Tickets: 651.291.7005

Posts Tagged Proscenium Stage

Kathy Kohl: Doing What She Loves

 

Kathy Kohl (left) with stage manager Amanda Bowman (right) (photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Costume designer Kathy Kohl (left) with stage manager Amanda Bowman (right)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

People choose their careers for many reasons: It’s what they think that they should want to be. Their parents want them to be that. They do it for the money. They really don’t know what they want to do. They love doing it.

Fortunate are those who can ultimately create a profession from a lifelong interest. Kathy Kohl, the costume designer for THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE is one of those lucky people.

“I started sewing when I was little, stitching together clothing for my cat, who was not amused!” Kathy said. “I received further training through 4-H and made much of my own wardrobe in high school. I was always interested in historical clothing via old pictures and books of art, but because I was primarily a musician–playing piano and trombone, I didn’t get into theater until I was an adult.”

Kathy created her first costumes in the mid-’70s. They were commissioned by her husband Allan, who is a children’s storyteller and needed a Robin Hood costume for his presentation of the Sherwood Forest folk. She also designed a Maid Marian one for herself.

“Just for fun, I took a pattern-drafting class around that time at the extension service where we lived in Wisconsin,” Kathy recalled. “And when the call came many years later from a community theater that needed a Victorian nightgown that couldn’t be found in commercial patterns, I was on my way.”

For many years, Kathy was not only a costumer but also an actor on the college and community level.

“But my need to see the full finished production was too strong,” Kathy admitted, “so I made the difficult choice between the two, and costumes won.”

Besides her work on Watson Intelligence, currently on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage until April 30, Kathy is also the costume designer for Girl Friday Productions’ Idiot’s Delight, which will be on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage from June 29 to July 23.

“After that I’ll be following its director, Craig Johnson, to northern Vermont for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at a new theater in Greensboro, Vermont, very near where I grew up! ” Kathy said. “The venue is built like Shakespeare’s Globe, complete with a groundling area in the audience. Should be a blast!”

(NOTE: Look out for the upcoming post about Kathy’s costume designs for Watson Intelligence.)

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.

Adam Whisner: The Two Merricks

whisner-adam-color

 From April 7 to 30, Park Square Theatre features the area premiere of THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE on its Proscenium Stage. A 2014 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, playwright Madeleine George’s play is described by Park Square as a “brilliantly witty, time-jumping, loving tribute . . . to the people—and machines—upon which we depend.”

The following is an interview with actor Adam Whisner, who plays two passionate men–both named Merrick and both experiencing women troubles, but each in different time periods:

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

On the cover of the script, under the title, includes the descriptor, “a play about others.” What does that mean to you?

 There’s the person who gets the credit, and the other person who has their back. The other person made them coffee so they could keep working through the night. The other person held them as they sobbed after failed experiment #486. The other person loved them no matter what. We’re not all wired to be that person.

 In the context of this play, I think “the others” are the selfless, generous, compassionate companions. They’re the people we all want in our lives, and hopefully strive to be, when and if we’re ready to set ego aside and move from getting to giving. I think the kind of others this play highlights are evolved people, whether they know it or not. You’re either born as one, or you learn how to let go and become one. I think most “Watsons” aren’t entirely consciously aware that they are one. Similarly, the Elizas and Merricks of the world are barely conscious of their need for the Watsons, but it’s a desperate need. In my mid-40s, I’m pretty sure I’m an Eliza/Merrick, minus the brilliant scientist part, who is just starting to learn how to be a Watson.

 What is the biggest challenge for you in playing Merrick?

The lines! The Merricks have a lot to say, and I’ve always been a slow memorizer. The more complex challenge is making sure the Merricks are assholes for whom the audience has some compassion. The Merricks’ need for the Watsons is part of what humanizes them. The genius inventor who doesn’t know how to find love is still just a person who needs love. The divorcee running for office who wants to make the whole world a better place is still just a man suffering heartbreak in his little world. Assholes need love, too.

What led you to become an actor?

I was a precocious, sensitive, creative little kid, but always felt pressure to be something else, especially from stronger, tougher, sportier boys. My version of “I’ll show them” was acting in comedic lead roles in junior high school plays. After one of my first performances, I was in the lobby getting a drink from a water fountain as parents were milling about. I overheard one mother tell another that she hated school plays, that her daughter was terrible in them, and that she wished she’d stop doing them. My spirits sank. Then she said, “But that Adam Whisner kid should be on TV. He was hilarious.” I think I went up four hat sizes in that moment. My fate was sealed. Sometimes I think the only reason I’ve been able to make a full-time living as an actor is that I’ve believed I could since 1982.

What are you working on next?

I’m a company member of Wonderlust Productions, a theatre company that gathers personal stories from various communities in Minnesota and then invites those communities’ members to participate in creating plays based on their own stories. Participation includes being an actor or musician in the final production of the play alongside professional theatre artists. It’s not community theatre; it’s theatre for and by a community. We’ve done two full productions: The Veterans Play Project and The Adoption Play Project. Our next play, The Capitol Play Project, will focus on the folks who work at the Minnesota State Capitol who aren’t politicians and will be performed in the state capitol building itself in early 2018. I may wind up in another production before then if it falls in my lap. I don’t audition often enough. 

Photo by Connie Shaver

Photo by Connie Shaver

Adam’s cast background:

Park Square Wonderlust Productions’ Six Characters in Search of an Author Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater/Workhaus Collective: Little Eyes; Wonderlust Productions: Veteran’s Play Project, Adoption Play Project; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Crowd You’re in With, An Ideal Husband; Theatre Pro Rata: The Woodsman; Loudmouth Collective: A Bright New Boise, Gruesome Playground Injuries; Gremlin Theatre: Burn This; Commonweal Theatre: The Rainmaker; Alan Berks & Company: #Ringtone; Hidden Theatre: This Is Our Youth Training B.A., Theatre Arts, University of Iowa; Actors Theatre of Louisville Acting Apprentice Co. Accolades City Pages Best Actor 2016; Lavender Magazine Crème de la Crème Performances 2015

Kathryn Fumie, The Essential Elizas

fumie-kathryn-color

 I was reading the script for THE (curious case of the ) WATSON INTELLIGENCE after having learned about the hidden history of NASA’s female “human computers” and read about the social challenges for women in technological fields (The Atlantic magazine has literally just come out with its latest issue covering “Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?”).

So it was to my delight that Watson Intelligence immediately introduces us to Eliza, a brilliant female artificial intelligence expert who is not a one-dimensional character. We get to meet this Eliza (there are three Elizas in this time-bending production) in all her fully human glory, whip smart but ultimately not invulnerable to the risks of human connection.

Despite the title and references to all the Watsons, the Elizas in the play are absolutely crucial to the plot. I now hand you over to Kathryn Fumie, who plays the essential Elizas, as she answers questions about her role:

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza and H. Adam Harris as Watson in rehearsal (photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza and H. Adam Harris as Watson in rehearsal
(photo by Connie Shaver)

Playwright Madeleine George claims that “Watson” is “a play about others.” What does that mean to you?

 In rehearsal, we talk a lot about sidekicks. The term “sidekick” sounds dismissive to me, but I think perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in the Curious Case–in our lives, we only become ourselves through the energy and presence of other people playing supporting roles.

 Also, my character is so very opposed to letting “others” into her heart and soul. The play shows the great struggle people have to be vulnerable and to actually need people.

 What drew you to want to play Eliza?

 To be honest, I was first and foremost drawn to working with Leah Cooper. I have wanted to work with her since I saw a show that she’d directed in 2010 at Theatre in the Round. I would have said “yes” to any show that she asked me to be in.

 What challenges are you experiencing in playing Eliza?

 I want her flaws–her inability to be vulnerable, her utter/unshakeable belief in the idea of herself–to be as genuine and relatable as her search for connection and her frustration with other humans. 

 Also, making the common thread followable for the audience through three different characters in three different time periods is an interesting challenge.

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza in rehearsal (photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza in rehearsal
(photo by Connie Shaver)

 What is your relationship to your technology? 

 I like it. It’s pretty useful….

 I’m better at using technology than a lot of people who are my parents’ age, but I definitely don’t know how to use technology the way young people do. I’m scared to fall behind. Truly. But I’m trying to stay on top of it. 

 What else are you working on?

 I recently helped develop new diversity programming for GTC Dramatic Dialogues. We go to colleges and universities to provide honest dialogue about difficult topics. I look forward to proliferating the new material this year. 

 Kathryn’s cast background:

 Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Theatre Unbound: Hamlet; Savage Umbrella: June; Swandive Theatre: An Outopia for Pigeons; History Theatre: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story Training B.F.A., Performance, Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts Other Company member of GTC Dramatic Dialogues Accolades 2016 Ivey recognition for June at Savage

 

banner-watson-960x356-2-22

The Shattered Mirror

Joseph Stanley, the set designer for Park Square Theatre’s production of Macbeth, first became involved in theatre, both onstage and behind the scenes, during junior high. He decided to give it a try because his older sister had so much fun performing in high school plays. Then well-timed mentors kept popping up to broaden and guide his interest, from an enthusiastic fresh-out-of-college ninth grade English & Theatre teacher who would even let him into the shop rooms to “build stuff” on snow days to a high school teacher who let him design to his heart’s content.

By college, Joseph knew that he wanted to pursue set designing. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington where, despite being an undergraduate, his professor allowed him to take graduate-level courses. He also worked in summer stock theatre, steadily making connections for more designing opportunities. Joseph, who grew up in Iowa, ultimately landed in the Twin Cities to get his MFA at the University of Minnesota.

Joseph has worked in the Twin Cities since 1993, designing for 12 to 15 shows per year. About half his projects are for theatres with their own construction crew. For clients without their own staff, he both designs and provides set construction at his own studio. Since his first professional set design in 1984, he has been the designer for at least 250 shows.

Joseph had first worked with Macbeth‘s director, Jef Hall-Flavin, in last season’s Sons of the Prophet at Park Square Theatre, and Jef wished to work with Joseph again in Macbeth. Jef brought to Joseph the concept of using a shattered mirror as the central metaphor in the set design, and Joseph ran with it.

Macbeth set construction on the Boss Thrust stage

Macbeth set construction on the Boss Thrust stage

“Jef spoke about the timeliness of Macbeth,” Joseph said, “and how holding a mirror in front of ourselves would reflect ourselves back, especially given current events.”

Joseph, a self-professed pragmatist, also saw the practicality of using mirrors to give the illusion of having more people on stage.

Macbeth has just a cast of nine people,” he pointed out. “But there are a number of times when an army must be on stage. The mirrors make it seem like more than nine.”

The mirror, too, lends itself to practical use to highlight the mystical, other-worldly moments in the play. For instance, the mirrors at center stage act like two-way mirrors for a nifty visual effect when apparitions appear.

And, of course, the shattered mirror reflects the shattered story itself as, in Joseph’s words, “Macbeth becomes a shattered man who breaks down throughout the play.”

Macbeth set design realized on stage

Macbeth set completed on stage

I asked him, too, if he and Jef were not purposely tempting Fate, given that Macbeth already has the reputation of a cursed play (see my previous blog on theatre superstitions, “‘Macbeth’ and Other Unmentionables”). After all, breaking a mirror guarantees seven years of bad luck.

Turns out that Joseph is not particularly superstitious but thinks that “one of the neat things as a scenic designer is that people see things in my designs that I don’t consciously think about.”

You will see another Joseph Stanley set design this spring on Amy’s View, which runs from May 12 to June 4, on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage. Meanwhile, don’t miss seeing Joseph’s stunning set on the Boss Thrust Stage for our World Premiere Commission of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, adapted and directed by Jef Flavin-Hall, ending on April 9.

Carry on a Coffee Sleeve Conversation

 

Ting Ting Cheng recently had an in-depth discussion with artist Dan Choma at a local coffee shop about his pen-and-ink drawing "I Prefer Rudeness Over Casual Racism" (www.danchoma.com)

Ting Ting Cheng and artist Dan Choma talked about his pen-and-ink drawing “I Prefer Rudeness Over Casual Racism” at a local coffee shop.
(Visit www.danchoma.com to view more art and music)

In October 2015, Coffee House Press (CHP), an internationally renowned independent book publisher and arts nonprofit based in Minneapolis, was awarded a St. Paul Knights Arts Challenge grant to launch its Coffee Sleeve Conversation project. By producing and distributing coffee cup sleeves featuring the words of St. Paul writers of color, CHP hopes to foster community conversations on race and the arts. While these sleeves will be distributed to several St. Paul coffee shops, Park Square Theatre is also proud to be selected to participate in the Coffee Sleeve Conversation project.

CHP has an established history of community involvement through Books in Action programming, which produced the Coffee Sleeve Conversation project. Books in Action projects came about because CHP “has long recognized that there are many possibilities for reader/writer exchange beyond (and even without) the page. . . . Our vision for the future is one where a publisher is more than a company that packages books. We strive to be a catalyst and connector–between authors and readers, ideas and resources, creativity and community, inspiration and action.” Other innovative Books in Action projects have included Ring Ring Poetry, a poetry installation featuring local poets “broadcasting” poems linked to specific Twin Cities sites; CHP in the Stacks, a library residency program placing writers, artists and readers in public and private collections/libraries to creatively engage with community members; and much more. Be sure to visit coffeehousepress.org to learn more about their publications and programs.

For the Coffee Sleeve Conversation project, poet and activist Tish Jones solicited and selected work from writers of color in St. Paul. The process included an open call for submissions, and the words of 20 writers were printed on approximately 10,000 sleeves. Park Square employee and local writer Ting Ting Cheng is very excited that an excerpt of her poem was chosen as a conversation starter. It reads “May Kuan Yin, / goddess of mercy, / protect / all who / enter here.”

On each CHP sleeve is a poem excerpt by a local writer of color. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

On each Coffee House Press sleeve is a poem excerpt by a local writer of color.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

In CHP’s words, “By focusing on local writers of color, the series will point to the depth and excellence of writing from people of color that is already available in the community, and catalyze and enlarge the conversation in diversity, media, activism, and art both locally and nationally.”

Equity, access, public engagement: these are values that CHP live by; these are values that Park Square Theatre shares. Be sure to look out for the coffee sleeves at our Proscenium and Boss stages for the rest of this season.

“Most of what people are hesitant to speak out about is an ugly truth. Art helps make it more appealing.” — Tish Jones in an interview with Intermedia Arts

 

Sulia Rose Returns

Photo by Emmet Kowler

Photo by Emmet Kowler

Each year, Park Square Theatre presents The Diary of Anne Frank on its Proscenium Stage as one of our most popular Education matinees. Students from 7th to 12th grades witness life in hiding for the Franks in Amsterdam, Holland, until their discovery by the Nazis and subsequent transport to the concentration and death camps. What makes the play particularly poignant for our young audiences is that Anne was a real girl with hopes and dreams just like them.

This season, Sulia Rose Altenberg returns to once again play Anne Frank; she is also the youngest and the first Jewish actor to play her on our stage. On the day when Sulia received the lead role last season, she was still studying abroad in West Amsterdam and felt compelled to visit the Hollansche Schouwberg, the site of a beautiful Jewish theater building that became the Dutch Holocaust Memorial. There she read from a list the names of the Jewish Dutch people killed by the Nazi party: the Franks, the Van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer who’d hidden with the Franks, the Altenbergs, . . . .

Sulia’s connection to the Holocaust definitely helps her identify with Anne but also motivates her to give the most compelling performances possible. She feels a responsibility to both carry on Anne’s legacy as well as to personally and professionally reach for the stars, given the privileges of a blessed life. She notes that “if Anne had been free, then given her personality, she may have very well become an actor or performer” like her.

In her second round as Anne Frank with many returning cast members, Sulia relished going in “knowing what we’re doing this year so able to look at the scenes even more in depth.” This season, she wishes to portray Anne as a maturer 13-year-old with more self-awareness and stronger sense of purpose. She herself has changed within the past year, with stronger boundaries and more assertiveness.

Though Sulia has been acting since she was 11, attended high school at both St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and South High School and became a Park Square Theatre Ambassador in 2012-13, she actually majored in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature rather than Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota. She did, however, keep acting for local theatre companies, such as Theatre Unbound, Illusion Theater and Frank Theatre, amongst others.

When not at Park Square, Sulia works for GTC Dramatic Dialogues, an organization that gives presentations and facilitates frank discussions at colleges throughout the nation on issues of racism, sexism, trans- and homophobia, sexual assault and substance abuse. It’s yet another way for Sulia to help make the world a better place.

October 18, 1942, diary entry: This is a photograph of me as I wish I looked all the time. Then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood. But at present, I'm afraid, I usually look quite different. (Photo from Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary - A Photographic Remembrance by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven for the Anne Frank House)

October 18, 1942, diary entry: This is a photograph of me as I wish I looked all the time. Then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood. But at present, I’m afraid, I usually look quite different.
(Photo from Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary – A Photographic Remembrance by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven for the Anne Frank House)

 

 

Michael Ooms on Playing Macbeth

ooms-michael-color

At the beginning of Park Square Theatre’s season, Michael Ooms graced our Proscenium Stage in a comedic role in The Liar. Now he takes on a much more somber turn as the title character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth on our intimate Andy Boss Thrust Stage. The play runs from March 17 to April 9, often performed both day and night to accommodate general audiences as well as school groups, setting a grueling schedule for all involved. Michael aptly deems it an “endurance test.”

But challenge is exactly what actors relish, and Michael will certainly have his hands full of that as he grapples with his character’s complexities. How will he bring out Macbeth’s humanity, even as he portrays a power-hungry murderer? How will he prevent the audience from automatically hating him? How will he build empathy for his character?

“He’s more everyman than he’s perceived,” Michael says of Macbeth. “He did one terrible thing. Then he just had to keep going in order to survive.”

We call that “digging yourself in deeper”–making human choices that force a chain reaction of further hard choices. In Macbeth’s case, the choices just happen to escalate in a horrific direction.

What’s fun about playing Macbeth for Michael, though, is the opportunity to go through several personality changes as his character morphs from being an amicable, likable individual to a fearful, raging one as he becomes unhinged by his deeds. This role requires an actor to display a wide range of emotions.

Michael is certainly ready to test his mettle. He has ample experience in lead and supporting classical roles, including stints with the Classical Actors Ensemble, a Twin Cities repertoire company with a focus on keeping the rich plays of the English Renaissance relevant and alive. Not only has he played Macduff in a CAE staging of Macbeth, but he has also already played Macbeth himself in 2011 with Nightpath Theatre. So Michael will come to Park Square’s production “hitting the ground running,” not only in terms of memorizing his lines but also having insights to perhaps make different acting choices than before. In collaboration with Director Jef Hall-Flavin and the cast, Michael is excited to “see what he can bring to the table to ultimately work together to form a unified vision.”

Performing Macbeth for students is also something that Michael relishes because “unlike adults, they tend to come without preconceptions so their reactions are great barometers as to whether what you’re doing work.”

“The post-show discussions are especially eye-opening,” Michael continued. “They will interpret things in their own way, depending on where they are in life, and perhaps shine a light on a different perspective. I learn a lot from the kids, such as how well we’re telling the story. They are great mirrors reflecting back to us what we’re doing.”

Despite the rigor of his role, Michael knows that playing Macbeth is going to be a blast. He is unfazed by what is known as the “Macbeth curse,” which we shall discuss in a future blog post.

Michael Ooms with Vanessa Wasche in a rehearsal for Macbeth (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Michael Ooms with Vanessa Wasche (Lady Macbeth) in a rehearsal for Macbeth
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Flower Drum Song: Highlights from Opening Night

Being an introvert, I don’t often relish attending highly social events, but this Friday’s opening night for Flower Drum Song was an exception to the rule. If you have been following the blog posts related to the musical, you can’t have missed how personally meaningful this production has been for its Asian American participants.  Here were some of my personal favorite highlights of the evening:

David Henry Hwang joined us for the opening night of Flower Drum Song (Photo by Connie Shaver)

David Henry Hwang joined us for the opening night of Flower Drum Song
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

1. Playwright David Henry Hwang not only attended the opening night performance of Flower Drum Song but also spoke during the pre-show reception as well as mingled during the post-show festivities.

Briana Belland and Meng Xiong were two of the Ensemble members in the cast (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Brianna Belland and Meng Xiong were two of the Ensemble members in the cast
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

2. The members of the Ensemble were amazing, playing multiple roles and singing and dancing their hearts out in such humorous numbers as “Fan Tan Fannie” and “Chop Suey” and, of course, the very emotional signature song “A Hundred Million Miracles.” Flower Drum Song could not have succeeded without them. The full Ensemble included Alice McGlave, Nicole Riebe, Ashley Kershaw, Kylee Brinkman, Brianna Belland, Michelle de Joya, Nikko Paul Raymo, Joseph Vang and Meng Xiong.

Katie Bradley played Madame Liang

Katie Bradley played Madame Rita Liang

 3. The biggest laugh resulted from a line delivered by Katie Bradley as Madame Rita Liang, a Chinese American talent agent, as she gave advice about how to handle the press to showgirl Linda Low: “They’re reporters. We don’t tell them the truth.”

cast-flower-drum-song-12-29

4. The ending when each cast member stepped forward to do that incredibly moving thing that you’ll want to see for yourself.

Chinese Zodiac Scarf 1

5. The fact that the opening night performance preceded the beginning of the Lunar New Year, making the next day that much more special. The Proscenium Stage lobby was decorated with Chinese zodiac scarves that could also be displayed as wall hangings. They were created by artist and Park Square Theatre patron Jane Goodspeed, who had designed them as gifts to donors who donate $99 to sponsor nine students attending a matinee performance of Flower Drum Song.

 banner-flower-drum-song-960x356-1-23

Flower Drum Song continues until February 19. As Mu’s Artistic Director Randy Reyes aptly puts it, “This story is for anyone whose family came to this country from somewhere else.” Don’t miss your opportunity to see this rich and moving musical.

A Hope for Peace

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter's school  (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

The set of Migra, created by 7/8th graders at my daughter’s school
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Yesterday afternoon, I was a proud parent at Mixed Blood Theater, watching the play Migra, written by the 7/8th grade students of my daughter’s school. In the program, the Notes from Artistic Director (the English Language Arts instructor) explained:

This play marks the end of a semester of exploration for the students. We began the semester asking the question, “Who walked this land before me?….We followed that question with, “If my people weren’t Native American, when, how, and why did they arrive here?” Rather than a genealogical study, the exploration looked to literature, art, film, and nonfiction from the countries of students’ ancestral origins and reflected informally in journals and conversations as well as formally in essays. Students considered the past and the present and contemplated the impact of immigration and ancestry on their present day realities. Some students had not thought much about their ancestors, others had vast knowledge, and some had no choice but to constantly be considering their ancestry. While presidential race debates discussed current issues including immigration viewpoints, and our own city experienced the tragic loss of Philando Castille, these topics made their way into the students’ writing, and ultimately into Migra….The views expressed in the play are not intended to represent the ideals of the school as a whole, or for that matter be directive, but they are, like all good theatre, an attempt to encourage the viewer: to question, to discuss, and to feel joy, disgust, fear, and passion. We hope that you take away the beauty of the adolescent mind–and the power of talking about all things sour and sweet, just as these brave individuals show us is possible.

Then in the evening, I attended the second of a three-series talk on the African-American experience by Macalester Professor Duchess Harris, co-author of two books for 6th to 12th graders, Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA (Hidden Heroes) and Black Lives Matter (Special Reports).  These have been in-depth talks followed by audience Q&A, finally shedding light on hidden American history and its overlooked impact on America’s past and present. Notable about these events, which are open and free to the public at Roseville Public Library (final talk is on Thursday, February 2, at 7 pm), is that the room is packed with people hungry for a broadened perspective and an honest start of a dialogue about their and our narratives as Americans.

Hidden Human Computers: Duchess Harris on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/195655453

Recently Park Square Theatre drew a crowd to the commemoration of The Ghostlight Project. This is an effort by theatres throughout the country to, according to Randy Reyes, Mu Performing Arts Director as well as a national steering committee member of the project, declare our theatres as “brave spaces where all are welcome to be who they are and engage in debate and dissent–and leave inspired to take action….Together, we will create light for those who need it most and pledge ourselves to work that honors all and celebrates the unconquerable human spirit.”

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Attendees at The Ghostlight Project commemoration event posted their pledges
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Soon Park Square Theatre will also participate in the Coffee Sleeves Conversation Project with Coffee House Press, an internationally renowned independent publishing company and arts nonprofit in Minneapolis. Through its Books in Action programming, they have designed a unique way to create community discussions on race and the arts at local coffee shops and our theatre.

And as a parent, I am also proud of the fact that Park Square Theatre has a robust Education Program that opens the door to meaningful dialogue amongst our young people, many of whom are first-time theatre attendees. For instance, our on-line study guide for Flower Drum Song, currently on our Proscenium Stage until February 19, offers activities and resources for classrooms to consider “Stereotypes: Real, Perceived, or Debunked?,” “Charting the Immigrant Experience” and much more. For A Raisin in the Sun, which will return by popular demand next season, they did not shirk from topics of redlining and white privilege. Park Square’s study guides are, as our website describes, mindfully “created for teachers by teachers to introduce students to the world of the play” and, by extension, share and broaden their view of the world around them.

Educators met during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Educators volunteered their time during the summer to create the study guide for Flower Drum Song
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Today we see arts funding once again coming under attack. But I wonder, as I go to a variety of venues and events featuring writers, actors, dancers, visual arts, students, etc.–often trying to be as financially and publicly accessible as possible for its creators and audiences, do people overall actually support this push? Do they truly not believe in the value of the arts in society? Or, this time, are they grateful for the arts but being fed, once again, the message that adequate arts funding is superfluous to the well-being of our communities? Is it a message that comes from the expansive Heart, or from some place much smaller?

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio (Photo by Bob Schmitt)

a hope for peace by artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio, who’d created a logo for Theatre Mu, before it became Mu Performing Arts
(Photo by Bob Schmitt)

The Latest from Park Square

    tagline-color

Theatre News for you!

Sign up to get the latest Park Square news by email