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Posts Tagged Boss Thrust Stage

The Indescribable Experience of “Cardboard Piano”

Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano is like watching a drop of love and a drop of hate fall next to each other, causing two ripple effects that collide and intersect.

Part I is set in a church in a Northern Uganda township–“not one of stone and stained glass, more a small town hall dressed up to be a church” with a hole in the roof (script description)–where two 16-year-old girls in the congregation have fallen in love. Christina Jennifer Englewood, played by Adelin Phelps, is the daughter of white missionaries; Adiel Nakalinzi, played by Kiara Jackson, is a local Ugandan girl. They meet in the church on New Year’s Eve 1999 to hold a secret wedding ceremony to bind their forbidden relationship–their pure but forbidden love for each other.

Michael Jemison

What hateful act happens on that New Year’s Eve when 13-year-old Pika, an injured runaway child soldier, played by Michael Jemison, seeks refuge in the church proves to reverberate throughout everyone’s lives within the play for years to come.

Watching a drama in the depths of a Minnesota winter and a harsh political/social climate may seem daunting to some, as expressed by one season ticket holder who’d told me, “This season I decided to just see all the comedies.” But I hope that she reconsiders because, in my opinion, she’ll really be missing out.

It’s hard to describe the special quality of this play that made us emit a jaw-dropping “Wow!” upon having either first seen it at its world premiere in Louisville, Kentucky, or read the script in our own living rooms. I find myself frequently using the word “transcendent” and others, “beautiful,” due to how playwright Hansol Jung so ably captured the humanity within a so often inhumane world. The patrons who’d seen the world premiere performance described it as “an extraordinary experience that doesn’t tell you what to think, but opens your mind to the human capacity for hatred, forgiveness, love and faith–and perhaps hope.”

Adelin Phelps reads her script.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Perhaps actor Adelin Phelps, in our recent conversation, best described why Cardboard Piano is a “don’t miss” play: “The world is in a lot of pain now and has been for a long time. When we watch stories unfold in front of us, it connects us in different ways. When people see Cardboard Piano, they may not leave feeling resolved but more open and connected to each other. With a play that has difficult moments, it can be cathartic, healing and inspiring.  The play is also about love, forgiveness and how we move forward. When I first read it, I remember being aware of the painful parts but also how it was like a beating heart.”

Come join us at Park Square Theatre to see Cardboard Piano on the Boss Thrust Stage from January 19 to February 18. Tickets and information are available here.

ANSA AKYEA: About Transformation and Letting Go

In Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano, set in a township in Northern Uganda, the talented Ansa Akyea takes on two roles: in Part I as a soldier hunting for a runaway boy soldier; and in Part II as Paul, the pastor of the community’s church, whose past collides with his present, forcing a confrontation with his future. Particularly with the character of Paul, this sobering yet transcendently beautiful and hopeful play brings to mind these words by the Chinese philosopher Laozi: “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

When asked what playing Paul was teaching him, Ansa replied, “About transformation and letting go. By the end, Paul knows that he must start over; he can’t be the same person moving forward. There’s a new journey that he has to go on.”

Tackling such hard life lessons through the play has had Ansa “excited, scared and filled with dread.” They are, in fact, the very emotions faced by actors when they decide to take on a new role and commit to mining its depths, then perform to live audiences.

Actors Michael Jemison, Kiara Jackson, Adelin Phelps (left to right) and Ansa Akyea (far right) learning from fight choreographer Annie Enneking (center)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

As for his excitement, Ansa cited several reasons to feel that way about being in Cardboard Piano:

  • Director Signe V. Harriday: “I’ve always wanted to work with her. She’s one of the smartest artists who cares about her community and using theatre to connect with community.”
  • Playwright Hansol Jung: “It’s inspiring to have a playwright in conversation about religion, love and conflict. We also need new works to better reflect our diversity. And Hansol’s material has a freshness to it; its perspective is specific, yet universal.”
  • Being part of an intimate four-member ensemble, which includes Kiara Jackson, Michael Jemison and Adelin Phelps: “Signe cast us knowing that we’ll bring our own personal history and intelligence as actors. She chose actors who live in their bodies and hearts. These are things required from actors so they can empathize and act.”

Becoming an actor is also a journey in itself. For Ansa, a Swiss born Ghanaian-American, his acting journey began in his junior year at the University of Iowa, where he would earn his B.A. degrees in French and Communications Studies. That year, he took an elective class taught by a visiting professor from Sierra Leone who wanted to cast Ansa in his play about the 1839 rebellion on the Amistad, a slave schooner. With his parents’ blessing, as long as acting didn’t interfere with his studies, Ansa took the part.

Left to right: Dialect coach Foster Johns working with actors Ansa Akyea and Michael Jemison
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Ansa’s tremendous talent on stage as an undergraduate led his university to offer him the opportunity to earn an MFA in Acting. Cast right out of graduate school, Ansa honed his craft in Chicago, working at numerous theaters starting with Steppenwolf, Black ensemble, ITC, stage left theater and many others.

Ansa ultimately moved to the Twin Cities when his spouse got a job here. He hit the ground running, immediately being hired by Mixed Blood Theater, with subsequent stints at the Guthrie and Children’s Theatre Company. Ever since, Ansa has appeared on many stages throughout the Twin Cities and been seen or heard on television, film and radio. He has also been the recipient of the 2007 City Pages Best Actor award, 2011 Minnesota Playwright Center’s McKnight Award for Acting, 2013 Minnesota Playwright Center’s Many Voices Fellowship and 2013 Ivey Award for Ensemble Acting in the Guthrie’s Clybourne Park.

About theatre, Ansa had this to say: “This is my life. I love my profession. I have an achievement mentality; I have aspirations to always learn more. I will always work.”

After Cardboard Piano, Ansa will be teaching at North High School located in North St. Paul. He will also play Daddy Onceler in the Children Theatre Company’s production of The Lorax this spring.

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here

Mina Kinukawa: Creating Steinbeck’s World

Set Designer Mina Kinukawa (center)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was first performed at the Music Box Theatre in New York on November 23, 1937. It was first performed on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage in 1998 as part of its Education Series. This season, Park Square’s Of Mice and Men is on the more intimate Boss Thrust Stage, necessitating a new set design. Set Designer Mina Kinukawa rose to the challenge of putting us into the play’s world: the agricultural Salinas Valley in Northern California. Specific scenes take place at the sandy bank of the Salinas River, the bunkhouse of a ranch, the room of a stable buck and one end of a barn.

Here is Mina to give us insights into her creative process:

 

Model of the bunkhouse

Previously, Of Mice and Men had been performed on the Proscenium Stage, but this season it moved to the Andy Boss Thrust Stage. What was your approach for set design to account for the change? 

From left to rt.: E.J Subkoviak as Lennie, Michael Paul Levine as George and Patrick O’Brien as Candy in Of Mice and Men
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

 

Since this was my first time designing Of Mice and Men for Park Square, I didn’t have to modify the old production. I went in knowing it was a thrust stage in almost a black box room. I really like designing for thrust stages to get close to the audience. And this production, I believe, benefits from having the actors/characters be where the audience can see and feel their emotions closer.

The voms (the corridors that “spew” people into the seating areas) and inner lobby allow for the creation of an environment that surrounds the audience. Will you be taking advantage of that? 

Director Annie Enneking and the actors did a wonderful job using the voms and the lobby space to convey distance. We set locations offstage (for example, where is the river, where is the road, etc.; locations that audience don’t see but the characters live in), and the actors run around and use the voms and lobby to create distance from the scene happening onstage.

Model of the set with tree

A tree is of particular significance on the set. Can you tell me about that? 

When researching location and historical background, I was drawn to the images of sycamores. It’s one of the first scenic elements that’s mentioned in the script, and it seemed to create an oasis in an arid landscape.

Left to right: E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie and Michael Paul Levin as George
(Photo by Petronella J. YtsmaP

At the same time, it’s almost foretelling the end of the journey that we will take with this play. Once I started designing the set, the tree took a strong place in the world that I was creating, and we all seemed to like to have it always “watching” the characters.

Model of the barn

 

 

 

 

 

Can you tell me about your journey to become a set designer?

I can say that it started in my early teen years. I was lucky to have had very good mentors who helped me with skills that I needed. I also learned to analyze plays and make them my own.

Jane Froiland as Curley’s wife and E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Once I graduated from undergrad, I knew I wanted to have some “real” experience before going to grad school and had an opportunity to work in a scene design studio, first as an intern before I was hired on. Then I got a scholarship to go to grad school and got my MFA. I was in Southern California so naturally started to have more chances to work in films and had a blast. It was not an easy environment, but I enjoyed it very much. Very similar to theatre, it’s all about the team of people you work with! Then life took me to Minnesota, and I have started to connect with theatres and meet and work with great theatre artists here.

Tickets and more information here 

Jane Froiland Defines Her Role

 

In last season’s The Realistic Jones on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage, Jane Froiland had a tricky part as a fear-filled young woman named Pony Jones who could have simply come off as being overly fragile and spacey. Instead, Jane smartly mined Pony’s vulnerabilities to make her into a complex woman who was arguably the wisest character in the play.

The Realistic Joneses (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

From November 9 to December 16, Jane returns to the Boss Stage in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to portray Curley’s wife, a young woman married to the cruel and possessive son of a wealthy ranch owner. Just as with Pony, her character could be in danger of appearing two-dimensional, but you can once again bet that won’t happen under Jane’s watch.

Jane Froiland plays Curley’s wife in Of Mice and Men (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

In Of Mice and Men, Curley’s wife is perpetually defined by the men around her. She is without a name, always just called “Curley’s wife” as if he owns her. The men fault her for being a temptress, referring to her as “that bitch,” “a piece of jail bait,” “that goddamn tart” and “a tramp” because of the way she looks and dresses. Jane, however, humanizes her character and recognizes her predicament as indicative of the slut-shaming that’s still prevalent in our society.

“Curley’s wife is young and beautiful so seen as dangerous,” Jane said. “She’s isolated and lonely without anyone to talk to; she’s really just trying to be nice and friendly like she says. But whatever she says is never heard. I heard her, though, and I hope that other women and men hear her.”

Jane Froiland as Curley’s wife and E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Jane is extremely aware that she’s the lone female in Of Mice and Men and particularly mindful of her impact on young people coming to see the student matinees.

“I feel the responsibility as a woman to portray women with great empathy and authenticity,” Jane continued. “If I can tell a story very well and authentically, then the audience members can see themselves in my character and perhaps feel understood.”

Tickets and more information HERE

 

NOTE: Be sure to also catch Jane’s performances in Park Square Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank on April 19, 22, 26 & 28, 2018.

E. J. Subkoviak on Playing Lennie in “Of Mice and Men”

This season, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men returns to Park Square Theatre as a new production on the intimate Andy Boss Thrust Stage with limited performances for general audience from November 9 to December 16. Of Mice and Men will also be seen by school groups during student matinees.

Playing the large but childlike Lennie, who is highly dependent on his fellow migrant worker friend George due to a mental disability, is E. J. Subkoviak. Here is E. J. to tell us more about himself and his role in Of Mice and Men.

When did you first play Lennie, and what was your relationship with Steinbeck’s novel before being cast as Lennie?

Like a lot of people, Of Mice and Men was one of the first books I read in high school, and it was certainly one I never forgot, especially after reading the Cliff’s Notes. I was often asked, based on my height and basic size (exact numbers available through the costume shop), if I had ever played Lennie; and it wasn’t until about eight years ago, when Park Square was in need of a new one, that I got to play him for the first time. This will be my fourth time playing Lennie at this same theater, so I haven’t shrunk much.

George (Michael Paul Levin) and Lennie (E. J. Subkoviak) (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

What’s the biggest challenge for you in playing Lennie?

A two-show day, maybe? Honestly, the character is so deeply in my blood now that it feels so easy to bring out. Maybe the first time I did it, it was somewhat of a challenge to figure out, based on each scene, what exactly his mind is doing and how it works in general; but it was all a real labor of love.

Apart from that, playing Lennie, as much as I love it and had been waiting to do it so long, is not much different of an approach than playing anything else as a character actor. The real hard part, at least in the primary story of Of Mice and Men, I’d say, is George, as is the case in most buddy stories where you have a straight man and some manner of an eccentric. The straight man rarely ever gets as much credit or attention (poor Dick Smothers), but he has a hell of a job to do in the whole relationship. And we’re blessed to have my longtime friend Michael Paul Levin in the role as he, as the father of such a child, was able to recognize in the script evidence of autism in Lennie. (The whole notion of autism, and even the word, didn’t exist back in John Steinbeck’s day.) This helped answer some of those questions about his mind and how it works even more and was of great benefit to us all. And, of course, playing out this story as a man with an autistic son is a great emotional challenge for him, and he deserves a medal for it.

What may change in your approach as a result of being on the Boss Thrust rather than the Proscenium stage with this season’s production?

The tricky part will be staging it in the thrust format of the stage with audience on three different sides, but our director, Annie Enneking, is a pro and is smartly considering and playing with these sightlines.

The good news is that the smaller space heightens the intimacy of these scenes, so the personal relationships and the danger and intensity of the piece become more magnified.

It also means less makeup for us. That’s always a relief.

E. J. (center) and other cast members in an early rehearsal in the Boss Rehearsal Hall.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What do you want audiences to take away from their experience of seeing Of Mice and Men? Is it different for an adult versus student audience?

I would say the basic idea of empathy, which seems to be fading fast away at this particular time in our history (just read any internet “comment” section). This is a play about mostly outcasts–outcasts trapped in a cold, harsh world and how they survive. Chances are everyone personally identifies with one or more of these outcasts, I think; and that has made this story so relatable for so long. (Even the character of Curley’s wife was fleshed out much more by Steinbeck for the play version, at the request of the play’s producer at the time.)

Achieving that empathy can be more of a challenge for a younger audience, as we’ve discovered in the past. Young people will often laugh at inappropriate times in a tragic story like this, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they find it funny; it’s often just a nervous reaction to a tense situation. (Lennie does this, too.)

How did you end up becoming an actor?

A hastily thought-out deal with the dark lord Lucifer that I’ll always regret.

Actually, my parents insisted I do something other than watch TV one summer when I was about 13, so I joined this acting troupe that traveled from park to park in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and performed fairy tales, melodramas, and other family plays. Somehow, I caught the bug. Along with the mosquitoes in my mouth.

E. J. as Nero Wolfe, with Derek Dirlam as Archie Goodwin in Might as Well Be Dead
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

What have been some of your favorite roles, and what other characters do you hope to play someday?

Of course, playing the corpulent crime-fighter Nero Wolfe for Park Square has been a great honor and a fulfillment of my childhood dream of being a detective. It is flattering to be recognized by members of the Nero Wolfe “cult” when I am out and about. (As it has been explained to me: Sherlock Holmes is Star Trek; Nero Wolfe is Doctor Who. I’m very, very cool with that.)

There are a lot of roles I did in college that I’d love to replay as a (bigger) adult: Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jonathan Brewster (the Boris Karloff role) in Arsenic and Old Lace, the ghost of John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet and Owen the evil Klansman in The Foreigner, a true comic villain for the times we live in.

Speaking of that, and since I spent all of 2016 not acting but watching the news and getting depressed like so many of us, I have been looking for more projects I could do that deal with civil rights and other issues that are so much on our minds these days. Fortunately, Of Mice and Men qualifies in many ways, and I’m glad to be doing it again now.

Twelve evening performances through December 16. Tickets and more info at http://parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/shows/2017-18/of-mice-and-men/

 

 

 

 

Stacia Rice Returns

After a two-year hiatus from the Twin Cities’ stages, the inimitable Stacia Rice is back! Now through July 23, you can catch her on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Stage in Girl Friday Productions’ Idiot’s Delight, directed by past Ivey-award winner Craig Johnson. Stacia plays Irene, the enigmatic Russian companion to the unsavory French businessman, Achille Weber, and romantic interest of American entertainer Harry Van.

“My last show was To Kill A Mockingbird at the Guthrie (in 2015),” Stacia said, while discussing her choice of Idiot’s Delight as her return vehicle. “Kirby Bennett (Girl Friday’s founder and artistic director) and I had talked about doing something together in the past, but the stars had never aligned until now. I adore Kirby as a human and a producer, and I’ve loved working with Craig before.”

In fact, Craig had been the director of the first production by Torch Theater, founded by Stacia in 2005. Housed in the Theater Garage at the heart of Uptown Minneapolis, Torch was formed as a means for Stacia to, as she put it, “work with good humans and performers” and, once she’d become a mother, engage in projects that “are worth being away from my children.” Stacia is, indeed, contemplating steps for Torch Theater to eventually return, just as she has.

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

But at present, Stacia is focused on her new role in Idiot’s Delight. When we’d talked, she was still getting to know Irene and loving that the character is so mysterious and not strictly defined in the script. Is Irene really Russian? American? Or some other nationality? What is she hiding and why? Nothing was completely spelled out by Playwright Robert E. Sherwood, which left Stacia more creative freedom to flesh out her character.

“It’s always lovely to play a rich character as you get older yourself,” Stacia added. “Irene can sometimes be very over the top. She’s pretty colorful. It’s nice to play a really big, colorful character and find out what makes her a real person.”

Throughout her acting career in the Twin Cities, Stacia Rice has gained nothing but accolades for her powerful portrayals of women. Be sure not to miss her this summer in the Pulitzer-winning dramatic comedy, Idiot’s Delight!

GIRL FRIDAY: The Name Says It All

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “Girl Friday” was first used in 1928 to describe “a woman who does many different jobs in an office.” The definition in the Urban Dictionary is more expansive, dubbing a “Girl Friday” as a “go-to girl” or “a female who acts as a ‘jack of all trades’ and is capable of doing almost anything.”

It was hard to miss just how perfectly Girl Friday Productions fit its name as I spoke with Kirby Bennett about her 13-year-old theatre company. Both a founder and its artistic director, Kirby also manages the organizational and fundraising tasks for its shows as well as acting in each production. In 2012, with the guidance of volunteer counsel Mike Bash, she completed the arduous task of obtaining 501(c) (3) non-profit status for Girl Friday, and she continues to do whatever necessary to keep it viable, relevant, creative and fun. Kirby is, quite frankly, a Girl Friday.

“Tenacity” is a term that also comes to mind to describe Kirby. Again, that is not surprising given her choice of plays that, time and again, feature the resilience of human beings. In fact, Girl Friday Productions’ Idiot’s Delight, on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage from June 29 to July 23, reveals that very quality of the human spirit in a play with a cast of eccentric characters stranded in a European mountaintop resort, unable to cross closed borders, at the outbreak of World War II.

In meeting Girl Friday’s vision “to seek out plays that embody great literature, humanity, relevance and stimulating theatricality,” Kirby does insist that whatever script chosen has substantive female roles.

“All of our productions have had strong roles and voices for women,” Kirby said, “and Idiot’s Delight has a great central female role, and fun and intriguing female supporting roles.”

 

Stacia Rice & John Middleton in Idiot’s Delight
(Photo by Richard Fleischman)

 

Though Kirby sets this particular criteria, Girl Friday’s play selection process is actually collaborative. According to Kirby, “There is no formal committee. I just periodically bring people together to read plays aloud. And I read on my own any title suggested to me!”

This collaborative spirit is aptly at the core of Girl Friday Productions, considering its commitment to large-scale ensemble performances.

While the term “Girl Friday” denotes a person’s awesome capabilities to do “almost anything,” it also carries an out-reaching connotation of how individuals working together can do anything.

As Kirby put it best, “The sum of the whole is greater than the individual.”

——

(Note: Be sure to read the prior blog post, “GIRL FRIDAY PRODUCTIONS: From Dream to Reality.”)

Mark Benzel: Wire Walker

 

Actor Mark Benzel

In Theatre Pro Rata’s Up: The Man in the Flying Chair, on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage until June 11, Mark Benzel plays several characters, including Philippe Petit, the famous French high-wire artist who’d committed what became known as “the artistic crime of the century.” On the morning of August 7, 1974, Philippe wire walked for 45 minutes between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. His cable stretched about a quarter mile above the ground; and he walked, danced, lay down and knelt as he made eight passes along its length.

Philippe Petit wire walking between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974.
(Photo from Business Insider)

As Philippe in Up, Mark lives in the imagination of Walter Griffin, the play’s protagonist who’d once gained fame by attaching 45 helium-filled weather balloons to his lawn chair to levitate 16,000 feet, high enough to be seen by commercial airliners. Philippe appears in Walter’s fantasies to give him advice as he struggles to regain his former glory.

In the script, there’s just a casual mention in the stage directions about Philippe’s wire walking, but the company decided to literally draw out that element in keeping with the magical realism within the play, as an artistic challenge for the cast and to explore the playwright’s intent.

With past experience in physical performance, such as juggling, climbing and dropping from aerial silks and theatrical clowning, as well as personal ability to skateboard and unicycle, Mark was confidently game to learn wire walking. With initial instruction by Robert Rosen, a co-founder/artistic director of the now defunct Theatre de la Jeune Lune and current founder/teacher at Studio 206, Mark was ultimately able to make two to three passes on a wire two feet above the ground and ten feet long but, according to Mark, “not altogether gracefully.” More in-depth training with Jonah Finkelstein, who long studied with the famous Grand Canyon wire walker Nik Wallenda, and Laura Emiola of Xelias and support from Circus Juventas helped provide additional Philippe-like confidence.

Before wire walking himself, Mark had watched the 2008 film Man on Wire, which suspensefully recreated Philippe’s 1974 stunt by mingling both actual footage of the live event with re-enactments. Mere observation certainly gave Mark an appreciation for the incredible Philippe, but actually experiencing wire walking firsthand gave him “new eyes” to better understand the physical and psychological anguish involved to not only perform the feat, but to also be able to do it with ease and grace. The training definitely gave Mark deeper insight into his character.

Front to back: Mark Benzel as Philippe Petit and John Middleton as Walter Griffin in Up: The Man in the Flying Chair
(Photo by Charles Gorrill)

In a play that delves into the achingly human acts of wishing, hoping and yearning–in a play about contemplating those hard life choices–ultimately every cast member performs a high-wire act, metaphorically if not physically. And the audience gets to step out on that wire with them.

 

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.

 

GIRL FRIDAY PRODUCTIONS: From Dream to Reality

Though a small professional theatre company, Girl Friday Productions consistently aims to do it big. Created with the “We can do it!” spirit of Kirby Bennett and Natalie Diem Lewis in 2004, Girl Friday’s mission is to stage high-quality large ensemble performances of rarely produced American classics, such as Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage in 2015. From June 29 to July 23, they return to our Boss Stage with the 1936 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Idiot’s Delight by Robert E. Sherwood.

“Girl Friday Productions is the result of intention and happy accident,” said Kirby Bennett, its artistic leader.

 

Founder & Artistic Director Kirby Bennett

After performing in several productions with the Mary Worth Theatre Company founded by Joel Sass, Kirby and Natalie were inspired to think about producing theater, both as a creative outlet and “as a way to contribute to the independent theatre scene that had been so important to us.” In February of 2004, Natalie just happened to have space reserved at the Bryant Lane Bowl so they made use of it to present the epistolary plays Love Letters by A. R. Gurney and Hate Mail by co-writers Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky. The following year, Girl Friday mounted its first fully staged production, An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf by Michael Hollinger, at the People’s Center Theater in Minneapolis’ West Bank.

Since then, Girl Friday has staged a singular major project every two years. Difficulty in finding available performance spaces, not to mention all the other rigors of planning any production, initially dictated Girl Friday’s long production cycles. This cycle inevitably became its natural rhythm and intentional choice, as the best way to maximize the company’s efforts to work with challenging texts, large and skilled ensemble casts, and distinguished directors and designers.

In 2011, Kirby was appointed Artistic Director by its Board (Natalie had since moved to Los Angeles); and in 2012, Girl Friday received 501(c) (3) non-profit status. Its shows repeatedly garner accolades from audience and critics alike:

Our Town by Thorton Wilder – Pioneer Press 2007 “Top Ten Shows” List

The Skin of Our Teeth by Thorton Wilder – MinnPost 2009 “Favorites” List

Street Scene by Elmer Rice – Star Tribune, Pioneer Press & Lavendar 2011 “Top Ten” Lists; Ivey Award for Director Craig Johnson

Camino Real by Tennessee Williams – Lavender 2013 notable performances recognition

The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder – Cherry and Spoon 2015 Favorites

Girl Friday’s consistent excellence is no accident and, certainly, no small feat for a small, independent theatre company. Besides its vision to, as Kirby put it, “produce great plays and be able to do it freely, we also wanted to make sure that we maintain high standards.” That intentionality remains a strong pull for some of the Twin Cities’ finest theatre professionals, such as Idiot’s Delight leads Stacia Rice and John Middleton and Director Craig Johnson, to want to work with Girl Friday Productions. That reputation is also what steadily keeps audiences coming time and again.

Be sure to come to Park Square Theatre this summer to get your Girl Friday fix! Not only will it tide you over for another two years, but you also won’t want to miss what will surely top another favorites list.

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