Tag Archives: Minneapolis

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

All Aboard The Ghost Train

With every blog I write here, I try my darndest to make the title as clever a pun as possible. I consider this in the spirit of good journalism. I also consider this in the spirit of my current show, The Ghost Train, which lends itself to a litany of loco locomotive puns.

  • Wow, that rehearsal really went off the rails.
  • But don’t worry, we’re right on track.
  • That was my train of thought.
  • Full steam ahead!
  • And my personal favorite – chug life.

Now in case you’re still thinking The Ghost Train is a serious commentary on the state of the U.S. infrastructure, let me clarify even further by saying that it’s about a band of disparate travelers who’s night train has broken down, leaving them stranded at a rural station in northern Maine. This is no ordinary train station mind you… in fact, it is HAUNTED by a paranormal locomotive that drives any witness to madness. The travelers must then put aside their personal troubles to solve the mystery and save the day.

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For my part, I play Charles, a newly married young man who would love nothing more than to get to his honeymoon hotel. Believe me, those are some pretty high stakes but don’t get too caught up in the details, this play is just plain fun.

Aiding in the irreverence is the time period in which The Ghost Train was written. The play, by Arnold Ridley, is full-on 1920s and premiered in London in 1923, running sold-out for over a year. In the subsequent decades it was made into several movies and established the trope of “strangers who get stranded and have to come together to defeat something bigger than themselves.” I would also say that William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were probably familiar with this play when they produced Scooby-Doo – there are so many of the same conventions!*

Haunted_Train._Mad_Engineer
My personal favorite rendition of the “people stranded together” story – the haunted train episode of Hey, Arnold!

With such a history, it escapes me as to how I’ve never heard of this play. It may be almost a hundred years old but the humor is astoundingly fresh; it’s silly and absurd what some of these characters do in the midst of a haunted train station.

This production also promises to offer a unique perspective on the play. Produced by Wayward Theatre Company and Mission Theatre Company, the show is be performed in partnership with the Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul. The museum itself is in an old train depot and includes actual train cars! It’s super cool and brings a level of authenticity to the hi-jinks abounding. Definitely look into it and come to the show early enough to be able to look around the place and seeing some really interesting bits of history, when trains were the only practical mode of transportation.

You can do that soon when The Ghost Train pulls into the station on March 31st!

Choo Choo.

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*Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were the actual creators of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, so in all fairness to them, it was probably they who were inspired by The Ghost Train.

 

Yo Ho, We’re Off and Sailing

Last month I was back in the director’s chair with a fifth grade production of Treasure Island. The show was at Sunset Hill Elementary in Plymouth, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis) and I was actually co-directing with another theatre artist in town, Amy Abrigo.

The show was something that was handed off to me late in the game but of course I accepted with eagerness. While I’ve directed a bunch of community theatre and high school students, it had been a while since I’d been in charge of so many little ones. I had been a substitute teacher in Florida and experienced what a handful of second graders could be, but to be fair to all those fifth graders reading this, they’re not that bad. They are in a transitional age group where they are old enough to be “cool” and talk to you like an adult, but still young in that they have very little self-control, respect or understanding of the consequences their actions may have. In short, it was a mixed-bag of screaming and praising.

Image result for treasure island

While the rehearsal process lasted a few weeks, it was only for two short afternoons a week  where most of my time was spent herding cats and being a disciplinarian. The whole time I kept reassuring myself that “it will all come together in the end”, because I am no stranger to the way shows work out sometimes. However, while I knew at some point those kids would listen to me and memorize their lines, I wasn’t fool enough to think it would just happen on it’s own.

I did the kids, Amy and myself a favor and took a hatchet to the already short script. Being that Treasure Island a story we’re all kind of familiar with I said nuance-be-damned and essentially cut out anything that didn’t feature Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver. The show was a musical as well so that really helped bridge any gaps in the story. Even with those cuts, the show was just under forty minutes! Which flew by but was plenty, believe you me.

Of course my eternal optimism was rewarded in the end and the two performances went off without a hitch. The little bastards pulled it off and I was ultimately proud of them. I was even witness to some extremely humble moments when they would confide in me about how nervous they were to perform in front of their peers… it was very touching! It’s so funny working with kids that age because you really do want the best for them and think they are just the cutest, but damn do you want to wring their necks. I say all of this, of course, with tremendous love and I think anyone who has shared my shoes gets it 100%.

Finally, I would just like to include the cast list here (pictures will come at some point on my directing page) so one day one of those little munchkins can Google their name and read exactly what I thought of them. Also, here’s a song from the show that was the absolute bane of my existence.

Yo ho ho!

Sunset Hill Elementary
presents

TREASURE ISLAND
by
Kathryn Schultz Miller

Directed by
Vincent S. Hannam and Amy Abrigo

with
Will Kirven
Lilah Krauth
Amanda Michelsen
Colin Bissonette
Jaden St. Urbain
Emily Raiche
LeBraun Dewey
Kaelyn Hvidsten
Seth Aydinalp
Christina Nockel
Charlotte Thompson
Sam Hulst
Camryn Balloy
Myra Klumb
Tyler Jensen
Sebastian Lumitap
Nishanth Baddigam
Angelina Pyle
Raziah Loyd
Ivan Vasylchenko
Gia Wees
Sanaiia Montgomery
Soo-Jin Lee
Bergan Wolf
Gabe Wernimont
Ella Dando
Avery Mikolai

Technical Crew:
Noah Stephens, Jacob Behr, Thomas Theising,
Luke Schultz, Nadia Fessenmeir, Talia Eddy, Nate Lindblad

Technical Director/ Producer:
Julie Schottler

It’s a *Death* trap!

This past weekend I had the immense pleasure of opening Deathtrap at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis. From the cast to the director and most certainly the script, it has been an all round joyful experience.

deathtrapplaybillWithout revealing too much, Deathtrap is a thriller that tells the story of a veteran playwright named Sidney, who’s a bit washed up and eager for inspiration. Inspiration then walks in, in the shape of Clifford- an eager young playwright and former student of Sidney’s. There’s so much more that ensues, but I’ll leave you with words like “diabolical”, “conniving”, “murder” and “thrilleritis malignis” – the fevered pursuit of the one-set five-character moneymaker. The play itself was just that, running on Broadway for four years and 1,809 performances. Good enough for fourth all time (when it comes to straight plays).

Now in Minneapolis in 2017, Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) has it’s own venerated distinction as one of oldest theatres in town, opening in 1953. Amazingly enough, in 65 seasons, Deathtrap has never been produced. A thousand other plays have, for sure, including a production of The Great White Hope in 1975 that starred Ernie Hudson and is still talked about in the theatre community here.

deathtrap-promotionalAside from working at TRP, the show itself has been great. My director, Shanan Custer and stage manager, Stacey Britt, have made the process a delight, as well as my stage companions Charles Numrich, Meri Golden, Tina Frederickson and Todd O’Dowd. Ira Levin, too, who is the playwright and mastermind behind the curtain. In addition to Deathtrap, Levin is stupid famous for works such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil. If you know me, you know how much I love a good thriller and how much I relish the chance to play the genre on stage.

Part of Deathtrap‘s charm is that it references the famous stage thrillers of it’s day; shows like Sleuth, Angel Street and Dial “M” for Murder. I’ll admit that I was not familiar with those plays before, but I’ve loved the chance to revisit some of my favorite movies of that grisly ilk. Why I love playing in Deathtrap so much is because it’s the closest I can get to being in Misery or Psycho or The Silence of the Lambs. Of course now that Misery is itself a play maybe I can get even closer…

So without having said too much about the actual plot of Deathtrap, I hope I’ve still managed to paint an enticing picture nonetheless. If you love any of the aforementioned titles then by all means comes to Theatre in the Round. You’re guaranteed to jump, laugh and cover your ears!

Theatre in the Round Players
presents

DEATHTRAP
by
Ira Levin

Directed by
Shanan Custer

With
Charles Numrich Vincent Hannam
Tina Frederickson Meri Golden and Todd O’Dowd as “Porter”

February 17 – March 12, 2017

 

It’s All Greek to Me

The play I’ve been involved with for a couple months now is an adaptation of The Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. This parred down version of that story is by Northfield Poet Laureate, Rob Hardy, and only runs about two hours.

Those three original plays of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides tell the story of how Orestes is compelled to avenge his father, Agamemnon, after he is slain by his rueful wife, Clytemnestra. Yes, Clytemnestra is also Orestes’s mother and that’s where things get tricky. With the help of sister Electra, Orestes finally does commit matricide and order is restored to the city of Argos. Or so is thought. The final act is basically a courtroom drama where Athena descends to earth and gathers a jury to decide whether or not Orestes was justified in his actions.

Orestes.jpg
Orestes is tormented by the Furies.
oresteia-hero-now-theatre
Unfortunately no one is naked in our version…

This is a big deal as Aeschylus was dramatizing the cultural shift from personal vengeance to procedural litigation in Western philosophy. The playwright garnered as much ire as admiration, however, as he was also questioning his society’s fundamental belief in the gods.

History aside, it has all the elements you’ve come to love in a good Greek tragedy: Blood! Sex! Graphic knife murders! All of which I haven’t actually performed yet in my professional career. High school was the only time I’ve ever done anything Greek (nearly falling off the stage as a blindfolded Oedipus…) so it certainly has been a thrilling challenge to embody Orestes and be a part of a story that is both so relevant and completely foreign to a modern audience.

At the end of the show we have the audience members vote themselves on whether to convict or acquit little old me. In the end, every single time, I have been acquitted of my murder and what’s so fascinating is that when pressed, the audience will say that it wasn’t because they necessarily sympathized with the character – it was to end the cycle of violence. To actually show mercy to an individual no matter how cruel his crime. I know it’s Minnesota and all, but this thinking does parallel the current national mindset when it comes to the death penalty.

That and so many other themes of what constitutes “justice” is what gives this play and other classics of the era their appeal. It’s literally the beginning of our Western beliefs and the foundations of everything we’ve come to build and rely on. It’s a testament then to Aeschylus that he’s still around and still making us question what really is fair when it comes to the law.

 

 

A Triple Play

A couple weeks ago I was simultaneously involved in three different productions, wearing three distinct hats: actor, playwright and director. I love it when this happens! Even though it’s only happened once before… nonetheless it counts in my mind as being a bonafide triple threat. If I can’t dance or sing then I gotta give ’em something else.

In this case I didn’t have to go far to find my chair as a director. For those of you who don’t know I’m actually not a full-time actor and do have a day job to sustain my daily ragers. I’m what they call a “desk-jockey” at the National Theatre for Children, who’s mission is to provide free educational theatre to the youths of America. It’s actually a pretty great company who has had a presence in schools now for decades.

I’ve been with them for a year now and as actors were being hired and tours developed I had to the notion to break free from the cubicle world and actually get involved on the creative end. The production manager went for it and I was assigned to direct the show, The Conservation Caper. A 25 minute two-hander that follows a superhero-in-training named Nikki Neutron as she learns (and consequently teaches us) all about energy technology and conservation. It ain’t winning any awards but it’s does have a slick script and my actors and I had a ball improvising a ton of comedic bits.

The gig itself only last a week (including my Labor Day – what gives?) and was only down the hall from from my regular-programmed job, but it was a great experience and I relished the chance to do something creative with my days. The show itself ended up being great and my actors, Sasha and Katie, are currently somewhere in North Carolina inspiring and educating the little ones.

Clybourne Park

Happy Opening to the cast and crew of Clybourne Park at Yellow Tree Theatre!

Clybourne Park

This was an opportunity that came my way last summer in the midst of moving to Minneapolis and in the thick of Fringe and The Matchmaker (where I first worked with the wondrous Craig Johnson and Dan Hopman). I remember feeling like it was going to take a million years to get to February, but of course, the year went faster than I thought it would and here I am playing the role of “Kenneth”. I won’t say too much about the part, but it involves a very poignant scene in the play about a young man, a vet from Korea, who never got any breaks upon returning home and has run out of options.

The play itself is perfect in almost every way. I first read it in college when it was fresh off its 2011 Pulitzer Prize and 2012 Tony for Best Play and instantly falling in love with it. Then when I was in New York for the summer of 2012, I was able to catch the show on its original Broadway run (closing weekend no less!)

Clybourne-Park-Playbill-03-11Related to the events of A Raisin in the Sun, Clybourne Park deftly navigates from sobering drama to gut-busting comedy quickly and un-apologetically.  It deals with race and gentrification in ways that leaves no one group spared from a not very PC joke, comment or observation. It is with little surprise then that I say this play is not for those without a sense of humor, but then again, it’s also for those who truly want to engage in a serous conversation about everyday race relations; not about riots and corrupt police, but about the way we handle ourselves in day-to-day interactions with those who are “different” from us. Indeed, these are very powerful subjects that are made easier to swallow by the comfort of laughter.

Clybourne Park runs now until March 6th and I would encourage anybody and everybody to see it! The already incredible script is made even stronger by the cast who never lets you go until the thrilling conclusion. Here’s some more specific info:

  • Directed by Craig Johnson and featuring Laura Esping, Patrick Coyle, Ashley Rose Montondo, Jason Peterson, Dan Hopman, Ricardo Beaird, Vincent Hannam and Joetta Wright.
  • 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu. Ends March 6.
  • Yellow Tree Threatre, 320 5th Av. SE., Osseo. $15-$25. 763-493-8733, yellowtreetheatre.com