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Posts Tagged Proscenium Stage

The Conveniently Comforting Out?

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)

Every year, school groups flock to Park Square Theatre to see our production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Our play is powerfully moving, calling us to bear witness and remember so that we do not repeat history.

Recently I came across “Our Ongoing Trail of Tears,” an article in the March issue of Minnesota Women’s Press by Colleen Hawkins, a social worker in the Indian Child Welfare Act division of child protection. One of Colleen’s comments– “I know the history of the near genocide of Native Americans in our state and country.”–made me recall that my first history lesson on genocide didn’t occur until I was studying World War II and simultaneously assigned to read The Diary of Anne Frank. In fact, my initial and all subsequent history lessons left out America’s own earlier history of genocide and its attempt to wipe out the Native Americans.

I was surprised to then discover what Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Toland had written in Adolph Hitler: The Definitive Biography:

Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination–by starvation and uneven combat–of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.

Indeed, genocide happens in America as well as somewhere else. It’s also not something in the past–it’s impetus lives on–as a quick skim of current news headlines reveals:

“The Power of the Presidency: Will Ethnic Cleansing Be Next?” (by Barbara Reynolds for The Charleston Chronicle, January 15, 2018)

“Neo-Nazis and Hitler Supporters Thrive with Impunity in Poland, Jewish leader says” (by Cristina Maza for Newsweek, January 25, 2018)

“Myanmar Bulldozes Rohingya Villages in possible attempt to hide evidence of ethnic cleansing (by Todd Pitman and Esther Htsusan for Business Insider, February 23, 2018)

“Wallenberg Foundation decries Israel not recognizing Armenian Genocide” (by Tamara Zieve for The Jerusalem Post, February 25, 2018)

No, genocide did not begin nor end with the Jewish Holocaust. Now 75 years after Anne had received her diary for her 13th birthday on June 12, 1942, her story continues to be read at schools and retold on American stages to preserve memory and promote empathy. But as audiences take it in, will they also ponder our own country’s culpability or continue to ignore it?

In her diary, Anne Frank bears the cruelty of what has befallen the Jews by hanging on for dear life to one deep belief: “In spite of everything…people are really good at heart.” As genocide has happened and keeps happening without remorse, does Anne’s anthem of hope transform into a conveniently comforting out?

This season, limited performances are available for general audiences on April 19, 22, 26 and 28 to see this powerful literary classic on our Proscenium Stage. Details and Information Here.

You may also attend student matinees through May 11 by contacting Quinn Shadko, Education Sales & Services Manager, at 651/291-9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org for information on showtimes and ticket availability.

What If?

Sulia Altenberg (Anne Frank) and Ryan London Levin (Peter Van Daan) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What if an English teacher had her class read The Diary of Anne Frank?

What if she’d asked permission from the principal to do an experiential lesson with her students?

What if that lesson involved deeming half the class to be superior to the other half?

What if the superior half got to reinforce their superiority through constant criticism and punishment?

What if the students skulked into class the following day wondering what would happen to them next?

Laurie Flanigan Hegge (Mrs. Frank), Robert-Bruce Brake (Mr. Van Daan) and Charles Fraser (Mr. Dussel) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What if the teacher explained that they’d been part of a social experiment?

What if the “inferior” students got angry and upset?

What if they were mad that they wouldn’t get their turns to switch roles to become the tormentors?

What if there had only been one student of color in the room, and she was Japanese American?

What if this story is true?

***

Different approaches to teaching The Diary of Anne Frank can yield surprising, but no less valuable, insights for both teachers and students alike. Park Square Theatre itself supports teachers with comprehensive study guides for its student matinees that are loaded with contextual information, suggested classroom activities and numerous resources. Our study guides are lauded for their grade-appropriateness and usability, as they are created by educators for educators. They are also living documents, continually being re-evaluated and updated for relevancy, as well as inspiring tools for deep engagement and inquiry. 

Access the study guide for The Diary of Anne Frank here.

Just as Anne Frank’s diary has been a staple in American school curriculum for decades, the play has been one of Park Square Theatre’s longest running productions viewed by thousands of young audience members for decades. This season, don’t miss its limited performances for general audiences on April 19, 22, 26 and 28 (tickets and information here). 

 

 

Will Charles Eaton Keep a Straight Face?

Charles Eaton has been having a blast as part of the cast of The Pirates of Penzance on our Proscenium Stage through March 25. It’s been one of those gigs when work is truly play, and the hardest part may well be to keep a straight face on stage. Here he is to tell us about his experience in this hilarious Park Square production:

1. What has it been like for you to be a singing pirate and police officer in this production? Tell me all about the good, the bad and the silly!

It’s been a tricky but mostly hilarious challenge to keep the two straight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to think, “Okay, are you a policeman here, or a pirate, or just an actor in the troupe?”

The police officers of Penzance!
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

2. Actors were cast primarily for their singing and acting abilities. How has it been for you to learn the physical moves in the dance sequences?

I, by no means, consider myself a dancer; but it has been a really good experience for me. It’s especially exciting to be constantly thinking about physicality on stage–being a pirate is a totally different persona than being a policeman.

3. What sparked your passion for singing and acting, and how long has this obsession been going on?

I’ve always loved music and always sang in choirs in school. My first musical was in 6th grade (Cornelius in Hello, Dolly!), but it wasn’t until college that I started taking voice lessons. I started music education; but after seeing La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera, I knew that performing is what I wanted to do.

The pirates of Penzance!
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

4. What is your favorite “piratey” thing?

I parrot sit a lot and have formed quite the bond with the little guy, so I guess . . . parrots?

5. Why should people come to see The Pirates of Penzance?

There are SO many moments on stage when I have to truly hold back my laughter because of the hilarity that my awesome colleagues create. Anyone who doesn’t see it is missing out on some belly laughs!

 

Tickets and information here.

Cynthia Jones-Taylor Returns to the Park Square Stage

We welcome Cynthia Jones-Taylor back to Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage, where she played Dotty, a widowed grandmother in present day Philly in our recent holiday production of DOT.  She now returns to play Lena, a widowed grandmother in 1950s Chicago in A Raisin in the Sun.

What has it been like to play the family matriarch in a black family during two different time periods?

It’s very strange. The contrasts are as extreme as the similarities. Dot was married to a doctor, relatively educated, articulate and a strong component in the community that she lived in. She raised her children to be lawyers and writers, lived a life of relative leisure and believed that they could have anything.

L to R: Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Ivory Doublette as Ruth in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Lena (Mama) was raised by sharecroppers and first-generation free slaves. She wasn’t educated, worked as a domestic and could only in her wildest dreams imagine the life that Dotty lived. But their love for their dearly departed husbands and their children is almost identical, and it transcends eco/social/temporal  boundaries.

As far as drawing on experiences to inform the characters, I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s so Lena and the younger family of Raisin in the Sun are a little closer to my sensibilites. I was raised in Seattle, and we didn’t have the poverty that the Youngers had; but our family values were similar. My mother was a widowed grandmother, and she was a registered nurse working at a hospital so she was educated; but we were living in a time when we couldn’t live across the “red line” that existed (that’s the invisible line that separated neighborhoods and color). It was difficult.

We were the first black family to move in on our block. My mother had taken care of the former owner’s sister when she was in the hospital. They fell in love with her, her personality and her compassion and offered to sell the house to her before they moved back to Sweden. When we moved in, the neighborhood rejected us. They would call their children in when my brothers,  sisters and I would come out to play. They didn’t invite us to any of the gatherings; they treated us as though we didn’t exist at all. Our house was one of the most beautiful on the block, well-maintained with a manicured lawn; and my mother painstakingly orchestrated the six of us to keep it that way. But our arrival triggered white flight.

 

L to R: Imani Vaughn-Jones as Beneatha, Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Calvin Zimmerman as Travis in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What most resonates with you about Lena?

Her strength and her capacity for love and forgiveness. The pureness of  her heart and her wisdom. She has what the old South referred to as “Mother Wit,” an ability to simply recognize a situation for what it is.

 

What has been your prior relationship to A Raisin in the Sun?

Well, I have played Ruth in two professional productions, used a Beneatha monologue in school many, many…many….maaanny years ago, and now I have finally aged into playing Lena. I don’t know of many plays around that can offer an actress like me the opportunity to cover three generations in three completely different characters. It is a rare and wonderful thing!

 

Do you recall your first-time-ever response to it? 

I vividly recall the first time I saw the movie starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands. I must have been about 11 years old when it finally made it to television in the 1970s. The whole family and invited friends gathered around the living room. It was such an event!!!  A movie about African Americans….starring African Americans…. written by an African American…WOMAN!!!!! ON TELEVISION!!! OMG!!! Now you must bear in mind the scarcity of something like this on television at that time. It was rare that we saw ourselves portrayed anywhere in starring fashion. I cried and laughed and dreamt right along with the Youngers. I must have seen it ten times since then, and it still moves me. It is an American masterpiece, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity.

 

Tickets and information here.

Theatre Can Save Your Life

 

Cast of Dot on Stage in livingroom with Christmas Tree

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

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

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

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

Donnie and Shelly in the kitchen

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

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

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

 


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

The Everyday Emergency

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

Donnie and Shelly in the kitchen

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

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

 

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

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

 


Dotty and Jackie on the livingroom sofa with Christmas tree

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

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

LEARN MORE / GET TICKETS »

Mina Kinukawa: Creating Steinbeck’s World

Set Designer Mina Kinukawa (center)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was first performed at the Music Box Theatre in New York on November 23, 1937. It was first performed on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage in 1998 as part of its Education Series. This season, Park Square’s Of Mice and Men is on the more intimate Boss Thrust Stage, necessitating a new set design. Set Designer Mina Kinukawa rose to the challenge of putting us into the play’s world: the agricultural Salinas Valley in Northern California. Specific scenes take place at the sandy bank of the Salinas River, the bunkhouse of a ranch, the room of a stable buck and one end of a barn.

Here is Mina to give us insights into her creative process:

 

Model of the bunkhouse

Previously, Of Mice and Men had been performed on the Proscenium Stage, but this season it moved to the Andy Boss Thrust Stage. What was your approach for set design to account for the change? 

From left to rt.: E.J Subkoviak as Lennie, Michael Paul Levine as George and Patrick O’Brien as Candy in Of Mice and Men
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

 

Since this was my first time designing Of Mice and Men for Park Square, I didn’t have to modify the old production. I went in knowing it was a thrust stage in almost a black box room. I really like designing for thrust stages to get close to the audience. And this production, I believe, benefits from having the actors/characters be where the audience can see and feel their emotions closer.

The voms (the corridors that “spew” people into the seating areas) and inner lobby allow for the creation of an environment that surrounds the audience. Will you be taking advantage of that? 

Director Annie Enneking and the actors did a wonderful job using the voms and the lobby space to convey distance. We set locations offstage (for example, where is the river, where is the road, etc.; locations that audience don’t see but the characters live in), and the actors run around and use the voms and lobby to create distance from the scene happening onstage.

Model of the set with tree

A tree is of particular significance on the set. Can you tell me about that? 

When researching location and historical background, I was drawn to the images of sycamores. It’s one of the first scenic elements that’s mentioned in the script, and it seemed to create an oasis in an arid landscape.

Left to right: E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie and Michael Paul Levin as George
(Photo by Petronella J. YtsmaP

At the same time, it’s almost foretelling the end of the journey that we will take with this play. Once I started designing the set, the tree took a strong place in the world that I was creating, and we all seemed to like to have it always “watching” the characters.

Model of the barn

 

 

 

 

 

Can you tell me about your journey to become a set designer?

I can say that it started in my early teen years. I was lucky to have had very good mentors who helped me with skills that I needed. I also learned to analyze plays and make them my own.

Jane Froiland as Curley’s wife and E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Once I graduated from undergrad, I knew I wanted to have some “real” experience before going to grad school and had an opportunity to work in a scene design studio, first as an intern before I was hired on. Then I got a scholarship to go to grad school and got my MFA. I was in Southern California so naturally started to have more chances to work in films and had a blast. It was not an easy environment, but I enjoyed it very much. Very similar to theatre, it’s all about the team of people you work with! Then life took me to Minnesota, and I have started to connect with theatres and meet and work with great theatre artists here.

Tickets and more information here 

To Thine Own Self Be True

The above phrase is one of the most famous lines in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is a parent’s advice to only the son, not the daughter, Ophelia, who is played by Maeve Moynihan in Joel Sass’s new adaptation for Park Square Theatre. While some of the male characters have been changed to female in Joel’s version in order to, as he put it, “have more women walking the halls of Elsinore, expanding the notion of who carries power,” Ophelia does remain female and possess limited power in the face of social mores. With Park Square’s Hamlet set in modern times and presented to a contemporary audience, I wondered how Maeve perceived her character and planned to approach her role.

“Ophelia is a complex character, especially in relationship with the other characters,” Maeve reflected. “She’s often seen as being weak, but she’s not weak. She merely wants to please and do the right thing; she worries about the needs of others. The one kind of power that she has which the others lack–or isn’t as potent in them–is empathy. For Ophelia, she has a sense of caring that’s so strong that it cripples her. If you don’t look out for yourself, then you can lose sight of yourself. So Ophelia is misunderstood when we read the play.”

Maeve continued, “Ophelia does have a mind of her own and her own opinions, but she wants to make her mom Polonia proud. The other characters muddle up for her what’s right and wrong for herself, especially her mother, who asks her to spy on Hamlet. It’s not what she would do; but her mom, whom she loves, has asked her to do it.”

As Maeve sees it, Ophelia is very teen-like, a life stage when she’s trying to figure out who she is as an individual. She’s doing this in a court where her mother is of very high rank so Ophelia must always be concerned about how she reflects on her family.

Ophelia (center), played by Maeve Moynihan (Photo by Amy Anderson)

“Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we’re not weak people or pushovers. We’re just trying to do the right thing given the circumstances,” Maeve said. “What would it be like to be the kid of the President, and you didn’t have a choice about being that?”

Maeve imagines that Ophelia wishes that she could tell everyone to just leave her alone. She doesn’t want her life, including her relationship with Hamlet, in the public eye at all times. During rehearsals, Maeve herself has wished that Ophelia could also tell Hamlet, “Quit being a jerk! It’s not my fault that your father died.”

The prospect of playing Ophelia was, indeed, intimidating for Maeve. The youthful Maeve could certainly relate to Ophelia, but she feared overthinking the role. Director Joel Sass got her to trust her instincts in exploring what he called the “inner violence” done to her. While Maeve had initially considered Ophelia’s descent into madness to be “a fragile unraveling,” she began to see its more explosive emotionality.

“Originally, I would have approached it as unfathomable sadness,” Maeve said. “But Ophelia is actually trying really hard to find her reality again. She realizes that she has a warped reality and something is off because of how people comment on her behavior. What’s frightening to her is not that she thinks something is wrong with herself but that others are treating her like that.

Cast members being directed by Joel Sass; Maeve is second from the left
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

We’ve seen her repressed throughout the play, and finally it’s the moment for her to unleash all the emotions she’d been wanting to let out. She’s no longer worried about how people see her. She lets her pent-up frustration and anger come out. We get to see the demons inside of her that needs expression.”

In rehearsals, Maeve worked hard on how best to unsettle the audience with sharp emotional shifts, true to Joel’s intention to take the audience “to interior psychological landscapes of the characters.” Sudden laughter may just as suddenly turn into crying.

For Maeve, a 2016 graduate of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Acting Program, the draw to becoming an actor was the chance to get into characters’ heads to be different people. She loves that, as a result, actors come to accept and understand people in new ways. She loves that she’s in a profession that builds empathy.

Nine years ago, some of you may have seen Maeve on the Guthrie stage as Carrie in Little House on the Prairie. That girl has since grown up and is now very excited to be on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage to play the multilayered Ophelia. In her own words, “It’s going to be awesome!”

To Be!

Kory LaQuess Pullam as Hamlet (Photo by Amy Anderson)

Kory LaQuess Pullam isn’t a huge Shakespeare buff, nor did he go through any part of his life being overly enamored of the Bard’s “precious language.” Yet, after Park Square Theatre’s annual “cattle call” audition, he found himself with the opportunity to play Hamlet in Joel Sass’s new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But if you stop to think about it, Kory’s lack of preconditioned awe makes him a fitting choice for a director who is trying to tell the story anew.

When asked what he brings to the table during rehearsals, Kory said, “I’m coming into this from the outside in the sense that I didn’t grow up around that [Shakespeare worship (my words)] so I have new eyes that can be useful.”

What especially excites Kory about playing Hamlet is not only the challenge but also the opportunity to do so for younger audiences in the student matinees.

“I really revel in interacting with and working for youths,” Kory emphasized. “I’d hate for thousands of students–and for some, this will be their first experience seeing Hamlet–to see an actor approaching this as just another gig.”

Noting that our student audiences tend to be much more diverse, Kory added, “I want to be a face that they can see and realize, ‘We’re valued.'”

Kory’s Hamlet will, in fact, deliberately close the distance between himself and the audience. He will at times directly address them as his confidants, forming the type of bond usually reserved for close friends. His Hamlet won’t be academic but real.

Rehearsing on the Proscenium Stage
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

The first time that Hamlet addresses the audience, he’s telling them, ‘I need the audience. I’m in a place that’s suicidal. I want to become vapor,'” Kory pointed out. ” We tend to forget that Hamlet’s not just sad; he’s not just an angry teen. He’s suffering from post-traumatic stress! His father has died; his mother has moved fast to remarry; his country’s in an uproar.

Hamlet wishes God hadn’t made it a bad thing to slaughter himself. Suicide’s an act that would send him to Hell so he has to stay alive and deal with all this. So many people feel that struggle and hurt everyday.”

Kory will, of course, get to recite that famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be . . . .” as Hamlet continues to deal with his anguish throughout the play. In academic circles, much ado is usually made over Hamlet’s indecision or inability to act. The irony is that Kory himself is a dynamic ball of action.

“I’ve been here for four years and going 200 miles per hour for the past few years,” Kory said. “I’ve done way more than I could have imagined. It’s crazy what’s happened.”

What’s happened to Kory, besides being cast as Hamlet at Park Square Theatre this season, is that:

  • his wildly popular comedy troupe, Blackout Improv, recently celebrated its second anniversary
  • Underdog Theatre, which he found in 2016, earned raves for its debut play, Baltimore is Burning, which he’d written
  • he’s at work on a trilogy, starting with Odd Man Out, a portion of which was performed in this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival
  • he’s just been tapped to direct Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry at SteppingStone Theatre for Youth (performances from February 7 to March 3, 2018)

And there are so many other dream roles that Kory would love to someday take on: Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, Orestes in Euripedes’ Orestes, Walter Lee in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Marcus in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, Booth in Suzan-Lori Park’s Topdog/Underdog and Pastor Paul in Lucas Hnath’s The Christians.

Kory also professed “an addiction to collaboration” that drives his momentum but recognizes the eventual need to slow down for several weeks of what he described as “doing nothing.” But then he’ll be up and running again, being dynamically creative and joyfully present–basically, being Kory LaQuess Pullam.

Tickets and more information at http://parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/shows/2017-18/william-shakespeares-hamlet/

 

Directing Hamlet

Joel Sass (in second row) directs Hamlet during a rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Having adapted William Shakespeare’s Hamlet for Park Square Theatre this season, Joel Sass takes further control of his vision by also directing it. But he’s no control freak. Yes, Joel has made significant changes to Hamlet. Yet this is still Shakespeare’s play, and he doesn’t lose sight of that. His directorship now lets him share the creative fun of re-imagining Hamlet with others. The result: we get to look at this well-known play from a fresh perspective.

With his director hat firmly on, Joel has held extensive discussions with his production team to conjure up the world that this Hamlet will inhabit. In his words, “The world of our Hamlet will seem modern–without being specific to any one decade or national boundary. Our Denmark is a state of mind versus an actual Scandinavian country.”

With an eye toward inclusivity to inhabit this contemporary world, Joel put together a dynamic ensemble of regional actors of mixed ages, races, genders and opinions. He also purposely shifted the gender of some traditionally male characters to female, hence shaking up conventional power dynamics.

Joel Sass and cast members Kory LaQuess Pullam and Wesley Mouri  look at Alice Fredrickson’s costume designs. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

In a note attached to the rehearsal script, Joel told the cast that they’d “explore our own reorganization of scenes and speeches in order to find a more cinematic ‘drive’ to the plot. So you will definitely find things missing, streamlined and in some cases transplanted. And I’m expecting that as we work together on it, we may find more things to lose, add or shift.” He also welcomed their “ideas about how to best make the language work.” Did all this imply that Joel would give the actors free reign to improvise?

“No,” Joel assured me. “You still need discipline in exploration, or you’ll get lost in your own improvisation.”

As the director, Joel’s responsibilities included identifying boundaries while maintaining the creative latitude for the ensemble’s exploration. For instance, in the big scene when Hamlet angrily confronts his mother Gertrude in her room, Joel had the two actors consider how they’d physically move and interact so the audience could understand how close they actually are as mother and son. Their physicality would be key to revealing a fuller backstory to their relationship that cannot otherwise be captured through the lines in the scene.

The shifts in gender, too, force the cast to examine how characters would interact in light of the changes. Polonius, the male chief advisor to the king in Shakespeare’s version, for example, is now the female Polonia in Joel’s adaptation; Bernardo, one of the first officers to have seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, is now Bernarda; Hamlet’s closest friend, Horatio, was also changed from male to female. What resulting tensions will charge the atmosphere of this play? What performance choices will make sense to enrich the storytelling?

While interviewing several of the actors in Park Square Theatre’s production of Hamlet, I found that, more often than not, they also shed light on the director’s role during auditions and rehearsals. Simply follow our blog to keep learning more!

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