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An interview with Jamecia Bennett

“I had no fear of standing up for someone who isn’t able now to do it for herself.”

In the Star Tribune review, Chris Hewitt writes, “anyone who has seen Jamecia Bennett, lead singer of Sounds’ of Blackness, in theatrical productions has probably had the sense that we’re only getting a part of her… Here, the gloves are off and Bennett delivers a musical performance of raw searing power.”

Park Square’s Lindsay Christensen got to ask Ms. Bennett a few more personal questions about what it was like to bring her own story and values to the production of Marie and Rosetta.


LC: What was your very first memory with music?

Jamecia Bennett

JB: My First memory of music was at 4 years old! My my mother (Grammy Award winner ) Ann Nesby would sit me at the piano and we would teach me harmony while she played and sang with me! I actually stood on a chair to sing and direct the church choir, as per the reference [in Marie and Rosetta] that Rosetta gives to her standing on a piano so people could see her!

LC: What did it mean to you to step into Sister Rosetta’s shoes?

JB: Stepping  into the shoes of Sister Rosetta meant a great deal. I knew that I was gonna have to be responsible to tell and sell her story in and hour and thirty minutes to people that may or may not have an idea of who she was! Learning her background and how she moved, who she had in her atmosphere, to me determined how I would deliver my lines. Straight to the point but

knowing that she was raised by her mother so she had a nurturing side about her as well. But knowing first that I had to know the power of her music and what it meant to her.

LC:Did you have any fear or nerves?

JB: I didn’t have any fear… now I did have a pause in time when i saw how many lines in the show I had! LOL! But I had no fear of standing up for someone who isn’t able now to do it for herself.

Jamecia Bennett as Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

LC:What was the biggest challenge about bringing her to life?

JB: The biggest challenge of bringing her to life was rehashing all of the memories of my now passed on grandmother, who spoke of her and Mahalia Jackson often. So some of the songs it’s hard to get through. But Rosetta is a straight shooter and to hear all of what she had to go through with the church, men, and just by being black and a woman in that time was kinda hard. So finding the right momentum of each song , the lines spoken and the playing of her guitar had to be consistent homework because it had to look real. If one of the three strong things mentioned was off, it would draw attention to it and take away from the message I was trying to present and the hardworking performer she was!

LC: If Rosetta was alive, what do you think her reaction would be to music today, especially given the negativity she faced toeing the line between secular and church music?

JB: I think she would be a force still. Nothing could stand in her way. I believe she would be respected much on the lines of Aretha Franklin. Which I may add, Aretha dealt with the same circumstances. Rosetta would be the Queen of Rock and Roll alive as she is now passed on.

Jamecia Bennett as Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Background: Rajané Katurah Brown. Photo by Terry Gydesen.

LC: Can you share an experience you’ve had of people coming together around – or being moved by –  the power of music or theatre?

JB: I’ve had plenty of experiences with people being moved with theatre and music especially with this show. To see the faces of people in the audience crying when they hear one of the songs in this show I sing, “Look Down The Line,” lets me know that love and loss doesn’t have a color. We all bleed the same color blood. I love to hear the harmony of laughter together at the monologues whether it be race sensitive or not. We get the opportunity laugh and cry together.

LC: What is one thing, or a single word, you hope audiences take away after seeing Marie and Rosetta?

JB: Whether it’s suffering or celebration it’s all about Joy! 

Learn more about Jamecia Bennett at www.jameciabennett.com, and at www.soundsofblackness.org. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @jameciabennett.

Rajané Katurah Brown and Jamecia Bennett. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.MARIE AND ROSETTA runs through December 30. Matinee added Sat, Dec 29 at 2:00 pm. Buy tickets here.


Lindsay Christensen Park Square’s Group Sales and Development Associate and a fierce freelance stage manager and graduate student pursuing a degree in Arts and Cultural Management at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. 

TRIPLE ESPRESSO: Friendship that endures past the failures

TRIPLE ESPRESSO: Friendship that endures past the failures

Let’s Hear it for the “Losers” 

by Michael Pearce Donley

 

I’ve done two shows at Park Square Theatre, and they have a number of things in common. 2 Pianos 4 Hands, and Triple Espresso were both written by the original performers of the show, (I, along with my partners Bob Stromberg and Bill Arnold, co-wrote Triple Espresso). I play the piano in both. Both contain an unlikely callback to the movie Chariots of Fire. Both contain all-male casts. Both are comedies with heart.

Both shows are about “losers.”

2 Pianos 4 Hands follows the story of 2 friends/rivals who strive to become renowned concert pianists, only to realize they’re just not good enough.

Peter Vitale and Michael Pierce Donley in 2 PIANOS, 4 HANDS. 2014.  Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Triple Espresso follows a trio of comic performers from the 1970s hoping to make it big. One blunder after another leads them to the edge of obscurity, culminating in a career-ending performance on live national television.

Bob Arnold, Michael Pierce Donley, and Bob Stromberg in TRIPLE ESPRESSO

I’m drawn to the “losers” in these shows. I put the word in quotes because one can lose a dream but win at humanity.

2 Pianos 4 Hands ends with two friends drinking beer, listening to a Vladimir Horowitz recording. My character spits out, “I could have played Carnegie Hall!” Then reality sets in. We are not the best in the world, the best in the country, the best in the city; but maybe, just maybe, we’re the best in the neighborhood. We smile at each other, go to our pianos, and for the love of the music, play our hearts out to end the show.

Triple Espresso is a show about friendship that endures past the failures. It’s the kind of friendship that will live beyond the final number, because despite all the mistakes, these guys have a genuine affection for each other. The one thing they really share is their collective failure, and at final glance, they survived together. That’s not so bad.

Because here’s the thing. Almost none of us is the best. 99% of us are not the best athlete, the best artist, the best business leader, the best parent, friend, student, lover, human. That’s a lot of “losers,” if you think about it. We may be good, very good, even great, but there’s always someone better, right?

Fellow actor/musician Peter Vitale and I never did a perfect performance of the final piece in 2 Pianos 4 Hands. When we played that 8-minute Bach concerto, we really were coaxing each other through, leading and following, making mistakes and encouraging each other forward, and when the final chord was played, the breath we released was real. It was the feeling of being alive, the best in the neighborhood.

After performing Triple Espresso over 3500 times, my partners and I still mess up. We’re not perfect performers or comedians, but we own this little piece of stage for 2 hours every night and evoke genuine laughter, not because we’re perfect but because we’re honest.

So, let’s hear it for the 99% of us who are not the very best. I kind of like us this way.


logo for Triple Espresso - stylized coffee cup and hand drawn type in black, red, and grey on white backgroundTriple Espresso is on stage at Park Square Theatre through January 13.

Family-friendly fun for all ages!

Buy Tickets!


Michael Pearce Donley is a theater artist, singer, pianist and writer. He works full time at Eagle Brook Church as Associate Creative Director. He and his wife Joy live in Maplewood.

TWO Added Post-Show Talks!

After you see Marie and Rosetta, you are going to want to know more about rock ‘n’ roll icon, Sister Rosetta Tharpe! Here are two opportunities to go deeper into the history and context of this incredible show!

Post-show talks immediately follow an evening performance and are generally 30 minutes long. FREE with ticket purchase.

Purchase Tickets Here!

Saturday, Dec 15: Meet the Playwright. Hear directly from MARIE AND ROSETTA playwright, George Brant*.

Playwright George Brant. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp. 2015.

You are invited to a post-show talk with Brant and Park Square’s Artistic Director Flordelino Lagundino.

What goes into telling the story of an important and overlooked historical figure? How does a writer include music into a play’s narrative? What first inspires a play to be written in the first place? Bring your questions, or be ready to be inspired!

Thursday, Dec 20: Sister Rosetta and the Blues Way of Knowing. With Macalester College Assistant Professor of History, Crystal Moten**.

Crystal Moten, Macalester College

Join scholar and educator Crystal Moten to explore how Sister Rosetta navigated the historical and musical context of her time, specifically highlighting the Blues epistemology/way of knowing, and how Sister Rosetta challenged the expected gender roles within the church and in society.

*Playwright George Brant’s work has been developed and produced nationally and internationally. His most notable play, GROUNDED, opened at London’s Gate Theater in 2013, followed by a Julie Taymor-directed production at the Public Theater in 2016. Learn more at http://georgebrant.net/index.html

**Crystal M. Moten joined the Macalester faculty in 2016 and is an Assistant Professor of African American History. She teaches courses on modern African American history with particular emphasis on the following: civil rights, economic justice, women and gender, intellectual history and public history.

Her research interests focus on the intersection of race, class, and gender and specifically she writes about black women’s economic activism in civil rights era Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Civil and Human Rights and a special issue of Souls focusing on the Black women’s work, culture, and politics. Her forthcoming book is entitled This Woman’s Work: Black Women’s Economic Activism in Postwar Milwaukee.

Mississippi, 1946

“WE STEP OFF STAGE AND WE GOT TO DISAPPEAR”: MISSISSIPPI, 1946

by Morgan Holmes, dramaturg for Marie and Rosetta

When Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight became an act in 1946 and set off on tour, the separate but equal doctrine of Jim Crow law was in full force. And it would be nearly a decade before Jet magazine published the funeral photos of Emmett Till, whose grotesque 1955 lynching in Mississippi was a flash point for the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. While the explicit image of “white only” signs define the doctrine in the American consciousness, Jim Crow would play out in more complicated ways for Tharpe, as she worked to make a name for herself on the road.

DANGEROUS ROADS

“The rules that defined a group’s supremacy were so tightly wound as to put pressure on everyone trying to stay within the narrow confines of acceptability.”
– from Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

It’s impossible to overstate how every aspect of white and black society was regulated under Jim Crow, from 1860s Reconstruction to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Separate but equal facilities (i.e. entrances, waiting rooms, elevators) and institutions (i.e. hospitals, schools), hampered black social mobility and dignity, as well as literal mobility across the United States. Though growing access to the automobile in the 20s and 30s offered them independence from segregated buses and train cars, African-American travelers could find themselves on the road without a gas station, diner, hotel, or even bathroom at which to stop permissively and safely, especially in sundown towns, where imposed curfews and intimidating residents drove non-whites from the public sphere after dark. For the limited white-black interactions allowed, perceived disrespect was a capital offense. In Mississippi alone, white mobs, riled up with economic anxiety over the loss of black workforce to the Great Migration, and fear of job and social competition with those who remained, lynched 15 of the 33 total lynching victims on record for 1940-1949 in the U.S.

Jamecia Bennett, left, as Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Rajané Katurah Brown as Marie Knight. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

TOURING THE GOSPEL HIGHWAY

“We always had to stay at someone’s house. Or you lived on that bus.”

-Singer Ruth Brown, Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

While Jim Crow worked to make the world impossible for African-Americans to navigate, the proliferation of the black church provided a sanctuary for community gathering. By the 1940s, there were over 3,000 black churches in Mississippi serving about 500,000 congregants, or 50% of the state’s African-American population. Each denomination developed a unique relationship to the secular world, from the Baptists’ political organization around civil rights, to the Church of God in Christ’s evangelical missionary work that birthed a circuit of churches and revival events across the nation. The circuit provided a stage, a built-in audience, and most importantly, easily attainable meal and board for a generation of singers who could not find commercial success in the secular, segregated music industry. Tharpe received her first radio plays from Sunday broadcasts of services at Miami Temple in Florida, attracting white audiences to the unusually integrated COGIC church and the gospel sound.

GOOD SAMARITANS

“It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”

– Victor H. Green, introduction to the 1949 edition of The Negro Motorist’s Green-Book

In spite of the dangers and difficulties, African-Americans persisted in travel, subverting the status quo by packing their own meals, hiring white drivers to assist them and consulting national travel guides to plan their stops. Harlem letter carrier and activist Victor H. Green collected the classifieds of businesses nationwide that were proven safe for black travelers, and published them annually in the most popular guide, The Negro Motorist’s Green-Book, from 1936 to 1967. Mississippi’s listings expanded from only a few hotels and bed & breakfast-like “tourist homes” in 1940, to include restaurants, service stations, nightclubs, funeral homes, beauty parlors, barbershops, and a Jackson skating rink by 1949.

In a move befitting the gospel rock star, Tharpe gained further independence in the 1950s, after buying a tour bus to refurbish as a dressing room and place to sleep for her and her backup singers, The Rosettes. While Tharpe’s music may oscillate from obscurity to popularity to forgotten again, it is her own resilience – on the road and through the music industry – that allowed her story to survive.

Coming Next: Rosetta, Marie and Mahalia

 

Morgan Holmes is an all-around theatermaker – writing, directing, dramaturging and administrating across the Twin Cities. She is most interested in identity, ritual, intimacy, and internet culture, which she explores as co-creator of Perspectives Theater Company.

Marie and Rosetta is on stage now through Dec 30, starring Jamecia Bennett and Rajané Katurah Brown. Tickets available at parksquaretheatre.org or 651.291.7005.

Godly vs. Worldly: the competing forces of Sister Rosetta’s musical rise

GODLY VS. WORLDLY:

THE COMPETING FORCES OF SISTER ROSETTA’S MUSICAL RISE

by Morgan Holmes, dramaturg for Marie and Rosetta

It’s easy enough to look at Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s life and conclude that her innovative, genre-bending musicianship was “ahead of its time.” How else could such a public and internationally beloved figure wind up buried in an unmarked Philadelphia grave? But – much like our own pop stars who burn brightly, then fizzle out with fans as they experiment with sounds, personas, and public identities (Taylor Swift’s varied success in pop and political crossover, for example) – Tharpe’s career was precisely the product of her time. Throughout her rise, she was activated by and reactive to the sanctity and secularism that marked her world.

THE DELTA BLUES MIGRATE NORTH

The same beat that Black folks dance to on Saturday night is the same beat that they shout to on a Sunday morning” -Reverend Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel

Jamecia Bennett as Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Increased opportunity of industrialization in the north, as well as the promise of better treatment, drew 1.6 million African-Americans north from the 1910s to the Depression, in the first period of black urbanization dubbed the Great Migration. Among the millions, evangelist missionary Katie Bell Nubin left her husband and sharecropper past in rural Arkansas in the early 1920s, to move her daughter, Rosetta, north to Chicago. The migration also brought north the artistry and improvisation of the delta blues, where it coalesced with the call-and-response format of Negro spirituals, birthing gospel. Gospel Chicagoans Mahalia Jackson’s vocal stylings reminiscent of Bessie Smith, and Arizona Juanita Dranes, who used her piano as an extension of her voice rather than its traditional use as an accompaniment to the soloist or choir, influenced Tharpe’s own guitar-picking and singing.

THE CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST’S INFLUENCE

make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise” -Psalm 98:4

Jamecia Bennett as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Rajané Katurah Brown as Marie Knight

Sprung from the roots of the Holiness movement, which avowed outward displays of holiness like modest dress, sobriety or “clean living,” and avoiding worldly activities, the Pentacostal denomination Church of God in Christ (COGIC) spread like wildfire across the South, traveling north with the Great Migration. Music as an outward expression of faith was also a tenet of COGIC worship. This tenet influenced the gospel sound – a loud, joyous, testimonial sound. Tharpe began her own career performing at Chicago’s Fortieth Street COGIC and touring COGIC circuit with her mother and first husband, preacher Thomas Tharpe.

 

 

 

SWINGING THE GOSPEL

Even though I was just a child, I knew immediately that this woman was playing a different kind of music. It was gospel, but the way she put it across, in her bluesy-jazzy style, was a real ‘revelation’ […] a real ‘bad’ groove.”

-Singer Etta James, Heart & Soul: A Celebration of Black Music Style in America, 1930-1975

By the time blues pianist Thomas A. Dorsey codified the genre through his sheet music publishing company, Tharpe had already begun innovating gospel further. Whether disillusioned from the restrictions of poverty, her abusive first marriage, or the conservative COGIC, she traded the sanctified audience that nurtured her for commercial success on the Harlem club circuit, where she hobnobbed with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and big bands like Cab Calloway’s. Unsurprisingly American pop music’s syncopated groove crept into her gospel, as evidenced by her 1938 Decca hit “Rock Me,” a secular version of Dorsey’s “Hide Me in Thy Bosom.” Swinging the gospel won her a mainstream audience but came with its own restrictions, like singing in low-brow vaudeville, burlesque and minstrel revues at the white-only Cotton Club. At the clubs, the testimonial spirit of gospel was mocked, satirized, and whitewashed in “Saint and Sinner” acts. Yet Tharpe stuck to her faith, walking the ambiguous line between spiritual and secular – sometimes successfully, sometimes at the cost of her career.

Coming Next: Mississippi in 1946: the hazards Sister Rosetta faced traveling in the south.

Marie and Rosetta is on stage now through Dec 30, starring Jamecia Bennett and Rajané Katurah Brown. Tickets available at parksquaretheatre.org or 651.291.7005.

Morgan Holmes is an all-around theatermaker – writing, directing, dramaturging and administrating across the Twin Cities. She is most interested in identity, ritual, intimacy, and internet culture, which she explores as co-creator of Perspectives Theater Company.

A Biographical Timeline of Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Looking to learn a little more about Sister Rosetta Tharpe before seeing Marie and Rosetta? Here is brief timeline of the life and music of this trailblazing and and influential artist! Marie and Rosetta is on stage Nov 23-Dec 30. Buy Tickets Here!

A Biographical Timeline of Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Researched and Compiled by Morgan Holmes, Marie and Rosetta Dramaturg

The Early Years

1915 Rosetta Atkins is born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, on March 20. Soon after, mother and evangelist preacher Katie Bell Nubin separates from her husband and relocates Rosetta to Chicago.

1920s-30s Rosetta performs with Katie Bell at Fortieth Street Church of God in Christ. The duo tour Chicago’s Maxwell Street market and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) circuit of the South. Her acclaim as a gospel singer and guitar player grows.

Jamecia Bennett* as Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

1934 Marries COGIC preacher Thomas Tharpe.

1938 Joins revue cast at the Cotton Club and records her first Decca record, “Rock Me.” Throughout the late 30s and 40s she tours Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Cafe Society in New York and the Grand Ole Opry. She befriends and performs with Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and the like!

1942 Records Victory(V)-discs and performs for African-American troops during WWII.

1943 Divorces Tharpe. Marries Foch P. Allen.

The Middle Years

1944 Releases “Strange Things Happening Every Day” with Decca, reaching #2 on the “race records” chart.

Rajané Katurah Brown as Marie Knight, Jamecia Bennett* as Sister Rosetta.

1946 After a concert at Harlem’s Golden Gate Ballroom, where gospel singer Mahalia Jackson invited up-and-comer Marie Knight on stage, Tharpe convinces Knight to join her act.

1947-1951 Divorces Allen. Tharpe and Knight tour and record several hits. During this period of touring, Knight’s two children die in a house fire. In 1951, the duet part ways.

1951 In a publicity stunt, Tharpe stages a wedding at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. to Russell Morrison. Knight is her maid of honor, and the Rosettes, a group of back-up singers formed by Rosetta in 1949, serve as bridesmaids. Over 20,000 paying fans are in attendance. After her vows, she plays a concert on electric guitar in her wedding dress. Decca live records the ceremony and concert, then releases it as an album.

The Later Years

1957 Tharpe and Morrison travel Great Britain and Europe at the height of the British blues revival.

1964 She books the Folk, Blues and Gospel Caravan tour in England, and performs in an abandoned railroad station for a live audience and nationwide TV broadcast. LINK.

1968 Katie Bell dies in Philadelphia. Tharpe receives her only Grammy nomination for the 1968 LP Precious Memories.

1973 Tharpe dies on October 9 in Philadelphia, following a stroke, where she is laid to rest in an unmarked grave. Knight performs at her funeral.

A Rebirth of Interest

2007 Writer Gayle Wald’s biography, SHOUT SISTER SHOUT, The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trail Blazer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, kicks off a renewed period of interest in Tharpe’s life and music.

2011 A historical marker is added to Tharpe’s Philadelphia house. Filmmaker Mick Csaky produces the documentary The Godmother of Rock & Roll.

2018 Tharpe is inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame under its “Early Influence” award.

 

Morgan Holmes is an all-around theatermaker – writing, directing, dramaturging and administrating across the Twin Cities. She is most interested in identity, ritual, intimacy, and internet culture, which she explores as co-creator of Perspectives Theater Company.

What’s Behind JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP?

Developing a new play – or a MUSICAL – is an exciting and complicated process filled with rewrites, workshops, edits and additions! We asked Keith Hovis, the playwright and composer of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant, on stage in June of 2019, to tell us more about the concept and creative process behind this new full-length and still-developing show!

You can hear a full sing-through of the show with Keith and the cast at a Workshop Presentation on November 1st, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 (including a Free Drink!) and are on sale HERE.

#JeffersonSparkle


line illustration of a tiara crown - dark burgundy on bright plum background

I started writing Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant at one in the morning after I’d hit a massive writer’s block on another project. I had the actors, a director, and a production date (the 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival), but inspiration was not striking.

Sitting at my keyboard I just started playing music. Four chords over and over, until I heard a chorus. What emerged over the next couple hours was the song, “Sparkling Junior Champion,” in which two former classmates, now in their 30’s, decide to revive their small hometown children’s talent competition.

Leslie Vincent and Kelly Houlehan. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

This absurd premise, serves as the jumping off point for the show. At its core, Jefferson Township is about finding your way when you’ve hit an age where you’re told you should already have a plan in place. It’s about going home – that place where you grew up and helped shape your identity and values – and suddenly realizing you feel like an outsider in your own community. It’s about realizing that success and happiness come in many forms, and sometimes you need to open yourself up to possibilities you never considered before.

It’s a comedic, heartfelt exploration for anyone who has ever felt lost.

A scene from the Fringe Festival production of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant.

The original Fringe Festival version was an hour of fast-paced, farce-like comedy, peppered with moments of reflection. Expanding the piece to full length provides an opportunity to flesh out the characters and add more commentary on the pressures we face on a daily basis whether personal, societal, socioeconomic, familial, or generational.

I placed the show in a small town because I don’t feel like that is a population commonly reflected on stage; and when they are depicted, it is often through the lens of being simple, hard-working folk. Growing up, I was fed a narrative that having big dreams and being successful meant having to leave my hometown. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I realize how false this narrative is.

Even now, as we near the election, I am amazed at all of the think pieces about rural America. What they want and how they might impact who is elected. In a world that has gotten more and more divided, this rural/urban split ignores that fact that no matter where you live, everyone wants to do their best. Have a family, succeed in their career, maybe buy a house, and who knows, possibly retire someday. These wants are universal. The reality is that people are people, no matter where you live. Crazy, right?

Writing Jefferson Township has reinforced how proud I am of where I came from. Yes, even if I still try to avoid awkward conversations with former classmates each time I go back to the Coborn’s in Princeton. I’ll just blame that on being slightly introverted.

It has also made me realize how lucky I am to have found my chosen community here in the cities. My new small-town community tucked in an urban landscape. And even more lucky that a few members of that chosen community, my cast – Zach Garcia, Kelly Houlehan, Ryan London Levin and Leslie Vincent – get to be on the journey of bringing Jefferson Township to Park Square.

Keith with the cast. From left to right: Ryan London Levin, Leslie Vincent, Keith Hovis, Kelly Houlehan, Zach Garcia. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

I am excited to share my musical with Park Square audiences. I hope they laugh and are moved in equal measure. As we head into a public reading of the current draft on November 1, I am looking forward to seeing how people respond. I want the production in June of 2019 to be the best it can be, and I know this feedback will be essential for continued development of the show.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my keyboard!

Keith Hovis as a playwright and composer based in Minneapolis. He can currently be seen onstage at the Southern Theater in A Morbid History of Sons & Daughters, an original, ensemble-created musical presented as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival.

Introducing the Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Introducing the Godmother of Rock 'n' Roll

INTRODUCING THE GODMOTHER OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL

Local premiere stars Jamecia Bennett and Rajané Katurah Brown

Park Square Theatre announces the area premiere production of Marie & Rosetta by George Brandt, to be directed by Wendy Knox, who directed the early workshops of the play at the Minneapolis-based Playwrights’ Center. Soulful and spirited, this play with music tells the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a 2018 inductee into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame who has become a Facebook sensation with tens of thousands of shares of the vintage video of her playing electric guitar on the street cropping up in feeds for the past several years. Tharpe brought fierce guitar playing and swing to gospel music and went on to influence rock musicians from Elvis to Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles.

The story begins in a funeral parlor in Mississippi, as Rosetta (played by Jamecia Bennett*) and her young protégé, Marie Knight (played by Rajané Katurah Brown), prepare for a tour that will establish them as a great musical duo. Local musical powerhouses, Bennett and Brown earned rave reviews in THE WIZ at Children’s Theatre Company. In this production, musical director Gary D. Hines from The Sounds of Blackness will help them shape memorable renditions of spirituals like “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” and “Sit Down,” to distinctly non-religious songs like “I Want a Tall Skinny Papa.”

“Rosetta was a powerhouse musician who had a huge influence on Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Etta James, among others,” says director Wendy Knox. “She came to fame as a gospel singer, was a rival of Mahalia Jackson, then crossed over to secular music and was shunned by the church community. She was married several times and maintained a longtime relationship with her musical partner Marie Knight. Under-recognized for her talents (gee, that problem hasn’t gone away, has it?), she had an enormous influence on rock and roll. What a treat to return to this great story in the very year when she finally got her due from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame!”

The production team for Marie & Rosetta includes Joseph Stanley (Scenic Design); Aaron Chvatal (Costume Design); Robert Dunn (Wig Design); Abbee Warmboe (Properties Design); Michael P. Kittel (Lighting Design); Peter Morrow (Sound Design); Morgan Holmes (Dramaturg); Jared Zeigler* (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 parksquaretheatre.org.   #PSTMarie&Rosetta

*Member, Actors Equity Association

CALENDAR INFORMATION

Marie & Rosetta

Park Square’s Proscenium Stage

Previews: November 23 – 29, 2018

Opening Night: November 30

Regular Run: November 30  – December 30, 2018

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

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

Ticket Office: 651-291-7005 or parksquaretheatre.org

Phtos by Petronella J. Ytsma HERE.

Green 7:30 pm; Orange 2:00pm

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

2 SUGARS TAKEOVER: It’s Like Real Life, But Funnier!

The Wine Chronicles, Chapter 2: It’s Like Real Life, But Funnier. 

Shanan and Carolyn continue their backstage conversation:

We often remark that the two hours we spend performing a show qualifies as a “totes legit” happy place, because we just get to exist in the world of the play. And “play” becomes a verb as well as a noun. We laugh so often in response to each other’s discoveries and deliveries that people usually wonder what is “real” and what is “the show”?

A little of both, actually. We’ve always written for ourselves, for each other, for aspirational circumstances as well as gritty, very “in the moment” spaces.

But, we like to laugh, too. The very best feeling in the world is knowing you genuinely made someone you care about laugh.

This is what we do offstage too!

And, that brings us to our audience…these people that are coming to see what our brains cooked up and are putting out here on the Andy Boss Stage. A lot of time, our creative process starts with, “Do we think it’s interesting? Does it make us laugh? Maybe it will make someone else laugh too. “

Shanan will often say, the very best sound is “the laugh of recognition.” And, that recognition is probably what makes our show work. One of the greatest compliments we’ve gotten from audiences is “this is just like my life, but funnier”. We love hearing that because it’s exactly what we set out to do. Taking real-life circumstances and finding the uniquely remarkable and hilarious moments and elevating them in the scene. It makes our job really fun. We are so happy you’re here to share it and laugh along with us.

P.S. THE SHOW HAS BEEN EXTENDED!!! The response to Sometime’s there’s Wine has been so wonderfully positive that we’ve added 4 MORE SHOWS! We’re now on stage through Oct 21. Get your tickets now!

Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool are the 2 Sugars Show and creators of 2 Sugars, Room for Cream, Sometimes There’s Wine (currently running at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Stage) and the upcoming Bad Things, Good Whiskey. When they aren’t performing, they enjoy reading, cheeseburgers, wine and planning their world domination.

 

New Video: Interview with THE AGITATORS

Two Ivey award winning actors, Mikell Sapp and Emily Gunyou Halaas, take on major roles as Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony in The Agitators.

Critics have high praise of this pair. Of their performances, the Star Tribune writes, “beautifully performed… the pair infuse historical material with conviction and pathos.” Rob Hubbard in the Pioneer Press writes, “strong, stubborn, vulnerable and compassionate, Halaas’ Anthony is astonishing. It’s one of the most commanding performances I’ve experienced on a Twin Cities stage this year,” and “Sapp offers a well-drawn portrayal of a man balancing confidence and doubt, hopefulness and regret.” 

Watch this video to hear a bit of these two marvelous actors speaking in their own voices and from their hearts about how this play relates to their lives and what it asks of us today.

The Agitators is on stage through October 28. Get your tickets HERE now!

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