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Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You

Jamil Jude

Park Square Theatre was blessed to have Jamil Jude join its artistic/production team in December 2015 to begin a two-year mentorship with Artistic Director Richard Cook, made possible through a prestigious Leadership U[niversity] – One-on-One Program award of a two-year grant to fund Jamil’s professional development via a mentorship. Jamil was one of only six early-career leaders from all areas of theatre throughout the nation to receive such an award.

At Park Square Theatre, Jamil was given the title of Artistic Programming Associate, and he was placed in the foreground to help the organization remain a relevant theatre in a community with a demographic that will continue to shift towards greater diversity. During his mentorship, he would move forward the theater’s vision to be “intentionally diverse” and practice “radical inclusivity” (both terms appear in Park Square’s website).

Richard Cook

It has been nearly a decade-long journey to prepare Park Square for the 21st century and beyond. This mission was initially envisioned by Richard as he witnessed the impact of live theatre on students, particularly students of color, attending its Education programs. The long journey is not surprising as institutionalized exclusionary practices are difficult to dismantle to be able to support truly inclusionary practices. An organization must have strong leadership support and clear and consistent buy-in both from within and without to be able to broaden its scope.

In his short time here, Jamil especially impacted Park Square by being a skilled connector and unifier, doing the very hard work of fostering trust amongst diverse artist communities and giving generous access to his broader network. He has also provided crucial insights and suggestions to challenge the same old approaches in the theater’s programming and audience outreach. Some changes were made in tailoring post-show discussions for diverse student audiences, making script selections and recruiting and attracting more diverse talent to be onstage, behind the scenes, and as instructors for workshops. All his actions accelerated the impact of making real, lasting changes. However, there is still quite a bit to do even as Jamil’s mentorship comes to an end after June and the Artistic Programming Associate position dissolves.

While Park Square is a top employer of local stage talent, 64 percent of whom are women and artists of color, it still has no core staff (including leadership positions) and just one board member of color. But a few years ago, it created the role of Artistic Associate for the purpose of broadening the organization’s perspectives, and recruited Aditi Kapil, Carson Kreitzer, Ricardo Vazquez and James A. Williams to serve as ongoing Artistic Associates. Park Square has also invited local theatre companies, such as Girl Friday Productions, Sandbox Theatre Company, Theatre Pro Rata and Wonderlust Productions, to become Theatres in Residence and partnered with Mu Performing Arts to produce this season’s Flower Drum Song as mutually beneficial exposure to new audiences.

Currently, Park Square is partnering with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce to create a Community Advisory Board made up of people of color to give ideas and feedback on what types of stories need to be told on stages and who to share them with–in short, to engage in honest dialogue to better understand how Park Square fits within an evolving community. On June 21 from 5-6 pm, Jamil will be a facilitator for “Cocktails and Conversation” in our Proscenium lobby for professionals of color to give such feedback.

Only time will tell what the future holds for Park Square Theatre without the transformational presence of Jamil. It’s more difficult to question and alter inherent biases and beliefs than to organically build from the ground up with that vision in mind the way that a new organization, such as Full Circle Theater Company, can do. It’s more difficult to transform an organization with individuals at different spectrums of cultural competency regarding issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Any stall into complacency, regression into status quo or backslide into habituated ways of doing things negatively impacts the outcome. Park Square will steadily need to match good intent with continued action to move forward into its total vision.

Jamil himself will move forward to Atlanta, Georgia, where he will become True Colors Theatre Company’s Associate Artistic Director. At True Colors, Jamil will also get to direct a play each year and, for the first time in his career, focus his energy within one organization rather than be, as he described, “split-brained” amongst multiple organizations and freelance projects.

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

While Jamil has certainly left his mark on Park Square Theatre, what many may not know is the wider impact he has also had on the Twin Cities theatre scene since his arrival in Minnesota in 2011. From 2011 to 2014, he worked for Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis’ West Bank as its National New Play Network Producer in Residence and created and facilitated artist/educator-audience discussions as its Free Speech Program Director. Jamil made another strong impression in 2013, receiving the year-long Playwright Center’s Many Voices Mentorship to help Minnesota-based playwright of color hone one’s craft. Within a few years, Jamil had further widened his circle and influence, joining the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Theatre Alliance (2012-16), the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (both since 2014). In 2015, he had founded the New Griots Festival to promote the work of Twin Cities black artists into the future; the festival will return this year at the Guthrie from July 6 to 16. In 2016, he directed the highly relevant and critically praised inaugural productions of Underdog Theatre’s Baltimore is Burning, written by local artist Kory LaQuess Pullam, founder of Underdog Theatre, as well as local playwright Josh Wilder’s The Highwaymen at The History Theatre in St. Paul.

Park Square Theatre and the Twin Cities theatre community will dearly miss Jamil Jude. Not only could he inspire us, but more importantly, he brought people together to get things done. Jamil Jude has left things better than when he’d arrived. What more could we ask for? We are very grateful and wish him well.

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(Note: Be sure to also read the previous blog post, “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?”)


 

Gabriel Murphy: From His Viewpoint

Gabriel Murphy has previously graced our Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Park Square Theatre’s 4000 Miles in the 2014-2105 season) and Wonderlust Productions’ Six Characters in Search of an Author (2015-2016). This season, he appears on our Proscenium Stage in Park Square’s regional premiere of Amy’s View from May 12 to June 4, playing the pivotal role of Amy’s rather narcissistic partner, Dominic, who sorely tests her lifelong belief that love conquers all.

As Dominic, Gabriel is also the match that lights the fire of conflict between the mother-daughter pair of Esme and Amy, portrayed by Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney, respectively. But don’t be surprised if his character also sparks heated debate amongst audience members regarding the boundaries of love.

Recently, Gabriel answered questions that I had about his character as well as himself. Here’s what he had to say:

What attracted you to the role of Dominic?

Honestly, I was initially attracted to the role of Dominic because it meant being reunited with Linda Kelsey and Director Gary Gisselman. We’d worked together on 4000 Miles, which was such a fantastic experience for me. I’m so grateful to be back in a rehearsal room with the two of them as well as with the rest of this delightful cast. In addition to that, I’m excited to be tackling such an intelligent character. Dominic has many flaws, but he is incredibly smart and ambitious. Those are fun qualities to explore.

Yours is a key “triggering” role in the play. What is/are the biggest challenge(s) in playing Dominic?

Triggering, indeed! Dominic does have a tendency to rub people the wrong way. Dominic can be arrogant and caustic, but he and Amy do share a real love so I suppose the biggest challenge in playing Dominic is making sure I don’t ignore his humor and warmth. I also find David Hare’s language inherently challenging. He is a brilliant playwright so tackling his dialogue is a delightful challenge.

How is playing Dominic changing your personal view on relationships, life, etc.?

As a young actor attempting to establish myself in the Twin Cities, I can sometimes focus very intensely on my career. Playing Dominic is an excellent reminder for me that ambition has its drawbacks. In the play, Amy’s titular view is that people should give love without any conditions or expectations so, you know, that’s not a bad thing to think about.

How did you end up being an actor?

I went to a tiny private school in Kansas with a graduating class of 22 people. My school was so small that everyone was required to participate in extracurricular activities because, otherwise, we wouldn’t have had enough people to put on plays or create sports teams. Basically, I began doing plays by force!

Anything else that you would like the readers to know about the play or yourself?

For being such a compact play, Amy’s View manages to cover a huge span of time in the lives of these characters. David Hare’s writing is incredibly funny and witty; but every day in rehearsal, the heart in the play strikes me. I’m always caught off guard by how moving the play is. Also, this is the second play I’ve done with Linda and Gary in which I spend the first moments of the show dealing with a bicycle. In reality, I’ve actually never learned how to ride a bicycle. My boyfriend is making that my project for the summer.

Gabriel Murphy (center) in rehearsal with Linda Kelsey, Tracey Maloney and Nathaniel Fuller (left to right) (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Don’t miss seeing Gabriel Murphy in Amy’s View. Then return to Park Square to catch him again this summer in Idiot’s Delight, presented by Girl Friday Productions, on our Andy Boss Thrust Stage from June 29 to July 23. 

 

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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