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Posts Tagged Park Square

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

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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.

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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.

 

TEST: Costumes 101: Before and During the Show

In theatre, as in real life, how one dresses reveals a lot about a person.  This summer, I asked Megan West, Park Square Theatre’s Production Manager, to tell me how costuming is handled from start to finish.  So she did!

Park Square hires a designer to create costumes for each play. Before meeting the cast, the costume designer has already done much character research to consider appropriate wardrobes to help create the characters’ identities.  S/he puts together a “collage book” for each character, consisting of fabric swatches to determine what colors, hues and textures to use, pictures from fashion publications or ads, online images and whatever else may seem indicative of the character.  All the while, s/he is also consulting with the play’s director to discuss what really works.

The costume designer also attends production meetings to collaborate with the set and lighting designers.  For instance, the set designer may know not to get a red sofa if costumes will be in red, or the costume designer may know not to create green costumes if a set will be designed using green tones.  The lighting designer also needs to know about chosen color-schemes to create effective lighting.

The actors will have been measured and had fittings as part of the costuming process, which gives them some idea as to what they will wear.  Not until technical rehearsals happen will the actors start wearing the costumes.  It is the time for them to get a sense of how it feels to move with the costumes on as well as to practice how to quickly change in and out of costumes.  The actors, in fact, have their wardrobe organized and labeled on a rack in the dressing room as well as provided with a list of their costumes.  Everything is organized to help the play run smoothly.

Not all costumes need to be “created from scratch.”  That is actually an expensive process so, more often than not, clothing is purchased from stores, usually on discount or used.  Clothing and accessories can also be rented at low cost–a dollar per week for jewelry, $3 per week for pants, $4 for coats.  Actors may even own personal pieces appropriate for the play, which the theatre pays them rent to use.

The designer’s job is not yet over even after the show has opened.  Audience reactions in the preview performances can influence costume changes.  For instance, if an orange dress causes laughter in a serious scene, then the designer must change the dress.  Or does a tank top on an heiress, for example, look cheap and shabby on stage when it shouldn’t?

Costumes must be kept clean throughout the play’s run, too.  Park Square has a  part-time wardrobe staff member who keeps track of laundering schedules and repair lists so a hired laundress knows what and when to wash in-house or dry-clean and what needs mending.  In general, clothing is washed every other performance, but articles that touch skin, such as underclothing and slips, must be laundered after each performance.  A helpful “trick of the trade” is to spray vodka on clothes as a disinfectant.  Once the play ends, everything gets a final wash.

When I have watched actors in performances, I was unaware of all that is involved in the costuming process.  So much meticulous attention to detail is necessary to design or acquire the right costumes and to maintain and organize them.  So much hidden work goes into creating magic on the stage.

              Calendar Girls Costumes          Calendar Girls Costumes

Some Costumes for Calendar Girls

 

(Look out for the upcoming blog, “Costumes 102: After the Show.”)

 

Costumes 101: Before and During the Show

In theatre, as in real life, how one dresses reveals a lot about a person.  This summer, I asked Megan West, Park Square Theatre’s Production Manager, to tell me how costuming is handled from start to finish.  So she did!

Park Square hires a designer to create costumes for each play. Before meeting the cast, the costume designer has already done much character research to consider appropriate wardrobes to help create the characters’ identities.  S/he puts together a “collage book” for each character, consisting of fabric swatches to determine what colors, hues and textures to use, pictures from fashion publications or ads, online images and whatever else may seem indicative of the character.  All the while, s/he is also consulting with the play’s director to discuss what really works.

The costume designer also attends production meetings to collaborate with the set and lighting designers.  For instance, the set designer may know not to get a red sofa if costumes will be in red, or the costume designer may know not to create green costumes if a set will be designed using green tones.  The lighting designer also needs to know about chosen color-schemes to create effective lighting.

The actors will have been measured and had fittings as part of the costuming process, which gives them some idea as to what they will wear.  Not until technical rehearsals happen will the actors start wearing the costumes.  It is the time for them to get a sense of how it feels to move with the costumes on as well as to practice how to quickly change in and out of costumes.  The actors, in fact, have their wardrobe organized and labeled on a rack in the dressing room as well as provided with a list of their costumes.  Everything is organized to help the play run smoothly.

Not all costumes need to be “created from scratch.”  That is actually an expensive process so, more often than not, clothing is purchased from stores, usually on discount or used.  Clothing and accessories can also be rented at low cost–a dollar per week for jewelry, $3 per week for pants, $4 for coats.  Actors may even own personal pieces appropriate for the play, which the theatre pays them rent to use.

The designer’s job is not yet over even after the show has opened.  Audience reactions in the preview performances can influence costume changes.  For instance, if an orange dress causes laughter in a serious scene, then the designer must change the dress.  Or does a tank top on an heiress, for example, look cheap and shabby on stage when it shouldn’t?

Costumes must be kept clean throughout the play’s run, too.  Park Square has a  part-time wardrobe staff member who keeps track of laundering schedules and repair lists so a hired laundress knows what and when to wash in-house or dry-clean and what needs mending.  In general, clothing is washed every other performance, but articles that touch skin, such as underclothing and slips, must be laundered after each performance.  A helpful “trick of the trade” is to spray vodka on clothes as a disinfectant.  Once the play ends, everything gets a final wash.

When I have watched actors in performances, I was unaware of all that is involved in the costuming process.  So much meticulous attention to detail is necessary to design or acquire the right costumes and to maintain and organize them.  So much hidden work goes into creating magic on the stage.

              Calendar Girls Costumes          Calendar Girls Costumes

Some Costumes for Calendar Girls

 

(Look out for the upcoming blog, “Costumes 102: After the Show.”)

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Kory LaQuess Pullam

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Kory LaQuess Pullam:

pullam_kory_laquess

ROLE:  Liam, late 20s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Liam would like to be directing other things than photoshoots for washing powders.  He’s not so unprofessional as to let it show, but we can sense a slight weariness at having to deal with these women. . . . For Liam, this photoshoot is a job.  And not a job he wanted.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Kory LaQuess Pullam is a gifted young actor.  I saw his work at Park Square Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet.  He has a strong work ethic and a great ear for dialect.

QUESTION FOR KORY:

What characteristic or aspect of Liam seemed most important for you to bring out?

The most important thing to bring out in Liam is that this world is foreign to him.  He’s from the UK, but not the specific region of Yorkshire like almost everyone else.  Also, it’s important that we get the sense that Liam is bigger than all this.  He’s meant for more and doesn’t have a tough time showing it.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Romeo and Juliet  Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater: Choir Boy; Children’s Theatre Company: Charlotte’s Web; Pillsbury House Theatre: Prep; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Christians; Brave New Workshop: The Working Dead; History Theatre: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story  Training B.F.A., Acting/Directing, Stephen F. Austin State University  Other Founder of Blackout Improv  Upcoming Projects Guthrie Theater: The Parchment Hour; Underdog Theatre: Baltimore is Burning

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Anna Hickey

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Anna Hickey:

Hickey_Anna

ROLE:  Elaine, 20s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Elaine really doesn’t mean to be so patronizing.  But Jessie [see blog featuring Linda Kelsey] seems from another world.  The world of her gran.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Anna Hickey has a really fresh, sensual inhabitation of the character of Elaine.  She also had great chemistry with Shanan Custer [who plays Ruth].  Anna has good comedic instincts and the ability to create a character with depth, which is important since her character is not on stage long.

QUESTION FOR ANNA:

Elaine is not an especially likeable character.  What did you think of her, and how did that inform your role playing?

I wouldn’t describe Elaine’s character as “not likable.”  She’s actually very charming and genuinely wants to help women feel better about themselves.  To a different group of women, she’d be a hit.  Of course, to the characters in this play she is problematic, but that is only five minutes of Elaine’s life.  It’s important to look at the whole scope of the character and not just the snippet the audience gets to see.  What is her history with male and female relationships?  What are her wants, desires and dreams?  I believe all characters are more than the sum of what we see on stage, and to me, Elaine is a woman who is passionate about beauty treatments, who has high hopes for a make-up career in film, who is greatly comforted by positive attention from others, and who is oblivious to the way her actions affect people.  And that is so much more fun to play than simply being unlikable.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square The School for Lies  Representative Theatre Hennepin Theatre Trust: The Realish Housewives of Edina; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Three Musketeers; Illusion Theater: My Antonia; Paul Bunyan Playhouse: Spamalot; Loudmouth Collective: A Bright New Boise; Bloomington Civic Theatre: Singin’ in the Rain  Training B.A., Theatre Arts, University of Minnesota; M.A., London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art  Other Freelance Choreographer and Teaching Artist with Stages Theatre Company

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Karen Weber

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Karen Weber:

weber-karen

ROLE:  Lady Cravenshire, 60s; Brenda Hulse

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Lady Cravenshire really doesn’t mean to be so patronizing.  But the WI girls seem from another world.  The world of her estate workers.

(Tim Firth does not describe Brenda Hulse in the script.  She is a dull guest speaker at the WI.)

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Karen’s task in the play is to play two upper class characters very differently:  Brenda and Lady Cravenshire, and I wanted someone who could play each as a real person.  Karen possesses a strong upper class bearing; she can play that and is also a director so has lots of ideas to differentiate the two characters.  She is an actor with a clear vision about their differences.  She understands her own context and how to conduct herself.

QUESTION FOR KAREN:

Brenda Hulse and Lady Cravenshire both come from uppercrust, high society.  How did you consciously differentiate the two?

I think the thing that Brenda and Lady Cravenshire have in common is that they are not originally from this tiny little dale.  They are both highly educated women and come from a higher income bracket than the women of Knapely.  As such, they speak with a very proper dialect, project a sense of superiority and are automatically afforded social deference as class differences are more noted in British society.

How that superiority is played, really, is the essential difference in the way I approached these two characters.

Brenda is something of a self-proclaimed, self-made Academic–an essentially insecure woman whose life has a singular focus and insular scope, and her self-esteem revolves around her rank in the national WI organization.  She displays superiority over the women of Knapely with her judgmental approach and thinly veiled condescension.  In her case, “High Class” doesn’t mean she HAS class.

Lady Cravenshire, on the other hand, is far more confident in her rank and right.  She is the only one who is “to the manor born,” and this allows her to come from a place of appreciation and graciousness with the women of Knapely.  Where Brenda finds Chris’ actions grating, Lady Cravenshire finds Chris’ actions creative and worth congratulating.

Together they help to round out the world of the play and point up the social obstacles that the women of Knapely face in choosing to do this calendar.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Communicating Doors, Becky’s New Car  Representative Theatre Ordway: A Little Night Music; History Theatre: Hiding in the Open, The Grand Excursion, Fireball; Bloomington Civic Theatre: Follies, A Light in the Piazza, Master Class; Theater Latte Da: A Christmas Carol Peterson, Burning Patience; Minneapolis Music Theatre: Bat Boy the Musical, Chess; Plymouth Playhouse: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; Illusion Theater: Autistic License

 

Build the Table

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When I first heard about Other Tiger Productions, what I admired most was its intention to cross cultural lines to create a multi-talented, inclusive organization.  In a world where inclusivity often means permission for a seat at the dominant table, Other Tiger Productions proactively built an already diverse table of its own.

What surprised me as I read my program for The Palabras Project while awaiting the start of this past Sunday’s performance was the list of collaborating artists–36 in all–on top of the five featured master artists from the Twin Cities’ Latino/Chicano/Spanish communities.  The first names of the 36 ranged from Akiko to Odin; their last names, Cervantes to Rhomberg.

In their letter to patrons, Other Tiger’s co-founders, Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vazquez, claim to “work to bring artists and audiences together to celebrate a global theater experience.”  In turn, may they be embraced by a global-minded audience, right here in Minnesota.

Come support Other Tiger Productions and the numerous artists who have created The Palabras ProjectThree performances remain from July 15 to 17, including a free public reading of Lorca’s Blood Wedding in English on July 14 at 7:30 pm, at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

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