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Posts Tagged Hamm Building

Park Square Theatre and the Beauty of Trying

Park Square Theatre describes Cardboard Piano as a powerful story that “examines the cost of intolerance as well as the human capacity for love and forgiveness.” Its arrival at Park Square for its Midwest premiere (January 19 to February 18) comes at a prescient time in the Twin Cities theatre scene, as changing demographics becomes a major driver for arts organizations to reexamine how they fit their communities. It also signals Park Square’s need and willingness to strive to serve a broader audience and offer a variety of viewpoints.

Cardboard Piano at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018 - Two hands claspingHow did a play by a South Korean playwright in America that’s set in Northern Uganda land in St. Paul, Minnesota? A contingent of diehard supporters of Park Square Theatre attended its debut at the 2016 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, and unanimously chose to bring Cardboard Piano to the Twin Cities.

Playwright Hansol Jung’s explanation about her play’s title itself captures how Cardboard Piano made its way to Park Square Theatre. According to Jung, “The title comes from a story told in the play. But it comes from a deeper idea of just the beauty of trying. When we do that we are usually wanting something in life that’s real and beautiful.” (Courier-Journal, March 18, 2016)

Artistic Director Richard Cook

Like the church that is the main setting for Cardboard Piano, Park Square Theatre was founded by white male visionaries to fulfill its mission “to enrich our community by producing and presenting exceptional live theatre that touches the heart, engages the mind, and delights the spirit.” Begun in 1975 at the Park Square Court Building in Lowertown and moving in 1997 to its present locale at the Historic Hamm Building in downtown Saint Paul, Park Square Theatre has traditionally served a predominantly white audience. Within the past decade, Artistic Director Richard Cook noticed the steadily growing diversity in Park Square’s  student audiences and understood its ramifications for the relevancy and viability of the organization into the future.

While student audiences at Park Square Theatre have grown in diversity, general audiences have not yet kept pace. But Park Square continues its commitment to broaden the scope of its repertoire of stories being told on stage with such offerings as Cardboard Piano, as well as to attract more POC artists into its fold to teach, advise and practice their art.

Jamil Jude

Key to accelerating this effort was Jamil Jude, a social justice-based artist who had moved to the Twin Cities in 2011 and is presently the Associate Artistic Director of True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta, Georgia. From December 2015 to June 2017, with funding from a grant, Jude served as Park Square Theatre’s first Artistic Programming Associate, generously sharing his wide network of POC artists to bring fresh talent and ideas to the theatre. Amongst the artists whom Jude had brought to Cook’s attention was Signe V. Harriday, an artist based in Minnesota and New York, who was asked to direct last season’s production of The House on Mango Street and returns to direct Cardboard Piano.

Signe V. Harriday

“The play, at its core, is asking questions about big ideas,” said Harriday of Cardboard Piano. “My work is to create the experience and the audience’s to digest it in whatever way they choose.  But the danger with this play is that it may be easy for audiences to say ‘This is a Uganda issue. We don’t behave that way here.’ The issues raised in this beautiful piece, though, can force us to face our culpability and connection.”

How the global, national, local and personal all interconnect will be further driven home through Park Square Theatre’s partnership with the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), an international nonprofit headquartered in Saint Paul, during the run of Cardboard Piano. The mutual benefit of “sharing the Square” with organizations for which the story of our plays connect with their missions originated with Jude as a creative means of community outreach.

As a community theatre with a social conscience, but staff and board members at different spectrums of cultural competency on issues of diversity, inclusion and equity, Park Square Theatre gamely paddles against strong social currents–both internal and external–with the hope of creating what will ultimately be real and beautiful.

 

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here

Theatre That Builds Futures: A Benefit for Africa Classroom Connection

On Saturday, November 5, Africa Classroom Connection (ACC) holds a benefit at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building. Support ACC by joining in this delightful afternoon of events:

  • Doors open at 1 pm for an African Marketplace, selling beautiful handcrafted jewelry, baskets, wooden masks and more from South Africa.
  • Let the show begin at 2 pm! Don’t miss seeing the powerful American classic, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. The play was the first written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway, winning the 1959 New York Drama Critics Award.
  • After the performance, enjoy a South African wine and cheese reception and participate in a brief live auction, featuring uniquely enticing items such as a South African Wine Tasting for 10.
Director Warren C. Bowles with a model of Lance Brockman's set design for A Raisin in the Sun Photograph by Connie Shaver

Director Warren C. Bowles with a model of Lance Brockman’s set design for A Raisin in the Sun
Photograph by Connie Shaver

Purchase tickets ($65, $40 tax-deductible) through Park Square Theatre’s Ticket Office at 651.291.7005 (mention “Africa Classroom Connection fundraiser”) or online at http//parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/special events/order-form-special-benefit-performance-of-a-raisin-in-the-sun/

Generous sponsors* have paid for all event expenses, so 100 percent of your contributions go directly toward building classrooms!

Questions? Contact Claire at 612.767.4430 or info@africaclassroomconnection.org

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What is Africa Classroom Connection (ACC)?

Africa Classroom Connection (ACC) is an American nonprofit organization that builds schools in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Its vision is that every child in KwaZulu-Natal has the opportunity for an excellent education. The program was started in 1977 by the Rotary Club in a small rural town Eshowe, South Africa. Amazingly, the organization has built over 3,000 classrooms in 800 schools, more than the government.

It’s a self-help partnership: the community must raise a five percent deposit, then donors cover the remainder to build each classroom. As a result, the community respects and cares for its school. Each school’s simple standard classroom design ensures that common materials and local labor can be used. That local labor develops income and skills in the community. The government maintains and staffs the schools. A local Steering Committee makes all decisions about where need is greatest, and provides evidence and audits to ensure international accountability. ACC is volunteer-lead, with all administrative costs generously paid for by its board members, so 100% of contributions go directly to construction.

Board member Tammie Follett and 16 others just returned from a Learning Tour to KwaZulu-Natal to visit classrooms and communities in need of schools. “One day,” Follett said, “we met 630 primary school students. We described our careers and they asked us questions such as ‘What did you study? What do I have to do to be a doctor? Lawyer? Teacher? Electrician?’ We aim to inspire and inform them about the power of education. We hope they explore the possibilities!”

The traveler group also brought home beautiful handcrafts available in an African Marketplace at the benefit performance of A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre on the afternoon of November 5. Please come enjoy great theatre and support powerful education through Africa Classroom Connection www.africaclassroomconnection.org! Event sponsors include *Books For Africa, Merrill Lynch, Presentation Wiz, Thomson Reuters and Z Wines USA.

Cast member Theo Langason looks at set designer Lance Brockman's drawing. On November 5, see how art can also open doors to education. Photograph by Connie Shaver

A Raisin in the Sun cast member Theo Langason looks at set designer Lance Brockman’s drawing. On November 5, join us at Park Square Theatre when art opens doors to education.
Photograph by Connie Shaver

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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