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Official Proclamation: Richard Cook Day in the City of Saint Paul

We celebrate Richard Cook as he is honored by an official proclamation by Mayor Melvin Carter, announcing Thursday, September 6th, 2018, to be Richard Cook Day in the City of Saint Paul!

The announcement coincides with the opening of an exhibition at the Landmark Center celebrating Cook’s 43 year legacy of leading Park Square Theatre. Learn More Here.


Read the official proclamation:


WHEREAS, as a result of Richard Cook’s vision, dynamic leadership and faith in the value of  the arts to develop a community, Park Square Theatre has provided a vibrant home for artists and audiences since 1975; and

WHEREAS, during those 43 years, Richard has served Park Square Theatre as an artist, Development Director, Artistic Director and Chief Strategist; and

WHEREAS, under Richard’s leadership, Park Square Theatre has grown to become the East Metro’s premier regional theatre, with two performing spaces and an award winning education program which inspires more than 30,000 middle and high school students from every corner of the state annually; and

WHEREAS, Richard has designed and built theatre spaces in the Park Square Court Building, the Jemne Building and the Historic Hamm Building, including the 2014 construction of the Andy Boss Thrust Stage; and

WHEREAS, Richard has produced 350 plays that have engaged more than 1.3 million audience members, and  as a volunteer has led Saint Paul Cultural STAR Board, and helped develop the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists; and

WHEREAS, Richard has commissioned and brought to Saint Paul important world premier plays from Minnesota artists including William Randall Beard, Christina Ham, Jeffery Hatcher, Joseph Goodrich, Thomasina Petrus, Matt Sciple and Lee Blessing and Austene Van; and 

WHEREAS, Richard has given every Saint Paul citizen the chance to have a place at the theatrical table by continually making Park Square’s stages a platform for diverse artists and all of this community’s stories, and by continually striving to maintain affordable ticket prices through 99 cent ticket prices and other means; and

WHEREAS, Richard is retiring in September, 2018 after a long and successful career, leaving – through Park Square Theatre – a dynamic legacy of civic, cultural and educational enrichment;

Now, Therefore, I, Melvin Carter, Mayor of the City of Saint Paul, do hereby proclaim Thursday, September 6, 2018, to be:

Richard Cook Day 

In Witness Whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the City of Saint Paul to be affixed this Twenty-Sixth Day of April in the Year Two Thousand Eighteen

Melvin Carter, Mayor

Unpacking a Theatre Attic

Unpacking a Theatre Attic

New Landmark Center Exhibition Explores Park Square Theatre’s First 43 Years

MEDIA CONTACT

Connie Shaver, shaver@parksquaretheatre.org

Saint Paul, Minn., July 25, 2018 – Park Square Theatre announces UNPACKING A THEATRE ATTIC: Park Square Theatre’s First 43 Years, a new exhibition at Landmark Center in downtown Saint Paul that will run September 6– 30, 2018. Richard Cook, who has worked at Park Square Theatre since its first season in 1975, is literally “going through the trunks” to choose images and mementoes from every one of the theatre’s 350 productions. The exhibit will be arranged thematically to explore Park Square’s staggering range of programming, from Shakespeare to mysteries to world premieres. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Two special events will bookmark the month-long exhibition. The first will be a gala retirement party at 5:30 p.m. on September 6 to toast Cook’s long career as a Twin Cities theatre leader. The second will be the official welcome for Park Square’s new artistic director, Flordelino Lagundino, at 5:30 p.m. on September 26. The public is invited to both events, but RSVPs are required. Please email lchristensen@parksquaretheatre.org.

“Talk about ‘this is your life’ – the process of curating this exhibit has been an unbelievable dive into our history,” says Richard Cook. “So many moments of great work by artists and plays that I loved have washed over me every time I’ve opened a file or box. It’s also been interesting – and sometimes instructive – to read old reviews and think ‘I don’t remember that experience that way at all’ or ‘Yes! That was a fine moment and even the critics agreed!’”

Richard Cook, outgoing artistic director

Many boxes of Park Square’s archives are now stored at the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota’s Elmer L. Andersen Library. The Performing Arts Archives was established in 1971 by the University of Minnesota Libraries for the preservation and study of the records relating to Minnesota’s rich history of theatre, music, dance, and associated organizations. Its goal is to document as fully as possible the activities of individuals and groups in both professional and amateur performing arts throughout the state. The collections include the most important companies in each of the major arts fields.

Still more important documents have been in the basement office in the Historic Hamm Building that Richard has occupied for the last quarter century – and of course the stray items that landed in his apartment in Saint Paul’s Lowertown. “In 1980 when I took the torch as artistic director from founder Paul Mathey and my husband Steven became managing director, we kept pretty consistent records. But the first five years of the company’s history, and its pre-Park Square life as the Smith Park Gallery performance space and then Variety Hall Theatre, are largely undocumented,” admits Cook. “It’s important to me to organize and make all the notes I can to honor the innovators like Paul who were creating the first Lowertown arts scene in the 1970s.”

Set construction for Marat Sade, 1979.

“We started in the Park Square Court building as a small performance space at the end of the Smith Park art gallery. Artists put on poetry readings and raw, new performance work – almost like an early version of Patrick’s Cabaret,” Cook remembers. “There was a pottery studio and an astrological bookstore in the building, and MPR had its first tiny studio on the ground floor. Today’s artistic energy feels so much like that era.  Artists are creating new companies out of sheer grit and vision, often with a desire to protest injustice and change systems. I am inspired by the ways the new generation of artistic leaders – like our incoming artistic director Flordelino Lagundino – are building on those 1970s foundations. For this exhibit, I hope those who have grown up in the local theatre community find their special Park Square memories – stories that moved them, productions that built lifelong friends and shaped careers, and artists we’ve all treasured on our stages and elsewhere. I also hope those new to Park Square or the Twin Cities find inspiration for the future. It’s been a great ride and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.”

Exhibit Details:

Presenting sponsor:

Unpacking a Theatre Attic: Park Square Theatre’s First 43 Years

A New Exhibition at Landmark Center, September 3 – 30, 2018

Landmark Center (North Gallery off the 6th Street entrance)

75 5th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55102 · (651) 292-3233

Park Square’s NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN takes to Stages Around the Country

Local star Regina Williams heads to Atlanta for a new production.

Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre, 2017

Regina Marie Williams in NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN at Park Square Theatre. PC: Petronella J. Ytsma.

MEDIA CONTACT

Connie Shaver, shaver@parksquaretheatre.org

Following the success of its world premiere commission at Park Square Theatre in 2016, NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN went on to a second production at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., one of the nation’s top regional theatres last year. This month, Regina Marie Williams, who originated the title role at Park Square, and in fact inspired the commission of the play, heads to Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre in Atlanta to star in a new production that will play September 25-Oct 21, 2018. While True Colors is a natural home for this dynamic play, which broke box office records for Park Square’s Andy Boss Stage, there is also a strong link between the theatres through Jamil Jude, who was Park Square’s Artistic Programming Associate during both Saint Paul runs of the play, and he is now Kenny Leon’s Associate Artistic Director.

Williams shared her excitement for the role, “Sometimes Nina’s voice would be warm and soothing, other times angry and harsh, and then light and sweet. Her voice, her music, made me feel.” She added, “Over the years I have performed in musicals and plays, comedy and tragedy, Shakespeare and Wilson. The variety has been a gift and will be an asset when working to access the brilliance, the vulnerability, the self-righteousness, the humanity, and the Goddess in Nina.”

Playwright Christina Ham

The play is gaining speed around the country with upcoming productions at Northlight Theatre outside of Chicago, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, NC and The Black Rep in St. Louis. Its writer, local artist Christina Ham, is enjoying a banner year. She is a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center, and the Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at Pillsbury House Theatre and a writer on the Netflix horror series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Wine, Women, and…Questionable Text Messages

Local comedy duo creates a “large pour” of laughter in SOMETIME’S THERE’S WINE

MEDIA CONTACT

Connie Shaver, shaver@parksquaretheatre.org

Park Square Theatre announces the return of renowned Twin Cities comedy duo, Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool, to the Andy Boss Stage to open the 2018-2019 theatre season with a new production of Sometimes There’s Wine (Sept 14 – Oct 14, 2018). The follow-up to 2 Sugars, Room for Cream, which was featured in the debut season of the Boss Stage in 2014, is written and performed by Custer and Pool who are both Park Square audience favorites.  Both were featured in CALENDAR GIRLS and Pool opened last season on the Boss Stage in HENRY & ALICE: INTO THE WILD. Angela Timberman, featured in the 2016 production of THE REALISTIC JONESES by Will Eno, makes her Park Square directing debut.

The play’s debut at the 2016 Fringe Festival was a favorite for both critics and audiences, winning the coveted Fringe Encore.

“In the era of #MeToo, we feel women-driven comedy has a unique role to play,” says Custer. “Creating roles for women that say the things we normally don’t get to hear onstage is why we do what we do and, after the last couple of years, there’s even more to say.”

The production team for Sometimes There’s Wine includes Sadie Ward (Scenic Design); Michael P. Kittle (Lighting Design); Eric Webster (Sound Design); Megan Fae Dougherty* (Stage Manager); Kyla Moloney (Assistant Stage Manager)

Ticket prices: Previews: $20-$37. Regular Run: $25-$60. Discounts are available for seniors, military personnel, those under age 30, and groups. Tickets are on sale at the Park Square ticket office, 20 W. Seventh Place, or by phone: 651.291.7005, (12 noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday), or online at www.parksquaretheatre.org.   #PSTWine #2SugarsShow

*Member, Actors Equity Association

CALENDAR INFORMATION

Previews: Sept 14-20

Opening Night: Sept 21

Regular Run: Sept 21-Oct 14

Tickets: Previews: $20-$37; Regular Run: $25-$60

PARK SQUARE THEATRE, 20 W. Seventh Place, Saint Paul

Ticket office: 651-291-7005 or www.parksquaretheatre.org

 

 

Green: 7:30 pm, Orange:  2:00 pm

P – Preview
B – 99¢ Bargain Preview
D – Post-show Discussion
O – Opening Night
ASL – American Sign Language
AD – Audio Description
C – Open Captioning

Park Square Will Host Triple Espresso

Beloved “caffeinated comedy” crosses the river to the Boss Stage

logo for Triple Espresso - stylized coffee cup and hand drawn type in black, red, and grey on white background

 

Saint Paul, Minn., June 18, 2018 – Park Square Theatre is partnering with The Daniel Group to bring the 23-year phenomenon TRIPLE ESPRESSO — A HIGHLY CAFFEINATED COMEDY to Park Square’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage November 9, 2018 – January 13, 2019.

 

“This partnership brings together two amazingly loyal audiences to experience downtown Saint Paul’s parks, skating rink, restaurants, music venues and hotels when they are spangled with white lights and good cheer,” says Park Square Executive Director Michael-jon Pease. “Plus, this partnership makes great use of the Boss Stage during a time when we’re otherwise only performing in the mornings for school groups.”

 

Park Square and The Daniel Group had hoped to partner several years ago to present Park Square’s popular production of 2 PIANOS/4 HANDS at the Music Box Theatre in Minneapolis, which was the home to TRIPLE ESPRESSO for 20 years. “We loved working together because as producers, we were on the same page,” said Dennis Babcock, the Executive Producer of TRIPLE ESPRESSO. “Both shows shared the amazing talent that is Michael Pearce Donley, but we couldn’t get the numbers to work. I’ve been a Park Square fan for many years and every time I get their marketing materials I think, ‘Yes, they know how to do it!’ I’m thrilled we could make this partnership work.”

TRIPLE ESPRESSO is a truly homegrown hit show. Early in 1995, while Bill Arnold was having breakfast with Michael Pearce Donley, and Bob Stromberg in Minneapolis, the three local solo performers decided it would be fun to write something they could perform together. As motivation to buckle down and write it, they booked a performance for four weeks later.

Using Arnold’s magic and comedy, Donley’s original music, and Stromberg’s physical humor, the three put together a show with elements of slapstick, vaudeville, and a touch of audience involvement. The next year, Dennis Babcock, former General Manager of the Guthrie Theatre, came on board as Executive Producer.

The show proved to be a hit and went on to become the longest running show at Music Box Theatre (April 3, 1996 – April 27, 2008 continuously; holiday productions 2009-2016); the longest continuously running show in San Diego (January 14, 1998-February 17, 2008); and the longest running show in the history of Iowa. Add productions and tours from Alexandria, Minn. to Dublin, Ireland and Ghent, Belgium and the show has played to more than 2 million people in 60+ cities in 6 countries in 3 languages.

 

Performance Dates:
November 9, 2018 – January 13, 2019

 

Ticket prices:
Preview on November 9: $25.
Regular Run: $39.50-$47.50 for theatre seats. $47.50-$52.50 for exclusive seating at cabaret tables.
Discounts are available for seniors, children, members of the military, groups, and ASL/AD patrons. Tickets go on sale June 21 at the Park Square ticket office, in person at 20 W. Seventh Place or by phone: 651.291.7005 (12 noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday). Purchase online at parksquaretheatre.org.

 

2018-2019 PARK SQUARE THEATRE SEASON TICKETS are on sale now (packages do not include TRIPLE ESPRESSO, which is an add-on event). Season packages range in size from all nine plays in the season to a choose-your-own series of three or more. Subscription package prices begin at $75.

 

PHOTOS By Anna Eveslage, PHOTOS no credit needed

 

#   #   #

A letter from incoming Artistic Director Flordelino Lagundino

Dear Park Square Fans –

Hello from New York!

I am extremely honored and excited to be the third artistic director of Park Square Theatre following in the very large footsteps of the incredible Richard Cook. He can never be replaced and I am looking forward to building on the accomplishments during his vital tenure; and, with Michael-jon, to lead the theater with adventurous, surprising, transformational, and thrilling productions (from classical to brand new contemporary work) that represent the whole of our community and are built with love.

Park Square Theatre's New Artistic Director Flordelino Lagundino, head and shoulders, wearing a grey jacket, white shirt, and black necktie, outdoor portrait

Flordelino Lagundino. Photo Park Square Theatre, 2018.

We all are part of an amazing theater that produces some of the most vibrant productions in the Twin Cities area and also has a world-class education program led by Mary Finnerty. And as the artistic director, I want you to know that this is your theater and I am looking forward to talking to you about Park Square’s civic role as a leader in creating dialogue and entertainment in St. Paul and Minnesota.

A little about me…I currently live with my wife Jenny and our baby girl Daryl in Brooklyn, NY at the end of the R line in beautiful Bay Ridge – three blocks away from the Verrazano Bridge. This has been my home for the last three years and I have worked with some amazing artists around the country as a freelance theater artist – some of them in the Twin Cities. One of the best experiences in my theatrical career was performing in Vietgone at Mixed Blood last year. It is a play that puts a very important point of view on stage and it was an opportunity for me to perform in an Asian American story. Before I came, I had heard a lot about Jack Reuler and Mixed Blood and their work on inclusion and it was a dream to be able to perform and work in the old firehouse. I then came back and had a wonderful experience as the assistant director on Blithe Spirit at The Guthrie Theatre and attended the The ten Thousand Things theater conference.

David Huynh and Flordelino Lagundino in “Vietgone” at Mixed Blood. Photo by Rich Ryan. 2017.

What I love about St. Paul is that there is a real feeling of community. One of the places that I’ve worked in my past that really shaped the way I think of theater was Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. There you would walk down the street and someone would talk to you about your acting, or ask you about the next season while you were getting coffee. I loved that sense of interaction with the audience and the ability to make an impact in people’s lives in a regional community. When I move to Saint Paul, I want to be at a ball game and someone complain to me about a set; walk down the street and have a government official share the joy of falling out of their chair with laughter; or walk into Trader Joe’s and hear about how Park Square Theatre has changed a life.

I’m currently here in tech at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and thinking a lot about Park Square and the adventure ahead. I can’t wait to meet all of you – at the theatre or at Trader Joe’s!

Best,

Flordelino

Learn More about Flordelino and the Artistic Director Search

A female duo of Holmes and Watson are on the case!

The premiere of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville is witty and fast-paced – with women playing the famous sleuthing duo! Park Square Theatre cherishes its summertime tradition of cozying up audiences with a good mystery. This year’s edition for the company’s 43rd season – Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: a Sherlock Holmes Mystery – offers a fresh take for Holmes devotees AND a special invitation for those who’ve never spent an evening with the iconic sleuth. McKenna Kelly-Eiding (closing a spectacular run in The Wolves at The Jungle) stars as Sherlock Holmes and Sara Richardson* (last seen at Park Square in The Liar) as Dr. Watson. The remaining 40 characters in this smart send-up of The Hound of the Baskervilles are played by just three actors: Eric “Pogi” Sumangil*; Ricardo Beaird; and Marika Proctor*. Cue the lightning-fast costume changes as wealthy Henry Baskerville is threatened by the fable of a bloodthirsty hound on the moors and the dynamic duo sniff out the culprit.

From Left: Sara Richardson (Dr. Watson) and McKenna Kelly-Eiding (Sherlock Holmes).

Women have been winning over Holmes fans in recent years, from Lucy Liu as Watson in the CBS series Elementary, to Christopher Walsh’s new play Miss Holmes, to Carole Nelson Douglas’ eight acclaimed Irene Adler suspense novels – the first to reinvent a woman from the Holmes “canon” as the protagonist. Director Theo Langason, in his Park Square directing debut, admits that “some Sherlockians will be skeptical of a woman in the role. But, all the things we love about the character – intuition, ingenuity, intelligence – aren’t tied to gender. And when I saw McKenna’s audition, her performance was so grounded – which this script needs since the other actors jump from character to character.”

In many ways, Watson takes center stage as the cataloger and helpmate. Like the character of Archie Goodwin in the two Nero Wolfe mysteries Park Square has commissioned, Watson serves as the “investigator on the ground” while the great detective muses in solitude. “Sara Richardson is so wonderful,” says Langason, “and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with her as Watson in this play.”

Langason relishes the challenges of tweaking audience expectations while staying true to the core of the Holmes story that keeps winning fans generation after generation. “Sherlock is a fascinating character,” he says. “He deserves a role in the pantheon of super heroes. I mean, without Sherlock Holmes, is it possible to have Batman? This show clips along with a very atmospheric, cinematic quality that I think will be really satisfying to both the artists and the audience. Peter Morrow (the sound designer) and I are working hard on where the sound comes from in the auditorium, trying to achieve the sensation you get in a surround-sound movie theatre. I want those ‘howls off the moors’ to give us all the heebee jeebees!”

***

The creative team for the production includes Ashawnti Ford (Assistant Director), Eli Sherlock Schlatter (Set Designer), Mandi Johnson (Costume Designer), Peter Morrow (Sound Designer), Michael Kittel (Light Designer), Sadie Ward, Properties Designer, Annie Enneking (Fight Choreographer), and Keely Wolter (Dialect Coach). Laura Topham* will serve as Stage Manager and Sam Diekman* is the Assistant Stage Manager.

Previews begin Friday, June 15, and continue through Thursday, June 20. June 21 is Opening Night, and the run continues through August 5. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. except for Saturday and Sunday matinees, which begin at 2 p.m. All performances are on the company’s Proscenium Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building, 20 W. Seventh Place.

Ticket prices: Previews: $20/$27/$37. Regular Run: $25/$40/$60. Discounts are available for seniors 62+, members of the military, those age 30 and under, groups, and ASL/AD patrons. Tickets are on sale at the Park Square ticket box office, 20 W. Seventh Place, and by phone, 651.291.7005, (12 noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday), or online at parksquaretheatre.org.

*Member, Actors Equity Association

Photo by Petronella J Ytsma.

Cardboard Piano: Park Square Theatre’s Journey to Sharing Space

Breaking Character Magazine, a publication of Samuel French Inc., recently shared a report by Park Square Theatre’s Executive Director, Michael-jon Pease, regarding the company’s experience producing the play, Cardboard Piano, by Hansol Jung.

Our audience engagement with Hansol Jung’s beautiful play Cardboard Piano began with a dozen subscribers seeing the world premiere with us at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actor’s Theatre in Louisville, KY. After the blistering first act, set in Uganda at the height of the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army, they felt that Park Square Theatre had to premiere this play in the Twin Cities. “Our community needs this play,” they said.

As it turned out, we needed to produce it to further our journey toward greater inclusion.

From left: Adelin Phelps, Kiara Jackson, Ansa Akyea in Cardboard Piano. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

The play is indeed a unique offering for this time and for our place. The Twin Cities community is a sanctuary for refugees from many African nations and home to a startling number of nonprofits whose work in Africa encompasses everything from hunger relief and education to peace making and refugee services. Our key community partner for the artistic and engagement journey was The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), which works around the world healing those fleeing from trauma, including the child soldiers and persecuted LGBT Ugandans depicted in the play. They presented a pre-show talk on their work in Uganda and they promoted the play to their large constituent base of (mostly white, older) social justice champions, many of whom came more than once.

Most importantly, CVT sent two of their psychologists into the rehearsal hall to talk through the script with our artists and staff. They shared their deep knowledge of trauma on the magnitude these characters face. They pointed out what was not true to life, leading to rich discussion about the nature of art, dramatic tension and “truth.” Best of all, they confirmed that while their clients could not handle this play full of traumatic triggers, it needed to be produced. The community needed to see it.

CVT’s insights were woven into the design, direction and acting of the production and their psychologists were impressed and honored to see the result. A combination of light and sound cues, together with true to life physical “tells” from the actors immediately communicated to the audience the realities of trauma (ringing in the ears, hyper vigilance, etc.). The partnership contributed something essential and authentic to the production that it wouldn’t have had if we’d relied only on our own dramaturgical resources.

We all agreed that audiences would need to prepare themselves for the experience of the play. In addition to a deep content analysis on the website, the lobby had comment boards which invited audience members to respond to leading questions such as “What is the role of forgiveness in my life?” and to revisit their responses at intermission and end of play. Some of the post-it notes that stuck with me said,

“Forgiveness is about my personal liberation from the prison of living with resentment.”

“Forgiveness is pointless if the forgiven remains unchanged.”

“I forgive so I can be transformed.”

Wow.

We had conversations with our front of house staff and crew about ways to let audience members know they could leave if they needed to, and how to help them re-ground and rejoin the play.

For Park Square Theatre as a small traditional regional theatre led by white cis-gendered gay men, Cardboard Piano was also an important opportunity to explore how we share space with diverse artists and audiences. The questions of who owns space, who creates sanctuary and who can offer absolution are central to the play.

We chose Signe V. Harriday to lead the production, specifically to bring her world view as a queer artist of color to the process, as well as her mad directing skills. The action opens in a small missionary church in Uganda with the secret wedding of the white daughter of the missionary pastor and her African girlfriend. Harriday choreographed a playful, yet sensual opening scene between the two young women that allowed them to claim the space and unashamedly celebrate their love.

Having queer people of color own the room was amazingly affirming to many audience members, giving us survey comments like:

“I see a lot of theatre and it’s rare that I go to a show twice, but this one I came back to. As a Lesbian, it was wonderful to see myself represented on stage so authentically.”

“Representation is beautiful. Black stories are beautiful. Stories about cultures other than our own are beautiful. It was deeply moving, the performances flawless. Thank you for giving this story space. “

“It was a wonderfully well written and eloquent play that was executed very powerfully. It was a truth-telling and fully immersive experience, emotionally. This play was raw, and it was real. I went twice. Park Square should stage more works like this.”

Make no mistake, that ownership of spaceby someone other than the dominant culture, especially one as intimate as our 200-seat Andy Boss Thrust Stage, was also a big turn off for some members of the mainstream audience who responded with comments like “I am growing weary of theatres thinking they need to keep presenting productions with gay/lesbian themes” to “Sexual scenes did not add to the play and may have demeaned it.” Many who saw the postcard with two women of different races embracing on the cover simply opted out from the start.

Our world premiere commission of Christina Ham’s Nina Simone: Four Women was another powerful experience of asking women of color to own the space. The show resonated with all audiences, but the affirmation about black resilience and black beauty for black audiences of all ages was palpable.

Our goal in building an additional stage was to expand our play selection and the range of artists and audiences who not only call Park Square home but think of it as “their” theatre. Aside from enabling our own productions to become a haven for diverse communities (new owners), another strategy we use to achieve this is to literally give the space over to diverse companies and artists for their own work through our Theatre in Residence program, “friendly rentals,” collaborations and co-productions with companies as diverse as Mu Performing Arts, New Native Theatre and Urban Spectrum. Along the way, we keep becoming more aware of who can and should “own” the room – from hiring professionals of color to moderate discussions with artists of color, to color conscious casting for our literary classics and having the welcome speech for our student matinees delivered by a person of color as often as possible for our teen audience of 32,000.

As a veteran executive director, it is a joy to recede from what can be the endless spotlight of organizational leadership to see the community take the stage in so many ways. Park Square – and the field – has much to learn about creating and sharing brave spaces. Plays like Cardboard Piano open us to exciting artistic and human lessons.

 

Originally Published in Breaking Character Magazine, April 16, 2018.

Urban Spectrum presents: Warm Dark Dusk

You are like a warm dark dusk

In the middle of June-time

When the first violets

Have almost forgotten their names

And the deep red roses bloom.

 

You are like a warm dark dusk

In the middle of June-time

Before the hot nights of summer

Burn white with stars.

 

Young Negro Girl by Langston Hughes

 

In October 2016, the Urban Spectrum Theatre Company’s original production, Warm Dark Dusk, premiered at Minneapolis’ Phoenix Theater, playing to packed houses throughout its run. This spring, from April 12 to 22, Warm Dark Dusk is being restaged on Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

Warm Dark Dusk is a jazz dance and music interpretation of the poetry of Langston Hughes from the 1920s to 1940s. The production unfolds in four themed segments: Dance, The Blues, Love & Sex and the Night Life which Langston experienced throughout his travels. It features vignettes, monologues and vocal and dance numbers which will appeal to all audiences.

Penny Masuku and Tazz Germaine Lindsey performing, in dance, “Juke Box Love Song.”
(Photo by Christopher Lyle)

“I dreamed of doing this show for years,” said Judy Cooper Lyle, the producer/director of Warm Dark Dusk as well as founder and artistic director of the Urban Spectrum Theatre Company. Acquiring a grant allowed her to fulfill that dream. She researched and chose specific poems to build a cohesive story and brought on board choreographer Florence Lyle and music director Joe Shad. Florence, who is Judy’s cousin, has worked in Hollywood for over two decades and toured with such notable singers as Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Lionel Richie and Lou Rawls. Joe is a freelance pianist, singer and songwriter who has been passionate about music since the age of five.

For the title of this unique show, Judy chose the phrase “warm dark dusk” from the first line of the poem A Young Negro Girl. She did so, Judy said, “For the beauty of the dark skin and the pride of black people as they have fought, so hard and so long, for equality.”

Judy’s choice to feature Langston Hughes rather than another poet is also personal: “I think he was one of America’s greatest poets. He wrote of the lives of his people realistically, politically and with passion.”

In creating the Urban Spectrum Theatre Company in 1974, Judy was fulfilling an earlier dream and passion to provide quality, multi-cultural and accessible theatre to the inner city and to give community residents, especially young people, the chance to work with more experienced performers. The company is now 44 years old and has produced over 75 plays.

We are proud to present the Urban Spectrum Theatre Company as a guest performing company at Park Square Theatre this April. Come see for yourself why Warm Dark Dusk earned such raves the first time around.

 

More information here.

Purchase tickets here.

 

 

What if Anne Frank was Muslim?

Ten years ago, a 26-year-old Turkish Muslim woman, Asli Bayram, portrayed Anne Frank on stage in Frankfurt, Germany.

When Asli was 14, a neo-Nazi neighbor broke into the family’s apartment in Germany and shot Asli’s father right in front of her. The neighbor also shot and injured Asli.

Asli recovered from her injuries. She went on to study law and, later on, acting. She starred in movies, television, and in 2008, she performed in a one-woman show about Anne Frank.

Asli Bayram as Anne Frank

She said that she read The Diary of Anne Frank in high school. To prepare for the role, she visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and studied the Holocaust and World War II in depth. “I want to prevent such horrible deeds and combat this radical, destructive ideology through my work as an actress,” she said to a reporter ten years ago.

Today, unlike in 2008, Muslims are widely vilified in Germany. And Anne Frank’s experience could easily be the experience of Muslims today in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden – or here in the United States.

From travel bans on people from Muslim-majority countries to outright vilification of people of Muslim faith and of Islam itself, this is a terrible time to be a Muslim in the United States or, in fact, in most of the Western world.

It’s just like being a Jew during the 1930s in Europe.

Through Asli’s brave performance, Anne Frank became a Muslim in Frankfurt. Actually, Anne Frank is here, today, in our own communities. Reach out. Stand up for Asli. Stand up for Anne Frank.


Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul.  In 2009 she received the Outstanding Citizen Award from the Anne Frank Center in New York.

Don’t miss a special lecture this Wednesday, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dr. Kennedy will be joined by Fred Amram, speaking about how the Nazi movement changed laws at every level to make their actions legal and Germany and highlight recent and proposed law changes that pave the way to legal discrimination. Fred is a Holocaust survivor and will share part of his story. Click here for More Information.

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