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Posts Tagged Boss Stage

What’s Up with Theatre Pro Rata?

Currently on Park Square’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage until June 11 is Theatre Pro Rata’s regional premiere of Up: The Man in the Flying Chair. It’s a thought-provoking comedy-drama about chasing one’s dreams, which is exactly what Carin Bratlie Wethern, founder and artistic director of Theatre Pro Rata, did when she formed the company in 2001.

Carin Bratlie Wethern, Theatre Pro Rata’s founder and artistic director

“I’d just always wanted to have a theatre company,” Carin said, so she’d simply set her mind to  making it happen.

In naming her realized dream, Carin chose Pro Rata, Latin for “in proportion,” to further define her vision. The term is most often used in a legal or financial context referring to a distribution of profits and liabilities amongst shareholders based on their portion of ownership. But regardless of size of ownership, all are bound pro rata to create the result.  For Carin, at Theatre Pro Rata “the artists succeed and fail together; we are all responsible for a project’s outcome.”

Cast members of Up: The Man in the Flying Chair
(Photo by Charles Gorrill)

Theatre Pro Rata is a very collaborative company in how it stages its plays. Final say is not automatically deferred to the artistic director; all company members are active decision makers.

But unique to Theatre Pro Rata is its even more collaborative process in curating its seasons. In keeping with their official declaration that “we want you to love the play as much as we do,” Pro Rata actually holds a free public Play Reading Series in which a different script is read each time, followed by an open discussion to gauge its merits, suitability and audience interest. Reading dates are listed at www.theatreprorata.org (note that one is on Wednesday, June 7, 7:30 pm at Park Square’s Boss Stage). The scripts under consideration are suggested by artists and audience alike, and Play Reading attendees also include a mix of the two.

“No one else in town lets audience choose its plays,” Carin said.

Up: The Man in the Flying Chair was first spotted by Carin, but it had to undergo the Pro Rata process to get chosen. Why? So you can experience “theatre where audience and artists share passion for the play”–the very mission of Theatre Pro Rata.

 

Sitting in the Dark with Students

It happened again the other day. As an usher, I got to watch Nina Simone: Four Women with predominantly students of color in the Boss Stage, and any squirming in the seats stopped once they figured out that this play is special. The characters on stage talk about racism, colorism, feminism and the toll but also strength of facing all the -isms on a daily basis in the frank way that’s not permitted in polite society. Finally, someone is openly articulating aspects of the truth of their daily experiences, and they can relate. They lean forward to watch and listen, fully engaged.

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It’s not always this way when I watch a play with students. One of my very first experiences as an usher was to witness rows of predominantly white students from a suburban school laugh throughout an intense scene of the teenage Esperanza in anguish from having been assaulted in The House on Mango Street. This seemed not to be nervous, but mocking, laughter. That was frightening to behold for me and, from what I could tell by their faces, the cast as well. This was the same school group from whence a student addressed me as, “Hey, Hiroshima!” to get my attention to make a request (which I did not grant).

There are also times when students seem to talk a lot during a play. More often than not, such a group may be first-timers to live theatre, only having watched shows on television. They are, thus, used to being able to openly comment as a performance unfolds. But there are also first-time theatre-going groups that are so captivated by the play’s reality that they will, for instance, as a group of Hmong students did last season, all turn their heads to look when Anne, in The Diary of Anne Frank, points beyond their heads at an imaginary sky. Regardless of how first-timers react, we feel privileged that they’ve chosen Park Square to be their first exposure to live theatre.

Coming to a performance at Park Square Theatre is an educational experience for school groups, not only in the academic sense but also in the life-learning sense.  They come face to face with social issues but also with themselves–who they are and who they want to become. The latter may involve gaining personal perspective on respectful engagement or even the discovery of a new passion to pursue.

Sitting in the dark with students in a theatre is, more often than not, a rewarding experience. You know that the young audience member who comes out may not be the same person who’d gone in. As an usher, it makes me lean forward and pay attention, fully engaged.

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What’s Realistic?

The Liar Rehearsal

All fabrications?

For the past weeks, I’ve been writing about a play in which everything seems fabricated. The title character is a compulsive liar, but just about every other character is also duping someone else. Of course, I’m referring to the comedy, The Liar, which is on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until October 2. Yet, the fact that the play is a farce and, hence, a critique of real-life societal mores, begs the question: To what extent is the play not realistic?

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What will Jennifer and Bob Jones do?

In juxtaposition, on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage from September 23 to October 16 will be the play The Realistic Joneses, a comedy/drama in which we watch two couples, both with the last name of Jones and both neighbors to each other, cope with a progressively debilitating illness. Mortality is certainly a sobering notion throughout the production, and how the characters choose to face it is reflected in the play’s title. The term “realistic” suggests a no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to life; but how does this actually play out for those who must face a terminal illness? Well, by relying on a sense of humor, of course; but what more? I’ll let you find out for yourself!

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The talented cast of A Raisin in the Sun

Then from October 28 to November 20 on the Boss Stage, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun will make us ponder: How possible–how realistic–will it be for each member of the Youngers, a poor African-American family, to obtain his/her dream in a racially oppressive society?

Is the world the way Beneatha Younger claims it is to her beau Asagai: “Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us–our own little mirage that we think is the future?”

Or is she mistaken, as Asagi counters: “What you just said–about the circle. It isn’t a circle….it is simply a long line–as in geometry, you know–one that curves into infinity. And because we cannot see the end, we also cannot see how it–changes. And it is very odd, but those who see the changes–who dream, who will not give up–are called idealists… and those who see only the circle–they call each other the ‘realists!'”

What an irony that theatre so often has the power to bring us closer to what is true to life–and that make believe opens the door to real self-discoveries.

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Plus Season Package Pricing:

Any 3 or more shows starting at $25 each

Any 6 shows starting at $142 total

All 13 shows starting at $294 total

(All “starting at” prices based on preview prices, standard seats.  Programs, dates and artists subject to change.)

NOTE:  All photographs in this blog were taken by Petronella J. Ystma.

ELI SCHLATTER: Scenic Designer for “The Liar”

Eli Schlatter

One of the most exciting and uplifting aspects of my job is the opportunity to meet some of the newest and brightest theatre talents in the Twin Cities. They are young, ultra-creative, incredibly hardworking and very committed to their work. One of these up-and-comers is Eli Schlatter, who is tasked with designing a fun but versatile set for Park Square Theatre’s upcoming area premiere of a playful comedy, The Liar, on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2.

Just three years out of college with a BFA in Theatre Design and Production from the University of Michigan, Schlatter is a freelance scenic designner and technician in the Twin Cities. His University of Michigan training closely mimicked real-life professional theatre work experiences, which allowed him to hit the ground running upon graduation. At one harrowing point in his career, he found himself juggling designs for three different shows with close opening dates.

With parents who’d met in a master’s theatre program, Schlatter described a lifetime “steeped in the theatre community.” As he put it, “I’ve been involved in theatre in different ways ‘forever.’ As a child, I saw more plays than movies.”

Schlatter acted on the Steppingstone Theatre stage in his tweens but got pulled into the technical side of theatre while at South High School. He had actually always been more intrigued with a set’s design–for instance, what would move or change on stage–and watched for, as he described, “how the world will tell the story.”

One of Schlatter’s first professional projects in the Twin Cities was as an intern for The Mystery of Irma Vep, assisting director and designer Joel Sass at the Jungle Theater (Sass will direct Park Square Theatre’s The Realistic Joneses on the Boss Stage from September 23 to October 16). To date, Schlatter has freelance designed for numerous local professional theatres, from Yellow Tree Theatre to Theater in the Round Players, and done technical work for such various venues as The Minnesota Fringe Festival and Circus Juventas. He also works on the run crew of The Children’s Theatre Company.

To be successful in his field, Schlatter must constantly put himself out there, actively and bravely searching for opportunities. He got the gig designing The Liar with what was essentially a designer’s version of auditioning: sending his resume and condensed portfolio to Artistic Director Richard Cook. Cook had obviously liked what he’d seen because Schlatter got a meeting and, two weeks later, the job.

In a future blog post, you can get an inside look at Schlatter’s scenic design process for The Liar. Don’t miss the chance for a glimpse into the making of theatre magic.

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his color set design model

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his set design model during rehearsal

(Notes: A scenic design portfolio website for Schlatter is at www.elischlatter.com; also look for the future blog “Flat Land: The World of The Liar”)

What Will You Do With It?

Joe Chvala

It is a sunny but cool morning when I visited Joe Chvala.  I pass through the wooden gate to enter a green world loosely guarded by two gargoyles. It’s something to do with how the light filters through his yard that makes me expect something magical to happen. The White Rabbit from Wonderland may scamper past in a rush, or the Cheshire Cat may show himself on a tree branch. Calmly seated outside by a table on the porch is Chvala himself, like his garden, kind of otherworldly and timeless.

I have come to interview Chvala about Passing Through Pig’s Eye, a roving performance through historic Saint Paul by his percussive dance company, Flying Foot Forum, and guest performers. The show runs from August 25 to September 11, with its start and end points at Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage within the historic Hamm Building. Audiences will divide into smaller groups for an immersive experience of dance and music at key locations in downtown Saint Paul. The audience will be moving around a great deal and sometimes standing so consider wearing comfortable shoes and clothing and not carrying large bags. The show is wheelchair accessible and appropriate for all ages.

For someone who’s on deadline to launch a new production by August 25, Chvala looks like he has all the time in the world, relaxed and still, ironic for a man known for perpetual motion on stage. And can Chvala move! He has done it all: jazz, ballet, tango, tap, folk, . . . you name it! Ultimately, percussive dance won his heart; but unwilling to settle on any one form–no, not simply tap; not just clogging–he draws from them all then adds his own percussive twists, letting loose his creative inventions.

Chvala admits to having lived a charmed life, able to spend much of it creating his own internal and external worlds since childhood. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, enjoying languid summers at a cabin by the lake, immersed in nature and his own wild imagination. He first became involved in theatre as a teenager, thrilled to now make believe to live audiences. Getting hooked on musical theatre as a child started him down the path to dance, which he pursued more seriously after moving to New York.

Chvala’s journey has led him to travel widely and even sometimes stay for longer spells. He is a Midwesterner who became a New Yorker (seven years) who then lived and taught dance in Gothenburg, Sweden (two years). Living overseas expanded his worldview and further deepened his artistic development. What finally drew him back full circle to the Midwest are close family ties which ground him. Despite his need for solitude to create, Chvala is, at heart, a connector, which makes it unsurprising that he had created Flying Foot Forum in 1991, a means for artists to share and invent together.

Chvala also feels most grounded when dancing, literally connecting with the earth. While he may have tendrils into other worlds, each of them having their own appeal, this is the world that feels the most immediate. As Chvala continues to uncompromisingly create the life that he wants to live and to gift–and as he sits in the radiant sunlight in the morning–he brings to mind these final lines from poet Mark Doty’s “Long Point Light”:

Here is the world you asked for,
gorgeous and opportune,

here is nine o’clock, harbor-wide,
and a glinting code: promise and warning.
The morning’s the size of heaven.

What will you do with it?

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