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Tinne Rosenmeier is Polonia

Recently I had the supreme pleasure of speaking with actor, Tinne Rosenmeier, who is playing Polonia in Park Square Theatre’s production of Hamlet. Ms. Rosenmeier had a lot to say not only about the production itself, but how re-imagining the character “Polonius” as a woman helps bring fresh life to an established classic.

Photo by Nancy Hauck

So what’s it been like playing a character such as Polonia? What can audiences come away with after seeing your portrayal?

Polonia, yes.  WOW!  First of all, there’s the thrill of the opportunity, right? That made me giddy and rather flighty during our first week of rehearsals.  Then, there’s the history of the role, our expectations of who and what Polonius is: stuffy, fusty, chatty, a bit impotent and comical. Polonius is deeply embedded in the masculine story, history, and culture of our cultural understanding of Hamlet, the play. What happens when we shift away from that?

What we’re discovering is that Polonia  (the concept), works just fine.  As a power broker, I have many contemporary politicians to study – their poise, strength, and steel. There’s the reality we face as working women and mothers: how many of us can still be involved in the day to day of raising our children?  Polonia is and has been a working mother, and that very contemporary reality never confronted, and is unlikely to ever confront, a man playing a Polonius.  We still live in a society that stretches women to do it all. At the moment (though there may be some nuances we haven’t reached yet in rehearsals) Polonia has made career choices to serve her king(s), and she isn’t much given to self-doubt or regret.

As a mother, there are insights into Ophelia’s plight that don’t surface for a “Polonius.” The advice that she quit her crush on Hamlet hinges on his freedoms as a man and a prince — ‘with a longer tether may he walk/Than may be given you.’  What a rich vein to plumb. I think it is a mark of her lack of self-knowledge that she doesn’t recognize her own complicity in Ophelia’s trap, and despair.

When did you first get involved with Park Square?

My first audition for Park Square was in 1984, when I was embarrassed to learn that a Shakespearean sonnet wasn’t the same as an audition monologue.  I felt pretty lucky when I got a call to step into a part another actress vacated, in Arthur Miller’s The American Clock.   Later that season, or the next, I was again called in as a replacement, in The Master Builder, with Bill Kimes.  I was invited to join the resident acting company Park Square had for a few years, and spent a few seasons working here.

It was an amazing experience, but I learned the limits of untrained acting.  It was the kind and generous advice of Richard Cook, plus the encouragement of Betty Burdick (who played Mrs. Master Builder) that propelled me to seek training.  I needed a process.  It’s a deep satisfaction and honor to return to Park Square with technique and process, and to develop this role.

My family moved back to Saint Paul in 2000. I just couldn’t break in as an actress at that point, and I took myself over to Hamline to get my teaching license.  Over the last 13 years I’ve been teaching around the Twin Cities. I was so proud and excited to bring students to Park Square’s education programs and productions.  The Build a Moment experience is the cleanest introduction to the power of theater design and tech I’ve every run across. I also served on Park Square’s  Education Advisory Board for a few years, and raise my hat to Mary Finnerty and the whole group.  I believe in theater education, and Park Square’s contribution is unmatched and indispensable.

Tinne Rosenmeier is a Minnesota-native, born in St. Paul and a graduate of Carleton College and holds an MA in Educational Theatre from New York University. She also attended the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York City. In addition to Park Square Theatre, she has been seen on stage at Pangea World Theatre (The House of Bernarda Alba) and Savage Umbrella (The Awakening), among many others. When she is not performing or teaching, her interests include playing with her dog, feeding the chickens, gardening and quilting when the weather turns cold.

See Ms. Rosenmeier in Hamlet, on the Proscenium Stage through November 11! The play is adapted and directed by Joel Sass.

 

Role Reprisal: John Middleton

John Middleton

Starting the 2017-2018 season off with a bang is Henry and Alice: Into the Wild by Michele Riml and directed by Mary M. Finnerty. A few of those names may sound familiar to the Park Square faithful, as this delightful rom-com is a sequel to that other delightful rom-com, Sexy Laundry, which brought the house down in 2014. Finnerty also directed the precursor and wouldn’t you know it, John Middleton is also back in the role of Henry, while this time around Carolyn Pool plays his counterpart , Alice. Melanie Wehrmacher rounds out the cast as an interloping family member.

I was able to ask Middleton a few questions about what it’s like getting to act the same character in a new play. After all, that’s not something that happens very often in the theatre. Unlike a movie sequel, you do not have the opportunity to “go back” and catch the first one. For him, the biggest difference will be the fact that in Sexy Laundry he had the even more unique experience to act opposite his real-life wife, Charity Jones. While that may not be the case for Henry and Alice, he is excited to work with friend Carolyn Pool who he says is, “… a terrific actress who’s carried me through productions before – including Dead Man’s Cell Phone here at Park Square.” That production was in 2010, so that gives you an idea of how familiar audiences should be with Middleton. Most recently, he was seen on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Idiot’s Delight by Girl Friday Productions, playing the wily, straight-talking American.

 

Sexy Laundry with Charity Jones. Photo by Petronella Ytsma 

But how far can we go? Middleton’s very first production at Park Square in 1991’s The Marriage of Figaro, and while he may not have had many lines he distinctly remembers moving a lot of chairs around. That was only a year after he first came to the Twin Cities as an actor. Hailing from Wisconsin, he landed a role playing a pirate in a production of Peter Pan at the Children’s Theatre Company and liked Minnesota so much he decided to stay. I believe I can speak for the community here when I say we’re certainly glad he did! Other recent Park Square Theatre credits include: Calendar Girls, Romeo and Juliet, The School for Lies, and American Family.

As you can see, Henry and Alice: Into the Wild is but the latest in many wonderful turns on the Park Square boards for John Middleton. As we herald the start of the new season, let’s revisit the familiar world of Sexy Laundry and the actor who brought it to life then as he will now.

At Its Core, A Love Story

The cast of Amy’s View in a rehearsal.
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Amy’s View, currently on our Proscenium Stage until June 4, is sure to bring Park Square’s core audience to its happy place. It pairs two of the Twin Cities’ favorite actresses, Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney, in the leads as mother and daughter, respectively, in a regional premiere of a drama by playwright David Hare. A British play set in 1979 and spanning almost two decades, it hints at underlying social themes but is, at its core, a love story.

With daughter Amy’s premise that “love conquers all” running throughout the play, Amy’s View brought to my mind Erich Segal’s Love Story, which was both a film and novel. The book was released on Valentine’s Day in 1970, staying the top-selling fiction in the United States for the entire year. Jenny’s (its female lead) famous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” became a much debated catchphrase just as daughter Amy’s view will likely become for those who see the play.

Amy’s View features love in its numerous forms: romantic, platonic and, most specifically, familial. Each relationship is greatly tested, even stretching the limits of unconditional love to a questionable degree of self-sacrifice. You will leave asking, “Does love conquer all?”

Then you may also ask, “Who says so?” The writers of both Amy’s View and Love Story are male. “Love conquers all” may have first appeared as a Latin phrase–omnia vincit amor–in Eclogue X by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil.

Just as with “not having to say you’re sorry,” the notion of forgiveness–its necessity (or not) to move on becomes a central question in this play as well. How much can one endure before forgiveness comes off the table? What state of grace comes from keeping it on the table? Must it be earned or be unconditionally offered?

As I’d heard Cathleen Fuller, who plays Linda’s mother-in-law, recently say about Amy’s View, “It’s a powerful piece!” As such, the play lends itself to lively discussion, so consider making a night out on the town as a pair or group with a post-show dinner or drinks. But be careful! What you say may cement a relationship for life or make yourself ask: “Who did I marry?” or “Is she really my mother?”

May you sit long, talk much, and have a great time!

 

What the Heck is Steampunk Anyway?

Playing the boards right now at Park Square Theatre is the play, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, and one thing you might have noticed about the design of the show is the use of steampunk as a choice. Basically, it’s when you saw the modern costumes blended with Victorian garb and the computers infused with copper pipes and steam-powered devices. If you thought this was just a cool choice by the design team, you are just scratching the surface. It’s actually a much larger aesthetic known as “steampunk” and it has a much richer history and more widespread use than you might have first imagined.

Typical steampunk attire. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Typical steampunk attire. Photo by Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

While the term steampunk was only coined in 1987, it has since been applied to much earlier works of art such as those by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Yes, it is a science-fiction thing and describes the genre where the Victorian era is re-imagined with modern technology that runs on steam power. The reverse is also true where an alternate future is imagined with society having to reacquaint itself with the use of steam (usually following an apocalyptic event).  You are actually probably very familiar with the look of the genre if you’ve seen TV shows and movies such as The Wild West West and any adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 

Beyond it’s use as a design in various works of fiction, steampunk has become it’s own subculture of living. Whole festivals and conventions are dedicated to people donning the Victorian/mechanical clothes and really giving into the conceit of living in such a world. Such events are hosted in Seattle, New Zealand and, of course, Comic-Con in San Diego. You will also most definitely run into a steampunk or two at just about any Renaissance festival, including the big one in Shakopee. Even if a city may not host a major steampunk gathering, as the genre becomes more mainstream, elements are trickling into just about every facet of art, including real-life architecture. This metro station in Paris, is a wonderful example, instantly making you feel as if you’re on board Captain Nemo’s Nautilus.

Arts et Metiers

The Arts et Metiers Metro Station in Paris. ontheluce.com

As a whole steampunk has proven to be more than just a fad or something limited to the pages of science fiction novels. As evidenced by the design of The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, the look and feel of steampunk has become rather commonplace. Some critics will even lambaste this move to the mainstream as the death knell for the genre. Critics always have to criticize don’t they? The fact is that the anachronistic use of clothes and gadgets  is fun and seems to have captured the imagination of the general populace, and while it isn’t to be taken too seriously, hopefully it can be used to support the themes of a play. For a story such as The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, where times melds and the lines are blurred between two distinctly unique eras, steampunk seems like just right aesthetic to drive home some timely ideas.

 

Two Words

H. Adam Harris as Thomas A. Watson & Kathryn Fumie as Eliza, the radio interviewer (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

H. Adam Harris as Thomas A. Watson & Kathryn Fumie as Eliza, the radio interviewer
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The lines that stay with me in THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE are delivered by Thomas A. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory assistant, played by H. Adam Harris:

“If I may, this is significant. What my friend and mentor called out to me in that famous first sentence ever conveyed by wire was “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.’ It is often misquoted.” (Click here to listen to the account of the real  Thomas A. Watson.)

Watson tries hard to set the story straight for his radio interviewer, who has it incorrectly in her notes that Bell had said, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” However, she considers the misquote “a minor difference”; whereas Watson sees it as “a crucial one” for the following reason:

“The two words that seem to you a minor difference, to me spell the difference between a man calling out to an acquaintance for generalized assistance, and a man calling out to his intimate friend for a service only he can render.”

Watson had dedicated his life to helping Bell, an extraordinary act that could easily be judged by others as too unfairly selfless. After all, Bell got the fame as Watson fell into obscurity. But Watson sees that interpretation as “a gross mischaracterization. If I opened myself to my friend, he opened himself to me no less profoundly.” They’d developed a strong friendship built on shared vulnerability, commitment, respect and trust. They’d both gone into the relationship with eyes and hearts wide open; they both had each other’s backs.

I found myself pondering their powerful bond the other day as I monitored school groups during the intermission for The Diary of Anne Frank. Friendship is also a strong theme that runs through that play, and here I was watching hundreds of young people coming together to take it in.

It was in this uplifted mindset that I suddenly witnessed this scene: A small group of white girls standing by the stage and one girl a few steps above them. The apparent leader of the group yelled out to the lone girl, “Angela, come down here with us!”

I smiled at these welcoming words.

When Angela had not yet moved, the leader repeated more forcefully, “Hey, Stupid! Come down here with us!”

Two words added.  A crucial difference–the difference between friend and foe, invitation and threat.

Angela chose to return to her seat rather than join the girls, who were now giggling hysterically but also nervously, realizing that an usher had been a witness. Then the leader started a frenzied dance to shake off the moment, with some of her friends following suit.

THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE, playing on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage until April 30, is, as described by Director Leah Cooper, “really a play about making yourself vulnerable to love.” It is about opening ourselves to help and hurt as we navigate our way around forming mutually beneficial and meaningful human connections.

Very heartening to me is what Adam Whisner, who plays Merrick in curious case, had said about himself during our interview (see the April 2 post “Adam Whisner: The Two Merricks”): With age, he steadily becomes more of a Watson–that genuinely kinder, less self-interested and guarded person who lets more expansive and truer human bonds form.

I think about the girls and how they will choose to relate to others in the near future and as they continue to grow up. I hope for them to steadily develop the Watson intelligence, too. And I hope in doing so they will add two more words omitted from their vocabulary: “I’m sorry.”  The crucial difference between relationship and disconnection.

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.

Wintertime (Sung to the Tune of Gershwin’s “Summertime”)

image-soul-of-gershwin-12-1

Maud Hixson, Geoffrey Jones and Maggie Burton

Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

 

Wintertime,
And Park Square is a hoppin’
Gershwin’s playin’
On the Proscenium

Your calendar’s
Got a spot in December
So rush music lover
Don’t miss out

One of these mornings
You’re gonna rise up singing
And you’ll keep it up
As you take a shower

‘Cause last night you heard
Snappy music at our show
With family and friends sittin’ by

Wintertime,
And Park Square is a hoppin’
Gershwin’s playin’
On the Proscenium

Your calendar’s
Got a spot in December
So rush music lover
Don’t miss out

George Gershwin had composed “Summertime” in 1934 for his opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward. “Summertime” became a jazz standard and is one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music. Here is a link to the actual lyrics and a performance of the song:

http://www.letssingit.com/george-gershwin-feat.-helen-merrill-lyrics-summertime-hct6q2r

Come hear “Summertime” and other popular Gershwin melodies performed by a talented cast, accompanied by a live band, in The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage from December 2 to 31.

 

The Stage Manager Chronicles: Megan Fae Dougherty

For those civilians out there who don’t necessarily know the ins-and-outs of live theatre, the stage manager is the one who keeps everything in order. Obviously the job is way more monumental than that overly-simplified description, but put another way, a production would probably disintegrate, dissolve and collapse in on itself in a rage of despair and chaos if not for their guidance.

Thank goodness for stage managers, and especially good ones!

Among that class is Megan Fae Dougherty who is currently working hard behind the scenes of The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer. As you know the musical is preparing to open on December 2, but thankfully I was able to catch Dougherty at a convenient time to ask her a few questions about herself and the show.

megan-fae-dougherty

Megan Fae Dougherty (center) with director Peter Moore (left) and assistant stage manager Samantha Diekman (right) at rehearsal for The Soul of Gershwin. Photo, Connie Shaver.

She let me know that she has been stage managing for much of her life, choosing the career in college at Bemidji State University. Although like so many theatrical artists, the seeds were planted long before by a high school director who pushed her into a stage management job in eighth grade. It was at Bemidji, however, that her break came when a professor needed a replacement stage manager right away. Already assigned as the show’s assistant stage manager she was ready to step in. The position was a seemingly temporary one, but of course fate turned it into something a little more permanent. She remained the stage manager and the rest was history.

After college, Dougherty moved to the Twin Cities and has worked with several different theatre companies around. Park Square has been a mainstay since 2011 when she worked on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Working with Joe Chvala and his Flying Foot Forum is another artistic home, especially when you know that Dougherty is a practitioner of the flow arts, which encompasses such endeavors as hula hoop, fire spinning and stilt walking. She is also a frequent stage manager with TigerLion Arts and was able to recently tour with their immersive walking play, Nature. 

Clearly whatever project Dougherty is attached to is bound to be unique, engaging and highly rewarding. The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer is no exception and she is excited for audiences to share in the music and storytelling the show has to deliver!

The Heart and Soul of Gershwin

What do you think of when you hear Gershwin? Right now I only mean the literal name – George Gershwin. Do you think of iconic songs such as “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris”? How about the great opera, Porgy and Bess and it’s classic “Summertime”? Okay, now what else do you think about (again, about the man himself). Do words like “New York”, “jazz”, “immigrant”, “Great American Songbook” and “Roaring ’20s” float through your imagination?

They’re all floating about in my head and I’m just a millennial who’s about to live through a whole new ’20s!

George Gershwin

George Gershwin

 

Speaking of which, now what images are appearing in your mind? I bet it is the 1920s, the decade with which Gershwin will forever be linked. In a post-war world, the United States suddenly took the lead in cultural influence, where our figures of pop culture took on Olympian status. Athletes, aviators and artists were now more popular than any stuffy politician or war hero. Jazz, sex and money seemed to be the cultural touchstones of the era with a soundtrack composed by George Gershwin.

Born in New York City in 1898, to Roza and Jakov Gershowitz, Jewish immigrants from Russia. He had three siblings named Frances, Arthur and Ira (who would become his equally famous writing partner). The children grew up in the Brooklyn tenements and were unwittingly influenced by the cultural melting pot that surrounded them at the turn of the century.

All of this culminated in 1924 when Gershwin was commissioned to compose a jazz concerto that became Rhapsody in Blue. The piece and that opening clarinet glissando immediately established him as a serious composer at the fine age of 26.

Four years later, his next major work premiered, An American in Paris. Inspired by the years he had spent in Paris (probably the next most artistically scintillating city after New York City) he said, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

He went so far as to include Parisian taxi horns into the composition.

With the dizzying heights reached by Gershwin and the country, it seemed poetic that the only way to go was down. The extravagance of the ’20s fizzled into the bleakness of the ’30s. The country may have been depressed but Gershwin was as busy as ever, composing a the folk opera, Porgy and Bess. A failure at the time, it is now regarded as a true American masterpiece, noted for it’s cast of classically-trained African American singers. Of course this was an extremely bold move at the time and thankfully one Gershwin was willing to make.

The work unfortunately proved to be his last, for what came after is again, almost poetic. In 1937 he suffered a  brain tumor and died.  The events were devastating as Gershwin was only 38 and seemingly poised to start a new chapter in his already stellar legacy.

banner-soul-of-gershwin-960x480

 

Now this winter, Park Square Theatre takes up the mantle of that legacy with The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer. That last word, a Yiddish one, means “instrument of music”. How fitting then for a man who was an instrument of so many talents.

 

Universal Themes in A Raisin in the Sun

One of the shows that most excites me in Park Square’s current season is Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.  The story about a family just trying to survive and get ahead is such a powerful one that it resonates as not just an American tale, but a human one.  Of course, the family at the center of it all is African American, allowing the play to delve even deeper into themes that have a historically specific relationship with African American citizens.

A Raisin in the Sun

This past winter I was in a production of Clybourne Park at Yellow Tree Theatre, which for those who don’t know, is set in the same world as Raisin, only after the events as told in Hansberry’s play.  It’s a script that picks up the mantle for the 21st century and scathingly shows us that issues such as racism, gentrification, entitlement and civil rights continue to nip at our heels no matter how many steps we take forward.

Among the many great things to come out of that experience for me was a reason to re-read A Raisin in the Sun (like you need a reason!), and I couldn’t put it down.  I remember reading it in high school and definitely not having the same reaction.  Obviously, my tastes and sensibilities have matured since I was sixteen but also so has our culture, where minority rights are deservedly back at the forefront of our social narrative.  As a white guy, it’s just been inherent that I live with certain blinders on; but with art such as A Raisin in the Sun, those blinders can start to come off and I can do my part to help make the world a better place.

That’s why A Raisin in the Sun is a great play, but the reason I believe it is a masterpiece of the American stage is how it gets its message across.  It’s extremely well-written!  Yes, the central theme is that of the African American experience, but it is told in such a way that it instantly becomes recognizable to anyone who has ever had a family, had to move, had to deal with life insurance and wills, been taken advantage of and so on.  Within this framework, the Younger family’s struggles become relatable to everyone; and in this way, it begins to create the social change for which I’m sure Hansberry was ultimately striving.

Nearly 60 years after Hansberry’s play premiered, we are still freakin’ fighting for universal rights.  I think there’s a lot of frustration that the years continue to roll without total victory.  Again as a white guy, when I was feeling the most frustrated with my seeming inability to relate, I picked up A Raisin in the Sun and I got it. Whether it’s sixty years ago or now, the story of the Youngers suddenly became my story and it changed my whole perspective. 

I’ve read it a couple times but I have never seen a production of A Raisin in the Sun. This October and November promises to be a special one at Park Square where, I believe, many perspectives will change and the world will inch ever closer to the equality we desire.

 

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