5 Fringe Shows We Want to See This Year

  1. Weekend at Bernie Sanders’s
    Bernie Sanders is dead! But that won’t stop him (and his loyal band of Bernie Bros) from keeping his campaign for president alive! This madcap comedy asks (and definitively answers) the big questions about our democracy in just 45 minutes of HILLarity! But we won’t TRUMPet our own horn! We’re just CRUZin to victory!
  2. The Adventures of Moose Knuckle and Camel Toe
    Follow the amazing escapades of married superhero duo, Moose Knuckle and Camel Toe! Going through a rough patch, can they overcome their differences to get the evil Dr. Cumbersnatch? A classic battle of the sexes!
  3. Clam House Confessions
    When four women find themselves locked in a sex dungeon, what will they reveal and what will they keep hidden? Told in four interweaving monologues, Clam House Confessions aims to break down barriers by showing the strong females within us all.
  4. O.P.H.E.L.I.A.: Stands for Everything
    In her one woman show Cassandra Kempt (MFA YALE REP, PhD RSC, Professor Emeritus Moscow Art Theatre, BFA University of West Florida) combines Ophelia’s speeches with actual news reports from the Gaza Strip to create a portrait of the lives in struggle. Thanks to an exception from the Fringe Festival, the show will be given a special nine hour slot.
  5. Matt and Ben II: Jennifer Strikes Back
    Matt and Ben are back and this time they’re all grown up! But with great power comes great responsibility…Will they be able to resist the greatest temptation of all: THE HOT NANNY?? (**Please note: Matt and Ben II:Jennifer Strikes Back is not produced or related in any way to Mindy Kaling, Brenda Whithers, Matt Damon or Ben Affleck).
  6. The Boob Play: A Musical
    Who doesn’t love a great pair of hooters? Better yet, who doesn’t love guys objectifying them with songs such as “Knock, Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Titties!” and “Jumbo Magumbos No. 5”.

Originally published at hackstage.nyc

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Impressions: Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue

This past year at Park Square Theatre, encompassed many themes, and there is so much to look back on with wonder and awe. Least of which was the the fact that it was my first year with the company as a marketing assistant, front of house extraordinaire and theatre blogger! Like I said, many themes to explore but I’m going to make things simple right start at the beginning. Someone once said that’s the best place to start.

I was completely new to the Twin Cities last summer and subletting a studio apartment in Minneapolis, working a nondescript temp job to stay afloat until I could get something solid under my feet. Finally the summer doldrums passed and with the start of the new season at Park Square came the opportunity to come on board.

I distinctly remember sitting down with Connie Shaver, the Marketing & Audience Development Director, fully expecting to interview for a Front of House position, but was wonderfully surprised to hear her interest in my personal blog and social media presence. Eventually I got into the box office, but from the start I was always involved in the actual goings-on of the theatre-making process. My first assignment with the season was the show, Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue, and to attend the opening night party with my handy dandy camera in tow.

The night was marked by good spirits as everyone knew how well the play had gone. For those who missed out on that September night, the play deals with a Puerto Rican family and, Elliot (the youngest of three generations of soldiers), dealing with the effects of returning home after a tour of duty in Iraq. All the actors were on point and effortlessly handled the rich, poetic script by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes. After the show, I got to interact with those actors as both a fan and professional, taking pictures and making memories. I met Richard Cook, I chatted with Rich Remedios about his Meisner training, took candid photos of Ricardo Vasquez, and started my first year in the Twin Cities on the strongest foot I could ever think possible. Elliot was a great show, yes, but as I reflect it was a great experience all around; my first at Park Square and the first of my  year.

 

Looking Ahead: A Raisin in the Sun

Park Square recently unveiled it’s new season for 2016-2017 and one of the shows that most excites me is Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The story about a family just trying to survive and get ahead it such a powerful one that it resonates as not just an American tale, but a human one. Of course the family at the center of it all is African American, allowing the play to delve even deeper into themes that become as universal as they are unique to the history of African Americans in our country.

This past winter I was in a production of Clybourne Park at Yellow Tree Theatre, which for those who don’t know, is set in the same world as Raisin, only after the events as told in Hansberry’s play. It’s a brilliant script that picks up the mantle for the 21st century and scathingly shows us that issues such as racism, gentrification, entitlement and civil rights continue to nip at our heels no matter how many steps we take forward.

Among the many great things to come out of that experience was just the reason to re-read A Raisin in the Sun (like you need a reason!) and I couldn’t put it down. I remember reading it in high school and definitely not having the same reaction. Obviously I my tastes and sensibilities have matured since I was sixteen but also so has our culture, where minority rights are deservedly back at the forefront of our social narrative. As a white guy, it’s just been inherent that I live with certain blinders on, but with art such as A Raisin in the Sun, those blinders can start to come off and I can do my part to help make the world a better place.

That’s why A Raisin in the Sun is a great play, but the reason I believe it’s a masterpiece of the American stage is how it gets it message across. It’s an extremely well written play! Yes, the central them is that of the African American experience but it is told in such a way that it instantly becomes recognizable to anyone who has ever had a family, had to move, had to deal with life insurance and wills, been taken advantage of, etc. Within this frame, the Younger family’s struggles become relatable to everyone and in this way, it begins to create the social change I’m sure Hansberry was ultimately striving for.

Nearly sixty years after it premiered we are still freakin’ fighting for universal rights and I think there’s a lot of frustration that the years continue to roll without total victory. Again as a white guy, when I was feeling the most frustrated with my seemingly inability to relate, I picked up A Raisin in the Sun, and I got it. Sixty years ago, now, whenever, the story of the Youngers became my story and in that way my whole perspective changed. I have never seen a production of the play so I really look forward to Park Square’s this October-November and I hope you do too.

What is “The Best” Anyways?

 

There are with out a doubt, subjects that can be defined as “best” and… not best. Science, cuisine, and the Minnesota Twins are some starters; you can reasonably say that there’s a difference between what constitutes good and bad. For many things, however, the line is distinctly less obvious and the difference between what’s good and bad often comes down to one person’s opinion. “Everyone’s a critic” rings painfully true for artists, who often feel as if their entire life’s work can be made or broken depending on whether or not the critic was able to find adequate parking or hasn’t fallen ill from an under cooked fish.

An artist will devote countless hours on a project, plumbing the depths of the human condition, often  at the expense of their own pleasures. DaVinci once said that “art is never finished, only abandoned” and as an actor I get that. Weeks go by and you’re still tinkering with the artwork, knowing that at some point you’re going to have to let it fly into the stage lights of opening night. It’s hard to do that, especially when you know there are people actually getting paid to sit in the darkness to judge you  on all of that devotion. You hope they are able to see not just the one tree, but the whole forest.

Exposing yourself like that is, in short, a leap of faith. Yes, the critic is there to do this job but as for power? I believe we give the critic only as much power as we let them. The simple question is, “who do we do it for?” To serve ourselves in the hope that a “good” review will grant us the keys to a sort of acting El Dorado, or to show audiences a glimpse of their own forgotten humanity? In my short career I’ve come to learn that by focusing on the former you lose sight of the latter, leading to a weak foundation that will eventually crumble in on itself.

This of course it not to say that I hate reviews and critics, quite the contrary. I value a good review that sheds light on a production and I’ll even copy and paste a specific one onto my website; I won’t even go so far as to call reviewers a “necessary evil”. No, they’re not evil, but I can see how a disgruntled performer could go there.

All of this then is to ask the question, what constitutes good theatre? Who determines what “the best” theatre is? The reviewers, the audiences, the artists themselves? All of them are intrinsic to the welfare of the art and have a voice. Inevitably those voices clash and no more so than during big “oo-lah-lah” events such as the Tony Awards where suddenly anyone who has seen a play, any play, speaks out about the nominees and not always in the most positive light.

These are the same people who annually disparage the Oscars for not amounting to a hill of beans. Why should we care about an awards show that rewards bloated and stale Broadway? Because I believe, for better or worse, this the face of the industry; practically the only thing Joe the Plumber might think of when someone says “theatre”, and dang it, if Joe the Plumber thinks anything about theatre at all then we’re off to a good start. Of course we artists sticking it out here in the hinterlands know that the American theatre is so much richer than what the Tony’s represent but it pays to be informed about what’s happening in New York, no matter your position. So I would recommend not forgetting to take your grain of salt and just appreciate the fact that Theatre gets its day in the mainstream sun for at least one night a year.

So “The Best”. Can we define it? Can we spot it in a line up? Sometimes absolutely, but more often than not we’re just comparing apples to oranges; whether it’s the critic or some institution like the Tony Awards. I say we as the artists raise our voices a little more in solidarity and less in sniping at each other and then we can enjoy the big oo-lah-lah events as the giant self-celebratory parties they ought to be.

What’s in a List?

The other week on Facebook (I know… I know…) I came upon this list that was circulating among my network of fellow artisans entitled, “25 Most Important Plays Every Actor Should Read“.

Now, first off, when I see a headline like that, I immediately roll my eyes and assume that the list is going to include the already established classics from one’s theatre history class. And guess what? I was not surprised. But here’s the thing: I didn’t expect to be surprised. Did I want to be? Sure! I would have loved to have seen playwrights like Lorraine Hansberry, Athol Fugard, or Lynn Nottage included. It’s frustrating but I’m not upset at the some website for regurgitating the same ten or twelve plays over and over again because the . argument here isn’t disputing their “worthiness” it’s that there should be more diversity among them. While that is an argument we must continue to push, we have to do it the right way. How about the next time one goes around we circulate our own “Top Plays List” so that catches fire in the community and shows up on everyone’s feed. I’m talking the works too: Published on a blog from a reputable company with pictures and everything.

GIFS.

Seriously though, how cool would it be if there if a poll were taken at Park Square Theatre to determine the “The Top Plays Every Actor Should Read”? I like it – I think I’m gonna make it happen because we don’t need some random Facebook post determine for us what’s “important” to read in the ever expanding and diversify canon of Western drama.

Park Square will let you know when we can but what do you say now? What do YOU think should be included?

 

Job Description: The Mentor

Producers, writers, directors, dramaturgs, choreographers, agents, actors, singers, coffee runners. You name it and it exists in show biz where just about every facet of the theatre as its designated leader, the one who takes control of that job. This is done for obvious reasons: no man is an island and I think we all agree that burnout is to generally be avoided.

But what about the mentor? What function does this title serve and is it even a position worth considering when it comes to describing the jobs of the theatre? I would argue unequivocally so.

More than a teacher, the mentor takes the student-teacher relationship to the next level, instilling not just knowledge but wisdom upon the fortunate. The lesson does not end when the bell rings or the class is over; the guidance continues after school and throughout life. Through the mentor you are opened to the fact that the world is your classroom and if you are of age, even the bar. I had wonderful acting training in my undergrad but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that I learned more about what drives an actor (life, love, loss, etc.) by grabbing some beers with two or three individuals who truly transcended the role of “teacher”. They became mentors and the hallmark of which is that I maintain close friendships with them now, well beyond graduation, still asking their advice as I navigate the always tricky waters of professional theatre.

Not everyone can attain this lofty mark, however. Indeed what makes the role so special is its exclusivity. Personally, I would count only two in my life and they shepherded me through the trials of high school and college theatre, respectively. They were men I looked up to for being themselves in the face of adversity, for being completely selfless in their work, and patiently listening to the seemingly endless problems a student of the theatre can have. Will I have more in my life? It is hard to say, for while anyone can be a mentor, it’s not like looking through the classifieds and finding one with a good resume. It just happens. And while I believe everyone should benefit from a mentor’s guidance, the door swings both ways: you must take some initiative yourself to cultivate the relationship the same you would with a best friend, faithful dog or trusted lover. Anything lasting has to be built on a foundation of mutual respect and accountability.

As I grow older now with various real-world experiences of my own, I’m learning to “send the elevator back down” and give a hand to those younger than me. Not that they’re much younger, of course, but age has very little to do with experience and I’m finding that with even the little amount I posses, I can share some with kids I meet in elementary and high school. They’ve got a long way to go so if I can give them just a nugget of insight, it could be the difference in having them reach the next level. Such was my case, so to all the mentors out there, thank you, and to those of us who have them, appreciate what you got and never let go.

Yoda2

 

10 Plays Every Actor Must Read

10. The White Male Saga: The Life and Times of the John J. McWhitman Family Parts 1, 2, and 3
by John J. McWhitman
This epic drama by Nobel Laureate John J. McWhitman traces his ancestral roots from the founding of the McWhitman’s Mississippi plantation all the way to the present. Critics hailed it as the cleanest, most distilled version of American history ever to grace the stage.

9. Death of the Kitchen Sink by Joe Stale
Stale’s 1991 play reinvented the “kitchen sink” drama when the patriarch of the Highboy family decides to remodel the kitchen and put in an island. Gripping and imaginative, pay special attention to the wife’s heartbreaking monologue about losing her floor space.

8. Overlapping Dialogue by Su/sie Cleever
The most recent title on this list explores the themes of two people constantly talking over each other in this 90 minute play about their relationship. Cleever captivates with all the highs and lows one might expect and all performed without an intermission.

7. Pullover! The Tire’s Flat by Henry Borman
Henry Borman’s comic masterpiece takes place on the side of the highway where Stephen and his wife Bunny get stuck after having a flat tire. Hilarity ensues in this slice-of-life when the couple discovers that… you guessed it, the spare is missing!

6. Over the Guinness Moon by Thomas Patrick Sadly
This Pulitzer Prize finalist from T.P. Sadly is an exploration of the human condition when secrets are kept and grudges held in a small town in western Ireland. The Guinness flows as hearts break in Sadly’s classic tale.

5. Enemy of Everybody by Oscar Hammelschmidt
Hammelschmidt made his name with this play about a drifter who winds up in the wrong town at the wrong time. His crime? He has no idea. This searing masterpiece will have you enthralled for three hours as you watch the townspeople grow angrier and angrier at some stranger until it reaches it’s shocking finale.

4. Dinner Party Disaster by Danielle Doozy
Doozy’s dramedy about two bickering couples at a dinner party took Broadway by storm in 2012 when audiences and critics were stunned that people could disagree over politics and religion. The powerful script features such original lines as, “He doesn’t really believe that”, “Can I get anyone a drink?” and “Are you sleeping with my wife?”

3. The Summers I Spent Helping Dad Fix the Old Rambler by Patricia Wannabee
Only slightly dated in it’s sentimentality, Wannabee’s 1987 play shows us just how deep a father and daughter’s bond can be as they come together every summer to work on the old ’57 Thunderbird languishing in the barn. The years fly by as Elizabeth comes to terms with her father’s Alzheimer’s, as both he and the car come to an end.

2. Somebody Shot the Minority by Terrence Filmmoker
Emmy Award winning HBO screenwiter, Terrence Filmmoker (known for The Untouchable Glory and The Best House) tried his hand at playwriting to enormous success with this 1999 courtroom drama about an out of town military lawyer you uncovers the truth about the Army’s one person of color who is mysteriously killed in… the dead of the night.

  1. Sergeant Godot by Howard Zane
    Set fifty years after the events of Samuel Beckett’s own classic, Waiting for Godot, this play won the Olivier Award for Best Play for continuing the story. The original’s Vladmir and Estrogon are dead and gone but their great grandchildren are now best friends and soldiers with the British 101st Cavalry in Afghanistan in 2003. Believe it or not Godot does show up and just so happens to be their superior officer.

 

Our Town a Play by Quentin Tarantino
Through an extraordinary lapse in judgement, the Thornton Wilder estate recently lost the rights to the famed playwright’s body of work, including Our Town. 

The Pulitzer Prize winning work was immediately snatched up by Academy Award winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino who says, “The story of George of Emily has spoken to me since I first read it in my 11th grade English class, but I just feel that it needs a little more… chutzpah, you know?”

*Spoilers from here on*

The new film adaptation follows the timeless tale of falling in love, getting married and reckoning with one’s mortality through the eyes of the two protagonists George Gibbs and Emily Webb. The play ends with George visiting Emily’s grave after she has died in childbirth and it is this event (though never shown in the original) that Tarantino will aim to depict on the screen.

“It’s going to be so much fun, in like, a realistic way, you know? To show Emily screaming in the throes of both death and birth. It’s really going to be quite something to see George up to his ears in blood and Doc Gibbs covered in afterbirth, ” said the director of Pulp Fiction.

The film, retitled as Our Town: Back to Main Street, is set be released in time for the Christmas holiday in 2019 and will star Henry Cavill as George, Tina Fey as Emily and the reanimated corpse of Paul Newman as the Stage Manager.