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To Be!

Kory LaQuess Pullam as Hamlet (Photo by Amy Anderson)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rehearsing on the Proscenium Stage
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kory LaQuess Pullam: Rooting for the Underdogs

In Girl Friday’s production of Idiot’s Delight at Park Square Theatre running through July 23, Kory LaQuess Pullam plays Quillery, a French socialist who pays a high price for speaking truth to power. In an uncertain world at the brink of war, Quillery serves as a moral compass.

What drew Kory to want to be in Idiot’s Delight was the opportunity to work with the highly regarded Girl Friday Productions and the Ivey-winning director of the play, Craig Johnson. He also wanted to be in an artistically collaborative endeavor that promotes growth for all involved. This required an honest self-appraisal as to what he himself could bring to the table as part of the eclectic group of talented artists in the show.

“I’m also drawn to a relevant story that speaks to society and has meaning to an audience,” Kory said. “The themes of Idiot’s Delight reflect what’s going on today. The growing reality of a world war and global tensions drew me in.”

Some of the cast members of Idiot’s Delight
(photo by Richard Fleischman)

Kory looks to play characters who mean something to him or intrigue him. Sometimes that is “someone I can see myself in but not be”–someone like Quillery.

“Quillery cares deeply about politics and standing up for what’s right,” said Kory. “But he’s extreme in how he goes about what he wants and cares about.”

Kory himself is more even-keeled but would not stand by either if he sees a need to act upon a situation.  “I’m reserved until I see the need to be outspoken,” Kory said. ” I won’t shy away from tough conversations in matters of right and wrong. I have Quillery’s passion for what I believe is right and doing for my community.”

It is this very passion that led Kory to be a founder of two groundbreaking arts entities in the Twin Cities: Blackout Improv and Underdog Theatre. The former is the Twin Cities’ first ever all black improv group with a goal “to create comedic dialogue around serious truths,” not only through performances but also via educational workshops in schools, nonprofits and corporations. The latter’s mission is “to create art for the underserved, underrepresented and unheard,” with an inaugural production of Baltimore is Burning this past fall and the upcoming Odd Man Out in this summer’s Minnesota Fringe Festival. Both plays, written by Kory, hit on hard truths about being Black in America.

Like his character in Idiot’s Delight, Kory is not one to tiptoe around “an elephant in the room.” As such, no doubt he’ll be someone to look out for as part of a new generation of compelling theatre artists in our midst.

Jamil Jude, Artist Plus

Since December 2015, Jamil Jude has served as Park Square Theatre’s Artistic Programming Associate. As such, he is mentored by Artistic Director Richard Cook through the Leadership U[niversity] – One-on-One Program to foster the professional development of early-career, rising leaders of theatre. Jamil was only one of six exceptionally talented applicants awarded such a mentorship by Theatre Communications Group, the national organization formed to strengthen, nurture and promote professional nonprofit American theatre.

Jamil Jude with Alix Kendall on The BUZZ - Fox 9 to promote Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre until March 5 (photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude with Alix Kendall on The BUZZ – Fox 9 to promote Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre through March 5th
(photo by Connie Shaver)

While Jamil may be most visible to our audiences as the facilitator for post-show discussions, such as the upcoming Sunday, February 19, Musings for Nina Simone: Four Women or most recently as a promoter of Nina on Fox 9 with Alix Kendall, his work at Park Square, Jamil explained, “is really focused on advancing our broader inclusivity goals.”

“Richard began the work by expanding Park Square’s repertoire–the stories we tell and the artists who tell them,” Jamil elaborated. “I’ve been lucky enough to assist in that effort, retooling our process of identifying plays and artists, introducing new systems meant to streamline our production process and being another set of artistic eyes as plays move towards the stage. It’s amazing to witness a theatre like Park Square in this part of its growth.”

Over 40 years later, Park Square Theatre remains a work in progress, an organization in dynamic change to, as Jamil describes, “develop a deeper understanding of its place in the community and how to respond to the needs, wants and aesthetic desires of said community. To play a small part in that is a humbling experience.”

Jamil Jude, "Artist Plus" (photo by Farrington Llewellyn)

Jamil Jude, “Artist Plus”
(photo by Farrington Llewellyn)

Work in progress is also an apt description for Jamil Jude himself. He, too, continually  examines his purpose and relevance as an artist. Self-defined as an “Artist Plus,” he works as a freelance director, producer, playwright, dramaturg, speaker or whatever role needed to pursue an artistic vision. That vision is, more often than not, in service to social justice. He has, in fact, more specifically described himself as a “social justice based art maker dedicated to building communities, bringing new communities to the arts and to using the arts as a means to eliminate artificial barriers that society imposes.”

Besides Park Square Theatre, Jamil has been involved in various ways with other theatre organizations throughout the Twin Cities, including Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Children’s Theatre Company, Guthrie Theater, Daleko Arts, Theatre in the Round, Minnesota Fringe Festival and more. He is also a co-producer of The New Griots Festival, dedicated to promoting the work of the next generation of Twin Cities black artists across disciplines (visual, performing, literary, etc.).

Also fitting is that Jamil recently directed Baltimore is Burning, a new play about the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. It was the inaugural production for the promising new theatre company Underdog Theatre, which “creates art for the underserved, underrepresented, and unheard,” and satisfyingly garnered good reviews. Kory LaQuess Pullam, who has graced Park Square’s stages, is its playwright and the founding artistic director of Underdog.

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude (photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

Dear to Jamil’s heart is his latest project, directing The Highwaymen, a new play based on research that Jamil and playwright Josh Wilder did on the destruction of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood in the 1960s to make way for I-94. The demolition of that thriving, predominantly black community echoed similar occurrences throughout the nation to make way for progress on the backs of people of color. Josh dedicated The Highwaymen, which runs through February 26 at the History Theatre in St. Paul, to “the memories we step on and the lives we drive over.”

In November 2015, Jamil was listed in American Theatre, a publication and theatre communications group, as one of “Six Theatre Workers You Should Know.” Whether as part of Park Square Theatre, someone else’s team or working solo, he’ll ever strive to bring us socially relevant theatre to spark constructive community interactions and inspire social change. Whatever Jamil touches, you can just feel them coming: those positive vibrations.

 

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