Tag Archives: Drama

Vincent Hannam Goes to the Dark Side (Guest Blog)

This blog was written and originally posted by my colleague Ting Ting Cheng for Park Square Theatre on the theatre’s own website. You can read it here.

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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’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 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?

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.“Hate and love are close emotions,” Vincent said. “Sometimes the only way that some people can express love is through hatred.”

“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.

“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!

 

Ting Ting Cheng
Ting Ting Cheng joined Park Square Theatre’s Front of House staff in 2014. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Los Angeles, she became a Minnesotan after graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in English Literature. She loves live theatre and has a passion for writing.
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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.

 

 

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!

 

Headed back to Almost, Maine

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.

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The cast of my second stab at the play, with the Lanesboro Community Theater, co-directed with Tod Petersen. 
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My first Almost, Maine was an independent student production at the University of Central Florida.

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.

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You wouldn’t have guessed it, but these two are a couple of serious theatre junkies.

 

 

 

Romeo: Ah, Dear Juliet…

In just a few weeks I will have the enormous pleasure to portray Romeo in Mission Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet!

The show is directed by Penelope Parsons-Lord and will be at the Crane Theater in Minneapolis from June 2 – 17. What excites me most about doing this show is the chance to breathe some freshness into a story we all know. We all know what “violent delights” brings at the play’s conclusion, but what I’m challenged to do as a performer, is make you completely forget that the ending is as inevitable as all that.

That is my challenge and my joy. Romeo to me is not only a young lover but the embodiment of a love we all wish we knew. Whether it’s been lost or never had, that kind of undying, passionate, over-the-moon love is so beautiful and (whether it exists or not) the idea of it is enough to make us burst with emotion. Those feelings are certainly fueling Romeo’s desires, but it’s also the very real stakes of the play that really drive it all home.

Romeo and Juliet are two characters constantly fighting for what they believe in since it seems everyone is against these two people simply being together. Their parents, the government, even the freakin’ stars. I’m simplifying, of course, but by boiling it all down to the basic “what is this about”, you really expose the absurdity those aforementioned obstacles. Why can’t people live and let live? Why can’t love just be pure and innocent? Why do people and governments feel as if they have a right to butt into other people’s private affairs?

Romeo, therefore, is a truly hopeless romantic. He is a good person, a stand-up guy who is well liked and only wants to marry the girl of his dreams and yet… he is killed, thereby causing the death of his equally innocent counterpart, Juliet. Now that is some fickle shit from ye old Fate. Nonetheless, that is life after all and the tragedy the play presents. To present a show just about two angsty teenagers who kill themselves would be absolutely unbearable to watch. No, what the play is about is why they come to the conclusion that this is the only way out. How suffocating does a situation have to become for someone to take such drastic actions? When you look at the play that way (and most plays, really) it is as compelling and riveting a story as any in the canon.

I’m so grateful to be telling this story to audiences and doing so with a truly remarkable team, both on stage and off. It may be Romeo and Juliet but they are only as good as the ensemble around them.

 

From Mission Theatre Company:

You think you know the story of two star-crossed lovers who took their lives… but there is so much more than the title characters; there’s something bright, attractive, and urgently relevant about this play when fearlessly performed. And that is what this production will bring to audiences. We will aim to look specifically at unending cycles of violence, at the people it affects, and that violence is NEVER self-contained; violence breeds violence. This production will be ambitious, brave, fast, funny, and relentlessly tragic.

Showtimes:
Friday, June 2 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, June 3 @ 7:30pm
Sunday, June 4 @ 2:00pm
Monday, June 5 @ 7:30pm
Thursday, June 8 @ 7:30pm
Friday, June 9 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, June 10 @ 7:30pm
Monday, June 12 @ 7:30pm
Thursday, June 15 @ 7:30pm
Friday, June 16 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, June 17 @ 7:30 pm

Featuring:
Eric Balcerzak as Lord Capulet
Tyus Beeson as Tybalt
Michael Terrell Brown as Balthazar/Ensemble
Gary Danciu as Friar
Caitlin Featherstone as Ensemble/Dance Captain
Vincent Hannam as Romeo
Ashley Hovell as Benvolio
Tamara Koltes as Mercutio
Jason Kornelis as Prince/Ensemble
Bethany McHugh as Juliet
Stanzi Schalter as Friar John/Ensemble
John Stark as Paris
Anneliese Stuht as Nurse
Maggie Mae Sulentic as Ensemble/Fight Captain
Andrea Rose Tonsfeldt as Montague/Ensemble
Amy Vickroy as Lady Capulet

Technical Team:
Penelope Parsons-Lord: Director
Ellen DeYoung: Stage Manager
Tony Stoeri: Lighting Designer
Leazah Behrens: Set Designer
Steve Herzog: Sound Designer
Penelope Parsons-Lord: Costume Designer
Krista Weiss: Assistant Costume Designer
Michael Kelley: Fight Choreographer
Andrea Rose Tonsfeldt: Hair/Makeup Designer
Turi Jystad: Assistant Stage Manager