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Posts Tagged Connie Shaver

Alice McGlave, the Bride-to-Be

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance is a fast-paced, zany comedy with a love story at its core. Playing Mabel, the bride-to-be of Frederic, the pirate apprentice, is Alice McGlave. Here she is to tell us about her role and a bit about herself:

1. What do you like about playing Mabel?

I like Mabel’s optimism and vulnerability. She falls in love so quickly with Frederic and remains positive even when the odds are against them and it seems like they won’t make it as a couple.

2. What’s the hardest part about playing Mabel?

I think the hardest part about playing Mabel is her music. She has some demanding vocal lines. It is a challenge to sing through those vocal lines while in character. Throw some choreography on top of that, and it can get pretty tricky.

3. How has your training prepared you for this part?

Alice McGlave in rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

The key to playing Mabel is to make sure I am warmed up. Warming up was a crucial part of my training. Every voice lesson begins with a warm up. I compare singing a role like Mabel to that of an athlete. Like athletes warm up before a game or race, singers have to properly warm up to prepare for a performance.

4. What was your aha moment in realizing that you wanted to be an actor?

It was in high school. I began to realize how much joy performing brought me. There is nothing like performing in front of a live audience. It’s exhilarating!

5. What’s your favorite song in this show and why?

I really enjoy When the Foeman Bares His Steel. In the song, I am trying to motivate the police to go and fight the pirates. It’s such a goofy song, and the police are so much fun to watch. There is a lot of physical comedy throughout.

6. What’s your favorite “piratey” thing?

I am a huge fan of the pirate hats. The more feathers the better!

 

L to R: Bradley Greenwald, Alice McGlave and Christina Baldwin
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

Tickets and information here

ADELIN PHELPS: Her Thread of Love

A thread of love runs throughout the story of Cardboard Piano, a play set in northern Uganda. It begins with the profound love between two teenage girls, Chris and Adiel, who perform their own secret wedding ceremony in the town’s church on New Year’s eve. One is the daughter of the white missionaries who’d founded the church; the other, a local Ugandan parishioner. Actor Adelin Phelps plays Chris, the missionaries’ daughter; Kiara Jackson is Adiel, her bride. The play takes us on a years-long journey from the night of their wedding to its aftermath.

Adelin’s copy of the script
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

“When I first read this play, I really connected with Chris,” Adelin said. “I very quickly fell in love with her and with this story. I love how passionate Chris is and her strong conviction in what she believes. Yet there’s this contradiction that lives in her; she’s smart but also naive and sheltered.

I play Chris at different ages, 16 and 30 years old. And as broken as she becomes, she’s a fighter in the whole play. Women fighting for their needs and beliefs on stage–I’m drawn to that.”

Playing a rich, complex character that must sustain intense emotions as well as display a range of emotions in quick shifts will require stamina. As Adelin attests, “This is not an easy play for any of the cast members. It’s an intense story that moves quickly. What happens to Chris is difficult to execute, but getting to try to do it is so incredible from an actor’s standpoint of serving this story.”

The cast of Cardboard Piano (l to r): Michael Jemison, Ansa Akyea, Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

A thread of love runs through Adelin’s desire to not only be in Cardboard Piano, but also to be an actor in the first place. Her desire to act began early as a deep inner knowledge, then a private acknowledgement before coming out as a public dream.

Adelin first fell in love with theatre when, as a child, she saw The Wizard of Oz with her school. The experience was so powerful that she was glued to the stage.

For a long time, however, Adelin pursued dance instead. Though she loved movement, she never wanted to become a professional dancer. And she came to realize that what she loved most about dance were its acting aspects.

“When I was 17,” Adelin recalled, “I knew I wanted to go to college and learn how to act. I had very little experience, not really doing it in high school, but I knew I had to pursue it. The fire in my belly had grown bigger and hotter every year throughout my life. And so I decided to apply and audition for schools. ”

Adelin had made no backup plan, having consciously made the decision to commit her life to acting. Ultimately, she got into her top pick of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and, as she put it, “The rest is history.”

A thread of love has steadily run through Adelin’s acting career, quite evident in a physical theatre ensemble that she co-founded with core members in 2010 after a few years of collaborating on Minnesota Fringe Festival performances. Called Transatlantic Love Affair, the ensemble’s name was inspired by the long-distance relationship between Artistic Director Isabel Nelson and Artistic Associate Diogo Lopes before they got married.

The special synergy within the group was there from the beginning. Not only do they love working together, but they also work beautifully together. That’s a good recipe for stellar productions, and their shows have been consistently well-received. In fact, their 2017 production Promised Land, a reimagined telling of Hansel and Gretel as an immigration story, sold out all its performances.

Adelin Phelps and Kiara Jackson being directed by Signe V. Harriday during a rehearsal of Cardboard Piano
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Adelin has wondered, “What would it have been like if she’d pursued acting earlier?” But she doesn’t dwell on it. She’s simply grateful that she’d ultimately followed her heart to do what she loves.

Adelin anticipates an exciting year ahead. Besides being in Cardboard Piano, she’s involved in other projects that she is not privy to reveal at the moment. So look out for her, and follow her thread of love.

Information on Transatlantic Love Affair here

Tickets and information on Cardboard Piano here

ANSA AKYEA: About Transformation and Letting Go

In Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano, set in a township in Northern Uganda, the talented Ansa Akyea takes on two roles: in Part I as a soldier hunting for a runaway boy soldier; and in Part II as Paul, the pastor of the community’s church, whose past collides with his present, forcing a confrontation with his future. Particularly with the character of Paul, this sobering yet transcendently beautiful and hopeful play brings to mind these words by the Chinese philosopher Laozi: “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

When asked what playing Paul was teaching him, Ansa replied, “About transformation and letting go. By the end, Paul knows that he must start over; he can’t be the same person moving forward. There’s a new journey that he has to go on.”

Tackling such hard life lessons through the play has had Ansa “excited, scared and filled with dread.” They are, in fact, the very emotions faced by actors when they decide to take on a new role and commit to mining its depths, then perform to live audiences.

Actors Michael Jemison, Kiara Jackson, Adelin Phelps (left to right) and Ansa Akyea (far right) learning from fight choreographer Annie Enneking (center)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

As for his excitement, Ansa cited several reasons to feel that way about being in Cardboard Piano:

  • Director Signe V. Harriday: “I’ve always wanted to work with her. She’s one of the smartest artists who cares about her community and using theatre to connect with community.”
  • Playwright Hansol Jung: “It’s inspiring to have a playwright in conversation about religion, love and conflict. We also need new works to better reflect our diversity. And Hansol’s material has a freshness to it; its perspective is specific, yet universal.”
  • Being part of an intimate four-member ensemble, which includes Kiara Jackson, Michael Jemison and Adelin Phelps: “Signe cast us knowing that we’ll bring our own personal history and intelligence as actors. She chose actors who live in their bodies and hearts. These are things required from actors so they can empathize and act.”

Becoming an actor is also a journey in itself. For Ansa, a Swiss born Ghanaian-American, his acting journey began in his junior year at the University of Iowa, where he would earn his B.A. degrees in French and Communications Studies. That year, he took an elective class taught by a visiting professor from Sierra Leone who wanted to cast Ansa in his play about the 1839 rebellion on the Amistad, a slave schooner. With his parents’ blessing, as long as acting didn’t interfere with his studies, Ansa took the part.

Left to right: Dialect coach Foster Johns working with actors Ansa Akyea and Michael Jemison
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Ansa’s tremendous talent on stage as an undergraduate led his university to offer him the opportunity to earn an MFA in Acting. Cast right out of graduate school, Ansa honed his craft in Chicago, working at numerous theaters starting with Steppenwolf, Black ensemble, ITC, stage left theater and many others.

Ansa ultimately moved to the Twin Cities when his spouse got a job here. He hit the ground running, immediately being hired by Mixed Blood Theater, with subsequent stints at the Guthrie and Children’s Theatre Company. Ever since, Ansa has appeared on many stages throughout the Twin Cities and been seen or heard on television, film and radio. He has also been the recipient of the 2007 City Pages Best Actor award, 2011 Minnesota Playwright Center’s McKnight Award for Acting, 2013 Minnesota Playwright Center’s Many Voices Fellowship and 2013 Ivey Award for Ensemble Acting in the Guthrie’s Clybourne Park.

About theatre, Ansa had this to say: “This is my life. I love my profession. I have an achievement mentality; I have aspirations to always learn more. I will always work.”

After Cardboard Piano, Ansa will be teaching at North High School located in North St. Paul. He will also play Daddy Onceler in the Children Theatre Company’s production of The Lorax this spring.

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here

Anna Letts Lakin On Asking the Hard Questions

In DOT, Anna Letts Lakin plays Jackie, the longtime friend of matriarch Dotty’s family. Jackie has returned to her old neighborhood in West Philly for Christmas “to get my head together and re-evaluate my so-called LIFE.” On her journey to honestly face and redefine herself, she’s unexpectedly confronted by the prospect of losing Dotty, who was like a second mother to her, to Alzheimer’s disease.

“What I admire about Jackie is that she asks the hard questions. She doesn’t skirt around them or let them go. She wants to get to the bottom of things even if it’s uncomfortable,” said Anna. “I wouldn’t do that. I’m a Minnesotan, and I tend to avoid confrontation. But for Jackie, it’s not a matter of nice but of necessity. She’s actually being generous to be able to ask the hard questions, yet be okay if the answers are sharp and uncomfortable.”

Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty with Anna Letts Lakin as close family friend Jackie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

While Anna may not be prone to ask hard, uncomfortable questions of others, she was willing to ask them of herself. A speech pathologist with a lifelong love of acting, she was finally able to embrace her second career after admitting what held her back was the fear of failure.

“Acting was always a passion but secondary in practice,” Anna acknowledged. “I decided that I would really refocus on it after my son got a bit older. I was now mature enough to fail. In acting, you fail a lot; it’s part of the business. I came to realize that trying to get an agent who’s not interested in representing you or auditioning but not getting cast isn’t failing. That’s all part of the job–the hard work of being an actor. That realization helped me manage my fear and opened up all the doors for me.”

Anna Letts Lakin talks about her role at the insiders’ party held at Holiday Bliss.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

As an actor, Anna gets to delve into something that, in her words, “absolutely fascinates me: social relationships.”

“That’s why I’m an actor!” she continued. “And in DOT, the subtlety of the human relationships and family dynamics are so rich. As the play progresses, everything makes more and more sense. There’s so much history between these characters. No one’s past comes to a dead end; they all intersect. No aspect of any character is used simply as a device for the storyline. Nothing that happens is unnecessary.”

During rehearsals, Anna also noted that DOT opened up cast and crew to share how Alzheimer’s has touched their own lives. It’s a disease that hits so close to home for so many.

“Alzheimer’s is horrible and unfair but so prevalent and pervasive, yet so unspoken,” Anna noted. “I haven’t heard of a play on Alzheimer’s, especially a comedy. This play is about finding peace, happiness, humor and the best out of a situation. I feel so honored to be in a play that addresses this disease as normal and can make people closer.”

 

 

Tickets and more information here

On the Road to Empathy

George (Michael Paul Levin) and Lennie (E. J. Subkoviak)
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Months ago, I had a troubling conversation with a retired literature teacher. She had taught John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to high school students in Billings, Montana, during the late 1970s. What she remembered most was how difficult it was to draw any sense of empathy, much less sympathy, from her students for the migrant workers in the novel. Her students had considered them “a bunch of losers,” with the main characters, George and Lennie, as “the biggest losers.”

Last week I made it a point to watch Park Square Theatre’s production of Of Mice and Men during a student matinee rather than an evening or weekend show for general audiences. I attended with two school groups–a large non-diverse and a smaller diverse group. With my assigned seat on the right side, I was embedded with the smaller group; and due to the close, intimate space of the Boss Thrust Stage, I had an excellent view of the larger group.

What I witnessed was a fairly rapt student audience for that morning’s performance, with a student on my side even shushing fellow students for whispering during a particularly intense scene. And the whispering students had actually been talking about the play! Theatre-wide, students unconsciously leaned toward the actors, drawn into the key moments: What will happen to Candy’s dog? Curley’s wife? George and Lennie’s dream? Lennie himself? This was theatre at its best, when the connection between audience and actors creates the synergy for a powerful mutual experience.

Jane Froiland in a rehearsal for Of Mice and Men
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

At intermission, many students stayed in their seats to read the cast backgrounds rather than check out the concession counter or take their break in the lobby. I spoke to several to gauge their reactions: No one liked how Curley, the bullying son of the migrant workers’ boss, treated people. Some felt especially bad for the plight of the aging and disabled Candy. Others connected to the concept of dreamers hoping and trying to create better lives. With all that’s been happening in our nation’s social and political climate, it was heartening to witness young audience members relating to the play and its characters.

What I had already discovered through numerous interviews with actors as a blogger is the crucial role that theatre has played in their own personal development as much more empathetic human beings. Actors must perpetually step into someone else’s shoes to understand and become their characters. That’s certainly been true for Vincent Hannam, who plays and dislikes Curley, but had to ponder how Curley became so mean. As Jane Froiland, who plays Curley’s wife, put it in our conversation, “Theatre makes you a better person.” Theatre has the capacity to foster empathy in those on and off stage. Now that’s a powerful medium.

Of Mice and Men is on stage through Saturday, December 16. Tickets and information here.

 

Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Dotty, and Jasmine Hughes as daughter Averie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Park Square Theatre’s production of DOT is also a strong example of that power. As you watch family and friends in the play struggle to come to terms with matriarch Dotty’s steady decline from Alzheimer’s disease and reassess their own lives over the holiday season, you may recognize yourself or someone you know in those characters. The hilarity–and seriousness–lies in the knowledge that these people are also us in their messy humanness. And before the ending of DOT, we all get to step into Dotty’s shoes (no more said to prevent a spoiler).

In interviewing cast members of DOT, I’d mindfully asked how they’d personally perceived their characters before and during rehearsals. This question often brings interesting insights as to how one views people then readjusts those views as our understanding of them evolves. This happens for actors in the rehearsal room but is also very true to life in how we all relate to each other. Follow the DOT blog posts to find out how the actors responded!

As we navigate the holiday season into a new year, may we keep traveling the road towards empathy to create a more humane and hopeful world for all. Let’s keep journeying together. I look forward to seeing you at Park Square Theatre!

 

Tickets and information on DOT here

Vincent Hannam Goes to the Dark Side

In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Vincent Hannam plays the cruel and menacing Curley, the boss’ son at the ranch where migrant workers George and Lennie have just arrived. Upon their first encounter, George immediately sizes him up as a “son-of-a-bitch.” It’s an accurate assessment supported by the older ranch hand Candy’s description:

“. . . . Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s all a time pickin’ scraps with big guys. Kinda like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you–always scrappy?”

Curley (standing at table) picks a fight
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Curley’s insecurity is also evident in his controlling nature toward his new wife. He treats her like a prized possession to show off as a testimony of his power and masculinity. She’s forbidden to talk to the workers, but she does so behind his back anyway, which simply highlights his lack thereof.

Vincent Hannam (right) working on his fight scene with Director Annie Enneking in a dress rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

 

 

Vincent himself lacks admiration for his character, describing Curley as “a punk and a brat, used to getting his own way” and “a bully.” To play Curley three-dimensionally, though, he needed to find even a shred of sympathy for him. To do so, Vincent built a backstory that explores Curley’s familial relationships. He asked questions, such as: In what way does Curley really care about his wife or his father? Why is his mother never mentioned? Did he grow up without one? How might that have impacted his relationship with his father? Did his father give him the attention that he needed?

Curley (center) enters the bunkhouse
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

“Hate and love are close emotions,” Vincent said. “Sometimes the only way that some people can express love is through hatred.”

Despite being the mean antagonist in Of Mice and Men, Vincent is having a blast on the set. He basically gets to play cowboy, wearing Western boots and a hat and getting into fights.

An angry, injured Curley
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

 

“It’s also a fun change of pace to show that villainous side,” admitted Vincent, who has played plenty of “good” characters throughout his career.

The friendly Vincent (right) in rehearsal with Avi Aharoni as Whit (left) and Jeromy Darling as Carlson (center).
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

 

 

 

“There’s nothing like being on stage, connecting with someone and doing a scene,” Vincent said of acting, but he is also a multi-talented theatre professional who directs, writes and teaches. Amongst his other skills are the ability to do Chewbacca and Godfather impressions and to whistle (but not simultaneously).

As my fellow Park Square blogger, I know Vincent as a lighthearted, easygoing individual. But I can’t wait to see him unveil his dark side as Curley in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Bring it on!

Tickets and More Information

 

 

E. J. Subkoviak on Playing Lennie in “Of Mice and Men”

This season, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men returns to Park Square Theatre as a new production on the intimate Andy Boss Thrust Stage with limited performances for general audience from November 9 to December 16. Of Mice and Men will also be seen by school groups during student matinees.

Playing the large but childlike Lennie, who is highly dependent on his fellow migrant worker friend George due to a mental disability, is E. J. Subkoviak. Here is E. J. to tell us more about himself and his role in Of Mice and Men.

When did you first play Lennie, and what was your relationship with Steinbeck’s novel before being cast as Lennie?

Like a lot of people, Of Mice and Men was one of the first books I read in high school, and it was certainly one I never forgot, especially after reading the Cliff’s Notes. I was often asked, based on my height and basic size (exact numbers available through the costume shop), if I had ever played Lennie; and it wasn’t until about eight years ago, when Park Square was in need of a new one, that I got to play him for the first time. This will be my fourth time playing Lennie at this same theater, so I haven’t shrunk much.

George (Michael Paul Levin) and Lennie (E. J. Subkoviak) (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

What’s the biggest challenge for you in playing Lennie?

A two-show day, maybe? Honestly, the character is so deeply in my blood now that it feels so easy to bring out. Maybe the first time I did it, it was somewhat of a challenge to figure out, based on each scene, what exactly his mind is doing and how it works in general; but it was all a real labor of love.

Apart from that, playing Lennie, as much as I love it and had been waiting to do it so long, is not much different of an approach than playing anything else as a character actor. The real hard part, at least in the primary story of Of Mice and Men, I’d say, is George, as is the case in most buddy stories where you have a straight man and some manner of an eccentric. The straight man rarely ever gets as much credit or attention (poor Dick Smothers), but he has a hell of a job to do in the whole relationship. And we’re blessed to have my longtime friend Michael Paul Levin in the role as he, as the father of such a child, was able to recognize in the script evidence of autism in Lennie. (The whole notion of autism, and even the word, didn’t exist back in John Steinbeck’s day.) This helped answer some of those questions about his mind and how it works even more and was of great benefit to us all. And, of course, playing out this story as a man with an autistic son is a great emotional challenge for him, and he deserves a medal for it.

What may change in your approach as a result of being on the Boss Thrust rather than the Proscenium stage with this season’s production?

The tricky part will be staging it in the thrust format of the stage with audience on three different sides, but our director, Annie Enneking, is a pro and is smartly considering and playing with these sightlines.

The good news is that the smaller space heightens the intimacy of these scenes, so the personal relationships and the danger and intensity of the piece become more magnified.

It also means less makeup for us. That’s always a relief.

E. J. (center) and other cast members in an early rehearsal in the Boss Rehearsal Hall.
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What do you want audiences to take away from their experience of seeing Of Mice and Men? Is it different for an adult versus student audience?

I would say the basic idea of empathy, which seems to be fading fast away at this particular time in our history (just read any internet “comment” section). This is a play about mostly outcasts–outcasts trapped in a cold, harsh world and how they survive. Chances are everyone personally identifies with one or more of these outcasts, I think; and that has made this story so relatable for so long. (Even the character of Curley’s wife was fleshed out much more by Steinbeck for the play version, at the request of the play’s producer at the time.)

Achieving that empathy can be more of a challenge for a younger audience, as we’ve discovered in the past. Young people will often laugh at inappropriate times in a tragic story like this, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they find it funny; it’s often just a nervous reaction to a tense situation. (Lennie does this, too.)

How did you end up becoming an actor?

A hastily thought-out deal with the dark lord Lucifer that I’ll always regret.

Actually, my parents insisted I do something other than watch TV one summer when I was about 13, so I joined this acting troupe that traveled from park to park in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and performed fairy tales, melodramas, and other family plays. Somehow, I caught the bug. Along with the mosquitoes in my mouth.

E. J. as Nero Wolfe, with Derek Dirlam as Archie Goodwin in Might as Well Be Dead
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

What have been some of your favorite roles, and what other characters do you hope to play someday?

Of course, playing the corpulent crime-fighter Nero Wolfe for Park Square has been a great honor and a fulfillment of my childhood dream of being a detective. It is flattering to be recognized by members of the Nero Wolfe “cult” when I am out and about. (As it has been explained to me: Sherlock Holmes is Star Trek; Nero Wolfe is Doctor Who. I’m very, very cool with that.)

There are a lot of roles I did in college that I’d love to replay as a (bigger) adult: Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jonathan Brewster (the Boris Karloff role) in Arsenic and Old Lace, the ghost of John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet and Owen the evil Klansman in The Foreigner, a true comic villain for the times we live in.

Speaking of that, and since I spent all of 2016 not acting but watching the news and getting depressed like so many of us, I have been looking for more projects I could do that deal with civil rights and other issues that are so much on our minds these days. Fortunately, Of Mice and Men qualifies in many ways, and I’m glad to be doing it again now.

Twelve evening performances through December 16. Tickets and more info at https://parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/shows/2017-18/of-mice-and-men/

 

 

 

 

. . . . And A Dog Named Boo

Boo: short for Taboo; sometimes also affectionately called Boosker Du (like the band Husker Du) (Photo by Annette Diana Design; www.Annettedianadesign.com)

In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, performed on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage from November 9 to December 16, the treatment of migrant worker Candy’s dog represents how everyone in the play is afraid to be treated as well. Fortunately, Boo, who plays that dog, lives in the loving home of theatre professionals Ben McGovern and Jessie Scarborough-Ghent. Jessie is serving as his handler for this production.

It wasn’t always “the good life” for Boo. Boo is a pit bull rescued by Midwest Animal Rescue & Services in Brooklyn Park. He’d had a rough start in Indiana, being kept in a kennel that was too small for him so that his back legs couldn’t properly develop. As a result, he has a back leg limp and takes glutamine supplements. Boo also used to have a bald spot on his head from rubbing against the kennel. His docile nature suggests that he could have been raised to be the bait dog for a fighting ring or simply mistreated by negligent owners. No one knows for certain.

Ben first took Boo in as a foster dog about six years ago but fell in love with and adopted him (this is ironically deemed a “failed foster”). He became Jessie’s dog, too, when she moved in a few years ago. She was the one who’d answered Park Square Theatre’s call for dogs to audition and brought him in.

Boo is greeted by Director Annie Enneking at an early  rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

“This will be Boo’s first stage appearance,” said Jessie. “He’s really mellow and well-behaved–he came already knowing sit and lay down–so I thought he’d be a great stage dog. He’s older now so doesn’t need as much physical activity. Getting attention from people is actually his best exercise. Also, whoever needs to control him just needs to have food; he’ll be very motivated. We’re using turkey training treats so there’ll be no crunching sounds.”

 

 

When not in rehearsals or on stage, Boo will be busy playing at Minnehaha Dog Park in Minneapolis, hanging out with his Rhodesian ridgeback buddy, laying together with fellow pet dweller Finska the cat or snuggling with his humans.

Boo has mastered his role as you can see in this photo from the final dress rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

“That’s his favorite activity,” Jessie told me. “He sits and keeps pushing himself into you. I tell him, ‘You really can’t get any closer.’ He is so content just snuggling.”

Another favorite family activity is grabbing a meal at their dog-friendly neighborhood restaurant, The Howe. The dog menu includes a frozen smoked beef marrow bone that Boo can chew clean in three hours. According to Jessie, “Afterwards Boo passes gas and looks at his butt as if to ask, ‘Was that me?'”

Boo also loves toys. He enjoys slobbering all over his peanut butter-filled Kong, but his personal favorite is a stuffed rat. It’s six inches long and no longer white.

“We’re hesitant to get him stuffed animals because he chews them apart,” Jessie said. “But he hasn’t ripped up his rat. It isn’t very realistic either. He picks it up and shakes it. Or he licks it. It doesn’t squeak; squeaky toys get destroyed.”

Because pit bulls are stereotyped as mean, aggressive dogs, they are hard to place. Lavendar magazine’s 2017 Pet Issue, which features the nonprofit organization Save-a-Bull, reported that “approximately 75 percent of municipal shelters euthanize pit bulls immediately upon intake” and that “a recent study by the American People organization reported a 93 percent euthanasia rate for pit bulls and only one in 600 finds a forever home.”

Once people own or volunteer to rescue and care for a pit bull, they tend to become advocates for the breed to help break the myths and stereotypes about them. Jessie herself can’t say enough good things about Boo: “Boo has changed our lives. He is the best therapy dog. You can look in his eyes and see how much he loves you. He’s the best and the best friend.”

Boo and Jessie
(Photo by Annette Diana Design; see www.Annettedianadesign.com)

PIT BULL RESCUE EVENTS IN THE TWIN CITIES:

  • Save-a-Bull Rescue will be at Urban Tails Pet Supply, 2106 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., on November 11 (3-5 pm), December 2 (3-5 pm) and January 20 (12-2 pm) and at Chuck & Don’s, 4723 County Road 101, Minnetonka, on November 18 (12-2 pm).
  • Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue will be at For Pet’s Sake, 11724 Ulysses St. NE, Blaine, on November 12 (3-5 pm) and December 9, 11 am – 1 pm).

 

 

Label Him Talented

 

Wes Mouri as Laertes
(Photo by Amy Anderson)

Wes Mouri, who currently plays Laertes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Park Square Theatre, had a propitious start to his acting career. Soon after graduating from Bethel University with a B.A. in Theatre Arts, he landed a role in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s Bye Bye Birdie. This was a six-month commitment from October 2012 to March 2013 that required eight performances weekly of evening and matinee shows.

“I learned so much about myself,” Wes said. “It really hit home that this is a profession, not something that you just do for a couple of weekends. You have to be talented, but you also have to be invested in the work.”

Stephanie Bertumen as Mei-Li and Wesley Mouri as Wang Ta in Flower Drum Song
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Since his professional debut at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Wes has appeared in numerous musicals in the Twin Cities, including last season’s Flower Drum Song, co-produced by Park Square Theatre and Mu Performing Arts. He was proud to be cast in the lead role of Wang Ta, noting, “How often does a mixed-race man get to play a romantic lead?”

However, Wes was beginning to get pidgeon-holed in singing and dancing parts when Director Joel Sass offered him the dramatic role of Laertes in Hamlet.

“Joel’s frustrated when people are put into boxes,” Wes said of the man who’d also created this new adaptation of Hamlet. “He recognizes that not seeing people for their full potential stagnates their career. Even though I’d been playing young dancer types in musicals, Joel told me, ‘I know that you have the training and capacity to play another kind of role.’ He wants to grow the artist.”

Rehearsal scene: Wes Mouri (middle) as an upset Laertes being restrained by Maeve Moynihan (left) and Tinne Rosenmeier (right)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What Wes actually loves about theatre arts is that one doesn’t have to be stuck in a box. Being a theatre professional requires one to be a freelance artist. Besides acting, Wes also has experience in directing, marketing, stage managing and choreographing and knows that he will continually acquire new skills throughout his career.

Wes is very appreciative of theatre professionals, such as Joel Sass and Richard Cook, who willingly help artists break out of boxes through deliberate, inclusive casting choices. This process equalizes the chance for more humans to get a shot at roles and challenges norms to broaden the narratives. Park Square’s Hamlet, in fact, crosses both traditional gender and race lines in its casting.

Wes himself was not conscious that he could be limited by race until he was participating in a post-show discussion for Mu Performing Arts’ production of A Little Night Music in 2014.

“It was a big moment in my life,” Wes recalled. “I’d grown up in Rockford, Illinois, in a white-majority neighborhood. My dad is Japanese, but my mom is Caucasian. Both my parents are teachers. I attended a small private school, and everyone knew me as me, not as ‘the Asian kid.’

At the talk-back, a woman asked me what it was like to get to play the type of role that I would never have had a chance to play if Mu hadn’t produced the play. I had never considered that, and I just suddenly cried right on stage. I had never been boxed in as a dark-haired Asian. I’d always been surrounded by people saying I can absolutely do anything. Then I realized that the way I look could make it so I can’t do certain things.”

Wes Mouri as Laertes and Kory LaQuess Pullam as Hamlet; Tinne Rosenmeier as an attendant in the background
(Photo by Amy Anderson)

Knowing this made the first day of rehearsals for Hamlet particularly meaningful. According to Wes, “We walked in and knew that this is a unique and different production. Not only is it a very streamlined version of a classic Shakespeare work for adults and children; but the cast is half male and half female, with major roles being played by women. There are also five people of color out of ten. The fact that diverse school groups will see this show is wonderful.”

In Hamlet, who Wes is and what he looks like do not stand in the way of who he can become on stage. He is the headstrong young Laertes, brother of the tragic Ophelia and son of the politically powerful Polonia. He is the right actor for the part because he is talented.

Adrian Larkin: November Front of House Employee of the Month

Lead House Manager Adrian Larkin Photograph by T. T. Cheng

Lead House Manager Adrian Larkin
Photograph by T. T. Cheng

Adrian Larkin joined Park Square Theatre two seasons ago as an usher in the Education Department, quickly rising to become Lead House Manager. As such, he must manage up to two stages as well as supervise a half dozen or more staff members and volunteers during shows. He must stay level-headed while coordinating with Production and other theatre staff, often as hordes of school groups also needing his attention stream in. In short, he is the calm in the middle of the storm.

According to his supervisor, Audience Services Director Amanda Lammert, “His calm, cool, easy way with students, teachers and his co-workers has been a JOY to watch.”

Most recently, we witnessed Adrian successfully calm a frustrated, restless autistic student to be able to enjoyably focus on watching A Raisin in the Sun (and later even participate in the post-show discussion). He did so by respectfully initiating a handshake agreement with him. The word “respect,” in fact, best describes Adrian’s signature relational mode of being, as described in a past Park Square blog post called “Cool, Calm, Collected (and Kind): The Qualities of a Good House Manager” (April 25, 2016).

Lammert further commented, “It’s that ability to read people and adapt, partly from his history in the restaurant service industry (Adrian is also a bartender and server at Great Waters Brewing Company) and partly from his extraordinary gifts as a jazz musician–look for him on opening night of The Soul of Gershwin playin’ his sax at the party–that make him so perfectly suited to this job. He’s not just turning on lights, training new hires, tearing tickets and directing kids and teachers to their seats. He’s an educator, shaping the minds and hearts of a new generation of theatre-goers–HUMANS. Big stuff.”

Originally from Dallas, Adrian came to Minnesota to earn his degrees in Music Production and Recording Technology from the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul. For almost ten years, he has been a freelance musician, composer and horn arranger. Two years ago, he was recruited by Park Square Marketing Director Connie Shaver to work annually at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Adrian and his band member warm up before an early morning Twin Cities Jazz Fest segment with Todd Walker on FOX 9 last June. Photograph by W. Shaver

Adrian and his band member warm up before an early morning Twin Cities Jazz Fest segment with Todd Walker on FOX 9 last June.
Photograph by W. Shaver

“In addition to his commitment to Park Square, Adrian has a passion for jazz and is an accomplished sax player,” said Shaver. “During the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Adrian is willing to get up early in the morning to assist with live television interviews and continue through the day working on festival logistics. Just like at Park Square, he’s willing to step in to help anytime needed.”

As a daytime usher for the Education Program, it has been a great pleasure for me to work alongside–notably not “under”–this warm-hearted Texan. A new usher claims him as “my first friend here,” and a few of us more senior ushers have “adopted” this young man and watch with pride as he composes his life.

At Park Square Theatre, Adrian Larkin has definitely earned our respect. Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition!

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