the Twin Cities as an actor. Hailing from Wisconsin, he landed a role playing a pirate in a production of Peter Pan at the Children’s Theatre Company and liked Minnesota so much he decided to stay. I believe I can speak for the community here when I say we’re certainly glad he did! Other recent Park Square Theatre credits include: Calendar Girls, Romeo and Juliet, The School for Lies, and American Family.

As you can see, Henry and Alice: Into the Wild is but the latest in many wonderful turns on the Park Square boards for John Middleton. As we herald the start of the new season, let’s revisit the familiar world of Sexy Laundry and the actor who brought it to life then as he will now.

More Funny Camping Stories

Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

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. During the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share those submitted to our blog.

The stories just keep on coming:

We were tent camping: two adults, two kids, a baby in a travel crib and a dog. There was no room for the dog in the tent so she was outside “guarding” the campsite from invaders. All of a sudden, she was growling, then barking, then pheeww!! And more intense pheeww!!

The dog and the entire campsite was sprayed by the black and white furry invader. We had to leave and bathe the dog in tomato juice.

——

This episode took place at a church camp in South Carolina where I was serving as a counselor for a group of middle school girls. We had been assigned a covered wagon for our lodging. It was up off the ground, not easily entered or exited. Two of the girls were brand new to camping away from home. The rest were seasoned church campers. It was one of the new girls who had the challenging moment.

The six girls and I had gone to sleep after lights out. All one heard were the night noises of the forest, crickets, perhaps owls and a few mosquitos, given the humid climate of the South. Out of this lulling tranquility broke an urgent demand, “Ms. Jeannie, me gots to pee! Me gots to pee!”

Jumping to alert attention, I assessed the situation as quickly as I could. Time was not available for reaching the bathrooms down the path. Together she and I hastily determined that the only thing to do was for her to sit over the edge of the wagon and let nature take its course.

I imagine she has retold that story to her own children and grandchildren in the time since the early ’70s.

——

Camping with Jill’s son and family, we were startled when their dog, Balto, who was named after a famous sled dog, appeared on the road chasing a pickup while dragging a large log behind him attached to his dog chain.

Another time, we were camping as we traveled to Baltimore; and as I went to get some wood from a pile set up for that purpose, I saw a sign that said, “Beware of Snakes.” Well, at that time, we had no tent and I slept beside the car under a tarp. Imagine now myself, Jill and Mike all crowded inside our VW Dasher. The gearshift lever on the floor was a big challenge.

Then there was the time Jill’s brother-in-law decided to sleep on the top of the picnic table in the campground. When he awoke in the morning, he looked down to see a skunk sitting on his feet. Hmm, he escaped dire consequences even though he threw a shoe at the animal.

And finally, we have a large two-room tent whose main room has a waterproof floor. The plastic extends up the sides a couple of inches and provides ample protection under most circumstances. On a camping trip, we set up the tent; but the ground was pretty uneven. Wouldn’t you know but a storm blew in that night, and the rain and lightning were severe. Soon the rain made its way into our room, and air mattresses were of no help. Couple that with lightning strikes close by, and we chose to sleep in the back of our Blazer. The storm passed but, the Blazer was actually quite comfortable.  Well, sort of.

THE EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Creating Our Study Guides

Educator Advisory Board members spend summers creating our study guides

If you were to ask the teachers in our Educator Advisory Board, “What did you do over summer break?”, they’d report that they’d spent significant time volunteering for Park Square Theatre’s education program. More specifically, they’d tell you that they were busy creating the study guides for the upcoming season’s student matinee plays. Because these study guides are actually produced by educators experienced in teaching 7th to 12th graders, they are mindfully designed to not just be grade-appropriate for our targeted audiences, but dynamically usable, as well. While our materials are ready for use, they can also be specifically adapted for particular class usage (we can provide a PDF file for you to modify); our materials are additionally designed with different types of learners in mind (e.g., visual, text-oriented, physical, etc.).

Last summer, I got to sit in on a few study guide creation sessions for an insider’s view on how it gets done. (I specifically observed sessions for the Flower Drum Song and Macbeth study guides.) A separate committee was created for each play that needed a study guide, and someone in each committee served as Editor (or Co-Editors). Education Director Mary Finnerty held an Editor’s training session to cover editor responsibilities, challenges of editing and style sheet expectations before the committees met.

The committee meetings consisted of three two-hour meetings per play to match the three steps in the process:

Meeting 1 – Discuss the play and what contents the teacher will need to prepare their students and assign who will write each article or activity.

Meeting 2 – Look at drafts of the materials and assess structure, approach and audience.

Meeting 3 – Proofread articles for grammatical correctness, parallel structure, consistent formatting and following of the style sheet.

As you can see, much of the volunteers’ tasks–namely, research and writing–were independently completed before being reviewed by their group as a whole.

When asked what inspired them to do this work, committee members provided a variety of reasons:

“After bringing students to a play, I was impressed by the Park Square Theatre guides. They were better than any I’d seen from other theatres. Other guides are often designed for college students or theatre aficionados instead of for students’ first exposure to theatre.”

Educator Advisory Board members in a meeting to look at study guide drafts.

“I believe in Park Square Theatre’s Education Program. It’s extremely strong. I work for the Folger Shakespeare Library in D.C., consulting on educational materials and leading teacher workshops nationwide. I am very passionate about Shakespeare.”

“I feel like being in this group and going through drafting and peer evaluations of lesson plans and the study guide makes me a better teacher. I also use a lot of ideas that come out of our meetings in the classroom.”

“This is interesting work that encourages me to look at plays more deeply, and I also benefit from the other advisory board members who bring their ideas for working with students.”

“I’ve always loved theatre. I think that theatre is an interdisciplinary art form, and I love to teach in an interdisciplinary way. Theatre talks about everything.”

“I’m not able to get involved in theatre. I don’t have a background in it. But I know how to create curriculum. This is a way to get involved.”

Sacrificing part of their summers to create study guides for classroom use reflects the deep commitment that the Educator Advisory Board has for theatre, their profession and the young people ultimately impacted by their work. In essence, it’s a generous gift of love that gets passed forward many times over. Thank you from the bottoms of our hearts.

——

 

NOTE: A study guide can be accessed by selecting a particular play at http://parksquaretheatre.org/education/education-matinees-2017-18/.

 

(To learn more about the Educator Advisory Board, also read the past post “A HISTORY OF OUR EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Teachers Helping Teachers.”)

A Fishy Camping Tale (Yet They Are Still Married)

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. During the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share those submitted to our blog.

Here’s Christine of Kenyon, Minnesota, sharing a story about a camping trip with Dave, her partner of over 30 years:

Let’s get this straight right out of the starting gate. I am not a great camper. Given the choice, I would sleep in places that have ice machines and sheets and do not feature wood ticks or chiggers.

However, my husband Dave is the poster boy for camping enthusiasm. He could be a 1950s Walt Disney camping dad. He has hiking boots. He wears red flannel checked shirts. He dips his matches in wax before we go so they will stay dry. Campfires are like TV to him, and things that might dampen another person’s spirit hardly register in his mind. He doesn’t notice there are squiggly things on the bottom of a lake, and finding a leech on your foot leaves him unimpressed.

Dave loves camping so much that he will build the fire, cook all the food, haul all the gear in and out of the van, put up the tent and not be mad when you don’t want to hike AGAIN today, preferring to read your lurid vacation books at the picnic table while brushing the ants and jumping spiders off yourself.

Dave also loves to fish. If you talk to Dave about camping, fishing always comes up. I believe he is unaware that one could camp somewhere and NOT fish. Camping triggers the fishing lure (if you will). His eyes will glaze over, and he will begin to describe in detail the sheer nirvana of eating fish every day, fresh out of the lake. This man who cannot find ketchup in a grocery store and forgets to pack pants in his suitcase (when we go somewhere normal) is unfailing at remembering the cast iron fry pan, oil and cornmeal for frying fish.

This is a true story. It happened in the late 1980s. Camping then was particularly hard for a gal of my temperament. Regular folk did not have cell phones or little TVs. Laptops were unknown. We made fire with wood and charcoal briquettes and did not have fancy pop up tents or hats with mosquito nets on them. You don’t really need to know this historical detail, but I wanted to get credit for how brave I was then. I love my husband, and it was his birthday. So we went camping at Lake Texana, Texas–in the tent section because Dave is much too manly a man to succumb to an RV.

The minute we got the tent set up and our stuff unpacked, Dave went fishing on the dock. It had been a long trip, so we were going to have bratwurst for supper and, hopefully, fish for breakfast. We figured Dave had an hour to fish; then we should eat and get a good night’s sleep. I got out salad, onions and buns and put the brats on skewers. When all was ready, I walked over to the dock where Dave was fishing. Beaming, he showed me his stringer with four big “Sunnies” and assured me we would indeed have fish for breakfast. After effusive admiration of the fish, I told him it was time for supper.  Grumbling just a little bit, he gathered up his things and came back to the campsite with me.

When we approached our camp site, there was a flurry of furry movement hurrying into the bushes. The brats were gone. The end of the skewers were chewed, the salad had been tossed on the ground and all the walnuts in it had been carefully picked out and eaten. We found the empty bun bag torn and mangled near some bushes leading into a wooded thicket. There were bite marks on the mustard bottle.

Dave told me not to worry.  He could fry up the fish in no time. I think I saw a tiny gleam of masculine provider satisfaction in his eye. Maybe after supper, he said, he could do a little night fishing and get more fish for breakfast. His shoulders were broad and his demeanor proud as he strode off to the dock to get his stringer of fish. Moments later, he was back, empty handed. It seems there are alligators in Lake Texana. Apparently, alligators like a convenient meal of fish served to them all in one spot. Undaunted, we had trail mix for supper. After that, Dave went back out and came home all smelly and happy with a bucket of fish. He secured the bucket with a cover and a rock on top.

The next morning, we found a big wet spot where the bucket had been toppled. There was no sign of the fish. We did see paw prints and drag marks leading towards the thicket of trees and bushes near our spot. We had egg salad sandwiches from the cooler for breakfast.

Dave went on a hike. He likes to hike in the woods. He brings home a lot of trophies from his hikes: feathers, craggy pieces of wood, wood ticks, rocks which he claims are agates. We had lunch, and Dave went out to rent a rowboat. When he returned, we had a short negotiation in which his goal was to get me in the boat and go fishing all afternoon. My goal was to define “afternoon” and to secure a promise that, even if the fish were “biting” we would go to shore within 15 minutes of any announcement from me that I needed to find a bush to hide behind. A deal was struck; and after an exciting 12 weeks (or it could have just been three hours) of sitting in the wet rowboat, we had another bucket of fish and were back on the dock. The dock had a fish cleaning station so Dave cleaned our catch and brought the cleaned fish back and put them in our Styrofoam cooler instead of the bucket. He wedged the cooler tightly under the bench of the heavy picnic table, further securing it with several BIG rocks. We flip flopped down to the camp showers to rinse the smelly fish and grime off. When we came back, the cooler was still firmly wedged under the picnic bench. It had not budged an inch.  It had a lot of little raccoon paw prints all over the surface. A hole had been chewed out of one corner. When opened, it revealed more paw prints and no fish. We had baked potatoes for supper.

The next morning, Dave was out fishing early. By the time I made coffee, he was back with more fish cleaned and ready to fry. He put them in our heavy-duty plastic cooler–the one with the latch. In a rare moment of mean spiritedness, I saw him rub the latch with a cut jalapeno pepper. He went to get cleaned up, and I did a quick search for wood for the fire. We were gone 10 minutes. I was in woods about 100 feet from our site when I heard Dave say something in a loud voice. Never mind what he said exactly. You don’t need to know every detail.

Apparently, the raccoons of Lake Texana are not in the least thwarted by a simple cooler latch. The cooler had been ravaged. It was cooler Armageddon. The egg salad Tupperware was destroyed, the butter completely gone except for a tiny wad of chewed up paper. Two withered grapes were left on a remaining grape stem. All the cheese and lunch meat were gone, not even a shred of plastic wrap to mark their existence. Bottles of beverages lay in a blast zone-like pattern surrounding the cooler. You might wonder if, when finding the smorgasbord of delicacies that inhabit a camping cooler, those hoodlum raccoons would leave the local lake fish out of sheer boredom. You would be incorrect.

We are not stupid. We cleaned up the site and tossed the Styrofoam cooler.  Our main cooler and our non-cooler bag of food were in the van. We went for a hike and found a clearing with some beautiful tame deer that people were feeding by hand. Enthralled, I went back to the van to get the enormous camera we had in those days.

Approaching the van, I noticed a torn bag of corn chips dangling from the front window. The window we had left cracked about an inch so as not to be roasted alive in the blazing Texas heat should we want to go somewhere. THAT window. The size of the opening of the window was calculated to frustrate and defeat fish theft.

A few yards away, a gang of chipmunks were attempting to be invisible by sitting absolutely still in a little nest of mauled corn chip bags. I told them how shocked and disappointed I was in them. They did not seem in the least sorry.

We drove to a nearby town for lunch and to restock our supplies. That evening, I made “hobo stew” while Dave went fishing. If you don’t know, hobo stew is vegetables and meat of your choice wrapped in many layers of aluminum foil and then baked on your campfire coals in the aluminum packets. While I was sitting on guard of those packets, Dave took the rowboat out. I used my time judiciously, applying dots of calamine lotion to all my mosquito bites and unidentified itchy spots. My pale green capris complemented the pink polka dots covering my arms and legs. I was sure I was making a breakout fashion statement.

Dave returned triumphant, and we locked the evening’s catch in the cooler, in the van.  Unfortunately, after securely closing the door, we had a flurry of door openings and closings due to the need for “Nana-Ramas,” a treat that we felt we had coming to us.  Nana-Ramas are a banana with one strip of the peel pulled off, the banana split down the length, with chunks of chocolate (dark is better) squished in the split, a sprinkling of pecans and a spoonful of orange marmalade rubbed on the top. Wrap it in foil. Bake in the coals. There are lots of variations on this theme. My point is someone left the back of the van where the cooler was secured, unsecured. We are easily distracted by chocolate.

The next morning was spent cleaning out the back of the van where food goo and muddy raccoon prints were abundant, then getting the van jumped because of the dead battery due to the dome light, followed by going through a car wash for the vacuum and upholstery cleaning features. After that, we had brunch in town and went grocery shopping again. In the grocery store, I suggested we buy some fish to save us the trouble of going out again. This suggestion was not good for our marriage.

The next batch of fish were stolen straight out of the bucket WHILE WE WERE STANDING IN OUR CAMPSITE. (Okay, at the edge of the site, behind the van; but still, we were right there.) The park ranger had stopped by for a friendly chat just before leaving to go home. Our backs were turned, but I heard the bucket make a “whump” noise and looked over just in time to see a gang of furry hoodlums snatching up the fish and making a beeline for the bushes.

On our last full day, Dave had a determined air about him. We were leaving the next morning. This was his last chance to fulfill my dream of having fresh fish. I attempted to say something along the lines of “I’m just as happy with bacon and eggs,” but his lips were pressed together all thin and pinched. Being no fool, I agreed with him that this fresh fish business was my heart’s desire. I said I would make coleslaw and cut up some lemons. I should tell you now that we have been married over 30 years, and I fully credit my fish-friendly remarks to the success of our relationship. Don’t be led astray by advice from popular sources, such as daytime TV or women’s magazines. Chanel No. 5 can’t hold a candle to the smell of fried fish on your fingertips.

Dave packed a lunch for himself and spent the day in the rowboat. I didn’t see him until about 6 pm. I could tell from 200 feet away that he had been successful. He was covered in sweat and fish scales. He got a little six-pack-sized cooler out of the van and filled it with ice and cleaned fish. He started the fire. I noticed that he had one knee on the little cooler. Sitting a bit downwind of him, it occurred to me to offer to watch the fish cooler while he took a shower. I refrained from making any remarks with the word “stinky” in them. Just call me supportive. I know he trusts me, but that night Dave took the cooler with him to the camp showers. I am told he had it in the shower with him.

We did have fresh fish for supper. We watched the fire and talked about how great the fish was and about other glories and mysteries of life. Dave looked ten years younger. The little cooler was at Dave’s side, under his elbow. There were enough remaining fish filets for a hardy breakfast. These had been lovingly rinsed a second time, sealed in a plastic bag, and the little cooler had been refilled with ice.

Just before sunrise, I woke to the sound of quiet chirps and gentle rustling noises.  I looked at the tent door and saw a little grey paw patting the floor of the tent in a big fan pattern. The paw pulled out of the tent, and a little snout was thrust inside.  The snout veered toward the little cooler. Dave had brought it in the tent with us and put it near our feet. Chirping and rustling continued outside the tent. The tent door (zipper) was being tampered with, the little paws reaching now in the direction of the cooler! I moved the cooler up near the middle of the tent. I was being quiet, but the intruders panicked at my movement and scampered off.

In the morning, we found paw prints all over the van door, the back of the van, the tent entrance, the picnic table and around the campfire. Dave’s fishy jeans were lying in the grass halfway from our site to the wood thicket. His fish-scale bedecked t-shirt was gone.

We had a hearty breakfast of fish for breakfast. Dave looked every bit the conquering hero.

After breakfast, Dave decided he would look for his “lucky” t-shirt one more time before we left. A bit later, he came back to our campsite and got me. He led me into the thicket of woods, past the bush barrier. There, strewn in a giant oval, were the shreds of hundreds, yes HUNDREDS of empty food containers: bread bags, bun bags, pizza boxes, chips bags, occasional cereal boxes, peanut butter jars, Tupperware and random food tins. It was awesome.  It was the elephant’s graveyard of raccoon booty.  It was the lost city of Raccoon Gold. We were the Howard Carters to the Raccoon Tut burial chamber. It was a testament to the unparalleled food thievery powers that define the raccoon essence. We were humbled in the presence of these masters. We gave up the search for his lucky fishing t-shirt. It would have taken years.

Even with this loss, Dave smiled all the way home. At one point, kind of out of the blue, he said, “Boy, they really know what they’re doing.” He didn’t say a lot more, but I had the impression that losing all those fish no longer rankled now that he understood the scope of his opponent’s powers.

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.

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