News

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.”

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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.

Guest Concert: Japan American Society of Minnesota presents Cerulean Fire

 

In 2012, virtuoso violinist Margaret Humphrey and award-winning composer and harpsichordist Asako Hirabayashi partnered to form Cerulean Fire. Their vision is to raise audience awareness and appreciation of concerts with historical instruments but do so with a contemporary spin. They remove boundaries between classical and nonclassical music by performing both new and old music in creative juxtaposition and often collaborate with jazz, Latin, Japanese and other ethnic musicians and dancers.

On Sunday, June 10, at 4 pm, Cerulean Fire, with Sogetsu Ikebana Group and Japan American Society of Minnesota, bring to Park Square Theatre an extraordinary visual and musical experience, Musical and Floral Metamorphosis: Premiere of Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings. Throughout the entire piece, nine instruments are treated as soloists, not just some as accompaniment to others. The guest conductor will be Nobuyoshi Yasuda (affectionately known as “Nobu”), an accomplished violinist, music professor and conductor of the Chippewa Valley Symphony and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Symphony Orchestra.

Asako Hirabayashi and Margaret Humphrey, with harpsichord and violin, wearing elaborate cerulean blue gown & red gownConcerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings will indeed be played on four harpsichords and string instruments,” explained Asako, its composer. “To premiere it at Park Square Theatre is a unique opportunity for the entire community since only three concertos for four harpsichords have ever been written in Western classical music history. And presenting such a show involving four harpsichords is extremely difficult and rare due to the nature of the instrument. Finding four harpsichords is hard but so is their maintenance as they are sensitive to temperature and humidity. During rehearsals and the performance, we will need to keep a thousand strings tuned!”

Since the age of seven, Asako played piano–switching to harpsichord as an adult–and wrote music because “I always wanted to be a pianist who plays my own compositions.” In high school, she realized that her hands were too small and hindered effective competition with male pianists so she chose Composition as her major in college and graduate school in Japan. However, her desire to perform never left, and she took up the harpsichord when it was introduced to her in Japan when her teacher, Eiji Hashimoto, gave a recital and performed Scarlatti.

“I was very impressed,” Asako recalled. “The music of Scarlatti really made sense on harpsichord, not on piano. His music is Spanish and imitates the sounds of flamenco guitar, and he uses crushing percussion-like dissonance in his keyboard sonatas. It is only effective on harpsichord, not on today’s grand piano. So I was very fascinated by the sound effect. Also, the keys of the harpsichord are much smaller for my small hands to reach.

Additionally, in ensemble during the Renaissance and Baroque period, the right hand part was not always written. Only the bass part may be written so the keyboardist had to improvise with the right hand. A harpsichordist must be able to improvise. As a composer, I had the advantage of being able to readily do that.

Besides, I love doing what nobody else does. The harpsichord and harpsichordists were extremely rare in Japan at the time, and I wanted to play something that not many people were playing.”

A stunning visual highlight on performance day will be the ikebana exhibit in the theatre’s foyer that complements the event. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement that is, as Asako describes, “more than simply putting flowers in a container.” Dating back to the 7th century, ikebana is a highly disciplined art that brings nature and humanity together.

“Ikebana allows the heart of the arranger to touch the heart of the viewer, bringing peace and tranquility,” Asako elaborated. “Ikebana master and my friend Yoshie Babcock has taught it for over 30 years in the Twin Cities and Chicago. In 1996, the late headmaster of Sogetsu appointed her as chairperson of the Sogetsu Minneapolis-St. Paul Study Group, and she has received special awards for promoting ikebana outside of Japan and Japanese art and culture in Minnesota.”

This collaboration between Park Square Theatre and Cerulean Fire will bring together multiple arts communities to create a broad diverse audience. Nothing like Musical and Floral Metamorphosis: Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings has been done in the Twin Cities before, and it’s happening in one performance only. Don’t miss out on this special opportunity!

Tickets and information here.

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ANOTHER GUEST EVENT NOT TO MISS AT PARK SQUARE THEATRE:

TaikoArts Midwest presents Taiko Tuesday with a free concert by Enso Daiko
Tuesday, May 22, 7 pm – Proscenium Stage
Reserve free seats here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Member, Actors Equity Association

Photo by Petronella J Ytsma.

New Native Theatre presents: Native Woman the Musical

Premiering on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage from May 9 to 13, is New Native Theatre’s production, Native Woman the Musical, which features stories told by Native women through individual and group performances. It’s a follow-up to the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival hit Native Man the Musical. As with that show, come expecting an eclectic range of topics, tenor and creative expression. We will, for instance, hear a mother-daughter duo talk about her mother’s boarding school experience by dancing to music by Rachel Platten, watch a tap- and taiko-infused segment and much more. The constant in every performance will be the use of music in the telling of the tales.

“Presenting these plays is an ongoing mission of ours in a way that no other theatre can duplicate,” said Rhiana Yazzie, the founder of New Native Theatre. “Native Woman the Musical is an opportunity for Native women to express themselves however they want.” The theatre is intentional in creating art solely through the lens of Native Americans, and the production process for Native Woman the Musical was one of intimate collaboration and a healing experience for those involved.

Since 2009, Rhiana has tirelessly helmed New Native Theatre. She’d come from Los Angeles for a 2006/2007 Jerome Fellowship with the Playwrights’ Center; and having grown up in New Mexico recognizing Minneapolis as a Native American political, artistic and cultural mecca, she was surprised by its lack of a Native-focused theatre company. So Rhiana had simply rolled up her sleeves and done something about it!

“For ten years, New Native Theatre has been consistently producing innovative works that give voice to the Native community,” Rhiana stated. “Our artists and audiences feel at home with us, and audiences know that they will leave our shows feeling really good because what we do reflects who they are.”

New Native Theatre has given many Native Americans their first experience to be on or behind the stage. It has also served as a training ground for Native American community members interested in exploring all aspects of theatre arts, from playwriting to designing. By doing so, this theatre empowers Native people to reclaim their narratives and change their self-perceptions. Self-expression becomes a means of self-determination.

In Native Woman the Musical, Native women from throughout Minnesota will dare to speak truth to the experiences lived by Native women. They will appear as their whole selves–the complex human beings that they are.

Come hear their stories! Together, we shall laugh, cry and everything in between.

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Showtimes: May 9 – 12 at 7:30 pm. May 13 at 2:00 pm.

Advanced individual tickets cost $25 each; advanced group discounts available.

Tickets at the door are pay-what-you-can. 

Buy Tickets Here

Learn more about New Native Theatre

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forgiveness is pointless if the forgiven remains unchanged.”

“I forgive so I can be transformed.”

Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Taiko Tuesday: A Gift from the Heart

Experience the energy of Ensō Daiko
(Photo by Jeff Sandeen)

On Tuesday, May 22, at 7 pm, Ensō Daiko performs a free concert on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium stage as part of TaikoArts Midwest’s Taiko Tuesdays series. Come see Minnesota’s premier taiko ensemble in an energetic performance of music, dance, culture and pure athleticism!

While taiko often includes a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments, the term itself simply means drum in Japanese. Outside of Japan, taiko commonly refers to the style of ensemble drumming called kumi-daiko, with its emphasis on the art form as performance. There are so many ways to play a drum and to choreograph a routine–something you see firsthand whenever Ensō Daiko performs.

Jennifer Weir beats the drum!
(Photo by Rich Ryan)

Ensō Daiko is led by Jennifer Weir, who is also Executive Director of TaikoArts Midwest. She instantly fell in love with taiko over two decades ago when first introduced to it by Rick Shiomi, the founder of Mu Daiko, and readily became one of its original members. In 2017, Mu Daiko was renamed Ensō Daiko, with Jennifer newly at its helm.

Ensō is a Japanese word meaning circle, a symbol that is simultaneously simple yet packed with deep meanings: togetherness, strength, elegance, enlightenment, the moment when the mind is free to let the body create, the acceptance of imperfection as perfect (wabi sabi) and the void (mu). Ensō reflects taiko itself–an art form that is at once accessible for its simplicity but conveys those similar rich concepts.

An enso by brush painter and teacher Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio
({Photo by Bob Schmitt)

Ensō Daiko’s performance at Park Square Theatre will be the ninth concert in the Taiko Tuesdays series. According to Jennifer, Taiko Tuesdays were purposely designed to break down barriers that may prevent broad participation. With that in mind, they decided to perform 12 rather than just one concert and to do so in a variety of locations, all at no cost to attendees.

“We also wanted to show the range and depth of the art,” said Jennifer, “so each concert is different for you to be able to see various styles and aesthetics.”

Enso Daiko in performance
(Photo by Rich Ryan)

This effort is often supported by inviting guest artists to join them, which has brought the additional benefit of infusing the group with “super development” through the opportunity to learn from a much greater number of collaborating artists per year. Certainly, part of Ensō Daiko’s dynamism comes from its openness to different influences and creative exploration, even as it draws from tradition.

For those who would like a double dose of taiko, also consider attending TaikoArts Midwest’s open house on April 29 from 2-5 pm at their new studio space in St. Paul. You’ll be able to watch and meet performers, participate in drumming activities and enjoy refreshments.

Music is considered a universal language. By crossing the ocean, taiko follows in the broader tradition of music to bring people together. Don’t miss the chance to personally experience “the heartbeat of Japan” and engage with the power or life force of this ephemeral art form. It will blow your mind!

 

Ensō Daiko in an ensō workshop with artist Bob Schmitt

 

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Tickets for Ensō Daiko’s performance here

Find out about other “must see” Guest Events at Park Square Theatre here:

Including: Musical and Floral Metamorphosis: Premiere of Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings – June 10, 4 pm – Andy Boss Stage (featuring Cerulean Fire, conductor Nobuyoshi Yasuda and Sogetsu Ikebana)

 

 

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