Posts Tagged Petronella J. Ytsma

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

(In)Famous Pirates of Stage and Screen!

In rehearsal at Park Square now is the ageless musical comedy, The Pirates of Penzance, by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Fans of musical theatre and classic drama will no doubt be familiar with the opera; it has been making people fall in love with dimwitted pirates since it premiered in 1879 in New York City, and it accompanies H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado as Gilbert and Sullivan’s most produced works today.

All of my research into this show now, has stirred my latent fascination with pirates – especially those buccaneers we see in film and on TV. Of course, Pirates of Penzance was turned into a movie in 1983 starring Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury. This film was based on the acclaimed 1980 Broadway production, produced by Joe Papp.

But who else makes up our motley crew of fictionalized swashbucklers? Who did I leave out and who shouldn’t I have included?

1. Let’s go back to the beginning, when pirates made their first big splash on the screen. Errol Flynn as the debonair renegade, Captain Blood, in the 1935 film that launched his stardom. Now that I think about it, why did it take over a hundred years to make a Pirates of Penzance film?

2. Of course, before film there was literature and coming out only a few years after Pirates of Penzance, was the dastardly Long John Silver of Treasure Island. This is absolutely the character that set the template for all the pirate-isms we know and love today. The peg-leg, the eye-patch, even that squawking parrot! Thanks Robert Louis Stevenson…. Naturally there have been dozens of depictions of Captain Long John and even a tasty fast-food joint. Famous actors such as Charlton Heston, Wallace Beery, Orson Welles and Jack Palance have all had a turn with the black spot, but who doesn’t love Tim Curry’s portrayal in Muppet Treasure Island?

3. Another infamous pirate has to be the one and only Captain Hook. While made famous the world-over by Disney’s 1953 animated classic, the character first appeared in the play Peter Pan (1904) by J.M. Barrie and the subsequent novel in 1911. The archenemy of the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, Captain Hook attributes his name to the sinister iron hook that has replaced his hand (bit off by a very persistent crocodile). I would say that he and Long John Silver would certainly get along well!

4. Well, I think we’ve had enough of villainy for the time being, haven’t we? Let’s get back to the lovable-rogue archetype that Flynn perfected so well. Next up…. that captain of the Black Pearl and scoundrel of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow! Thanks to Johnny Depp’s chameleon-like transformation in Disney’s 2003 classic, Pirates of the Caribbean, this pirate not only became famous but a world-wide phenomena, launching a multi-billion dollar franchise and four subsequent sequels (for better or for worse…) The only question we have now is – why is the rum gone?

5. Finally, I figured we would end this whole escapade where we started it, with 1983’s The Pirates of Penzance and Kevin Kline’s performance as the Pirate King. Kind-hearted and gentlemanly, the Pirate King is not your typical brand of bloodthirsty buccaneer, and that’s what makes the character so endearing!

(Now we have someone even better stepping into the role for Park Square: the multi-talented Bradley Greenwald.)

Bradley Greenwald (Photo by Petronella J Ytsma)

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

 

 

Hope and Inspiration

One cannot help but be reflective after Election Day, and one thing that I’ve been thinking about is the role of theatre arts in society as a source of hope and inspiration.

In my work at Park Square Theatre, both as blogger and daytime usher, I get to witness firsthand some of the dynamic changes occurring within the Minnesota scene as Elders begin to hand off responsibilities to a younger generation, as organizations soul-search on how to remain relevant to their audiences and as they ever strive to fulfill their missions–all while trying to stay financially afloat to be able to come back to do it all over again season after season. What I have discovered is that a theatre is a place of service, and those who work in one are more likely than not following a calling. The theatre “bug” is not foremost a pursuit of fame and fortune (though the latter would be a welcomed help) but a dedication by those involved to work for the greater social good.

While at Park Square Theatre, I get to brush shoulders with living Minnesota theatre history–the people who have been the shakers-and-movers of Twin Cities theatre for decades, not much in the limelight but still tirelessly dedicated to bringing quality live theatre to you from behind the scenes. To name just a few, there are Artistic Director Richard Cook, who co-founded and built up Park Square’s stature in its Saint Paul community; Education Director Mary Finnerty, who created what is likely the strongest theatre education program for middle- and high-school students in the state; photographer Petronella J. Ytsma, who can tell you photoshoot stories that span the change of photo-technology; and newly hired Group Sales & Community Engagement Manager Linda Twiss, who has likely, unbeknownst to you, already touched some aspect of your theater-going experience in Minnesota through the years.

Then there are our Future–the younger generation who also carry on the vision and mission. In my two seasons at Park Square Theatre, I have watched House Manager Amanda Lammert rise to Audience Services Director and, as such, clear the path for  millennials, such as Jiffy Kunik to become Performance Supervisor, Adrian Larkin to become Lead House Manager and Ben Cook-Feltz to become Ticket Office Supervisor. Our stage managers, such as Jamie Kranz, Megan Dougherty, Laura Topham and Lyndsey Harter, tend to be young female leaders with sure hands on each production that they oversee. My own fellow blogger, Vincent Hannam, is so clearly a Student of Life through Theatre; I get to see him grow not just as a theatre artist but as a wholehearted human being as I blog alongside him. And I have interviewed so many up-and-coming theatre professionals, from actors to designers, working with such intensity and creativity in their chosen fields. To be amongst such passionate young people, committed to theatre as a social cause is a constant source of hope and inspiration.

Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

A scene from A Raisin in the Sun (Photo by Connie Shaver)

And this fall I am witnessing the fruits of the prior year’s labor to carefully select this season’s plays, culled from suggestions by theatre professionals, theatre goers and volunteer script readers–all committed to fulfilling Park Square Theatre’s mission. The whole process is a mixture of intentionality and serendipity, resulting in a breathtaking season of anticipation and high hopes that we got it right. This season, we started out with The Liar and The Realistic Joneses, both in their own ways guiding us to what is true and real. Then came The House on Mango Street and currently A Raisin in the Sun, both uplifting the human spirit in the face of adversity. In December, we look forward to The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, a style of music brought to us by Jewish immigrants.

Park Square Theatre’s mission is “to enrich our community by producing and presenting exceptional live theatre that touches the heart, engages the mind, and delights the spirit.” It is theatre in service to the common good and, by extension, a source of hope and inspiration. To all.

Note: We have a very limited number of tickets available for A Raisin in the Sun evening and weekend performances through November 20. But you may now purchase tickets for weekday student matinee performances through December 22. (You would be watching the play with school groups.) Student matinee tickets cost just $25.

banner-soul-of-gershwin-960x356-10-19

Tickets for The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer evening and weekend performances are available through December 31.

To order, call 651.291.7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.