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Posts Tagged Proscenium Stage

Jane Strauss: A Photographer’s Reflections on Gershwin and His Times

On display in conjunction with Park Square Theatre’s production of The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer are the works of Minneapolis photographer Jane Strauss, a self-described “attorney-in-remission” and a “Lapsed Thespian and Techie.” She was last involved with Park Square Theatre at its original location as stage manager for Picnic–way back in the 1970s!–but has found her way back to Park Square to grace our gallery walls.

Here is just a glimpse of Strauss’ exhibit. Be sure to visit the gallery to see it ALL in our Proscenium lobby when you come to see the show!

Jane Strauss with two of the photographs in her exhibit at Park Square Theatre (Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Jane Strauss with two of the photographs in her exhibit at Park Square Theatre
(Photograph by Connie Shaver)

In Jane’s words: I’ve loved Gershwin’s works since I was a kid. The opportunity to curate an exhibit coordinated with Soul of Gershwin came as an unexpected delight.

Gershwin’s time ran from Tin Pan Alley into the Jazz Age, and his influences ranged from his immigrant Jewish roots to rural blues, liberally seasoned with urban rhythms and hustle-bustle. Fortunately, my past works included a series from Israel, one from Lithuania, including some Jewish sites, one from Chicago, focused on the Elevated Train, many classic automobiles, and rural scenes from multiple states and countries.

The major issue was choosing images for a small gallery.

Herewith – reflections on Gershwin and his times.

Vilna Shul Photograph by Jane Strauss

Vilna Shul
Photograph by Jane Strauss

 

 

More photographs by Jane Strauss may be viewed at her December show “Lithuania – doors, windows, vistas” at Urban Forage, 3016 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, and on-line at www.janesprints.imagekind.com, Jane’s Prints at www.cafepress.com and Jane’s Prints at www.facebook.com.

Theatre for You

Just last month, we were celebrating Thanksgiving, a special day connected to the Mayflower immigrants whose survival was aided by the native Wampanoag people.

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Now we are into December and, at Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage, we celebrate the holiday season with music composed by George Gershwin, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, who significantly influenced the American musical landscape. There’s a good reason why his tunes are included in the Great American Songbook.

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From January to February, Flower Drum Song, a collaboration between Park Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts, will be featured on the Proscenium Stage. Based on David Henry Hwang’s version that won a Tony Award in 2003, the musical explores Asian-American identity through the lens of the Chinese immigrant story.

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Currently, A Raisin in the Sun continues to be performed on the Boss Thrust Stage until December 22 as daytime matinees for school groups and general public. The play centers on the dreams and struggles of a family descended from African slaves–those relocated to America against their will. Its audiences have included student groups with Somali and Hmong immigrants, both here in America to escape from the ravages of war, the latter endangered in their homeland for aiding America during the Vietnam War.

At Park Square Theatre, staff and audiences are made up of descendants of the at-some-point hated Irish, Jewish, German, Japanese, Swedish, Chinese, Italian, Mexican–the list goes on–immigrants who have claimed America as their beloved home. We ARE America, gathered together to make or behold some truly great American stories unfold on our stages.

You are warmly invited to Park Square Theatre, where we create theatre for you. (yes you.) and share stories to foster discourse and better mutual understanding. Bring your curiosity, and come with open hearts.

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.

 

Maud’s Pick

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As the Chanteuse in Park Square Theatre’s The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, Maud Hixson will be filling the Proscenium Stage with her soulful voice. When asked for her favorite Gershwin tune to sing or hear and why, Maud kept her answer short and sweet:

My favorite Gershwin song is “Little Jazz Bird” because I’ve always loved Blossom Dearie’s recording of it, and I love performing it myself.

To hear Blossom Dearie’s rendition of the song, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuWJzDJOOVY&sns=em

Maud Hixson’s Background:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater, Dowling Studio: Coward’s Women Awards/Other Two-time recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Artist Initiative Grant; McKnight Foundation’s “Next Step” Grant recipient; Two-time performer at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall in the New York Cabaret Convention Upcoming Projects Touring with Listening For Your Song (A Musical Companion to the Betsy-Tacy Books by Maud Hart Lovelace)

Michael Paul Levin, Maud Hixson and Maggie Burton in rehearsal

Michael Paul Levin, Maud Hixson and Maggie Burton in rehearsal (Photo by Connie Shaver)

The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer – December 2 to 31

Join us for the holidays at Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage!

 

From Gershwin to Springsteen

George Gershwin unnamed photographer in employ of Bain News Service (Public domain)

George Gershwin
unnamed photographer in employ of Bain News Service (Public domain)

From December 2 to 31, Park Square Theatre will feature The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer. It includes many Gershwin tunes that became part of the Great American Songbook, such as “Summertime,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Embraceable You,” to name just a few.

What’s the Great American Songbook? It’s not an actual book of songs but the American classics or standards considered to be the most popular and of lasting value from 1920 to 1950’s Broadway shows, musical theatre and Hollywood musical film.

I wondered, though, what people would choose to be in the Great American Songbook today. In asking a slew of individuals from age 19 and up, I received choices that went beyond theatre and film. Here are some of their answers:

Anything by Sondheim. Definitely “Send in the Clowns” from his musical A Little Night Music.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  I just like the lyrics. According to Cohen, the song “explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”

“Steal Away,” a spiritual.

“Jingle Bells.” It is a very beloved and fun Winter/Christmas song that can be sung enthusiastically by any age person without involving religion. It can be sung in rounds, can easily be acted out and even danced to! There is a nostalgic history to it from a time when horses and sleighs were necessary for winter travel, which is often reenacted for enjoyment today.

“I’ve Been Working On The Railroad.” Another fun song to sing for young and old alike. It has the cadence and rhythm of a work song for the railroad workers to keep a uniform pace to work together but also helps make the drudgery and toil of railroad building somewhat enjoyable. The song also gives memory to the important place railroads have in our history of connecting the lands and peoples of earlier times.

Last Saturday night the symphony put on a Frank Sinatra concert with one Steve Lippia singing.  Steve is based in Las Vegas where his show is a regular at one of the casinos, and he sounds very much like Frank Sinatra.  At the concert, Steve did not limit himself to Frank’s songs but did a wide variety of the Big Band-style songs. To pick out a favorite song from that group is, of course, nigh unto impossible but, nonetheless, “Last Night When We Were Young” would be my choice. It would be my choice because, as time goes by, its probably my generation who will still relate to that style of music and, in this case, the nostalgia that is the essence of the song. Notice the phrase “as time goes by.” As I recall, it is a title of another song. I might mention that playing the concert was very fulfilling because the music is so rich in harmonies, melodies, rhythms and the interplay between those elements. Today’s popular music seems so shallow by comparison.

First song that popped into my head: “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen. You hear those first pulsing beats…it’s iconic!

 

Whether it’s Gershwin or Springsteen, truly great music is made to last. This December, don’t miss hearing the music from one of the greats: George Gershwin.

 

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What IS Klezmer?

Michael Paul Levin as George Gershwin

Michael Paul Levin as George Gershwin

The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer will be on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage from December 2 to 31. I certainly know the name Gershwin, but I’m unfamiliar with the term klezmer. Perhaps you are, too.

As Vincent Hannam mentioned in his recent blog post “The Heart and Soul of Gershwin,” klezmer is a Yiddish word that means instrument of music (derived from klay, which means instrument; and zemer, music). Klezmer came from Ashkenazi Jews, who originated in Eastern Europe, and was intended to, via the violin, imitate the human voice, including the cries, wails and laughter, of the chazzan (cantor) in synagogue. The first klezmer tunes actually came from Hebrew chants in Jewish services.

Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, klezmer originally consisted mainly of spirited dance melodies as well as some plaintive, reflective tunes for celebratory communal events, such as weddings. Klezmorim (and entertainers in general) were not highly regarded in Jewish society due to their secular nomadic, unconventional lifestyle, but they were respected for their virtuosity and diverse repertoire. A band usually included at least two violinists, with the most accomplished one serving as bandleader, backed by a bass or cello and other typical instruments, such as clarinet, drum, hammered dulcimers, trumpet, trombone and accordion.

As with other aspects of European Jewish culture, the Holocaust nearly decimated the tradition of klezmer music since it was passed down aurally through the generations. Surviving musicians helped revitalize the music, and musicologists worked to record their repertoires.

Traditional klezmer was influenced mainly by Romanian music but also present were Greek, Ukranian, Polish, Hungarian and Turkish influences. When European Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought klezmer with them, but it’s popularity steadily waned as Jews adopted mainstream culture. However, American klezmer grew in stature with hits from Jewish composers, such as Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers and, yes, George Gershwin, who incorporated jazz and even gospel into their sound.

The cast and musicians of Park Square Theatre’s The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, besides performing some truly terrific American classics, will also impart a slice of musical history that you may not already have known. My whole family and I plan to kick back, perhaps can’t help but move some body parts while seated and otherwise enjoy the ride when we see the show in December.

Hope to see you there!

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Sources: Klezmer from en.m.wikipedia.org; Klezmer music by Mark S. Slobin from www.britannica.com; Klezmer Music 101 by Megan Romer from worldmusic.about.com; What is Klezmer Music? by Becky Weitzman from tepel.org

Hope is Esperanza

“In English my name means hope.”  Esperanza in The House on Mango Street

“How can art make a difference in the world?”  — Sandra Cisneros

 A selfie by Hope Cervantes

A selfie by Hope Cervantes

Hope Cervantes grew up in the rough-and-tumble world of show business, first led by her dancer-performer mother through the beauty pageant circuit as a baby and into early childhood, then as a child actress playing Tosha in Barney & Friends and various Barney videos, TV specials and live shows. In 2013, she drew from her life story to create and perform Imagination Island: Surviving Reality at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Born in Dallas,Texas, Cervantes has also lived in the show-biz meccas of California and New York. She attended performing arts middle and high schools, going on to earn a BFA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota.

When asked what she may have become if she had veered off the performance path, Cervantes replied, “I loved science as a child so maybe a biochemist. Now I ask myself how I can still find a cure for humanity through theater. I believe an artist makes experiences to bring about change and give back to society. It can be self-centered–the desire for fame–but I need a deeper drive to remain in theater.”

Cervantes has been in previous Park Square Theatre productions, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, and appeared on numerous Twin Cities stages. This October, she plays the older Esperanza on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage in The House on Mango Street, based on Sandra Cisneros’ acclaimed book about a Latina girl growing up in Chicago.

Hope Cervantes with Atquetzali Quiroz in A House on Mango Street (photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Hope Cervantes with Atquetzali Quiroz, as the young Esperanza,  in A House on Mango Street
(photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Cervantes read Cisneros’ book when she was in the ninth grade and definitely related to the stories. She found them to be beautifully poetic, with a simplicity that a young person could access. An example of this poetic simplicity is captured when Esperanza’s friend Darius looks up at the sky: “You see that cloud, that fat one there? . . . . That one next to the one that look like popcorn. That one there. See that. That’s God.”

Cervantes recently reread the book with a different lens, having packed in more life experiences as an adult. She did it while in New York, sitting outside to be immersed in the urban setting and sounds of children’s laughter.

“I cried after reading the book again. It was very illuminating, seeing it with new eyes,” Cervantes said. “As adults, we have the vocabulary to name things such as abuse and immigration. But a young person may experience these same issues but not have the language to name them. She makes these characters and experiences accessible in a universal way. I also appreciate Cisneros’ approach to tackling these complex issues. She does it with grace and subtlety without being didactic. She was ahead of her time in writing about these taboo topics.”

Two evening performances of The House on Mango Street will be presented on October 21 and 22. Student matinees run from October 11 to November 4. If interested, the general public is also welcome to call the Ticket Office for dates and ticket availability to attend matinees.

“I am very excited to share The House on Mango Street with our student audiences,” Cervantes added. “These are their stories, and it’s very important for them to see their experiences onstage so that they don’t  feel so alone. Mango Street has stayed with me all these years; and I hope it changes their lives, the way it changed mine. Our director, Signe Harriday, is doing a beautiful job shaping these stories and lifting Cisneros’ words from the page and translating them into theater magic. Come join us on Mango Street!”

A scene from The House on Mango Street (photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

A scene from A House on Mango Street
(photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 I make a story for my life, for each step my brown shoe takes.”  — Esperanza in The House on Mango Street

Atquetzali is Hope

Atquetzila Quiroz

Atquetzali in her backyard  (photo by T. T. Cheng)

This fall, The House on Mango Street appears on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage on October 21 and 22 for public audiences (Education weekday matinees continue through Nov 4). Adapted by playwright Amy Ludwig from Sandra Cisneros’ acclaimed novel of the same title, The House on Mango Street is a story-told-in-vignettes about Esperanza Cordero, a young girl growing up in a poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago. The young Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” is played by Saint Paul Public Schools ninth-grader Atquetzali Quiroz.

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Scenes from A House on Mango Street (Photos by Petronella J. Ystma)

Miss Quiroz had never acted until the summer before sixth grade when she took part in a camp program called Flipside TeenVenture. She and her friends were tasked with creating a performance on bullying, and Miss Quiroz played the bully. This fun experience opened her up to later take part in school plays, including auditioning and getting a lead role in the seventh grade.

In 2015, she appeared with her mother Mary Anne in a Lake Street Arts! Stories Matter video series shown at Pangea World Theater, highlighting their work as local artists and culture-bearers of Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli and Indigenous Roots, with a relation to Minneapolis’ Lake Street. And in 2016, she reconnected with Pangea, becoming part of its ensemble for Conference of the Birds (Quiroz was a sparrow), a play based on a 12th-century Sufi poem by Farid un-Din Attar and staged to counter the nation’s unrelenting negative political rhetoric.

This July, Miss Quiroz completed filming for her first movie role in Director Jesse Mast’s Kid West. The movie is about a cowgirl and her Native American friend, played by Quiroz, in a race against neighborhood bullies to find a mysterious treasure possessing mystical powers. It is still in post-production.

But it was Miss Quiroz’s work at Pangea’s Conference of the Birds that caught the attention of Signe V. Harriday, the director of The House on Mango Street. Harriday asked her to audition for the play, then ultimately cast her in the role of the young Esperanza.

Miss Quiroz did not read Cisneros’ book until after getting the part but described it as “my mom’s favorite book.” During her own reading of Esperanza’s story, she easily connected with the character, her coming-of-age journey and the Mango Street setting.

The past few years have been unexpectedly heady ones for a girl who had not initially ever considered being on stage. Now, she may consider a performing arts school when it comes time to consider high schools.

Rehearsals for The House on Mango Street began in mid-September, the day after Atquetzali’s birthday. Matinee performances for school groups started will run until November 4.

Is Your Theater’s Commitment to Diversity Real, or Realistic? (Written by Eric “Pogi” Sumangil)

This post originally appeared on Eric “Pogi” Sumangil’s personal blog, wilyfilipino.wordpress.com. Sumangil plays John Jones in The Realistic Joneses, on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until October 16.

Tuyo is a fish dish in the Philippines. Also, Filipinos really like puns.

Tuyo is a fish dish in the Philippines. Also, Filipinos really like puns.

This may not look like much, but it actually means a lot to me. This is one of my costumes for The Realistic Joneses at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota.

It started with a graphic t-shirt that the costume designer picked up at a thrift store. It was army green with a picture of a bicycle and some katakana writing underneath. But most of our set is also green, so the costume designer and director decided to look for a shirt in a different color. Something in a red or maroon. And, since they were already going to make a change, according to the costume designer, the director asked, “Can we make it a Filipino shirt?” The next day, the costume designer came into our dressing room with a few designs on a website pulled up on his laptop. They could have, just as easily, gone back to the thrift store and found the right color and size. They could have saved money instead of ordering a newly printed shirt online. But they made a choice, albeit a simple one, but a choice that acknowledges and honors my culture, and I’m grateful for that.

In my career I’ve played my fair share of Asian characters. And while I continue to believe in the importance of roles that are written by and for artists of Asian descent, I especially appreciate the rare opportunities when I get to play roles that make no mention of my race; roles that reinforce the notion that my face is an American face, that my experience is an American experience. As Asian American representation on stage and screen has been a topic of much discussion over the last few years, I feel strongly that it’s important to challenge audiences to see us in a strictly American context. Not foreign, or even foreign-born immigrants, but as Americans whose ethnicity has been on North American soil since 1587.

Good plays that have specific roles for Asian Americans, or Filipino Americans, are already pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. But here’s something even more rare: To have a director and costume designer make a choice to acknowledge your heritage even when it’s not called for in the script. There are plenty of plays out there that make no mention of race or ethnicity, but more often than not, people casting those shows make the easier (perhaps lazier) choice to cast white actors, furthering this notion that whiteness is “normal” and other ethnicities are varying deviations from the norm. When I’m onstage, my culture usually exists in a binary; it’s either essential to the story or completely nonexistent. So to know that my culture is not ignored in the world of this play is an example of a true commitment to diversity. Not only am I the first person of color to play John Jones in The Realistic Joneses (fact checkers, please advise!), but in our production the character is Filipino American, too.

Too often, well meaning people say things like, “I don’t see color,” or “I don’t see your race,” or “We’re all just humans…” and the only thing I can think is that if you’re not seeing my culture, you’re not seeing some essential things about my life and my experience. Also, I’d be less inclined to cook for you, so it’s you who’ll be missing out, not me.

Thank you to Director Joel Sass and Costume Designer Cole Bylander for their thoughtfulness, and to everyone at Park Square Theatre for their commitment to diversity onstage and backstage.

The Liar: Featuring Michael Ooms

As part of our Meet the Cast of The Liar Blog Series, let us introduce you to Michael Ooms:

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ROLE: Philiste, Alcippe’s friend

DESCRIPTIVE LINES ABOUT PHILISTE IN THE PLAY:

(Said by Alcippe to his friend Dorante)

You know Philiste? The beau monde’s favorite beau?

(Dorante’s reply)

The man they call the Baron Comme Il Faut?
We know each other from Poitiers.

 

Michael Ooms with JuCoby Johnson and Sha' Cage in a rehearsal. (Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Michael Ooms with JuCoby Johnson and Sha’ Cage in a rehearsal.
(Photograph by Connie Shaver)

CAST QUESTION:

This play will be visually and verbally stunning.  Every cast member, including you, must do “verbal acrobatics” with challenging wordplay and perfect timing with not just delivery but also comebacks.  As an actor, how do you get to the point that you can deliver such lines as if with ease?

This is a great question.  In order to pull a thing like this off, a multitude of facets need to fall into sync.  In my mind, there are two truly important elements: hard work and honesty.  As a cast, we work tirelessly to find the rhythm and truth of a piece.  While understanding the title of the play, The Liar, we all have to find our truths within it.  A lie is only as good as the belief it inspires.  And that’s what we work towards.  The belief in these words to inspire something.   Fact or fiction, the words must deliver the story that we as a cast are so graced to have been given.  David Ives has a great mind for so many things.  Among the grandest are language, truth and comradery (in my humble opinion).  Our ultimate goal has been to respect his work and bring it to life, as one.  And that’s the real trick.  To find the key together and unlock the thing.  From where I’m standing, this box is open; and it’s hilarious.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Classical Actors Ensemble: Doctor Faustus; Savage Umbrella: These Are the Men; Swandive: Five Flights; Pioneer Place: Tuesdays with Maurie; Gonzo Group Theatre: Long Day’s Journey into Night; NightPath: Our Town Film Mighty Ducks; Mighty Ducks 2 Training Classical Actors Ensemble: Company Member; Gonzo Group Theatre: Founding Company Member Upcoming Projects Savage Umbrella: The Awakening

 

Michael Ooms with his actor-parents Richard Ooms and Claudia Wilkens who have also delighted audiences on the Park Square stages Photograph by Connie Shaver

Michael Ooms with his actor-parents Richard Ooms and Claudia Wilkens,who have also delighted audiences on  Park Square stages
Photograph by Connie Shaver

Area Premiere of The Liar – Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – Ends Oct 2

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