Posts Tagged James A. Williams

A Season of Perspective and Sharing

Park Square and SteppingStone Theatres Announce Joint Season

MEDIA CONTACTS
Mark Ferraro-Hauck: 952.220.2178 mark@steppingstonetheatre.org
Rachel Wandrei: 617.543.5770 wandrei@parksquaretheatre.org

Saint Paul, Minn., April 20, 2022 – Park Square Theatre and SteppingStone Theatre for Youth announced their 2022-2023 season plans today, continuing the process of bringing the two companies together in one downtown Saint Paul home. The two organizations will retain their names for their first united season, but are planning to become a single legal entity this fall.

For Park Square’s 48th season, the cohort of five artistic associates has worked to select plays that come from many points of view, with the goal of creating theatre filled with both meaning and entertainment. “We strive to be a place where everyone is able to tell their story, and where we can hear and see each other with open hearts, particularly as we rebuild connections and communities after these years apart,” says Executive Director Mark Ferraro-Hauck. The season includes two world premieres, two regional premieres, a Tony Award winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the 25th anniversary of a play that has become central to Park Square’s youth education programs. The SteppingStone performance calendar will include a winter-themed play, Shakespeare performed by young people, and a touring production for very young audiences.

A slightly smaller season than in previous years, the theatres are aiming to reset and organically rebuild after the pandemic. Each play will have a slightly shorter run, have fewer preview performances and a modified rehearsal schedule that eliminates the “10 out of 12” rehearsal days that are notoriously grueling for the artists involved. 

The theatre year will open with the 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Play, THE HUMANS (Sept 14 – Oct 9, 2022), by Stephen Karam. Three generations of the Blake family have assembled for Thanksgiving and everyone is determined to make the best of it, but as they attempt to focus on the positive, old wounds, current mistakes, and future fears threaten their stability. Both blisteringly funny and deeply chilling, the play offers a stunning portrayal of the human condition; a family at its best and worst navigating the challenges of everyday life.

Next, Park Square deepens its relationship with Full Circle Theater Company with a co-production of FIRE IN THE NEW WORLD (Oct 19 – Nov 6, 2022), written by Rick Shiomi, who is a co-founder of Full Circle and serves as an artistic associate for Park Square. In this world premiere noir mystery, Sam Shikaze, hard-boiled private eye, fights crime and discrimination in Vancouver’s Japantown in the years after WWII. When the beautiful Japanese American wife of an ambitious real estate developer goes missing, Sam is on the case in a savvy detective caper that mixes social commentary with plenty of sly intrigue.

For the holiday season, SteppingStone will present THE SNOWY DAY AND OTHER STORIES BY EZRA JACK KEATS (Dec 1 – 23, 2022). With a script by Jerome Hairston, and based on the books by Ezra Jack Keats, this magical tale will explore the wonder of a fresh snowfall, the delight of whistling for the first time, the awe in finding special treasures, and the joy of making new friends. A timeless classic, THE SNOWY DAY is the most checked-out volume of all time at the New York Public Library and is known for being the first book featuring an African American child to win the Caldecott Medal. This new ensemble-driven production will explore connections to water and the changing of the seasons through movement and storytelling.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s adaptation of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK has become a core part of Park Square’s educational offerings over 25 years, with over 265,000 students having experienced Anne Frank’s story at the theatre. To commemorate the anniversary, the company will present an all-new production. As the Frank family hides in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Anne shares both her everyday teenage challenges and the terror of the Holocaust. Now more relevant than ever, this resonant story of hope and imagination in the darkest of times illuminates a part of history that must not be forgotten. On the Park Square Theatre mainstage for all audiences Jan 18 – Feb 12, 2023, with an extended run for education groups.

In February, SteppingStone will produce its first ever Shakespeare featuring a cast of actors ages 16-21. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Feb 8 – Mar 5, 2023) will bring a genuinely youthful perspective to some of the bard’s most well-known young characters. Available to both school and public audiences, this production will be a new variation on the theme of literary classics that have been at home on the Park Square stage for many years. 

Collaboration continues in the spring with a co-production with PRIME Productions of THE REVOLUTIONISTS (Mar 29 – Apr 16, 2023), by Lauren Gunderson. In this riotous comedy four women find themselves caught up in the French Revolution: an assassin, a spy, a playwright, and, of course, Marie Antoinette. They plot murder, find friendship (and do some good writing), in an irreverent, poignant comedic romp that considers how we go about changing the world.

A comedy-drama exploring fatherhood, loneliness, and the complexity of justice, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY (May 24 – Jun 18, 2023), by Stephen Adly Guirgis, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The New York Times describes it as “a rich new play… Mr. Guirgis has a splendid ear in blurring lines between the sacred and profane and it is a dizzying and exciting place to be.” Surrounded by a beautiful and eclectic stream of family and houseguests, ex-cop and recent widower “Pops” is barely holding on to his stability and his once-grand apartment on Manhattan’s Riverside Drive. This production features a cast of well-known local artists led by James A. Williams as Pops.

SteppingStone has two titles yet to be announced for the spring and summer. In May, the theatre will devise a new work for very young audiences. The work will be hugely interactive and travel to schools, libraries, museums and other hot-spots of the under-5 set. Later, SteppingStone will bring back its annual summer musical performed by some of the Twin Cities’ most talented young performers.

The classics get a summer shake-up as Park Square presents FOOLS AND LOVERS (Jun 7 – Jul 2, 2023), adaptations of Shakespeare by Gregory Wolfe and Gregory Sherman, with original music by Andrew Sherman. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING meets TONY AND TINA’S WEDDING in a beguiling mashup of the classical and comedic. With text drawn entirely from Shakespeare’s plays, some set to music, the play invites the audience into an immersive wedding experience where love can be found in all its guises – young, questioned, rejected, rediscovered – and ultimately conquering all.

Finally, Park Square concludes its season with a world premiere mystery by Jeffrey Hatcher and Steve Hendrickson. HOLMES/POIROT (Jul 19 – Aug 20, 2023) is based on “Murder on the Links” by Agatha Christie with characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, bringing not one, but two of the greatest detectives of all time to the stage in a tour-de-force of cunning plot twists and deft storytelling. Separated by 25 years, the two master sleuths examine a related case, each employing their signature methods and indelible personalities. 

SEASON TICKETS are on sale now for the Park Square season. Subscriptions include seven or five show packages, as well as choose-your-own packages. Subscription prices begin at $66 and offer discounts up to $100 over single tickets. SINGLE TICKETS will be available on a rolling basis, with the fall productions becoming available July 5. SteppingStone’s THE SNOWY DAY is available for school bookings now. General audience tickets will become available July 5. 

The ticket office is open Wednesday and Thursday, noon-5pm, at 651.291.7005, or at tickets@parksquaretheatre.org.

Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You

Jamil Jude

Park Square Theatre was blessed to have Jamil Jude join its artistic/production team in December 2015 to begin a two-year mentorship with Artistic Director Richard Cook, made possible through a prestigious Leadership U[niversity] – One-on-One Program award of a two-year grant to fund Jamil’s professional development via a mentorship. Jamil was one of only six early-career leaders from all areas of theatre throughout the nation to receive such an award.

At Park Square Theatre, Jamil was given the title of Artistic Programming Associate, and he was placed in the foreground to help the organization remain a relevant theatre in a community with a demographic that will continue to shift towards greater diversity. During his mentorship, he would move forward the theater’s vision to be “intentionally diverse” and practice “radical inclusivity” (both terms appear in Park Square’s website).

Richard Cook

It has been nearly a decade-long journey to prepare Park Square for the 21st century and beyond. This mission was initially envisioned by Richard as he witnessed the impact of live theatre on students, particularly students of color, attending its Education programs. The long journey is not surprising as institutionalized exclusionary practices are difficult to dismantle to be able to support truly inclusionary practices. An organization must have strong leadership support and clear and consistent buy-in both from within and without to be able to broaden its scope.

In his short time here, Jamil especially impacted Park Square by being a skilled connector and unifier, doing the very hard work of fostering trust amongst diverse artist communities and giving generous access to his broader network. He has also provided crucial insights and suggestions to challenge the same old approaches in the theater’s programming and audience outreach. Some changes were made in tailoring post-show discussions for diverse student audiences, making script selections and recruiting and attracting more diverse talent to be onstage, behind the scenes, and as instructors for workshops. All his actions accelerated the impact of making real, lasting changes. However, there is still quite a bit to do even as Jamil’s mentorship comes to an end after June and the Artistic Programming Associate position dissolves.

While Park Square is a top employer of local stage talent, 64 percent of whom are women and artists of color, it still has no core staff (including leadership positions) and just one board member of color. But a few years ago, it created the role of Artistic Associate for the purpose of broadening the organization’s perspectives, and recruited Aditi Kapil, Carson Kreitzer, Ricardo Vazquez and James A. Williams to serve as ongoing Artistic Associates. Park Square has also invited local theatre companies, such as Girl Friday Productions, Sandbox Theatre Company, Theatre Pro Rata and Wonderlust Productions, to become Theatres in Residence and partnered with Mu Performing Arts to produce this season’s Flower Drum Song as mutually beneficial exposure to new audiences.

Currently, Park Square is partnering with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce to create a Community Advisory Board made up of people of color to give ideas and feedback on what types of stories need to be told on stages and who to share them with–in short, to engage in honest dialogue to better understand how Park Square fits within an evolving community. On June 21 from 5-6 pm, Jamil will be a facilitator for “Cocktails and Conversation” in our Proscenium lobby for professionals of color to give such feedback.

Only time will tell what the future holds for Park Square Theatre without the transformational presence of Jamil. It’s more difficult to question and alter inherent biases and beliefs than to organically build from the ground up with that vision in mind the way that a new organization, such as Full Circle Theater Company, can do. It’s more difficult to transform an organization with individuals at different spectrums of cultural competency regarding issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Any stall into complacency, regression into status quo or backslide into habituated ways of doing things negatively impacts the outcome. Park Square will steadily need to match good intent with continued action to move forward into its total vision.

Jamil himself will move forward to Atlanta, Georgia, where he will become True Colors Theatre Company’s Associate Artistic Director. At True Colors, Jamil will also get to direct a play each year and, for the first time in his career, focus his energy within one organization rather than be, as he described, “split-brained” amongst multiple organizations and freelance projects.

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

While Jamil has certainly left his mark on Park Square Theatre, what many may not know is the wider impact he has also had on the Twin Cities theatre scene since his arrival in Minnesota in 2011. From 2011 to 2014, he worked for Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis’ West Bank as its National New Play Network Producer in Residence and created and facilitated artist/educator-audience discussions as its Free Speech Program Director. Jamil made another strong impression in 2013, receiving the year-long Playwright Center’s Many Voices Mentorship to help Minnesota-based playwright of color hone one’s craft. Within a few years, Jamil had further widened his circle and influence, joining the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Theatre Alliance (2012-16), the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (both since 2014). In 2015, he had founded the New Griots Festival to promote the work of Twin Cities black artists into the future; the festival will return this year at the Guthrie from July 6 to 16. In 2016, he directed the highly relevant and critically praised inaugural productions of Underdog Theatre’s Baltimore is Burning, written by local artist Kory LaQuess Pullam, founder of Underdog Theatre, as well as local playwright Josh Wilder’s The Highwaymen at The History Theatre in St. Paul.

Park Square Theatre and the Twin Cities theatre community will dearly miss Jamil Jude. Not only could he inspire us, but more importantly, he brought people together to get things done. Jamil Jude has left things better than when he’d arrived. What more could we ask for? We are very grateful and wish him well.

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(Note: Be sure to also read the previous blog post, “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?”)


 

What’s That Got To Do With Jamil Jude?

Jamil Jude
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Last month, I attended a friend’s graduation at the University of Minnesota. Only two years before, I’d read her application essay explaining her motivation to pursue a Master’s in Public Affairs, despite her already heavy load of a full-time job and parenting as well as the economic and time sacrifices for the family. What drove her all boiled down to a personal value instilled in her by her father: “Always leave it better.”

Today I was involved in a brief discussion about the concept of transformational leadership with the sisters and consociates of the Order of St. Joseph of the Carondelet in St. Paul. Such leaders are change makers; they inspire, motivate and empower followers toward making lasting change through a common vision, and they do so by changing expectations, perceptions and motivations. Unlike traditional transactional leaders who are more concerned with processes and foster compliance through rewards and punishment, transformational leaders challenge the status quo to build a personally and collectively meaningful and productive environment for the common good. The transactional style is less apt to make lasting change, though effective in getting specific projects or tasks done and in dealing with crisis and emergencies

Recently I saw Full Circle Theater Company’s 365 Days/plays by Suzan-Lori Parks: A 2017 Remix. This is a company that I’ve been following since it fell under my radar last year when I saw its inaugural production, Theater: A Sacred Passage. It is a forward-looking multiracial, multicultural and multigenerational company that “artfully addresses issues of human nature and social justice for 21st century audiences.” Led by five highly experienced theatre professionals (Rick Shiomi, co-founder and former artistic director of Mu Performing Arts; Martha B. Johnson, co-founder of Mu Performing Arts; James A. Williams, co-founder of Penumbra Theatre; Lara Trujillo, seasoned vocalist, actor and music educator; and Stephanie Lein Walseth, longtime theatre scholar, artist, educator and administrator), this company does the hard work of “walking the talk” in its commitment to intentional diversity that will impact the Twin Cities theatre community of artists and audience well into the future.

What do any of these seemingly random reflections have to do with Jamil Jude, Park Square Theatre’s Artistic Programming Associate since December 2015? Well, everything.

Find out more in an upcoming post about Jamil!

Going Full Circle and Beyond

The circle is a universal symbol of unity, wholeness, inclusivity and cyclical movement. During both the first rehearsal and opening night of Flower Drum Song at Park Square Theatre, members of Mu Performing Arts reflected on how Mu itself has come full circle on its 25th anniversary. Its once newest core performers, such as Randy Reyes, Sherwin Resurreccion, Katie Bradley and Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, are now the elders as another generation of artists stream through. In fact, when Mu first staged Flower Drum Song about eight years ago, Sherwin had played the young man Ta and Randy his father, Wang. And just four years ago, Randy Reyes inherited the Artistic Director role from co-founder Rick Shiomi, who has since co-found a new company called Full Circle Theater.

First rehearsal of Flower Drum Song (Photo by T. T. Cheng)

First rehearsal of Flower Drum Song
(Photo by T. T. Cheng)

Recently I asked Rick Shiomi to go back down memory lane to Mu’s beginnings, then return us to where it is now and, in conjunction, where he is now. My first surprise on this journey was that then University of Minnesota graduate student Dong-il Lee, not Rick, had initiated the founding of Theater Mu (the organization’s original name).

“I actually came here from Canada for personal reasons,” Rick admitted, “and I didn’t think it was even possible to do. I only knew one or two Asian Americans acting in the Twin Cities. I thought it would be too monumental a task.” Yet Rick agreed to go along for the ride.

However, Dong-il graduated within a year and moved to the East coast for a teaching position and, later, back to South Korea. Rick suddenly found himself heading Mu as interim, and ultimately permanent, Artistic Director.  But why didn’t he just stop then and go on with his life?

“By now, I saw that my future would be in the Twin Cities,” Rick said. “I had already committed my life to Asian American theater, and there was nothing here. I could certainly have worked with another theater, like Mixed Blood, that would do maybe one Asian American play in five years. I preferred to put in the hard work to develop Mu instead.”

The work was, indeed, hard. Rick compared the first five to ten years to “digging trenches to lay a foundation.” People came and went as Mu gradually built its first major wave of core performers to take it to the next level. In its 2003/4 season, Mu reached a new high with an all-Asian American casting of the Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures at Park Square Theatre, followed in 2005/6 with its landmark production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Those were exciting times for Mu.

In Rick’s opinion, “Mu has completed one cycle and is now starting on another, almost like a spiral. There is a certain circular sensation, especially for the actors who have grown up and now play the elders, but it’s a different place and time and their roles have changed.”

Rick, too, has let go of a cycle to begin a new one. He and four other longtime stalwarts of the Twin Cities theater community–Martha B. Johnson, James A. Williams, Lara Trujillo and Stephanie Lein Walseth–founded Full Circle Theater in 2013. By doing so, they are going full circle in the sense of experiencing and implementing some of the same growth challenges and strategies faced by any startup, such as Mu in its younger days. However, this time around, they have all been “around the block” with collective knowledge to their advantage as well as a focus beyond Asian American theater. Listed as one of Full Circle’s core values is theater that “is multiracial and multicultural in its representation of life.”

Full Circle’s upcoming production, 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks: A 2017 Remix, will run at the Penumbra Theatre from May 26 to June 11. It will feature 46 of a collection of 365 plays written by Parks in 2002 (one play per day). In its 2007 premiere, 365 Days/365 Plays was lauded as “a national phenomenon….crossing ethnic, racial and economic boundaries.” Flower Drum Song patrons can take advantage of Full Circle’s special offer of $10 tickets by inputting the code FDS at brownpapertickets.com.

With regard to Flower Drum Song, Rick has strong memories of the powerful scene, in Mu’s earlier staging at the Ordway, between Ta and Linda Low–then played by Sherwin Resurreccion and Laurine Price, respectively–when she leaves to make it big in Hollywood. He also recalls the emotional father-son reconciliation dance between Randy and Sherwin as Wang and Ta. Another high point came when Sara Ochs, as Mei-Li, so movingly sang “Love, Look Away.”

“What were you feeling and thinking,” I asked, “as you watched Flower Drum Song to commemorate Mu’s 25th anniversary?”

“What a great evolution/revolution all of us have created!” Rick replied. “I felt great pride in the work of our veterans Sherwin and Katie, leading the cast, and Randy leading the company. And excited by the new talent coming!”

 

Martha B. Johnson, Rick Shiomi, David Henry Hwang and Stephanie Bertumen at opening night for Flower Drum Song (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Martha B. Johnson, Rick Shiomi, David Henry Hwang and Stephanie Bertumen at opening night of Flower Drum Song
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

 

Flower Drum Song – Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until February 19

 

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Please call 651.291.7005.

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