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Posts Tagged A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun: It Feels Personal

Walter Lee Younger (Darius Dotch) yearns to fulfill his dream.
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Watching  Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun feels very personal to me. It reminds me of my own immigrant family’s struggle to get a foothold in America. Survival meant starting over with menial jobs, with the hope of rising to something better. The something better came as a better-paying job for my father and, finally from years of saving every last dime possible, a starter home in a suburb with good schools. Imagine then what it was like to be the first Chinese family on our suburban block and what it meant to stay and stand our ground.

Lena Younger receives the $10,000 life insurance payment after her husband’s death as Ruth and Travis Younger (Ivory Doublette & Calvin Zimmerman) look on.
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

In the play, three generations of an African American family, the Youngers, live under one roof in a cramped, rundown apartment in 1950s Chicago. When matriarch Lena receives a $10,000 life insurance payment after her husband’s death, the family gets the chance to fulfill some lifelong dreams, including homeownership in a better neighborhood. Imagine then what it will be like for them to be the first black family in the all-white neighborhood of Clybourne Park.

Karl Lindner (Robert Gardner) from the Clybourne Park neighborhood association (aka “The Welcoming Committee”) visits with Ruth and Walter Lee Younger (Ivory Doublette & Darius Dotch).
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Watching A Raisin in the Sun feels very personal to me. It reminds me of my own immigrant family’s struggle to get a foothold in America. What do you think that felt like? Try this: Imagine looking out the window to see a group of teenage boys surrounding your father when he comes home from work. Imagine the deep dents in your front door from surprise rock-throwing attacks. Imagine the sound of pebbles skimming across your living room window that may or may not break at any moment. Imagine disgusting objects being tossed into your backyard. Imagine the derogatory remarks from police officers who you know will not protect you.

In the play, three generations of an African American family, the Youngers, plan to finally live under one roof in their very own house, realizing what they will face–how unwelcomed they will be. Imagine what it’s like to fight for dignity as one dreams of something better in a society that devalues you. Can you imagine what it takes to stand your ground?

 

NOTE: Tickets for A Raisin in the Sun are very limited. More information here.

 

Ivory Doublette and Ruth Younger: Two Harmonizers

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun features three strong female roles, one of which is portrayed by actor Ivory Doublette. Here is Ivory to talk about playing Ruth, the wife of Walter Lee, and her own performance background:

 

1. What has your relationship been to A Raisin in the Sun prior to getting cast as Ruth in Park Square’s production?

I have never had the privilege (until now!) of performing A Raisin in the Sun so this is extra special for me! When I first read the play in high school, I could not believe how real the characters and story was. My family is from Chicago and my dad was born and raised on the South Side so I felt a special connection with the story after reading this play. It is an honor to bring this story to audiences today.

 

2. What do you think about Ruth?

I absolutely adore and understand Ruth Younger. Even though I have never been married, I have years of experience watching black men and women love each other. I truly believe Ruth is a peacemaker and lover, but she is willing to fight for all that she loves! Ruth reminds me so much of all three of my grandmothers. They loved their families through hardships and pain. Because of them, I am able to live a life I love!

 

L to R: Derek “Duck” Washington as Bobo, Darius Dotch as Walter Lee and Ivory Doublette as Ruth
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

3. You have an extensive music background. What made you decide to pursue acting rather than go strictly towards a music focus?

It took me a while to understand that a traditional music education was not for me. I am not a classically trained musician; and because of that, I faced a lot of road blocks when I tried to study music in college. Music has been a large part of my life for my entire life, and I am grateful for the education I received from my mother, grandmother and church. I finally came to understand that it was more important for me to dive into theater training and education because acting was a new addition to my life!

 

4. How did your family singing group, the SeVy Gospel Quartet, form? 

SeVy started while I was growing up in Anchorage, Alaska. My mom, Robin, who is a choir director, tried to figure out a way to keep her three very talkative daughters occupied so she taught us to sing. At first, it was a one-by-one thing; and then when we were all able to speak, she began teaching my sisters and me to sing in harmony. Once she realized we could quickly pick up songs and, in particular, harmonies to songs, we had to start hiding from her. Otherwise, she was constantly making us sing! I am thankful for that training now.

 

Tickets and information on A Raisin in the Sun here

Imani Vaughn-Jones, A Woman Who Acts

In Park Square’s production of A Raisin in the Sun, Imani Vaughn-Jones plays the spirited and outspoken Beneatha, the middle child and only daughter in the Younger family. Here is Imani to tell us about her role and share a bit about herself: 

I was just reading aloud one of author Grace Lin’s books to my daughter, where a character points out the difference between making resolutions and wishes. The former actively empowers one to do something to reach a goal (“I am going to start a magazine.”); whereas, the latter suggests a passive wait for fulfillment from an external source (“I wish for a million dollars.”). That made me think of Beneatha and you. What went through your mind when you were offered the role of Beneatha?

First of all, I could not believe I was offered the role of Beneatha. I believe I had great auditions, but I felt strange after my final callback and remembered going home that day thinking, “Well, I didn’t get that. And that’s okay.” So my initial response to being offered the role was disbelief. My next response was “Here we go.”

A Raisin in the Sun is such an important show to me. It was the first play I read where I saw my life and my family reflected on the page. The characters said things I’d heard my own family say all my life. The first time I read this play, it felt like home.

As soon as I realized that I was being given the privilege to bring such an important piece of art to life, I was in go mode. I knew that we had a short rehearsal process so preparedness was going to be essential to make everything run smoothly. We had two weeks to put a family together so I did as much as I could beforehand to make sure that our process was as smooth as possible.

 

Imani Vaughn-Jones as Beneatha
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What is most challenging about playing Beneatha?

Beneatha is so young. It’s funny for me to say that because we’re so close in age; but when it comes to life experience and maturity, there is an age gap between us.

Twenty is such a freaking confusing age! You’re an adult becoming. If you reflect ten years back, you have memories about the thick of your childhood. When you look ten years into the future, you’re a full-fledged adult. There is so much discovery and coming into one’s own that happens at 20.

A big challenge of Beneatha has been playing with that gray area of adulthood that is your 20’s. Honoring her womanhood and her strength, but also playing with her youth, her naiveté and her insecurities as she navigates what the world currently is but also what it could be.

 

What led you to become an actor, and what has that journey been like?

I’ve always been a creative. When I was child, I always knew that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Back then, I didn’t know what kind of art; I just knew that I wanted to make art for a living. I acted all through middle school and high school, and I loved it; but I don’t think I really understood the sheer power of the arts.

Imani Vaughn-Jones as Beneatha and Darius Dotch as Walter Lee
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

It was when I was a junior in high school that I realized I actually had to do this for a living. I was in a production of A Piece of My Heart, a show about five women overseas in the Vietnam war. I had also just been rejected from a performing arts high school I’d applied to for my senior year. I was heartbroken and shaken about my capabilities, but the show had to go on.

On opening night, we had so many veterans in the audience. The show ends with the unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall; and from the stage, we could all hear the audience weeping along with us. After the show, while thanking audience members in the lobby, an elderly woman came up to me and shook my hand. She told me that her husband had left for Vietnam and never made it back. She wanted to thank me for putting his story on stage and giving her a little bit of insight into what he was going through over there.

I wept like a baby that night. Her words, along with the words of so many other veterans and families of veterans who saw that show, have always stuck with me. That was the night I realized I wasn’t just “playing pretend.” I could actually change lives with acting. I could mend hearts, give closure or at least just provide an escape. There was no longer any question. I had to be an actor.

From there, it’s been a fairly direct upshot. When I set a goal, the only thing that can keep me from achieving it is either my depression or the Devil himself. Personally, I’m convinced they’re one and the same.

I decided that my future included training with the Guthrie and the U, so that’s the only school where I applied and auditioned. I got in, I got what I needed, and I jumped head first into the Twin Cities theatre community. This is what I’m meant to do, and I’ll keep doing it until I no longer feel that’s true.

 

4. Why did you decide to leave the University of Minnesota/Guthrie theatre program?

This question has a deeply layered answer; and if I answer it in full, we will be here for quite some time. So for the sake of length, I’ll give one major reason: The way we currently categorize theatre is outdated. What I didn’t realize when I signed up for a classical actor training program was that “classical” is synonymous with “white,” and most of the time, “male.” I think we need to seriously reconsider what we label “classics.” Who wrote them and, more importantly, who said they were the gold standard? As it currently stands, theatre and European art history are basically synonymous; and that’s just incorrect. I believe that we need to very seriously reassess what we call the classical canon.

To me, Raisin is a classic. Playwrights like August Wilson and Suzan Lori-Parks are champions and bricklayers in American theater, yet so many people still don’t know their names or can’t name more than one play by each. I became disenchanted with studying a system that I believe needs serious renovation. So I left.

 

5. You are the Founder and Editor in Chief of the digital magazine Super Dope&Extra Lit. Can you tell me how it all got started or anything else you’re willing to share?

Oh, sweet SDEL. Super Dope&Extra Lit was something I wanted to do for a while. This actually relates to what you mentioned in your first question: the difference between resolutions and wishes.

I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world, and I’ve always wanted to empower people of color. That’s always been my wish. My life’s work has been figuring out how I was going to do that. SDEL ended up being the answer.

I wanted a new medium for people of color. I grew up reading Ebony and JET, and I loved them. Unfortunately, today they’re outdated. I wanted to create the next generation of those magazines but with an unapologetic tone. As much as I love our predecessors, they had an air of assimilationism to them. SDEL lacks that completely. There is no attempt to censor ourselves so that we’re more palatable to the mainstream. SDEL manages to be both raunchy and educated, and that’s what I love about it.

I crowdfunded some money, spent a lot of my own and grabbed some friends who shared the vision. Within two months, we had launched something that very quickly became a wave.

I think that’s so important. The balance of wishes and resolutions. They need each other. Your wishes need resolutions behind them in order to make them come true. Your resolutions must be motivated by wishes; otherwise, you have nothing you’re working towards. I really do think they’re equals.

When you think about your future, you should be able to answer how you’re going to achieve it. On the same hand, when you look at what you’re doing, you should know what you’re doing it for. Wishes without action are nothing but dreams. Action without passion is aimless. They need each other. And funny enough, I think that’s something that this play explores a lot.

 

Learn more about Super Dope& Extra Lit here.

Tickets and information for A Raisin in the Sun here.

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.

Theatre Can Save Your Life

 

Cast of Dot on Stage in livingroom with Christmas Tree

L to R: Michael Hanna (Adam), Ricardo Beaird (Donnie), Cynthia Jones-Taylor (Dotty), Maxwell Collyard (Fidel) and Yvette Garnier (Shelly) in DOT
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

“It’s a cheesy thing to say, but theatre saved my life.”

What actor Ricardo Beaird, who plays Dotty’s son in DOT, claims is likely not the first time that theatre has done that for someone, particularly someone younger. At 16, Ricardo was at the brink of failing and repeating a grade in school. Serendipity came in the form of a teaching artist, visiting to teach his class Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“I couldn’t understand it at all, but the artist took the time to help me decode it. I came to understand it so much that I could make others understand it, too. I then realized that I could use that same model–decoding to fit my way of learning and being able to explain to someone else–for other subjects, like math. I ended up becoming an A student!”

Donnie and Shelly in the kitchen

Ricardo Beaird (Donnie) and Yvette Ganier (Shelly) in DOT
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

According to Ricardo, he’d “felt dumb at the time.” Now he himself is gratifyingly also a teaching artist, with the additional perk of lifelong learning through theatre from his own stage work. After earning a B.S. in Theatre and Marketing from Middle Tennessee State University, what initially brought Ricardo to the Twin Cities in 2013 was an Actor-Educator position with CLIMB Theatre in Inver Grove Heights. Once the job ended, he stayed rather than moving to Chicago as originally planned due to our thriving and hospitable theatre community.

DOT is Ricardo’s second time on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage. His first time was in another family comedy/drama, Sons of the Prophet, during our 2015-2016 season. From June 15 to August 5, 2018, he will also be in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Park Square Theatre.

 


ALSO, YOU CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR EDUCATION PROGRAM (including upcoming productions of A Raisin in the Sun and The Pirates of PenzanceHERE

Personal Highlights of the Past Season

The Diary of Anne Frank at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018 - Actors playing Anne Frank & Father

It has been 75 years since Anne Frank was given a diary by her father. The Diary of Anne Frank remains a perennial favorite of school groups. This coming season, limited evening performances will also be available. (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Always, the Education Program

Park Square takes great pride in its Education Program for good reasons. It’s a powerfully transformative program, not just for its effect on its young audiences but also as an inspiration within our own organization. Mindfully created and led by the incomparable Mary Finnerty since 1994, the Education Program has often served as first exposure of professional theatre to young audiences. But you can see how it’s much more than that in such defining moments as when the lightbulb of understanding lit up for a student while Sulia Rose Altenberg, who played Anne Frank, answered his question as to why the Jews didn’t simply pretend to be Christians or the teacher of a Somali group explained that they came to be exposed to a broader community. Our Education Program provides a safe venue for our young patrons to grapple with self-discovery, self-definition and social interconnectedness. It has also been a catalyst for Park Square to consider those very same issues within its own walls. Impactful is only one adjective that best describes “The Program That Mary Built” (see the August 16, 2016, blog post).

A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018

A Raisin in the Sun knocked our socks off and will be back for another season by popular demand. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Staying In the Thick of It

Park Square Theatre, with its long-held reputation as a white mainstream institution, has had to do much organizational soul-searching to embrace change. Is having to grapple with equity, diversity and inclusion a long and messy process? Does building trust feel hard-won or, more aptly, simply hard? Do they sometimes get things wrong (and, of course, right)? Have they kept forging ahead? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Mu Performing Arts co-produced Flower Drum Song with Park Square Theatre and returns with another production in the upcoming season.

The Independents

Collaborations with smaller independent companies through its co-production of Flower Drum Song with Mu Performing Arts and productions by its Theatres in Residence–Sandbox Theatre, Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions–broadened the season’s scope. I loved the “one-stop shop” to be able to try out new companies and see what they’re all about. Look forward to French Twist by Flying Foot Forum and the return of Mu Performing Arts for A Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity in our upcoming season.

H. Adam Harris and Kathryn Fumie in this past season’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

Having been one of the volunteer script readers to consider this complex, time-jumping, contemporary play for production, it was exciting to see it finally come to fruition on stage. The thumbs up on the script was actually a tough call, surmising its challenge for audiences to grasp–both its pro and con. The play really made me think about the state of human relationships in our techno-world. Did it do the same for you? It also had one of the most beautiful sets ever by Set Designer Lance Brockman and moving performances by actors Kathryn Fumie, Adam Whisner and H. Adam Harris in roles that let their own true souls shine through their fictional facades. Hope you were there! Note: Contact John White, Literary Management Volunteer (white@Parksquaretheatre.org), to discuss your interest to become a volunteer script reader.

Jamil Jude with Hope Cervantes, who was in this past season’s The House on Mango Street
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude, Park Square’s former Artistic Programming Associate

When Jamil had just been on board for several months, someone asked me, “Do you even know what he does here?” Guess what a young man with an expansive heart and the passion to build bridges and break down walls has done within his relatively short time in the Twin Cities community? Break a leg at your new gig in Atlanta! (Refer to past blogs “Jamil Jude, Artist Plus,” “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?” and “Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You.”)

The Conversations That Became Real

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

In an industry that endlessly tries to grab a piece of you, remaining guarded is an act of self-care and self-preservation. You’re constantly navigating the minefields of others’ self-interests and being put in compromising situations. Who do you want to be in those circumstances? Who must you become? Who are you really? Whenever you get a glimpse into a theatre professional’s inner humanity, it’s a golden moment for sure! Theatre professionals rock!

Vincent HannamMy Fellow Bloggers

Getting Eric “Pogi” Sumangil on the team for this past season and blogging for another year with the wholehearted Vincent Hannam were awesome, to say the least. As the only blogger without a theatre background and career, following these two’s works online and onstage served as terrific learning tools. Each of us wrote around complex schedules due to multiple gigs and personal responsibilities. Thanks for being there!

 

A Hope for Peace

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter's school  (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter’s school
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Yesterday afternoon, I was a proud parent at Mixed Blood Theater, watching the play Migra, written by the 7/8th grade students of my daughter’s school. In the program, the Notes from Artistic Director (the English Language Arts instructor) explained:

This play marks the end of a semester of exploration for the students. We began the semester asking the question, “Who walked this land before me?….We followed that question with, “If my people weren’t Native American, when, how, and why did they arrive here?” Rather than a genealogical study, the exploration looked to literature, art, film, and nonfiction from the countries of students’ ancestral origins and reflected informally in journals and conversations as well as formally in essays. Students considered the past and the present and contemplated the impact of immigration and ancestry on their present day realities. Some students had not thought much about their ancestors, others had vast knowledge, and some had no choice but to constantly be considering their ancestry. While presidential race debates discussed current issues including immigration viewpoints, and our own city experienced the tragic loss of Philando Castille, these topics made their way into the students’ writing, and ultimately into Migra….The views expressed in the play are not intended to represent the ideals of the school as a whole, or for that matter be directive, but they are, like all good theatre, an attempt to encourage the viewer: to question, to discuss, and to feel joy, disgust, fear, and passion. We hope that you take away the beauty of the adolescent mind–and the power of talking about all things sour and sweet, just as these brave individuals show us is possible.

Then in the evening, I attended the second of a three-series talk on the African-American experience by Macalester Professor Duchess Harris, co-author of two books for 6th to 12th graders, Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA (Hidden Heroes) and Black Lives Matter (Special Reports).  These have been in-depth talks followed by audience Q&A, finally shedding light on hidden American history and its overlooked impact on America’s past and present. Notable about these events, which are open and free to the public at Roseville Public Library (final talk is on Thursday, February 2, at 7 pm), is that the room is packed with people hungry for a broadened perspective and an honest start of a dialogue about their and our narratives as Americans.

Hidden Human Computers: Duchess Harris on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/195655453

Recently Park Square Theatre drew a crowd to the commemoration of The Ghostlight Project. This is an effort by theatres throughout the country to, according to Randy Reyes, Mu Performing Arts Director as well as a national steering committee member of the project, declare our theatres as “brave spaces where all are welcome to be who they are and engage in debate and dissent–and leave inspired to take action….Together, we will create light for those who need it most and pledge ourselves to work that honors all and celebrates the unconquerable human spirit.”

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Soon Park Square Theatre will also participate in the Coffee Sleeves Conversation Project with Coffee House Press, an internationally renowned independent publishing company and arts nonprofit in Minneapolis. Through its Books in Action programming, they have designed a unique way to create community discussions on race and the arts at local coffee shops and our theatre.

And as a parent, I am also proud of the fact that Park Square Theatre has a robust Education Program that opens the door to meaningful dialogue amongst our young people, many of whom are first-time theatre attendees. For instance, our on-line study guide for Flower Drum Song, currently on our Proscenium Stage until February 19, offers activities and resources for classrooms to consider “Stereotypes: Real, Perceived, or Debunked?,” “Charting the Immigrant Experience” and much more. For A Raisin in the Sun, which will return by popular demand next season, they did not shirk from topics of redlining and white privilege. Park Square’s study guides are, as our website describes, mindfully “created for teachers by teachers to introduce students to the world of the play” and, by extension, share and broaden their view of the world around them.

Educators met during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Educators volunteered their time during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Today we see arts funding once again coming under attack. But I wonder, as I go to a variety of venues and events featuring writers, actors, dancers, visual arts, students, etc.–often trying to be as financially and publicly accessible as possible for its creators and audiences, do people overall actually support this push? Do they truly not believe in the value of the arts in society? Or, this time, are they grateful for the arts but being fed, once again, the message that adequate arts funding is superfluous to the well-being of our communities? Is it a message that comes from the expansive Heart, or from some place much smaller?

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio (Photo by Bob Schmitt)

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio, who’d created a logo for Theatre Mu, before it became Mu Performing Arts
(Photo by Bob Schmitt)

Theatre for You

Just last month, we were celebrating Thanksgiving, a special day connected to the Mayflower immigrants whose survival was aided by the native Wampanoag people.

banner-soul-of-gershwin-960x480

Now we are into December and, at Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage, we celebrate the holiday season with music composed by George Gershwin, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, who significantly influenced the American musical landscape. There’s a good reason why his tunes are included in the Great American Songbook.

banner-flowerdrumsong-960x480-11-14

From January to February, Flower Drum Song, a collaboration between Park Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts, will be featured on the Proscenium Stage. Based on David Henry Hwang’s version that won a Tony Award in 2003, the musical explores Asian-American identity through the lens of the Chinese immigrant story.

banner-raisin-960x356-11-23

Currently, A Raisin in the Sun continues to be performed on the Boss Thrust Stage until December 22 as daytime matinees for school groups and general public. The play centers on the dreams and struggles of a family descended from African slaves–those relocated to America against their will. Its audiences have included student groups with Somali and Hmong immigrants, both here in America to escape from the ravages of war, the latter endangered in their homeland for aiding America during the Vietnam War.

At Park Square Theatre, staff and audiences are made up of descendants of the at-some-point hated Irish, Jewish, German, Japanese, Swedish, Chinese, Italian, Mexican–the list goes on–immigrants who have claimed America as their beloved home. We ARE America, gathered together to make or behold some truly great American stories unfold on our stages.

You are warmly invited to Park Square Theatre, where we create theatre for you. (yes you.) and share stories to foster discourse and better mutual understanding. Bring your curiosity, and come with open hearts.

Hope and Inspiration

One cannot help but be reflective after Election Day, and one thing that I’ve been thinking about is the role of theatre arts in society as a source of hope and inspiration.

In my work at Park Square Theatre, both as blogger and daytime usher, I get to witness firsthand some of the dynamic changes occurring within the Minnesota scene as Elders begin to hand off responsibilities to a younger generation, as organizations soul-search on how to remain relevant to their audiences and as they ever strive to fulfill their missions–all while trying to stay financially afloat to be able to come back to do it all over again season after season. What I have discovered is that a theatre is a place of service, and those who work in one are more likely than not following a calling. The theatre “bug” is not foremost a pursuit of fame and fortune (though the latter would be a welcomed help) but a dedication by those involved to work for the greater social good.

While at Park Square Theatre, I get to brush shoulders with living Minnesota theatre history–the people who have been the shakers-and-movers of Twin Cities theatre for decades, not much in the limelight but still tirelessly dedicated to bringing quality live theatre to you from behind the scenes. To name just a few, there are Artistic Director Richard Cook, who co-founded and built up Park Square’s stature in its Saint Paul community; Education Director Mary Finnerty, who created what is likely the strongest theatre education program for middle- and high-school students in the state; photographer Petronella J. Ytsma, who can tell you photoshoot stories that span the change of photo-technology; and newly hired Group Sales & Community Engagement Manager Linda Twiss, who has likely, unbeknownst to you, already touched some aspect of your theater-going experience in Minnesota through the years.

Then there are our Future–the younger generation who also carry on the vision and mission. In my two seasons at Park Square Theatre, I have watched House Manager Amanda Lammert rise to Audience Services Director and, as such, clear the path for  millennials, such as Jiffy Kunik to become Performance Supervisor, Adrian Larkin to become Lead House Manager and Ben Cook-Feltz to become Ticket Office Supervisor. Our stage managers, such as Jamie Kranz, Megan Dougherty, Laura Topham and Lyndsey Harter, tend to be young female leaders with sure hands on each production that they oversee. My own fellow blogger, Vincent Hannam, is so clearly a Student of Life through Theatre; I get to see him grow not just as a theatre artist but as a wholehearted human being as I blog alongside him. And I have interviewed so many up-and-coming theatre professionals, from actors to designers, working with such intensity and creativity in their chosen fields. To be amongst such passionate young people, committed to theatre as a social cause is a constant source of hope and inspiration.

Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

A scene from A Raisin in the Sun (Photo by Connie Shaver)

And this fall I am witnessing the fruits of the prior year’s labor to carefully select this season’s plays, culled from suggestions by theatre professionals, theatre goers and volunteer script readers–all committed to fulfilling Park Square Theatre’s mission. The whole process is a mixture of intentionality and serendipity, resulting in a breathtaking season of anticipation and high hopes that we got it right. This season, we started out with The Liar and The Realistic Joneses, both in their own ways guiding us to what is true and real. Then came The House on Mango Street and currently A Raisin in the Sun, both uplifting the human spirit in the face of adversity. In December, we look forward to The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, a style of music brought to us by Jewish immigrants.

Park Square Theatre’s mission is “to enrich our community by producing and presenting exceptional live theatre that touches the heart, engages the mind, and delights the spirit.” It is theatre in service to the common good and, by extension, a source of hope and inspiration. To all.

Note: We have a very limited number of tickets available for A Raisin in the Sun evening and weekend performances through November 20. But you may now purchase tickets for weekday student matinee performances through December 22. (You would be watching the play with school groups.) Student matinee tickets cost just $25.

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Tickets for The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer evening and weekend performances are available through December 31.

To order, call 651.291.7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.

The Real Life Younger Family of Minneapolis

I recently came across a piece from MPR News entitled, “Event Remembers Black Family Terrorized in South Minneapolis.” Tenderly, I read on.

The article told a short but powerful story about a couple named Arthur and Edith Lee who were among the first African Americans to move into south Minneapolis in 1931, along with their young daughter. What happened next was what you could imagine, even more so if you’re familiar with A Raisin in the Sun. The backlash from white residents was immediate and harsh – The Minneapolis Journal reported that a mob of 1,000  people surrounded the house and pelted it with rocks.

Of course this isn’t a play, but real life history from our Twin Cities. There’s no way to know if Lorraine Hansberry knew of this particular incident but she was undoubtedly aware of similar stories from Northern communities – her own in Chicago for instance. In a sad irony, freedom-searching blacks from the South ran into a buzzsaw of prejudice in the Northern cities in which they sought refuge.

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Edith and Arthur Lee

“Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country. I came out here to make this house my home. I have a right to establish a home.” – Arthur Lee July 16, 1931

This is known as the Great Migration and it lasted from 1910-1970, irrevocably shaking up the country’s demographics. Over that period, six million African Americans fled the South and moved into cities such as Chicago, New York (especially Harlem), Milwaukee and Minneapolis. If you think the homogeneity in Minnesota is extreme now, imagine what it was like at the start of the 20th century when nine out of every 10 black Americans lived in the South. The Lees, like their fictional counterparts in the Youngers, were victims of this social upheaval.

Bringing it back to the original MPR article, however, we are given hope in our modern world that a kind of solace can be attained even if we can’t change the past.

The Lee family stood their ground in south Minneapolis for a year-and-a-half before deciding to move. Eighty years later, in 2011, the current owner of the home allowed a small statue to be erected in the yard to commemorate the family and then in 2014, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s located at 4600 Columbus Ave., and I for one am going to seek out this extremely important piece of history. I’d also highly recommend checking out the articles below for further reading.

NOTE: we have opened up tickets for purchase for our weekday morning student matinees through Dec 22. Tickets are just $25. Call 651.291.7005 or order at parksquaretheatre.org

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Randolph, Toni. “Event Remembers Black Family Terrorized in South Minneapolis.” The Cities: Notes on the News from the Twin Cities, MPR News, 15 July 2011, http://blogs.mprnews.org/cities/2011/07/event-remembers-black-family-terrorized-in-south-minneapolis/

Elliot, Paige. “House in South Minneapolis Added to National Register of Historic Places.” Twin Cities Daily Planet, 25 July 2014, http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/arthur-lee-monument-goes-national/

“Great Migration.” History.com, 2010
http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration

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