Posts Tagged Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant

Kelly and Ryan of Jefferson Township Speak Out!

Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is the show Twin Cities theatergoers and critics can’t get enough of! This bold, irrelevant musical satire opened on Park Square’s Boss Stage on June 21, and audiences have been raving about it every since. The story centers on protagonist Frannie Foster Wallace, an angsty Millennial who returns to her small town after living in the “Big City” and must re-define what it means to truly succeed. Through side-splitting humor, catchy songs and zany dance moves this dynamic new work touches the heart and inspires a deeper appreciation for the joys of small town life.

We reached out to actors Kelly Houlehan and Ryan London Levin, who play Frannie and Liam, in the musical, to talk about their experiences as a performers in this wildly entertaining story and how the play— with its edgy, evocative themes— may be the beginning of more theatre that appeals to audiences under 30.

Actors dressed in grocery store uniforms. They look devious.

Ryan London Levin and Kelly Houlehan. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Now that you’re performing the show regularly before a live audience, is there a different energy to the songs?

Kelly: This show really has a fifth cast member — the audience! In a comedy like Jefferson Township, we can really feel the energy of the audience as the show unfolds. Plus the Boss Stage is so intimate. People who have seen the show often ask if it’s exhausting to carry a full musical with only four actors and my response to that is no. The energy of the audience carries us through the show; you can tell how much they want to see what will happen next, so you just let it overflow out of you.

Ryan: I tell ya, it feels so good to have this show in front of people! Doing the show in rehearsals can be a bit daunting because we don’t really know how the public will react. We had some idea during the Minnesota Fringe run, but the show is longer now and characters have been developed more — we cut jokes and added jokes, fixed and shuffled plot points, and added songs. Now that we’re open, hearing people laugh and cheer the characters on is incredibly rewarding. One night we had the entire audience laughing so hard you couldn’t hear the song.

There’s been a ton of buzz about Jefferson, why do you think audiences love it so much?

Ryan: The music is incredible. Keith Hovis is not only a clever lyricist, but also a wonderful composer — all the songs are super catchy and energetic. It’s not your typical style of musical theater either (it’s a mixture of pop, rock, folk, and country) and I think it’s musically accessible to everyone; audiences leave with a different tune stuck in their head. I also think the show is a great escape from the stressful world we live in. Sure, it has commentary on Millennial life, but the struggles of being young and trying to achieve success is the story of every generation. The show is pure joy and the characters are lovable and relatable. Anyone of any age can find something to take away from Jefferson.

Kelly: The piece is just really good! The music is phenomenal. The characters are funny, heartfelt and are pushed to grow. The story is interesting and surprising and the comedy is intelligent.  A lot of theatres only produce dated musicals, and a modern musical about modern people and the issues they face is incredibly exciting and relatable (even if you’re not a Millennial). Hopefully, we’ll see more work that tells new, contemporary stories.

 Talk about any special moment you’ve had with an audience member since the opening?

Kelly: This show surprises people. They often aren’t sure exactly what they’re getting themselves into when they sit down, but by the end they’ve been on this journey with these four characters and now they know them so well and they love them! The most common response I get is, ‘Wow! I’m blown away and I’m coming back and bringing my — parents, sister, boyfriend, daughter, best friend’, etc. They just love it.”

Ryan: HA! I’ve had a lot of special moments with the audience while performing the show. The Andy Boss Stage is great because it’s so intimate, which allows the actors to connect with everyone easily. My character goes through a wild journey and it’s not hard to see and hear all the reactions of the room. I LOVE seeing people react to the crazy stuff I do on stage, but by the end of the show I can see people tear up which is really sweet. As silly as this show can be, it also has a ton of heart. Sometimes we even get choked up singing the closing number of show.

Watch this studio session of Kelly and Ryan singing Sparkling Junior Champion.

Jefferson Township runs through July 28. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2HLGzZ0.

Interview by Rebecca Nichloson

Meet Leslie and Zach of Jefferson Township

Meet Leslie and Zach of Jefferson Township

Jefferson Township’s Delightful Journey from the Minnesota Fringe Festival to Park Square Theatre: Conversations with Actors Leslie Vincent and Zach Garcia

An irreverent, bold musical satire about a talent show in a small town opened Friday, June 21 on Park Square’s Boss stage. Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant, a new play about a pageant competition in rural Jefferson Township, tells the story of Frannie Foster Wallace — a thirty-something who must come to terms with her own personal failures after moving back to her  hometown. We reached out to Leslie Vincent and Zach Garcia, who play “Val” and “Travis” in the show, to talk about what it was like developing this musical comedy at Park Square after its first premiere at The Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2017.

Jefferson Township was first presented at the Minnesota Fringe Festival and has gone through an extensive workshop process here at Park Square. How has it and you, as performers and theatre makers, evolved along with it?

Leslie: The production value that Park Square can add to a piece really makes it special. This version has so many elements that we couldn’t pull off in a Fringe setting. The costumes, lights, and set we have now are magical. I’ve grown so much during this process. I’ve become a more flexible, confident, and joyful performer. I’ve learned to take wild risks with abandon because it’s more fun that way. When I’m out there on stage, singing Keith’s beautiful harmonies or cracking one of his jokes, I’m truly in heaven.

Headshot of actor Zach GarciaZach: In a Fringe festival setting, we had to challenge the audience to suspend their disbelief with certain plot points and character relationships due to the confinement of time. With this full-length version of the play, it felt great to evolve and deepen our characters, their relationships to each other and their stories. The cast has lived with these characters for two years, and to begin to adjust and refine the way we think about them was the biggest thrill and challenge in this workshop process.

What is the most important takeaway for the show (how do you want the audience to feel when they leave the theatre)?

Leslie:  I hope people can feel a sense of camaraderie with us. Everyone feels lost in their lives at some point. Everyone struggles with life’s unexpected shifts. These characters are over the top, but at the end of the day their struggle to find success and meaning in their lives isn’t that far-fetched.

Zach: I hope the audience walks away feeling that they’re exactly where they’re supposed to be in life. The beautiful thing about Keith’s writing is that he works with universal themes that span generations. Everybody has felt anxiety or uncertainty about where they are or what they are supposed to have accomplished by a certain point. My sincere hope is that every audience member can leave the theater knowing that it’s okay to not have all the answers and to remember to laugh their way through their own journey.

What character in the story do you most identify with and why?

Headshot of actor Leslie Vincent

Leslie Vincent

Leslie:  “Val” was written with me in mind, so obviously I most identify with her (#TEAMVAL). I love her brashness, wit, determination, and fearlessness. I also love all of my costumes — I want to wear more hot pink track suits in my day-to-day life.

Zach: The greatest gift in my career has been working with Keith, who writes stories specifically for the actor in that role.  “Travis” was loosely based on me and my life. He has a huge heart, is immensely loyal and cherishes the people close to him; I relate to all of these qualities. I spent a large portion of my childhood in rural Wisconsin. I know the pleasure of kicking it on the back of a truck bed with friends or hanging out in a parking lot. Another huge link to me is the role of being a father. When we first performed this piece at the Fringe Festival two years ago, my wife and I had just begun the discussion about starting a family. Fast forward to now and we’ve welcomed our son Oliver — three days before we went into rehearsals at Park Square!  Art imitates life I guess.

Tickets for Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant are available HERE!

Picture of girl putting a tiara on her head and looking surprised.Interview by Rebecca Nichloson, Marketing Manager.

What’s Behind JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP?

Developing a new play – or a MUSICAL – is an exciting and complicated process filled with rewrites, workshops, edits and additions! We asked Keith Hovis, the playwright and composer of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant, on stage in June of 2019, to tell us more about the concept and creative process behind this new full-length and still-developing show!

You can hear a full sing-through of the show with Keith and the cast at a Workshop Presentation on November 1st, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 (including a Free Drink!) and are on sale HERE.

#JeffersonSparkle


line illustration of a tiara crown - dark burgundy on bright plum background

I started writing Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant at one in the morning after I’d hit a massive writer’s block on another project. I had the actors, a director, and a production date (the 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival), but inspiration was not striking.

Sitting at my keyboard I just started playing music. Four chords over and over, until I heard a chorus. What emerged over the next couple hours was the song, “Sparkling Junior Champion,” in which two former classmates, now in their 30’s, decide to revive their small hometown children’s talent competition.

Leslie Vincent and Kelly Houlehan. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

This absurd premise, serves as the jumping off point for the show. At its core, Jefferson Township is about finding your way when you’ve hit an age where you’re told you should already have a plan in place. It’s about going home – that place where you grew up and helped shape your identity and values – and suddenly realizing you feel like an outsider in your own community. It’s about realizing that success and happiness come in many forms, and sometimes you need to open yourself up to possibilities you never considered before.

It’s a comedic, heartfelt exploration for anyone who has ever felt lost.

A scene from the Fringe Festival production of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant.

The original Fringe Festival version was an hour of fast-paced, farce-like comedy, peppered with moments of reflection. Expanding the piece to full length provides an opportunity to flesh out the characters and add more commentary on the pressures we face on a daily basis whether personal, societal, socioeconomic, familial, or generational.

I placed the show in a small town because I don’t feel like that is a population commonly reflected on stage; and when they are depicted, it is often through the lens of being simple, hard-working folk. Growing up, I was fed a narrative that having big dreams and being successful meant having to leave my hometown. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I realize how false this narrative is.

Even now, as we near the election, I am amazed at all of the think pieces about rural America. What they want and how they might impact who is elected. In a world that has gotten more and more divided, this rural/urban split ignores that fact that no matter where you live, everyone wants to do their best. Have a family, succeed in their career, maybe buy a house, and who knows, possibly retire someday. These wants are universal. The reality is that people are people, no matter where you live. Crazy, right?

Writing Jefferson Township has reinforced how proud I am of where I came from. Yes, even if I still try to avoid awkward conversations with former classmates each time I go back to the Coborn’s in Princeton. I’ll just blame that on being slightly introverted.

It has also made me realize how lucky I am to have found my chosen community here in the cities. My new small-town community tucked in an urban landscape. And even more lucky that a few members of that chosen community, my cast – Zach Garcia, Kelly Houlehan, Ryan London Levin and Leslie Vincent – get to be on the journey of bringing Jefferson Township to Park Square.

Keith with the cast. From left to right: Ryan London Levin, Leslie Vincent, Keith Hovis, Kelly Houlehan, Zach Garcia. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

I am excited to share my musical with Park Square audiences. I hope they laugh and are moved in equal measure. As we head into a public reading of the current draft on November 1, I am looking forward to seeing how people respond. I want the production in June of 2019 to be the best it can be, and I know this feedback will be essential for continued development of the show.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my keyboard!

Keith Hovis as a playwright and composer based in Minneapolis. He can currently be seen onstage at the Southern Theater in A Morbid History of Sons & Daughters, an original, ensemble-created musical presented as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival.