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Show Me the Green

 

green room:  a room in a theater or concert hall where actors or musicians relax before, between and after appearances

 

As Front of the House staff, I seldom get a glimpse of the backstage areas so when my friend Susan asked if Park Square Theatre’s green room is, indeed, green, I asked Facilities and Event Manager Dave Peterson to “show me the green.”

 

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Park Square Theatre actually has two green rooms, one per floor to service each stage.  Peterson first led me downstairs to the Andy Boss Thurst Stage’s green room.   We went down the hallway towards the lobby, turned left into the Artist’s Alley with its gallery of actors’ photos, then entered the Sheila Henderson Green Room.  With automatic lights switched on, the room was revealed in all its glory: walls painted cream-gray, darker gray, and yellow.  A yellow tinged with a hint of green?  Seemingly so in the light but not at all close up.

The room is quite spacious, with a table, chairs, and fully equipped kitchen.  Connected are two dressing rooms, donated by John Sullivan and Jack and Nancy Burbidge, respectively.  The green room also has a shower as well as a fold-out cot, in accordance with Actor’s Equity requirements of a resting place, to complete the makings of comfy “living quarters.”

At the back of this green room are doors to the left and right leading to the same two corridors—called the “voms”–that patrons walk up to get to their seats.  Another door leads directly into the back of the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.  All three of the doorways are actually double-doored to create effective sound barriers, and Peterson scrupulously prevents any door hinges from squeaking.

Heading up stairways that I didn’t even know existed, Dave led me to the Proscenium Stage’s green room.  The lights came on, revealing blue-and cream-hued walls.  Again, no green!

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This green room, being the older one, has a more homey and lived-in feel.  It is more spacious and equipped with tables, chairs, a sofa, full kitchen, bathroom, shower and two dressing rooms.  The sofa can fold out into a bed.

With neither of Park Square Theatre’s green rooms being green, I wondered why this actors’ waiting room is called “the green room.”  A search on Wikipedia gave many explanations, from historical attributions to folk etymology.  One theory for historical origin claims that the term’s source is from the 16th century when traveling actors in Stratford-upon-Avon used a room in the Guildhall (town hall) as their changing room; this room was known as the Agreeing Room, or “Greein” Room in Warwickshire-speak.  An etymological explanation may be that, in Cockney rhyming slang “greenage,” later shortened to “green.”  Other theories do involve the color green:  The room was originally painted green to relieve the eyes from stage glare; Shakespearean theatre actors prepared for their performances in rooms filled with green plants because their moisture was believed to be beneficial to actors’ voices; and, of course, some actors felt nauseous before performances and “looked green.”

Well, gone are my images of a sad-sack room painted puke-green with just a worn, stained sofa as the typical green room.  I am sure that the actors are happy that their green rooms far exceeded my expectations.

The Beautiful Reality of Making Small Theatre

slings and arrowsThere was a Canadian television show about ten years back called Slings & Arrows — it was a show about a Shakespearean theatre festival near Toronto created by Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney and others. They had a full crew, a beautiful cast, drama, intrigue, and the obscene budget to have a person sitting in the house seats with a laptop cranking out scripts or pressers, or whatever. If you love the theatre, you’d probably love S&A. If you work in small theatre, like Sandbox does, you probably think it’s cute and aspirational and annoying and adorable and poppycock. It’s all of those things because it portrays the theatre as a sustainable entity. But lemme tell you, the Slings & Arrows staff of techies, carpenters, administrators and actors are products of outrageous fortune (sorry).

Theatre can be sustainable, sure. Park Square has been making it happen (wonderfully) for four decades, but even with a front of house staff, administrative staff and crew of design artists, every one of the people at Park Square is in go-mode almost all the time. There’s very little time to soak in successes or dwell on failures. The next show is coming, or more often, already begun. When you’re producing over 20 productions in a calendar year, projects dovetail. It’s stressful and will burn a person out quickly if they don’t know how to handle it all. So even though Park Square is large enough to see itself represented in a show like Slings & Arrows, it’s probably as realistic as Wings was to a Nantucket airport.

When you’re as small as Sandbox, Slings & Arrows is almost farcical. The person often designing Sandbox sets is also our Artistic Director. He’s also the master carpenter. And a writer. And an actor. For Queens, our co-director is also a composer. And a performer. And a singer. Our other director is also our marketer, website administrator, copywriter, graphic designer, photographer, development lead, and it’s also me. Sandboxers wear many hats (on top of day jobs) — so many that the weight of them can feel more like a yoke that a beret. But it’s our job to make the audience believe. So whether we’re big or small, we make it happen with all we have.

There are a hundred other small theatre companies in the Twin Cities who do the same. This is why you see artistic directors, stage managers, directors, actors on their hands and knees drilling holes and swinging hammers when we load a show into a theatre. It’s the beautiful reality of making small theatre. It’s ingrained. We’re invested. This is what we do, and for the most part, all we want to do. We put all that we have into our art, and whether you love it or hate it, we want you to be moved by it.

Queens Load In 2

Derek Lee Miller constructed a modified sprung floor for our boxing ring from recovered lumber donated to us by Nautilus Music Theatre. Here, Derek, our stage manager Jaya Robillard, and director Theo Langason work on part 1 of its install.

Queens Load In 1

Sandbox AD, scenic designer and master carpenter Derek Lee Miller lays a sub-floor of plywood. Since Sandbox doesn’t have a shop, Derek fabricated the entire set in his garage, then reconstructed it piece by piece on the Boss Stage. Derek’s ability as a designer & carpenter, as well as his knack for obtaining nearly anything we could need via renewable/reusable/recyclable means, highlights why our best resources are our artists. Two-thirds of the Queens budget is invested in our artists. People over plywood, you might say.

Queens Load In 3

The final step in our boxing ring install was stretching 18 yards of canvas over the top. The canvas was one of the pieces we had to purchase new, but it will live a long life for us beyond Queens.

Queens Load In 4

“But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light.” Emily Madigan takes a moment to sit atop our newly constructed boxing ring floor.

I’m not sure why I decided to take on a ten year-old Canadian dramedy today — let’s just say after undergoing two surgeries in three weeks, I’ve done so out of jealousy for their health care system. Take that, Canada! (You, too, Wings.)

 

What’s in a List?

The other week on Facebook (I know… I know…) I came upon this list that was circulating among my network of fellow artisans entitled, “25 Most Important Plays Every Actor Should Read“.

Now, first off, when I see a headline like that, I immediately roll my eyes and assume that the list is going to include the already established classics from one’s theatre history class. And guess what? I was not surprised. But here’s the thing: I didn’t expect to be surprised. Did I want to be? Sure! I would have loved to have seen playwrights like Lorraine Hansberry, Athol Fugard, or Lynn Nottage included. It’s frustrating but I’m not upset at the some website for regurgitating the same ten or twelve plays over and over again because the . argument here isn’t disputing their “worthiness” it’s that there should be more diversity among them. While that is an argument we must continue to push, we have to do it the right way. How about the next time one goes around we circulate our own “Top Plays List” so that catches fire in the community and shows up on everyone’s feed. I’m talking the works too: Published on a blog from a reputable company with pictures and everything.

GIFS.

Seriously though, how cool would it be if there if a poll were taken at Park Square Theatre to determine the “The Top Plays Every Actor Should Read”? I like it – I think I’m gonna make it happen because we don’t need some random Facebook post determine for us what’s “important” to read in the ever expanding and diversify canon of Western drama.

Park Square will let you know when we can but what do you say now? What do YOU think should be included?

Introducing deVon Gray – the Newest Member of the Queens Team

deVon Gray

We have a new member of the Queens production team, and we’re pretty excited to tell you about him. Our new live music composer/performer is none other than deVon Gray (dVRG)! You might know deVon from his band Heiruspecs, writing/arranging/performing with Chastity Brown, and making music with Brother Ali, Atmosphere, Dan Wilson, The Honeydogs, Lazerbeak and more.

For four weeks we’ve been creating this new show, working around a missing piece of our ensemble. deVon’s work as an improvisational composer and musician is a perfect fit with Sandbox’s creation style, and we know you’re going to love him.

“deVon R. Gray may be the world’s last cultural enigma. The multi-instrumentalist, classically trained composer is as comfortable writing orchestral and operatic works as he is churning out jazz riffs and hip-hop swag. And he does it all so effortlessly even he is unaware that he’s working. While many creators spend hours perfecting their craft & skills, dVRG, as he is known, envisions the pen and watches the music write itself. Word.” – First Avenue & 7th St Entry

Learn more about deVon here, here and here.

 

Ushering Through Two Seasons: Reflections of a Daytime Usher

I became a daytime usher for Park Square Theatre in 2014 specifically because the new Boss Thrust Stage had been built, allowing for two plays to run simultaneously.  Thus, an extra crew of ushers were needed for student matinees. Unlike the evening and weekend ushers, daytime ushers are not volunteers but paid employees with responsibilities beyond ticket-taking, passing out programs, seating patrons and doing post-show cleanup.

On any given shift, a daytime usher may also be the bus wrangler, who is posted across the street from the theatre 45 minutes before show time—in sun, rain, sleet, or snow–to greet school groups, give bus drivers instructions and lead groups safely to the theatre.  Ushers not positioned inside the theatre during the play remain in the lobby, preparing concessions for sale and, of course, selling snacks and beverages during intermission.  After intermission, they tally sales and clean up the lobby. Inside ushers remain with the audience, but one monitors bathrooms during intermission.  The bus wrangler checks on bus arrivals and leads groups out once the performance ends.  Every usher helps with post-show clean-up and, if needed, lobby setup for the evening performance.

In my two seasons of ushering, the question that most people ask me is:   How can you watch a play over and over?

They wonder if I get sick of a play or if it is traumatizing to, for instance, perpetually watch Lenny get shot at the end of Of Mice and Men or the lovers die in Romeo and Juliet.  What is it like to watch the Franks, Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel ultimately be discovered by the Nazis in The Diary of Anne Frank each week?

My answer is this:  It is actually quite inspiring to watch a play multiple times, the way I must as an usher.

As a daytime usher, I am not simply watching the play but also the students as they watch the play.  Yes, I do scan the space for disturbances, such as whispering, unusual noises or light from electronic devices, but I also witness all their reactions to each scene, whether they are humorous or tragic.  I can feel how engaged the audience is in the play and how the actors may be responding accordingly.   In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, the actors will improvise to extend the play-within-the-play scene to make it even funnier if we have a particularly lively crowd.   No performance is quite alike because of the interplay between audience and actors.

In watching a play many times, I also get to see it evolve and strengthen.  Particularly during the first week of a production, several behind-the-scenes people, such as the director and fight choreographer, sit in to note what needs tweaking.  Actors also take time to embody their characters and to gel as a group.  The changes may seem subtle, but an usher who watches the transformation catches the nuances.  An usher who witnesses the transformation also grows in respect for the dedication and craft involved to put on the show.

Because I am a mother of a tween (soon-to-be-teen), which falls within the age group served by our robust Education Program, I—as do the other ushers–do feel very invested in ensuring that our patrons have a positive and inspiring experience at Park Square. For many youth who come through our doors, it is their first time to see live theatre.   We want them to come back again and again.

(Click on EDUCATION on the Park Square Theatre website menu to learn more about the program offerings.) 

 

Queens in the Rehearsal Room

Creation rehearsals for Queens began April 5 — this is our 12th year making new shows from scratch — you think you’re prepared for anything in the first couple of weeks … you’re always wrong. We’ve now got nine people in the room dreaming, making, moving. It goes by in a flash. There are nights when it all clicks and you look at one another and nod, knowing you’ve just birthed something juicy, something that everyone can sink their creative teeth into. Then there are nights where everything feels wrong and you wonder if you’re too old to take the Bloomingdale’s Executive Training Program.

For a peek into how we create, give this a click. It’s a good place to start.

Anyhoo, we’re underway. We’re making new things, and we know you are going to be moved by them.

 

That Play Would be Perfect for Park Square!

Have you ever seen a play in another city and thought “That would be perfect for Park Square!  How can I encourage them to consider it?” 

As a member of the Premier Club, you could be a part of the process of finding new work for PST’s stages, and meet like-minded, passionate theater-goers in the process. For a $1,000 annual contribution to help the theater develop and license new plays, you will be invited to rehearsals, meet the cast and artistic staff, and join staff and club members on theater weekends.

Park Square Group at the Humana Festiva, Louisville 2016

During a recent weekend at the Humana Festival in Louisville, club members engaged in endless conversations about the work they’d just seen and whether it was ‘a Park Square play,’ fueled by Southern cooking and hospitality and, of course, bourbon.

If you care about the future of theater in general and Park Square in particular, you need to part of this exclusive and enthusiastic group.

For more information, contact Paul and Pat Sackett at psackett@hotmail.com.

Cool, Calm, Collected (and Kind): The Qualities of a Good House Manager

Scene 1:  Tuesday morning.  Full house with school groups and general public eager to see Nina Simone: Four Women at the Boss Thrust Stage.  A key actresses awakens too ill to perform.  It is now 15 minutes before show time with no understudy.  The show must go on.

Scene 2:  A group of autistic children arrives close to start time.  The play will begin late to allow for extra care in seating.  An irate patron repeatedly complains despite knowing the reason.

Scene 3:  A male gets up to exit in the middle of the play.  He suddenly leans against the wall in distress and slides to the ground.

Acting as the official host of Park Square Theatre for each performance, the house manager strives for a positive experience for all audience members, sometimes under challenging circumstances such as the real-life scenarios above.  S/he does so not only through effective coordination and teamwork with the box office staff, stage manager, production crew and ushers but also with pre-show preparation, showing up well beforehand to turn on lights, monitor room temperatures, review seating charts, receive and give instructions and unlock the doors.

Once the public comes through the lobby doors, our house managers maintain a calm exterior, even if they may be “sweating bullets” underneath.  How do they manage to stay cool in an environment ripe for potential chaos?  Three of our current house managers reveal how they are able to go fearlessly into the unknowns of each performance.

Adrian Larkin:  As a House Managerjazz musician, Larkin is ever ready “to improvise if things don’t go my way.”  Whether playing with his group “The Blue” or any other musicians, he knows that good communication is core to a positive outcome.  Larkin simply extends his musical ethics into his work at Park Square Theatre.  He fosters an unspoken “deal of mutual respect to ensure a good time” and strives to be “assertive yet leave no doubt that I am on their side.”

Federic Nobello:  Nobello, a vocalist and music producer, also feels that his role as a performer informs his approach to house managing.  His technique is to “keep going, don’t stop, don’t dwell on anything for too long, solve problems quickly and go on to the next one.”  Nobello is very comfortable dealing with the public, having worked in consumer markHouse Managereting research as well.  Fatherhood and work with youth groups make him especially attuned to our younger patrons who come to enjoy Park Square Theatre’s student matinees and Immersion Days throughout the school year.  He understands “many different ways to approach kids, but key is to make them feel like you’re hearing them and will give them the benefit of doubt.”

House ManagerStaci Satre:  Staci’s background as a waitress has definitely helped her hone the skills to “keep cool in high pressure and problem-solve the unexpected.”  She is all about TEAMWORK.  Her philosophy in house managing is that “the management in my title is negligible.  I am not here to tell people what to do.  I am here to help, assist, learn, support the rest of the staff and step in if anything needs doing.”

Being an usher myself and having worked under all three, my observation is that the House Manager cannot be effective without an underlying quality of kindness, not only towards patrons, but also towards staff — all of diverse ages, temperaments, and life experiences.  Generosity of spirit and hospitality go hand in hand.

Alexandra is a Park Square Ambassador; we think you should get to know her! Check out her recent presentation.

By Alexandra Harder

Some of you may recognize me because I spoke at last year’s fundraising gala. Last year, I spoke about being a Park Square Theatre Ambassador. This year, I can not only speak about being an ambassador, but also about being an intern, an employee, and a member of the Park Square family. But first, for those of you who don’t recognize me, I started here at Park Square as a Theatre Ambassador. What this means is that one Saturday a month, I come here and spend an entire day and night with 19 other young theatre lovers. We learn from master classes, speak with a diverse variety of theatre professionals, see a Park Square show and discuss it afterwards with our peers. My favorite part of the program has always been speaking to Twin Cities artists about what they do. In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to pick the brains of Regina Williams, Ricardo Vazquez, Joel Sass, James Williams, Ann Michels, and more.

IMG_23711So that’s how I started here at Park Square. Shortly after the gala last year, I started In the Ambassador2 program as a second year ambassador. Our summer training involved meeting with Richard Cook, Mary Finnerty, Michael-jon Pease and other staff members, and learning about how Park Square works day-to-day and what their mission and goals are. During these meetings, not only did we get valuable information on how and why Park Square exists, we were also asked for our opinions and thoughts. Think about that. Several successful adults genuinely wanted to know what we, a group of teenagers, thought about their company and how it could be more accessible for people like us. If that doesn’t show how inclusive Park Square is as a company, I don’t know what does.

In the fall, I started as an intern in the Education Department. During  six hours each week, I learned to do things like book matinee tickets for schools, send out emails and invoices and even make phone calls to teachers. This may sound very mundane to a lot of you, but I’m a Virgo, so these things are very exciting to me. My long term goal has always been to own my own theatre company, so interning has given me invaluable skills I couldn’t have gained anywhere else, especially at such a young age. Megan Losure and Mary Finnerty (the two women the education program could not run without) go out of their way to make sure I’m learning not only how to do the things they ask me to do, but also why they are done, and how I would go about doing them if I had my own company in the future. This opportunity has given me the confidence to go out and actually take a big first step towards my dream.

This winter, I decided to start my own independent theatre. A friend and I, both seniors in high school started GIRL Theatre, a company dedicated to the empowerment and liberation of young women in our community. We produced a short devised piece titled Into the Red at Bryant Lake Bowl this February, entirely on our own. Thanks to Park Square, I had both the artistic skills to create a bold and imaginative piece and the practical skills to build an audience, sell out our shows, and actually make a bit of a profit.

Now, as if Park Square hadn’t already given me enough, I was recently offered a job as an Education Assistant. I will work part time through May, June and July, and I will be paid. As a young person who plans on going to college in the fall to get a degree in Theatre who is constantly being lectured on how wanting to be an artist will lead to a life of poverty, unemployment and tragedy, nothing gives me more hope for my future than being given a paid job at a theatre company at the age of 18.

AlexandraFor two years Park Square has tirelessly pushed me to grow as an artist and as a person, given me unparalleled opportunities and invested enormously in my future. If they had done all of this for me, just one young person, they would have done enough. But I am not unique. Park Square treats young people the way they have treated me. Thousands of kids have been touched by Park Square this year alone, and I guarantee you, I’m not the only one with glowing reviews!

Alexandra Harder is a senior at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, director, and founder of GIRL Theatre. Her upcoming project will be co-directing American Idiot with TASU Theatre Co. opening this month. 

Thank you, Prince

When I was 12, my mother walked into my bedroom, sat down and asked me if I knew what Prince was singing about on his song Darling Nikki. The news had just aired a story about its raciness, and she knew my Controversy and Purple Rain tapes were in heavy rotation. “No,” I said, “I mostly listen to the, uh, music.” I lied. A bit, anyway. Yes I understood the lyrics, mostly if not exactly. I knew they were above a 12 year-old’s knowledge of what sex was, and I also knew what level of uncomfortable the conversation was about to achieve, so I played dumb.

As the news of Prince’s death started to sink in, I read many remembrances, personal notes and heartfelt tributes to a genius whose work inspired artists of all disciplines. A singer, songwriter, dancer, filmmaker, style icon, feminine icon, masculine icon and musician sans pareil. One of those tributes was from my partner in Queens, Theo Langason. It was about him and his mother, and their relationship to Prince. I thought it was lovely. Thanks to Theo for letting me post it here.

“Today was hard. So many feelings. So many thoughts. As I process this loss, I am constantly comforted, affirmed, and empowered.

Prince Rogers Nelson was a black man who played black music. Undeniably himself, unapologetically black. The presence of his music and his soul in my life have influenced me in ways I could not fully grasp until now.

When I saw Prince I was peering into another world of possibilities for a black boy, like me. Prince let me know it was ok to be a weirdo. Prince encouraged me to find my voice and sing it loud. Prince taught me that home is most important. He helped me when I felt self conscious about being ‘man enough.’

Most importantly, Prince gave me a direct view into my own mother’s heart and soul. She raised me on Prince, because Prince spoke to her the way few could.

So as I weep writing this, I weep tears of the sincerest gratitude. Thank you Prince, for teaching me how to speak the language of my mother’s soul. Thank you Prince, for teaching to love myself. Thank you Prince, for the music.” – Theo

 

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