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Posts Tagged St. Paul

The Stage Manager Chronicles: Megan Fae Dougherty

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

Thank goodness for stage managers, and especially good ones!

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart and Soul of Gershwin

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

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

George Gershwin

George Gershwin

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Little More Poetry From Raisin

I was recently chatting with my fellow blogger, Ting Ting Cheng, about my previous blog and about how Lorraine Hansberry took her title from a line in a Langston Hughes poem entitled, “Harlem”. Well, Ting informed me, the first title Hansberry ever had in mind was A Crystal Stair which comes from another Hughes poem called “Mother to Son”.

Whaaaaaa?

I love this! Primarily because this poem is new to me and I think it is just as powerful as “Harlem”, alive with rich imagery and written in such prose that it really speaks to the common person while, again, reflecting the singular African American experience.

Here it is:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

See what I mean? I for one can’t get enough of the imagery that is so simple yet conveys so much. Words like “tacks” and “splinters” fill you with a sense of something sharp and unpleasant. The picture of a person walking through the darkness is dreadful as well as the word, “bare” – alone by itself as if to symbolize it’s own meaning.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

For all of the negative imagery, however, the poem offers up hope in the virtue of perseverance. No matter how hard the path is, the Mother continues to struggle for a higher salvation and tells her son that he must also follow this path. Up is the only way they can go and while it may not be any crystal stair, the landings will still be reached and the corners turned. Much like, “Harlem”, this poem can perfectly summarize A Raisin in the Sun. The Younger family knows these stairs better than anyone and like the Mother and Son in the poem, the generational dynamics are the key to the play. How many times does Walter want to just give up and “set down on the steps”? How many times does Mama have to fight him not to?
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Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Think about the meaning of this poem when you’re watching A Raisin in the Sun. Think about “Harlem” too. Think about all the great works of literature by African Americans like Hughes, Hansberry, August Wilson, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and a thousand others because their stories are American stories the same as anyone else’s. They need to be studied, read and seen. How lucky we are then that Park Square is telling one of those stories now.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

 

Universal Themes in A Raisin in the Sun

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

A Raisin in the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Liar: Featuring Shanan Custer

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

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ROLES: Sabine, puritanical servant to Clarice; Isabelle, vivacious servant to Lucrece

DESCRIPTIVE LINES ABOUT SABINE IN THE PLAY:

Said by Philiste to his friend Alcippe:

. . . . I love her strictness.
She’s adamant as truth, she’s hard to rattle,
And on a picnic–expert with a paddle.

DESCRIPTIVE LINES ABOUT ISABELLE IN THE PLAY:

Said by Dorante’s servant, Cliton, about Isabelle:

I too submit me to the moon! Ah, Isabelle,
Sweet Isabelle, who really truly is a belle!
I’d find more rhymes if only she were visabelle.
Is it not risibelle how most invisabelle.
The indivisibelle Isabelle … is?

CAST QUESTION:

You have successfully played poignantly funny characters in the past, which takes great skill.  How will you approach the more directly hilarious task of playing twin sisters?

For me, there is very little difference in approaching these two styles of comedy. Trying to be funny has never been my approach because I’m not sure how to do that exactly.

It’s Acting 101 really: be in the moment, listen, be truthful and don’t be afraid to look silly or vulnerable or ugly or ridiculous. Above all, take care of the people around you; otherwise, you have no scene. There’s a great quote in the book Truth in Comedy about how, if you treat everyone around you like a genius, they will be. There are many ways to interpret this piece of advice; but, for me, the most important layer is to stop thinking about myself and just pour that energy into others and the scene. I can’t wait to play with this cast!

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Calendar Girls; 2 Sugars, Room for Cream; Dead Man’s Cell Phone Representative Theatre Interact Theater: Hell is Empty and ALL the Devils are Here; Casting Spells Productions: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune; Workhaus Collective: The Mill; Theatre Pro Rata: Emilie: Le Marquis du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight; 2016 MN Fringe Festival: Sometimes There’s Wine Training M.A., Theater History, Theory and Criticism, University of Maryland, College Park Awards/Other Ivey Award 2013 (Ensemble, 2 Sugars, Room for Cream) Upcoming Projects Park Square: Theatre Pro Rata (at Park Square): Up: The Man in the Flying Chair

Shanan Custer with Zach Curtis in a rehearsal. (Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Shanan Custer with Zach Curtis in a rehearsal.
(Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Area Premiere of The Liar - Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – September 9 to October 2

The Liar: Featuring Sara Richardson

Sara RichardsonAs part of our Meet the Cast of The Liar Blog Series, let us introduce you to Sara Richardson:

ROLE: Lucrece, Clarice’s best friend

DESCRIPTION LINES OF LUCRECE IN THE PLAY:

I’m deserving of a first-class mate
As other women. Yet I stand and wait.
Because I’m silent–all right, call it nervous–
Most men just never see beneath my surface.

CAST QUESTION:

What aspect of playing Lucrece will most challenge you?

Lucrece is quiet at first, which can be challenging; but David Ives gives us a lot of fun clues about her later in the script to build upon. Fun friendship rivalries, colorful descriptions comparing her unflatteringly to sea creatures, a clear bookish bent and self-professed as ‘nervous,’ we are given a lot to play with in terms of character. These hints allowed us to find ways of showing her more ill at ease qualities in action–always fun in a farce, especially one with such playfully designed elements (thanks designers Eli, Abbee, Rebecca and director Doug!)! A challenge in a farce is also always to find the honesty in the midst of the absurd so finding Lucrece’s real sense of longing and unrequited love deep down, before making it laughable, is important.

It is a gift to get to play someone who experiences such terribly awkward moments and has to live through them in front of everyone–painfully, earnestly and repeatedly. I love it!

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Jungle Theater: The Night Alive; Mu Performing Arts: You for Me for You; Pillsbury House Theatre: Buzzer; Torch Theater: Boeing Boeing; Theatre Novi Most: Rehearsing Failure; Gremlin Theatre/Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur Film Rough Tender; Per Bianca (Cannes shorts 2011) Training Ècole Jacques Lecoq Other Sara-Richardson.com

Shanan Custer, Sara Richardson, India Gurley and Sha' Cage in a rehearsal. (Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Shanan Custer, Sara Richardson, India Gurley and Sha’ Cage in a rehearsal.
(Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Area Premiere of The Liar - Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – September 9 to October 2

 

The Liar: Featuring India Gurley

As part of the Meet the Cast of The Liar Blog Series, let us introduce you to India Gurley:

India Gurley

ROLE: Clarice, a young lady of Paris

DESCRIPTIVE LINE ABOUT CLARICE IN THE PLAY:

But this Clarice of yours.  Obese, obscene?
Some find her quite the glamorous gamine.

CAST QUESTION:

Clarice’s repartee with Dorante and Alcippe is very funny throughout the play.  As an actor, how do you keep your composure and not laugh out loud in such scenes?

Not laughing at the outrageously funny scenes between Clarice, Dorante and Alcippe is going to be a huge challenge! Especially because I am the type of person to break very easily.

One of the things that is helpful for me is to remember that, when you’re in a comedy, what makes it funny is that these situations are very real for the characters. Their reactions and truthful need to get what they want are what make it so funny and engaging for the audience. It also helps that we rehearse the show for three weeks, so I can prepare myself for something especially funny coming up in the show.

What’s great about doing comedies is that it is always a blast to go to rehearsal everyday and laugh and create hilarious characterizations. Hopefully, I can keep it together on stage!

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Hudson Valley Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Victory Gardens Theater: The House That Will Not Stand; Milwaukee Repertory Theater: The Color Purple; Guthrie Theater: Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House; Ten Thousand Things: Measure for Measure Training B.F.A., Acting, University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program Upcoming Projects The Hypocrites (Chicago): Wit

India Gurley with JuCoby Johnson in a rehearsal. (Photograph by Connie Shaver)

India Gurley with JuCoby Johnson in a rehearsal.
(Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Area Premiere of The Liar – Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – September 9 to October 2

The Liar: Featuring Sha’ Cage

As part of our Meet the Cast of The Liar Blog Series, let us introduce you to Sha’ Cage:

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ROLE: Dorante, a young man just arrived in Paris

DESCRIPTIVE LINES ABOUT DORANTE IN THE PLAY:

Said to Dorante by his servant Cliton:

No disrespect. Is there a molecule
Of truth in anything that stems from there?
(Points to Dorante’s mouth.)
‘Cause you lie anytime and anywhere!

CAST QUESTION:

What attracted you to the role of Dorante, a constant liar?

I’m often drawn to roles that seem incredibly difficult, things that I’ve never tried, characters that move me or characters that are a bit insane. So what does that say about me, you ask? Dorante has a bit of all these elements rolled into one. I’m still trying to get into his psyche, but he’s absolutely playful and fun.  He really can’t help but tell lies.

As someone who loves a good lie–although horrible at telling one and getting away with it, I must admit that I’m utterly and thoroughly intrigued!

The other day, my son asked me, ” Mom, what if you make a mistake and tell the truth?”

I said, “I’ll just pretend it was my twin brother.”

He got a kick out of that lie.

I’m thrilled to step into Dorante’s shoes and onto this fast-paced journey of discovery, twists and turns.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Mary T. and Lizzy K. Representative Theatre Ten Thousand Things: Henry IV; Penumbra Theatre: Ballad of Emmett Till; GuthrieTheater: Clybourne Park; Mixed Blood Theatre: Ruined; Frank Theatre: Venus, F*cking A Film New Neighbors, Cry About a Nickel, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Radio, Midnight, Joe’s Somebody, Factotum Awards/Other Regional Emmy; Ivey Award; McKnight Fellowship; Distinguished Fox/TCG Fellowship; Named one of the Leading Artists of her generation by Insight; Named a Changemaker by Women’s Press; City Pages Best Solo Performer (Frank Theatre: Grounded); Star Tribune 2014 Mover and Maker; Mpls St. Paul Magazine Power Couple of the Year 2015 (with artistic partner EG Bailey) Upcoming Projects Co-curating a film festival in Sweden (October); Intermedia Arts: a work in progress of her solo work Say Her Name (Nov 29); touring her show in 2017 (nationally and abroad).

Sha' Cage with Rex Isom Jr. in a rehearsal. (Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Sha’ Cage with Rex Isom Jr. in a rehearsal.
(Photograph by Connie Shaver)

Area Premiere of The Liar - Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – September 9 to October 2

Two Stages, Sheer Fun

For many Minnesotan families such as mine, Labor Day marks the end of summer. There is a nervous excitement in our household as another school year begins. What will it bring into our lives? Surely, loads of laughter, tears; much clarity, but just as many misunderstandings; personal highs, and emotional lows. Life is like that–filled with drama, comedy and everything in between.

Excitement also runs high at Park Square Theatre as we begin our 2016-2017 season. This coming week, both our stages will be crazy-busy with marvelous, energetic fun. Park Square presents the area premiere of David Ives’ The Liar on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2; while Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum complete their run of Passing Through Pig’s Eye from September 7 to 11, a roving performance that starts and ends at the Boss Thrust Stage.

Mounting the production of The Liar has been incredible fun for those who can’t wait to bring it to you live on stage. This summer, I have connected with many of the show’s actors and designers for glimpses of the mischievous world that they plan to entangle us in–a world of intricate wordplay, deceptive scenery, twisty plot and fast-paced humor. In the spirit of the show, individuals also shared their own funny stories about lying. (Be sure to read past blog posts and future ones about The Liar.) Everyone’s enthusiasm has been infectious, and I cannot wait to see this play.

The Liar in Dress Rehearsal

Last week, I brought my entire family to see Passing Through Pig’s Eye. We came not knowing much beyond the fact that we would learn some Saint Paul history but were absolutely WOWed by the inventive dance numbers and often gut-busting humor. All I can say is, “Go see it NOW before you can’t!” In my mind’s eye, I can still see those “crazy legs” of the loose-limbed gangster, tap dancing away in bright red shoes, and the hilarious image of a stage full of dancers holding dodge balls. I can still feel the adrenaline rush of watching anything-goes street dancing, followed by Joe Chvala and longtime Forum member Karla Grotting “dust up the floor” like those movie greats, Astaire and Rogers or Kelly and Reynolds. What hit my whole family hardest about the performance that night was the sheer joy of the dancers on the stage and on the street, having so much fun doing what they love most.

Passing Through Pigs Eye

The end of summer doesn’t mark the end of fun, just anticipation for more to come. Consider coming down to Park Square Theatre soon to share in the fun–our fun, your fun, sheer fun!

A Look Over His Shoulders: How Eli Schlatter Designs

The set of The Liar is moving onto Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage for the play’s September 9 to October 2 run.  Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter has spent months getting us to the moment when concepts become reality, following similar steps that he’d taken many a time for other productions.

After reading the script twice, Schlatter met with both Director Doug Scholz-Carlson and Costume Designer Rebecca Bernstein to get their input.  His collaboration with Scholz-Carlson involved going through each scene in the play to discuss what would be needed and Schlatter’s providing research images as possible concepts.

Now armed with some sense of what the show should look and feel like, Schlatter did further research and conceptualizing with thumbnail sketches.

A sketch

A sketch

Once Schlatter and Scholz-Carlson decided to go with a very classic and two-dimensional set design (refer to the August 28 blog, “Flat Land: The World of The Liar“), Schlatter made what is called a white model.  This is an unpainted white cardboard model of the set scaled according to actual Proscenium Stage measurements to determine how the set will fit and look in the space.  Schlatter used a ruler with a quartering scale (one inch equals four feet) for measuring and added model people for perspective.

A white model

A white model

His next step was to create a means within the design for scene changes.  For The Liar, the two back center walls could be opened or shut like doors to change the space for the action to move upstage or downstage. Schlatter then produced a color model of the set.

The color model

The color model

After meeting with Lighting Designer Mike Kittel, Schlatter made further decisions about such matters as surface texture before producing paint elevations–very detailed, scaled plans that show the scenic painter exactly where, what and how something must be painted onto the entire set.  They look somewhat akin to drafting plans with specific painting specifications throughout. The shop crew is also provided with a section view, which shows how the set looks from different directions, as well as execution drawings that show all the dimensional details.

Eli Schlatter (left) with Assistant Technical Director Ian Stoutenburgh (right)

Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left); Eli Schlatter (center); Assistant Technical Director Ian Stoutenburgh (right)

The Park Square shop crew have been busy building and painting the set. While it is quicker to build a two-dimensional set, more pressure is placed on the painting to be especially well done, though luckily the human eye tends to fill in any details on scenery that’s not represented on the stage.

As Schlatter completes his work for The Liar, he won’t be putting his feet up to relax anytime soon. He’s already working with the Artistry in Bloomington to design for Little Shop of Horrors and Bad Dates.

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