Tickets: 651.291.7005

Posts Tagged Mixed Blood Theater

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

A Hope for Peace

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter's school  (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter’s school
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Yesterday afternoon, I was a proud parent at Mixed Blood Theater, watching the play Migra, written by the 7/8th grade students of my daughter’s school. In the program, the Notes from Artistic Director (the English Language Arts instructor) explained:

This play marks the end of a semester of exploration for the students. We began the semester asking the question, “Who walked this land before me?….We followed that question with, “If my people weren’t Native American, when, how, and why did they arrive here?” Rather than a genealogical study, the exploration looked to literature, art, film, and nonfiction from the countries of students’ ancestral origins and reflected informally in journals and conversations as well as formally in essays. Students considered the past and the present and contemplated the impact of immigration and ancestry on their present day realities. Some students had not thought much about their ancestors, others had vast knowledge, and some had no choice but to constantly be considering their ancestry. While presidential race debates discussed current issues including immigration viewpoints, and our own city experienced the tragic loss of Philando Castille, these topics made their way into the students’ writing, and ultimately into Migra….The views expressed in the play are not intended to represent the ideals of the school as a whole, or for that matter be directive, but they are, like all good theatre, an attempt to encourage the viewer: to question, to discuss, and to feel joy, disgust, fear, and passion. We hope that you take away the beauty of the adolescent mind–and the power of talking about all things sour and sweet, just as these brave individuals show us is possible.

Then in the evening, I attended the second of a three-series talk on the African-American experience by Macalester Professor Duchess Harris, co-author of two books for 6th to 12th graders, Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA (Hidden Heroes) and Black Lives Matter (Special Reports).  These have been in-depth talks followed by audience Q&A, finally shedding light on hidden American history and its overlooked impact on America’s past and present. Notable about these events, which are open and free to the public at Roseville Public Library (final talk is on Thursday, February 2, at 7 pm), is that the room is packed with people hungry for a broadened perspective and an honest start of a dialogue about their and our narratives as Americans.

Hidden Human Computers: Duchess Harris on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/195655453

Recently Park Square Theatre drew a crowd to the commemoration of The Ghostlight Project. This is an effort by theatres throughout the country to, according to Randy Reyes, Mu Performing Arts Director as well as a national steering committee member of the project, declare our theatres as “brave spaces where all are welcome to be who they are and engage in debate and dissent–and leave inspired to take action….Together, we will create light for those who need it most and pledge ourselves to work that honors all and celebrates the unconquerable human spirit.”

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Soon Park Square Theatre will also participate in the Coffee Sleeves Conversation Project with Coffee House Press, an internationally renowned independent publishing company and arts nonprofit in Minneapolis. Through its Books in Action programming, they have designed a unique way to create community discussions on race and the arts at local coffee shops and our theatre.

And as a parent, I am also proud of the fact that Park Square Theatre has a robust Education Program that opens the door to meaningful dialogue amongst our young people, many of whom are first-time theatre attendees. For instance, our on-line study guide for Flower Drum Song, currently on our Proscenium Stage until February 19, offers activities and resources for classrooms to consider “Stereotypes: Real, Perceived, or Debunked?,” “Charting the Immigrant Experience” and much more. For A Raisin in the Sun, which will return by popular demand next season, they did not shirk from topics of redlining and white privilege. Park Square’s study guides are, as our website describes, mindfully “created for teachers by teachers to introduce students to the world of the play” and, by extension, share and broaden their view of the world around them.

Educators met during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Educators volunteered their time during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Today we see arts funding once again coming under attack. But I wonder, as I go to a variety of venues and events featuring writers, actors, dancers, visual arts, students, etc.–often trying to be as financially and publicly accessible as possible for its creators and audiences, do people overall actually support this push? Do they truly not believe in the value of the arts in society? Or, this time, are they grateful for the arts but being fed, once again, the message that adequate arts funding is superfluous to the well-being of our communities? Is it a message that comes from the expansive Heart, or from some place much smaller?

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio (Photo by Bob Schmitt)

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio, who’d created a logo for Theatre Mu, before it became Mu Performing Arts
(Photo by Bob Schmitt)

    tagline-color

Theatre News for you!

Sign up to get the latest Park Square news