Category Archives: Announcements

Climbing Through the Mouse Hole

“On the road again… I just can’t wait to get on the road again…”

It’s finally happened. I’m doing it and couldn’t be more eager for the sense of adventure and romanticism that lays in store for the next two weeks, as I inhabit that mythical role of the traveling performer. 

And the show? The age-old tale of “Country Mouse, City Mouse” presented as Country Mouse & City Mouse: The Mousical by CLIMB Theatre. The company is based in the Twin Cities, but this production is being toured throughout northern Minnesota in a region called the “Arrowhead”. Peppered by lakes and small towns, the region is also known as the Iron Range, thanks to it’s rich mining history. This is a part of the state that is mostly rural and happy to experience events such as plays and music.

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I always say that one of the reasons I make my home as an artist in Minnesota is because of the culture of art that the state actively cultivates. This is thanks, in large part to the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, that voters passed in 2008.

This in turn allows local libraries in small country towns to afford plays like the one I’m touring now. Parents enjoy it, sure, but the children are obviously the target audience and it’s inspiring to see their little faces light up and learn a lesson or two about acceptance and self-care.

I’m two days in right now and yeah, I’m ready to hit the hay after long hours but it neat to know that exhaustion of the road. Packing in, packing out, swilling gas station coffee and eating cheap hamburgers… like a real traveling actor! Or maybe like a traveling actor circa 1920… regardless, I’m going to fancy myself the regular vaudevillian in the coming weeks.

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Tikkun Olam this June

This month I have the pleasure to be working on a special little show called, Save a Child’s Heart, that is being presented by the Harmony Theatre Company & School in Minneapolis. It is written by Laura Burroughs, Elena Khalitov, and Matt Saxe. Khalitov is also the founder of the company while Saxe directed the piece.

An original play based on true stories from an Israeli humanitarian organization that provides free life-saving heart surgery for children worldwide.

But what exactly is Save a Child’s Heart; both the organization and the play?

Our story follows a seven year old girl named Maria who suffers from a congenital heart disease known as VSD. In layman’s terms it means she has a “hole in her heart”, which is a surprisingly common ailment of newborns and young children. Fortunately, Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) specializes in curing just this problem and have been doing so since 1995. The best part, however, is that the non-profit hospital reaches out to underdeveloped nations and strives to help all children regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Yes, this even includes all the Arab neighbors of Israel. There is no discrimination and in the play we see young Maria makes friends with a Palestinian girl suffering the same illness.

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As for myself, I get to play the young volunteer who looks after the kids in the children’s home and imparts my knowledge of “Tikkun Olam”, a central tenet of the Jewish faith that means “to fix the world”. It’s a philosophy I was unaware of before joining the production, and holds that all humans ought to continually strive to make the world a better place. Whether that’s volunteering at a place like SACH or simply picking up garbage on the street, we all must do our best to restore the world to God’s original perfection.

It’s a high bar and as we know, humans ain’t perfect. Nonetheless, in times of stress and trouble why shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard? We all belong to the same earth, after all, so despite our surface differences we really are one human race. Save a Child’s Heart drives home this idea through the lens of children and hopefully the adults in the room can follow suit.

Save a Child’s Heart plays:
June 21 @ 7 pm (University of Minnesota)
June 24 @ 4 pm (University of Minnesota)
September 6 @ 7 pm (Wellstone Center)

And features:
Vincent Hannam
Hannah Shteyman
Dinah Hunegs
Chana Lyubeznik
Alice Khalitov
Esther Khalitov
Jeffry Nordin
Christine Nordin
Sarah Cumes
Liz Swabey-Keith
Ellen Apel
Matt Saxe
and
Tigger, the Orange Tabby as Tikki, the Cat

 

What’s Bloomin’ this Spring?

Two years after I ended my first run on the Heartwood boards, I find myself back in coastal Maine performing in a staged reading of Bloomsday by Steven Dietz.

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Directed by Griff Braley and featuring the talents of Deirdre Manning, Mary Fraser and Cliff Blake, this is a play that… well, it’s a bit trippy to explain, but it’s a play that examines the choices we make and whether or not it’s truly possible to go back and alter our timelines. Fate is a huge theme, and yes there’s a fair bit of “time traveling”, but what makes it so effective to me is that it’s really about the crushing hope of that first love.

Oh, and it is set in Dublin and uses James Joyce’s novel Ulysses as the lens through which to view the story. Characters quote the novel, reference is a hundred times, and though I’ve never read Ulysses I have to imagine Steven Dietz has modeled his characters off of Joyce’s. The date in the play is even June 16, which if you happen to be an English lit nerd, is the date in which the action of Ulysses take place.

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After the novel became a smash, that date has become known as “Bloomsday” and has become a giant festival celebrating Joyce and his exaltation of Ireland and the city of Dublin. (The name comes from the central characters of the book – Leo and Molly Bloom). While you can find parades all over the world, it’s the one in Dublin that is the biggest and where folks dress up in Edwardian clothing and walk the same route that Leo Bloom does in the novel, ducking in and out of shops and pubs.

Sounds right up my alley and while I am aware that Ulysses is a “doorstop of a book”, I’d like to take a crack at it. This play, Bloomsday, has enlightened me to what is often hailed at the greatest novel of the 20th century; quite the reputation! For now, however, I will be content and privileged to read/perform this intimate (and yet heavy) little play.

Previously the only character I knew as Leo Bloom. Apparently not a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

Mr. Hannam Goes to St. Paul

The life of a theatre artist is certainly one of constant activity and at times can be a little unpredictable. One day you’re sitting in your studio, eager to finally finish the novel you’ve been chipping away at and the next you see a production call needing some stage hands. Hmm… I haven’t done that kind of work since college… hmm, but it is a company I know and directors I respect… hmm… let’s do it!

And that’s just how I got involved with Our House: The Capitol Play Project by Alan Berks and Leah Cooper, from Wonderlust Productions!

Described as such:

When a wild card new Governor is elected, the regular order on the state Capitol campus is thrown into chaos. While a chorus of activists, legislators, lobbyists, civil servants, and tour guides attempt to get their way, an idealistic new employee finds herself at the center of an unexpected controversy. Misunderstandings and mistaken identity lead to a crash course in the realities that both constrain and inspire the men and women who have devoted themselves to public service (inside a building brimming with idealism, cynicism, absurdity, significance, and power, plus more than a few old ghosts who have something to say).

Being a part of the project has not only flexed my tiny and withered production-muscles, but really has been an incredible crash course in Minnesota political history and civics. As a newly-minted citizen of the state, I must admit I have zero idea about any of that stuff. In fact, before this show, I had only been to the capitol building once and that was to seek refuge in the cold after the car I was in broke down!

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For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting, I would urge you to as soon as possible. Completed in 1905, the building just underwent a major restoration and is literally shining in beautiful granite, marble and gold. Once inside the building, you’re treated to vast halls with enough portraits and statues to fill any weekend and then for all you architect nerds out there, the building was designed by Cass Gilbert who also designed the U.S. Supreme Court and the Woolworth Building. It just so happens to be the second largest self-supported marble dome in the entire world, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Interested yet? Good. Now know that since it does pride itself as being “the people’s house”, visitors are free to come and go as they please throughout the building (save for such rooms as the Senate and House chambers, of course).

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The rotunda of the building. There happens to be a lot of honor paid to Minnesota’s role in the Civil War – photo by Dave Wilson.

When I decided to get involved in The Capitol Play Project, I didn’t really know what to expect. Now I’ve spent so much time in the capitol that I can’t help but be continually inspired by the quotes on the walls or the sheer grandeur of the construction. Not that I necessarily want to enter the political arena, but it does fuel my interest in being a voice for change in my community, either through activism or simply voting and making my representatives aware of my presence. That’s what the State Capitol building stands for and that’s what The Capitol Play Project brings to life so passionately.

We only run one more weekend, but for more info check it out here. 

Return of Frankenstein!

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.

Frankenstein2017-1.jpgAs 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.

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Last year’s Frankenstein. Hampstead Stage Company. Directed by Austen Edwards with Robert Wright III and Patrick Sylvester.

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). 

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I’m afraid Elizabeth just can’t catch a break.

 

 

When Work is Play

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.

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Communications Rep and sometimes director (it’s cold in Minnesota, what?)

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!

 

“As You Wish” at the Ballpark

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…

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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…

Inconceivable!