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Posts Tagged The Diary of Anne Frank

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). 

 

 

Jane Froiland Defines Her Role

 

In last season’s The Realistic Jones on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage, Jane Froiland had a tricky part as a fear-filled young woman named Pony Jones who could have simply come off as being overly fragile and spacey. Instead, Jane smartly mined Pony’s vulnerabilities to make her into a complex woman who was arguably the wisest character in the play.

The Realistic Joneses (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

From November 9 to December 16, Jane returns to the Boss Stage in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to portray Curley’s wife, a young woman married to the cruel and possessive son of a wealthy ranch owner. Just as with Pony, her character could be in danger of appearing two-dimensional, but you can once again bet that won’t happen under Jane’s watch.

Jane Froiland plays Curley’s wife in Of Mice and Men (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

In Of Mice and Men, Curley’s wife is perpetually defined by the men around her. She is without a name, always just called “Curley’s wife” as if he owns her. The men fault her for being a temptress, referring to her as “that bitch,” “a piece of jail bait,” “that goddamn tart” and “a tramp” because of the way she looks and dresses. Jane, however, humanizes her character and recognizes her predicament as indicative of the slut-shaming that’s still prevalent in our society.

“Curley’s wife is young and beautiful so seen as dangerous,” Jane said. “She’s isolated and lonely without anyone to talk to; she’s really just trying to be nice and friendly like she says. But whatever she says is never heard. I heard her, though, and I hope that other women and men hear her.”

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

Jane is extremely aware that she’s the lone female in Of Mice and Men and particularly mindful of her impact on young people coming to see the student matinees.

“I feel the responsibility as a woman to portray women with great empathy and authenticity,” Jane continued. “If I can tell a story very well and authentically, then the audience members can see themselves in my character and perhaps feel understood.”

Tickets and more information HERE

 

NOTE: Be sure to also catch Jane’s performances in Park Square Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank on April 19, 22, 26 & 28, 2018.

STUDENT MATINEE FRONT OF HOUSE STAFF: the show before The Show

It was in the fall of 2014 when I sought a job that would match the year-round schedule of my daughter’s new school. I was doubtful that such a job existed when my sister spied and forwarded this job posting to me:

Open Positions – Daytime Usher: Help us to bring live theatre productions to junior and senior high school students as a daytime Usher for daytime weekday matinees at Park Square Theatre in Downtown St. Paul.

I almost didn’t apply, not wanting the hassle and expense of parking downtown. But why not just take a look? My background did include customer service and working with students. I’d even been a regular theatre-goer before motherhood and, in fact, was a Park Square subscriber for a season before giving birth.

My interview went beyond well. We were a good fit. And not only would I have the flexibility to work around my daughter’s school schedule, but it dawned on me that I could park and ride to work on the light rail. The job even came with the perk of free tickets to all the plays, reinvigorating my family’s theatre attendance.

The House on Mango Street was the first student matinee performed on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

Adding to my excitement was the prospect of being a part of Park Square’s new phase. The just completed Andy Boss Thrust Stage would open that fall, with the potential to expand their teenage audience from 25,000 to 35,000 students each year. They needed more Front of House staff to be able to service two shows running on two stages.

Our Student Matinee Front of House pre-season training introduced us to the Education Program’s “Evening of Theatre During the Day” concept for school groups. Basically, we give students the same amenities as our evening and weekend audiences but at a lower cost. The students get reserved seats, an unabridged program and the service of professional ushers–all that create a special outing to see a show. The Front of House staff set the initial tone for the “evening”; we’re part of the show before The Show. We even dress up for our roles: black pants or skirt and white top with permissible pops of color.

As an usher, I’m officially under the supervision of a house manager but, in reality, I work in partnership with her/him. The house manager and ushers also work in conjunction with the stage manager. Together, we aim for seamless service and a superior audience experience.

The ushers carry out many varied tasks. Pre-show duties include greeting buses, helping groups cross the street and into the lobby, tearing tickets, handing out playbills and directing patrons to their proper seats. During the performance, two ushers stay inside with the school groups while two ushers remain in the lobby to set up concessions. During intermission, the outside ushers sell snacks and beverages; one of the inside ushers come out to monitor the bathrooms, returning inside once intermission is over. While the play continues, the outside ushers do a post-count of concessions to check against the house manager’s money count, clean the lobby and throw out trash. An usher checks on bus arrivals and helps patrons cross to their buses post-show. All ushers pitch in to leave the theatre and lobby clean and, if necessary, set up the lobby for the nighttime performance. The house manager stays to complete reports and lock the doors.

While our Front of House duties may sound somewhat straightforward, true to the nature of live theatre, our workdays are open to unforeseen surprises. Snow may delay a group’s arrival; an actor may wake up sick, causing a scramble to bring in the understudy; once all the water in the building got shut off. Another time, Romeo accidentally slid his sword next to a student, who picked it up despite my whispered instruction to let it be. Medical emergencies arise; a section gets rowdy; a chaperone losses his temper. High drama can happen offstage, too. Front of House staff learn the art of letting go–but not letting it go to heck.

And how do we watch the same play over and over? The performance is actually different each time, depending on the synergy between the actors and audience members. As the house manager says in her/his pre-show announcement: “It’s you being here, creating and working with the actors that creates theatre.” Plus who says we’re just watching the play? We’re also watching the students react to the play. That gives us an added perspective. Students are generally less inhibited than adults to show how they feel during the play. I recommend sitting through The Diary of Anne Frank or our new adaptation of Hamlet with them to see what I mean.

If we’re lucky, a pre-show Build A Moment (a presentation by professional theatre artists to explain how a particular scene was created) or post-show discussion is scheduled for the day. Then Front of House staff can opt to come earlier or stay later to watch these fascinating events. We get to learn along with the students.

One thing that I’ve learned is that what Park Square offers through its Education Program travels well beyond our walls. We can be a student’s first exposure to professional theatre, first time to see themselves truthfully portrayed on stage or initial spark to a lifelong love of theatre. Comprised of hundreds of students from a number of schools, an audience may witness acts of racism, privilege, empathy, kindness and generosity in our theatre. All that becomes part of the learning experience that goes back with them as well. Theatre reflects humanity, both on and off the stage.

I’d say that a big responsibility of Front of House staff is to pay attention. Pay attention to what’s happening on the stage and all around us, how the program interconnects to the organization’s mission as a whole and how our role fits and matters in the bigger scheme of things. To care about doing this is the key to Front of House longevity. You need to be inspired, too.

If you would like to consider joining the Student Matinee Front of House staff for Park Square’s upcoming season, don’t hesitate to email a cover letter and resume to kunik@parksquaretheatre.org or contact PerformanceManager Jiffy Kunik at 651.767.8489 (or via email) with any questions. 

Personal Highlights of the Past Season

The Diary of Anne Frank at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018 - Actors playing Anne Frank & Father

It has been 75 years since Anne Frank was given a diary by her father. The Diary of Anne Frank remains a perennial favorite of school groups. This coming season, limited evening performances will also be available. (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Always, the Education Program

Park Square takes great pride in its Education Program for good reasons. It’s a powerfully transformative program, not just for its effect on its young audiences but also as an inspiration within our own organization. Mindfully created and led by the incomparable Mary Finnerty since 1994, the Education Program has often served as first exposure of professional theatre to young audiences. But you can see how it’s much more than that in such defining moments as when the lightbulb of understanding lit up for a student while Sulia Rose Altenberg, who played Anne Frank, answered his question as to why the Jews didn’t simply pretend to be Christians or the teacher of a Somali group explained that they came to be exposed to a broader community. Our Education Program provides a safe venue for our young patrons to grapple with self-discovery, self-definition and social interconnectedness. It has also been a catalyst for Park Square to consider those very same issues within its own walls. Impactful is only one adjective that best describes “The Program That Mary Built” (see the August 16, 2016, blog post).

A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018

A Raisin in the Sun knocked our socks off and will be back for another season by popular demand. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Staying In the Thick of It

Park Square Theatre, with its long-held reputation as a white mainstream institution, has had to do much organizational soul-searching to embrace change. Is having to grapple with equity, diversity and inclusion a long and messy process? Does building trust feel hard-won or, more aptly, simply hard? Do they sometimes get things wrong (and, of course, right)? Have they kept forging ahead? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Mu Performing Arts co-produced Flower Drum Song with Park Square Theatre and returns with another production in the upcoming season.

The Independents

Collaborations with smaller independent companies through its co-production of Flower Drum Song with Mu Performing Arts and productions by its Theatres in Residence–Sandbox Theatre, Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions–broadened the season’s scope. I loved the “one-stop shop” to be able to try out new companies and see what they’re all about. Look forward to French Twist by Flying Foot Forum and the return of Mu Performing Arts for A Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity in our upcoming season.

H. Adam Harris and Kathryn Fumie in this past season’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

Having been one of the volunteer script readers to consider this complex, time-jumping, contemporary play for production, it was exciting to see it finally come to fruition on stage. The thumbs up on the script was actually a tough call, surmising its challenge for audiences to grasp–both its pro and con. The play really made me think about the state of human relationships in our techno-world. Did it do the same for you? It also had one of the most beautiful sets ever by Set Designer Lance Brockman and moving performances by actors Kathryn Fumie, Adam Whisner and H. Adam Harris in roles that let their own true souls shine through their fictional facades. Hope you were there! Note: Contact John White, Literary Management Volunteer (white@Parksquaretheatre.org), to discuss your interest to become a volunteer script reader.

Jamil Jude with Hope Cervantes, who was in this past season’s The House on Mango Street
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude, Park Square’s former Artistic Programming Associate

When Jamil had just been on board for several months, someone asked me, “Do you even know what he does here?” Guess what a young man with an expansive heart and the passion to build bridges and break down walls has done within his relatively short time in the Twin Cities community? Break a leg at your new gig in Atlanta! (Refer to past blogs “Jamil Jude, Artist Plus,” “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?” and “Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You.”)

The Conversations That Became Real

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

In an industry that endlessly tries to grab a piece of you, remaining guarded is an act of self-care and self-preservation. You’re constantly navigating the minefields of others’ self-interests and being put in compromising situations. Who do you want to be in those circumstances? Who must you become? Who are you really? Whenever you get a glimpse into a theatre professional’s inner humanity, it’s a golden moment for sure! Theatre professionals rock!

Vincent HannamMy Fellow Bloggers

Getting Eric “Pogi” Sumangil on the team for this past season and blogging for another year with the wholehearted Vincent Hannam were awesome, to say the least. As the only blogger without a theatre background and career, following these two’s works online and onstage served as terrific learning tools. Each of us wrote around complex schedules due to multiple gigs and personal responsibilities. Thanks for being there!

 

The Art of Disappearing

Actor Michael Paul Levin has a knack for disappearing into his characters on stage. When he plays Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank, he is Anne’s strong and gentle father. In Of Mice and Men, he is the loyal and compassionate friend, George, to the vulnerable Lenny; and in The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, he channels the brilliant George Gershwin. Currently, Michael transforms into the ever pissed off Inspector Cramer in Might As Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until July 30.

Michael Paul Levin as Inspector Cramer; E. J. Subkoviak as Nero Wolfe; Derek Diriam as Archie Goodwin; Jim Pounds as Fritz
(photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Of course, Inspector Cramer is a fully drawn out character in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries for Michael to emulate. However, Michael was also able to model his portrayal of him after his short-tempered father.

“He had little patience in dealing with people whom he considered to be fools,” Michael said. Inspector Cramer himself does not suffer fools gladly.

This side of Michael had not been something I’d experienced of him before, having watched him on Park Square’s stage as part of its Education Program for the past three seasons as Otto Frank and for a season as Lenny’s friend George, both incredibly patient men in very trying circumstances. He no doubt pulled from his own experiences of fatherhood–Michael has four sons–to portray Otto, but he turns out to have also done so for his role as George.

“One thing that appealed to me about Richard Cook directing Of Mice and Men was that he’d seen it in Spain where Lenny is characterized as being on an autism spectrum,” said Michael. “He had me audition for George because he knew that I have a son with autism. This created an interesting dynamic between the characters of George and Lenny.”

It seems ironic that an actor must dig deep within himself to be able to totally submerge into a character that is not him. Michael’s disappearing trick, seemingly done with ease, is a testament to his talent as an actor. The illusion of ease comes from years of practice–in fact, over 30 years for Michael. He was first awakened to acting as something he’d want to seriously pursue after seeing a production of Barefoot in the Park as a high school junior; ultimately, he’d reached the point of realizing “that I’m not qualified to do anything else.” His longevity in show business is itself a testament to his skills, not only as an actor but also as a playwright, instructor, voice artist and everything else in between.

In personally meeting Michael as himself, I encountered a man who may rather “fade into the woodworks” when not in the spotlight. He’s an unassuming man who would likely rather be left to anonymously go about his own business. Yet, he owns a hairless Chinese crested dog that cannot help but draw attention to itself and, hence, its owner, an apt symbol of the paradoxical nature of being a performer.

In all those years of watching Michael on stage, why had I not caught on before?  Michael doesn’t simply disappear on stage. What he does is much more complex: Michael hides in plain sight.

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.

Park Square: It’s a Family Affair

If you have been to Park Square Theatre then you have probably met or seen our indefatigable House Manager, Jiffy Kunik, who runs a tight ship while being just the darn coolest.  I’m here now to let you know where she gets all that pluck, grit and charm – her father, John Kunik.

Kunik is currently an understudy in The Diary of Anne Frank, serving as back up for the roles of Mr. Van Daan and Mr. Dussel. He hasn’t had to go on yet, but you can bet he’s ready at a moment’s notice thanks to a lifetime in the theatre. This isn’t his first gig at Park Square but you would have to go back in time a bit to discover his previous credits…

… It was 1975 and America was preparing to celebrate the bicentennial while trying to figure out just where it was going. While the nation was coping with the end of war, Watergate and a crippling gas shortage, Saint Paul was ushering in the beginning of a new theatre called Park Square. This is where John Kunik got his start in Twin Cities theatre, working with founder Paul Mathey. They collaborated on shows such as The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd (1978), A Delicate Balance (1979) and even Kunik’s original one-act play When You Get in Trouble, Call Time Out, based on two characters who appear in Young Bucks, a full-length play he wrote in graduate school.

Young Bucks was the SIU-Carbondale entry into the American College Theatre Festival and was produced professionally in Chicago and Off-Off Broadway. A favorite memory of his in recounting the old days when the theatre  was in the Park Square Court Building across the street from Mears Park, was when a deer jumped through the window of the ground-level bar, completely destroying the glass. It was a Dixieland Bar and patrons had to wait two weeks for it to be repaired!

Photo by Stephanie K. Kunik

The father-daughter duo of John Kunik and Jiffy Kunik. Photo by Stephanie K. Kunik

Not only is Kunik a veteran of the stage, but a Viet Nam era vet as well. Right before he was set to begin graduate school, he was drafted and following basic training was sent to Seattle to await orders to go to what was surely Vietnam. Fate decided to have some fun, however, and Kunik was surprised to learn that he was headed to Anchorage, Alaska with the special services unit. His duties included being in charge of the entertainment division. As a private he was in charge of lieutenants and sergeants, directing them in various shows. One awesome story was when Kunik was directing Come Blow Your Horn with the father in the play was being acted by the head of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Alaskan Command who he was apparently investigating the guy playing his son, for drugs. What happened? Well he waited until after closing to bust him, of course!

Kunik spent a couple years in Alaska doing important work and gathering some incredible stories. When he was discharged he went back to school at Southern Illinois University and moved to Chicago to pursue a career in theatre. What brought him to the Twin Cities was a friend who came to visit and inspired him to move on a dime. Since then he has acted, directed and written shows for a plethora of companies including The Children’s Theater Company, Theatre in the Round, Lakeshore Players, Hey City Theater (home of the long running Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding). He recently performed in The Gin Game at Pioneer Players in St. Cloud and directed The Sunshine Boys for Buffalo Community Theater. Perhaps the coolest credit on his resume is performing in a show at the Amsterdam Bar that was produced by his daughter Jiffy and entitled “Metal Not Metal” where, fully regaled in his tuxedo, he performed heavy metal lyrics as poetry….

It’s all pretty incredible and unfortunately we’ll have to wait for the autobiography to hear more. Park Square certainly loves both John and Jiffy and is happy to have them on the team!

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)

 

 

Sitting in the Dark with Students

It happened again the other day. As an usher, I got to watch Nina Simone: Four Women with predominantly students of color in the Boss Stage, and any squirming in the seats stopped once they figured out that this play is special. The characters on stage talk about racism, colorism, feminism and the toll but also strength of facing all the -isms on a daily basis in the frank way that’s not permitted in polite society. Finally, someone is openly articulating aspects of the truth of their daily experiences, and they can relate. They lean forward to watch and listen, fully engaged.

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It’s not always this way when I watch a play with students. One of my very first experiences as an usher was to witness rows of predominantly white students from a suburban school laugh throughout an intense scene of the teenage Esperanza in anguish from having been assaulted in The House on Mango Street. This seemed not to be nervous, but mocking, laughter. That was frightening to behold for me and, from what I could tell by their faces, the cast as well. This was the same school group from whence a student addressed me as, “Hey, Hiroshima!” to get my attention to make a request (which I did not grant).

There are also times when students seem to talk a lot during a play. More often than not, such a group may be first-timers to live theatre, only having watched shows on television. They are, thus, used to being able to openly comment as a performance unfolds. But there are also first-time theatre-going groups that are so captivated by the play’s reality that they will, for instance, as a group of Hmong students did last season, all turn their heads to look when Anne, in The Diary of Anne Frank, points beyond their heads at an imaginary sky. Regardless of how first-timers react, we feel privileged that they’ve chosen Park Square to be their first exposure to live theatre.

Coming to a performance at Park Square Theatre is an educational experience for school groups, not only in the academic sense but also in the life-learning sense.  They come face to face with social issues but also with themselves–who they are and who they want to become. The latter may involve gaining personal perspective on respectful engagement or even the discovery of a new passion to pursue.

Sitting in the dark with students in a theatre is, more often than not, a rewarding experience. You know that the young audience member who comes out may not be the same person who’d gone in. As an usher, it makes me lean forward and pay attention, fully engaged.

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