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Posts Tagged Jasmine Huges

On the Road to Empathy

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

Months ago, I had a troubling conversation with a retired literature teacher. She had taught John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to high school students in Billings, Montana, during the late 1970s. What she remembered most was how difficult it was to draw any sense of empathy, much less sympathy, from her students for the migrant workers in the novel. Her students had considered them “a bunch of losers,” with the main characters, George and Lennie, as “the biggest losers.”

Last week I made it a point to watch Park Square Theatre’s production of Of Mice and Men during a student matinee rather than an evening or weekend show for general audiences. I attended with two school groups–a large non-diverse and a smaller diverse group. With my assigned seat on the right side, I was embedded with the smaller group; and due to the close, intimate space of the Boss Thrust Stage, I had an excellent view of the larger group.

What I witnessed was a fairly rapt student audience for that morning’s performance, with a student on my side even shushing fellow students for whispering during a particularly intense scene. And the whispering students had actually been talking about the play! Theatre-wide, students unconsciously leaned toward the actors, drawn into the key moments: What will happen to Candy’s dog? Curley’s wife? George and Lennie’s dream? Lennie himself? This was theatre at its best, when the connection between audience and actors creates the synergy for a powerful mutual experience.

Jane Froiland in a rehearsal for Of Mice and Men
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

At intermission, many students stayed in their seats to read the cast backgrounds rather than check out the concession counter or take their break in the lobby. I spoke to several to gauge their reactions: No one liked how Curley, the bullying son of the migrant workers’ boss, treated people. Some felt especially bad for the plight of the aging and disabled Candy. Others connected to the concept of dreamers hoping and trying to create better lives. With all that’s been happening in our nation’s social and political climate, it was heartening to witness young audience members relating to the play and its characters.

What I had already discovered through numerous interviews with actors as a blogger is the crucial role that theatre has played in their own personal development as much more empathetic human beings. Actors must perpetually step into someone else’s shoes to understand and become their characters. That’s certainly been true for Vincent Hannam, who plays and dislikes Curley, but had to ponder how Curley became so mean. As Jane Froiland, who plays Curley’s wife, put it in our conversation, “Theatre makes you a better person.” Theatre has the capacity to foster empathy in those on and off stage. Now that’s a powerful medium.

Of Mice and Men is on stage through Saturday, December 16. Tickets and information here.

 

Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty, and Jasmine Hughes as daughter Averie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Park Square Theatre’s production of DOT is also a strong example of that power. As you watch family and friends in the play struggle to come to terms with matriarch Dotty’s steady decline from Alzheimer’s disease and reassess their own lives over the holiday season, you may recognize yourself or someone you know in those characters. The hilarity–and seriousness–lies in the knowledge that these people are also us in their messy humanness. And before the ending of DOT, we all get to step into Dotty’s shoes (no more said to prevent a spoiler).

In interviewing cast members of DOT, I’d mindfully asked how they’d personally perceived their characters before and during rehearsals. This question often brings interesting insights as to how one views people then readjusts those views as our understanding of them evolves. This happens for actors in the rehearsal room but is also very true to life in how we all relate to each other. Follow the DOT blog posts to find out how the actors responded!

As we navigate the holiday season into a new year, may we keep traveling the road towards empathy to create a more humane and hopeful world for all. Let’s keep journeying together. I look forward to seeing you at Park Square Theatre!

 

Tickets and information on DOT here

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

 

Cynthia Jones-Taylor (member, actors’ equity association) photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

Park Square Theatre’s holiday production, DOT, features the hopeful but melancholy tune “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The song aptly fits the play, which portrays a family coming to grips with matriarch Dot Shealy’s steady memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease. DOT is a comedy/drama filled with both hilariously funny and touchingly bittersweet moments.

The song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was first introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. As big sister Esther, she sings it on Christmas Eve to cheer up her five-year-old sister, Tootie, who is distraught by their family’s impending move from their beloved home in St. Louis, Missouri, to New York City.

Although songwriting team Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane shared credit for writing the song, Hugh may have actually penned it alone. He was asked to make the lyrics more uplifting several times, resulting in this final version, which is slightly different than the one sung by Judy Garland:

 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Make the Yuletide gay

From now on, our troubles will be miles away

 Here we are as in olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who are dear to us

Gather near to us once more

 Through the years we all will be together

If the Fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

 

According to Ricardo Beaird who plays Dot’s son, Donnie, the moment in the show when he plays the melody on the piano makes him weep. Like Christmastime itself, the Shealy family gathering is a joyful but wistful affair. With Kleenex tucked into pockets, come ready to laugh but also be prepared to cry.

And have yourself a very special time!

 

Ticket and other information here

 

Sources:

 “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” @ en.wikipedia.org

 “The history of a popular holiday song” by Chris Willman (January 8, 2007) @ ew.com

 “Judy Garland, ‘Have a Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by Jim Beviglia (December 18, 2016) @ americansongwriter.com

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