Tickets: 651.291.7005


Joel Sass, the Adapter of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

LONGEST HAMLET: Hamlet is William Shakespeare’s longest play, with over 4000 lines, 20 scenes and 33 characters. Normally, it would take over four hours to perform.

FASTEST HAMLET: In 2008, a 15-minute version was performed by Austin Shakespeare in Texas. That production was called The World’s Fastest Hamlet; and after the show, the four-member cast then did a two-minute Hamlet, followed by a ten-second Hamlet.

PARK SQUARE’S HAMLET: This season, Park Square Theatre unveils a world premiere adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Joel Sass, who is also its director and set designer. With a performance time of two hours 20 minutes, including intermission, and a cast of nine playing multiple roles, it will be performed for general public and student audiences.

Joel Sass has done several adaptations for the stage throughout his career, including William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Pericles for the California Shakespeare Theatre as well as Pericles for the Guthrie. In 2011, he’d adapted Neil Bartlett’s stage version of Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist for Park Square Theatre, following up in 2016 with his adaptation of Dicken’s Great Expectations on our Proscenium Stage. Then he successfully pitched the idea to adapt a shorter version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for Park Square.

“I’ve gotten into the reflexive habit of exploring how to do big stories imaginatively and economically,” Joel said. “Hamlet at 4+ hours may be a great experience, but there are a lot of other ways to approach it by being more selective and creative on the story elements. I also wondered how I could manifest the world of Hamlet with less cast.”

The germ of Joel’s idea actually resulted from his conversation with former Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling who’d wanted to do Pericles but could only afford to hire nine actors. Having successfully explored that possibility for the Guthrie inspired Joel to consider a similar approach for Hamlet.

Joel Sass (second from right) in rehearsal with Hamlet cast members
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

“The process of adapting an existing Shakespeare play isn’t as complex as adapting a novel into a play. I already have the dialogue, and now I must decide what comes out and what to change,” Joel explained. “Hamlet is already a play that usually gets some cutting done. The play doesn’t have a definitive version either; there are three or four official versions with variations in plot, language and order of events. I feel that gives me implicit permission to continue to experiment. I needed to decide thematically and plot-wise what I wanted to do to retell the story.”

“I made some obvious cuts. For instance, I chose to lose the geopolitical element between Denmark and Norway, which is not necessary to the heart of the story. And I contemplated this one seriously but decided to take out Hamlet’s childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I looked at how the plot flows and felt that the qualities of their relationship with Hamlet could be reiterated in exchanges with other characters. Take the richness implied in their friendship with Hamlet; that could be applied to Horatio.”

Knowing that the play would also be performed for student matinees where the audience may be studying Shakespeare’s longer version, I wondered if Joel had taken that into consideration for his adaptation.

“The value of students seeing theatre is not predicated on exact replication. Theatre is more organic of an experience and art tool than that. Using the tool of theatre is all about how stories are adapted or readapted. What meaning can you get from reinterpreted versions?” Joel pointed out. “The students will know the play enough to know what’s missing. The adaptation will make them more attentive to the material.”

Joel Sass with Kory LaQuess Pullam, who plays Hamlet
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

With a smaller cast playing fewer characters and mixed-gender casting, Joel’s version of Hamlet will also bring an additional dimension for not just student groups, but all audiences, to ponder. What does it mean, for instance, to have the traditionally male Polonius character now be the female Polonia? According to Joel, audiences will get to explore anew characters that they may have thought they knew well.

“I’ve created a very intimate, more contemporary thriller in this adaptation,” said Joel. “I’ve emphasized the psychology of the characters and intensity of their circumstances, which can be more diffused or drawn out in a longer version. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a compelling, universal story that can withstand numerous ways of distilling events and language. We should want to see different versions of Hamlet.”

The Triple Threat

Joel Sass is the adapter, director and set designer for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

From October 13 to November 11, a world premiere adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet will be performed at Park Square Theatre. Not only has Joel Sass adapted this famous tragedy for our Proscenium stage, but he is also its director and set designer. Who exactly IS this talented dynamo who has taken on these three demanding roles for a new production?

Joel Sass has been in the Twin Cities since 1990, working hard to offer AND build up his talents to become the highly respected theatre professional that he is now. His accomplishments are too many to list so here are just some examples: designing and directing on 15 award-winning productions at the acclaimed Jungle Theatre, being resident assistant director as well as designing and performing with the Tony Award-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune and co-founding the award-winning Mary Worth Theatre Company. Joel has himself been a recipient of many awards, including a 2007 McKnight Theatre Artist Fellowship for sustained artistic excellence, 2006 IVEY for scenic design on Last of the Boys, 2009 IVEY for overall excellence on Mary’s Wedding and 2007 Alan Schneider Directing Award for national recognition as a freelance director from Theater Communications Group (TCG). Twin Cities theatre critics named him 2002 and 2008 Best Director and 2009 Best Scenic Designer in the Twin Cities. His theatre lab, Mary Worth, was deemed 2003 Best Independent Theatre Company, and the Jungle Theatre was named 2009 Best Large Theater under his interim leadership.

Joel remains a sought-after freelance artist; but as for most theatre professionals, Joel was not an overnight success. I asked him to reflect back on his long journey, particularly to inspire young dreamers, some of whom may be part of the student matinee audiences for Hamlet.

“I had been doing theatre for a long time without realizing it,” Joel said. “I grew up in a rural area without extracurricular activities. So I played in the woods or in the barn. What I was really doing was building stories. I was that bossy kid who organized everyone.”

Theatre was not on Joel’s mind upon entering college at University of Wisconsin, Green Bay (UWGB). He planned to pursue visual arts with the possibility of becoming an art teacher. However, he found the path to be too solitary in nature. He was a collaborator at heart. That’s when theatre tugged at him, and he considered becoming an actor.

“I was one of the lucky ones. Someone told me early on (his freshman year) that I wasn’t a good enough actor,” Joel recalled. “But he recommended that I should look into design or directing.”

That was exactly what he did. And with UWGB being a smaller college, Joel described his experience as “getting to do a lot in his four years” to prepare him for the outside world. Then after college from 1990 to 1993, Joel worked for Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which he described as his “graduate school.” It was like being in a rigorous, practical mentorship.

“But the best way to find your personal artistic voice and approach–there are few invitations for anyone to do that–is to start your own company,” Joel advised. “So I spent years making my own work.” In 1994, he became co-founder and artistic director of Mary Worth Theatre Company in Minneapolis, where he directed, designed and adapted over 14 new works and devised imaginative reinterpretations of classic plays.

“I advise anyone thinking of going to graduate school to first do your own thing for at least three years to see if you can get something going. Find and develop your artistic voice and approach. Then you’ll no longer replicate your teachers. Your voice and approach mature over time, too. Continue to learn. There’s never something that you don’t know.”

NOTE: Look out for future posts regarding each of Joel Sass’ roles for Hamlet.

Free Spirit

Melanie Wehrmacher (Alice’s interloping sister, Diana) arrives on her motorcycle. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

“Diana is very unlike me,” Melanie Wehrmacher claims about her role as Alice’s free-spirited sister in Henry & Alice: Into the Wild, currently on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium stage. “For instance, stylistically I wear vintage sundresses and 1950s aprons; whereas, Diana wears leather and has tattoos. She’s also not much like characters I’ve played in the past, but I have known women like her. It’s fun to play someone who’s not like me but that I still understand.”

Melanie describes herself as more like Henry and Alice, who make life plans and compromises. In turn, what she admires most about Diana is how she goes against the grain of traditional, societal expectations.

“Diana can be frustrating and a pain in the ass, but she has not wavered in what she wants to do. She’s able to be in the moment and do what’s right for herself to be happy. She stays true to herself, willing to say, ‘No, I don’t want to do it that way–the way the world wants me to be.’ Diana is honest with herself despite being judged or looked down on for her choices. I love that about her!”

Melanie Wehrmacher as Diana with Carolyn Pool and John Middleton who play Alice and Henry
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Then as our conversation progresses, an interesting thing happens: the portrait that Melanie has painted of herself makes a radical shift. First, she reveals that she has a sister who’s an accountant, while she’s been the artsy one. As Melanie puts it, their relationship is “a less extreme version of Alice and Diana.” They’d moved in together for a spell in Minneapolis when her sister had left her small-town life in Iowa and Melanie had left her big-city life in New York, growing closer in understanding and further in conflict as a result.

Other details emerge: Melanie doesn’t remember a catalyst that sparked her passion to act. She’s simply always loved dress-up and playing with paper dolls. She also loved watching musicals, old movies and reruns of I Love Lucy. Though supportive of her interests, her parents thought she’d eventually grow out of them.

At home, the young Melanie made her parents watch her put on shows and perform musical numbers. She went on to act in community theater and high school plays. After getting her BFA at Drake University and additional training at the National Theatre Institute’s O’Neill Theatre Center, Melanie then moved to New York City. Despite a side interest in costuming and an opportunity to be a wardrobe assistant for a Broadway production, she never wavered in her pursuit to become a professional actor.

Melanie has had a prolific career in New York, the Twin Cities and regional theatre as well as in film/television and commercial work. She is immersed in “museum theatre,” writing and performing for institutions such as the Science Museum of Minnesota. She’s also written and performed full-length one-woman shows and writes a lot of sketch comedy. Melanie is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

The last time we saw Melanie at Park Square Theatre was in 2015 for a dramatic role in The Language Archive. In Henry & Alice, she lets loose with her comedic chops. This woman who doesn’t see herself as much like Diana seems, to me, to have a lot of Diana-like qualities, especially the courage to follow her own heart. Whether, in the process, she’s been frustrating and a pain in the ass . . . well, maybe her sister can tell us that.

Meet Eva Gemlo!

A new face you might see around Park Square is that of Eva Gemlo! As a ticketing associate, she’s among the few and the proud to play a part in one of the most vital facets of a theatre company. The one selling you your ticket is probably going to be the first face you see that evening, after all, and Eva will definitely leave you with a bright first impression. Not only does she have plenty of theatre experience, but really loves the administrative side of things, saying,

I’ve been lucky enough to work with A Red Orchid theatre down in Chicago where I had a very similar job… it’s very easy to work a job like this if you believe in what your ‘selling’.

A joy of theatre was built up in college. Eva attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where she majored in theatre with a minor in management. Going further back, the seeds of that joy can be found when she was one of thousands of local students to visit Park Square and revel in the experience of watching Of Mice and Men when she was in high school. Here she is now helping to continue that special thrill for many more students.

Eva considers herself rather fortunate to be able to blend her management and theatrical skills. A working actor, she’s been very busy performing the role of Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Zephyr Theatre while gearing up to play Ishmael in Theatre Coup D’Etat’s Moby Dick this November. When not performing, rehearsing, or working at Park Square she just likes to simply spend time with friends and family. Hey, who doesn’t? We at Park Square appreciate all her hard work and positive energy!


Pleasure! (Photos by Connie Shaver.)


Kit Mayer Just Wanted to Have Fun

Photo by Barbara Kelsey

All the action in Playwright Michele Riml’s Henry and Alice: Into the Wild happens on one set that is described at the very beginning of her script:

Lights up on a typical bare camping site. A picnic table, an old rim for a fire, a stump for chopping wood and some kindling are the only things on the site along with a couple of rocks and tree stumps. Overhanging the site is a large branch. 

When a set is so specifically defined, I wondered how the scenic designer approaches the project. For Park Square’s production of Henry and Alice, the set is designed by Kit Mayer.

According to Kit, in consultation with Director Mary Finnerty, he quickly established that he needed to design a highly realistic natural setting. That drove the rest of the decision-making process.

“I hadn’t done a highly realistic set with nature before, but it wasn’t that difficult to understand the space and the main elements needed to make it like a campground. Once we’d made the choice to go natural, it came down to finding what’s easily obtainable,” Kit said. “But we first had to determine where we would be and what kind of natural setting we wanted.”

Knowing that Michele Riml is a playwright from Vancouver British Columbia, an area with which Kit has familiarity, Kit pulled inspiration from that location. Doing so helped Kit to pinpoint what kind of trees to use that would be possible to acquire (making realistic fake trees would be too time-consuming and costly to do). Birch and pine trees are plentiful there so Kit selected birch.

Front view of Kit’s set model for Henry and Alice.

“We couldn’t go with pine trees. They’d dry out plus create a fire hazard,” Kit pointed out. “Birch trees–dead ones; we never chop down live trees–are easy to get. When I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska, we could go into the woods and drag them out.”

To get birch trees for Henry and Alice, Kit, who lives close to La Crosse, Wisconsin, simply kept his eyes open for dead birches in people’s yards as he varied his routes for a few weeks when driving to and from home. When he spotted dead birches, he’d knock on the homeowner’s door, offering to haul them away at no cost.

“Then I had to think about what to do with the floor. I ended up covering it with a ground cloth and throwing dirt, leaves, branches and other natural materials on it to create a sense of reality. And I just bought a fire ring and burned fires in my yard to age it and get it to look proper.”

Kit also has a background in lighting design that makes him able to keep in mind how to design a set to complement with lighting needs. He asks himself, “How would I like to see the set if I were the lighting designer? How can I help make the lighting more interesting and possibly easier?”

Finished set. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

For instance, Kit knows that having tree leaves will lend itself to patterned light to create that natural effect of sunlit leaves throwing shadows. Where he puts trees can also impact Lighting Designer Michael Kittel’s design for Henry and Alice; no trees should block key lights.

About his set design, Kit declared, “It was just fun to do.”

Having fun was also a huge factor in Kit accidentally stumbling into theatre arts. He hadn’t started college until his 20’s and did not want to end up with a desk job for work study. With his background in construction work, he was offered the chance to work in the Theatre Department, which to him “looked like the funnest place to work” so he accepted.

“I wasn’t a Theatre major,” Kit reflected, “but they sucked me in. They recommended a class to me in my first semester. Then they asked me to design a show in my second semester. I didn’t even know that such a career was possible, but I’d found my niche and enjoyed it. I got excited; and in my second year at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I became a Theatre major. I later got my MFA in Design and Technology from the University of Minnesota.”

In his long career as a scenic designer, Kit’s work has been seen nationally from Maine to Alaska but also internationally in Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. He is a designer and founding member of the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre in Alaska and the Resident Designer for Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minnesota. He has designed the sets for numerous Park Square productions throughout the years; and now, through October 22, you will get to see his latest endeavor in Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

Introducing Theatre Ambassador Mairi Johnson


When Mairi Johnson found out about Park Square Theatre’s Ambassadors Program, she leapt at the chance to learn more by showing up at an Ambassadors Bring-A-Friend Day despite not knowing any Ambassadors. She subsequently became an Ambassador during her junior year in Mounds View High School and will continue in her senior year as an Ambassador2.

“I’ve been doing theatre for as long as I can remember,” Mairi told me. “I love theatre and everything about it.”

Applicants to Park Square’s Theatre Ambassadors Program do enter with great enthusiasm for theatre but are not expected to know everything about it. They’ve actually come to learn more and gain a broader perspective about theatre from professional theatre artists, by delving deeply into plays and through peer discussions.

“It was such an amazing experience of community,” Mairi said about her first year in the Ambassadors Program. “Everyone was incredibly supportive. I got to work with awesome performers and artists. I learned what they had to say and brought them into my school. This was a new experience of being able to interact with so many people I wouldn’t otherwise have interacted with, from professionals to peers. It was cool to hear different perspectives.”

Mairi has noticed that she now sees shows with a “theatre eye.” She thinks more about a play’s internal workings. She pays attention to how each song is sung. She searches for symbolism on stage and wonders about the choices made in a production. This new awareness has resulted in more nuanced conversations about productions with family and friends as well as a broadened taste in genres.

“Watching The Liar with my mom at Park Square last season, I found added layers of meaning in the use of the two-dimensional set and flat props. When I brought my friends to see Macbeth on the Boss stage, we talked about all aspects of the play in the car on our way home, like the unique take on the witches. Seeing The Realistic Joneses changed my perspective on what I’d like to see from just musicals to everything on earth. Now, I can’t wait to see Dot on the Proscenium this season.”

As an Ambassador2, Mairi spent this summer contributing to Park Square by helping with the program and assisting various departments. In doing so, Ambassador2s get insight into what it takes to keep a theatre running through their wider exposure to the organization, which includes meaningful interactions with staff who talk to them about what they do and how they got there. They also read and discussed some scripts of upcoming plays at Park Square Theatre.

“Mary Finnerty (Park Square’s Education Director) brought back some of our feedback so we were able to impact the shows,” said Mairi. “We even got to sit in on the first production meeting for Henry and Alice: Into the Wild. It was cool to see how everyone bounced ideas off of each other.”

When they apply for the program, candidates are asked “What does theatre mean to you now?” so I wondered how Mairi’s answer may have changed, having completed a full year of the ambassadorship. Here’s what she had to say:

“I knew theatre was about community, but my view of that keeps expanding. I’m able to interact and understand others in theatre better; I’m able to put myself in someone else’s shoes. For instance, at first I was focused on being frustrated by the lack of a robust theatre program at my school, but now I see how theatre has built a community in my school. I had to reflect on how everyone is having fun together and is like a support group. At Park Square, meeting all the Ambassadors and hanging out with them–like our trips to Candyland–is not something I’ll forget. They’re like my production family. I’m excited to reconnect with some of the same members as an Ambassador2 but also to meet new Ambassadors coming into this program that’s changed me.”

Not all Ambassadors ultimately pursue a career in theatre, but Mairi’s experience in the program did deepen her commitment to the field, and she will start auditioning for BFA programs at colleges this winter. She retained her resolve to become an actor but now with fuller knowledge about other possible options.

When asked what’s been most memorable about being in the Ambassadors Program so far, Mairi specifically cited her meeting with singer/actor Ann Michels to garner advice and insights during Career Day for the Ambassadors, when each get one-on-one sessions with three professionals.

Then Mairi added, “But there’s been so many OMG moments!”

Her final verdict for Most Memorable in the Park Square Theatre Ambassadors Program: “The entire thing!”


ADDITIONAL FUN FACT: Mairi is Princess Birdie at the Minnesota Renaissance Faire, newly promoted from being a handmaiden in past years. As such, she’s a lead storyteller in the Princess Court. Drop by to listen to a story and say ,”Hi!”

NOTE: Read about the Theatre Ambassadors Program itself and another Ambassador’s experience in the past posts, “THE THEATRE AMBASSADORS PROGRAM: An Arts Leadership Program” and “Introducing Theatre Ambassador Greta Hallberg.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Laugh with Carolyn Pool

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

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

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

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

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


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

Introducing Theatre Ambassador Greta Hallberg

Theatre Ambassador Greta Hallberg
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

As Ambassadors, the students:

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like more information on our Theatre Ambassadors Program, contact Quinn Shadko at 651.291.9196 or

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