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FOH Employee of the Month: Michelle Clark

Michelle ClarkThe first Front of House employee of 2017 to earn the distinction of Employee of the Month is… Michelle Clark!

Although she will work in the ticket window and patrol the lobby as House Manager, you’ve probably seen her more often than not tending bar this past season. Want to take advantage of our specialty show drinks or maybe go big with a 12 oz. wine pour? Michelle will gladly assist you in starting your Park Square experience on the right foot, and has been an invaluable presence to the team since the fall of 2013.

In another life, before Park Square, Michelle was born in Maine asvher dad was stationed there in the Navy. The family moved back to Minnesota, when she was a year old, so she definitely considers herself a true-blue Minnesotan. Growing up in Stillwater will do that you.

Michelle attended Moorhead State University and after that she got a job at the Ordway Theatre, as a Ticket Associate. Spending six seasons there was her way to gain valuable experience in the theatre and pursue her desire to work in marketing. Fast forward now to Park Square and you can see just what a great fit she is to the team!

A part from her duties at PST, Michelle loves to dance and cook in her free time. She was a part of an Ethnic Folk Dance group at Moorhead called the Heritage Dancers and travelled to Kentucky every summer for a week long Ethnic/Folk Dance camp called Kentucky Dance Institute. Now in the Cities, she’s an avid Belly dancer and has been taking classes for the past several years. Of dance, Michelle says, “There is a lot you can learn about other cultures by studying their dances.” How right you are.

Although she may not exactly be dancing when you run into her in the lobby, she’ll certainly be impressing you with her smile and attitude. If it happens to be behind the bar, then you can show your gratitude with a couple extra ones, eh? Thank you Michelle and congratulations on a much deserved Employee of the Month!

The Stage Manager Chronicles: Laura Topham

One amazing stage manager at Park Square Theatre is Laura Topham, who already has two shows under her belt this season (The Realistic Joneses and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and is preparing for her third- The Diary of Anne Frank. That and Midsummer are part of Park Square’s Student Series, a line up that annually reaches 32,000 students a year, offering them “literary classics and cutting-edge contemporary theatre”.

Part of that incredible outreach is Topham, who has been with Park Square for five years and has worked on A Midsummer Night’s Dream on four separate occasions. With the show, she has performed various duties such as run crew, assistant stage manager and stage manager twice. As for Anne Frank, this will be her fifth year working on the popular staple of the student series.

Just how did Topham get involved with Park Square Theatre? Well, originally from Baraboo, Wisconsin she moved to the Twin Cities to pursue a theatre degree at the University of Minnesota. Originally an actor, she decided to branch out and take some stage management classes, leading to a new realization and focus on the other side of the table. Upon graduation, she mailed resumes to just about everyone who might be interested and Park Square’s Production Manager, Megan West, reached out and hired her.

Laura Topham

Laura Topham hard at work.

 

Of course with someone as seasoned at Topham, other companies in town vie for her skills. She has worked with Climb Theatre, Theatre Latte Da, and the Ordway Theater’s Flint Hills Children’s Festival.

With all of that time devoted to her passion, what else could possibly interest her? Well, dance is one past time that has kept her busy as well as a certain dish known as fruit pizza. I’ve probably just been living under a rock, but I’d never heard this and can’t wait to try it out for myself. You should too and when you see Topham in the theatre share a piece with her as thanks for all the hard work she puts in. The shows Park Square produces just wouldn’t be the same with out her, especially considers all those thousands of students.

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Come see The Diary of Anne Frank too, on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage, running February 28 – April 28.

 

The Stage Manager Chronicles: Lyndsey Harter

Ringing in the New Year on the Proscenium stage at Park Square will be Flower Drum Song, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with a book by David Henry Hwang. The play is a co-production with Mu Performing Arts. As noted in the previous Chronicle, it is being stage managed by Jamie J. Kranz, and assisting her in that role is Assistant Stage Manager, Lyndsey R. Harter.

Harter has been with Park Square since the fall of 2014, although it was just this past one when she was able to join Actors’ Equity, the professional union for American actors and stage managers in the theatre. This distinction is something an aspiring individual must work for and Harter was able to helm her first play with such a distinction at Park Square with The House on Mango Street. This was after a summer stage managing plays at the Great River Shakespeare Festival with oft PST director, Doug Scholz-Carlson.

Lyndsey R. Harter.

Lyndsey R. Harter.

 

In fact, Harter frequently collaborates elsewhere and will follow Flower Drum Song with another play from Mu Performing Arts in the spring at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio. She and Randy Reyes have previously worked together at Park Square on Murder for Two.

So how did Harter find herself in this position? Raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, she moved to St. Paul in order to study costume design at Hamline University. Despite notable achievements, including two awards with the Kennedy Center American Collegiate Theater Festival, she began to gravitate toward stage management and the unique challenges it afforded. It was during her junior year the stage manager of one of the school’s plays had too many conflicts and needed a new person. Employing her excellent organizational skills and affable attitude, Harter was well poised to jump in. She immediately fell in love with seeing how “all the pieces fit together and how one change affects five others.”

Harter grew up in a military family and while real-world duties of actors and soldiers couldn’t be more different, they both share a sense of extreme discipline and teamwork. These attributes have no doubt been an aid to her career. Whenever she is not behind the tech table she loves to stay physically active and finds exercise to be a great way to find “balance and mental space.” Oh, and peanut butter M&Ms are also a little pleasure of hers.

Who knew all of that was going on behind the scenes at Park Square? When you see Flower Drum Song, don’t hesitate to thank the crew and if you want to bring some of those M&Ms, it wouldn’t go unnoticed. Come see it on the Proscenium Stage at Park Square, running January 20 – February 19.

In the control room at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Megan Winter.

In the control room at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Megan Winter.

The Stage Manager Chronicles: Jamie Kranz

As we head into a new year, new productions are percolating at Park Square. The first one out of the gate is Flower Drum Song, a co-production with Mu Performing Arts. Weaving together a story about love, music and one’s heritage, this classical Rodgers and Hammerstein musical  promises to be something special. While the actors on stage number 17, the stage management team is significantly smaller. Leading the charge is Jamie Kranz, stage manager of Flower Drum Song.  Kranz’s beginning into stage management began almost accidentally. While enjoying some java at the campus coffee shop, she happened to see a notice advertising the need for an assistant stage manager. Kranz having had no idea what such a position meant, but the play “looked fun… and I was looking for an activity that had nothing to do with my major,” she said.

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Jaimie Kranz and House Manager Adrian Larkin look at the seating chart as they prepare for a large student matinee audience to A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Ting Ting Cheng.

That drama unfolded at Wartburg College where Kranz completed her undergraduate education. Nestled in Waverly, Iowa the college isn’t too far from her hometown in Mason City. After her education in Iowa, it was off to New York City where a Master of Fine Arts in Stage Management awaited her at Columbia University. The next stop down the road was Saint Paul where Kranz began her work with Park Square in 2006’s Anna in the Tropics as the play’s assistant stage manager, and guess who brought her on board? The same stage manager who had given her that first job back at Wartburg! Naturally, a stage manager such as Kranz is in high demand and she does plenty of work elsewhere around town. Companies like Mixed Blood, the Playwrights’ Center and the Children’s Theatre Company. In fact, she will be traveling with CTC’s show Seedfolks to Seattle this March and April! Then she’ll return and get started on Might as Well Be Dead at Park Square. With all of this work, what could Kranz possibly do to relax? She says, “In my spare time, I like to run and do yoga and occasionally indulge in the chocolate fudge cake from Café Latte. I’m currently in training to run the Disney Princess Glass Slipper Challenge in Disney World this February. It’s a race weekend that consists of a 10K (6.2 miles) run on a Saturday and a half marathon (13.1 miles) on the following Sunday.” Well, good luck and treat yourself to some cake when you’re finished! banner-flowerdrumsong-960x480-11-14 As for you all, be sure to catch Flower Drum Song on the proscenium stage between January 20 – February 19. Then when you see Kranz hard at work, be sure to give her a big “thank you” or if you happen to have some chocolate cake, I’m sure she would appreciate that too.

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.

 

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.

 

TEST: Costumes 101: Before and During the Show

In theatre, as in real life, how one dresses reveals a lot about a person.  This summer, I asked Megan West, Park Square Theatre’s Production Manager, to tell me how costuming is handled from start to finish.  So she did!

Park Square hires a designer to create costumes for each play. Before meeting the cast, the costume designer has already done much character research to consider appropriate wardrobes to help create the characters’ identities.  S/he puts together a “collage book” for each character, consisting of fabric swatches to determine what colors, hues and textures to use, pictures from fashion publications or ads, online images and whatever else may seem indicative of the character.  All the while, s/he is also consulting with the play’s director to discuss what really works.

The costume designer also attends production meetings to collaborate with the set and lighting designers.  For instance, the set designer may know not to get a red sofa if costumes will be in red, or the costume designer may know not to create green costumes if a set will be designed using green tones.  The lighting designer also needs to know about chosen color-schemes to create effective lighting.

The actors will have been measured and had fittings as part of the costuming process, which gives them some idea as to what they will wear.  Not until technical rehearsals happen will the actors start wearing the costumes.  It is the time for them to get a sense of how it feels to move with the costumes on as well as to practice how to quickly change in and out of costumes.  The actors, in fact, have their wardrobe organized and labeled on a rack in the dressing room as well as provided with a list of their costumes.  Everything is organized to help the play run smoothly.

Not all costumes need to be “created from scratch.”  That is actually an expensive process so, more often than not, clothing is purchased from stores, usually on discount or used.  Clothing and accessories can also be rented at low cost–a dollar per week for jewelry, $3 per week for pants, $4 for coats.  Actors may even own personal pieces appropriate for the play, which the theatre pays them rent to use.

The designer’s job is not yet over even after the show has opened.  Audience reactions in the preview performances can influence costume changes.  For instance, if an orange dress causes laughter in a serious scene, then the designer must change the dress.  Or does a tank top on an heiress, for example, look cheap and shabby on stage when it shouldn’t?

Costumes must be kept clean throughout the play’s run, too.  Park Square has a  part-time wardrobe staff member who keeps track of laundering schedules and repair lists so a hired laundress knows what and when to wash in-house or dry-clean and what needs mending.  In general, clothing is washed every other performance, but articles that touch skin, such as underclothing and slips, must be laundered after each performance.  A helpful “trick of the trade” is to spray vodka on clothes as a disinfectant.  Once the play ends, everything gets a final wash.

When I have watched actors in performances, I was unaware of all that is involved in the costuming process.  So much meticulous attention to detail is necessary to design or acquire the right costumes and to maintain and organize them.  So much hidden work goes into creating magic on the stage.

              Calendar Girls Costumes          Calendar Girls Costumes

Some Costumes for Calendar Girls

 

(Look out for the upcoming blog, “Costumes 102: After the Show.”)

 

Costumes 101: Before and During the Show

In theatre, as in real life, how one dresses reveals a lot about a person.  This summer, I asked Megan West, Park Square Theatre’s Production Manager, to tell me how costuming is handled from start to finish.  So she did!

Park Square hires a designer to create costumes for each play. Before meeting the cast, the costume designer has already done much character research to consider appropriate wardrobes to help create the characters’ identities.  S/he puts together a “collage book” for each character, consisting of fabric swatches to determine what colors, hues and textures to use, pictures from fashion publications or ads, online images and whatever else may seem indicative of the character.  All the while, s/he is also consulting with the play’s director to discuss what really works.

The costume designer also attends production meetings to collaborate with the set and lighting designers.  For instance, the set designer may know not to get a red sofa if costumes will be in red, or the costume designer may know not to create green costumes if a set will be designed using green tones.  The lighting designer also needs to know about chosen color-schemes to create effective lighting.

The actors will have been measured and had fittings as part of the costuming process, which gives them some idea as to what they will wear.  Not until technical rehearsals happen will the actors start wearing the costumes.  It is the time for them to get a sense of how it feels to move with the costumes on as well as to practice how to quickly change in and out of costumes.  The actors, in fact, have their wardrobe organized and labeled on a rack in the dressing room as well as provided with a list of their costumes.  Everything is organized to help the play run smoothly.

Not all costumes need to be “created from scratch.”  That is actually an expensive process so, more often than not, clothing is purchased from stores, usually on discount or used.  Clothing and accessories can also be rented at low cost–a dollar per week for jewelry, $3 per week for pants, $4 for coats.  Actors may even own personal pieces appropriate for the play, which the theatre pays them rent to use.

The designer’s job is not yet over even after the show has opened.  Audience reactions in the preview performances can influence costume changes.  For instance, if an orange dress causes laughter in a serious scene, then the designer must change the dress.  Or does a tank top on an heiress, for example, look cheap and shabby on stage when it shouldn’t?

Costumes must be kept clean throughout the play’s run, too.  Park Square has a  part-time wardrobe staff member who keeps track of laundering schedules and repair lists so a hired laundress knows what and when to wash in-house or dry-clean and what needs mending.  In general, clothing is washed every other performance, but articles that touch skin, such as underclothing and slips, must be laundered after each performance.  A helpful “trick of the trade” is to spray vodka on clothes as a disinfectant.  Once the play ends, everything gets a final wash.

When I have watched actors in performances, I was unaware of all that is involved in the costuming process.  So much meticulous attention to detail is necessary to design or acquire the right costumes and to maintain and organize them.  So much hidden work goes into creating magic on the stage.

              Calendar Girls Costumes          Calendar Girls Costumes

Some Costumes for Calendar Girls

 

(Look out for the upcoming blog, “Costumes 102: After the Show.”)

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Kory LaQuess Pullam

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Kory LaQuess Pullam:

pullam_kory_laquess

ROLE:  Liam, late 20s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Liam would like to be directing other things than photoshoots for washing powders.  He’s not so unprofessional as to let it show, but we can sense a slight weariness at having to deal with these women. . . . For Liam, this photoshoot is a job.  And not a job he wanted.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Kory LaQuess Pullam is a gifted young actor.  I saw his work at Park Square Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet.  He has a strong work ethic and a great ear for dialect.

QUESTION FOR KORY:

What characteristic or aspect of Liam seemed most important for you to bring out?

The most important thing to bring out in Liam is that this world is foreign to him.  He’s from the UK, but not the specific region of Yorkshire like almost everyone else.  Also, it’s important that we get the sense that Liam is bigger than all this.  He’s meant for more and doesn’t have a tough time showing it.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Romeo and Juliet  Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater: Choir Boy; Children’s Theatre Company: Charlotte’s Web; Pillsbury House Theatre: Prep; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Christians; Brave New Workshop: The Working Dead; History Theatre: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story  Training B.F.A., Acting/Directing, Stephen F. Austin State University  Other Founder of Blackout Improv  Upcoming Projects Guthrie Theater: The Parchment Hour; Underdog Theatre: Baltimore is Burning

 

Calendar Girls: Featuring Anna Hickey

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of Calendar Girls Blog Series, let us introduce you to Anna Hickey:

Hickey_Anna

ROLE:  Elaine, 20s

AS DESCRIBED IN PLAYWRIGHT TIM FIRTH’S SCRIPT:

Elaine really doesn’t mean to be so patronizing.  But Jessie [see blog featuring Linda Kelsey] seems from another world.  The world of her gran.

DIRECTOR MARY FINNERTY’S COMMENT:

Anna Hickey has a really fresh, sensual inhabitation of the character of Elaine.  She also had great chemistry with Shanan Custer [who plays Ruth].  Anna has good comedic instincts and the ability to create a character with depth, which is important since her character is not on stage long.

QUESTION FOR ANNA:

Elaine is not an especially likeable character.  What did you think of her, and how did that inform your role playing?

I wouldn’t describe Elaine’s character as “not likable.”  She’s actually very charming and genuinely wants to help women feel better about themselves.  To a different group of women, she’d be a hit.  Of course, to the characters in this play she is problematic, but that is only five minutes of Elaine’s life.  It’s important to look at the whole scope of the character and not just the snippet the audience gets to see.  What is her history with male and female relationships?  What are her wants, desires and dreams?  I believe all characters are more than the sum of what we see on stage, and to me, Elaine is a woman who is passionate about beauty treatments, who has high hopes for a make-up career in film, who is greatly comforted by positive attention from others, and who is oblivious to the way her actions affect people.  And that is so much more fun to play than simply being unlikable.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square The School for Lies  Representative Theatre Hennepin Theatre Trust: The Realish Housewives of Edina; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Three Musketeers; Illusion Theater: My Antonia; Paul Bunyan Playhouse: Spamalot; Loudmouth Collective: A Bright New Boise; Bloomington Civic Theatre: Singin’ in the Rain  Training B.A., Theatre Arts, University of Minnesota; M.A., London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art  Other Freelance Choreographer and Teaching Artist with Stages Theatre Company

 

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