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Posts Tagged educational theatre

Of Mice and Men in Review

Looking back on my time performing in Of Mice and Men at Park Square, I can’t help but marvel at all the studens who came and witnessed our rendition of the classic story. Nearly every morning between November 4 and December 16, groups both large and small came to the Andy Boss Thrust Stage and were down right captivated. Rarely did we have any disturbances and certainly never anything that warranted more than a quick visit from the house manager.

Credit here has to go to that house management team of Quinn Shadko and Adrian Larkin (who set clear expectations to the kids in a pre-show speech), but I think the schools themselves deserve a ton of credit as well. These were kids who had all mostly read the book already and were eager to delve further into the literature but watching it come to life. When people ask me who adapted the play, I love saying John Steinbeck. Since he also wrote this play, I believe it’s a highly constructive component to studying the novel.

This all became apparent to me over the course of the run, when we would hold post-show discussions after select performances. These twenty minute talk-backs were the chance for students to directly engage with the actors. Our conversations covered some fairly heavy topics such as gender roles, racism, the class economics of the Depression and the treatment of the mentally impaired.

But were these topics too much for teenagers to grapple with? In every instance, I was surprised by their eagerness to discuss. Such a forum seemed to give them the freedom to say just what they thought about those aforementioned topics and how our modern world is both alike and different from that of 1937. As an educational show, Of Mice and Men offers so much to sink one’s teeth into. It’s like a little microcosm of all the politics America has always struggled with. I would encourage any social studies or history teacher to check it out.

While the show is an intellectual goldmine, I also loved the fact that it offered the students so many opportunities for emotional release! I’m not even talking about all the tragedy – yes, they cried as much as the adults – but the willingness that they had to laugh, mock and cheer was admirably bold.

For an actor, it was rejuvenating. It felt like being in Elizabethan England, playing to the groundlings at the Globe. That kind of audience participation is so important as it recognizes the inherent fact that this is all make-believe and that we’re all experiencing the story. Of course you don’t want to be disrespectful to any performer, but why shouldn’t audiences “aaaaaawwwww” at the dog or jeer the bad guy? Hopefully those kids had as much fun as the actors and came away thinking about “The Theatre” as a place where they can not only reflect, but also relax.

I think this is something else our show succeeded in doing and for that, I’m so grateful I got to be involved. One of the biggest discussions in the theatre world right now is cultivating audiences from an early age. Of Mice and Men offers teenagers everything they could ask for – a riveting drama with plenty of action and comedic relief. And what do you know, they’re learning a thing or two to boot!

Just two performances left, Friday, Dec 15 and Saturday, Dec 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and information here

The Mighty Quinn Shadko

Those of you who regularly attend shows at Park Square Theatre might be familiar Quinn Shadko, the actor and singer, who has appeared on stage in The Snow Queen, The Diary of Anne Frank and went on as the understudy in Of Mice and Men. Where you might not know her from is the day-to-day operations of the theatre, a job she just recently took on, working in the education department. Due to those two latter credits, Shadko knows first hand the extraordinary impact that Park Square’s education series has on the students of Minnesota (and even Wisconsin and Iowa at times). Every year over 32,000 students come through the doors to see theatre and it is her job to not only manage the mind-boggling logistics, but also ensure the experience is positive, enriching and long lasting. She sums it up best by saying:

“It’s our privilege to bring to life for them what they’re reading on the page, and usually it’s an impression that lasts a lifetime. We don’t just want to create a new generation of artists or even theatre-goers, but smart, sensitive citizens who think globally and see theatre as a medium for open discussion and social change.”

These sentiments are vital, especially considering that this may be the first time a student has or will see a play. Every little detail must count! Education and entertainment must go hand-in-hand!

Quinn Shadko (left) in The Snow Queen. Photo by Petronella. 

Shadko has always been involved in theatre and is an experienced actor with local and national credits under her belt including a national tour of Clifford the Big Red Dog and (much much more locally) The Realish Housewives of Edina. Not limited to the stage, she also works a fair amount in voiceover and is currently the voice of HealthPartners on the radio.

Hailing from southwest Minneapolis, she attended Breck School where her drama director, Tom Hegg, was a force in her early development as a performer. Following high school she moved to Houston, Texas to attend Rice University and studied classical voice performance and linguistics. Not done yet, she then moved to New York where she earned a Master of Music in voice performance (with a specialty in musical theatre) from NYU.

After time away from Minnesota, however, she knew she wanted to return home and take advantage of the ability to blend artistic opportunities with such a high quality of life. Indeed, whenever Shadko finds herself not working or performing, she hits the lakes of Minneapolis and loves exploring the city. Right now you can prepare to see her in the role of “Zerlina” in Don Giovanni, produced by Skylark Opera at the Woman’s Club in Minneapolis. It’s an English-language adaptation and set in Minnesota during the Prohibition Era!

Photo by Vera Mariner.

How lucky we are at Park Square to have her manage such a special program as the education series. Of course it’s a mighty responsibility but that suits Shadko just fine. She wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

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