Running right now at Park Square Theatre is Of Mice and Men, and it’s a show you can catch on the weekends or if you’re bold enough, every weekday morning with dozens of high schoolers!
Yep, Of Mice and Men plays just about every morning between now and mid-December to students who get to enjoy a field trip to the theatre. If you’re not familiar with Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, you should know that it’s kind of something they’ve earned as a reputation over the years. Steinbeck’s classic has been produced every-other-year in this fashion for at least a decade now. When I tell friends that I’m in it, they say, “Oh, I remember seeing that when I was a kid!” (For the record, I’m 26).
It seems darn near everyone takes the trip to Park Square and enjoys the show! Which I think is amazing, for so many thousands of people to share such an experience in the Twin Cities and throughout the region. I mean, the evening schedule is wonderful but I get such a unique joy from performing my role for teenagers who may never make a habit of watching theatre. I feel that’s a common sentiment among actors, but I really do take a pride in it and that’s thanks to my own field trip to see a play back in middle school.
I can’t even remember what the production company, but I remember taking a field trip in eighth grade to see a production of The Tell Tale Heart (and The Monkey’s Paw) at the Tupperware Center in my home town of Kissimmee, Florida. It was certainly a touring company of some sort, maybe even a high school production, but I remember superb production quality and the thrill of watching a man slowly lose his mind over the incessant beating of the heart under the floorboards. I wasn’t even an actor then! At that point in my life, theatre as nowhere near the forefront of my mind. It’s only now, looking back, that I can recognize it as a formative experience in my life’s chosen path.
Who knows if these students will think about this show after they get back on the bus, and back to class. I hope they do, not just for the sake of being exposed to the arts, but because the themes in Of Mice and Men are so poignant and relevant. The idea that people can only live for so long in an oppressive society. That sometimes you need action in order to make your life a better place. Surface-wise, there’s not too much hope being offered in this play, but just scratch that surface and you’ll find a wealth of courage and resolution.
This is what I hope to share with these kids.
Speaking of work that gets seen by hundreds upon hundreds of people (assuming you’ve read my previous post), my touring stage adaptation of Frankenstein is once again on the road for the Hampstead Stage Company.
As you remember from last year, I was charged to write this play by my bestie Jay Pastucha (Artistic Director) as they were trying to integrate more material for high schools/ young adults. The feedback was really great and with that jolt of confident (and a bigger budget), Jay and I were inspired to revamp the script and add… wait for it… a third character! And what’s more, cast a woman! What an insane concept, right?
Jokes aside, we found that to tell a one-act version of Frankenstein with two people, for children, was a little restricting in our own creativity. We resolved, therefore, to actually write in the character of Elizabeth, rather than have her represented by hard-to-hear voice overs. To use a monster metaphor, there is just so much more meat on the bones, with characters, intentions and scenes fleshed out to a point that I can comfortably be proud of as a playwright.
Currently the show is being toured throughout New England and the Midwest, but not just to schools. Hampstead Stage is great in that they are willing to perform for anyone anywhere. Productions that I’m excited about were staged at the Heartwood Regional Theatre Company in Newcastle, Maine and FrankenFest in Indianapolis.
Praise to Jay and managing director, Anna Lynn Robbins, for believing in the show enough to take a risk on improving the show. In a world controlled by bottom lines, it is a beautiful thing to make art for art’s sake on such a scale. So if you’re looking for a short yet explosive adaptation of Frankenstein, let me know! I don’t know if it will hit the road again next year on tour, but it won’t be the last you’ll see of Victor and the Monster (oh, and Liz now too).
Whenever people or the IRS ask what my occupation is, I do say “actor”. That’s what my training was in and I’m fortunate enough to often be cast in something or another. While my occupation may be “actor”, that’s not exactly how I “make my living”, i.e. making the money I need to literally survive. Yes, I have a “day job” (lots of quotes in this one) but fortunately that job isn’t something I hate and in fact, it’s at a theatre company! The National Theatre for Children, to be exact, here in Minneapolis.
As a company, NTC works with clients in the corporate world to provide schools free educational plays based on that client’s message. So for instance, if a big utility company has money allotted to spend on community outreach, NTC will provide just what they’re looking for – a play to teach students the finer points of energy conservation. So what do I do during the week, Monday through Friday? More often than not, I’m on the phone’s calling prospective schools and simply trying to get a dubious principal or harried secretary to book the show.
I’m going on my third year now, and while it’s all pretty routine at this point, once in a while I get to shake things up and jump over to the production department where all the magic happens.
That was the case this month when I was asked to direct my second show for the company. Last year I jumped in the deep end with The Conservation Caper and this year I tackled The Energized Guyz. Both plays are by in-house playwright, Jon Mikkelsen, and while it ain’t fine art, the scripts are actually rather clever and quick-witted. My two actors, in turn, were committed to the material and over the course of a week’s rehearsal, they managed to continuously crack me up. Trust me, that is high praise when you’ve seen your same show for the umpteenth time! Below is a great example of exactly the show I handled.
As an actor, I really do make the effort to practice other aspects of my field. Not only do I recognize the benefits that directing has for me as a performer, but I do like directing and it’s a nice change of pace when those opportunities arise. Thankfully, I work for a theatre company that allows me to stretch those muscles and funny enough, as The Energized Guyz tours throughout northern Ohio, being seen my hundreds upon hundreds of students, it’s gotta be the most viewed work I’ve ever done!
Life is an interesting thing sometimes, especially as an actor. Asked to portray many strange characters, we sort of grow desensitized that this can seem a little… absurd to people unfamiliar with the craft.
Well, following a get together of like-minded, absurd theatre folks, I was asked to play the character Westley from the 1987 classic, The Princess Bride. Me? Play the part Cary Elwes did so flawlessly? Why yes, I do pull of a pencil mustache, but do go on…
To sweeten the deal, it turns out this is part of “Princess Bride Night” at the ballpark of the St. Paul Saints, a pretty top-notch minor league team (owned in part by Bill Murray. Are we surprised?).
Not only will I be having a blast entertaining crowds for the home team, but I’ll be able to watch the Saints myself. Two of my favorite things – acting and baseball – coming together. How can I say no?
Not to mention I love The Princess Bride and will enjoy having to brush up on my Westley-isms. The only way this could possibly get better is if Bill Murray decides to show up…
Almost is a town in northern Maine that most people haven’t heard of. I mean, it’s way north – hundreds of miles from any major point of civilization, where the moose and lonely-hearts roam. What the heck am I going there for? What the heck am I going back there for?
Well, because Almost doesn’t exist.
Wait. No. It does exist, but – oh, gosh…. lemme explain.
Almost, Maine is really Almost, Maine – a play by John Cariani. There, does that make more sense? I hope so, unless you don’t know what a play is and if that’s the case…
OK, so Almost, Maine is one of those whimsical, charming little gems of the theatre that is so popular that this is actually the third time I have performed in the piece. Not surprisingly, I’m even playing the same character as before. No other play holds such a distinction on my resume and when I heard the Paul Bunyan Playhouse was seeking actors, I was eager to go back.
What makes this production so different from the others, however, is the fact that it will be present by a cast of four, playing all the various residents of the town: Here’s the official synopsis via Dramatists Play Service:
“On a cold, clear, moonless night in the middle of winter, all is not quite what it seems in the remote, mythical town of Almost, Maine. As the northern lights hover in the star-filled sky above, Almost’s residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways. Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend—almost—in this delightful midwinter night’s dream.”
Due to the nature of the show, the cast can include as many as a dozen actors or as few as four. That’s why this time is unique, because now I’ve got the chance to relish several more of Cariani’s delightfully flawed characters. Along with, of course, my fellow actors Diana Jurand, Carol Foose and Nic Delcambre who are a joy to run around on stage with.
Another real treat is the venue of the show itself. While the Paul Bunyan Playhouse is the producing company, the space is in the historic Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji. Opening in 1933, it was a classic Art Deco movie house before 1992 when it was renovated to serve as the home of the Playhouse. As for Bemidji, well, how can I not love the fact that I get to spend my July with Paul and Babe. So if you happen to find yourself in northwest Minnesota this month, come by and check us out. The show is directed by Jim Williams and runs July 19th-23rd and 26th-29th.
For those of you who are interested, the adaption of The Oresteia that I was in last year is actually being published! The original is by Aeschylus, of course, but Minnesota writer and poet, Rob Hardy, turned the trilogy of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides into one action-packed narrative.
I think it’s pretty good and will definitely be getting my own copy, which includes a forward about the original production from Hero Now Theatre. Fun fact, this is the first time I have been listed as an actor in a published script!
Check it out here at http://heronowtheatre.org/store/