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Posts Tagged Vincent Hannam

What IS Klezmer?

Michael Paul Levin as George Gershwin

Michael Paul Levin as George Gershwin

The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer will be on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage from December 2 to 31. I certainly know the name Gershwin, but I’m unfamiliar with the term klezmer. Perhaps you are, too.

As Vincent Hannam mentioned in his recent blog post “The Heart and Soul of Gershwin,” klezmer is a Yiddish word that means instrument of music (derived from klay, which means instrument; and zemer, music). Klezmer came from Ashkenazi Jews, who originated in Eastern Europe, and was intended to, via the violin, imitate the human voice, including the cries, wails and laughter, of the chazzan (cantor) in synagogue. The first klezmer tunes actually came from Hebrew chants in Jewish services.

Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, klezmer originally consisted mainly of spirited dance melodies as well as some plaintive, reflective tunes for celebratory communal events, such as weddings. Klezmorim (and entertainers in general) were not highly regarded in Jewish society due to their secular nomadic, unconventional lifestyle, but they were respected for their virtuosity and diverse repertoire. A band usually included at least two violinists, with the most accomplished one serving as bandleader, backed by a bass or cello and other typical instruments, such as clarinet, drum, hammered dulcimers, trumpet, trombone and accordion.

As with other aspects of European Jewish culture, the Holocaust nearly decimated the tradition of klezmer music since it was passed down aurally through the generations. Surviving musicians helped revitalize the music, and musicologists worked to record their repertoires.

Traditional klezmer was influenced mainly by Romanian music but also present were Greek, Ukranian, Polish, Hungarian and Turkish influences. When European Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought klezmer with them, but it’s popularity steadily waned as Jews adopted mainstream culture. However, American klezmer grew in stature with hits from Jewish composers, such as Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers and, yes, George Gershwin, who incorporated jazz and even gospel into their sound.

The cast and musicians of Park Square Theatre’s The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, besides performing some truly terrific American classics, will also impart a slice of musical history that you may not already have known. My whole family and I plan to kick back, perhaps can’t help but move some body parts while seated and otherwise enjoy the ride when we see the show in December.

Hope to see you there!

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Sources: Klezmer from en.m.wikipedia.org; Klezmer music by Mark S. Slobin from www.britannica.com; Klezmer Music 101 by Megan Romer from worldmusic.about.com; What is Klezmer Music? by Becky Weitzman from tepel.org

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.

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!

True Gems

I was recently inspired by Matthew Glover’s blogs on June 1 (“When 40 Feels Like a Lot”) and June 3 (“The Finish Line”). Glover was co-Director and Project Lead on Sandbox Theatre’s Queens, which just ended its run on Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage. Each of his posts gave us a glimpse of the immense dedication of artists to bring their creations to audiences, regardless of size, and how they feel called to give beyond the best of themselves—in this case, performing through excruciating pain from an injury.

Glover made me recall how I had discovered Sandbox Theatre at Park Square Theatre last season. The ensemble was performing War With the Newts, also on the Boss Stage and as part of Park Square’s Theatres in Residence Series. It was a truly groundbreaking production, described as “a deep exploration of the themes of nationalism, exploitative business practices and human nature’s self-destructive tendencies.” In short, humanity faced extinction at the hands of anthropomorphic newts. Reviewers described the play as “quirky” and “darkly funny.” The utter originality of the production simply blew my mind—in a very good way, leading me to see it twice.

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As you can imagine, I could not wait to see Queens this season. But like War With the Newts, Queens also fought for a larger audience, though both garnered good reviews. The sheer quiet beauty of the sure-footed performances made me want to see Queens again as well, though I was unable to do so this time.

In a May 25 review on Queens in City Pages, Jay Gabler wrote, “If you’re willing to set aside your expectations of a conventional narrative, though, you’ll find a show built on trust—trust among the performers, trust in the material, and trust in the audience.” I think that his words would also ring true for War With the Newts a year ago. Sandbox Theatre does excellent but unconventional work that may challenge the audience in new ways; and, often, cutting-edge art takes time to be recognized for the gem that it is—to, essentially, build an audience.

Pondering on the incredible dedication of Sandbox Theatre to its craft made me think about all the other smaller theatres in the Twin Cities that have or will perform at Park Square Theatre this season–Wonderlust Productions, Mu Performing Arts, Other Tiger Productions and Flying Foot Forum–and how they “sweat blood” to inspire us, broaden and challenge our views, and bring us together.

New start-ups, such as Full Circle Theatre (co-founded by Rick Shiomi who was also co-founder of Mu Performing Arts) and Hero Now Theatre (which cast our own Vincent Hannam in its inaugural play), have only cropped up this past year; and you can be sure that others will keep coming, all bent on working to build mutual understanding and inspire a better future.

I encourage you to come and engage with these and other theatres as you discover their existence. Come be challenged. Come to explore. Come to receive their gifts—always with an open mind.

 

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