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Posts Tagged Mu Performing Arts

Support Students Attending Flower Drum Song!

Scarves in LobbyPark Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts are thrilled to bring Flower Drum Song to the Proscenium Stage this month. Both organizations are especially excited to share the production with students from Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Iowa next month!

When you walk into the lobby of the Proscenium Stage at Park Square Theatre you will see a beautiful hanging scarf depicting the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. We are thrilled artist and Park Square Theatre patron Jane Goodspeed designed this stunning scarf for our lobby. Now is your chance to help students see Flower Drum Song and take a scarf home with you!

Chinese Zodiac Scarf WornSponsor nine students attending a matinee performance of Flower Drum Song with a $99 donation and we will gift you a scarf through the mail. The scarves are perfect to both wear or display as a wall hanging, as it includes the string and bamboo sticks to display your scarf on a wall.  Fill out our online order form now to make your donation! If you have any questions Chinese Zodiac Scarf 1regarding this opportunity feel free to contact Mackenzie Pitterle at Pitterle@parksquaretheatre.org or 651-767-1440.

Thank you for supporting Park Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts! We look forward to seeing you at our production of Flower Drum Song soon wearing our scarves!

Donate Now and Receive This Beautiful Scarf Through the Mail!

 

P.S. Be sure to reserve your tickets to see Flower Drum Song now! Tickets are going fast!

 

Flower Drum Song: Featuring Wesley Mouri

mouri-wesley-color

As part of the cast of Flower Drum Song, Wesley Mouri plays Wang Ta, the son of a Chinese opera actor and immigrant to San Francisco named Wang Chi-Yang. Ta is in love with Chinese American showgirl Linda Low but also falling for a new immigrant from China, Wu Mei-Li.

Recently, we asked Wes, “What is most meaningful for you about the role that you play in Flower Drum Song–whether it be your particular character role, your overall role of being part of the production, or both?”

Here is his answer:

Flower Drum Song centers around Asian American theater performers fighting for representation and acceptance in a white majority society, while still desperately trying to uphold and honor the traditions of their ancestors before them. To some, it may sound like a dated plot line; but for Asian artists living in 2017, the struggle has not changed.

Representation of Asian stories, starring Asian characters, played by Asian actors is missing from the American theater. I know that might come across as a generalized and overly bold statement, but the Asian community in America has often been cited as “The Invisible Minority.” Cultural upbringing has created a “don’t speak up, don’t stand out, just put your head down and work hard” mentality for Asian Americans. Whenever an Asian person speaks up about discrimination, people respond by saying, “All of the stereotypes about Asians are positive! You’re really good at math and the girls are sexy and you know kung fu!” This only perpetuates the stereotypes of Asian characters in the media. Nerdy, de-masculinized men. Sexualized Asian schoolgirls. Mystic foreign martial arts masters. This is why a show like Flower Drum Song is so relevant and important to produce in our modern society.

Three-dimensional characters, with high stakes objectives. Romantic entanglements. Standing center stage and delivering a show stopper. These are opportunities that are taken for granted by many actors, but for the Asian performer, these opportunities often never arise. Asians can be the mysterious native (i.e., Bloody Mary in South Pacific), the sterilized simpleton (i.e., Chinese Laundrymen in Thoroughly Modern Millie), or the “Engrish”- speaking comic relief (i.e., Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, Mrs. Swan from MadTV, The “Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra” Waiters in A Christmas Story, Mrs. Kim from Gilmore Girls, Rajesh Koothrapali from The Big Bang Theory, etc., etc., etc.) .For the Asian American performer, playing a leading role in any form of media is a huge deal. 

I’m playing a character named Wang Ta. He desperately wants to honor his father and maintain the Chinese opera traditions but also yearns to join the modern world with his “bold and brassy nightclub show.” He is head over heels in love with the unabashed Linda Low, yet also finds himself drawn to innocent and pure Mei-Li. On top of all that, he is struggling to pursue his American dream while holding on to his Chinese roots. Can someone be 100% Chinese AND 100% American? Now THAT is a challenging and interesting character for an actor to invest in.

I have been moved to tears multiple times during the rehearsal process simply by looking around the room and seeing this diverse cast of Asian American performers fully investing and pushing themselves to be more than a funny sidekick or a splash of color in the ensemble. The most meaningful part of Flower Drum Song for me is simply being a proud Asian American actor, playing an Asian American character, telling an Asian American story. It’s my first opportunity to do so, and I hope it’s not the last.

Wesley Mouri as Ta and Stephanie Bertumen as Mei Li Photo by Connie Shaver

Wesley Mouri as Ta and Stephanie Bertumen as Mei Li
Photo by Connie Shaver

WESLEY’S BACKGROUND:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Mu Performing Arts: A Little Night Music; Guthrie Theater: South Pacific, The Cocoanuts, The Music Man; Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Hello Dolly!, The Little Mermaid, Bye Bye Birdie; Children’s Theatre Company: Cinderella; Ordway: Broadway Songbook: Rebels on Broadway Training B.A., Theater Arts, Bethel University

 

Flower Drum Song – Co-Produced with Mu Performing Arts

Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – January 20 to February 19

The Stage Manager Chronicles: Lyndsey Harter

Ringing in the New Year on the Proscenium stage at Park Square will be Flower Drum Song, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with a book by David Henry Hwang. The play is a co-production with Mu Performing Arts. As noted in the previous Chronicle, it is being stage managed by Jamie J. Kranz, and assisting her in that role is Assistant Stage Manager, Lyndsey R. Harter.

Harter has been with Park Square since the fall of 2014, although it was just this past one when she was able to join Actors’ Equity, the professional union for American actors and stage managers in the theatre. This distinction is something an aspiring individual must work for and Harter was able to helm her first play with such a distinction at Park Square with The House on Mango Street. This was after a summer stage managing plays at the Great River Shakespeare Festival with oft PST director, Doug Scholz-Carlson.

Lyndsey R. Harter.

Lyndsey R. Harter.

 

In fact, Harter frequently collaborates elsewhere and will follow Flower Drum Song with another play from Mu Performing Arts in the spring at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio. She and Randy Reyes have previously worked together at Park Square on Murder for Two.

So how did Harter find herself in this position? Raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, she moved to St. Paul in order to study costume design at Hamline University. Despite notable achievements, including two awards with the Kennedy Center American Collegiate Theater Festival, she began to gravitate toward stage management and the unique challenges it afforded. It was during her junior year the stage manager of one of the school’s plays had too many conflicts and needed a new person. Employing her excellent organizational skills and affable attitude, Harter was well poised to jump in. She immediately fell in love with seeing how “all the pieces fit together and how one change affects five others.”

Harter grew up in a military family and while real-world duties of actors and soldiers couldn’t be more different, they both share a sense of extreme discipline and teamwork. These attributes have no doubt been an aid to her career. Whenever she is not behind the tech table she loves to stay physically active and finds exercise to be a great way to find “balance and mental space.” Oh, and peanut butter M&Ms are also a little pleasure of hers.

Who knew all of that was going on behind the scenes at Park Square? When you see Flower Drum Song, don’t hesitate to thank the crew and if you want to bring some of those M&Ms, it wouldn’t go unnoticed. Come see it on the Proscenium Stage at Park Square, running January 20 – February 19.

In the control room at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Megan Winter.

In the control room at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Megan Winter.

#allarewelcome: Illuminating Brave Spaces January 19

Ghostlight on stage with caption Be a Light

Challenging times can cause many of us wonder where the light is in the world. If these days seem like that for you, the Ghostlight Project brings good news and the opportunity to illuminate our little corner of the country.

On January 19 at 5:30 pm hundreds of theatres across the U.S. will host outdoor gatherings for a collective action to shine some light — in the form of flashlights, cell phone lights, fairy lights, etc.— to celebrate our theatres as Brave Spaces.

Please join us at Park Square as several theatre companies including Mu Performing Arts, Girl Friday Productions, Sandbox Theatre  and Prime Productions gather under the Park Square marquee on West 7th Place to participate in  the project. Our event will include music, the opportunity to join with others, to light a light, make a personal pledge and gather for coffee and hot cocoa in the lobby.

Details are available on Park Square’s Ghostlight Project page For more about the nationwide initiative, visit the TheGhostlightProject.com.

Bring friends — and your light.

#bealight
#ghostlightproject
#allarewelcome

The Magic Number is 17

There are 17 performers of Asian descent in Park Square Theatre’s upcoming production of Flower Drum Song. 17. Seventeen. That might not seem like groundbreaking news, until you ask yourself: When was the last time you saw 17 Asian American actors in one production on stage or on screen?

Sure, there are The King and I’s, Miss Saigons, and maybe even Pacific Overtures out there, but now I’m struggling to name another big broadway musical with as many as 17 Asian characters in it, let alone Asian or Asian American performers. And if you add the qualifier of a broadway musical written by an Asian or Asian American playwright or composer, that number dwindles significantly.

Many people are quick to say that in recent years, we’ve come a long way in American race relations, and maybe we have. However, while blackface is considered a thing of the past, yellowface and brownface are still practiced with some regularity, even in 2016. Add to that the practice of Whitewashing, casting a white actor instead of an actor of color, sometimes changing the script to do so. Take a look at #WhitewashedOUT, #MyYellowfaceStory, & #MyBrownfaceStory on Twitter & Facebook for more stories from Asian Americans about [lack of] representation on stage and screen.

A few years ago, during a broadcast of the Academy Awards, I challenged my Facebook friends to name an Asian American who has won an Oscar for a project telling an Asian American story. I noted that by saying “Asian American” I specifically meant that non-Americans of Asian descent did not qualify, and that stories that were set in foreign countries, where Asian American actors might be playing foreign nationals, likewise did not qualify. I meant specifically Asian Americans telling stories about the experience of Asian Americans. I would happily stand corrected, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The Tony Awards are slightly better, but not by much. Rarely has there been an Asian American story on broadway, and Flower Drum Song is one of those rarities. But it wasn’t until 2002 that an Asian American, David Henry Hwang, received a credit for writing the new adaptation of Flower Drum Song, which is the script being used for Park Square’s production.

So when you come to Flower Drum Song (opening Jan. 27) not only will you be watching broadway musical history in the form of an Asian American musical written by an Asian American, but you’ll be seeing 17, count ‘em: 17, Asian Americans onstage. And you might not see that again for a while.

Happy Mu Year!

 

The Chinese character 'xi,' meaning happy or joy Calligraphy and photography by Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio

The Chinese character ‘xi,’ meaning happy or joy
Calligraphy and photography by Bob Schmitt

 

Theater Mu was founded in 1992, added Mu Daiko in 1997, then renamed itself Mu Performing Arts in 2001 to better reflect its taiko and theater programs. In spring 2017, Mu Daiko will spin off as a separate nonprofit entity to continue its work, still carrying its Mu indicia.

But what exactly does the term ‘Mu’ mean? According to Mu Performing Arts, “‘Mu’ (pronounced MOO) is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese character for the shaman/artist/warrior who connects the heavens and the earth through the tree of life.”

In 2017, Mu Performing Arts will be 25 years old! This January and February, Park Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts partner to co-produce the musical Flower Drum Song in celebration of this happy occasion.

Most appropriately, an ancient form for the Chinese character ‘xi,’ which means happy or joy, pictorially shows a flower-like hand holding a stick and a drum to make music and a mouth singing.

 

First rehearsal for Flower Drum Song: Eric 'Pogi' Sumangil and Wesley Mouri singing; Meghan Kreidler seated Photography by T. T. Cheng

First rehearsal for Flower Drum Song: Eric ‘Pogi’ Sumangil and Wesley Mouri singing; Meghan Kreidler seated
Photography by T. T. Cheng

 

 Flower Drum Song – Park Square Proscenium Stage – January 20 to February 19

 

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Note: Minneapolis brush painter and teacher Bob Schmitt is professionally trained in traditional Chinese landscape painting and calligraphy by master painters Hong Shang from Shanghai as well as Lok Tok and Yitong Lok of Toronto, Canada. Learn more about him at www.shopatlaughingwatersstudio.com.

Playwright Victor Maog Talks About “tot”

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As Park Square Theatre presents its regional premiere of Calendar Girls on the Proscenium Stage this week, Mu Performing Arts will stage the world premiere of totThe Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a filipino) Hulk Hogan on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage.  The play is written by Victor Maog, who was named one of American Theatre Magazine’s “20 Theatre Workers You Should Know” (October 2015).

Victor Maog received the Mu Performing Arts/Jerome Foundation New Performance Program commission to write tot, his first full-length play.  This opportunity came about after a fortuitous encounter with Rick Shiomi, founder and — at the time — Artistic Director of Mu, in 2013 at a conference in Philadelphia.  Although he was known more as a director, Maog accepted Shiomi’s offer to write a play even though he did not yet know what to write about.  Many months later with the deadline looming, Maog finally gave into his fears to dig deep within himself to examine what it means to be Asian and American.  And tot was born.

Despite being one of the largest immigrant groups, Maog notices that Filipinos appear to not be as visible as other Asian groups, lacking much literature, films, or other documentation; the Filipino story tends not to take center stage.   In Mu’s press release, Maog stated, “I’m proud to build upon the too-few produced works that explore the Filipino-American experience.”

As described in Mu’s press release, “the play follows the life of an immigrant boy named tot who travels from the Ferdinand Marcos-ruled Philippines to the San Francisco Bay Area to meet his long lost parents.  He journeys from a country full of strife and military rule only to find himself in his lonely American bedroom conjuring a pro wrestling fantasy to escape his new life.”  The lead character, tot, will be played by current Mu Artistic Director, Randy Reyes, who said, “Victor Maog wrote a play that I connect with in so many ways, it’s scary.  It’s as if he wrote it about me.  Not literally, but emotionally and spiritually.”

The character tot is also not literally Maog.  In the play, tot comes to America when he is 9 years old; Maog immigrated from the Philippines at 6-1/2.  Like tot, Maog played with wrestling figures and watched a lot of wrestling on television; unlike tot, wrestling did not overtake his everyday life.  Much of what Maog conjures on stage is his reality and imagination mixed together— a way to create a play with suspense which will entertainment and delight the audience as much as to carry the personal emotional truths that will resonate with those who understand the sense of loneliness, the need to be seen and loved, and the struggle to figure out one’s identity which tot experiences.  As Maog puts it, “tot echoes my own life questions.”

 

(Note:  Also be sure not to miss Park Square Theatre’s co-production with Mu Performing Arts, Flower Drum Song, in our 2016-2017 season.)

True Gems

I was recently inspired by Matthew Glover’s blogs on June 1 (“When 40 Feels Like a Lot”) and June 3 (“The Finish Line”). Glover was co-Director and Project Lead on Sandbox Theatre’s Queens, which just ended its run on Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage. Each of his posts gave us a glimpse of the immense dedication of artists to bring their creations to audiences, regardless of size, and how they feel called to give beyond the best of themselves—in this case, performing through excruciating pain from an injury.

Glover made me recall how I had discovered Sandbox Theatre at Park Square Theatre last season. The ensemble was performing War With the Newts, also on the Boss Stage and as part of Park Square’s Theatres in Residence Series. It was a truly groundbreaking production, described as “a deep exploration of the themes of nationalism, exploitative business practices and human nature’s self-destructive tendencies.” In short, humanity faced extinction at the hands of anthropomorphic newts. Reviewers described the play as “quirky” and “darkly funny.” The utter originality of the production simply blew my mind—in a very good way, leading me to see it twice.

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As you can imagine, I could not wait to see Queens this season. But like War With the Newts, Queens also fought for a larger audience, though both garnered good reviews. The sheer quiet beauty of the sure-footed performances made me want to see Queens again as well, though I was unable to do so this time.

In a May 25 review on Queens in City Pages, Jay Gabler wrote, “If you’re willing to set aside your expectations of a conventional narrative, though, you’ll find a show built on trust—trust among the performers, trust in the material, and trust in the audience.” I think that his words would also ring true for War With the Newts a year ago. Sandbox Theatre does excellent but unconventional work that may challenge the audience in new ways; and, often, cutting-edge art takes time to be recognized for the gem that it is—to, essentially, build an audience.

Pondering on the incredible dedication of Sandbox Theatre to its craft made me think about all the other smaller theatres in the Twin Cities that have or will perform at Park Square Theatre this season–Wonderlust Productions, Mu Performing Arts, Other Tiger Productions and Flying Foot Forum–and how they “sweat blood” to inspire us, broaden and challenge our views, and bring us together.

New start-ups, such as Full Circle Theatre (co-founded by Rick Shiomi who was also co-founder of Mu Performing Arts) and Hero Now Theatre (which cast our own Vincent Hannam in its inaugural play), have only cropped up this past year; and you can be sure that others will keep coming, all bent on working to build mutual understanding and inspire a better future.

I encourage you to come and engage with these and other theatres as you discover their existence. Come be challenged. Come to explore. Come to receive their gifts—always with an open mind.

 

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