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Posts Tagged Adam Whisner

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!

 

The Curious Tech of the Watson Intelligence

When I was able to catch The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence at Park Square and I was struck by not just the themes of technological fluidity in our history, but how the show itself was able to convey those big ideas through the technical design. Lights, sounds and especially the costumes all worked together to thread a connection between the late 19th century and the new millennium. As technology is the main concept being driven home here, and specifically it’s relationship to humanity (i.e. personalities, communication, companionship) it was impressive to see how the tech elements of this show interacted with the humans on stage and in the seats. 

Beginning the show, the lights and sounds offer a feast for the senses, and then each scene transition proving to be just as entertaining as the action of the play. In fact, the show begins with a sound montage of various phone sounds such as historical voice recording messages and that ubiquitous “ding a ding a ding a ding” of the modern iPhone. In the dark of the house I listed to the laughs of nostalgia and recognition. Hand-in-hand with the audio landscape were the lights that portrayed shadows of turning gears, conjuring thoughts of a bygone industrial age. The coolest thing about the lights, I must say, were also during the transitions and those were the silhouettes of a man who may-or-may-not be Sherlock Holmes, forever calling on his blundering assistant, Watson. I could tell this was actor, Adam Whisner, back lit behind a screen and the effect was pretty captivating.

The backstage "Steampunk Fairies" of Sam Diekman and Rachel Lantow, get to join in on the fun with their own costumes.

The backstage “Steampunk Fairies” of Sam Diekman and Rachel Lantow, get to join in on the fun with their own costumes. Photo by Connie Shaver

 

Whenever the stage wasn’t shrouded in shadowy mechanics and abuzz with the sounds of telecommunications, we had the actors on stage to engage us in the story. Aiding them (and connecting the past to the present) were the costumes that invoked the imagery of steampunk. That is, the anachronistic blending of modern styles with the Victorian era. How fun it was to see ruffled shirts, ascots and waistcoats set against the backdrop of a modern apartment! This of course, was for the dramatic effect of being able to seamlessly transition from one century to the next. Making the transitions all the more imperceptible was the fact that rather than changing garb completely, the actors would layer their clothes how they needed. For example, the actor Kathryn Fumie started off in a nice, standard set of jeans, knee-high boots and a long-sleeved shirt/skirt. Well, over the course of the show I watched this base layer get both stripped away to the underwear and elaborated on with a wonderfully Victorian dress and hat. The boots were a great design idea because I realized they’re a fashion element that has always looked good!

Check out this more in-depth summary of steampunk, but knowing even a little is enough to enjoy the rich ideas offered up by the designers and my goodness, I almost forgot to mention the actual set of the play! Like boots, brick walls have been a staple of design for centuries and so it works here to reflect both time periods. Cleverly we know it’s the present day by the addition of a neon sign or fiber-optic paneling. Simply take them away and voila! You’re in 1876 before you can even say “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence”.

A great look at a scene that takes place in the 1920s. Just one of several time periods invoked throughout the play.

This play, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, is certainly a well-rounded play in terms of acting, directing and design. Owing to the technological themes of the script, however, warranted a blog solely dedicated to such aspects as applied to the show. Hopefully when you see it for yourself you can keep what I’ve said in mind, and find your own appreciation for the sensual feast you’re to encounter. 

 

Two Words

H. Adam Harris as Thomas A. Watson & Kathryn Fumie as Eliza, the radio interviewer (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

H. Adam Harris as Thomas A. Watson & Kathryn Fumie as Eliza, the radio interviewer
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The lines that stay with me in THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE are delivered by Thomas A. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory assistant, played by H. Adam Harris:

“If I may, this is significant. What my friend and mentor called out to me in that famous first sentence ever conveyed by wire was “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.’ It is often misquoted.” (Click here to listen to the account of the real  Thomas A. Watson.)

Watson tries hard to set the story straight for his radio interviewer, who has it incorrectly in her notes that Bell had said, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” However, she considers the misquote “a minor difference”; whereas Watson sees it as “a crucial one” for the following reason:

“The two words that seem to you a minor difference, to me spell the difference between a man calling out to an acquaintance for generalized assistance, and a man calling out to his intimate friend for a service only he can render.”

Watson had dedicated his life to helping Bell, an extraordinary act that could easily be judged by others as too unfairly selfless. After all, Bell got the fame as Watson fell into obscurity. But Watson sees that interpretation as “a gross mischaracterization. If I opened myself to my friend, he opened himself to me no less profoundly.” They’d developed a strong friendship built on shared vulnerability, commitment, respect and trust. They’d both gone into the relationship with eyes and hearts wide open; they both had each other’s backs.

I found myself pondering their powerful bond the other day as I monitored school groups during the intermission for The Diary of Anne Frank. Friendship is also a strong theme that runs through that play, and here I was watching hundreds of young people coming together to take it in.

It was in this uplifted mindset that I suddenly witnessed this scene: A small group of white girls standing by the stage and one girl a few steps above them. The apparent leader of the group yelled out to the lone girl, “Angela, come down here with us!”

I smiled at these welcoming words.

When Angela had not yet moved, the leader repeated more forcefully, “Hey, Stupid! Come down here with us!”

Two words added.  A crucial difference–the difference between friend and foe, invitation and threat.

Angela chose to return to her seat rather than join the girls, who were now giggling hysterically but also nervously, realizing that an usher had been a witness. Then the leader started a frenzied dance to shake off the moment, with some of her friends following suit.

THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE, playing on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage until April 30, is, as described by Director Leah Cooper, “really a play about making yourself vulnerable to love.” It is about opening ourselves to help and hurt as we navigate our way around forming mutually beneficial and meaningful human connections.

Very heartening to me is what Adam Whisner, who plays Merrick in curious case, had said about himself during our interview (see the April 2 post “Adam Whisner: The Two Merricks”): With age, he steadily becomes more of a Watson–that genuinely kinder, less self-interested and guarded person who lets more expansive and truer human bonds form.

I think about the girls and how they will choose to relate to others in the near future and as they continue to grow up. I hope for them to steadily develop the Watson intelligence, too. And I hope in doing so they will add two more words omitted from their vocabulary: “I’m sorry.”  The crucial difference between relationship and disconnection.

Adam Whisner: The Two Merricks

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 From April 7 to 30, Park Square Theatre features the area premiere of THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE on its Proscenium Stage. A 2014 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, playwright Madeleine George’s play is described by Park Square as a “brilliantly witty, time-jumping, loving tribute . . . to the people—and machines—upon which we depend.”

The following is an interview with actor Adam Whisner, who plays two passionate men–both named Merrick and both experiencing women troubles, but each in different time periods:

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

On the cover of the script, under the title, includes the descriptor, “a play about others.” What does that mean to you?

 There’s the person who gets the credit, and the other person who has their back. The other person made them coffee so they could keep working through the night. The other person held them as they sobbed after failed experiment #486. The other person loved them no matter what. We’re not all wired to be that person.

 In the context of this play, I think “the others” are the selfless, generous, compassionate companions. They’re the people we all want in our lives, and hopefully strive to be, when and if we’re ready to set ego aside and move from getting to giving. I think the kind of others this play highlights are evolved people, whether they know it or not. You’re either born as one, or you learn how to let go and become one. I think most “Watsons” aren’t entirely consciously aware that they are one. Similarly, the Elizas and Merricks of the world are barely conscious of their need for the Watsons, but it’s a desperate need. In my mid-40s, I’m pretty sure I’m an Eliza/Merrick, minus the brilliant scientist part, who is just starting to learn how to be a Watson.

 What is the biggest challenge for you in playing Merrick?

The lines! The Merricks have a lot to say, and I’ve always been a slow memorizer. The more complex challenge is making sure the Merricks are assholes for whom the audience has some compassion. The Merricks’ need for the Watsons is part of what humanizes them. The genius inventor who doesn’t know how to find love is still just a person who needs love. The divorcee running for office who wants to make the whole world a better place is still just a man suffering heartbreak in his little world. Assholes need love, too.

What led you to become an actor?

I was a precocious, sensitive, creative little kid, but always felt pressure to be something else, especially from stronger, tougher, sportier boys. My version of “I’ll show them” was acting in comedic lead roles in junior high school plays. After one of my first performances, I was in the lobby getting a drink from a water fountain as parents were milling about. I overheard one mother tell another that she hated school plays, that her daughter was terrible in them, and that she wished she’d stop doing them. My spirits sank. Then she said, “But that Adam Whisner kid should be on TV. He was hilarious.” I think I went up four hat sizes in that moment. My fate was sealed. Sometimes I think the only reason I’ve been able to make a full-time living as an actor is that I’ve believed I could since 1982.

What are you working on next?

I’m a company member of Wonderlust Productions, a theatre company that gathers personal stories from various communities in Minnesota and then invites those communities’ members to participate in creating plays based on their own stories. Participation includes being an actor or musician in the final production of the play alongside professional theatre artists. It’s not community theatre; it’s theatre for and by a community. We’ve done two full productions: The Veterans Play Project and The Adoption Play Project. Our next play, The Capitol Play Project, will focus on the folks who work at the Minnesota State Capitol who aren’t politicians and will be performed in the state capitol building itself in early 2018. I may wind up in another production before then if it falls in my lap. I don’t audition often enough. 

Photo by Connie Shaver

Photo by Connie Shaver

Adam’s cast background:

Park Square Wonderlust Productions’ Six Characters in Search of an Author Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater/Workhaus Collective: Little Eyes; Wonderlust Productions: Veteran’s Play Project, Adoption Play Project; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Crowd You’re in With, An Ideal Husband; Theatre Pro Rata: The Woodsman; Loudmouth Collective: A Bright New Boise, Gruesome Playground Injuries; Gremlin Theatre: Burn This; Commonweal Theatre: The Rainmaker; Alan Berks & Company: #Ringtone; Hidden Theatre: This Is Our Youth Training B.A., Theatre Arts, University of Iowa; Actors Theatre of Louisville Acting Apprentice Co. Accolades City Pages Best Actor 2016; Lavender Magazine Crème de la Crème Performances 2015

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