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The Finish Line

During the June 2 performance of Queens, Emily Madigan dislocated her patella while performing a stunt. Despite excruciating pain, she managed to finish the performance.

Today, she saw the doctor and was told of the dislocation and some additional complications within her knee. As a result, we made the decision to cancel tonight’s performance (Friday, June 3). This was an elementary decision, and one I hope everyone will understand.

While the mind knows the score, the heart still begs to try. Sense rarely aligns with sensibility. Still, my heart hurts for Emily and for Neal and Theo and deVon and Jaya. Their work, along with Heather, Peter, Derek, Heidi and Samantha has made this show something truly wonderful. Something I could not have dreamed alone. This is why we play the game.

We don’t yet know what the show — one predicated so heavily on Emily’s dancing – will look like tomorrow. We do know we want to try. We began building this show together just eight short weeks ago, and now, in the final weekend, we will carry one another across the finish line.

Our final performance of Queens is tomorrow, June 4 at 7:30p.

Thank you for your understanding,
-Matthew

Sons of the Prophet: A Gift to Our Audiences

Sons of the Prophet was produced with special support from Pat and Paul Sackett and the Park Square Premiere Producers’ Club. Wondering how and why this particular play proved to be such a powerful choice for its producers, I received this response from Pat Sackett:

 

Pat and Paul Sackett

Pat and Paul Sackett

Paul and I first saw Sons of the Prophet at Roundabout Theater in New York in October of 2011 during a two-week stay for business.  As we were heading back to the hotel that night, we recast it with Twin Cities actors (no easy task, the options are so extensive) and concluded this was A Park Square Play.  When we returned home, we handed over our collection of 15 Playbills to the PST staff and put Sons on top of the heap, saying this was one they definitely needed to explore further.  We enthused over it, we hinted, we suggested, we cajoled, we badgered, we nagged, we forwarded the glowing reviews from the NY Times and The New Yorker, we made sure everyone was aware it was a finalist for the Pulitzer, we got to the point that Artistic Director Richard Cook knew we were going to corner him about Sons every time he saw us and probably avoided us on occasion as a result.  After two and a half years, we gave up and tried a different tactic: we bought the script, handed it to him and pretty much stood over him tapping our feet until he read it.  At that point, he was hooked and suggested we put our money where our mouths were and provide the cash to secure the rights.  So we did, and it finally found a spot in the 2015/2016 season.

Why are we so obsessed with this play?  The tagline is “A comedy about suffering” and, yeah, that sounds like a hard sell.  Everything in Joseph Douaihys’s life is going wrong and he might just as well have been named Job.  Yet the writing is so excellent, you find yourself laughing out loud; the characters are so well drawn and so decidedly human, you find yourself wanting things to work out for each of them.  They are us, just trying to get through life with as much happiness as possible and striving to overcome whatever difficulties they slam into.  It’s a tricky piece to pull off, and I suspect that’s why it’s taken so many years for it to find a place in theaters across the country.  Some plays are immediately forgettable; some you wish you could forget immediately; some you keep returning to for days or weeks or months afterward.  This is one of those works–the ones that bring you somewhere you’ve never been and make you think about how that might fit into your own life.  In short, A Park Square Play.

Any residual fears we might have had about whether we’d totally missed the boat recommending this piece totally dissipated when we were honored to attend the cast’s first read-through in late April.  When we introduced ourselves to the actors as the folks who’d brought the play to Park Square, they couldn’t thank us enough for the juicy roles they’d received; and each of them told us how rich the language was, how much of a challenge the play presented.  Despite this being the very beginning of the process, it seemed to us that even without costumes, sets or movement around the stage, each of them had nailed their roles and were going to produce a truly memorable experience for themselves and their audiences.

Come join us during the final shows—the play ends on Sunday, June 5–and see for yourself!

 

 

When 40 Feels Like a Lot

Last Thursday night we were pleased to play hosts to a group of young men from Patrick Henry High School. They were there as a part of Project Success – a terrific organization that helps inspire kids to dream, and motivates them as they plan their futures. This group of five made up over 10% of that night’s audience — now, when you produce in a small venue, 40 people can feel quite full. When you produce in a space like The Boss, where our added bleachers give us a potential for over 200, 40 feels like … well, less than full.

Theo and I went to Henry High this morning to talk with the students who’d seen that performance. They asked us some questions on how and why we made this new show, and we tried to give them answers that inspired them to make shows of their own. It was 50 minutes, so I’m not really sure how well we did, but I know I left with two major takeaways:

One, I love working with kids. Like a lot. I’ve spent the last four years making ensemble shows with kids from De La Salle High School, and it’s been the most rewarding experience of my theatrical life. Talking with the students from Henry got me excited to make things with them. Their voices, their ideas, their talent. It’s the most incredible feeling to see a kid discover the power of their own voice. That what they think and what they have inside them matters. I was sad the talk had to end because I wasn’t ready to leave that energy.

The second major takeaway is in measuring success. One young man, Xavier, asked us this today:
“I’ve seen shows at the Guthrie with a whole lot of people, and I’ve seen yours with 40. Why aren’t you more popular?”
Man, what a question. Budget, that’s one answer. Brand, that’s another. History, familiar plays, a building close to the action … the list goes on. The thing is — and I mean this with all my heart — I don’t know. We just know that we aren’t. Very popular, that is. And though it’s part of my job to make us more so, there are some things I’ve found peace in since the days of me tearing my hair out trying to sell tickets.

The most gratifying of those things, easily, is the effort. The work. There is a line in Queens where the character of Elizabeth says to Raymond, “This is what you do, this is not who you are.” But maybe it’s both. Maybe this is what we do because of who we are, and maybe we are because of what we do. The reach, the risk, the desire to challenge ourselves, constantly, is everything. I start every show I work on with the same thought: we don’t have to make the most beautiful show we’ve ever made, but we have to try to make the most beautiful show we’ve ever made. If that’s all I have, then that’s enough. But there is more…

Forty people came to see Queens that night. That’s 40 people who had never seen this new play, 40 people who left a little bit different than they came. I asked the students today if they’d thought about the show since they’d seen it. They all said yes. Bottle that and sell it. Forty people is a lot.

Our final weekend begins Wednesday, June 1st. Four more shows and it’s gone. This is the labor and love of a dozen wonderful Twin City artists. Their work deserves to be seen. If there are ten, 20, 40 of you in the house, know that I am pleased and grateful that you are sharing this play with us.

But man, I’d really love to see 200 of you.

 

Running On: Three Marathon Runners Talk More About “Sons of the Prophet”

After seeing Sons of the Prophet at Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage in which the main character, Joseph, is a former marathon champion sidelined by health issues, runners Peter Erickson, Eric Larson, and Jon Thomas met to talk about the play. This is a continuation of that discussion. (You can read the first part of their conversation in the blog, The Run of a Lifetime.)

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Eric Larson

Eric Larson

Peter Erickson

Peter Erickson

In Sons of the Prophet, the Douaihy family –Joseph, his younger brother Charles, and their uncle Bill—are Lebanese-American. Larson wondered if playwright Stephen Karam had purposely made them Lebanese as a tie-in to a Persian War event that later inspired the first Olympic marathon race in 1896. In that war, the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran over 25 miles from the battlegrounds of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. to announce the defeat of the Persians. After such a strenuous run to deliver the news of “Niki!” (Victory!), Pheidippides dropped dead. Did this possible link to the Persian War also foreshadow death in the play? And do our lives carry messages that get passed on?

Thomas noticed the connection between the Lebanese to the pervasive theme of suffering in the play. The Douaihy’s are Maronites, an oft-persecuted Lebanese Christian group that migrated to the mountains of Lebanon for refuge. And in the play, a painting of Saint Rafke, born in Hemlaya, Lebanon, in 1832 was cherished by Joseph and Charles’ recently deceased father. She had devoted her life to Christ, asking to share in his suffering. Thereupon, she experienced continual head and eye pain as well as joint deformities, all the while rejoicing in prayer and remaining ever-patient in her suffering. (Perhaps she would also make the perfect Patron Saint of Marathoners, who feel euphoric even while patiently enduring pain to complete the last miles!) Isn’t life also like that–a test of perseverance, of mind over matter?

Erickson brought up more than once the notion of choice—how we can lose choice when trapped by a debilitated body, as we witness with the ailing Bill and Joseph, and how we can gain choice through our outlook on life. With all this suffering, what can one do?

“Try to enjoy what you can in life,” Thomas suggested. “We can dance . . . listen to the music . . . move on . . . .”

Jon Thomas

Jon Thomas

Out of Many, One

Some years ago, my friend Sam and I wrote, directed and performed in a Fringe Festival play. One night, after a particularly tight performance with a raucous crowd, we headed, joyfully, from the venue to the bar with a few friends. Moments after we arrived, an out of breath man with a notepad (who had evidently been chasing us for blocks) accosted us us outside the old Bedlam Theatre.
“Who was the writer? Who was the Director?” He shouted.
“Uh, we were,” I said.
“Who was the writer!? Who was the Director!?” He was practically screaming now.
“We were,” I repeated, and we walked into the bar.

Credit, in ensemble theatre, is hard to pin down. Society isn’t very good with ambiguity. Does there have to be an all seeing, all knowing Oz? It’s easy to forget the Wizard was a fraud.

The studio of industrial design icon Charles Eames was an open, collaborative space, but he knew people couldn’t handle the ambiguity, so everything that came out of it, whether he had a large hand, some hand, or no hand at all in its development bore his name. He was the genius, always. The cost – even for the sake of simplicity – was failing to openly acknowledge the contributions of others. To me, that’s a shame. Worse, it’s assuming your audience isn’t smart enough. For a man who created The Best for the Most for the Least, he sure didn’t trust the Most very much.

Sandbox makes ensemble theatre. You might hear terms like devised or collaborative, but we like ensemble. The answer to why is in its definition: ensemble theatre stresses harmony of ideal to achieve a unity of effect. All voices into one. For us, it’s about the show, not the individual.

With every show we do, there follows at least one conversation that goes like this:
“Who wrote it?”
“We did.”
“Right, but who wrote it?”

Our ensemble plays Total Football*. On any day in any rehearsal you’ll find cast members, directors, stage managers, even visitors writing with either their hands or their mouths. We free write daily. We produce text via verbal free write through a creation station we call Talking Statues. We share, we steal from one another, we cut, we hone. It’s nearly impossible to separate the author of one line of text from another because it doesn’t matter who wrote it as long as it serves the show. It’s not stubbornness when we say we, it’s our reality.

We write for one another, we move for one another, we teach one another. How can a credit do that justice? The show comes first, always. Out of many, one.

But hey, if my word isn’t sufficient, here are a few bits for you to enjoy:

The first dance scene in Queens between Raymond and Lucy Webster was conceived one evening in a composition by Peter Heeringa, Emily Madigan and Heather Stone. After an iteration or two, they taught the scene to Theo. From there, they all honed it into the beautiful moments you see on stage.

Emily Madigan and Theo Langason in Queens - photo by Dan Norman

Young Raymond (Theo Langason) and Lucy Webster (Emily Madigan) share a dance.

Emily Madigan and Theo Langason in Queens - photo by Dan Norman

Young Raymond and Lucy in love.

 

Raymond’s first fight  began as a solo piece written by Derek Lee Miller. He and Neal Hazard worked out the physicalities, then paired it with a solo Emily Madigan had made about a third party witness to the fight and voila! You get this:

Theo Langason and Neal Hazard in Queens - photo by Dan Norman

Theo Langason and Neal Hazard in Queens

Theo Langason and Neal Hazard in Queens - photo by Dan Norman

Raymond (Theo Langason) and his coworker (Neal Hazard) fight while a third worker (Emily Madigan) looks on.

 

Lastly, not everything we create makes it into the show. In fact, we usually create 2 to 3 times the material needed before chiseling it down to the play it becomes. This composition, a combination of a two-person piece Emily and I made, and a solo Neal created, is a great example of physicality and text that might not suit the show as-is, but often finds its way in through other characters or scenes:

Emily Madigan, Theo Langason and Neal Hazard in Queens - photo by Dan Norman

Ms. James (Emily Madigan) pays a visit to Al Tilly’s (Neal Hazard) shop where young Raymond Queens (Theo Langason works odd jobs.

Neal Hazard, Theo Langason and Emily Madigan in Queens - photo by Dan Norman

Neal Hazard, Theo Langason and Emily Madigan

 

As an artist, this way of creating is empowering; your work is all over the stage, in almost every facet. As a person, it’s humbling, it’s supportive and it’s a constant lesson in believing in the strength and ability of others. As an observer, the collaborative ownership is palpable and inspiring. If you’d like to share in it, Sandbox rehearsals are always open to visitors. For observation or play.

 


*In Total Football, a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team’s intended organisational structure. In this fluid system, no outfield player is fixed in a predetermined role; anyone can successively play as an attacker, a midfielder and a defender.

The Run of a Lifetime: Three Marathon Runners Talk About “Sons of the Prophet”

 

Jon Thomas, Eric Larson and Peter Erickson

Jon Thomas, Eric Larson and Peter Erickson

Joseph, the main character in Sons of the Prophet, currently showing on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium stage, is a marathon champion sidelined by chronic knee pain and unexplained physical symptoms.  His entire life has taken a downturn as unrelenting challenges ensue–from his father’s unexpected death to witnessing his uncle’s own declining health, from taking a crappy desk job under a needy, unstable boss to have health insurance to necessarily becoming his uncle’s medical advocate in the convoluted Medicare system, from becoming head of household for himself and his younger brother Charles to facing loneliness as a gay man in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  The emotional toll has left him “cut off on the knees,” with enough stress to cripple even the strongest of men.

Knowing only about the lead character’s marathon background, three marathon runners attended Sons of the Prophet on Saturday to watch then give us their take on the play.  They were:

Peter Erickson, who ran in junior high as an outlet to get out of the house.  With continual travel in his adulthood, he stopped exercising for years but returned to running in 2008.  He loved running 5Ks, increased to half marathons, then finally committed in 2010 to his first marathon, the Twin Cities Marathon.  With a fall this past winter, Erickson was sidelined to walking the dog but has no plan to stop running.

Jon Thomas, who was introduced to running by a mentor during his 1986 residency at the Mayo Clinic.  Thomas had exercised and remained fit during medical school, yet felt dreadful after his first long-distance run.  To see his over 50-year-old mentor complete a mile in seven minutes truly impressed the then 25-year-old Thomas.  He continued running and, in 2011, ran his first marathon, also the Twin Cities Marathon.  He has now run it and the Los Angeles Marathon more than once.  His future goal:  the Boston Marathon.

Eric Larson, who attended junior high in a class of 35 students in Shepherd, Montana, recalled that “everyone” went out for sports.  He was a skinny 13-year-old who lacked arm strength and also not fast so settled on long-distance running.  He especially loved 10Ks.  Like Peter, Eric did not return to running until his adulthood when a friend talked him into doing a relay marathon in Rochester, Minnesota.  After passing the baton in that race, Eric decided to continue running, specifically aiming to actually complete a full marathon.  In 2003, he ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.  He is currently a diehard squash player, though still runs the odd 5K with his teenage daughter.

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Being a physician, Thomas initially related more to the medical aspects of Sons of the Prophet, which he felt were portrayed quite realistically, such as patients’ struggle with healthcare costs, the nightmare of navigating Medicare, and most strongly, the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Thomas wondered, as Joseph’s doctor performed a spinal tap and ran tests to find the root of his symptoms, whether Joseph’s psychic pain had actually manifested as physical pain.  At the hospital, Thomas sees many patients overly stressed by the complexities of modern life and pained without explanation.  Their tests come back negative; there is no diagnosis for them, yet they are suffering.

Larson noted that even Joseph himself wonders in the play:  “Could the inflammation be caused by something…else ….?” As a squash player, Larson notices that he is in good shape for squash but not necessarily for soccer, biking, or now running, whenever he dips into those sports.  Similarly, each character in the play does well in their own area “of being” but when set in situations that they are not “in shape” for, then they have problems and experience intense stress.

Having been sidelined from running this winter, Erickson could relate to what it’s like to want but not be able to run.  He would have been miserable (and been a pain to be around) had he not been able to mitigate his loss by taking long walks, something Joseph could not do.   Erickson knows how it feels when “running becomes a need; you can’t wait to get out there, especially after a hard day.”  Joseph had no choice but to stop running, which was a core part of his being.

All three reflected on the transformative stages of a long run–how one can reach a point of being “meditative yet actively thinking” for Erickson, of being in the zone when “solutions to seemingly intractable problems would organically come about” for Larson or “becoming one with the environment and feeling in flow–smooth–as if running on pillows” for Thomas.  Pleasure is followed by the agony of pushing through those last miles, when the body may feel like it wants to break yet the mind holds firm through all the hurting.

To the runners, playwright Stephen Karam’s decision for Joseph to be a marathoner rather than a football or baseball player, was, of course, because a marathon–not a sprint–is a journey, just as life is a journey.  They connected how a marathon has its stages–meditative, euphoric, suffering–similar to life stages.  And they understood how as in life, according to Erickson, “marathon running depends on the strength of your mind to get through the difficult parts.”

“There are multiple layers of struggle in the play,” said Erickson.  The play delves into race, gender, religion and generational issues, to name just a few.

“And each of those layers is a marathon, ” Thomas pointed out.

(Upcoming blog – RUNNING ON:  Three Marathon Runners Talk More About Sons of the Prophet)

 

Ten Fun Park Square Facilities Facts

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  1. The Hamm Building goes down two levels underground with a basement and sub-basement.
  2. The sub-basement may be haunted by the ghost of a former maintenance worker named Pete who had fallen down an elevator shaft in the 1950’s.  He seems, however, to be a benign ghost who may simply flash by, suddenly turn off a light or cause a switch to spark.
  3. During Prohibition, mobsters may have used the sub-basement as a secret speakeasy and gambling house, which could explain the bullet holes in the walls.
  4. The light bulbs around the mirrors in Park Square’s dressing rooms match the frequency and wavelength of the stage lighting so actors can accurately view their costume and make up colors as they would appear on stage.
  5. Each of those light bulbs heat up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, with eight bulbs around each mirror and multiple mirrors in each of the four dressing rooms.
  6. A sophisticated sensory automatic lighting system is installed in the newer Boss Stage’s green room and dressing rooms to conserve energy and keep the area cooler.
  7. Park Square’s Facility and Event Manager Dave Peterson monitors and controls the theatre’s huge HVAC system through his computer and iPhone.
  8. Good airflow for the Boss Stage and its associated rooms with its lower ceilings (relative to the Proscenium Stage) are more difficult to maintain, as air ducts can get obstructed by such items as stage sets.
  9. The Proscenium Stage has a sound-proof private viewing box at the top of house right, which is often referred to as “The Quiet Room.”
  10. Peterson is also the theatre’s go-to IT generalist, a graduate of St. Olaf College (philosophy major), a string instruments player, a former prison music instructor and a former business owner.  He applied at Park Square Theatre on a fluke; about two years ago after his wife spied the job posting and convinced him to take a look.

(11.)  We are all glad that he did.

 

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When Passion and Practicality Collide: The Journey of Jackson Smith

 

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“I’ve had a love of theatre my whole life,” said Accounting Associate Jackson Smith, when we met to talk about his journey towards a career in Theatre Finance.  In particular, seeing a St. Paul community theatre production of “The Music Man” at the age of five sparked his early interest, which was further strengthened by his own parents’ passion for the arts.  Throughout his childhood, his family attended a lot of plays.

By his middle school years, Smith already knew that he wanted a life in theatre, most likely as an actor.  In high school, he was highly involved in acting, particularly in musicals.  He also took on numerous behind-the-scenes roles, such as stage managing, running the light board, and set creation.

Smith recalls, though, never having felt a burning desire to be an actor and that, even then, he also had a love for numbers.  His math classes were some of his favorites in high school.  At that point, he didn’t have much of an inkling about Theatre Finance.

For his college education, Smith attended the University of Colorado in Boulder.  He knew after his first week of being in a class with “an awesome teacher” that he would definitely major in Theatre.  It wasn’t until he was simultaneously taking Introduction to Business as well as his first Theatre Management course during sophomore year when he knew that he wanted to major in Finance, too.  He had strategically signed up for the Business course to complement Theatre Management.  The latter required that he, with a group of students, create a proposal to start a theatre company.

During senior year, Smith gleaned lessons learned from that group experience to examine how to start a theatre company as his senior thesis.  In May 2014, he graduated with a B.A. in Theatre and B.S. in Finance.

In the summer of 2013, Smith had acquired his first job within Theatre Finance as an intern with a consultant for theatre companies who happened to be involved in Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage building project.  Coincidentally, it would be 1-1/2 years after his graduation that Smith saw the Accounting Associate posting on Park Square Theatre’s website and applied just before the deadline.

Smith joined Park Square Theatre in mid-September 2015.  As Accounting Associate, Smith works on the payroll, pays bills, does accounts reconciliation, inputs and tracks donations and pledges, and handles various research projects, such as looking into the cost of printers.

Smith’s job search was a long and grueling one, which he treated as a full-time job.  Theatres often wanted more experience than he had, and the non-theatre business world likely sometimes wrote him off when they spotted Theatre major on his resume, despite the fact that he also has a Finance degree.   Yet Smith uncompromisingly did not remove those words from his resume.  If they didn’t want to hire him for who he truly is, then that’s probably not where he’d want to work anyway.

Smith advises anyone who wants a job in Theatre Finance to “be persistent, apply for as many jobs as you can, take internships, and be open to all things.  A lot of what I do, I had no clue that I would be doing.  Things in theatre are never the same.  I may be doing the same things each week, but not exactly.”  He loves what he does and that, through his work, he helps make live theatre possible for many people.

Just as I thought our conversation was over, Smith mentioned that through the course of his journey to fulfill his goal to work in Theatre Finance, he had also uncovered another passion, African dance.  “When I dance, I can’t stop smiling,” Smith said.  “It gives me energy.  It’s so much fun.”

As part of his schooling at University of Colorado, he was required to take dance classes.  He took beginning ballet, tap, and in senior year, African dance.  He loved African dance so much that he joined a non-college affiliated dance troupe called Logo Ligi. His membership required six hours of practice per week and gave him the opportunity to travel to Ghana with the group one summer.  He also took up drumming after his Ghana trip.

After moving back to St. Paul, Smith joined the dance troupe Tiyumba and commits five hours per week to practice.  Tiyumba has performed at various schools, parks, and festivals.

Only in his 20’s, Smith has already lived an amazing, dream-fulfilling life.  He is a testament to how resilience, openness, and self-integrity creates the path to where you want to go and who you want to be.   And what a fun and joyful journey it has been!

Show Me the Green

 

green room:  a room in a theater or concert hall where actors or musicians relax before, between and after appearances

 

As Front of the House staff, I seldom get a glimpse of the backstage areas so when my friend Susan asked if Park Square Theatre’s green room is, indeed, green, I asked Facilities and Event Manager Dave Peterson to “show me the green.”

 

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Park Square Theatre actually has two green rooms, one per floor to service each stage.  Peterson first led me downstairs to the Andy Boss Thurst Stage’s green room.   We went down the hallway towards the lobby, turned left into the Artist’s Alley with its gallery of actors’ photos, then entered the Sheila Henderson Green Room.  With automatic lights switched on, the room was revealed in all its glory: walls painted cream-gray, darker gray, and yellow.  A yellow tinged with a hint of green?  Seemingly so in the light but not at all close up.

The room is quite spacious, with a table, chairs, and fully equipped kitchen.  Connected are two dressing rooms, donated by John Sullivan and Jack and Nancy Burbidge, respectively.  The green room also has a shower as well as a fold-out cot, in accordance with Actor’s Equity requirements of a resting place, to complete the makings of comfy “living quarters.”

At the back of this green room are doors to the left and right leading to the same two corridors—called the “voms”–that patrons walk up to get to their seats.  Another door leads directly into the back of the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.  All three of the doorways are actually double-doored to create effective sound barriers, and Peterson scrupulously prevents any door hinges from squeaking.

Heading up stairways that I didn’t even know existed, Dave led me to the Proscenium Stage’s green room.  The lights came on, revealing blue-and cream-hued walls.  Again, no green!

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This green room, being the older one, has a more homey and lived-in feel.  It is more spacious and equipped with tables, chairs, a sofa, full kitchen, bathroom, shower and two dressing rooms.  The sofa can fold out into a bed.

With neither of Park Square Theatre’s green rooms being green, I wondered why this actors’ waiting room is called “the green room.”  A search on Wikipedia gave many explanations, from historical attributions to folk etymology.  One theory for historical origin claims that the term’s source is from the 16th century when traveling actors in Stratford-upon-Avon used a room in the Guildhall (town hall) as their changing room; this room was known as the Agreeing Room, or “Greein” Room in Warwickshire-speak.  An etymological explanation may be that, in Cockney rhyming slang “greenage,” later shortened to “green.”  Other theories do involve the color green:  The room was originally painted green to relieve the eyes from stage glare; Shakespearean theatre actors prepared for their performances in rooms filled with green plants because their moisture was believed to be beneficial to actors’ voices; and, of course, some actors felt nauseous before performances and “looked green.”

Well, gone are my images of a sad-sack room painted puke-green with just a worn, stained sofa as the typical green room.  I am sure that the actors are happy that their green rooms far exceeded my expectations.

The Beautiful Reality of Making Small Theatre

slings and arrowsThere was a Canadian television show about ten years back called Slings & Arrows — it was a show about a Shakespearean theatre festival near Toronto created by Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney and others. They had a full crew, a beautiful cast, drama, intrigue, and the obscene budget to have a person sitting in the house seats with a laptop cranking out scripts or pressers, or whatever. If you love the theatre, you’d probably love S&A. If you work in small theatre, like Sandbox does, you probably think it’s cute and aspirational and annoying and adorable and poppycock. It’s all of those things because it portrays the theatre as a sustainable entity. But lemme tell you, the Slings & Arrows staff of techies, carpenters, administrators and actors are products of outrageous fortune (sorry).

Theatre can be sustainable, sure. Park Square has been making it happen (wonderfully) for four decades, but even with a front of house staff, administrative staff and crew of design artists, every one of the people at Park Square is in go-mode almost all the time. There’s very little time to soak in successes or dwell on failures. The next show is coming, or more often, already begun. When you’re producing over 20 productions in a calendar year, projects dovetail. It’s stressful and will burn a person out quickly if they don’t know how to handle it all. So even though Park Square is large enough to see itself represented in a show like Slings & Arrows, it’s probably as realistic as Wings was to a Nantucket airport.

When you’re as small as Sandbox, Slings & Arrows is almost farcical. The person often designing Sandbox sets is also our Artistic Director. He’s also the master carpenter. And a writer. And an actor. For Queens, our co-director is also a composer. And a performer. And a singer. Our other director is also our marketer, website administrator, copywriter, graphic designer, photographer, development lead, and it’s also me. Sandboxers wear many hats (on top of day jobs) — so many that the weight of them can feel more like a yoke that a beret. But it’s our job to make the audience believe. So whether we’re big or small, we make it happen with all we have.

There are a hundred other small theatre companies in the Twin Cities who do the same. This is why you see artistic directors, stage managers, directors, actors on their hands and knees drilling holes and swinging hammers when we load a show into a theatre. It’s the beautiful reality of making small theatre. It’s ingrained. We’re invested. This is what we do, and for the most part, all we want to do. We put all that we have into our art, and whether you love it or hate it, we want you to be moved by it.

Queens Load In 2

Derek Lee Miller constructed a modified sprung floor for our boxing ring from recovered lumber donated to us by Nautilus Music Theatre. Here, Derek, our stage manager Jaya Robillard, and director Theo Langason work on part 1 of its install.

Queens Load In 1

Sandbox AD, scenic designer and master carpenter Derek Lee Miller lays a sub-floor of plywood. Since Sandbox doesn’t have a shop, Derek fabricated the entire set in his garage, then reconstructed it piece by piece on the Boss Stage. Derek’s ability as a designer & carpenter, as well as his knack for obtaining nearly anything we could need via renewable/reusable/recyclable means, highlights why our best resources are our artists. Two-thirds of the Queens budget is invested in our artists. People over plywood, you might say.

Queens Load In 3

The final step in our boxing ring install was stretching 18 yards of canvas over the top. The canvas was one of the pieces we had to purchase new, but it will live a long life for us beyond Queens.

Queens Load In 4

“But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light.” Emily Madigan takes a moment to sit atop our newly constructed boxing ring floor.

I’m not sure why I decided to take on a ten year-old Canadian dramedy today — let’s just say after undergoing two surgeries in three weeks, I’ve done so out of jealousy for their health care system. Take that, Canada! (You, too, Wings.)

 

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