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The Indescribable Experience of “Cardboard Piano”

Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano is like watching a drop of love and a drop of hate fall next to each other, causing two ripple effects that collide and intersect.

Part I is set in a church in a Northern Uganda township–“not one of stone and stained glass, more a small town hall dressed up to be a church” with a hole in the roof (script description)–where two 16-year-old girls in the congregation have fallen in love. Christina Jennifer Englewood, played by Adelin Phelps, is the daughter of white missionaries; Adiel Nakalinzi, played by Kiara Jackson, is a local Ugandan girl. They meet in the church on New Year’s Eve 1999 to hold a secret wedding ceremony to bind their forbidden relationship–their pure but forbidden love for each other.

Michael Jemison

What hateful act happens on that New Year’s Eve when 13-year-old Pika, an injured runaway child soldier, played by Michael Jemison, seeks refuge in the church proves to reverberate throughout everyone’s lives within the play for years to come.

Watching a drama in the depths of a Minnesota winter and a harsh political/social climate may seem daunting to some, as expressed by one season ticket holder who’d told me, “This season I decided to just see all the comedies.” But I hope that she reconsiders because, in my opinion, she’ll really be missing out.

It’s hard to describe the special quality of this play that made us emit a jaw-dropping “Wow!” upon having either first seen it at its world premiere in Louisville, Kentucky, or read the script in our own living rooms. I find myself frequently using the word “transcendent” and others, “beautiful,” due to how playwright Hansol Jung so ably captured the humanity within a so often inhumane world. The patrons who’d seen the world premiere performance described it as “an extraordinary experience that doesn’t tell you what to think, but opens your mind to the human capacity for hatred, forgiveness, love and faith–and perhaps hope.”

Adelin Phelps reads her script.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Perhaps actor Adelin Phelps, in our recent conversation, best described why Cardboard Piano is a “don’t miss” play: “The world is in a lot of pain now and has been for a long time. When we watch stories unfold in front of us, it connects us in different ways. When people see Cardboard Piano, they may not leave feeling resolved but more open and connected to each other. With a play that has difficult moments, it can be cathartic, healing and inspiring.  The play is also about love, forgiveness and how we move forward. When I first read it, I remember being aware of the painful parts but also how it was like a beating heart.”

Come join us at Park Square Theatre to see Cardboard Piano on the Boss Thrust Stage from January 19 to February 18. Tickets and information are available here.

How Many Ways Can You Say “Foster Johns”?

Perhaps more ways than Foster Johns himself can imagine, despite being a voice and dialect coach for performers and a speech and communications consultant for professionals. Presently, he is teaching a Ugandan dialect to the cast of Park Square Theatre’s Cardboard Piano, a play set in Northern Uganda.

A sudden coaching substitute without prior experience in Ugandan dialect, Foster had less than a week before rehearsals to get a solid handle on the accent. His first step was to do research, which included finding any audio resources to hear actual dialogue. Such resources are now readily available online through primary resources provided by voice practitioners as well as popular media such YouTube. 

“I didn’t find a lot for a Ugandan dialect,” said Foster, “but Signe (the director of Cardboard Piano) recommended a fairly recent movie that’s set in Uganda, Queen of Katwe, that has an accurate representation of the dialect spoken in English.”

Foster also had the extraordinary luck of encountering a Ugandan woman at his day job just two days before his coaching work would begin with the cast.

“I heard her accent as she was talking to a co-worker and asked her where she was from,” Foster recalled. “When she said Uganda, I nearly fell out of my chair.”

The woman was willing to answer some of Foster’s questions. He was also able to check with her on correct pronunciations whenever necessary.

When he coaches actors, Foster concentrates on teaching them what is called “the signature sounds of a dialogue.” These may be three or four sounds that an actor can hone and perfect in order to sound authentic. Just focusing on a manageable number of key sounds prevents making the dialect too overwhelming or daunting to learn.

“These signature sounds also sometimes aid in shaping the remaining sounds and help set the vocal posture,” explained Foster. These may just naturally form around the signature sounds as one speaks the dialogue.

As a dialect coach, Foster also considers how much the actors are responsible to do. How does learning the dialect balance out with all the other things that they must learn to create the characters and the world of the play? In short, how he can best serve the actors and their performances doesn’t necessarily call for complete mastery, according to Foster, “but more so ownership.”

Foster Johns (center) coaching Michael Jemison (left) and Ansa Akyea (right)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

In Cardboard Piano, Foster mainly coaches the three actors–Kiara Jackson, Michael Jemison and Ansa Akyea–who play the native Ugandans. But he also does some work with Adelin Phelps who plays Chris, the American pastor’s daughter, to consider how she would pronounce particular words.

“Adelin has a brief line in Ugandan, but both she and Kiara say ‘Amen’ at one point,” Foster said. “I have Adelin say ‘Ay-men’ while Kiara says ‘Ah-men’ due to her Ugandan dialect.” Doing something that subtle helps tell the story in terms of place while also revealing something about the characters.

Only seven years into this profession, Foster has worked with international, national and local organizations, which include Park Square Theatre, Minnesota Jewish Theater, Theatre Latte Da and many more. In January alone, he is coaching for shows at Park Square, Illusion Theater, SteppingStone Theatre for Youth Development and Apple Valley High School.

Foster actually began as and continues to be a performer who accidentally fell into this other line of work, which is now his main focus. Here’s how it happened:

“I was always adept at doing funny voices and imitating accents. I can hear a person speak for a couple of minutes then mimic it. A friend of mine was involved in a show and asked me to help someone sound like Judy Garland and another person sound Danish. I didn’t know where to start but thought it might be fun, so I said sure.

I’d always been fascinated with how people speak. Our voices are like a vocal scrapbook of our lives. Our speech reflects where we come from, what we’ve been through, who we’ve been with . . . . from doing that first ‘Judy Garland and Danish fella’ show, I simply got fascinated with helping actors work on this very specific element of their characters.”

Foster’s earlier years of the trial-and-error method of teaching sometimes proved frustrating, as he at times would inwardly wonder about a student: “I can do it, so why can’t you?” His passion for his work and desire to do it better led him to acquire a MFA in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He spent his first year of studies in London, gloriously surrounded by a variety of international accents and voices. His program required that he teach during the second year, and Foster did so at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

In training through a graduate program, Foster learned more about pedagogy and how different people learn. In turn, he learned how to approach different learning styles, whether kinesthetic, aural, visual, etc. Terrific mentors also shared their knowledge, most importantly the need to account for the actor’s process; as Foster describes it, “meeting the needs of the actor instead of imposing a process that one as the coach has deemed to be ‘the way to do it’.”

After learning in London and teaching in Cincinnati, Foster had a very strong desire to return and work in the Twin Cities. In his words, “Ever since first coming here in 2009, I’ve fallen in love with the kind of theatre work we do here and the array of talent that makes that work possible.”

“I used to think that my skill in imitating speech was just entertaining,” Foster reflected. “I enjoyed it, but I didn’t see how it would be in any way useful. Now I find it a great joy to bring it to others and be able to help them. I do like acting, but I love voice and dialect coaching. It keeps me curious.”

Amen to that!

 

Information on Foster Johns’ services here

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here

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

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 Can Save Your Life

 

Cast of Dot on Stage in livingroom with Christmas Tree

L to R: Michael Hanna (Adam), Ricardo Beaird (Donnie), Cynthia Jones-Taylor (Dotty), Maxwell Collyard (Fidel) and Yvette Garnier (Shelly) in DOT
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

“It’s a cheesy thing to say, but theatre saved my life.”

What actor Ricardo Beaird, who plays Dotty’s son in DOT, claims is likely not the first time that theatre has done that for someone, particularly someone younger. At 16, Ricardo was at the brink of failing and repeating a grade in school. Serendipity came in the form of a teaching artist, visiting to teach his class Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“I couldn’t understand it at all, but the artist took the time to help me decode it. I came to understand it so much that I could make others understand it, too. I then realized that I could use that same model–decoding to fit my way of learning and being able to explain to someone else–for other subjects, like math. I ended up becoming an A student!”

Donnie and Shelly in the kitchen

Ricardo Beaird (Donnie) and Yvette Ganier (Shelly) in DOT
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

According to Ricardo, he’d “felt dumb at the time.” Now he himself is gratifyingly also a teaching artist, with the additional perk of lifelong learning through theatre from his own stage work. After earning a B.S. in Theatre and Marketing from Middle Tennessee State University, what initially brought Ricardo to the Twin Cities in 2013 was an Actor-Educator position with CLIMB Theatre in Inver Grove Heights. Once the job ended, he stayed rather than moving to Chicago as originally planned due to our thriving and hospitable theatre community.

DOT is Ricardo’s second time on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage. His first time was in another family comedy/drama, Sons of the Prophet, during our 2015-2016 season. From June 15 to August 5, 2018, he will also be in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Park Square Theatre.

 


ALSO, YOU CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR EDUCATION PROGRAM (including upcoming productions of A Raisin in the Sun and The Pirates of PenzanceHERE

The Everyday Emergency

In 2010, Park Square produced Painting Churches, Tina Howe’s play about a woman who returns home to paint and help her parents. The father’s memory has begun to fail, and in its place are snatches of Irish and American poems. In the program for that production, I wrote about Mary Pipher’s book Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders, in which the author describes how we have no frame of reference for dealing with those who are growing old. She writes, “We have few road maps to help us navigate the new lands [of aging].” In Howe’s play, the couple are relocating to Cape Cod from Boston’s Beacon Hill (current home to John Kerry, former home to Carly Simon, Ted Kennedy, and Uma Thurman). The Churches had the privilege to confront aging with substantial resources, and that’s what makes Colman Domingo’s play feel so vital.

Donnie and Shelly in the kitchen

Ricardo Beaird as Donnie and Yvette Ganier as older sister Shelly in DOT (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

In 2010, I did not note that I knew of Pipher’s book because it was on my family’s bookshelf, alongside Eldercare for Dummies. As Pipher points out, and as anyone knows who has experienced that traumatic instant when a loved one turns to you and asks, “Who are you?” we’re all dummies when it comes to eldercare. (If you prefer, there’s an Idiot’s Guide.) As Dot suggests, caring for prior generations is a nearly inescapable experience, and some who do escape it may incite resentment and anxiety in other family members – hence Shelly’s exasperation.

 

Just as in the play, families debate whether to care for aging loved ones in-home (and whose home) or to pursue other accommodations (“the home”). The stress of these conversations (or negotiations, or outright conflict) is compounded because most families make these decisions with highly constrained finances. Tina Howe’s play is a moving portrait of a family bonding. Domingo’s play is an unnerving mirror. Shelly feels that “every day is an emergency,” and for so many of us who have been in the position of the Shealy children, we may feel that way, too. As we care for the aging and ailing, every second risks a trauma, and every day offers an emergency. We may judge Shelly for the measures she takes to give herself a break, but we can understand her.

From Oedipus to King Lear, from A Streetcar Named Desire to August: Osage County, the family reunion has been a major impetus in Western drama, as far-flung family are forced home to confront crises. And crises, according to Pipher, “make everyone more who they really are.” At least Blanche DuBois knew not to head to the Kowalskis’ just in time for Christmas: holiday traditions and expectations – not to mention sheer numbers of people – can trouble even the most delicately balanced families. But Dot is not a tragedy, and neither is aging, and it’s no surprise the Shealys’ emergency ebbs when the family try to understand one another.

 


Dotty and Jackie on the livingroom sofa with Christmas tree

Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty with Anna Lakin as close family friend Jackie (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Hot off its hit New York run, Dot runs through January 7, 2018 on the Proscenium Stage at Park Square Theatre.

LEARN MORE / GET TICKETS »

Dot the Halls!

Stoke the fire, tinsel the tree, “enhance” your eggnog – do whatever you do to make yourself comfortable this holiday season, for you know just how stressful this time of the year can be!

That angst comes in many shapes and forms, from last-minute gift shopping to navigating those inevitably disparate political views. Sometimes, however, the biggest cause of anxiety isn’t something that can be whisked away with the tree and wrapping, but something that fundamentally tests the love and hope of the season.

Currently running at Park Square is a play called Dot, by Colman Domingo, that explores those trials and tribulations.

In the days leading up to Christmas, one West Philadelphia family is rocked by the fact that their mother’s health is rapidly decling due to Alzheimer’s. All around age forty, the children are often too wrapped up in their own mid-life crises to face the severity of the situation, all too willing to snipe at each other’s own shortcomings. Can the family push past these petty insecurities to confront the the reality of losing their mother?

Like I was saying before, the type of stress that this must cause on the family isn’t going to go away with the coming of a new year and by the end of the play, the siblings realize this. That they themselves are the only support system they have to rely on. No matter the differences, the bond of family is too powerful to ignore.

That then, is where those pillars of the season – love, joy and hope – come into play.

For all of it’s drama, Dot is extremely heartwarming and often down-right hilarious. Any one with siblings or numerous relatives can attest to the absurdity that ensues when so many loud personalities share the same living room. Either your join the madness or sneak away to the kitchen and gorge yourself on leftovers. However you cope, you still appreciate those that you call family, however different they may be from yourself.

This is why Dot is such a great play for Christmas-time and why I would love to see it done often in as many theaters as possible. Not only do the holiday themes run deep, but it’s a new play, so you’re able to relate to the work in a way that more closely resembles your own world than that of say, another telling of Victorian-era A Christmas Carol.

Therefore, treat yourself this season and witness the tornado of tinsel and tears that is Dot and get in touch with those traditions that make you warm and fuzzy inside. Or is that the eggnog your sipping?

Tickets and more information HERE 

 

Ricardo Beaird Turns 360 Degrees

In DOT, Ricardo Beaird plays Donnie, the middle child and only son in the Shealy family who returns home for Christmas with his partner, Adam. There, he falls back into old family dynamics but also must reckon with new family challenges–namely, matriarch Dotty’s steady decline due to  Alzheimer’s disease.

Upon first reading the script, Ricardo had envisioned Donnie as a flamboyant and vocal person, but his take on the character changed 360 degrees once into rehearsals. Caught between bossy older sister Shelly and outspoken younger sister Averie, and raised by the no-nonsense Dotty, Donnie fittingly became, for Ricardo, “a more subdued and careful person and the more logical man of this family of huge personalities.”

In playing a member of such a family, Ricardo must face two major challenges:

“Playwright Colman Domingo is such a wordsmith. He allows the language to sound real and natural. So we talk over each other a lot, and it’s hard for actors to speak over each other. What part will be most important for the audience to hear?

Ricardo Beaird as Donnie and Yvette Ganier as older sister Shelly in DOT
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

I’m also in these monster scenes that suddenly switch from comedy to drama. It happens so fast, on the turn of a dime. My focus will be to do them as honestly as I can.”

The culmination of all the hard work will be what Ricardo describes as the exhilaration of “giving the audience the experience of going home for Christmas,” with all its hype and pure joy and sadness. Also refreshing to Ricardo is that, although DOT is about an African American family, it isn’t about the hardship of being black. Instead, it tells a universal story about how Alzheimer’s disease affects families. Seeing a play that starts a conversation around this important but often unspoken topic may just be the gift that someone needs.

 

Tickets and information here

 

Michael Hanna in a Play with Heart

In Park Square Theatre’s production of DOT, Michael Hanna plays Adam, partner of Richard Beaird’s character, Donnie Shealy. This puts him squarely into the Shealy family dynamics as he accompanies Donnie to matriarch Dot’s home for their Christmas gathering. Not only must Adam and Donnie navigate their own relationship but also face Dot’s decline into Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, Michael answered questions posed to him about being in DOT and a bit about himself, too:

1. What were your personal ideas as to how you’d approach your character in Dot before rehearsals, and how did they evolve in the rehearsal process?

I think there’s a beautiful fluidity to Adam; he’s very adaptable. He seems to roll with the punches, which is essential in the Shealy family. As rehearsal continued, I started to realize how interwoven he is into the family dynamic. And while he might not have the same amount of history as the siblings and Dot have, because of his love for Donnie, he has a tremendous amount at stake.

2. Often I will seek an interview with cast of plays before the rehearsal process begins. Some do not like to be interviewed until rehearsals have begun, but others do not mind. Your response was that interviewing for a show before rehearsals usually “hasn’t been terribly fruitful.” But in my experience as an interviewer, that actually has not been the case.  How did your opinion from the actor’s side form as a result of what you’ve experienced throughout your career?

I think the reason I say that is because, for me, the way a character jumps off the page when you first read a play is only 25% of the equation of playing the character. I imagine the cast as the colors on a palette: if any of those colors are changed, while the shape of what you’re creating may remain the same, the hue of it will be drastically different. It’s when I get into the room and realize the other actors who I’ll be playing with that I realize how to approach the play. Some of my original instincts get thrown out or recycled into something new. For me, the Adam I’m playing is hopefully one that is based very much off of what Ricardo as Donnie is bringing to the table and informed by every other interaction.

L to R: Michael Hanna (Adam), Ricardo Beaird (Donnie), Maxwell Collyard (Fidel) and Yvette Garnier (Shelly)
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

3. Why do you want to play Adam?

He’s smart, expressive and charmingly flawed. It’s fun to play characters that can be both kind and cruel in a single page.

4. What will be the biggest challenge for you in this role?

This play has a huge heart! Playwright Colman Domingo has tapped into that quality of messy love that I think most families create. Finding ways to access the love of this play, of this character, while also realizing that this family rarely holds back with each other, is one of the bigger challenges. If the underlying love doesn’t come across, even when Adam might want to strangle one of the other characters, I think I’d be missing the mark. It’s a fine line to walk, though a fun one!

5. If you were not already in DOT, why would you choose to see it?

Because its about familial love, which I never get tired of exploring.

Because it talks about Alzheimer’s, a disease that is attached to an unhealthy stigma. We need to discuss this disease and all of the people it affects, both directly and indirectly.

Michael Hanna as Romeo, and Christian Bardin as Juliet 
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

6. As an usher for student matinees, I’ve seen you play Romeo in Park Square’s Romeo & Juliet over and over again, but a real highlight is watching the actors then come out to talk to the students. What would you say to someone who wants to pursue acting as a career?

The beautiful thing about being an actor is that it pulls from your entire life. I don’t think it’s healthy to get too myopic about being a performer. Go out and develop other interests. Study how the world works with as little judgement as possible. Your regular and creative life will thank you.

 

Tickets and more information for DOT here

Anna Letts Lakin On Asking the Hard Questions

In DOT, Anna Letts Lakin plays Jackie, the longtime friend of matriarch Dotty’s family. Jackie has returned to her old neighborhood in West Philly for Christmas “to get my head together and re-evaluate my so-called LIFE.” On her journey to honestly face and redefine herself, she’s unexpectedly confronted by the prospect of losing Dotty, who was like a second mother to her, to Alzheimer’s disease.

“What I admire about Jackie is that she asks the hard questions. She doesn’t skirt around them or let them go. She wants to get to the bottom of things even if it’s uncomfortable,” said Anna. “I wouldn’t do that. I’m a Minnesotan, and I tend to avoid confrontation. But for Jackie, it’s not a matter of nice but of necessity. She’s actually being generous to be able to ask the hard questions, yet be okay if the answers are sharp and uncomfortable.”

Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty with Anna Letts Lakin as close family friend Jackie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

While Anna may not be prone to ask hard, uncomfortable questions of others, she was willing to ask them of herself. A speech pathologist with a lifelong love of acting, she was finally able to embrace her second career after admitting what held her back was the fear of failure.

“Acting was always a passion but secondary in practice,” Anna acknowledged. “I decided that I would really refocus on it after my son got a bit older. I was now mature enough to fail. In acting, you fail a lot; it’s part of the business. I came to realize that trying to get an agent who’s not interested in representing you or auditioning but not getting cast isn’t failing. That’s all part of the job–the hard work of being an actor. That realization helped me manage my fear and opened up all the doors for me.”

Anna Letts Lakin talks about her role at the insiders’ party held at Holiday Bliss.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

As an actor, Anna gets to delve into something that, in her words, “absolutely fascinates me: social relationships.”

“That’s why I’m an actor!” she continued. “And in DOT, the subtlety of the human relationships and family dynamics are so rich. As the play progresses, everything makes more and more sense. There’s so much history between these characters. No one’s past comes to a dead end; they all intersect. No aspect of any character is used simply as a device for the storyline. Nothing that happens is unnecessary.”

During rehearsals, Anna also noted that DOT opened up cast and crew to share how Alzheimer’s has touched their own lives. It’s a disease that hits so close to home for so many.

“Alzheimer’s is horrible and unfair but so prevalent and pervasive, yet so unspoken,” Anna noted. “I haven’t heard of a play on Alzheimer’s, especially a comedy. This play is about finding peace, happiness, humor and the best out of a situation. I feel so honored to be in a play that addresses this disease as normal and can make people closer.”

 

 

Tickets and more information here

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