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More Funny Camping Stories

Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

From September 15 to October 22, Park Square Theatre presents the American premiere of the international hit Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on its Proscenium Stage. This hilarious comedy by Canadian playwright Michele Riml features Twin Cities actors John Middleton and Carolyn Pool as spouses Henry and Alice, two inexperienced campers who rely on a copy of Camping for Dummies to survive their ordeal.

Camping in the Great Outdoors can certainly be a terrific bonding experience amongst loved ones; but more often than not, it gives you some of the funniest memories to cherish. During the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share those submitted to our blog.

The stories just keep on coming:

We were tent camping: two adults, two kids, a baby in a travel crib and a dog. There was no room for the dog in the tent so she was outside “guarding” the campsite from invaders. All of a sudden, she was growling, then barking, then pheeww!! And more intense pheeww!!

The dog and the entire campsite was sprayed by the black and white furry invader. We had to leave and bathe the dog in tomato juice.

——

This episode took place at a church camp in South Carolina where I was serving as a counselor for a group of middle school girls. We had been assigned a covered wagon for our lodging. It was up off the ground, not easily entered or exited. Two of the girls were brand new to camping away from home. The rest were seasoned church campers. It was one of the new girls who had the challenging moment.

The six girls and I had gone to sleep after lights out. All one heard were the night noises of the forest, crickets, perhaps owls and a few mosquitos, given the humid climate of the South. Out of this lulling tranquility broke an urgent demand, “Ms. Jeannie, me gots to pee! Me gots to pee!”

Jumping to alert attention, I assessed the situation as quickly as I could. Time was not available for reaching the bathrooms down the path. Together she and I hastily determined that the only thing to do was for her to sit over the edge of the wagon and let nature take its course.

I imagine she has retold that story to her own children and grandchildren in the time since the early ’70s.

——

Camping with Jill’s son and family, we were startled when their dog, Balto, who was named after a famous sled dog, appeared on the road chasing a pickup while dragging a large log behind him attached to his dog chain.

Another time, we were camping as we traveled to Baltimore; and as I went to get some wood from a pile set up for that purpose, I saw a sign that said, “Beware of Snakes.” Well, at that time, we had no tent and I slept beside the car under a tarp. Imagine now myself, Jill and Mike all crowded inside our VW Dasher. The gearshift lever on the floor was a big challenge.

Then there was the time Jill’s brother-in-law decided to sleep on the top of the picnic table in the campground. When he awoke in the morning, he looked down to see a skunk sitting on his feet. Hmm, he escaped dire consequences even though he threw a shoe at the animal.

And finally, we have a large two-room tent whose main room has a waterproof floor. The plastic extends up the sides a couple of inches and provides ample protection under most circumstances. On a camping trip, we set up the tent; but the ground was pretty uneven. Wouldn’t you know but a storm blew in that night, and the rain and lightning were severe. Soon the rain made its way into our room, and air mattresses were of no help. Couple that with lightning strikes close by, and we chose to sleep in the back of our Blazer. The storm passed but, the Blazer was actually quite comfortable.  Well, sort of.

THE EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Creating Our Study Guides

Educator Advisory Board members spend summers creating our study guides

If you were to ask the teachers in our Educator Advisory Board, “What did you do over summer break?”, they’d report that they’d spent significant time volunteering for Park Square Theatre’s education program. More specifically, they’d tell you that they were busy creating the study guides for the upcoming season’s student matinee plays. Because these study guides are actually produced by educators experienced in teaching 7th to 12th graders, they are mindfully designed to not just be grade-appropriate for our targeted audiences, but dynamically usable, as well. While our materials are ready for use, they can also be specifically adapted for particular class usage (we can provide a PDF file for you to modify); our materials are additionally designed with different types of learners in mind (e.g., visual, text-oriented, physical, etc.).

Last summer, I got to sit in on a few study guide creation sessions for an insider’s view on how it gets done. (I specifically observed sessions for the Flower Drum Song and Macbeth study guides.) A separate committee was created for each play that needed a study guide, and someone in each committee served as Editor (or Co-Editors). Education Director Mary Finnerty held an Editor’s training session to cover editor responsibilities, challenges of editing and style sheet expectations before the committees met.

The committee meetings consisted of three two-hour meetings per play to match the three steps in the process:

Meeting 1 – Discuss the play and what contents the teacher will need to prepare their students and assign who will write each article or activity.

Meeting 2 – Look at drafts of the materials and assess structure, approach and audience.

Meeting 3 – Proofread articles for grammatical correctness, parallel structure, consistent formatting and following of the style sheet.

As you can see, much of the volunteers’ tasks–namely, research and writing–were independently completed before being reviewed by their group as a whole.

When asked what inspired them to do this work, committee members provided a variety of reasons:

“After bringing students to a play, I was impressed by the Park Square Theatre guides. They were better than any I’d seen from other theatres. Other guides are often designed for college students or theatre aficionados instead of for students’ first exposure to theatre.”

Educator Advisory Board members in a meeting to look at study guide drafts.

“I believe in Park Square Theatre’s Education Program. It’s extremely strong. I work for the Folger Shakespeare Library in D.C., consulting on educational materials and leading teacher workshops nationwide. I am very passionate about Shakespeare.”

“I feel like being in this group and going through drafting and peer evaluations of lesson plans and the study guide makes me a better teacher. I also use a lot of ideas that come out of our meetings in the classroom.”

“This is interesting work that encourages me to look at plays more deeply, and I also benefit from the other advisory board members who bring their ideas for working with students.”

“I’ve always loved theatre. I think that theatre is an interdisciplinary art form, and I love to teach in an interdisciplinary way. Theatre talks about everything.”

“I’m not able to get involved in theatre. I don’t have a background in it. But I know how to create curriculum. This is a way to get involved.”

Sacrificing part of their summers to create study guides for classroom use reflects the deep commitment that the Educator Advisory Board has for theatre, their profession and the young people ultimately impacted by their work. In essence, it’s a generous gift of love that gets passed forward many times over. Thank you from the bottoms of our hearts.

——

 

NOTE: A study guide can be accessed by selecting a particular play at https://parksquaretheatre.org/education/education-matinees-2017-18/.

 

(To learn more about the Educator Advisory Board, also read the past post “A HISTORY OF OUR EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Teachers Helping Teachers.”)

A Fishy Camping Tale (Yet They Are Still Married)

From September 15 to October 22, Park Square Theatre presents the American premiere of the international hit Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on its Proscenium Stage. This hilarious comedy by Canadian playwright Michele Riml features Twin Cities actors John Middleton and Carolyn Pool as spouses Henry and Alice, two inexperienced campers who rely on a copy of Camping for Dummies to survive their ordeal.

Camping in the Great Outdoors can certainly be a terrific bonding experience amongst loved ones; but more often than not, it gives you some of the funniest memories to cherish. During the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share those submitted to our blog.

Here’s Christine of Kenyon, Minnesota, sharing a story about a camping trip with Dave, her partner of over 30 years:

Let’s get this straight right out of the starting gate. I am not a great camper. Given the choice, I would sleep in places that have ice machines and sheets and do not feature wood ticks or chiggers.

However, my husband Dave is the poster boy for camping enthusiasm. He could be a 1950s Walt Disney camping dad. He has hiking boots. He wears red flannel checked shirts. He dips his matches in wax before we go so they will stay dry. Campfires are like TV to him, and things that might dampen another person’s spirit hardly register in his mind. He doesn’t notice there are squiggly things on the bottom of a lake, and finding a leech on your foot leaves him unimpressed.

Dave loves camping so much that he will build the fire, cook all the food, haul all the gear in and out of the van, put up the tent and not be mad when you don’t want to hike AGAIN today, preferring to read your lurid vacation books at the picnic table while brushing the ants and jumping spiders off yourself.

Dave also loves to fish. If you talk to Dave about camping, fishing always comes up. I believe he is unaware that one could camp somewhere and NOT fish. Camping triggers the fishing lure (if you will). His eyes will glaze over, and he will begin to describe in detail the sheer nirvana of eating fish every day, fresh out of the lake. This man who cannot find ketchup in a grocery store and forgets to pack pants in his suitcase (when we go somewhere normal) is unfailing at remembering the cast iron fry pan, oil and cornmeal for frying fish.

This is a true story. It happened in the late 1980s. Camping then was particularly hard for a gal of my temperament. Regular folk did not have cell phones or little TVs. Laptops were unknown. We made fire with wood and charcoal briquettes and did not have fancy pop up tents or hats with mosquito nets on them. You don’t really need to know this historical detail, but I wanted to get credit for how brave I was then. I love my husband, and it was his birthday. So we went camping at Lake Texana, Texas–in the tent section because Dave is much too manly a man to succumb to an RV.

The minute we got the tent set up and our stuff unpacked, Dave went fishing on the dock. It had been a long trip, so we were going to have bratwurst for supper and, hopefully, fish for breakfast. We figured Dave had an hour to fish; then we should eat and get a good night’s sleep. I got out salad, onions and buns and put the brats on skewers. When all was ready, I walked over to the dock where Dave was fishing. Beaming, he showed me his stringer with four big “Sunnies” and assured me we would indeed have fish for breakfast. After effusive admiration of the fish, I told him it was time for supper.  Grumbling just a little bit, he gathered up his things and came back to the campsite with me.

When we approached our camp site, there was a flurry of furry movement hurrying into the bushes. The brats were gone. The end of the skewers were chewed, the salad had been tossed on the ground and all the walnuts in it had been carefully picked out and eaten. We found the empty bun bag torn and mangled near some bushes leading into a wooded thicket. There were bite marks on the mustard bottle.

Dave told me not to worry.  He could fry up the fish in no time. I think I saw a tiny gleam of masculine provider satisfaction in his eye. Maybe after supper, he said, he could do a little night fishing and get more fish for breakfast. His shoulders were broad and his demeanor proud as he strode off to the dock to get his stringer of fish. Moments later, he was back, empty handed. It seems there are alligators in Lake Texana. Apparently, alligators like a convenient meal of fish served to them all in one spot. Undaunted, we had trail mix for supper. After that, Dave went back out and came home all smelly and happy with a bucket of fish. He secured the bucket with a cover and a rock on top.

The next morning, we found a big wet spot where the bucket had been toppled. There was no sign of the fish. We did see paw prints and drag marks leading towards the thicket of trees and bushes near our spot. We had egg salad sandwiches from the cooler for breakfast.

Dave went on a hike. He likes to hike in the woods. He brings home a lot of trophies from his hikes: feathers, craggy pieces of wood, wood ticks, rocks which he claims are agates. We had lunch, and Dave went out to rent a rowboat. When he returned, we had a short negotiation in which his goal was to get me in the boat and go fishing all afternoon. My goal was to define “afternoon” and to secure a promise that, even if the fish were “biting” we would go to shore within 15 minutes of any announcement from me that I needed to find a bush to hide behind. A deal was struck; and after an exciting 12 weeks (or it could have just been three hours) of sitting in the wet rowboat, we had another bucket of fish and were back on the dock. The dock had a fish cleaning station so Dave cleaned our catch and brought the cleaned fish back and put them in our Styrofoam cooler instead of the bucket. He wedged the cooler tightly under the bench of the heavy picnic table, further securing it with several BIG rocks. We flip flopped down to the camp showers to rinse the smelly fish and grime off. When we came back, the cooler was still firmly wedged under the picnic bench. It had not budged an inch.  It had a lot of little raccoon paw prints all over the surface. A hole had been chewed out of one corner. When opened, it revealed more paw prints and no fish. We had baked potatoes for supper.

The next morning, Dave was out fishing early. By the time I made coffee, he was back with more fish cleaned and ready to fry. He put them in our heavy-duty plastic cooler–the one with the latch. In a rare moment of mean spiritedness, I saw him rub the latch with a cut jalapeno pepper. He went to get cleaned up, and I did a quick search for wood for the fire. We were gone 10 minutes. I was in woods about 100 feet from our site when I heard Dave say something in a loud voice. Never mind what he said exactly. You don’t need to know every detail.

Apparently, the raccoons of Lake Texana are not in the least thwarted by a simple cooler latch. The cooler had been ravaged. It was cooler Armageddon. The egg salad Tupperware was destroyed, the butter completely gone except for a tiny wad of chewed up paper. Two withered grapes were left on a remaining grape stem. All the cheese and lunch meat were gone, not even a shred of plastic wrap to mark their existence. Bottles of beverages lay in a blast zone-like pattern surrounding the cooler. You might wonder if, when finding the smorgasbord of delicacies that inhabit a camping cooler, those hoodlum raccoons would leave the local lake fish out of sheer boredom. You would be incorrect.

We are not stupid. We cleaned up the site and tossed the Styrofoam cooler.  Our main cooler and our non-cooler bag of food were in the van. We went for a hike and found a clearing with some beautiful tame deer that people were feeding by hand. Enthralled, I went back to the van to get the enormous camera we had in those days.

Approaching the van, I noticed a torn bag of corn chips dangling from the front window. The window we had left cracked about an inch so as not to be roasted alive in the blazing Texas heat should we want to go somewhere. THAT window. The size of the opening of the window was calculated to frustrate and defeat fish theft.

A few yards away, a gang of chipmunks were attempting to be invisible by sitting absolutely still in a little nest of mauled corn chip bags. I told them how shocked and disappointed I was in them. They did not seem in the least sorry.

We drove to a nearby town for lunch and to restock our supplies. That evening, I made “hobo stew” while Dave went fishing. If you don’t know, hobo stew is vegetables and meat of your choice wrapped in many layers of aluminum foil and then baked on your campfire coals in the aluminum packets. While I was sitting on guard of those packets, Dave took the rowboat out. I used my time judiciously, applying dots of calamine lotion to all my mosquito bites and unidentified itchy spots. My pale green capris complemented the pink polka dots covering my arms and legs. I was sure I was making a breakout fashion statement.

Dave returned triumphant, and we locked the evening’s catch in the cooler, in the van.  Unfortunately, after securely closing the door, we had a flurry of door openings and closings due to the need for “Nana-Ramas,” a treat that we felt we had coming to us.  Nana-Ramas are a banana with one strip of the peel pulled off, the banana split down the length, with chunks of chocolate (dark is better) squished in the split, a sprinkling of pecans and a spoonful of orange marmalade rubbed on the top. Wrap it in foil. Bake in the coals. There are lots of variations on this theme. My point is someone left the back of the van where the cooler was secured, unsecured. We are easily distracted by chocolate.

The next morning was spent cleaning out the back of the van where food goo and muddy raccoon prints were abundant, then getting the van jumped because of the dead battery due to the dome light, followed by going through a car wash for the vacuum and upholstery cleaning features. After that, we had brunch in town and went grocery shopping again. In the grocery store, I suggested we buy some fish to save us the trouble of going out again. This suggestion was not good for our marriage.

The next batch of fish were stolen straight out of the bucket WHILE WE WERE STANDING IN OUR CAMPSITE. (Okay, at the edge of the site, behind the van; but still, we were right there.) The park ranger had stopped by for a friendly chat just before leaving to go home. Our backs were turned, but I heard the bucket make a “whump” noise and looked over just in time to see a gang of furry hoodlums snatching up the fish and making a beeline for the bushes.

On our last full day, Dave had a determined air about him. We were leaving the next morning. This was his last chance to fulfill my dream of having fresh fish. I attempted to say something along the lines of “I’m just as happy with bacon and eggs,” but his lips were pressed together all thin and pinched. Being no fool, I agreed with him that this fresh fish business was my heart’s desire. I said I would make coleslaw and cut up some lemons. I should tell you now that we have been married over 30 years, and I fully credit my fish-friendly remarks to the success of our relationship. Don’t be led astray by advice from popular sources, such as daytime TV or women’s magazines. Chanel No. 5 can’t hold a candle to the smell of fried fish on your fingertips.

Dave packed a lunch for himself and spent the day in the rowboat. I didn’t see him until about 6 pm. I could tell from 200 feet away that he had been successful. He was covered in sweat and fish scales. He got a little six-pack-sized cooler out of the van and filled it with ice and cleaned fish. He started the fire. I noticed that he had one knee on the little cooler. Sitting a bit downwind of him, it occurred to me to offer to watch the fish cooler while he took a shower. I refrained from making any remarks with the word “stinky” in them. Just call me supportive. I know he trusts me, but that night Dave took the cooler with him to the camp showers. I am told he had it in the shower with him.

We did have fresh fish for supper. We watched the fire and talked about how great the fish was and about other glories and mysteries of life. Dave looked ten years younger. The little cooler was at Dave’s side, under his elbow. There were enough remaining fish filets for a hardy breakfast. These had been lovingly rinsed a second time, sealed in a plastic bag, and the little cooler had been refilled with ice.

Just before sunrise, I woke to the sound of quiet chirps and gentle rustling noises.  I looked at the tent door and saw a little grey paw patting the floor of the tent in a big fan pattern. The paw pulled out of the tent, and a little snout was thrust inside.  The snout veered toward the little cooler. Dave had brought it in the tent with us and put it near our feet. Chirping and rustling continued outside the tent. The tent door (zipper) was being tampered with, the little paws reaching now in the direction of the cooler! I moved the cooler up near the middle of the tent. I was being quiet, but the intruders panicked at my movement and scampered off.

In the morning, we found paw prints all over the van door, the back of the van, the tent entrance, the picnic table and around the campfire. Dave’s fishy jeans were lying in the grass halfway from our site to the wood thicket. His fish-scale bedecked t-shirt was gone.

We had a hearty breakfast of fish for breakfast. Dave looked every bit the conquering hero.

After breakfast, Dave decided he would look for his “lucky” t-shirt one more time before we left. A bit later, he came back to our campsite and got me. He led me into the thicket of woods, past the bush barrier. There, strewn in a giant oval, were the shreds of hundreds, yes HUNDREDS of empty food containers: bread bags, bun bags, pizza boxes, chips bags, occasional cereal boxes, peanut butter jars, Tupperware and random food tins. It was awesome.  It was the elephant’s graveyard of raccoon booty.  It was the lost city of Raccoon Gold. We were the Howard Carters to the Raccoon Tut burial chamber. It was a testament to the unparalleled food thievery powers that define the raccoon essence. We were humbled in the presence of these masters. We gave up the search for his lucky fishing t-shirt. It would have taken years.

Even with this loss, Dave smiled all the way home. At one point, kind of out of the blue, he said, “Boy, they really know what they’re doing.” He didn’t say a lot more, but I had the impression that losing all those fish no longer rankled now that he understood the scope of his opponent’s powers.

A HISTORY OF OUR EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Teachers Helping Teachers

At the backbone of Park Square Theatre’s robust Education Program is the Educator Advisory Board. This working board is comprised of secondary educators whose passion for theatre compels them to volunteer their personal time to ensure that our program serves our young patrons well.

Having been a teacher herself, Education Director Mary Finnerty did not hesitate to ask for help from teachers when she started Park Square’s Education Program in 1994. She knew that the program’s effectiveness relied on keeping a pulse on what was happening in classrooms. A strong program had to offer relevant and engaging programming with usable supporting materials. Who better to ask for input than teachers themselves? Hence, the Educator Advisory Board was formed in December 1994 and consisted of four members. Together, they created the study guide for Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the only production for students that season.

By the following year, membership had grown to ten teachers who gave practical advice on how best to handle ticket disbursement, disruptive students and much more. They met once a month and wrote the study guide for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as well as discussed future programming.

In 1997, the now 14-member advisory board created a new event called “Teacher’s Night Out.” It was a fun way to introduce the Education Program to teachers with an insider’s look at the season’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. One hundred teachers attended the first “Teacher’s Night Out” which remains an annual event, grown in popularity to require a guest wait list. The special evening begins with a complimentary glass of wine before “An Insider’s Look at Park Square Theatres’ Education Program: A Teacher’s Take on the Season,” which is followed by Build a Moment where teachers see how a scene from a play evolves from page to stage. A delicious catered dinner is then served before teachers see the play’s full performance.

With ever more teachers volunteering to help promote and support the Education Program, it experienced huge growth in 1998, attracting about 7,200 students to see Of Mice and Men with 3,600 to take part in its Immersion Days, consisting of workshops and demonstrations to further deepen students’ learning experience at Park Square.

It was time to consider how to expand student matinee offerings beyond one show per season, which Park Square Theatre started doing in 1999 with The Miracle Worker, Taking Sides and Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). About 16,000 students participated in the Education Program that year.

And, as the saying goes, “The rest is history!” Currently, over 30,000 students visit Park Square Theatre each year to participate in our award-winning education program. The Educator Advisory Board continues to advise Mary on programming, scheduling, logistics, discipline policies and workshop topics and artists as well as produce our study guides and organize education events. Park Square Theatre is so grateful for its hard work and dedication. Thank you for your invaluable support!

 

(Look out for the upcoming post “THE EDUCATOR ADVISORY BOARD: Creating Our Study Guides”)

——-

 

Current Educator Advisory Board Members:

Marcia Aubineau, University of St. Thomas, retired; Liz Erickson, Rosemount High School; Theodore Fabel, South High School; Craig Farmer, Perpich Center for Arts Education; Amy Hewett-Olatunde, LEAP High Schools; Cheryl Hornstein, Freelance Theatre and Music Educator; Alexandra Howes, Twin Cities Academy; Dr. Virginia McFerran, Perpich Center for Arts Education; Kristin Nelson, Brooklyn Center High School; Mari O’Meara, Eden Prairie High School; Jennifer Parker, Falcon Ridge Middle School; Maggie Quam, Hmong College Prep Academy; Kate Schilling, Mound Westonka High School; Jack Schlukebier, Central High School, retired; Tanya Sponholz, Prescott High School; Jill Tammen, Hudson High School, retired; Craig Zimanske, Forest Lake Area High School

 

NOTE: If you are interested in joining, please contact Mary Finnerty at 651.767.8494 or finnerty@parksquaretheatre.org.

Another Funny Camping Story: The World’s Worst RV Park

From September 15 to October 22, Park Square Theatre presents the American premiere of the international hit Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on its Proscenium Stage. This hilarious comedy by Canadian playwright Michele Riml features Twin Cities actors John Middleton and Carolyn Pool as spouses Henry and Alice, two inexperienced campers who rely on a copy of Camping for Dummies to survive their ordeal.

Camping in the Great Outdoors can certainly be a terrific bonding experience amongst loved ones; but more often than not, it gives you some of the funniest memories to cherish. Before and during the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share some humorous camping stories submitted to our blog. Be prepared to laugh until your stomach hurts after reading this one from Calvin of Asheville, North Carolina:

Calvin, Zach and Isaac before their horrible camping experience.

After riding our loaded bicycles since dawn in the 90+ degree heat, we stopped at the World’s Worst RV Park in East Cape, Ilinois, at about 7 o’clock. I was so hot and tired and fried from riding all day in traffic that I was ready to camp in the gutter. Maybe that’s why the dusty gravel parking lot that was supposed to pass for a campground looked OK to me. When I get really exhausted, my mind is less than keen. Blinded by the sun, I felt my way into the A-frame office, where a woman with a big black wig told me it would cost us $21 to pitch our tent under a leafless tree 20 yards from the highway. Wanting desperately to avoid crossing a busy bridge just down the road during rush hour, I forked over the dough. By the time we set up our tent, we knew we should have kept going, even though we had already ridden 70 miles. Steady traffic from IL Highway 3 assaulted us with noise, dust and fumes. A bouquet of sewage wafted out from under the bathhouse we were camping behind.

“We paid $21 for this dump?” Zach said. “We could get a motel for $30.”

“If we could make it over the bridge without getting killed,” I said.

He snorted. “The smell alone’ll kill us by morning.”

“This is what hell’s gonna be like,” added Isaac.

I bloodied my leg killing a mosquito and walked over to the pay phone on the wall of a car wash on the other side of the parking lot. The receiver of the phone was so hot I could barely pick it up. I stood sweating in the late afternoon sun talking to my wife Maria.

“We’re in an RV park a mile from the Mississippi.”

“That’s great! I can’t believe how far you’ve gotten. What’s all that noise?”

“Could be all the traffic on the highway we’re camped beside,” I told her. “Or maybe the boys kicking the drink machine?”

“How’re you feeling?”

I took a deep breath. “This has been one of the worst days so far. Hot, tons of traffic, incredibly awful camping spot, right by the outhouse. We’re all ready to come home before we kill each other.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll bet it’ll be better once you get back on some better roads.”

“Hope so. We gotta get through Cape Girardeau before we find any better roads.”

“How you gonna get across the river?” Maria asked.

“Bridge is only a mile away. we’ll cross early in the morning before the traffic heats up.”

“Be careful!”

“My middle name.”

We showered in the foul-smelling bathhouse and swatted at mosquitoes while we ate spaghetti and French bread again for what seemed like the hundredth time in a row. The dust settled on my sweaty body and transformed me into a Cape Buffalo.

“This sucks,” said Isaac. “I’m going home.”

“I may go with you,” I said.

“We should have gotten a motel,” said Zach.

Craving sugar, the boys walked across the highway to a restaurant. They returned with six huge slices of homemade blueberry, coconut creme, lemon chess and cherry pies.

Darkness, usually a sign of bedtime, brought to life bright sodium lights that lit up the inside of our tent like a police spotlight. If we zipped up the tent, it got hot as an oven. If we left it open, the bugs feasted on our sugared flesh. We spent a miserable night listening to heavy trucks grind toward the bridge to Missouri, swatting bugs and trying to find a dark spot in the brightly lit tent. We were too depressed even to listen to the radio. It was a lousy end to a long, hard day. The boys complained a little, but then Zach fell asleep and Isaac got quiet, too.

After a night of sweating in the hot tent by the busy highway under the bright lights enveloped by the stench of the bathroom, I knew the World’s Worst RV Park, in East Girardeau, Illinois, had taken its rightful place amongst the worst camping experiences of my life. I lay awake in my self-made hell, waiting for sleep or dawn, whichever might find me first.

Rachel Wandrei: Passion, Idealism and Dedication

In June, Rachel Wandrei joined Park Square Theatre as its full-time Marketing and Engagement Manager, and she hasn’t stopped smiling since. She loves her new job, which involves helping to promote Park Square and finding effective avenues toward community engagement.

Like many theatre professionals, Rachel grew up in love with theatre. Her first theatrical crush was on the musical Chess, which she saw at the age of five. Her affinity for the stage continued to strengthen as she watched each of her four older sisters perform in school musicals.

“I wanted to be a star!” said Rachel with a hearty laugh.

Fast forwarding many years later, Rachel earned a bachelor’s degree in Music and Opera Performance from Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio and continued study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. After realizing she wanted something more than a life on stage, she started working in restaurants where she discovered her knack for management. After a few years in Boston, she moved back to be closer to family in her native Minnesota and continued working in restaurants, including the Bryant Lake Bowl and Barbette.

“Here I was, a woman trained as an artist but with a natural affinity for systems, strategies and spreadsheets. I’d been classically trained, used to discipline and routine. I understand artists but am rooted in the concrete: How do we do it? Is it feasible and possible?” Rachel said. “Then I suddenly had an epiphany moment! Can I do theatre/musical arts and management?”

Rachel “tested the waters” of her newfound interest by interning at Forecast Public Art, which describes itself as “a nonprofit arts organization that connects the energies and talents of artists with the needs and opportunities of communities.” This internship, as well as extensive networking, opened her eyes to what Rachel referred to as “the concept and potential of creative placemaking.”

“I had jumped from being Rachel as the opera person,” she said, “to becoming the restaurant person to contemplating ways that art can be integrated into community development–for theatre to play a role in society, to foster civic dialogue and to make the world a better place.”

At Forecast Public Art, Rachel became a project manager for Making It Public, a workshop for artists who are new to working in public art learn how to do it. (Rachel, in fact, continues her involvement with Making It Public and will be a co-facilitator this fall.)

With her newfound passion, what was Rachel’s next logical step? To attend Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota for a master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management. This is where, according to Rachel, “I learned about the entire nonprofit arts ecosystem. I do not have a specific accounting or marketing degree, but I learned about marketing, fundraising, finance and how they all fit together and how all the moving pieces connect to make the theatre run.”

While earning her degree, she worked as the administrative manager for Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, a small performance troupe started in 1998, and as company manager for Mixed Precipitation’s Picnic Operetta, a company she’d sung with previously. She also came to know Park Square’s Executive Director Michael-jon Pease, whose alma mater is Saint Mary’s, as a student in a class that he was teaching there. They’d hit it off, and she steadily learned more about Park Square through his class lectures. “I’d been to Park Square before, seeing Words By…Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook, but it was through Michael-jon’s class that I learned how forward thinking Park Square is.” Eventually, Pease invited her to fulfill her degree requirement of a residency at Park Square Theatre, which she did as part of the Development, not Marketing, team.

“That’s how I got immersed in Park Square Theatre,” Rachel said. “I loved their approach to theatre and different kinds of plays to promote community engagement–plays such as this coming season’s Dot and Cardboard Piano. Plus I’d been with really small companies and was drawn to a bigger place, but not to a place so big that you don’t have a voice. Park Square has big dreams and the stability, systems and resources to move into the 21st century.”

Having already built a relationship with Park Square Theatre, Rachel was deemed a perfect fit for the organization. Only two months into her job, she’s been steadily busy with mailings, social media tasks, hosting events and taking on the diversity and inclusion elements once handled by former Artistic Programming Associate Jamil Jude, who has moved on to True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta. While the latter can be rather daunting, Rachel is game to learn and help bring Park Square’s vision to fruition, saying, “This is vital work, and I am honored and delighted that I can be a part of it!”

Funny Camping Stories

John Middleton

From September 15 to October 22, Park Square Theatre presents the American premiere of the international hit Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on its Proscenium Stage. This hilarious comedy by Canadian playwright Michele Riml features Twin Cities actors John Middleton and Carolyn Pool as spouses Henry and Alice, two inexperienced campers who rely on a copy of Camping for Dummies to survive their ordeal.

Carolyn Pool

Camping in the Great Outdoors can certainly be a terrific bonding experience amongst loved ones; but more often than not, it provides some of the funniest memories to cherish. Before and during the run of Henry and Alice, I’ll share some of the humorous camping stories submitted to our blog. Here’s two to start you chuckling:

One funny memory I have of our many camping experiences is one Memorial weekend when the girls were quite young. We went camping with our family of four and Ed’s brother’s family of four.

Shortly after we had all retired to our tents to go to sleep, a quite impressive thunderstorm began. In the middle of the night, with the storm still raging, our youngest said in a tiny little voice, “Papa, I have to go to the bathroom.”

Ed tried to talk her into a quick pee outside of the tent, given the weather conditions, but she was having none of that. She wanted to walk to the outhouse to pee! So they donned their rain gear and headed for the outhouse.

Upon their return, Ed shared that there were literally RIVERS running through the campground, almost constant lightning lighting up the sky and incredible wind. We stuck it out in our tent until morning and as the sun came up and we poked our heads out of our tents, we realized the extent of the storm. Trees were down everywhere; you could see remnants of where the “rivers” had flowed through the campground and the lake level had risen almost a foot overnight! It was quite the thing to see!

But, when you have to pee, you have to pee. I was grateful she’d asked for “Papa” and not “Mama”!

——-

My family camped throughout the first week of our two-week road trip out West. We were staying at KOA campsites with modern facilities (mostly hot showers and bathrooms with toilets). It was a far cry from diehard camping in the wilderness. Yet, the first night that we spent in a hotel room, my daughter had an immediately strong reaction to its king-sized bed:

 

(Look out for further posts of Funny Camp Stories!)

Henry and Alice: Before the Sequel

With the Minnesota Fringe Festival revving up, it seems apt that Park Square Theatre will soon afterwards start its 2017-2018 season with Henry and Alice: Into the Wild. It is Canadian playwright Michele Riml’s sequel to Sexy Laundry, which got its start in the 2002 Vancouver Fringe Festival, ultimately playing at regional theatres across Canada as well as being produced in Great Britain, Germany, South Africa and the United States. Sexy Laundry played on our Proscenium Stage, proving to be a smash hit during Park Square’s 2014-2015 season. Although both laugh-out-loud comedies are centered around the plight of spouses Henry and Alice, each play can be seen as a standalone. It’s not necessary to have seen Sexy Laundry first.

For those who’d missed its Park Square production, Sexy Laundry is about a middle-aged couple trying to put some romantic spark back into their 25-year marriage with a weekend getaway at a fancy hotel, sans their three children. Henry really doesn’t want to be there; he’d rather keep the status quo. But Alice is revved to go, arming them with a copy of Sex for Dummies for inspiration. Although a comedy, Sexy Laundry also reveals the serious undertones within the relationship of old-marrieds.

In April 2012, Riml continued the story of the longtime couple in Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, which also became an international hit. This time, the pair try to reinvigorate their marriage through a low-budget camping trip, foregoing their usual summer cottage in order to reduce costs after Henry has lost his job of 30 years. With a copy of Camping for Dummies in tow, they are ready to rough it and continue to navigate life’s unexpected challenges together.

In an interview with Nick Miliokas for Backstage at the Globe, Riml cited a camping trip with a high school friend in North Vancouver and their sons as the inspiration for Henry and Alice: Into the Wild. Although the trip ended well, the first day was horrendous with a trailer refusing to shift gear into reverse and a ferocious windstorm that caused them to ditch their tent to sleep in the car.  (Source: “Camping adventure inspired Henry And Alice: Into the Wild writer Michele Riml, January 14, 2013, globetheatreregina.wordpress.com).

Park Square Theatre’s production of Henry and Alice: Into the Wild will be its American premiere. Sexy Laundry’s director, Mary Finnerty, returns to direct this sequel. John Middleton reprises his role as Henry, and Carolyn Pool plays Alice. Melanie Wehrmacher plays Alice’s sister, Diana.

So come on out and camp with us anytime between September 15 and October 22. In the dark with just the stage lights glowing, we’ll tell you a story that will make you laugh hard enough to need to hold it in your seats.

 

Sexy Laundry

Charity Jones and John Middleton as Alice and Henry in Sexy Laundry during our 2014-2015 season
(photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

Remembering Virginia Burke

Virginia Burke

Were you in the audience for Park Square’s production Becky’s New Car in 2009? How about Rock’n’Roll, or Sherlock Holmes and the Jersey Lilly? Or perhaps you loved 2013’s Good People? If you saw any of these plays, you were witness to the remarkable talent of actress Virginia Burke, who passed away in early July only a month after being diagnosed with lung cancer. A frequent performer at many local companies including Frank Theatre, The Actors Theatre of Minnesota, and the Guthrie, she leaves behind a legacy of passion, creativity, and dedication to the theatre.

 

 

Virginia Burke in Becky's Car at Park Square Theatre

Becky’s Car

At Park Square, Burke performed in twelve productions spanning over twenty years.* Wherever she went, she stole the show or the scene. In 2009, Dominick Papatola wrote in the Pioneer Press, “I like Becky’s New Car — the new play by Steven Dietz now onstage at Park Square Theatre — quite a bit. But I love, love, love Virginia Burke’s performance in the title role.” He went on to describe her incredible performance, “her face has a thousand expressions — eyes bugged out in horror or squeezed shut in frustration; lips pursed in thinning patience or gnawed at in moral quandary; chin dipped in guilt or riding high with the excitement of new adventure.”

 

Virginia Burke in Rock 'N' Roll at Park Square Theatre

Rock ‘N’ Roll

 

Mary Finnerty directed Burke in Tom Stoppard’s Rock’n’Roll in 2010 and speaks fervently about all that Burke gave to Park Square, as well as the dedication of her mother, Virginia McFerran. “Whenever Gina was part of an education event at Park Square, she would break the mold and approach the students on a whole new level… utterly authentically — and they were riveted. When I told her she had a rare gift for connecting with teens, she winked, ‘Well… I still have a lot of adolescent left in me ya know, besides, my ma was the best teacher and director on the planet and I learned by watching her.’  Burke’s Mother, Dr. Virginia McFerran, has served for 13 years on the Park Square Teacher Advisory Board, editing and creating study materials and tirelessly brokering connections with Arts Educators. For McFerran, watching Gina onstage was transfixing and the joy it brought beyond description. “She was my theatre buddy. When I was writing, I would call and run a line by her and she would have great feedback. She was so wise… so talented.’”

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Jersey Lily

 

Burke performed in three of Park Square’s summer mysteries, and was first introduced to the theatre by her close friend Peter Moore, director of many shows including Might As Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, which just closed last weekend. In honor of her great contributions to Park Square and the greater Twin Cities theatre community, a seat in the proscenium theatre where she performed so many times will be dedicated to Virginia Burke this fall with her family present.

 

Thank you for sharing your talents with us, Virginia. Your spirit will always be alive in our hearts and on the stage.

*Virginia Burke Performed in Twelve Shows at Park Square from 1992 to 2013
2013  Good People (Margie)
2011  August Osage County (Barb)
2011  Sherlock Holmes and the Jersey Lily (Lily Langtry)
2010  The Last Seder (Jane)
2010  Rock ‘n’ Roll (Candida)
2010  Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure (Irene Adler)
2009  Becky’s New Car (Becky)
2009  Othello (Amelia)
2002  June Moon (Lucille)
1995  Merton of the Movies (The Montague Girl)
1993  On Borrowed Time
1992  Macbeth (Witch)

Personal Highlights of the Past Season

The Diary of Anne Frank at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018 - Actors playing Anne Frank & Father

It has been 75 years since Anne Frank was given a diary by her father. The Diary of Anne Frank remains a perennial favorite of school groups. This coming season, limited evening performances will also be available. (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Always, the Education Program

Park Square takes great pride in its Education Program for good reasons. It’s a powerfully transformative program, not just for its effect on its young audiences but also as an inspiration within our own organization. Mindfully created and led by the incomparable Mary Finnerty since 1994, the Education Program has often served as first exposure of professional theatre to young audiences. But you can see how it’s much more than that in such defining moments as when the lightbulb of understanding lit up for a student while Sulia Rose Altenberg, who played Anne Frank, answered his question as to why the Jews didn’t simply pretend to be Christians or the teacher of a Somali group explained that they came to be exposed to a broader community. Our Education Program provides a safe venue for our young patrons to grapple with self-discovery, self-definition and social interconnectedness. It has also been a catalyst for Park Square to consider those very same issues within its own walls. Impactful is only one adjective that best describes “The Program That Mary Built” (see the August 16, 2016, blog post).

A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018

A Raisin in the Sun knocked our socks off and will be back for another season by popular demand. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Staying In the Thick of It

Park Square Theatre, with its long-held reputation as a white mainstream institution, has had to do much organizational soul-searching to embrace change. Is having to grapple with equity, diversity and inclusion a long and messy process? Does building trust feel hard-won or, more aptly, simply hard? Do they sometimes get things wrong (and, of course, right)? Have they kept forging ahead? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Mu Performing Arts co-produced Flower Drum Song with Park Square Theatre and returns with another production in the upcoming season.

The Independents

Collaborations with smaller independent companies through its co-production of Flower Drum Song with Mu Performing Arts and productions by its Theatres in Residence–Sandbox Theatre, Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions–broadened the season’s scope. I loved the “one-stop shop” to be able to try out new companies and see what they’re all about. Look forward to French Twist by Flying Foot Forum and the return of Mu Performing Arts for A Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity in our upcoming season.

H. Adam Harris and Kathryn Fumie in this past season’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

Having been one of the volunteer script readers to consider this complex, time-jumping, contemporary play for production, it was exciting to see it finally come to fruition on stage. The thumbs up on the script was actually a tough call, surmising its challenge for audiences to grasp–both its pro and con. The play really made me think about the state of human relationships in our techno-world. Did it do the same for you? It also had one of the most beautiful sets ever by Set Designer Lance Brockman and moving performances by actors Kathryn Fumie, Adam Whisner and H. Adam Harris in roles that let their own true souls shine through their fictional facades. Hope you were there! Note: Contact John White, Literary Management Volunteer (white@Parksquaretheatre.org), to discuss your interest to become a volunteer script reader.

Jamil Jude with Hope Cervantes, who was in this past season’s The House on Mango Street
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude, Park Square’s former Artistic Programming Associate

When Jamil had just been on board for several months, someone asked me, “Do you even know what he does here?” Guess what a young man with an expansive heart and the passion to build bridges and break down walls has done within his relatively short time in the Twin Cities community? Break a leg at your new gig in Atlanta! (Refer to past blogs “Jamil Jude, Artist Plus,” “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?” and “Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You.”)

The Conversations That Became Real

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

In an industry that endlessly tries to grab a piece of you, remaining guarded is an act of self-care and self-preservation. You’re constantly navigating the minefields of others’ self-interests and being put in compromising situations. Who do you want to be in those circumstances? Who must you become? Who are you really? Whenever you get a glimpse into a theatre professional’s inner humanity, it’s a golden moment for sure! Theatre professionals rock!

Vincent HannamMy Fellow Bloggers

Getting Eric “Pogi” Sumangil on the team for this past season and blogging for another year with the wholehearted Vincent Hannam were awesome, to say the least. As the only blogger without a theatre background and career, following these two’s works online and onstage served as terrific learning tools. Each of us wrote around complex schedules due to multiple gigs and personal responsibilities. Thanks for being there!

 

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