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. . . . And A Dog Named Boo

Boo: short for Taboo; sometimes also affectionately called Boosker Du (like the band Husker Du) (Photo by Annette Diana Design; www.Annettedianadesign.com)

In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, performed on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage from November 9 to December 16, the treatment of migrant worker Candy’s dog represents how everyone in the play is afraid to be treated as well. Fortunately, Boo, who plays that dog, lives in the loving home of theatre professionals Ben McGovern and Jessie Scarborough-Ghent. Jessie is serving as his handler for this production.

It wasn’t always “the good life” for Boo. Boo is a pit bull rescued by Midwest Animal Rescue & Services in Brooklyn Park. He’d had a rough start in Indiana, being kept in a kennel that was too small for him so that his back legs couldn’t properly develop. As a result, he has a back leg limp and takes glutamine supplements. Boo also used to have a bald spot on his head from rubbing against the kennel. His docile nature suggests that he could have been raised to be the bait dog for a fighting ring or simply mistreated by negligent owners. No one knows for certain.

Ben first took Boo in as a foster dog about six years ago but fell in love with and adopted him (this is ironically deemed a “failed foster”). He became Jessie’s dog, too, when she moved in a few years ago. She was the one who’d answered Park Square Theatre’s call for dogs to audition and brought him in.

Boo is greeted by Director Annie Enneking at an early  rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

“This will be Boo’s first stage appearance,” said Jessie. “He’s really mellow and well-behaved–he came already knowing sit and lay down–so I thought he’d be a great stage dog. He’s older now so doesn’t need as much physical activity. Getting attention from people is actually his best exercise. Also, whoever needs to control him just needs to have food; he’ll be very motivated. We’re using turkey training treats so there’ll be no crunching sounds.”

 

 

When not in rehearsals or on stage, Boo will be busy playing at Minnehaha Dog Park in Minneapolis, hanging out with his Rhodesian ridgeback buddy, laying together with fellow pet dweller Finska the cat or snuggling with his humans.

Boo has mastered his role as you can see in this photo from the final dress rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

“That’s his favorite activity,” Jessie told me. “He sits and keeps pushing himself into you. I tell him, ‘You really can’t get any closer.’ He is so content just snuggling.”

Another favorite family activity is grabbing a meal at their dog-friendly neighborhood restaurant, The Howe. The dog menu includes a frozen smoked beef marrow bone that Boo can chew clean in three hours. According to Jessie, “Afterwards Boo passes gas and looks at his butt as if to ask, ‘Was that me?'”

Boo also loves toys. He enjoys slobbering all over his peanut butter-filled Kong, but his personal favorite is a stuffed rat. It’s six inches long and no longer white.

“We’re hesitant to get him stuffed animals because he chews them apart,” Jessie said. “But he hasn’t ripped up his rat. It isn’t very realistic either. He picks it up and shakes it. Or he licks it. It doesn’t squeak; squeaky toys get destroyed.”

Because pit bulls are stereotyped as mean, aggressive dogs, they are hard to place. Lavendar magazine’s 2017 Pet Issue, which features the nonprofit organization Save-a-Bull, reported that “approximately 75 percent of municipal shelters euthanize pit bulls immediately upon intake” and that “a recent study by the American People organization reported a 93 percent euthanasia rate for pit bulls and only one in 600 finds a forever home.”

Once people own or volunteer to rescue and care for a pit bull, they tend to become advocates for the breed to help break the myths and stereotypes about them. Jessie herself can’t say enough good things about Boo: “Boo has changed our lives. He is the best therapy dog. You can look in his eyes and see how much he loves you. He’s the best and the best friend.”

Boo and Jessie
(Photo by Annette Diana Design; see www.Annettedianadesign.com)

PIT BULL RESCUE EVENTS IN THE TWIN CITIES:

  • Save-a-Bull Rescue will be at Urban Tails Pet Supply, 2106 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., on November 11 (3-5 pm), December 2 (3-5 pm) and January 20 (12-2 pm) and at Chuck & Don’s, 4723 County Road 101, Minnetonka, on November 18 (12-2 pm).
  • Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue will be at For Pet’s Sake, 11724 Ulysses St. NE, Blaine, on November 12 (3-5 pm) and December 9, 11 am – 1 pm).

 

 

The World of Hamlet Made Concrete

The world of our Hamlet will seem modern without being specific to any one decade or national boundary. Our Denmark is a state of mind versus an actual Scandinavian country.

It’s a world of concrete, gold leaf and surveillance cameras; the main set element is literally a concrete cube tipped on edge–a brutal yet unsteady world. We’ll make use of video projection to both alter the landscape and take us to interior psychological landscapes of the characters. 

— Joel Sass in a note for the cast, which was attached to their rehearsal script

 * * *

While contemplating the set design for his new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Joel Sass considered ideas such as a complicated set of stairs (“It looked cool but more complicated than needed.”) but ultimately settled on a tipped concrete cube. That design got the best response out of all his concepts.

“I looked for the simplest shape that seemed most resonate of each scene and would need minimal manipulation by the stage crew,” Joel said. “The fun part for me is the challenge of balancing practicality and ideas. I understand the interdependence between budget and design.”

Joel did not want a set with “the trappings of an antique, historical diorama.” Instead he wanted a modern design that would better reflect a world of our time. To achieve his ends, he looked to Nordic Brutalist Architecture with its exposed concrete construction that creates an atmosphere or discomfort and uneasiness. It was meant to feel contemporary and monumental–far from “ye old timie.”

 

Brutalist architecture was popular in the 1950s and 1960s and often used to design government and institutional structures, such as university buildings (for instance, the Rarig Center at University of Minnesota’s West Bank). Swedish architect Hans Asplund coined the term “brutalism” to describe Villa Goth, a house that he’d designed in Kabo, Uppsala, Sweden in 1949. The term was then picked up by a group of visiting English architects, and Brutalism’s popularity in England rose as an inexpensive construction and design method for a country that had been ravaged by World War II.

Hamlet’s world is one filled with anxiety due to a violent disruption in leadership and uncertainty as to who holds power. His world sounds a lot like ours today. Will we someday also experience a resurgence in the popularity of Brutalist architecture?

  • * * *

(Note: All photos were taken by Amy Anderson)

Label Him Talented

 

Wes Mouri as Laertes
(Photo by Amy Anderson)

Wes Mouri, who currently plays Laertes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Park Square Theatre, had a propitious start to his acting career. Soon after graduating from Bethel University with a B.A. in Theatre Arts, he landed a role in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s Bye Bye Birdie. This was a six-month commitment from October 2012 to March 2013 that required eight performances weekly of evening and matinee shows.

“I learned so much about myself,” Wes said. “It really hit home that this is a profession, not something that you just do for a couple of weekends. You have to be talented, but you also have to be invested in the work.”

Stephanie Bertumen as Mei-Li and Wesley Mouri as Wang Ta in Flower Drum Song
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Since his professional debut at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Wes has appeared in numerous musicals in the Twin Cities, including last season’s Flower Drum Song, co-produced by Park Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts. He was proud to be cast in the lead role of Wang Ta, noting, “How often does a mixed-race man get to play a romantic lead?”

However, Wes was beginning to get pidgeon-holed in singing and dancing parts when Director Joel Sass offered him the dramatic role of Laertes in Hamlet.

“Joel’s frustrated when people are put into boxes,” Wes said of the man who’d also created this new adaptation of Hamlet. “He recognizes that not seeing people for their full potential stagnates their career. Even though I’d been playing young dancer types in musicals, Joel told me, ‘I know that you have the training and capacity to play another kind of role.’ He wants to grow the artist.”

Rehearsal scene: Wes Mouri (middle) as an upset Laertes being restrained by Maeve Moynihan (left) and Tinne Rosenmeier (right)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What Wes actually loves about theatre arts is that one doesn’t have to be stuck in a box. Being a theatre professional requires one to be a freelance artist. Besides acting, Wes also has experience in directing, marketing, stage managing and choreographing and knows that he will continually acquire new skills throughout his career.

Wes is very appreciative of theatre professionals, such as Joel Sass and Richard Cook, who willingly help artists break out of boxes through deliberate, inclusive casting choices. This process equalizes the chance for more humans to get a shot at roles and challenges norms to broaden the narratives. Park Square’s Hamlet, in fact, crosses both traditional gender and race lines in its casting.

Wes himself was not conscious that he could be limited by race until he was participating in a post-show discussion for Mu Performing Arts’ production of A Little Night Music in 2014.

“It was a big moment in my life,” Wes recalled. “I’d grown up in Rockford, Illinois, in a white-majority neighborhood. My dad is Japanese, but my mom is Caucasian. Both my parents are teachers. I attended a small private school, and everyone knew me as me, not as ‘the Asian kid.’

At the talk-back, a woman asked me what it was like to get to play the type of role that I would never have had a chance to play if Mu hadn’t produced the play. I had never considered that, and I just suddenly cried right on stage. I had never been boxed in as a dark-haired Asian. I’d always been surrounded by people saying I can absolutely do anything. Then I realized that the way I look could make it so I can’t do certain things.”

Wes Mouri as Laertes and Kory LaQuess Pullam as Hamlet; Tinne Rosenmeier as an attendant in the background
(Photo by Amy Anderson)

Knowing this made the first day of rehearsals for Hamlet particularly meaningful. According to Wes, “We walked in and knew that this is a unique and different production. Not only is it a very streamlined version of a classic Shakespeare work for adults and children; but the cast is half male and half female, with major roles being played by women. There are also five people of color out of ten. The fact that diverse school groups will see this show is wonderful.”

In Hamlet, who Wes is and what he looks like do not stand in the way of who he can become on stage. He is the headstrong young Laertes, brother of the tragic Ophelia and son of the politically powerful Polonia. He is the right actor for the part because he is talented.

To Thine Own Self Be True

The above phrase is one of the most famous lines in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is a parent’s advice to only the son, not the daughter, Ophelia, who is played by Maeve Moynihan in Joel Sass’s new adaptation for Park Square Theatre. While some of the male characters have been changed to female in Joel’s version in order to, as he put it, “have more women walking the halls of Elsinore, expanding the notion of who carries power,” Ophelia does remain female and possess limited power in the face of social mores. With Park Square’s Hamlet set in modern times and presented to a contemporary audience, I wondered how Maeve perceived her character and planned to approach her role.

“Ophelia is a complex character, especially in relationship with the other characters,” Maeve reflected. “She’s often seen as being weak, but she’s not weak. She merely wants to please and do the right thing; she worries about the needs of others. The one kind of power that she has which the others lack–or isn’t as potent in them–is empathy. For Ophelia, she has a sense of caring that’s so strong that it cripples her. If you don’t look out for yourself, then you can lose sight of yourself. So Ophelia is misunderstood when we read the play.”

Maeve continued, “Ophelia does have a mind of her own and her own opinions, but she wants to make her mom Polonia proud. The other characters muddle up for her what’s right and wrong for herself, especially her mother, who asks her to spy on Hamlet. It’s not what she would do; but her mom, whom she loves, has asked her to do it.”

As Maeve sees it, Ophelia is very teen-like, a life stage when she’s trying to figure out who she is as an individual. She’s doing this in a court where her mother is of very high rank so Ophelia must always be concerned about how she reflects on her family.

Ophelia (center), played by Maeve Moynihan (Photo by Amy Anderson)

“Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we’re not weak people or pushovers. We’re just trying to do the right thing given the circumstances,” Maeve said. “What would it be like to be the kid of the President, and you didn’t have a choice about being that?”

Maeve imagines that Ophelia wishes that she could tell everyone to just leave her alone. She doesn’t want her life, including her relationship with Hamlet, in the public eye at all times. During rehearsals, Maeve herself has wished that Ophelia could also tell Hamlet, “Quit being a jerk! It’s not my fault that your father died.”

The prospect of playing Ophelia was, indeed, intimidating for Maeve. The youthful Maeve could certainly relate to Ophelia, but she feared overthinking the role. Director Joel Sass got her to trust her instincts in exploring what he called the “inner violence” done to her. While Maeve had initially considered Ophelia’s descent into madness to be “a fragile unraveling,” she began to see its more explosive emotionality.

“Originally, I would have approached it as unfathomable sadness,” Maeve said. “But Ophelia is actually trying really hard to find her reality again. She realizes that she has a warped reality and something is off because of how people comment on her behavior. What’s frightening to her is not that she thinks something is wrong with herself but that others are treating her like that.

Cast members being directed by Joel Sass; Maeve is second from the left
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

We’ve seen her repressed throughout the play, and finally it’s the moment for her to unleash all the emotions she’d been wanting to let out. She’s no longer worried about how people see her. She lets her pent-up frustration and anger come out. We get to see the demons inside of her that needs expression.”

In rehearsals, Maeve worked hard on how best to unsettle the audience with sharp emotional shifts, true to Joel’s intention to take the audience “to interior psychological landscapes of the characters.” Sudden laughter may just as suddenly turn into crying.

For Maeve, a 2016 graduate of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Acting Program, the draw to becoming an actor was the chance to get into characters’ heads to be different people. She loves that, as a result, actors come to accept and understand people in new ways. She loves that she’s in a profession that builds empathy.

Nine years ago, some of you may have seen Maeve on the Guthrie stage as Carrie in Little House on the Prairie. That girl has since grown up and is now very excited to be on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage to play the multilayered Ophelia. In her own words, “It’s going to be awesome!”

To Be!

Kory LaQuess Pullam as Hamlet (Photo by Amy Anderson)

Kory LaQuess Pullam isn’t a huge Shakespeare buff, nor did he go through any part of his life being overly enamored of the Bard’s “precious language.” Yet, after Park Square Theatre’s annual “cattle call” audition, he found himself with the opportunity to play Hamlet in Joel Sass’s new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But if you stop to think about it, Kory’s lack of preconditioned awe makes him a fitting choice for a director who is trying to tell the story anew.

When asked what he brings to the table during rehearsals, Kory said, “I’m coming into this from the outside in the sense that I didn’t grow up around that [Shakespeare worship (my words)] so I have new eyes that can be useful.”

What especially excites Kory about playing Hamlet is not only the challenge but also the opportunity to do so for younger audiences in the student matinees.

“I really revel in interacting with and working for youths,” Kory emphasized. “I’d hate for thousands of students–and for some, this will be their first experience seeing Hamlet–to see an actor approaching this as just another gig.”

Noting that our student audiences tend to be much more diverse, Kory added, “I want to be a face that they can see and realize, ‘We’re valued.'”

Kory’s Hamlet will, in fact, deliberately close the distance between himself and the audience. He will at times directly address them as his confidants, forming the type of bond usually reserved for close friends. His Hamlet won’t be academic but real.

Rehearsing on the Proscenium Stage
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

The first time that Hamlet addresses the audience, he’s telling them, ‘I need the audience. I’m in a place that’s suicidal. I want to become vapor,'” Kory pointed out. ” We tend to forget that Hamlet’s not just sad; he’s not just an angry teen. He’s suffering from post-traumatic stress! His father has died; his mother has moved fast to remarry; his country’s in an uproar.

Hamlet wishes God hadn’t made it a bad thing to slaughter himself. Suicide’s an act that would send him to Hell so he has to stay alive and deal with all this. So many people feel that struggle and hurt everyday.”

Kory will, of course, get to recite that famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be . . . .” as Hamlet continues to deal with his anguish throughout the play. In academic circles, much ado is usually made over Hamlet’s indecision or inability to act. The irony is that Kory himself is a dynamic ball of action.

“I’ve been here for four years and going 200 miles per hour for the past few years,” Kory said. “I’ve done way more than I could have imagined. It’s crazy what’s happened.”

What’s happened to Kory, besides being cast as Hamlet at Park Square Theatre this season, is that:

  • his wildly popular comedy troupe, Blackout Improv, recently celebrated its second anniversary
  • Underdog Theatre, which he found in 2016, earned raves for its debut play, Baltimore is Burning, which he’d written
  • he’s at work on a trilogy, starting with Odd Man Out, a portion of which was performed in this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival
  • he’s just been tapped to direct Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry at SteppingStone Theatre for Youth (performances from February 7 to March 3, 2018)

And there are so many other dream roles that Kory would love to someday take on: Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, Orestes in Euripedes’ Orestes, Walter Lee in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Marcus in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, Booth in Suzan-Lori Park’s Topdog/Underdog and Pastor Paul in Lucas Hnath’s The Christians.

Kory also professed “an addiction to collaboration” that drives his momentum but recognizes the eventual need to slow down for several weeks of what he described as “doing nothing.” But then he’ll be up and running again, being dynamically creative and joyfully present–basically, being Kory LaQuess Pullam.

Tickets and more information at http://parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/shows/2017-18/william-shakespeares-hamlet/

 

Charles Hubbell: The Claudius of Clout

Charles Hubbell is an actor currently performing in Park Square Theatre’s Hamlet. In this production, he portrays the conniving Claudius, killer of Hamlet’s father – usurper of the throne. Such a cool and calculating character demands a smart and experienced actor and Hubbell fits the role perfectly. Not only does he have experience with the play, but actually doing it at Park Square before, albeit as a different character. Looking back on the show, directed by Mary Finnerty, he recalls:

I played the role of Laertes. I was an insufferable hack then. Long hair, arrogant and rebellious. I regret I caused a lot of mischief during that production. Now I’m back as Claudius which is great fun because I’m bringing my years of experience and hopefully some maturity to the role. It’s fun to do those same Laertes/Claudius scenes I did then [once] as the hot headed youth but now I’m the cool, calculating King. 

Even when sitting in on a recent rehearsal, I would definitely vouch for this sense of maturity.

Charles Hubbell as Claudius (Photo by Amy Anderson)

A native of the Twin Cities, Hubbell was born and raised in Golden Valley and Crystal, respectively, before studying at the University of Minnesota. In addition to working his way through all the characters in Hamlet, he works as a talent agent for Agency Models and Talent, finding actors and models for the commercial market. His long experience in the independent movie world, as well as voiceover work, television and web shows, lends itself quite naturally to finding work for others in the field. Not only that, but he is an accomplished puppeteer and loves working with puppet teams to create webisodes and live comedy shows. These ain’t your typical kid-friendly puppets shows, however, as Hubbell prefers more grown up comedy, for those who enjoy Jim Henson-styled puppetry. His work has been seen on the web with Transylvania Television and at The Brave New Workshop with Tipsy Kangaroo’s Naughty Puppet Review.

Don’t expect that same level of irreverence with Claudius, however. As you take in Park Square’s production, you’ll be hooked by a very Machiavellian figure. Not just a politician, but a strategist, who is playing a long game of chess he intends to win. Perhaps not unlike many real-life figures throughout history, he is willing to challenge the divine and bend the will of his subjects.

Tickets and more information at parksquaretheatre.org

Adapted and directed by Joel Sass and featuring Charles Hubbell as ‘Claudius”. 

Tinne Rosenmeier is Polonia

Recently I had the supreme pleasure of speaking with actor, Tinne Rosenmeier, who is playing Polonia in Park Square Theatre’s production of Hamlet. Ms. Rosenmeier had a lot to say not only about the production itself, but how re-imagining the character “Polonius” as a woman helps bring fresh life to an established classic.

Photo by Nancy Hauck

So what’s it been like playing a character such as Polonia? What can audiences come away with after seeing your portrayal?

Polonia, yes.  WOW!  First of all, there’s the thrill of the opportunity, right? That made me giddy and rather flighty during our first week of rehearsals.  Then, there’s the history of the role, our expectations of who and what Polonius is: stuffy, fusty, chatty, a bit impotent and comical. Polonius is deeply embedded in the masculine story, history, and culture of our cultural understanding of Hamlet, the play. What happens when we shift away from that?

What we’re discovering is that Polonia  (the concept), works just fine.  As a power broker, I have many contemporary politicians to study – their poise, strength, and steel. There’s the reality we face as working women and mothers: how many of us can still be involved in the day to day of raising our children?  Polonia is and has been a working mother, and that very contemporary reality never confronted, and is unlikely to ever confront, a man playing a Polonius.  We still live in a society that stretches women to do it all. At the moment (though there may be some nuances we haven’t reached yet in rehearsals) Polonia has made career choices to serve her king(s), and she isn’t much given to self-doubt or regret.

As a mother, there are insights into Ophelia’s plight that don’t surface for a “Polonius.” The advice that she quit her crush on Hamlet hinges on his freedoms as a man and a prince — ‘with a longer tether may he walk/Than may be given you.’  What a rich vein to plumb. I think it is a mark of her lack of self-knowledge that she doesn’t recognize her own complicity in Ophelia’s trap, and despair.

When did you first get involved with Park Square?

My first audition for Park Square was in 1984, when I was embarrassed to learn that a Shakespearean sonnet wasn’t the same as an audition monologue.  I felt pretty lucky when I got a call to step into a part another actress vacated, in Arthur Miller’s The American Clock.   Later that season, or the next, I was again called in as a replacement, in The Master Builder, with Bill Kimes.  I was invited to join the resident acting company Park Square had for a few years, and spent a few seasons working here.

It was an amazing experience, but I learned the limits of untrained acting.  It was the kind and generous advice of Richard Cook, plus the encouragement of Betty Burdick (who played Mrs. Master Builder) that propelled me to seek training.  I needed a process.  It’s a deep satisfaction and honor to return to Park Square with technique and process, and to develop this role.

My family moved back to Saint Paul in 2000. I just couldn’t break in as an actress at that point, and I took myself over to Hamline to get my teaching license.  Over the last 13 years I’ve been teaching around the Twin Cities. I was so proud and excited to bring students to Park Square’s education programs and productions.  The Build a Moment experience is the cleanest introduction to the power of theater design and tech I’ve every run across. I also served on Park Square’s  Education Advisory Board for a few years, and raise my hat to Mary Finnerty and the whole group.  I believe in theater education, and Park Square’s contribution is unmatched and indispensable.

Tinne Rosenmeier is a Minnesota-native, born in St. Paul and a graduate of Carleton College and holds an MA in Educational Theatre from New York University. She also attended the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York City. In addition to Park Square Theatre, she has been seen on stage at Pangea World Theatre (The House of Bernarda Alba) and Savage Umbrella (The Awakening), among many others. When she is not performing or teaching, her interests include playing with her dog, feeding the chickens, gardening and quilting when the weather turns cold.

See Ms. Rosenmeier in Hamlet, on the Proscenium Stage through November 11! The play is adapted and directed by Joel Sass.

 

Though She Be But Little, She is Fierce

In 2015, Kathryn Fumie had played Hamlet in Theatre Unbound’s production of Hamlet, which featured an all-women cast of eight. In contrast, Park Square’s Hamlet is a different adaptation by Joel Sass, featuring a mix-gendered cast of nine. Kathryn plays Hamlet’s trusted friend, Horatio.

“I’d just been pleased that they were thinking of gender-flipping some of the roles. I knew I had a good shot at being cast if more of the characters were female,” said Kathryn. “I can’t wait to be supportive of the role of Hamlet after having experienced the slings and arrows of previously playing him.”

With this Hamlet being set in a contemporary world of intrigue, conspiracy and surveillance, Director Joel Sass had instructed Kathryn in her audition to particularly note the state of tension and level of danger surrounding Hamlet. In such a world, the importance of words is heightened, especially as it pertains to Hamlet. So Horatio would really need to consider the wisdom of telling him about seeing the ghost of his father.

“Think about the insanity of the news! It would be dangerous if people overheard. She may be in trouble,” Kathryn pointed out.

Kathryn Fumie rehearsing as Horatio
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Considering how to play Horatio, Kathryn realized that the bond between Hamlet and Horatio “has to be really apparent and simple.” Horatio is Hamlet’s best friend, but one who understands his place in society; he’s also his only real confidante.

“When two people walk into a room, you can tell that they’re best friends. They’re comfortable with each other. Through a glance, you can tell that both are thinking the same thing at the same time,” Kathryn observed. “Hamlet will always be on the forefront of Horatio’s mind. That will inform how she moves and so on.”

“The main challenge in being in Hamlet will be the time limit,” Kathryn continued. “The play’s just over two hours long. The ferocity of the pace will affect its mood and high intensity. I’ll be juggling a lot of plates and running back and forth. It’ll be like a sporting match, fun but challenging.”

Since childhood, Kathryn has taken on the fun challenge of being an actor. She recalls how, as the youngest of three siblings, she was “so teeny” as a child but persistent in getting family members to watch her put on numerous plays by the bay window of their house.

Much later, Kathryn got her BFA in Performance through the Mason Gross School of Arts, the arts conservatory at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her training was akin to being in the rigorous University of Minnesota-Guthrie Theater undergraduate program. But Kathryn chose to attend Mason Gross mainly for offering the only American theatrical program that gives students the opportunity to train for an entire year at the world-renowned Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

While reflecting on her actor’s journey, Kathryn noted, “Despite the hustle and hundreds of auditions, it never felt like work. I always felt it was leading somewhere. People see you’re in a play but don’t realize the hard work it took to get there. I’m proud of my hard work.”

As with many artists, working hard for Kathryn has also included employment in numerous types of jobs, from salon work to waiting tables. She has also taught theatre arts to children. To Kathryn, all her real-life interactions with people through work experiences are simply an extension of her actor’s training.

First rehearsal meeting for Hamlet
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Being an actor definitely requires great resilience to endure the ups, downs and in-betweens along the journey. Being female requires extra grit to deal with the additional challenges flung your way. But it is in the rehearsal room where Kathryn feels especially safe to not be judged by gender.

“Women, in general, are expected to be two people at all times. When they walk into a room, they have to worry about whether they are perceived as an adult or a woman. In rehearsals, I don’t have to be one or the other. In the rehearsal room, you’re just expected to do the work well. Everyone’s simply looking for you to do the work and shine.”

The capacity to shine is limitless for this bold woman who made her own lifelong dream of becoming an actor come true. But Kathryn also sees how being an actor “comes in handy in a lot of ways” and how her skills can be applied to other expertise. Her additional interests include politics and social studies. What may that portend for her future? Who knows. But for now, she has aptly landed in the intrigue-filled world of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Directing Hamlet

Joel Sass (in second row) directs Hamlet during a rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Having adapted William Shakespeare’s Hamlet for Park Square Theatre this season, Joel Sass takes further control of his vision by also directing it. But he’s no control freak. Yes, Joel has made significant changes to Hamlet. Yet this is still Shakespeare’s play, and he doesn’t lose sight of that. His directorship now lets him share the creative fun of re-imagining Hamlet with others. The result: we get to look at this well-known play from a fresh perspective.

With his director hat firmly on, Joel has held extensive discussions with his production team to conjure up the world that this Hamlet will inhabit. In his words, “The world of our Hamlet will seem modern–without being specific to any one decade or national boundary. Our Denmark is a state of mind versus an actual Scandinavian country.”

With an eye toward inclusivity to inhabit this contemporary world, Joel put together a dynamic ensemble of regional actors of mixed ages, races, genders and opinions. He also purposely shifted the gender of some traditionally male characters to female, hence shaking up conventional power dynamics.

Joel Sass and cast members Kory LaQuess Pullam and Wesley Mouri  look at Alice Fredrickson’s costume designs. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

In a note attached to the rehearsal script, Joel told the cast that they’d “explore our own reorganization of scenes and speeches in order to find a more cinematic ‘drive’ to the plot. So you will definitely find things missing, streamlined and in some cases transplanted. And I’m expecting that as we work together on it, we may find more things to lose, add or shift.” He also welcomed their “ideas about how to best make the language work.” Did all this imply that Joel would give the actors free reign to improvise?

“No,” Joel assured me. “You still need discipline in exploration, or you’ll get lost in your own improvisation.”

As the director, Joel’s responsibilities included identifying boundaries while maintaining the creative latitude for the ensemble’s exploration. For instance, in the big scene when Hamlet angrily confronts his mother Gertrude in her room, Joel had the two actors consider how they’d physically move and interact so the audience could understand how close they actually are as mother and son. Their physicality would be key to revealing a fuller backstory to their relationship that cannot otherwise be captured through the lines in the scene.

The shifts in gender, too, force the cast to examine how characters would interact in light of the changes. Polonius, the male chief advisor to the king in Shakespeare’s version, for example, is now the female Polonia in Joel’s adaptation; Bernardo, one of the first officers to have seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, is now Bernarda; Hamlet’s closest friend, Horatio, was also changed from male to female. What resulting tensions will charge the atmosphere of this play? What performance choices will make sense to enrich the storytelling?

While interviewing several of the actors in Park Square Theatre’s production of Hamlet, I found that, more often than not, they also shed light on the director’s role during auditions and rehearsals. Simply follow our blog to keep learning more!

FIRST-TIMER’S CAMPING STORY: Survival of the Novice

John Middleton and Carolyn Pool in a rehearsal as novice campers trying to set up a tent in Henry and Alice: Into the Wild
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

On stage now through 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.

Montana mountains from afar
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Here’s a story from a novice camper who went “into the wild” on her first try:

I’m a “city gal” who’d married a “country boy” so my first camping trip ever was to go into Montana’s Beartooth Mountains with his relatives plus one family friend, Ryan, who was the most experienced of the group. As “the expert,” Ryan freely dispensed advice on what to pack, ever cautioning against adding unnecessary weight to carry on our backs.

Being new to camping, my major concern was the lack of modern bathroom facilities; I was not looking forward to peeing in the woods. Doing it outdoors in the open was bad enough, but at least I could make sure that I wouldn’t run out of toilet paper and be reduced to using the vegetation on hand. So as we all sat around the living room, each gathering their own wads of toilet paper to pack (taking off the cardboard cylinder would reduce weight), I rolled extra for myself, which Ryan readily noticed.

“You know that you’re just adding extra weight to your pack,” he warned.

I didn’t care. I’d gladly give up an extra t-shirt or underwear to not run out of toilet paper!

Ah, nature!
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

The next day we trekked into the Beartooths, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had terrific stamina for hiking with a heavy pack and loved doing it. Ah, the fresh air and soothing sounds of nature felt great! Ryan knew the names of plants and spotted wild blueberries to pick and eat; bugs didn’t freak me out the way they would at home.

Finally, the time came when I needed to pee during a break. As an extra precaution to ensure privacy, I announced to everyone, “I’m going to find a spot over there!”

I found what seemed to be the perfect spot, set down one of the wads of toilet paper that I’d rolled under Ryan’s disapproving eyes, and went to it. My sense of relief, however, turned to horror as I watched the torrent quickly soak the paper. The spot I’d chosen was slightly angled downhill, and the wad was not set far enough to be clear of its path! Boy, was I glad that I’d packed extra toilet paper.

That evening I was to learn another new lesson when “the guys” taught me how to build a campfire. We crumpled up any wrappers, gathered dry twigs and found dry wood.

“Okay, now don’t do anything until we tell you to,” they instructed. “Go ahead and light the match.”

So I did. But then they got to talking while the match kept burning.

“Hey, guys!” I implored. “Can I light the fire?”

That immediately brought their attention back to me.

“Yes! Yes! Do it now!”

John Middleton and Carolyn Pool as Henry and Alice, start a campfire
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

I decided that next time I may not necessarily wait for exact orders before acting. But, hooray, I’d successfully started my first campfire.

Of course, I’d learned much more on the trail, from how to set up a tent to camp-meals planning (e.g., “everything soup” as the last dinner to be rid of leftovers and trail mix for the final breakfast).

The last lesson came after leaving the Beartooth Mountains. It was early evening, and we’d piled into our cars and headed to the closest restaurant for dinner. As the hostess led us to our table far to the back, it dawned on us that she was seating us as far as possible from all other diners.

A week in the wild makes you rather smelly. You just don’t notice when you’re being “one with nature.” But back in civilization, you do.

 

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