Tag Archives: acting

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 Grace Weiner and Nikki Tuttle. CLIMB Theatre is the producing company and is based in the Twin Cities. This production, however, 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.

 

 

 

 

Middletown: There’s a lot More in Between

Dear fellow human beings; fellow breathers –

Currently playing at DalekoArts is an off-beat and heartrending play called Middletown by Will Eno. Hard to define in certain terms, I will often describe it to people as “Our Town for the 21st Century”, even though I know that that doesn’t nearly complete the picture.

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While both plays tell their stories though a “slice of life” framework – depicting real people in a real community – showing life as it is now, Middletown delves so much more into the subtle and truly undefinable moments of human interaction. Characters will converse and say nonsensical things, yet understand. Characters will mumble and murmur and mouth whole lines that manage to leave the audience scratching their heads yet nodding at the same time. Some scenes take place in outer space and some scenes take place in a household kitchen. Babies are born and people die. Eno’s point in all this is to show Life through every angle he can, with every literary technique at his disposal.

What you end up watching then is a two act play that manages to charm and knock your emotional socks off by the final blackout.

Even I as the assistant director, who’s probably seen the play about thirty times, never tired from the language and the actors speaking it. Therein lies the mastery of the playwright’s talents. Will Eno is really good at what he does! Despite being a late-bloomer to playwriting, he had run in with literary art in 1996 when he was invited to tune his fiction capabilities at an Edward F. Albee Foundation workshop in Montauk, Long Island. His first commercial success in New York was Thom Pain (based on nothing) in 2005. Citing Samuel Beckett as a huge inspiration, the play is a one-person monologue about trials and tribulations of life. Charles Isherwood, in his New York Times review, says it best:

Mr. Eno’s voice is so assuredly his own, simultaneously delicate and audacious in its measurements of poetry, philosophy and Monty Pythonesque silliness, that he should be allowed to speak for himself, in full.

Thom Pain went on to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (bested by John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt) and another well-known play of his is The Realistic Joneses.

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Actors left to right: Joe Swanson, Sean Byrd, Tom Karki.

As for our production at DalekoArts, director Anne M. Byrd and the team has struck upon Eno’s trademark philosophy and silliness. I’m certainly happy to return to New Prague after a couple stints as an actor (Wait Until Dark and Snowed Inn), and can’t wait for audiences to laugh, cry and scratch their heads this time around.

Tickets and information can be had here.

View the playbill here.

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. 

Of Mice and Kids

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.

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The cast of Of Mice and Men. Directed by Annie Enneking.  

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.

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.