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More or Less

While walking by the corner of Thomas and Hamline Avenues in St. Paul, I looked down and discovered this poem on the sidewalk.  It fed my heart and soul all day and everyday thereafter when I have passed by it again.

Sidewalk poetry Photo by T. T. Cheng

Sidewalk poetry
Photo by T. T. Cheng

I love how art, whatever its form, can do that–connect to your very being and express your deepest yearnings. Every fiber of you responds to its pull, and your life is forever changed. You don’t even have to fully understand it. Art that has stuck with me often involved those “What the heck?” moments. My mind craves to understand and connect, deeply interacting with what’s before me.

At Park Square Theatre, I recall feeling my synapses crackle and pop the first time I experienced Sandbox Theatre’s ensemble work–namely, how the story of our world overrun by anthropomorphic newts, driving humans to extinction so intrigued me that I had to see War with the Newts more than once. Sandbox’s second production on our Boss Thrust Stage, Queens, was just as thought-provoking–this time, a work about an African-American boxer finding his place in a world ruled by Jim Crow laws. Now I can’t wait to see their world premiere of Big Money on the Boss this January. What will the story of a man who suddenly devotes his life to winning big in a game show have to do with me or with you? The only answer I know to give is to show up and open myself to the surprise of discovery.

And isn’t surprise a key element of powerful art? It wakes me up to ponder big questions–to give me “a little more eats,” something for my mind to chew over, swallow and digest so I can attempt to make meaning out of this crazy, imperfect world. Art is imperative to my survival as an empathetic human being; it pushes me to expand beyond my own little corner of the world to connect with yours–the very impetus needed to make “a little less war, a little more peace.”

As we head into another new year, consider doing your part to bring peace on Earth. Actively support the arts in any way that you can: as a creator, spectator, donor, volunteer, subscriber or promoter. We shall all be richer for it.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Fly on the Wall

As an usher for the student matinees as well as mom of a tween, it is dear to my heart that students from all backgrounds descend upon us beginning in the fall to connect through theatre. I often wonder what these young scholars take away from their experience at Park Square Theatre. My only glimpses are their reactions as they watch the play, any comments that I overhear during intermission or after the show and their questions to the cast if they stay for a post-show discussion.

Today while watching The House on Mango Street with a mainly Hmong audience of sixth, seventh and eighth graders (who came without any cellphones!), I witnessed students so engaged in the performance that when the character Darius pointed out beyond the audience to an imaginary cloud, dozens of heads turned to see for themselves. While monitoring the bathrooms at intermission for a different school audience, I once spoke to a girl who thought it was way cool to have just read the book and now see its stage interpretation. And a week ago, I sat in on a cast discussion with a Spanish class conducted en Espanol. Those not totally fluent in Spanish, including cast members, were aided by those more fluent. It was muy estupendo!

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A scene from A House on Mango Street

Photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma

Student groups are now coming to see A Raisin in the Sun on our Boss Thrust Stage. Afterwards, I wonder: What will they have to say about racism and white privilege? How did they feel about the three generations of women in the play? Will they empathize with Walter Lee? How did this play relate to or expand the world around them, both near and far? Will they go deep or barely scratch the surface on the issues? Will it simply be seen and parked or feel much too relevant to ignore?

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A scene from A Raisin in the Sun

Photograph by Connie Shaver

 I really wouldn’t know the answers unless I could be a “fly on the wall” during these young people’s bus rides back or in their classroom discussions. But my greatest hope is that the plays that they see at Park Square Theatre are seeds planted in their minds to inspire future social action and changes to better our world. Or to pursue their greatest dreams and follow their callings based on watching others on stage who do just that.

May Park Square Theatre, in essence, serve as their Muse.

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Students at Park Square Theatre for a matinee

 P.S. Any teacher wanting me to be a “fly on the wall,” just let me know! I would be thrilled to listen in.

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Don’t Miss These Upcoming Raisin in the Sun Events!!!

A Raisin in the Sun student matinees run from November 1 to December 22 (contact Megan Losure at 651.291.9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org if you would like to watch with school groups)

A Raisin in the Sun evening and weekend performances run from October 28 to November 20

Post-show discussion with Twin Cities playwright Christina Ham and Jamice Obianyo (Director, Community Relations, Ecolab) on Wednesday, November 2

Musings with Twin Cities Theatre Bloggers on Sunday, November 6

Post-show discussion with former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton on Sunday, November 13

Theatre Fan Night Out: Four Tickets for $99 available for Thursday, November 10, 7:30 pm; Thursday, November 17, 7:30 pm; Friday, November 18, 7:30 pm; Sunday, November 20, 2 pm (use code FAN when ordering)

Neighbors

“Meet Bob and Jennifer and their new neighbors, John and Pony, two suburban couples who have even more in common than their identical homes and their shared last names. As their relationships begin to irrevocably intertwine, the Joneses must decide between their idyllic fantasies and their imperfect realities.”

 — Park Square Theatre’s description of The Realistic Joneses

 

The cast of "The Realistic Joneses" with Director Joel Sass Photograph by Connie Shaver

The cast of “The Realistic Joneses” with Director Joel Sass
Photograph by Connie Shaver

 

You don’t get to choose your neighbors.  They just arrive.

Neighbors can be challenging. There were the ones who cut us no slack during our first sleep-deprived year of parenthood, calling the inspector whenever our lawn grew even a millimeter beyond city code. And the ones who were suspected of prostitution, though finally evicted for something else. As a child, I was afraid of the ghost, dubbed The White Lady, who supposedly haunted the building under construction next door.

Neighbors can hate you, like the ones in a suburb of Los Angeles who wanted my parents, siblings and I to “go back home,” meaning not in America and certainly not next door to them.

Neighbors can be kind. They took in the apartment caretaker’s cats when she died. They came with their snow blowers to help people trying to shovel out after big storms. One saved my sisters and I when we were youngsters being chased home by two men; that neighbor was a big dog named Fido.

Neighbors can be for keeps. Our current neighbors to our right have become honorary grandparents to our child, delighting in her friends who play on their lawn and kidnap their garden gnomes and providing a safe haven of unconditional love and acceptance. These are the neighbors who took the late night call for help to rush our dying greyhound to emergency care so that one parent could stay home with our then toddler.  They are the ones who good-humoredly let us light 80 candles on the cake–which almost melted before the song finished–when we celebrated “grandpa’s” birthday on their deck. These are the neighbors with whom we have a pact: We shall never move unless you do.

In The Realistic Joneses, playing on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Stage through this Sunday, Oct 16, Bob and Jennifer Jones don’t get to choose their new neighbors. John and Pony just arrive.  And as neighbors do, they touch each others’ lives in the most unexpected ways.  Find out how in this honest, touching and very funny area premiere of Will Enos’ comedy-drama.

Don’t miss it and be sure to bring your neighbors along.

Park Square Theatre Seeks Resident Theatre Partners

Is your  theatre company interested in participating with Park Square Theatre as a member of the second generation of resident theatres?

Park Square is seeking to work with up to three groups, beginning with the 2017-2018 season.  

We need partners who:

  • Can produce one full production per year, for at least two consecutive seasons, as part of Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage subscription season
  • Have a track record of successful producing for a loyal audience
  • Have plans and ambitions for continued programming and the ability to program ahead (18-24 months out)
  • Are willing to collaborate with Park Square and other Partners to coordinate programming, scheduling and marketing

Park Square’s contribution to the partnership includes:

  • Use of the  Andy Boss Thrust Stage for tech/dress and performances
  • Ticketing, sales and house management
  • Direct marketing and promotion as part of the Theatre’s subscription series
  • Collaboration for joint/shared marketing and the potential for joint fundraising

To be considered for 2017-2018, please submit your expression of interest to Richard Cook (cook@parksquaretheatre.org/651.767.7482) no later than November 1, 2016.

 

  Big Money at Park Square Theatre, 2017             Up: The Man in the Flying Chair at Park Square Theatre, 2017

Current Resident Theatre Partners Sandbox Theatre (photo of Peter Heeringa by Matthew Glover), Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions present Big Money, Up: The Man in the Flying Chair and Idiot’s Delight, respectively, for the Park Square Theatre 2016-2017 season

          Idiot's Delight, produced by Girl Friday Productions, at Park Square Theatre, 2017

On Stage: Creating a Community Dialogue Around Live Theater

Through Springboard for the Arts, a nationally recognized nonprofit arts service organization based in St. Paul, representative Lucas Erickson has launched his new theater outreach program called On Stage: Creating a Community Dialogue Around Live Theater.

On Stage raises awareness of the theater offerings in the Twin Cities to academic classes and groups. It brings local actors to Twin Cities college classrooms and community settings to read scenes from a play in current local production. Participants then engage in a lively discussion of the play’s themes, tying in current events, personal values and narratives to stimulate critical thinking. Subsequently attending the full play is encouraged.

Erickson had created the basic program concept a few years ago while working in Artistic Relations at the Guthrie Theater. Last fall, Erickson enacted a similar program through a nonprofit youth organization called Project SUCCESS around Mixed Blood Theater’s production of An Octoroon.

Now with On Stage, Erickson has programmed readings and discussions around Park Square Theatre’s A Raisin in the Sun by playwright Lorraine Hansberry, which will be on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage from October 28 to November 20. The play is about a family living and struggling on Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s, trying to improve their lives with an insurance payout following the death of the father. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.

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The talented cast of A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre

Local actors/teaching artists Harry Waters Jr, Thomasina Petrus and H. Adam Harris will be facilitating the On Stage events on A Raisin in the Sun. The first one is free and open to the public at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, St. Paul, on October 19, 7 to 8 pm. More information is available at http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/event/raisin-play-discussion-script-reading/.

On Stage will also outreach to students of the University of St. Thomas, Augsburg College, Macalester College, the University of Minnesota and St. Catherine University throughout October. However, these events will not be open to the public.

“The purpose of the program is to make local theater relevant to younger and non-traditional audiences and to lay the groundwork for building future theater audiences,” said Erickson.

Lucas Erickson, creator of the On Stage theatre outreach program Photograph by Linda Peterson

Lucas Erickson, creator of the On Stage theatre outreach program
Photograph by Linda Peterson

Erickson has had a long and deep commitment to theater and the arts. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in theater and is currently pursuing a masters in Arts and Cultural Leadership at the University of Minnesota. Since 2013, Erickson has worked on various projects for Creative Community Builders, an organization that helps communities identify different cultural and creative assets. He also serves on the Advisory Board for Made Here, a program spearheaded by the Hennepin Theatre Trust to put local art in vacant downtown storefronts.

Park Square Theatre, with a robust Education Program committed to serving middle- and high-school students throughout Minnesota and its surrounding states, is truly honored that Erickson has chosen to share our production of A Raisin in the Sun in his outreach efforts.

 

Dressing Up the Joneses

Photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma

Photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma

What is it like to go on a shopping spree with someone else’s money? Cole Bylander knows. Asked by Director Joel Sass to be the costume designer for The Realistic Joneses, currently on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage until October 16, Bylander did just that.

Typically, a costume designer does much research, makes sketches, then creates the garments for a production’s cast. But because The Realistic Joneses is set in modern times, Bylander was able to simply acquire ready-made clothing and accessories. He estimates shopping for three to five hours per character, imagining what would naturally be in the personal closets of Bob, Jennifer, John and Pony Jones.

During their fittings, the actors explored their characters through Bylander’s choices, free to accept or reject his picks depending on their own interpretations. The performers also helped to choose what they would wear for each scene. This costuming process allowed ideas to flow in an organic, collaborative way.

Why didn’t Bylander simply raid each actor’s home closets to build appropriate contemporary wardrobes? Not only would that be too much to ask of an actor, but you’d also run the risk of the actors looking too similar to themselves as opposed to the characters that they are creating.  An actor’s personal taste may also not match the character’s esthetics. For instance, Jane Froiland dresses in a less bohemian style than her character Pony Jones. However, a few of the actors’ own items are indeed worn on stage, such as Angela Timberman’s shoes and purse and Eric “Pogi” Sumangli’s pants. Actors are be paid a minimal rental fee for use of their personal possessions.

Any final costuming adjustments were made during the technical rehearsals, which was the first time when Bylander got to see all the play’s elements working together. Is that dress too short? Is that shirt’s color too much like that of the blanket? No major changes were needed for this play.

What happens to the Joneses’ wardrobe after the show? Unworn garments with tags still attached are returned to the stores for refunds, actors purchase some pieces and an assessment is made of what is stored away or donated to charities.

“I take it as a great compliment when an actor wants to keep what I’ve chosen,” said Bylander.

Bylander has shopped before for actors in film, but this was his first time to do such extensive shopping for a theatre production.

“It was a really successful approach for The Realistic Joneses because there are only four characters,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing it with a cast of 20.”

Shop till you drop? No, more like intensely mindful shopping, followed by intensely mindful fittings, all for a rich payoff for an intensely characters-driven show. After all the hard work on The Realistic Joneses, what’s next on Bylander’s To Do List? A much-needed vacation.

Costume Designer Cole Bylander

Costume Designer Cole Bylander

To learn more about the many talents of Cole Bylander, visit his website: www.colebylander.com

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.

Two Stages, Sheer Fun

For many Minnesotan families such as mine, Labor Day marks the end of summer. There is a nervous excitement in our household as another school year begins. What will it bring into our lives? Surely, loads of laughter, tears; much clarity, but just as many misunderstandings; personal highs, and emotional lows. Life is like that–filled with drama, comedy and everything in between.

Excitement also runs high at Park Square Theatre as we begin our 2016-2017 season. This coming week, both our stages will be crazy-busy with marvelous, energetic fun. Park Square presents the area premiere of David Ives’ The Liar on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2; while Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum complete their run of Passing Through Pig’s Eye from September 7 to 11, a roving performance that starts and ends at the Boss Thrust Stage.

Mounting the production of The Liar has been incredible fun for those who can’t wait to bring it to you live on stage. This summer, I have connected with many of the show’s actors and designers for glimpses of the mischievous world that they plan to entangle us in–a world of intricate wordplay, deceptive scenery, twisty plot and fast-paced humor. In the spirit of the show, individuals also shared their own funny stories about lying. (Be sure to read past blog posts and future ones about The Liar.) Everyone’s enthusiasm has been infectious, and I cannot wait to see this play.

The Liar in Dress Rehearsal

Last week, I brought my entire family to see Passing Through Pig’s Eye. We came not knowing much beyond the fact that we would learn some Saint Paul history but were absolutely WOWed by the inventive dance numbers and often gut-busting humor. All I can say is, “Go see it NOW before you can’t!” In my mind’s eye, I can still see those “crazy legs” of the loose-limbed gangster, tap dancing away in bright red shoes, and the hilarious image of a stage full of dancers holding dodge balls. I can still feel the adrenaline rush of watching anything-goes street dancing, followed by Joe Chvala and longtime Forum member Karla Grotting “dust up the floor” like those movie greats, Astaire and Rogers or Kelly and Reynolds. What hit my whole family hardest about the performance that night was the sheer joy of the dancers on the stage and on the street, having so much fun doing what they love most.

Passing Through Pigs Eye

The end of summer doesn’t mark the end of fun, just anticipation for more to come. Consider coming down to Park Square Theatre soon to share in the fun–our fun, your fun, sheer fun!

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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