Tickets: 651.291.7005

News

Cynthia Jones-Taylor Returns to the Park Square Stage

We welcome Cynthia Jones-Taylor back to Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage, where she played Dotty, a widowed grandmother in present day Philly in our recent holiday production of DOT.  She now returns to play Lena, a widowed grandmother in 1950s Chicago in A Raisin in the Sun.

What has it been like to play the family matriarch in a black family during two different time periods?

It’s very strange. The contrasts are as extreme as the similarities. Dot was married to a doctor, relatively educated, articulate and a strong component in the community that she lived in. She raised her children to be lawyers and writers, lived a life of relative leisure and believed that they could have anything.

L to R: Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Ivory Doublette as Ruth in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Lena (Mama) was raised by sharecroppers and first-generation free slaves. She wasn’t educated, worked as a domestic and could only in her wildest dreams imagine the life that Dotty lived. But their love for their dearly departed husbands and their children is almost identical, and it transcends eco/social/temporal  boundaries.

As far as drawing on experiences to inform the characters, I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s so Lena and the younger family of Raisin in the Sun are a little closer to my sensibilites. I was raised in Seattle, and we didn’t have the poverty that the Youngers had; but our family values were similar. My mother was a widowed grandmother, and she was a registered nurse working at a hospital so she was educated; but we were living in a time when we couldn’t live across the “red line” that existed (that’s the invisible line that separated neighborhoods and color). It was difficult.

We were the first black family to move in on our block. My mother had taken care of the former owner’s sister when she was in the hospital. They fell in love with her, her personality and her compassion and offered to sell the house to her before they moved back to Sweden. When we moved in, the neighborhood rejected us. They would call their children in when my brothers,  sisters and I would come out to play. They didn’t invite us to any of the gatherings; they treated us as though we didn’t exist at all. Our house was one of the most beautiful on the block, well-maintained with a manicured lawn; and my mother painstakingly orchestrated the six of us to keep it that way. But our arrival triggered white flight.

 

L to R: Imani Vaughn-Jones as Beneatha, Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Calvin Zimmerman as Travis in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What most resonates with you about Lena?

Her strength and her capacity for love and forgiveness. The pureness of  her heart and her wisdom. She has what the old South referred to as “Mother Wit,” an ability to simply recognize a situation for what it is.

 

What has been your prior relationship to A Raisin in the Sun?

Well, I have played Ruth in two professional productions, used a Beneatha monologue in school many, many…many….maaanny years ago, and now I have finally aged into playing Lena. I don’t know of many plays around that can offer an actress like me the opportunity to cover three generations in three completely different characters. It is a rare and wonderful thing!

 

Do you recall your first-time-ever response to it? 

I vividly recall the first time I saw the movie starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands. I must have been about 11 years old when it finally made it to television in the 1970s. The whole family and invited friends gathered around the living room. It was such an event!!!  A movie about African Americans….starring African Americans…. written by an African American…WOMAN!!!!! ON TELEVISION!!! OMG!!! Now you must bear in mind the scarcity of something like this on television at that time. It was rare that we saw ourselves portrayed anywhere in starring fashion. I cried and laughed and dreamt right along with the Youngers. I must have seen it ten times since then, and it still moves me. It is an American masterpiece, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity.

 

Tickets and information here.

Alice McGlave, the Bride-to-Be

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance is a fast-paced, zany comedy with a love story at its core. Playing Mabel, the bride-to-be of Frederic, the pirate apprentice, is Alice McGlave. Here she is to tell us about her role and a bit about herself:

1. What do you like about playing Mabel?

I like Mabel’s optimism and vulnerability. She falls in love so quickly with Frederic and remains positive even when the odds are against them and it seems like they won’t make it as a couple.

2. What’s the hardest part about playing Mabel?

I think the hardest part about playing Mabel is her music. She has some demanding vocal lines. It is a challenge to sing through those vocal lines while in character. Throw some choreography on top of that, and it can get pretty tricky.

3. How has your training prepared you for this part?

Alice McGlave in rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

The key to playing Mabel is to make sure I am warmed up. Warming up was a crucial part of my training. Every voice lesson begins with a warm up. I compare singing a role like Mabel to that of an athlete. Like athletes warm up before a game or race, singers have to properly warm up to prepare for a performance.

4. What was your aha moment in realizing that you wanted to be an actor?

It was in high school. I began to realize how much joy performing brought me. There is nothing like performing in front of a live audience. It’s exhilarating!

5. What’s your favorite song in this show and why?

I really enjoy When the Foeman Bares His Steel. In the song, I am trying to motivate the police to go and fight the pirates. It’s such a goofy song, and the police are so much fun to watch. There is a lot of physical comedy throughout.

6. What’s your favorite “piratey” thing?

I am a huge fan of the pirate hats. The more feathers the better!

 

L to R: Bradley Greenwald, Alice McGlave and Christina Baldwin
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

Tickets and information here

Brian Sostek, A Mover and A Dancer

Doug Scholz-Carlson (l) and Brian Sostek (r) in a rehearsal with cast members
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

In The Pirates of Penzance, Brian Sostek is the Movement and Dance Director, creating the overall movements–not just for the dance sequences–in the show. It’s actually a collaborative process, starting with discussions to hash out concepts with Director Doug Scholz-Carlson, before the actors even step into rehearsals. They consider such issues as: What kind of feel do they want for this or that number?

Unlike Director Doug Scholz-Carlson and Music Director Denise Prosek, who have a script and scores to follow, Brian doesn’t already have the moves written down. He gets to work on a blank slate, though ever mindful that whatever created must support the telling of the story.

During the start of rehearsals, the cast spent an intensive three to four days with Denise to practice the music before working with Brian. The actors were hired for their acting and singing, rather than dancing, abilities so his first task was to see how they move. That helped him assess how to capitalize on their strengths and how much to push them beyond their comfort levels.

“I told the actors to expect to fail a lot,” Brian said. “Our objective is to find out what works or doesn’t.”

This process of trial and error placed great demands on the actors. Sometimes they’d have invested much energy in learning particular moves, only to have them changed.

Brian also continued to work closely with Doug and Denise throughout rehearsals. It was an organic process where sometimes Doug would be working with the cast and Brian would suggest that they try something or vice versa. Their collaboration became such that they felt comfortable jumping in to build on what the other was doing.

Brian Sostek leads cast members in movements during a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Although his mom and dad had been in show business before becoming academics in dance and theatre, respectively, Brian himself hadn’t planned to follow in their footsteps. He’d transferred from Swarthmore College to Carleton College in his sophomore year with the thought of majoring in Political Science and Russian.

“Then I took a class on African American poetry, and it blew my mind,” Brian recalled. “That led me to start writing more.”

In 1990, Brian earned a BA in English Language and Literature/Letters. Even so, his first job upon graduation was an internship on environmental education in Virginia.

It was Brian’s return to Minnesota–specifically to the Twin Cities–that ultimately led him down his professional path. He’d done some improv at Carleton so auditioned to get into Dudley Rigg’s’ Brave New Workshop. Failing to get cast turned out to be serendipitous. He went on to audition at the Northrop as a background dancer for a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. (Brian thinks he got the job for being one of only three males who’d showed up, but having studied dance under his mom likely helped as well.)

Later, Brian auditioned for Joe Chvala and ended up performing with his percussive dance troupe, The Flying Foot Forum, for approximately four years. Becoming a dance instructor at a ballroom dance studio also became a major source of income.

In 1996, Brian met dancer Megan McClellan and moved to Los Angeles for about four years before the two returned to the Twin Cities. In 2000, they created the inventive theatre and dance company, Sossy Mechanics. Today Brian remains a successful writer, director, choreographer, performer and teacher.

 


Tickets and information for The Pirates of Penzance here.
Tickets and information for French Twist, featuring Joe Chvala and The Flying Foot Forum here.

Max Wojtanowicz, Pirate Apprentice

In Park Square Theatre’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, Max Wojtanowicz plays the rather naïve but lovable pirate apprentice, Frederic. His character’s accidental path to piratehood is a hoot, and so is his path to finding true love. Here’s Max to tell us a bit about playing Frederic and also a few things about himself:

1. What’s your favorite thing about playing Frederic?

I love looking at the world through the eyes of a child, and Frederic has a childlike innocence about him. He’s been on a pirate ship his whole life, and adulthood, women, and dry land are entirely new to him! And even though he’s a little clumsy with his words and his feet (I empathize there!), he still wants so badly to do right. I’m also so glad to be working on this role with our director, Doug Scholz-Carlson, who knows the play and the character so well.

2. This is a really rigorous production for cast members. What is the most difficult thing to do as Frederic and why?

Our production is really demanding, both physically and vocally, but the most difficult part by far is not breaking character by laughing at the comedic genius of Christina Baldwin and Bradley Greenwald. Sharing the stage with both of them, and the rest of this gorgeous cast: Can we talk about a dream come true?

Max being fitted with a mic for an interview
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

3. Frederic could have become a pilot but, due to unexpected circumstances, ended up a pirate. If Max had not gotten hooked on theatre at an early age, he may have become a (fill in the blank) instead.

I think I might have become a writer. I wrote a lot of stories as a kid, and I still do! Maybe I would have ended up in journalism? That might be the best case scenario. Realistically, I probably would have ended up a bit like Frederic: out to sea, singing high Bs, not much direction in life.

4. You have a number of upcoming gigs after The Pirates of Penzance. What are they?

Cab Cabaret at Troubadour on April 16; The Good Person of Szechwan with Ten Thousand Things from May 10 to June 3; Ball ArtSHARE at the Southern Theater from June 20 to 24; and I have an ongoing Musical Mondays at LUSH with The Catalysts.

5. You’ve been a Minnesota Fringe Festival favorite for the past years. Do you plan to put on a show to keep up the tradition this year?

Not this year! We had a good run for five years in a row; and I can’t wait to be back in the Fringe with a really good idea, but that idea hasn’t quite come to me yet. Plus I’m buying a house and getting married this summer, so it’ll be a wee bit busy already!

6. What is fulfilling for you about being in The Pirates of Penzance in 2018?

Gilbert and Sullivan were writing at a time when opera was very popular, and they were really smart guys, so smart that they knew exactly how to make fun of both opera and society. They were keen on world events and satire, and I think the temptation right now is to make sure all of our art reflects the world we live in, like they did. To be frank, that would make for some pretty glum stuff. We need hard-hitting, incisive and relevant stories onstage right now, but there is also room and use in the world for fluff, silliness and frivolity. Hopefully, our show has a little of all of that. Maybe a little more silliness than anything else.

7. Do you have a favorite “piratey” thing?

I like to involve my nephews in whatever play I’m doing. They’re five-year-old twins, and they have huge imaginations, so lately my favorite piratey thing to do is pretend to be pirates and draw costume sketches and making “arrrr” noises with them!

Tickets and information here!

 

 

Terri Ristow, The Kid Who Re-Purposed Throwaways

As the Properties Designer for Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano, Terri Ristow is the extremely organized and detail-oriented person who makes sure that the production has all its props. Flower petals? Check! Suitcase? Check! Those are only two of the items mentioned on the first page of an 81-page script. 

Here is Terri herself to give us an insider’s view on what she did for Cardboard Piano:

1.  Can you describe the process that you went through in your work for Cardboard Piano?   

I start my design process by reading the script and making notes of any props that are mentioned or that I think the actors will need. My next step is to research the time and place of the story. For Cardboard Piano, I explored many aspects of Uganda. I researched the wildflowers of Africa and used this knowledge as inspiration for the church flower arrangements. I read through the war history of Uganda to understand what type of handguns and other weapons were readily available in 1999. As an overall theme, the first part of the play features cheap, brightly colored plastic-ware that is prevalent in many impoverished countries. For the second part of the story, I brought in items that I hoped would convey a richer sense of African heritage and village artistic pride.

2. The cardboard piano is an important symbol in the play. What went into the design of it?

Ah, the piano. The piano was one of the last props I made for this show, for a good reason. The designer in me couldn’t make the piano; the piano is made by a character in the story. Did the character know the dimensions of a real piano, or how many keys are on the keyboard? We really don’t know. In this story, the piano was created in one thoughtful and sleepless evening.  It was fitting that I did the same thing for the prop.  Come to the show and see the results!

Props for Cardboard Piano
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

3.  How did you become a props designer? What was your journey?

I always loved painting and drawing, but a career in art was not encouraged or supported in my family in those days. So I went to college for a science degree and worked in a chemistry lab for many years until my job was eliminated during the recession. With jobs scarce and time on my hands, I had time to revisit my love of art and writing. I took a community education class in acting with the idea of learning how to write character dialog. There I met a wonderfully supportive group of theater fans and a friend who hired me as her props person. It was a wonderful match, a way for me to combine my lifelong love of art, history, collecting junk and gluing stuff together. I have since returned to science jobs, but I can’t even imagine giving up my props designer work. I was always the kid who collected throwaway items and re-purposed them into toys, art and things to sell. Who knew this would become my job later in life?

See more of Terri’s work here

Tickets and information here

Imagine the World with Sarah Brandner

All the action in Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano take place at a church in a township of northern Uganda on New Year’s Eve 1999, then again inside the same church on the day of New Year’s Eve 2014. It was Scenic Designer Sarah Brandner’s job to convert the Boss Thrust Stage into this church within the two distinct time periods but without doing two completely separate designs. How would the world of the play look for the actors who must inhabit it and for the audience who must get immersed into it? To determine this required much research, collaboration and creativity.

“When I first get asked to design a show,” Sarah explained, “I read the script and do some preliminary research on such things as the time period and location, but not necessarily on past productions of the same play. Then I have a conversation with the director (Signe V. Harriday for Cardboard Piano) before going deeper. I want to facilitate the director’s vision, plus our conversation also leads to more ideas for exploration. I go off on my own again to let ideas percolate and do more research before putting things together.”

Set model of church in Part 1 by Sarah Brandner

For Cardboard Piano, a big challenge was the low ceiling of the Boss Stage, especially with a key scene in Part I occurring on the church’s rooftop. Sarah, Signe and the other members of the creative team bounced around many ideas on how to solve that problem, always keeping in mind: What’s needed to tell the story? What’s the best way to serve this production in this particular space? Finally figuring out the answer made it possible for Sarah to forge ahead with the rest of her design.

In 1999, the church in the play is still in its humble beginnings; in 2014, it’s a permanent structure. Sarah discovered that many missionary churches in Africa began as “pop up churches.” They’d put up something for shelter, such as tents, and people would bring in blankets, crates or whatever was at hand to create as inviting place of worship as possible. Sarah’s design shows the church as an unfinished structure, definitely still a work in progress.

Adelin Phelps (Chris) and Michael Jemison (Pika) in Part I of Cardboard Piano
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

In 2014, the church is now a finished building, so the set shows more fully realized architectural elements, such as a stained glass window, pews, an altar and some brick walls. But for creative and practical reasons, Sarah did not need to design a completely new set to switch out for Part II.

“I like to involve the audience so I often provide the essence of an idea to allow them to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks,” said Sarah. “This is a surreal, dreamlike piece so apropos for the audience to use their imagination and become a part of the story.”

Also be sure to look out for symbolic motifs, such as the flowers, in the set design for Part I that simply get repeated in a grander way in Part II. They either mirror something similar or reflect a difference between the two parts of the play.

Set model of church in Part II by Sarah Brandner

Asked why and how she’d come to her profession, Sarah told me her story:

“I have a sister who’s five years older. I looked up to her and wanted to be just like her. She did theatre in high school and attended a summer theatre program that had theatre classes–tech, acting, dance, scene work, and I’d tag along to classes like her little shadow.

When I was old enough, I went to all the summer school classes. I didn’t like the pressures in the auditioning process but just thought I had to do it. Others would be overjoyed or depressed depending on the outcome. It was not my thing.

Kiara Jackson (Ruth), Adelin Phelps (Chris) and Ansa Akyea (Paul) in Part II of Cardboard Piano
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

But I found another way into theatre by taking design and tech classes. Initially I wanted to be a lighting designer. As an undergrad, I was thinking of doing that; but my advisor also pushed me to try scenic design. I ended up falling in love with it as well. Now I love to do both equally. If I ever had to choose, I’d choose both–not one over the other.”

Sarah holds both MLA and BA degrees in Theatre through Minnesota State University-Moorhead as well as a MFA in Scenic and Lighting Design from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Since her undergraduate years until just a few years ago, Sarah was a designer for MSU-Moorhead, including its summer theatre company, The Straw Hat Players.

As part of her MFA program at UMN-Twin Cities, Sarah did an internship at a museum. To this day, she continues to do exhibition and lighting design for museums in addition to her work for stage productions. For those who’d caught last year’s Penumbra at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage exhibit at the Minnesota History Center, you’d experienced Sarah’s work.

Through the years, you may have also seen Sarah’s work at Park Square Theatre,  Mu Performing Arts, Penumbra Theatre and many other stages. In Sarah’s words, “With each new production I work on, I get the opportunity to work and know more of the amazingly talented artists around Minnesota and beyond.”

In her profession, Sarah gets to do what she loves: to inspire the imagination and create an environment to tell a story. Of Cardboard Piano, she had this to say: “I love it, and it breaks my heart. I hope that people really embrace the story.”

 

Tickets and information here

 

(In)Famous Pirates of Stage and Screen!

In rehearsal at Park Square now is the ageless musical comedy, The Pirates of Penzance, by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Fans of musical theatre and classic drama will no doubt be familiar with the opera; it has been making people fall in love with dimwitted pirates since it premiered in 1879 in New York City, and it accompanies H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado as Gilbert and Sullivan’s most produced works today.

All of my research into this show now, has stirred my latent fascination with pirates – especially those buccaneers we see in film and on TV. Of course, Pirates of Penzance was turned into a movie in 1983 starring Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury. This film was based on the acclaimed 1980 Broadway production, produced by Joe Papp.

But who else makes up our motley crew of fictionalized swashbucklers? Who did I leave out and who shouldn’t I have included?

1. Let’s go back to the beginning, when pirates made their first big splash on the screen. Errol Flynn as the debonair renegade, Captain Blood, in the 1935 film that launched his stardom. Now that I think about it, why did it take over a hundred years to make a Pirates of Penzance film?

2. Of course, before film there was literature and coming out only a few years after Pirates of Penzance, was the dastardly Long John Silver of Treasure Island. This is absolutely the character that set the template for all the pirate-isms we know and love today. The peg-leg, the eye-patch, even that squawking parrot! Thanks Robert Louis Stevenson…. Naturally there have been dozens of depictions of Captain Long John and even a tasty fast-food joint. Famous actors such as Charlton Heston, Wallace Beery, Orson Welles and Jack Palance have all had a turn with the black spot, but who doesn’t love Tim Curry’s portrayal in Muppet Treasure Island?

3. Another infamous pirate has to be the one and only Captain Hook. While made famous the world-over by Disney’s 1953 animated classic, the character first appeared in the play Peter Pan (1904) by J.M. Barrie and the subsequent novel in 1911. The archenemy of the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, Captain Hook attributes his name to the sinister iron hook that has replaced his hand (bit off by a very persistent crocodile). I would say that he and Long John Silver would certainly get along well!

4. Well, I think we’ve had enough of villainy for the time being, haven’t we? Let’s get back to the lovable-rogue archetype that Flynn perfected so well. Next up…. that captain of the Black Pearl and scoundrel of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow! Thanks to Johnny Depp’s chameleon-like transformation in Disney’s 2003 classic, Pirates of the Caribbean, this pirate not only became famous but a world-wide phenomena, launching a multi-billion dollar franchise and four subsequent sequels (for better or for worse…) The only question we have now is – why is the rum gone?

5. Finally, I figured we would end this whole escapade where we started it, with 1983’s The Pirates of Penzance and Kevin Kline’s performance as the Pirate King. Kind-hearted and gentlemanly, the Pirate King is not your typical brand of bloodthirsty buccaneer, and that’s what makes the character so endearing!

(Now we have someone even better stepping into the role for Park Square: the multi-talented Bradley Greenwald.)

Bradley Greenwald (Photo by Petronella J Ytsma)

Piano As Metaphor

The refurbished family piano
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Over 20 years ago, an old piano was passed down to us from my husband’s maternal side of the family. We were the third generation to own it, so it was in pretty rough shape. Without the financial means nor free time to repair it, we simply moved this heavy load to serve as a handy surface for knickknacks and random paper piles from one home to the next. In many ways, the piano well-represented the fragmentation within that maternal branch of the family’s relationships at the time. Though riddled with ever-new spats, long-harbored grudges and back-turning silences, they still managed to (sometimes barely) hold together with old glue–the family blood that binds.

A scene with cast members (l to r) Ansa Akyea, Michael Jemison, Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

When my husband, with some professional help, finally did refurbish the piano about a decade ago, the newly functional instrument became a unifying symbol within our own immediate family. Unable to continue piano lessons as a young boy with divorced parents who’d kept moving from place to place, my husband now began tinkling on the keys during those brief moments of waiting–for the tub to fill, for our young daughter to be ready for her bedtime story, for the bathroom to be free . . . . Sometimes our girl would sit next to him to see what Daddy was up to as he slowly picked up some of his former piano-playing skills. Simply watching turned into fingering the keys herself until, one day, she asked for piano lessons, which she enjoys to this day as a teen.

Piano as metaphor. I am betting that’s a more common concept than one may imagine.

Ansa Akyea as Paul
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

In fact, when speaking to Ansa Akyea about his roles as a soldier and the pastor Paul in Cardboard Piano, I noted that pianos have now figured prominently in two plays that he’s been in. In 2008, he played Boy Willie in a Penumbra production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson in which the family’s upright piano, carved with ancestral portraits, loomed large as a metaphor of their history–past, present and future. In Cardboard Piano, playwright Hansol Jung introduces two accounts of a cardboard piano that are central to the themes of the play and what happens to Ansa’s characters. That the piano is made of cardboard, not wood, is significant.

Asked if he played the piano or owns a metaphorical piano, Ansa replied, “I used to play the piano but switched to the saxophone when I was 8 or 9 because I didn’t like the teacher whom I had. It’s one of my biggest regrets to have stopped. At around 10 or 11, I’d turned my attention to sports.

As for my metaphorical piano, it is my instrument–my body and my craft. I try to let chords pour through and into me. My body has a range, and I make sure to take good care of it, both physically and spiritually. I’ve matured so do things that are good for me to bring life to my instrument. Everyone has a calling, and I listen to my instrument to fulfill that passion.”

 

 

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here

ADELIN PHELPS: Her Thread of Love

A thread of love runs throughout the story of Cardboard Piano, a play set in northern Uganda. It begins with the profound love between two teenage girls, Chris and Adiel, who perform their own secret wedding ceremony in the town’s church on New Year’s eve. One is the daughter of the white missionaries who’d founded the church; the other, a local Ugandan parishioner. Actor Adelin Phelps plays Chris, the missionaries’ daughter; Kiara Jackson is Adiel, her bride. The play takes us on a years-long journey from the night of their wedding to its aftermath.

Adelin’s copy of the script
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

“When I first read this play, I really connected with Chris,” Adelin said. “I very quickly fell in love with her and with this story. I love how passionate Chris is and her strong conviction in what she believes. Yet there’s this contradiction that lives in her; she’s smart but also naive and sheltered.

I play Chris at different ages, 16 and 30 years old. And as broken as she becomes, she’s a fighter in the whole play. Women fighting for their needs and beliefs on stage–I’m drawn to that.”

Playing a rich, complex character that must sustain intense emotions as well as display a range of emotions in quick shifts will require stamina. As Adelin attests, “This is not an easy play for any of the cast members. It’s an intense story that moves quickly. What happens to Chris is difficult to execute, but getting to try to do it is so incredible from an actor’s standpoint of serving this story.”

The cast of Cardboard Piano (l to r): Michael Jemison, Ansa Akyea, Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

A thread of love runs through Adelin’s desire to not only be in Cardboard Piano, but also to be an actor in the first place. Her desire to act began early as a deep inner knowledge, then a private acknowledgement before coming out as a public dream.

Adelin first fell in love with theatre when, as a child, she saw The Wizard of Oz with her school. The experience was so powerful that she was glued to the stage.

For a long time, however, Adelin pursued dance instead. Though she loved movement, she never wanted to become a professional dancer. And she came to realize that what she loved most about dance were its acting aspects.

“When I was 17,” Adelin recalled, “I knew I wanted to go to college and learn how to act. I had very little experience, not really doing it in high school, but I knew I had to pursue it. The fire in my belly had grown bigger and hotter every year throughout my life. And so I decided to apply and audition for schools. ”

Adelin had made no backup plan, having consciously made the decision to commit her life to acting. Ultimately, she got into her top pick of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and, as she put it, “The rest is history.”

A thread of love has steadily run through Adelin’s acting career, quite evident in a physical theatre ensemble that she co-founded with core members in 2010 after a few years of collaborating on Minnesota Fringe Festival performances. Called Transatlantic Love Affair, the ensemble’s name was inspired by the long-distance relationship between Artistic Director Isabel Nelson and Artistic Associate Diogo Lopes before they got married.

The special synergy within the group was there from the beginning. Not only do they love working together, but they also work beautifully together. That’s a good recipe for stellar productions, and their shows have been consistently well-received. In fact, their 2017 production Promised Land, a reimagined telling of Hansel and Gretel as an immigration story, sold out all its performances.

Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson being directed by Signe V. Harriday during a rehearsal of Cardboard Piano
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Adelin has wondered, “What would it have been like if she’d pursued acting earlier?” But she doesn’t dwell on it. She’s simply grateful that she’d ultimately followed her heart to do what she loves.

Adelin anticipates an exciting year ahead. Besides being in Cardboard Piano, she’s involved in other projects that she is not privy to reveal at the moment. So look out for her, and follow her thread of love.

Information on Transatlantic Love Affair here

Tickets and information on Cardboard Piano here

MICHAEL JEMISON: Living With Intention

Michael Jemison reviewing his script prior to rehearsal.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Asked by Courier-Journal reporter Elizabeth Kramer in March 2016 what had planted the seeds for writing Cardboard Piano, South Korean playwright Hansol Jung answered, “There was a lot of media noise in 2013 about northern Uganda kidnappings by Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army and about child soldiers. There also was a lot of coverage about gay marriage in the United States and Korea. Uganda also passed a bill in 2013 punishing homosexuality.” Michael Jemison’s two roles in Park Square Theater’s production of Cardboard Piano directly reflect those seeds.

In Act I, Michael plays Pika, a 13-year-old runaway child soldier in Act I; in Act II, he is Francis, a 22-year-old young man banished from his local church due to his homosexuality. Both are incredibly resilient survivors against the cruelties of an intolerant society.

As a black queer artist who also happens to be 22, Michael came on board able to relate to important aspects of his characters but also learned much during the rehearsal process.

“I’ve learned so much about trauma (through the Center for Victims of Torture),” Michael said. “Trauma is something that varies for so many people and affects people in different ways. In the play, Pika’s a young boy taken at ten years old! But trauma happens here in the US, too! There’s queer-bashing and the murder of transgender people, for instance. Or preachers feeling high and mighty and doing awful things to their congregations with their power.  All these things are not new.”

Michael Jemison as Francis.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Michael was very drawn to the dynamic aspects of his roles and how they can be played in so many different ways. He’s enjoyed the creative process of building his characters by “playing around” and “trying different things.” It’s been additionally exciting since, according to Michael, “the roles fit where I am in life.”

After much self-reflection, where Michael is in life is a place where he stays true to his own inner compass. He is mindful to be involved in doing art that reflects current times, has a lot to say and gives voice to those creating it. Being in Cardboard Piano fit all those criteria and drew him out of a long hiatus from stage performance.

“It’s been an amazing experience working with this director, cast and crew. Everyone is so passionate about this story and cares about it,” Michael said. “And I knew that Signe would be the type of director who’d let me have my say in the room. More rehearsals should be like this. A lot of actors don’t get much of a voice in the rehearsal process.”

Perhaps Michael will again be seduced to perform in another production after Cardboard Piano, but it may be hard to tear him away from what he calls his “dream project,” the podcast Challenge the Woke, “dedicated to creating space for black and queer people of color to hold important conversations as it relates to race, gender, class and sexuality.”

Michael Jemison

What had planted the seeds to produce Challenge the Woke were Michael’s “beautiful conversations” with people during his intense period of self-reflection. The idea came in 2016; but it wasn’t until 2017, after a successful crowdfunding effort and a lot of planning, that the first broadcast aired. Since then, he has interviewed social activists such as Black Lives Matter co-founder Michael McDowell; TV journalist, arts supporter and entrepreneur Robyne Robinson; and most recently, Andrea Jenkins, the first black transgender woman elected to public office in the US. Future conversations will follow with sensational artists and other awesome guests from the US and globally. Challenge the Woke has steadily blossomed under Michael’s hard work and tender care.

This young transplant from New York to the Twin Cities has every intention to continue following a personally meaningful path. In his own words, “I am here and ready to go on a journey and continue to discover!”

Listen to Challenge the Woke here.

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here.

Page 4 of 31« First...23456...102030...Last »
    tagline-color

Theatre News for you!

Sign up to get the latest Park Square news