Tickets: 651.291.7005

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Flying Foot Forum presents two nights of Works in Progress

While in residence at Park Square Theatre with French Twist, their homage to all things Parisian, Flying Foot Forum will also be presenting two nights of Works in Progress. On Mondays, July 2 and 9, at 7:30 pm Flying Foot Forum premieres their film-in-progress Split Rock Shuffle and a new work-in-progress for the stage based on Dreamland: The Novel by Kevin Baker. Company members will also introduce their own works in progress on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage. The entrance to this event is pay what you can.

The Glamorous Vampires in James J. Hill House
(Photo by Steve Campbell)

For the last two years, Flying Foot Forum has been steadily working on a new film project called Split Rock Shuffle, which follows dancer Galen Higgins during a wild day spent chasing and being chased by various people. The chase motif serves as the common connector to scenes filmed at many well-known Minnesota locales, such as the American Swedish Institute, James J. Hill House, St. Olaf College, Canal Park Lighthouse, SS William Irvin Freighter, Lake Superior Railroad Museum and, most significantly, Split Rock Lighthouse.

The Silly Chefs of La Cuisine at St. Olaf College
(Photo by Steve Campbell)

With Steve Campbell in tow as collaborator and camera man, Flying Foot Forum’s founder and artistic director Joe Chvala initiated the adventure to make this low budget/low tech film, learning as they went along. But Joe was not totally inexperienced, having worked in Italy during the summer of 2015 as a choreographer and dancer on a new feature film, Smitten, written and directed by the Academy Award-winning writer Barry Morrow. From that gig, Joe had picked up some useful technical know-how while himself steadily becoming smitten with filmmaking.

A feast for the eyes in “Split Rock Shuffle”
(Photo by Steve Campbell)

Joe’s approach was further influenced by the cinematic genius of French filmmaker, director, writer and actor Jacques Tati, whom Joe described as “the Charlie Chaplin of France, but not.” Tati managed to raise sight-gag comedy to a level of high art in his total of six feature and seven short films. You can also spot his influence in Tati-admirer Wes Anderson’s movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, which garnered nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, in 2014.

Besides Split Rock Shuffle, Flying Foot Forum will unveil yet another new work in progress–this one inspired by Dreamland, author Kevin Baker’s work of historical fiction set in early 20th-century New York during the Dreamland (a Coney Island amusement park) and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fires. In this case, audiences will experience a barebones staged reading with no sets or costumes.

Dreamland is a very timely story,” said Joe. “It’s about immigrants and people who are treated as outsiders by society and the terrible conditions they must struggle through in order to live. It’s about the illusion of a land of golden dreams and what people do when they realize that the promise of a dream land is not the reality of the world.”

Throughout each Monday evening, company members also plan to introduce their own new works in progress. These include a piece set to folk music by Karla Grotting, a tap-ballet combination by Jeremy Benussan, a flamenco dance by Molly Kay Stoltz, a drumming duet by Rush Benson and Charles Robison and more.

Be sure to catch Flying Foot Forum’s French Twist – Playing through July 15 – Information here

Come prepared to see the unexpected!

Pogi’s Back – in Baskerville!

Park Square favorite Eric “Pogi” Sumangil returns to the Proscenium Stage in Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing both Inspector Lestrade and Sir Henry Baskerville, among many roles. He caught up with blogger Vincent Hannam to share what excites him about this play and working in Twin Cities theatre.

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

What was your path to the Twin Cities and Park Square?
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I had some aspirations to go to college somewhere out of state, but ultimately decided to go to St. John’s University in central Minnesota. My freshman year, I wrote the annual comedy sketch at the Asian New Year celebration. Rick Shiomi, then Artistic Director of Theater Mu, performed at the same event with his Taiko group, and approached me afterward. I started taking workshops at Mu in Minneapolis over summer break and I stayed in touch until I graduated. I began auditioning around the Twin Cities, but for over a decade, getting cast in a show at Park Square eluded me. Suddenly, in 2016, I was cast in The Realistic Joneses, Flower Drum Song, and Macbeth in the same season.
What other work do you do around town?
I am a playwright and teaching artist, I also have done some event planning, marketing and social media, and administrative work, most recently for the Minnesota Theater Alliance. Otherwise, I work for a couple of food trucks around town as well: Bombon, and Fun Fare.

Sara Richardson, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, and McKenna Kelly-Eiding. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

This isn’t your first show at Park Square, so what keeps you coming back? What excites you most about this show?
Park Square is one of the few places in the Twin Cities that features performers of color in non-traditionally cast roles with relative consistency. It’s an opportunity for me to perform roles for which I might not be considered at many other theaters. While I believe that the theater work that is centered around identity is important, I also believe that as someone from a community of color that is often assumed to be foreign, it’s important for me as an actor to be seen in roles that don’t specifically address my ethnic origins.

This show is a classic story with a contemporary feel. It has an American sensibility to the humor, and the challenge of playing so many characters is going to be a lot of fun. I’m also excited to work with a female Holmes & Watson because they’ll both bring great things to those roles.

Ricardo Beaird, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Sara Richardson. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

What do you hope people come away with after watching it?
Accessibility, and relatability. The film & TV world is now trending toward rebooting past shows and movies, but that’s nothing new in the Theater business; there are adaptations all over the place with a new take or different spin on familiar stories. I’m hoping that people come away with a renewed interest in something that they may have dismissed as being old and irrelevant.

Beat the heat this summer and see Pogi in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing until August 5. Tickets can be found here!

Baskerville graphic - red text on white background

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

 

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AAROOOOO–The Dogs of Baskerville!

Mavis the golden-doodle

Imagine pouncing straight at you–out of the dark, murky moors–a monstrous, demonic dog from legend known as the Baskerville hound, described as “a creature from a nightmare, with blazing eyes and dripping jaws” in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. Baskerville–the very word elicits a spine-tingling shudder of terror, an urgent need to scream and, at Park Square Theatre from June 15 to August 5, an irrepressible desire to laugh.

Mavis and Keely Wolter

In the spirit of our very fun production of this classic Sherlock Holmes whodunnit, members of the cast, creative team and production department shared photos of their own hair-raising Baskerville dogs:

Beware of Mavis the four-year-old golden-doodle, who’s biggest threats, according to Dialect Coach Keely Wolter, are to sleep directly on top of her legs at night and attack unattended bowls of popcorn (her favorite).

Lilly and Laura Topham

If you’re not already scared silly, meet two-year-old Lilly. A German shepherd/Australian cattle dog mix rescued by Stage Manager Laura Topham, Lilly once scaled a five-feet-high chain link fence in hot pursuit of a rabbit.

Jasmine the boxer mix

Then there’s Jasmine, actor Marika Proctor’s “90% pitbull sweetness,” listed as a boxer mix at the Animal Humane Society. Doesn’t she look eager to–horror of horrors– lick your face?!?!

Actor Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, not a dog-owner himself, is an uncle to his sister’s pugs, Rupert and Lola. Rupert has since passed away but shared with Pogi the Instagram hashtag #Pugsimangot, which is a play on the Filipino word pagsimangot, meaning to frown or look grumpy. He was a bit deaf, very lazy and so mysteriously quiet.

Rupert and Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

Now it’s just Pogi and Lola mugging together. Unlike Rupert, she’s more active and mischievous, hopping up on chairs and eventually the table if no one’s looking, plus getting into things that she knows not to. Oh, and she’s stubborn to boot!

Lola the pug

Last but not least, is the most terrifying of all: honorary dog Ned, who may very well want to scratch my eyes out for deeming him as such. Proud black cat dad, Eli Sherlock (formerly Schlatter), Baskerville’s set designer, may also get slightly scratched up for describing Ned as a “weird and photogenic” cat of no specific breed that was initially found in a train yard and adopted by folks on the Barnum and Bailey circus tour; hence, earning Ned the affectionate moniker “Ned the Circus Cat.”

Ned the Circus Cat

What is the Baskerville hound? Is it even a dog? Is it even real? Or may it merely exist as a part of ourselves, as Holmes himself surmised (“The hound, he said, was deep in all of us, the part of our souls that is dark and troubling . . . .”)?

Presume nothing when you come to see Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville. Sit back and enjoy as you follow the scent with Holmes and Watson. You’re in for a doggone good time! Tickets and information here.

-By Ting Ting Cheng

 

 

 

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

Park Square Announces New Artistic Director

Theatre’s Third Artistic Leader Has Performed and Worked in Minnesota

 

Saint Paul, Minn., June 12, 2018 – Park Square Theatre announces the hire of its new Artistic Director – the third in the organization’s history – after a five-month national search that attracted 113 applications from across the country (22 from Minnesota) and two from the United Kingdom.

Park Square Theatre's Artistic Director Flordelino Lagundino — head and torso shot, wearing grey jacket, white shirt, and black necktie

Succession Committee Co-Chairs, Jewelie Grape and Nancy Feldman said, “We are simply thrilled to announce, after a unanimous vote from both the committee and the full board, that Park Square Theatre’s new John W. Harris Family Artistic Director is Flordelino Lagundino. His warm and generous spirit, commitment to artistic excellence, education and full inclusion make him the perfect choice to lead the next era of Park Square’s community impact.”

 

Richard Cook – who had his first directing/designing job with Park Square in 1975 and has been the artistic leader since 1980 – is thrilled with his successor. “Flordelino is both a theatre-maker and a company-builder, which builds on our history,” Cook said. “As a leader, he is ambitious for his fellow artists and professionals. Empathetic by nature, he listens intently and pulls people together to make things happen. He’s assisted such directors as Ping Chong and Lisa Peterson, with Amanda Dehnert, Davis McCallum and Kenny Leon on works ranging from STICKFLY to RICHARD II. He loves Shakespeare as well as the many working writers he’s performed and supported. I believe Flordelino will be able to honor all that’s best about Park Square while leading us to a new place: as a vigorously inclusive, leading-edge theatre-maker, deeply embedded in the Twin Cities – with a voice bigger than our size that can and deserves to be heard nationally. How promising and exciting!”

 

For his part, Flordelino, who starts work on August 1, 2018, says, “My vision for Park Square Theatre is to have impact with bold, theatrical events which surprise and transform our audiences. Together, we will build a theatre that represents us all; the story of inclusion will permeate every aspect of our organization – from the choice of plays (classical to contemporary), to the way we market our shows and sell our tickets, to faces that we see in our audience and how we interact with the community.”

“We will build this theatre with love,” says Flordelino. “Audiences will see it in the details and care we put into our productions. Students will feel it in how we welcome them into our theatre. The board will know it as they invite new friends to the hottest show in town. People who have been othered will see it when actors who look like them share their stories.”

Flordelino will have strategic overlap with Richard Cook, who retires on September 1 after 43 years with the company. An exhibition to celebrate the history and contributions of Park Square Theatre will be held at Landmark Center during the month of September 2018. It will open officially on Thursday, September 6 with an evening reception in honor of Richard Cook. The community will be invited to officially welcome Flordelino Lagundino at a reception in the exhibition on Wednesday, September 26.

 

FIRST “NAMED” ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

Thanks to a new major contribution to Park Square Theatre, the new Artistic Director’s official title will be “The John W. Harris Family Artistic Director.” “It is so exciting to have true community ownership of the new artistic director with John’s major gift,” said Michael-jon Pease, Park Square’s executive director. “Obviously, we’re taking a cue from our orchestra and university colleagues who have long traditions of named chairs. John’s gift is a major investment in this important transition from Richard’s legacy to a new generation. This named gift takes our ‘theatre for you (yes you)’ tagline to a whole new level!”

 

ABOUT FLORDELINO LAGUNDINO

Flordelino Lagundino is a NYC-based director, actor, and producer and currently the SDC Foundation Sir John Gielgud Classical Directing Fellow working at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. He worked in Minneapolis last year at The Guthrie, where he assistant directed BLITHE SPIRIT in 2017 and at Mixed Blood Theatre, where his performance in VIETGONE won an Ivey Award as part of “Best Ensemble.”

Lagundino is the artistic director of Generator Theater Company based in Juneau, Alaska and has served as the AD for Leviathan Lab in New York City, a creative studio whose mission is the advancement of Asian and Asian American (A/AA) performing artists and their work. He has also served as associate producer at La Jolla Playhouse, and was the founding producer of Romp of Otters (the graduate theater company at Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company).

In addition to being a recent Drama League New York Directing Fellow, Lagundino has been the recipient of directing fellowships at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Arena Stage, and The Kennedy Center. He has taught at Brown University, The University of Texas at Austin, The New School, and University of Alaska-Southeast.

Directing credits include: Sweeney Todd, Animals Out of Paper, Doubt, Yellowman, and Cedar House (Perseverance Theatre); Flipzoids, True West, The Reincarnation of Stories, title of show – co-director, and Shakespeare’s R&J (Generator Theater); Sweeney Todd (Juneau Symphony); and In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), Much Ado About Nothing, Stone Cold Dead Serious, and In the Blood (Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company).

He has also directed with International Theatre and Literacy Project at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, and has developed new work with Syracuse Stage, New Dramatists, The Lark, Pan Asian Rep, Perseverance Theatre, Arena Stage, Generator Theater, Leviathan Lab, and Brown University.

In addition to Mixed Blood Theatre, acting credits include The Old Globe, The Kennedy Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Perseverance Theatre, Pan Asian Rep, African Continuum Theatre Company, The Folger Theatre, ZACH Theatre, Young Playwrights’ Theater, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

He is a graduate of the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company MFA directing program, and of The University of Texas at Austin where he received an MFA in acting.

 

ABOUT THE SEARCH

Park Square retained Robin Gillette of Arts Progress LLC to manage the search. In fall 2017, Park Square Theatre’s succession committee launched a series of constituent interviews, including artists (directors, designers and actors), staff, funders and local artistic leaders. The goal was to hear from a variety of perspectives about the challenges and opportunities currently facing the theatre as well as seeking insight on the skills and qualities necessary and/or desirable for its next artistic leader.

“Before and during the process, input was sought from multiple stakeholders,” confirmed Robin Gillette. “At every stage of the process, the pool of candidates has been diverse, in terms of gender, age, race/ethnic origin, sexual orientation and geography (local vs national).” Board President Paul Mattessich confirmed that diversity was crucial to the committee, to avoid any pre-conceived notion of what Park Square’s next AD “should” be. “I’ve been involved in so many searches over my career,” said Mattessich, who is Executive Director of Wilder Research. “I’ve never seen a candidate pool that started – and remained – so diverse in every way. It just felt so natural. I really feel we achieved our goal to select the candidate best suited to work in tandem with Michael-jon Pease [Park Square’s Executive Director], to lead Park Square – its staff, board and artists – into the next era.”

 

HEADSHOT

HEADSHOT 2 (photos courtesy of Park Square Theatre)

flordelinolagundino.com

 

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Upcoming Events By Flying Foot Forum

Flying Foot Forum’s French Twist
(Photo by V. Paul Virtuccio)

The irrepressible percussive dance troupe, Flying Foot Forum, graces Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage in two ways this summer:

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, French Twist, a hit show previously performed in 2008 at the Guthrie, returns as a new production at Park Square from June 22 to July 15.

There will also be two Works in Progress nights, which are pay-what-you-can — Mondays, July 2 and 9, 7:30 pm — for audiences to view company members’ works in progress, including Flying Foot Forum’s own film project, Split Rock Shuffle.

Created as an incubator for percussive dance, Flying Foot Forum was founded by Joe Chvala, which only seems apt considering that his surname represents “understanding, imagination, cooperation, artistic talent, tact and patience.”* Joe still reacts with delighted amazement at the Forum’s longevity, though fans are decidedly less surprised.

Come to the cabaret of French Twist
(Photo by V. Paul Virtuccio)

French Twist is the right show to do to celebrate our 25th year because it represents so much of what we do,” Joe said. “It’s a showcase of the fun, crazy, comic and sentimental things that we do and offers a comprehensive picture of certain aspects of our work.”

The feel of the production is much influenced by Joe’s love of An American in Paris, the 1951 movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, which was the first musical he’d ever seen on screen at the tender age of nine.

“One summer, my parents–both teachers–got a grant to study in Ohio. They’d simply drop my seven-year-old sister and I off at the movie theater and go off to do what they had to do,” Joe recalled. “I loved the idealized picture of France–the rosy aspects of Parisian France–that the movie presented. There were so many different artists in the popular French culture of that period, and we were able to incorporate their influences through the cabaret format of our show. For instance, we give a nod to legendary actress and dancer Loie Fuller, who originated the Serpentine Dance, in one of our own dance numbers when the dancer’s long swirling fabric, with the use of colored stage lighting, dramatically unfurls into an impressionistic Paris sky.”

Although French Twist had been staged in the past, returning to it was like creating a new production. With new cast members joining some of the original ones, dances were altered to fit their personalities as well. The open structure of a cabaret additionally allowed for the reimagining of sets, scenes, dances and costumes.

A scene from Split Rock Shuffle
(Photo by Steve Campbell)

True to the ever-evolving spirit of Flying Foot Forum is also its current jump into filmmaking. You can sample their first effort during those two Monday evenings of works in progress, with a premiere of the latest cut of Split Rock Shuffle, which is somewhat of an homage to Minnesota.

“I love the magic of seeing movies and wanted to be involved in that,” said Joe. “In theatre, you do the show, and it’s over. The experience of each performance can’t be replicated, and recordings can’t capture the overall magic of them. With film, you can go back to watch or share it, plus reach a larger audience, now or even ten years later.”

La Cuisine in Split Rock Shuffle
(Photo by Steve Campbell)

But if you haven’t already experienced Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, be sure to do so now and not ten years from now! Innovative zaniness, fast-flying footwork, verbal calisthenics, side-splitting humor and breathtaking gorgeousness: that’s what to expect to top off your summer day.

Tickets and information about French Twist here.

* definition from www.meaningslike.com

Richard Cook: Boy with An Artistic Bent

“It’s just a run-of-the-mill story,” theatre professionals will often claim whenever I ask how they’d found their calling. But make them keep talking until dusty memories get re-aired, bringing back to light those personal details that, of course, reveal an extraordinarily unique journey. The response to my question from Richard Cook, who retires from a 43-year career with Park Square Theatre (38 as Artistic Director) after this season, was no exception. Luckily, he did keep talking.

“I was a boy with an artistic bent,” Richard began, “who grew up in a literate household in northwest Iowa. My mom was an English and Business teacher; my dad, a tenant farmer. Our house was always filled with magazines–professional journals, farming magazines . . . .

We raised livestock–mainly hogs–and lots of corn and beans. At first, we lived in a little house with no indoor plumbing until I was four. Then the landlord added an indoor bathroom. It was a truly rural existence, but what I remember is that our living room always had a piano which my dad–a great musician and singer, my older brother and I played.”

Richard Cook with Stage Manager Lindsey Harter during a rehearsal for The Diary of Anne Frank
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Growing up as a farm boy, Richard experienced hours of sitting behind a tractor, riding up and down the crop rows. These potential periods of grinding boredom were, for Richard, “my time to think about my reading or what I wanted to read.” During breaks, he’d pull out the Steinbeck novel or Reader’s Digest tucked under his seat.

“I’d also sing while driving the tractor,” Richard said. “Barbara Streisand tunes. I saw her first television performance on Johnny Carson. I loved her theatre tunes–storytelling tunes! I had a crush on her and knew her body of work from top to bottom.”

Richard attended what he described as an “extraordinarily sophisticated” school. Living near a Strategic Air Command headquarter during the Cold War, many of his classmates were world-traveled Air Force “brats” whom Richard recalled as being “very ambitious, competitive and talented so kept us local kids on our toes.” Unsurprisingly, science and technology were also well-funded at his school.

Discussion between Richard Cook and actors Sulia Altenberg and Ryan London Levin
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

“Theatre was almost nonexistent,” said Richard, “but we did have a terrific music room and band instructor. The choir master was also good. We held exceptional concerts and had a very competitive marching band.”

During his formative years as a teenager, three people deeply impacted Richard’s life: the local Methodist minister and his wife as well as his high school English and Speech teacher. The couple took Richard under their wings, the intellectually curious minister serving as a mentor and his wife sharing her interest in art and music. His teacher was that “cool person” who comes along just at the right moment in one’s life.

“She was a character,” Richard fondly recalled. “She had a hot little sports car and bouffant hairdo. She was the smartest, most articulate and sophisticated person I’d ever met, and she passed on to me all the speech and theatre techniques that she could.”

While attending the small liberal arts college of Morningside in Iowa, Richard planned to study theology to go into the ministry but was, instead, seduced away by theatre. He remembers the college as a “hothouse” for him and how he’d seek every opportunity to perform. Then as luck would have it, the University of Iowa was developing its first MFA in Theatre while Richard was a senior at Morningside and recruited him into their new program.

“I took the path of least resistance,” Richard admitted.

Little did he know then that may have been his last chance to do so for a very long time.

Richard’s official retirement date is September 1st, on his 70th birthday. “I am confident that there is an afterlife,” Richard joked, “and I’m excited to find out what it is.”

The Game’s Afoot with McKenna Kelly-Eiding!

When you take your seats at Park Square this summer, prepare to be delighted to a new mystery featuring the one and only Sherlock Holmes. Be sure to expect the unexpected, however, as this isn’t just any Holmes but one brought hilariously to life by local actor, McKenna Kelly-Eiding, as she uncovers the mystery on the moors with her trusty friend, Watson (Sara Richardson). Along the way, they will encounter dozens of allies and enemies in a madcap romp of adventure, suspense and humor!

Leading the pack, of course, is Kelly-Eiding who is making her Park Square Theatre debut with Baskerville. While originally from warm Los Angeles, her roots run cold as her parents met in Minneapolis and she grew up to attend the University of Minnesota/Guthrie BFA program, where she graduated in 2013. In fact, her parents are theatre vets themselves, having worked at such theaters as Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Brave New Workshop and Theatre in the Round (where they happened to meet!).

As for Kelly-Eiding, she was just seen in the very successful production of The Wolves over at the Jungle Theater. When not performing on local stages, she can be find making ends meet with a variety of different jobs. Now, however, the games afoot with Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville, which fell onto her plate after auditioning and speaking with director, Theo Langason.

So what is it like playing the world’s most famous detective? Kelly-Eiding states:

Sherlock is fascinating to me- I remember first being introduced to the genre through ‘The Great Mouse Detective’. I also love the Benedict Cumberbatch series. Ken Ludwig compares Sherlock and Watson to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza which I love- their relationship is one of my favorite elements of the entire mythology. The way they balance and challenge and learn from each other is really inspiring and often so, so funny.

That humor, ultimately, is what she wishes audiences go home with. Inspiring others to laugh is one of her favorite parts of being an actor, as well as sharing the joyful experience of theatre.

Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs June 15 – August 5, closing the 2017-2018 season at Park Square Theatre. You can buy those tickets online here, and considering just how much joy there’s bound to be, I’d recommend doing so sooner than later!

Flying Foot Forum celebrates an American’s View of Paris

PARK SQUARE PRESENTS FRENCH TWIST
Flying Foot Forum’s 25th Anniversary production celebrates
an American’s view of Paris from the Can-Can to Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage is once again the home to Flying Foot Forum’s signature storytelling with FRENCH TWIST, a cabaret of gorgeous music, theatrical storytelling and percussive dance set in a Paris Nightclub that runs from June 22 to July 15, 2018. This 25th anniversary production starts with the premise of the company’s original production which premiered at The Guthrie in 2008, but now includes new characters, melodic new songs and inventive dances. Director/choreographer Joe Chvala fuses vaudeville, tap, cabaret, follies, opera, and percussive art forms to evoke American’s wildest imaginings of life in the City of Light.

The piece opens with “All Creatures Are Now Merry-Minded,” a riotous medley of caricatures of familiar characters from a myriad of operas. With boundless energy, the company dances its way through an amazing variety of classical music, including a Bach fugue danced on and off chairs. Act II introduces a medium who conjures up the spirits of bygone Paris, from the jazz artists of the 1920’s American expat scene to Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. “It’s eclectic, fun, wild, and of course there’s the Can-Can,” says founding Artistic Director Joe Chvala. “Some of us oldsters in the company have been doing the Can-Can for decades, so we have to remember to give the young dancers the truly gymnastic moves and try not to kill ourselves,” he laughs.

One of the new numbers depicts Loie Fuller, considered by many to be the godmother of modern dance, even before Isadora Duncan. Loie was an American actress who became a sensation at the Exposition Universelle with her Serpentine Dance, using long flowing fabric and colored stage lights. In Joe Chvala’s talented hands, her swathes of fabric suddenly turn into the sky above the city and the setting for a great tap number in the spirit of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron from the 1950s movie AMERICAN IN PARIS. There will even be a little Flamenco woven into the evening courtesy of Molly Kay Stoltz of Zorongo Flamenco.

“This show is perfect for the Boss Stage,” says Chvala. “It transforms beautifully into an intimate nightclub setting, as we learned with PASSING THROUGH PIG’S EYE last summer. More than that, the lobby, its proximity to the Dakota’s Vieux-Carrė jazz club and the whole ambiance of the Historic Hamm Building put you in the right mood for the atmosphere we’re creating.”

The fact that Flying Foot Forum is celebrating 25 years comes almost as a surprise to its founder. “What became a company started first as a big performance, and then we just kept going,” Chvala says. “Once we established ourselves as a company, I remember going to the 20th anniversary concert of an African Dance company and thinking ‘I wonder if we’ll ever make it 20 years.’ It’s truly wonderful that three of our original dancers and musical collaborators like rhythm-wizard Peter O’Gorman are still creating with us. Each generation of new dancers, like the amazing Brandon Jackson who plays La Bijoux in French Twist – keep adding to our aesthetic as they bring their unique energies to the process.”

Flying Foot Forum’s unique style of percussive dance continues to ripple out through choreographers and companies in Minnesota and beyond. “Over the years, we’ve worked with so many great dancers and choreographers like Brian Sostek and Tamara Kangas Erickson,” confirms Chvala. “Sometimes I see a show and think ‘I wonder if that idea was inspired by something we did?’ After 25 years, we are still finding new ways to explore our art form. It’s been a tremendous gift to have this crazy idea take off.”

***

Celebrate 25 years of Flying Foot Forum with their new production of FRENCH TWIST, featuring the fabulously furious feet of founding members Jan Campbell, Joe Chvala, Karla Grotting and veterans Jeremy Bensussan, Peter O’Gorman and Charles Robison are joined by Brandon Jackson, Falicia Cunningham, Molly Kay Stoltz, Kaleena Miller and Michael Hasenmueller.

The creative team for the production includes Cynthia Forsgren (Costume Designer), Robin McIntyre (Scenic Designer) and Eric Jensen (Music Director)

Flying Foot Forum’s FRENCH TWIST Performance Schedule: Previews begin Friday, June 22, and continue through Thursday, June 28. June 29 is Opening Night, and the run continues through July 15. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. except for Saturday and Sunday matinees, which begin at 2 p.m. All performances are on Park Square’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter Street.

There will also be two nights of works in progress created by Joe Chvala and company members including a work in progress premiere of a Flying Foot Forum film project Mondays, July 2 and 9.

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