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Posts Tagged The House on Mango Street

Hope and Inspiration

One cannot help but be reflective after Election Day, and one thing that I’ve been thinking about is the role of theatre arts in society as a source of hope and inspiration.

In my work at Park Square Theatre, both as blogger and daytime usher, I get to witness firsthand some of the dynamic changes occurring within the Minnesota scene as Elders begin to hand off responsibilities to a younger generation, as organizations soul-search on how to remain relevant to their audiences and as they ever strive to fulfill their missions–all while trying to stay financially afloat to be able to come back to do it all over again season after season. What I have discovered is that a theatre is a place of service, and those who work in one are more likely than not following a calling. The theatre “bug” is not foremost a pursuit of fame and fortune (though the latter would be a welcomed help) but a dedication by those involved to work for the greater social good.

While at Park Square Theatre, I get to brush shoulders with living Minnesota theatre history–the people who have been the shakers-and-movers of Twin Cities theatre for decades, not much in the limelight but still tirelessly dedicated to bringing quality live theatre to you from behind the scenes. To name just a few, there are Artistic Director Richard Cook, who co-founded and built up Park Square’s stature in its Saint Paul community; Education Director Mary Finnerty, who created what is likely the strongest theatre education program for middle- and high-school students in the state; photographer Petronella J. Ytsma, who can tell you photoshoot stories that span the change of photo-technology; and newly hired Group Sales & Community Engagement Manager Linda Twiss, who has likely, unbeknownst to you, already touched some aspect of your theater-going experience in Minnesota through the years.

Then there are our Future–the younger generation who also carry on the vision and mission. In my two seasons at Park Square Theatre, I have watched House Manager Amanda Lammert rise to Audience Services Director and, as such, clear the path for  millennials, such as Jiffy Kunik to become Performance Supervisor, Adrian Larkin to become Lead House Manager and Ben Cook-Feltz to become Ticket Office Supervisor. Our stage managers, such as Jamie Kranz, Megan Dougherty, Laura Topham and Lyndsey Harter, tend to be young female leaders with sure hands on each production that they oversee. My own fellow blogger, Vincent Hannam, is so clearly a Student of Life through Theatre; I get to see him grow not just as a theatre artist but as a wholehearted human being as I blog alongside him. And I have interviewed so many up-and-coming theatre professionals, from actors to designers, working with such intensity and creativity in their chosen fields. To be amongst such passionate young people, committed to theatre as a social cause is a constant source of hope and inspiration.

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

A scene from A Raisin in the Sun (Photo by Connie Shaver)

And this fall I am witnessing the fruits of the prior year’s labor to carefully select this season’s plays, culled from suggestions by theatre professionals, theatre goers and volunteer script readers–all committed to fulfilling Park Square Theatre’s mission. The whole process is a mixture of intentionality and serendipity, resulting in a breathtaking season of anticipation and high hopes that we got it right. This season, we started out with The Liar and The Realistic Joneses, both in their own ways guiding us to what is true and real. Then came The House on Mango Street and currently A Raisin in the Sun, both uplifting the human spirit in the face of adversity. In December, we look forward to The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, a style of music brought to us by Jewish immigrants.

Park Square Theatre’s mission is “to enrich our community by producing and presenting exceptional live theatre that touches the heart, engages the mind, and delights the spirit.” It is theatre in service to the common good and, by extension, a source of hope and inspiration. To all.

Note: We have a very limited number of tickets available for A Raisin in the Sun evening and weekend performances through November 20. But you may now purchase tickets for weekday student matinee performances through December 22. (You would be watching the play with school groups.) Student matinee tickets cost just $25.

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Tickets for The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer evening and weekend performances are available through December 31.

To order, call 651.291.7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.

A Fly on the Wall

As an usher for the student matinees as well as mom of a tween, it is dear to my heart that students from all backgrounds descend upon us beginning in the fall to connect through theatre. I often wonder what these young scholars take away from their experience at Park Square Theatre. My only glimpses are their reactions as they watch the play, any comments that I overhear during intermission or after the show and their questions to the cast if they stay for a post-show discussion.

Today while watching The House on Mango Street with a mainly Hmong audience of sixth, seventh and eighth graders (who came without any cellphones!), I witnessed students so engaged in the performance that when the character Darius pointed out beyond the audience to an imaginary cloud, dozens of heads turned to see for themselves. While monitoring the bathrooms at intermission for a different school audience, I once spoke to a girl who thought it was way cool to have just read the book and now see its stage interpretation. And a week ago, I sat in on a cast discussion with a Spanish class conducted en Espanol. Those not totally fluent in Spanish, including cast members, were aided by those more fluent. It was muy estupendo!

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A scene from A House on Mango Street

Photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma

Student groups are now coming to see A Raisin in the Sun on our Boss Thrust Stage. Afterwards, I wonder: What will they have to say about racism and white privilege? How did they feel about the three generations of women in the play? Will they empathize with Walter Lee? How did this play relate to or expand the world around them, both near and far? Will they go deep or barely scratch the surface on the issues? Will it simply be seen and parked or feel much too relevant to ignore?

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A scene from A Raisin in the Sun

Photograph by Connie Shaver

 I really wouldn’t know the answers unless I could be a “fly on the wall” during these young people’s bus rides back or in their classroom discussions. But my greatest hope is that the plays that they see at Park Square Theatre are seeds planted in their minds to inspire future social action and changes to better our world. Or to pursue their greatest dreams and follow their callings based on watching others on stage who do just that.

May Park Square Theatre, in essence, serve as their Muse.

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Students at Park Square Theatre for a matinee

 P.S. Any teacher wanting me to be a “fly on the wall,” just let me know! I would be thrilled to listen in.

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Don’t Miss These Upcoming Raisin in the Sun Events!!!

A Raisin in the Sun student matinees run from November 1 to December 22 (contact Megan Losure at 651.291.9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org if you would like to watch with school groups)

A Raisin in the Sun evening and weekend performances run from October 28 to November 20

Post-show discussion with Twin Cities playwright Christina Ham and Jamice Obianyo (Director, Community Relations, Ecolab) on Wednesday, November 2

Musings with Twin Cities Theatre Bloggers on Sunday, November 6

Post-show discussion with former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton on Sunday, November 13

Theatre Fan Night Out: Four Tickets for $99 available for Thursday, November 10, 7:30 pm; Thursday, November 17, 7:30 pm; Friday, November 18, 7:30 pm; Sunday, November 20, 2 pm (use code FAN when ordering)

Who Are You Going to Call?

As Park Square Theatre’s Education Sales and Service Manager, Megan Losure is the first point-of-contact for school group reservations. She joined Education Programs in November of 2015, quickly becoming an indispensable part of the team.

Megan Losure Photograph by Joe & Jen Photography

Megan Losure
Photograph by Joe & Jen Photography

Losure first became involved in theatre in junior high. She continued to act and work on stage crews in high school. While at the University of Minnesota, Morris, she had intended to keep theatre as just an extracurricular activity.

“I found that I really missed it,” Megan said. “So I wondered how to make it a part of my life. Could I make a career out of it?”

With her parents’ blessing, Losure ultimately earned a B.A in Theatre. She even served as co-president of the theatre student group during her senior year.

Like most in the theatre field, Losure followed a winding road to get to where she is now. Straight out of college in 2006, she worked at Camp Snoopy before finding a position with CLIMB Theatre, a nonprofit theatre touring company formed to inspire social change for young people through performance, classes and other creative activities at schools, camps, offices and centers. For three years, Megan traveled with CLIMB throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin to teach about bullying prevention, respect, self-control, friendship and more.

Fatigued from constant travel, Losure returned to work for the Mall of America (MOA), where she advanced to managerial positions in the mall’s Human Resources, Exhibitions and Operations departments as she acquired leadership training. A fun fact is that Megan has also been a character performer at MOA; so who knows—you may have met her before as Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob SquarePants!

While still working full time, Losure began a graduate program in 2011 at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, earning a master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management in 2014. She then pursued her desire to work for a nonprofit arts organization. The Education Sales and Service Manager position that she now holds at Park Square Theatre combines her passion for theater and art education for young people and great customer service.

When educators plan a trip to Park Square, they work closely with Losure to tailor for their specific needs, from scheduling dates and times for An Evening of Theatre During the Day performances and Immersion Day workshops to sending out our comprehensive educator information packets and tickets with seating charts before the visit. Bookings for the next season begin as early as March, before the current season has even ended. Helping Megan keep on track is Education Program Associate Connor McEvoy.

Summer is when Losure has more time to review and refine materials and processes. Besides continuing work on reservations, duties now include support for Education Director Mary Finnerty and the Educator Advisory Board, comprised of secondary and post-secondary educators, in creating the classroom-ready study materials for each upcoming Education Program play. Megan attends the planning and creation meetings and does the cover design and layout for our study guides, which are available on the Park Square website.

Megan also assists in organizing the Theatre Ambassadors Program, Park Square Theatre’s program for 10th to 12th graders for a more in-depth look at theatre arts and design.

In a nutshell, Losure works on whatever needs to be done in Park Square Theatre’s Education Program, which serves up to 32,000 students each year. Her job requires constant personal, hands-on contact with all involved. That requires an incredibly organized and dedicated individual–someone like Megan Losure.

For all your Education Program needs, who are you going to call? Megan Losure, Education Sales and Service Manager, at 651.291.9196 (education@parksquaretheatre.org).

Student Matinee Show Times: 

The House on Mango Street – October 11 to November 4

A Raisin in the Sun – November 1 to December 22

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – December 5 to December 22

Flower Drum Song – January 31, February 1, 7, 8, 14, and 15

Nina Simone: Four Women – February 14, 15, 21, and 22

The Diary of Anne Frank – February 28 to April 28

Macbeth – March 28 to May 5

Regular Show Times Evening Performances:

The House on Mango Street – October 21 and 22

A Raisin in the Sun – October 28 to November 20

Flower Drum Song – January 20 to February 19

Nina Simone: Four Women – February 7 to 26

Macbeth – March 17 to April 9

An Evening of Theatre During the Day

Education Program - Bus

With the school year now in full swing, student audiences will steadily begin arriving at Park Square Theatre to enjoy An Evening of Theatre During the Day and/or Immersion Day workshops with local teaching theatre artists.

An Evening of Theatre During the Day, which is what we call our student matinees, provides our young audience members with all the same amenities we offer for an evening performance–the same version of the play, concessions available at intermission, and the same playbill we give to an evening audience as well as ticketed seating with usher assistance.

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When asked how she’d conceived the idea of An Evening of Theatre During the Day, Education Director Mary Finnerty replied:

I came up with Evening of Theatre During the Day in 1995 when I was asked if we could not seat students in reserved seats to save time which was how many theatres were dealing with Student Audiences.

Since this is usually the first theater-going experience for 90% of the students, it is our chance to give them an unforgettable experience that may nurture a future love for theatre.  I think it is extremely vital that we give students this age a truly remarkable theatre experience and part of that was treating them to uncut versions of exceptional productions and customer service that made them feel welcome. If we do not give them an Evening of Theatre during the Day we are cheating them.

Every year, middle and high school groups of all sizes, including home school groups, come to participate in Park Square Theatre’s award-winning education program, which serves up to 32,000 students per year. Its service to one of the nation’s largest teen theatre audiences impacts many communities throughout Minnesota and into its neighboring states.

The general public may also purchase tickets for student matinees as long as seats are available. It can be a truly rich and invigorating experience to watch a play surrounded by these enthusiastic young audience members.

To arrange a matinee performance or Immersion Day workshop for students OR to watch a show with student groups, make arrangements with Megan Losure at 651.291.9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org.

Student Matinee Show Times:

The House on Mango Street – October 11 to November 4
A Raisin in the Sun – November 1 to December 22
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – December 5 to December 22
Flower Drum Song – January 31, February 1, 7, 8, 14, and 15
Nina Simone: Four Women – February 14, 15, 21, and 22
The Diary of Anne Frank – February 28 to April 28
Macbeth – March 28 to May 5

Regular Show Times Evening Performances:

The House on Mango Street – October 21 and 22
A Raisin in the Sun – October 28 to November 20
Flower Drum Song – January 20 to February 19
Nina Simone: Four Women – February 7 to 26
Macbeth - March 17 to April 9

 

Note: Find out the history of Park Square Theatre’s Education Program by reading “The House That Mary Built” (our August 10, 2016, blog post) and look out for upcoming blogs on Education staff, volunteers and services throughout our programming season.

Hope is Esperanza

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

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

 A selfie by Hope Cervantes

A selfie by Hope Cervantes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atquetzali is Hope

Atquetzila Quiroz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How They Came to Blog

by Vincent Hannam and Ting Ting Cheng

 Vincent Hannam               Ting Ting Cheng

 Both Vincent Hannam and Ting Ting Cheng became writers for the Park Square Theatre blog that was launched during the 2015-2016 season. Hannam possesses extensive theatre experience, having worked both on and behind the stage, therefore able to offer an inside-the-business perspective. In contrast, Cheng, without a theatre background, often writes from a general audience viewpoint.

Before the new season begins, we thought it would be fun for you to find out how they had started blogging for Park Square Theatre in the first place. So, without further ado, here are their stories in their own words.

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VINCENT HANNAM:

I was completely new to the Twin Cities last summer and subletting a studio apartment in Minneapolis, working a nondescript temp job to stay afloat until I could get something solid under my feet. Finally the summer doldrums passed and with the start of the new season at Park Square Theatre came the opportunity to come on board.

I distinctly remember sitting down with Connie Shaver, the Marketing & Audience Development Director, fully expecting to interview for a Front of House position, but was wonderfully surprised to hear her interest in my personal blog and social media presence. Eventually I got into the box office, but from the start I was always involved in the actual goings-on of the theatre-making process. My first assignment of the season was the show Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue and to attend the opening night party with my handy dandy camera in tow.

The night was marked by good spirits as everyone knew how well the play had gone. I got to interact with the actors as both a fan and professional, taking pictures and making memories. I met Richard Cook, chatted with Rich Remedios about his Meisner training, took candid photos of Ricardo Vasquez and started my first year in the Twin Cities on the strongest foot I could ever think possible. Elliot was a great show, yes, but as I reflect it was a great experience all around; my first at Park Square and the first of my year.

TING TING CHENG:

Unlike Vincent, I didn’t start blogging until near the end of last season.  Since I was a daytime usher for the Education Program–a job that did not require me to do any writing–I was totally taken by surprise when Connie asked me to join the blog team.  Her offer seemed to come from left field.

But throughout my ushering stints for the past two seasons, Connie would often ask the staff for feedback on the Park Square plays that we’d seen and even on the season’s brochure.  I tended to answer those email requests in depth.  That’s how she’d seen my writing.  This is the first job that I’ve ever landed for being verbose and opinionated–something I’d get fired for anywhere else!

I was concerned at first, thinking I may be at a huge disadvantage for not knowing the inside-outs of show business.  But instead it’s been great fun to approach the blog from the angle of not knowing.  I simply ask myself and others who are not steeped in theatre know-how:  What would you like to read about?  Then I go find out the answers.  Much of what I’ve learned has raised my respect even higher for those who run the theatre and put on all these productions.

While Vincent’s first play to see at Park Square was Elliot, mine was The House on Mango Street from two seasons ago when I was hired as an usher.  It was a new play for Park Square Theatre and the first to be in the brand new Boss Thrust Stage.  Seeing the play multiple times with diverse school groups was special for me because I love the book and readily connected to the depiction of the immigrant experience.  It will be exciting to see Mango return this October but newly produced for the Proscenium Stage.

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 As the 2016-2017 season approaches, watch out for more in-depth blogs about all the upcoming plays at Park Square Theatre and many behind-the-scene glimpses.  Learn more about our actors, staff, education program, special events and much, much more!

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