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Adam Whisner: The Two Merricks

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 From April 7 to 30, Park Square Theatre features the area premiere of THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE on its Proscenium Stage. A 2014 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, playwright Madeleine George’s play is described by Park Square as a “brilliantly witty, time-jumping, loving tribute . . . to the people—and machines—upon which we depend.”

The following is an interview with actor Adam Whisner, who plays two passionate men–both named Merrick and both experiencing women troubles, but each in different time periods:

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

On the cover of the script, under the title, includes the descriptor, “a play about others.” What does that mean to you?

 There’s the person who gets the credit, and the other person who has their back. The other person made them coffee so they could keep working through the night. The other person held them as they sobbed after failed experiment #486. The other person loved them no matter what. We’re not all wired to be that person.

 In the context of this play, I think “the others” are the selfless, generous, compassionate companions. They’re the people we all want in our lives, and hopefully strive to be, when and if we’re ready to set ego aside and move from getting to giving. I think the kind of others this play highlights are evolved people, whether they know it or not. You’re either born as one, or you learn how to let go and become one. I think most “Watsons” aren’t entirely consciously aware that they are one. Similarly, the Elizas and Merricks of the world are barely conscious of their need for the Watsons, but it’s a desperate need. In my mid-40s, I’m pretty sure I’m an Eliza/Merrick, minus the brilliant scientist part, who is just starting to learn how to be a Watson.

 What is the biggest challenge for you in playing Merrick?

The lines! The Merricks have a lot to say, and I’ve always been a slow memorizer. The more complex challenge is making sure the Merricks are assholes for whom the audience has some compassion. The Merricks’ need for the Watsons is part of what humanizes them. The genius inventor who doesn’t know how to find love is still just a person who needs love. The divorcee running for office who wants to make the whole world a better place is still just a man suffering heartbreak in his little world. Assholes need love, too.

What led you to become an actor?

I was a precocious, sensitive, creative little kid, but always felt pressure to be something else, especially from stronger, tougher, sportier boys. My version of “I’ll show them” was acting in comedic lead roles in junior high school plays. After one of my first performances, I was in the lobby getting a drink from a water fountain as parents were milling about. I overheard one mother tell another that she hated school plays, that her daughter was terrible in them, and that she wished she’d stop doing them. My spirits sank. Then she said, “But that Adam Whisner kid should be on TV. He was hilarious.” I think I went up four hat sizes in that moment. My fate was sealed. Sometimes I think the only reason I’ve been able to make a full-time living as an actor is that I’ve believed I could since 1982.

What are you working on next?

I’m a company member of Wonderlust Productions, a theatre company that gathers personal stories from various communities in Minnesota and then invites those communities’ members to participate in creating plays based on their own stories. Participation includes being an actor or musician in the final production of the play alongside professional theatre artists. It’s not community theatre; it’s theatre for and by a community. We’ve done two full productions: The Veterans Play Project and The Adoption Play Project. Our next play, The Capitol Play Project, will focus on the folks who work at the Minnesota State Capitol who aren’t politicians and will be performed in the state capitol building itself in early 2018. I may wind up in another production before then if it falls in my lap. I don’t audition often enough. 

Photo by Connie Shaver

Photo by Connie Shaver

Adam’s cast background:

Park Square Wonderlust Productions’ Six Characters in Search of an Author Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater/Workhaus Collective: Little Eyes; Wonderlust Productions: Veteran’s Play Project, Adoption Play Project; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Crowd You’re in With, An Ideal Husband; Theatre Pro Rata: The Woodsman; Loudmouth Collective: A Bright New Boise, Gruesome Playground Injuries; Gremlin Theatre: Burn This; Commonweal Theatre: The Rainmaker; Alan Berks & Company: #Ringtone; Hidden Theatre: This Is Our Youth Training B.A., Theatre Arts, University of Iowa; Actors Theatre of Louisville Acting Apprentice Co. Accolades City Pages Best Actor 2016; Lavender Magazine Crème de la Crème Performances 2015

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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