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Posts Tagged Michael Kittel

A female duo of Holmes and Watson are on the case!

The premiere of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville is witty and fast-paced – with women playing the famous sleuthing duo! Park Square Theatre cherishes its summertime tradition of cozying up audiences with a good mystery. This year’s edition for the company’s 43rd season – Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: a Sherlock Holmes Mystery – offers a fresh take for Holmes devotees AND a special invitation for those who’ve never spent an evening with the iconic sleuth. McKenna Kelly-Eiding (closing a spectacular run in The Wolves at The Jungle) stars as Sherlock Holmes and Sara Richardson* (last seen at Park Square in The Liar) as Dr. Watson. The remaining 40 characters in this smart send-up of The Hound of the Baskervilles are played by just three actors: Eric “Pogi” Sumangil*; Ricardo Beaird; and Marika Proctor*. Cue the lightning-fast costume changes as wealthy Henry Baskerville is threatened by the fable of a bloodthirsty hound on the moors and the dynamic duo sniff out the culprit.

From Left: Sara Richardson (Dr. Watson) and McKenna Kelly-Eiding (Sherlock Holmes).

Women have been winning over Holmes fans in recent years, from Lucy Liu as Watson in the CBS series Elementary, to Christopher Walsh’s new play Miss Holmes, to Carole Nelson Douglas’ eight acclaimed Irene Adler suspense novels – the first to reinvent a woman from the Holmes “canon” as the protagonist. Director Theo Langason, in his Park Square directing debut, admits that “some Sherlockians will be skeptical of a woman in the role. But, all the things we love about the character – intuition, ingenuity, intelligence – aren’t tied to gender. And when I saw McKenna’s audition, her performance was so grounded – which this script needs since the other actors jump from character to character.”

In many ways, Watson takes center stage as the cataloger and helpmate. Like the character of Archie Goodwin in the two Nero Wolfe mysteries Park Square has commissioned, Watson serves as the “investigator on the ground” while the great detective muses in solitude. “Sara Richardson is so wonderful,” says Langason, “and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with her as Watson in this play.”

Langason relishes the challenges of tweaking audience expectations while staying true to the core of the Holmes story that keeps winning fans generation after generation. “Sherlock is a fascinating character,” he says. “He deserves a role in the pantheon of super heroes. I mean, without Sherlock Holmes, is it possible to have Batman? This show clips along with a very atmospheric, cinematic quality that I think will be really satisfying to both the artists and the audience. Peter Morrow (the sound designer) and I are working hard on where the sound comes from in the auditorium, trying to achieve the sensation you get in a surround-sound movie theatre. I want those ‘howls off the moors’ to give us all the heebee jeebees!”

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The creative team for the production includes Ashawnti Ford (Assistant Director), Eli Sherlock Schlatter (Set Designer), Mandi Johnson (Costume Designer), Peter Morrow (Sound Designer), Michael Kittel (Light Designer), Sadie Ward, Properties Designer, Annie Enneking (Fight Choreographer), and Keely Wolter (Dialect Coach). Laura Topham* will serve as Stage Manager and Sam Diekman* is the Assistant Stage Manager.

Previews begin Friday, June 15, and continue through Thursday, June 20. June 21 is Opening Night, and the run continues through August 5. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. except for Saturday and Sunday matinees, which begin at 2 p.m. All performances are on the company’s Proscenium Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building, 20 W. Seventh Place.

Ticket prices: Previews: $20/$27/$37. Regular Run: $25/$40/$60. Discounts are available for seniors 62+, members of the military, those age 30 and under, groups, and ASL/AD patrons. Tickets are on sale at the Park Square ticket box office, 20 W. Seventh Place, and by phone, 651.291.7005, (12 noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday), or online at parksquaretheatre.org.

*Member, Actors Equity Association

Photo by Petronella J Ytsma.

Kit Mayer Just Wanted to Have Fun

Photo by Barbara Kelsey

All the action in Playwright Michele Riml’s Henry and Alice: Into the Wild happens on one set that is described at the very beginning of her script:

Lights up on a typical bare camping site. A picnic table, an old rim for a fire, a stump for chopping wood and some kindling are the only things on the site along with a couple of rocks and tree stumps. Overhanging the site is a large branch. 

When a set is so specifically defined, I wondered how the scenic designer approaches the project. For Park Square’s production of Henry and Alice, the set is designed by Kit Mayer.

According to Kit, in consultation with Director Mary Finnerty, he quickly established that he needed to design a highly realistic natural setting. That drove the rest of the decision-making process.

“I hadn’t done a highly realistic set with nature before, but it wasn’t that difficult to understand the space and the main elements needed to make it like a campground. Once we’d made the choice to go natural, it came down to finding what’s easily obtainable,” Kit said. “But we first had to determine where we would be and what kind of natural setting we wanted.”

Knowing that Michele Riml is a playwright from Vancouver British Columbia, an area with which Kit has familiarity, Kit pulled inspiration from that location. Doing so helped Kit to pinpoint what kind of trees to use that would be possible to acquire (making realistic fake trees would be too time-consuming and costly to do). Birch and pine trees are plentiful there so Kit selected birch.

Front view of Kit’s set model for Henry and Alice.

“We couldn’t go with pine trees. They’d dry out plus create a fire hazard,” Kit pointed out. “Birch trees–dead ones; we never chop down live trees–are easy to get. When I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska, we could go into the woods and drag them out.”

To get birch trees for Henry and Alice, Kit, who lives close to La Crosse, Wisconsin, simply kept his eyes open for dead birches in people’s yards as he varied his routes for a few weeks when driving to and from home. When he spotted dead birches, he’d knock on the homeowner’s door, offering to haul them away at no cost.

“Then I had to think about what to do with the floor. I ended up covering it with a ground cloth and throwing dirt, leaves, branches and other natural materials on it to create a sense of reality. And I just bought a fire ring and burned fires in my yard to age it and get it to look proper.”

Kit also has a background in lighting design that makes him able to keep in mind how to design a set to complement with lighting needs. He asks himself, “How would I like to see the set if I were the lighting designer? How can I help make the lighting more interesting and possibly easier?”

Finished set. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

For instance, Kit knows that having tree leaves will lend itself to patterned light to create that natural effect of sunlit leaves throwing shadows. Where he puts trees can also impact Lighting Designer Michael Kittel’s design for Henry and Alice; no trees should block key lights.

About his set design, Kit declared, “It was just fun to do.”

Having fun was also a huge factor in Kit accidentally stumbling into theatre arts. He hadn’t started college until his 20’s and did not want to end up with a desk job for work study. With his background in construction work, he was offered the chance to work in the Theatre Department, which to him “looked like the funnest place to work” so he accepted.

“I wasn’t a Theatre major,” Kit reflected, “but they sucked me in. They recommended a class to me in my first semester. Then they asked me to design a show in my second semester. I didn’t even know that such a career was possible, but I’d found my niche and enjoyed it. I got excited; and in my second year at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I became a Theatre major. I later got my MFA in Design and Technology from the University of Minnesota.”

In his long career as a scenic designer, Kit’s work has been seen nationally from Maine to Alaska but also internationally in Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. He is a designer and founding member of the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre in Alaska and the Resident Designer for Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minnesota. He has designed the sets for numerous Park Square productions throughout the years; and now, through October 22, you will get to see his latest endeavor in Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

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