Tickets: 651.291.7005

Posts Tagged Theater Mu

Pogi’s Back – in Baskerville!

Park Square favorite Eric “Pogi” Sumangil returns to the Proscenium Stage in Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing both Inspector Lestrade and Sir Henry Baskerville, among many roles. He caught up with blogger Vincent Hannam to share what excites him about this play and working in Twin Cities theatre.

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

What was your path to the Twin Cities and Park Square?
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I had some aspirations to go to college somewhere out of state, but ultimately decided to go to St. John’s University in central Minnesota. My freshman year, I wrote the annual comedy sketch at the Asian New Year celebration. Rick Shiomi, then Artistic Director of Theater Mu, performed at the same event with his Taiko group, and approached me afterward. I started taking workshops at Mu in Minneapolis over summer break and I stayed in touch until I graduated. I began auditioning around the Twin Cities, but for over a decade, getting cast in a show at Park Square eluded me. Suddenly, in 2016, I was cast in The Realistic Joneses, Flower Drum Song, and Macbeth in the same season.
What other work do you do around town?
I am a playwright and teaching artist, I also have done some event planning, marketing and social media, and administrative work, most recently for the Minnesota Theater Alliance. Otherwise, I work for a couple of food trucks around town as well: Bombon, and Fun Fare.

Sara Richardson, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, and McKenna Kelly-Eiding. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

This isn’t your first show at Park Square, so what keeps you coming back? What excites you most about this show?
Park Square is one of the few places in the Twin Cities that features performers of color in non-traditionally cast roles with relative consistency. It’s an opportunity for me to perform roles for which I might not be considered at many other theaters. While I believe that the theater work that is centered around identity is important, I also believe that as someone from a community of color that is often assumed to be foreign, it’s important for me as an actor to be seen in roles that don’t specifically address my ethnic origins.

This show is a classic story with a contemporary feel. It has an American sensibility to the humor, and the challenge of playing so many characters is going to be a lot of fun. I’m also excited to work with a female Holmes & Watson because they’ll both bring great things to those roles.

Ricardo Beaird, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Sara Richardson. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

What do you hope people come away with after watching it?
Accessibility, and relatability. The film & TV world is now trending toward rebooting past shows and movies, but that’s nothing new in the Theater business; there are adaptations all over the place with a new take or different spin on familiar stories. I’m hoping that people come away with a renewed interest in something that they may have dismissed as being old and irrelevant.

Beat the heat this summer and see Pogi in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing until August 5. Tickets can be found here!

Baskerville graphic - red text on white background

Going Full Circle and Beyond

The circle is a universal symbol of unity, wholeness, inclusivity and cyclical movement. During both the first rehearsal and opening night of Flower Drum Song at Park Square Theatre, members of Mu Performing Arts reflected on how Mu itself has come full circle on its 25th anniversary. Its once newest core performers, such as Randy Reyes, Sherwin Resurreccion, Katie Bradley and Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, are now the elders as another generation of artists stream through. In fact, when Mu first staged Flower Drum Song about eight years ago, Sherwin had played the young man Ta and Randy his father, Wang. And just four years ago, Randy Reyes inherited the Artistic Director role from co-founder Rick Shiomi, who has since co-found a new company called Full Circle Theater.

First rehearsal of Flower Drum Song (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

First rehearsal of Flower Drum Song
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Recently I asked Rick Shiomi to go back down memory lane to Mu’s beginnings, then return us to where it is now and, in conjunction, where he is now. My first surprise on this journey was that then University of Minnesota graduate student Dong-il Lee, not Rick, had initiated the founding of Theater Mu (the organization’s original name).

“I actually came here from Canada for personal reasons,” Rick admitted, “and I didn’t think it was even possible to do. I only knew one or two Asian Americans acting in the Twin Cities. I thought it would be too monumental a task.” Yet Rick agreed to go along for the ride.

However, Dong-il graduated within a year and moved to the East coast for a teaching position and, later, back to South Korea. Rick suddenly found himself heading Mu as interim, and ultimately permanent, Artistic Director.  But why didn’t he just stop then and go on with his life?

“By now, I saw that my future would be in the Twin Cities,” Rick said. “I had already committed my life to Asian American theater, and there was nothing here. I could certainly have worked with another theater, like Mixed Blood, that would do maybe one Asian American play in five years. I preferred to put in the hard work to develop Mu instead.”

The work was, indeed, hard. Rick compared the first five to ten years to “digging trenches to lay a foundation.” People came and went as Mu gradually built its first major wave of core performers to take it to the next level. In its 2003/4 season, Mu reached a new high with an all-Asian American casting of the Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures at Park Square Theatre, followed in 2005/6 with its landmark production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Those were exciting times for Mu.

In Rick’s opinion, “Mu has completed one cycle and is now starting on another, almost like a spiral. There is a certain circular sensation, especially for the actors who have grown up and now play the elders, but it’s a different place and time and their roles have changed.”

Rick, too, has let go of a cycle to begin a new one. He and four other longtime stalwarts of the Twin Cities theater community–Martha B. Johnson, James A. Williams, Lara Trujillo and Stephanie Lein Walseth–founded Full Circle Theater in 2013. By doing so, they are going full circle in the sense of experiencing and implementing some of the same growth challenges and strategies faced by any startup, such as Mu in its younger days. However, this time around, they have all been “around the block” with collective knowledge to their advantage as well as a focus beyond Asian American theater. Listed as one of Full Circle’s core values is theater that “is multiracial and multicultural in its representation of life.”

Full Circle’s upcoming production, 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks: A 2017 Remix, will run at the Penumbra Theatre from May 26 to June 11. It will feature 46 of a collection of 365 plays written by Parks in 2002 (one play per day). In its 2007 premiere, 365 Days/365 Plays was lauded as “a national phenomenon….crossing ethnic, racial and economic boundaries.” Flower Drum Song patrons can take advantage of Full Circle’s special offer of $10 tickets by inputting the code FDS at brownpapertickets.com.

With regard to Flower Drum Song, Rick has strong memories of the powerful scene, in Mu’s earlier staging at the Ordway, between Ta and Linda Low–then played by Sherwin Resurreccion and Laurine Price, respectively–when she leaves to make it big in Hollywood. He also recalls the emotional father-son reconciliation dance between Randy and Sherwin as Wang and Ta. Another high point came when Sara Ochs, as Mei-Li, so movingly sang “Love, Look Away.”

“What were you feeling and thinking,” I asked, “as you watched Flower Drum Song to commemorate Mu’s 25th anniversary?”

“What a great evolution/revolution all of us have created!” Rick replied. “I felt great pride in the work of our veterans Sherwin and Katie, leading the cast, and Randy leading the company. And excited by the new talent coming!”

 

Martha B. Johnson, Rick Shiomi, David Henry Hwang and Stephanie Bertumen at opening night for Flower Drum Song (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Martha B. Johnson, Rick Shiomi, David Henry Hwang and Stephanie Bertumen at opening night of Flower Drum Song
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

 

Flower Drum Song – Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until February 19

 

Happy Mu Year!

 

The Chinese character 'xi,' meaning happy or joy Calligraphy and photography by Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio

The Chinese character ‘xi,’ meaning happy or joy
Calligraphy and photography by Bob Schmitt

 

Theater Mu was founded in 1992, added Mu Daiko in 1997, then renamed itself Mu Performing Arts in 2001 to better reflect its taiko and theater programs. In spring 2017, Mu Daiko will spin off as a separate nonprofit entity to continue its work, still carrying its Mu indicia.

But what exactly does the term ‘Mu’ mean? According to Mu Performing Arts, “‘Mu’ (pronounced MOO) is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese character for the shaman/artist/warrior who connects the heavens and the earth through the tree of life.”

In 2017, Mu Performing Arts will be 25 years old! This January and February, Park Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts partner to co-produce the musical Flower Drum Song in celebration of this happy occasion.

Most appropriately, an ancient form for the Chinese character ‘xi,’ which means happy or joy, pictorially shows a flower-like hand holding a stick and a drum to make music and a mouth singing.

 

First rehearsal for Flower Drum Song: Eric 'Pogi' Sumangil and Wesley Mouri singing; Meghan Kreidler seated Photography by T. T. Cheng

First rehearsal for Flower Drum Song: Eric ‘Pogi’ Sumangil and Wesley Mouri singing; Meghan Kreidler seated
Photography by T. T. Cheng

 

 Flower Drum Song – Park Square Proscenium Stage – January 20 to February 19

 

—-
Note: Minneapolis brush painter and teacher Bob Schmitt is professionally trained in traditional Chinese landscape painting and calligraphy by master painters Hong Shang from Shanghai as well as Lok Tok and Yitong Lok of Toronto, Canada. Learn more about him at www.shopatlaughingwatersstudio.com.

    tagline-color

Theatre News for you!

Sign up to get the latest Park Square news