When I Wish Upon a Star

Quickly following the year-in-review at the end of the December, full of “best of” lists and even a “best of the worst” list (which was one of my favorites) there came a few new lists: Wish lists for a better 2014—things we’d like to see from the Twin Cities theatre scene in the coming year.

I’d thought I’d put together a list of 10 of my own wishes, and for this I’m ignoring the financial and logistical difficulties.

  1. This town is full of talented performers, writers and musicians. Why not create an original musical? It was done last year by one company, but it could be done on a much larger scale. You know, Latte Da + Playwrights Center?
  2. Workhaus Collective is such an asset to the community, but I’d love to see more original scripts by others, whether as a whole season or as a single production in a season.  (oh, wait. Torch is doing this! And I’m excited!) We can do more
  3. As for previously produced scripts there are some plays and playwrights I want to see people tackle, like Caryl Churchill (who wants to take on Traps?) and Shepard (I’d kill for a good Buried Child production*) or more Mamet (for fuck’s sake!)
  4. Open a new performance space, and create a home for the itinerant companies that are ready for it. I know the logistics of numerous companies managing a space together are complex, but I think there are people running these companies that can make it work.
  5. Someone please fix the Theatre Garage, k?
  6. Festival programming: one ensemble company of actors, a few thematically or artistically related plays, running in rep for two months. Who says only the G should do something like this?
  7. More pop-up theaters. Sandbox did it this past fall in City Center. I’d like to see it create a new trend. I see plenty of empty storefronts and buildings.
  8. A while back someone did a show with mid-to-late-afternoon Sunday matinees, like in the 3 to 5 time slot. I thought it was weird, but realized I loved it because it fit nicely between daytime and evening commitments I had at the time. Someone should bring that back.
  9. And while we’re talking scheduling how about longer runs? ** I hate finding a show opening only to realize it closes ten days later and I’ve missed it. (I won’t even mention that one theatre’s production schedule which has way too many previews followed by too short a run.)
  10. Finally……Me. There should be more of me, which frankly I can’t rely solely on others for but can’t do on my own either. I act. I direct. You probably know where to find me. Last year was a good year but I had a few months I would’ve liked to fill.

As far as “wish” lists go, I’m hardly reaching for the stars on many of these. Baby steps, I guess.  Let’s do this, 2014!

summersky3

* I’d direct that in a heart beat
** just like money shouldn’t be a factor in this dream list neither are audiences. I realize longer runs will likely stretch audiences thin for some folks, but short runs don’t have the benefit of buzz time.

The Nominees are….No One. Or, Everyone. Appropriately

Once a year for the last nine years my theatre community has gathered downtown to honor and celebrate the previous season of theatre in this town. It’s an awards show like few others. While there are all the trappings of what might be expected—fancy red carpet, lots of photographers, flashing lights, gawkers driving by on the main strip downtown, and loads of people (who typically see each other in jeans, t-shirts and occasionally underwear) are all dressed up with high heals, long gowns, sexy gowns, jackets and ties. (And sometimes several of these items at once.)

iveys2013But what makes the Iveys really different is that no one is a nominee. Unlike other awards shows where there a people nominated for awards, the pre-awards buzz for this event is not about any single individual or production, it’s about all productions. There aren’t a handful of nominees walking the door and chatting up their colleagues or getting their picture taken – instead nearly everyone in the crowd is a potential winner.

This awards program has neither nominees nor categories (save for two – Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement.) And the possibilities are widespread. Awards can be given to individuals (actor, director, designer, playwright), entire casts, collaborators or a company for a production. The number of awards and the breakdown of categories is never the same from year to year.

This year a good friend of mine, Craig Johnson, won for his performance as Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency, a production I was fortunate to have been a part of. I’ve worked with him on many productions over the years and feel I know his work very well.  This was a big production—it’s a long, wordy script, and it’s not Oscar Wilde at his wittiest, finest self. It’s more complicated, more layered, than that. And it was very much an ensemble piece, albeit one whose success would hinge strongly on the man at the center of it all. It was a successful show, well received by audiences and certainly a highlight of the year for everyone involved. As for Craig, our fearless leader, I’m familiar with how hard he worked on this show, and with how his work turned out. I saw it in his eyes every night in our scenes. His winning was a highlight of the evening for a lot of people.

My big takeaway from the evening were several of the other winners. They were individuals and companies whose work I either didn’t know, didn’t see or….in one instance didn’t even know about. (Eek! How did that happen?) I feel like I know what’s happening on stages across the city, I feel like I see a lot of shows and read about and follow many more, and I know and talk to theatre artists all the time. Of course, sometimes I too am working, and I’m only human and can’t see everything. Still, this year this element of “i don’t know that person” felt stronger than in the past. (The after party only solidified it. Or maybe my cohorts are just getting older and leaving earlier.)

Then there was this great presentation in the middle of the show about the vast number of playwrights in this city, along with the vast number of original scripts produced by a wide variety of companies. Original scripts are the heart and blood flow of the theatre. All presented, appropriately, by the head of the Playwrights Center, the nationally recognized vital writing institute.

So what does all this tell me?

It tells me that the Twin Cities theatre scene has grown. A Lot. Not only has the number of actors, directors, designers and writers increased dramatically over the years, so has, I think, the quality. The breadth, depth and caliber of talent amazes me.

This is the thought I landed on ultimately…..this town is chock full of talent. Amazing, strong, varied and eager talent.

I’m proud to be a part of this community. I can’t wait to see what happens in the coming year. And I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.

A Too Sudden Blackout

Street Scene, 2011

Lights by Jen DeGolier

Last week my community lost one its members. Suddenly. Unexpectedly.

Jen DeGolier was one of the most prolific lighting designers working in Twin Cities theatre. She went from show to show, project to project. Small theaters, big theaters, universities, often working on overlapping productions.

She was funny, sweet and incredibly talented.

The sudden loss of someone so young, so gifted and so full of life makes it difficult to put in to words how it makes me feel. So in place of words, here’s a picture from last summer. Pre-show lights. The last time I had the pleasure of being lit by her.

Community and Friends and Celebration

Arriving at the Ivey Awards, Historic State Theater, Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

New York has its Tony, Chicago has its Jeff. For many years Minneapolis didn’t have such a thing, but for the past seven years we’ve had the Ivey. Unlike most award programs, the Ivey Awards doesn’t have set categories and there are no nominations, although there are two standard categories of Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement. These elements have been a point of criticism since the beginning, but so far it hasn’t kept away the crowds, lessened the excitement or diminished the glory. Of course, with no set categories and no nominations, honorees have no idea they’re going to win, so every statue handed out is a surprise to most of the room.

Two nights ago the Twin Cities theatre professionals, along with numerous fans, gathered at the historic State Theater downtown for this year’s event. It’s colloquially become called “theater prom” by some because in a field where most of the workforce tend to spend rehearsals and pre-show time wearing rather casual (often very casual) clothes, this is an opportunity to dress up big time.

But unlike prom where only certain people are invited, everyone’s welcome to this show, and elbows are rubbed between the newest and most experienced artists, between the smallest shoe-string budget company and the multi-million dollar funded institutions and everywhere in between. The beauty is in the community, coming together for one night to celebrate each other and honor some (though not all) of the standout moments and works of the previous season.

Oh, and then there’s an after party. A HUGE after party, where more elbows are rubbed and ears are bent and deals and promises are made.

I didn’t win anything although I didn’t really think I would. I am, however, awfully proud to have been a part of a show that garnered a lot of attention that night, as two of those little statues went out because of that show, Street Scene. One went to our show’s heroine, Anna Sundberg (who not surprisingly to many was the year’s emerging artist) and one to our show’s director, Craig Johnson, for his direction of the show – an overwhelming task with its 3-acts, 65 characters, 26 actors and a dog on a (relatively) tiny stage. Sitting next to Craig as his name was announced (or rather, the work and the show was announced which prompted a large contingent around him to cheer loud enough he couldn’t actually hear his name) and seeing the stunned look on his face was a real joy. I’ve been fortunate to work on many shows with him, for many years, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my good friend.

Of course, at the after party the cast members in attendance decided we made his direction look good and gave ourselves due credit. But more importantly, we celebrated our friends who won and celebrated our fortunes of working in a community with such widely diverse and strongly talented artists as these Twin Cities have. I’m happy to call it home.

10 Things about 2010

  1. I completed my full-length play, which lives in limbo waiting for its knight on a white horse of a production.
  2. I work-shopped and staged a challenging script with a committed and fun group of actors. Ari Hoptman is the funniest man I know and almost made me piss my pants in rehearsal. fyi – The script was a drama.

    self-portrait, silhouette on rocks, north shore, fall 2010

  3. I jumped in to the fray of commercial and industrial work (again) and met and worked with awesome people.
  4. I dipped my toe in the pond of Twin Cities independent film, and had some of the most fun acting experiences I’ve had in a long time while shooting a film. I look forward to seeing the results this coming Spring.
  5. I started reading more blogs, finding new ways to write, just for kicks and exercise.
  6. I exercised my creativity while helping design our remodel and construction project, and I now have a comfortable, cozy home. (Side note: in 2011 I need to find that right piece of art to hang over the new fireplace.)
  7. I witnessed a number of spectacular productions, including Unspeakable Things at Sandbox (extremely creative,) The Homecoming at Gremlin (extremely polished acting and directing,) two Minnesota Fringe Festival production: Standing Long Jump (a beautiful new script) and Missing (a beautiful real, one-person show,) and saw some astonishing work in the Tony Award winning August: Osage County.
  8. I took part again in one of the best theatre experiences possible, with Chicago Avenue Project.
  9. I enjoyed my photography hobby, taking over a thousand pictures throughout the year and shared a few here.
  10. I failed to expand my horizons, having only completed 1 of the 5 items I listed on that 2010 Resolutions…or What I’ve told myself back in January. The only thing I accomplished was #2 which didn’t even get me out of the house. Maybe I’ll blame it on having spent so much time, energy and money on making the new house this year. Yeah, that’s it.
Happy New Year!

A Random Week

The past week has been a busy roller coaster of life and thoughts. Here are a random few things of discovery:

  • On Monday I attended The Ivey Awards, which are sort of the Tonys or Jeff Awards of Twin Cities. This evening always proves to me that I need to see more shows. I don’t know how I do that.  But there were several winners whose work I haven’t seen or shows I didn’t catch. I guess when I hear the buzz about something like Ruined at Mixed Blood and I can’t make it there then I should remember this night and I should find a way. I hate missing good theatre. This evening also always proves to me that I’m lousy at schmoozing when there are a couple thousand people, too few bartenders and lots and lots of chatter, laughter, hugs and a bit of eye rolling. Thankfully though, this year I avoided to say or do anything embarrassing. I think.
  • On Tuesday I began my day with insomnia. Literally. Crawling in to bed at midnight I had nothing but Iveys memories, songs performed at the show, conversations had and other sights and sounds running through my head. I then constructed at least two or three ideas for shows I’d like to act in, direct or write. I could’ve easily filled three or four years of work. I slept an hour before getting up to do the day job, where somehow I managed to not fall over. Later that day I saw some promotional video for a local production. It’s a good show (I suspect) and the video is really well put together. I think about how I like working with video, making and editing them together. I think about how I could find a job doing something like that. Then I go back to my other stuff. Eventually I sleep.
  • On Wednesday I learned about the possibility of someone producing a play. It might be another two years, but it’s not dead in the water. This is encouraging, if not one hundred percent elating. Anticipation. Waiting. I briefly discuss a new piece that I think might be interesting. Maybe a 2011 fringe show. Baby steps.
  • On Thursday I had free swim. So I watched some of NBC’s season premieres. I don’t think I’d ever want to do television. And I can say that because I’ve never done television. (No, I can’t say that, but it’s my justification. That, and I live in Minneapolis.) But given the lack of solid work I’ve done recently, and the overwhelming day job, watching actors play and have fun and that’s their job I was a bit envious of them. Especially the few who I personally know (or at least knew at one time) and for whom I know from where they came. I’m happy for them. I need to replace my day job and be happy for me too.
  • On Friday I was at a lovely dinner party at a friend’s house where the host paid a lot of praise to me (and my writing partner) for work on our show last year, and expressed how she hopes to see it produced again. Elated by the ego boost, I mentioned an idea for another project, which she also encouraged. All in all, it was good for the inner self.

And now it’s Saturday. A day of chores preparing to host family for dinner.

As for Sunday…well, I think there’s some free time in there to conjure ideas on a nice bike ride and then sketch up some initial thoughts about that new project.