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Posts Tagged Park Square Theatre

Eli Sherlock Sets the Stage

Yew Alley at Baskerville Hall
(White model by Eli Sherlock)

Who better to design the set for Park Square Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery than Sherlock himself–that is, Scenic Designer Eli Sherlock (née Schlatter)? Using his impressive powers of deduction, Eli had to solve the tricky puzzle of how to set the stage to accommodate 31 scenes covering 18 locations. But anyone who’d caught a glimpse of Eli’s clever, wholly two-dimensional set design for last season’s comedy, The Liar, at Park Square knows that, without a doubt, Eli was definitely up to the challenge.

The moors at night
(White model by Eli Sherlock)

However, his task wasn’t for the faint of heart, requiring a relentlessly methodical approach. Eli combed the script for details: What’s the time period? What are all the scenic locations? How are they utilized? He did exhaustive research: What does the Manor of Manaton (a.k.a. Baskerville Manor) and its surrounding moors, thought to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles, look like? What are the dimensions of the Proscenium stage to ensure that his design would fit and function well? Basically, as Director Theo Langason cracked open the script, Eli read it and began to determine so many of the choices that had to be made.

But one of the closest relationships for a set designer is with the director, who carries the vision for the play. Theo added his influence on Eli’s design via input on such matters as how to possibly incorporate puppetry into a key scene, whether the run crew who moves the set pieces should be visible or not, how the set design could contribute to the play’s comedic elements yet also make it feel spooky and scary and much more.

Set Designer Eli Sherlock

Eli’s training has, in fact, taught him how to manipulate how the audience feels. For instance, Holmes’ area tends to be on stage right for a good reason. Everything on the set–whether wallpaper pattern or color scheme–subliminally tells the story.

“It’s a fast process,” Eli said about set design. “On and off, I’m thinking for a couple of months, then creating the set for a couple of weeks. But the set has to be figured out before rehearsals start so the director can do the blocking.”

This heady combination of collaboration and creativity is what excites Eli about his chosen profession. His greatest thrill is to have created something that an audience hasn’t seen before and cause an unexpected reaction to a space.

“In Baskerville, new stuff will be popping up all the time,” said Eli. “And my hope is for the audience to wonder, ‘How did they do that?!?!'”

Then perhaps he’d flash a sly grin and reply, “It’s elementary . . . .”

Baskerville is on stage now through August 5! Tickets and information here.

Pogi’s Back – in Baskerville!

Park Square favorite Eric “Pogi” Sumangil returns to the Proscenium Stage in Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing both Inspector Lestrade and Sir Henry Baskerville, among many roles. He caught up with blogger Vincent Hannam to share what excites him about this play and working in Twin Cities theatre.

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

What was your path to the Twin Cities and Park Square?
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I had some aspirations to go to college somewhere out of state, but ultimately decided to go to St. John’s University in central Minnesota. My freshman year, I wrote the annual comedy sketch at the Asian New Year celebration. Rick Shiomi, then Artistic Director of Theater Mu, performed at the same event with his Taiko group, and approached me afterward. I started taking workshops at Mu in Minneapolis over summer break and I stayed in touch until I graduated. I began auditioning around the Twin Cities, but for over a decade, getting cast in a show at Park Square eluded me. Suddenly, in 2016, I was cast in The Realistic Joneses, Flower Drum Song, and Macbeth in the same season.
What other work do you do around town?
I am a playwright and teaching artist, I also have done some event planning, marketing and social media, and administrative work, most recently for the Minnesota Theater Alliance. Otherwise, I work for a couple of food trucks around town as well: Bombon, and Fun Fare.

Sara Richardson, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, and McKenna Kelly-Eiding. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

This isn’t your first show at Park Square, so what keeps you coming back? What excites you most about this show?
Park Square is one of the few places in the Twin Cities that features performers of color in non-traditionally cast roles with relative consistency. It’s an opportunity for me to perform roles for which I might not be considered at many other theaters. While I believe that the theater work that is centered around identity is important, I also believe that as someone from a community of color that is often assumed to be foreign, it’s important for me as an actor to be seen in roles that don’t specifically address my ethnic origins.

This show is a classic story with a contemporary feel. It has an American sensibility to the humor, and the challenge of playing so many characters is going to be a lot of fun. I’m also excited to work with a female Holmes & Watson because they’ll both bring great things to those roles.

Ricardo Beaird, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Sara Richardson. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

What do you hope people come away with after watching it?
Accessibility, and relatability. The film & TV world is now trending toward rebooting past shows and movies, but that’s nothing new in the Theater business; there are adaptations all over the place with a new take or different spin on familiar stories. I’m hoping that people come away with a renewed interest in something that they may have dismissed as being old and irrelevant.

Beat the heat this summer and see Pogi in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing until August 5. Tickets can be found here!

Baskerville graphic - red text on white background

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.”

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.

*  * *

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!”

***

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.

* * *

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

 

* * * *

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)

 

 

The Conveniently Comforting Out?

October 18, 1942, diary entry: This is a photograph of me as I wish I looked all the time. Then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood. But at present, I’m afraid, I usually look quite different.
(Photo from Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary – A Photographic Remembrance by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven for the Anne Frank House)

Every year, school groups flock to Park Square Theatre to see our production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Our play is powerfully moving, calling us to bear witness and remember so that we do not repeat history.

Recently I came across “Our Ongoing Trail of Tears,” an article in the March issue of Minnesota Women’s Press by Colleen Hawkins, a social worker in the Indian Child Welfare Act division of child protection. One of Colleen’s comments– “I know the history of the near genocide of Native Americans in our state and country.”–made me recall that my first history lesson on genocide didn’t occur until I was studying World War II and simultaneously assigned to read The Diary of Anne Frank. In fact, my initial and all subsequent history lessons left out America’s own earlier history of genocide and its attempt to wipe out the Native Americans.

I was surprised to then discover what Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Toland had written in Adolph Hitler: The Definitive Biography:

Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination–by starvation and uneven combat–of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.

Indeed, genocide happens in America as well as somewhere else. It’s also not something in the past–it’s impetus lives on–as a quick skim of current news headlines reveals:

“The Power of the Presidency: Will Ethnic Cleansing Be Next?” (by Barbara Reynolds for The Charleston Chronicle, January 15, 2018)

“Neo-Nazis and Hitler Supporters Thrive with Impunity in Poland, Jewish leader says” (by Cristina Maza for Newsweek, January 25, 2018)

“Myanmar Bulldozes Rohingya Villages in possible attempt to hide evidence of ethnic cleansing (by Todd Pitman and Esther Htsusan for Business Insider, February 23, 2018)

“Wallenberg Foundation decries Israel not recognizing Armenian Genocide” (by Tamara Zieve for The Jerusalem Post, February 25, 2018)

No, genocide did not begin nor end with the Jewish Holocaust. Now 75 years after Anne had received her diary for her 13th birthday on June 12, 1942, her story continues to be read at schools and retold on American stages to preserve memory and promote empathy. But as audiences take it in, will they also ponder our own country’s culpability or continue to ignore it?

In her diary, Anne Frank bears the cruelty of what has befallen the Jews by hanging on for dear life to one deep belief: “In spite of everything…people are really good at heart.” As genocide has happened and keeps happening without remorse, does Anne’s anthem of hope transform into a conveniently comforting out?

This season, limited performances are available for general audiences on April 19, 22, 26 and 28 to see this powerful literary classic on our Proscenium Stage. Details and Information Here.

You may also attend student matinees through May 11 by contacting Connor McEvoy, Education Sales & Services Manager, at 651/291-9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org for information on showtimes and ticket availability.

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