The Nineteen Eighties
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s the department went through several dynamic changes. With the support of the Theatre faculty, led by Professors Moulton and Josal, the university’s Dance Program was invited to join Theatre Arts, creating a new Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. After the tragic death of Nadine Jette Sween, who had led the Dance Program and its fight for survival, Barbara Barker became head of the program within the new department. Despite extremely poor physical facilities in Norris Gym on the East Bank, under Barbara’s leadership and the excellent and dedicated faculty, the Dance Program surged forward, attracting the support of donors such as John and Sage Cowles, who contributed the funding for the Cowles Chair. This support in the form of a visiting residency for teachers/choreographers of international repute allows the program to bring in several artists in the course of a year to work with students. The program began to attract national attention with its excellence. Barbara Reid succeeded Wendell Josal as Department Chair and became the first woman to chair a Big 10 Theatre Department. And Robert Moulton served as Artistic Director for the University Theatre.
Actor training in the department also underwent re-evaluation and revision. The old BFA Program had been discontinued in 1974 because the department felt it could not adequately provide excellence in both BFA and MFA programs in acting. At the same time, decisions were made to upgrade the MFA and move forward with the department priority to revitalize the cooperative arrangements our graduate programs had enjoyed with the Guthrie Theatre since its founding. With the support of new Guthrie Artistic Director Garland Wright, University President Nils Hasselmo, the financial support of the University and the Mahadh Foundation, a new agreement was reached with the Guthrie in 1989. This agreement included joint recruiting of MFA students, Professional Theatre Internships for 50% of the graduating MFA actors, regular workshop classes led by Guthrie company members and company members serving as mentors to the MFA students.
These were difficult financial times for the University and particularly for the College of Liberal Arts. Departments were being asked to downsize; there were years of 0% salary increases. Nevertheless, the department planned strategically and continued to attract gifted students, providing excellent education and training in theatre and dance. New efforts were made to identify our alumni and fund-raising began in earnest to increase support for the Showboat, the Dance Program and student Scholarships. Lobbying efforts to move the faculty offices and department administration out of Middlebrook Hall and into Rarig Center began.
Several honored and legendary faculty and staff retired in the 80’s and early 90’s: Arthur H. Ballet, renowned theatre renaissance man who introduced thousands of students to the joys of theatre history and literature and managed the Office for Advanced Drama Research for years, giving new playwrights an opportunity to get their works before the public; Virginia Fredricks, who served not only the department as Director of Undergraduate Studies but the college as Associate Dean for two terms; her colleague in the oral interpretation of literature, David W. Thompson, who acted, directed, and served as chair of the department through several interesting years of evolution; Bob Moulton, who led the stage movement program for years, never to be forgotten for his annual May Day celebrations, Showboat productions, and Dance and Prance performances; the absolutely unique Wesley Balk who inspired and released generations of actors and singers; Glen Gadberry, theater historian and Director of Graduate Studies, who gave the wittiest orientation speeches on record; Jean Congdon, the last faculty member of the nationally known Oral Interpretation Program, and dedicated Director of Undergraduate Studies; Charles Nolte, renaissance man: playwright, actor, director, historian, whose legend continues, and who gave all of us the gift of a memorable performance in The Visit before he officially retired; Wendell Josal, who served the department admirably as scene designer, Director of Graduate Studies, and Chair; Lee Adey, Technical Director, mainstay of the directing program, and Director of Undergraduate Studies; Kent Neely our superb Managing Director who moved on to greater things in the academic world; Mrs. Jean Darling, department executive secretary, who knew everything and who ran us all.
New faculty and staff arriving in the 80’s and early 90’s included Lou Bellamy in Directing, Barbara Barker in Dance, Stephen Kanee in Directing, Michal Kobialka in History and Theory, Nancy Houfek in Voice and Acting, Marge Maddux and Maria Cheng in Dance, Nels Hennum in Movement and Stage Combat, Martin Gwinup as Technical Director and Sherry Wagner as Managing Director of University Theater. The incomparable Pam Mitman moved from Rarig as University Theater Secretary to Middlebrook Hall as Department Administrator.
In the mid 90’s the department was ready to move forward under the new leadership of Lance Brockman, and a new Dean in the College of Liberal Arts, Stephen Rosenstone. Barbara Reid joined the college administration as Associate Dean for Planning. [BR]
The 1980s of the University Theatre began with a celebration of the department’s Golden Anniversary. Recognizing 50 years of continuous, solid contributions to the local and national theatrical scene, the University Theatre prepared an exciting season of plays, including Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder featuring work by three alumni: Jon Cranney directed and Shirley Venard and David Chase played Mrs. and Mr. Antrobus. A Slight Ache and The Real Inspector Hound directed by Pam Nice in the Arena followed. Tales of the Vienna Woods made its area premiere in the Proscenium with wonderful projected backgrounds designed by Brian Bjorklund as part of his MFA design thesis project. All three of these productions were entered in the ACTF as associate productions, making their nominated actors eligible for the Irene Ryan acting competition. The fall workshop was two one-acts written by graduate student Endesha Ida Mae Holland: Second Doctor Lady and The Reconstruction of Dossie Ree Hemphill in the Experimental. The latter would be taken to the mainstage in the 1981-82 season.
We hosted the regional ACTF in Rarig early in winter quarter and produced another area premiere, the lively romp No, No Nanette in February. Directed by Robert Moulton and designed by Lance Brockman, the production featured a wonderful Erté-based show curtain, dancing staircases, and the tapping feet of Laura-Jean Schwartau, David I., Stephen Savides, Manon Gimlett, and a chorus of thousands. YPUT produced the wonderful A. A. Milne play Toad of Toad Hall. And the winter workshop was Love at Sea, an ancient Japanese tale of two lovers caught up in a world of deceit in the Experimental. In March the University Theatre were featured on KSTP’s Matrix television program.
Spring quarter offered Camino Real directed by MFA Lawrence Connelly in the Thrust with MFA Rachel Tomasek Anderson’s designs and Serenading Louie played the Arena, with another MFA team of Lorraine G. Scott directing and Jonathan Langer designing.
Summer saw the much anticipated return of Frank M Whiting to direct Hazel Kirke on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. “Doc” had been Captain of the Showboat from 1958-1974 and directed all productions during that time period. Dr. Josal returned as scene designer and Lance Brockman designed the lighting that summer (the first and last time he designed lights for the Boat). The Peppermint Tent delighted children with Androcles and the Lion and the Razzamtazz Touring Co. in the Stoll Thrust directed by Mark Amenta. Dr. Josal began his 6 year term as chair of the department. Laura (Hunstad) Lee joined the staff for an 8-year stint in a variety of assistful jobs to the Managing Director and the Chair.
Fall began with a well-received production of The Life of King Henry V directed by Robert Moulton. The final chapter of Preston Jones’ Texas Trilogy – Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander – was given a lively airing in the Arena, complete with a rural, tacky setting by Lance Brockman. David Ira Goldstein directed Misalliance in November which became our ACTF entry in January. We toured to Moorhead, MN, on the day that the Governor closed the state due to 80-degree below zero wind chills. We performed for a hearty audience of about 30.
Winter opened with Poor Murderer directed by Lee Adey. Alum Peter Jablonski was delighted to return from a successful New York career to direct the musical Once Upon a Mattress in February. Wiley and Hairy Man was the YPUT production.
Elton Wolfe directed The Death of Miss Bessie Smith and The Reconstruction of Dossie Ree Hemphill in the Arena in April. The latter was written by our own Endesha Ida Mae Holland and had premiered as a workshop production the year prior. Wes Balk directed The Rehearsal with MFA designer Nayna Ramey’s setting of an intergalactic metal spherical object occupying the entire center of the Thrust stage. Wes was so enamored of the sphere that he asked to have it transferred to his backyard after the production closed.
The Belle of New York graced the boards of the Showboat stage for summer 1982 designed by Janet Ryger for her MFA thesis project, while the Peppermint Tent’s Fabulous Fables amazed young audiences. This was the final Peppermint Tent production, directed by Jean Congdon with scenery and lighting designed by Jean Montgomery. The Peppermint Tent had been founded in 1967 as a new adventure in Children’s Theatre. Originally located in a red and white striped tent near the Showboat landing on the River Flats, it was moved into Rarig and played an equally decorated red and white striped Stoll Thrust Theatre from 1976 to 1982 when the bunting was rolled up for the last time.
The 52nd season opened with Michael Charon’s MFA thesis production of Scapino! performing on Chris Vesper’s wonderful set. Gail Crellin was on leave this year so MFA design students Anna Stephens and Chris Vesper ran the costume shop under the supervision of Jean Montgomery. When Mikado arrived, Professor Josal designed the scenery and Lance Brockman the costumes. With our partners from the School of Music it was an outstanding production in the Proscenium.
Billy Budd took over the Proscenium stage in late February, directed by Charles Nolte. The title role was one he had originated and brought to fame on Broadway some 30 years prior. Wayne Hamilton joined the faculty and directed this year’s YPUT production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Lysistrata started spring quarter in the Thrust, followed by Strindberg’s The Pelican.
Florodora rounded out the year on the Showboat. Chris Vesper’s wonderful matched dresses for “Tell Me Pretty Maiden” made several returns to the stage in subsequent years. Lance’s ingenious boat sailing away in to the distance was the trick of the summer.
Wayne Hamilton directed the musical Something’s Afoot, based on Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians to open the season. Scott Latendresse provided the setting and Jean Montgomery provided the storm. Kevin Olson directed the much acclaimed production of Translations in the Arena (green scoop time again). The production received the Twin Cities equivalent of a Tony. The Little Swan, an original script by PhD student Warren Green, was the workshop production in the Experimental.
Dan Huizenga’s modern interpretation of Major Barbara was nicely complimented by Lance Brockman’s ultra-suede décor. The Learned Ladies directed by Jean Congdon played the Thrust and Reynard the Fox graced YPUT. Theatre of the Word produced Down All the Days adapted and directed by Lee Stille; the workshops were Waiting for Godot and Pylos (original script by Jon Berry). The department began hosting the State High School One-Act Play Festival in winter quarter – all grad students and faculty spent two days with very early starting times watching some fascinating high school theatre from all around the state of Minnesota.
John Loprieno was featured in the title role of Richard II in spring. And the season ended with Gemini in the Arena -- a new play dealing with modern themes and bizarre characters. The production had to warn its patrons about “explicit language” (and we had already excised every third four-letter word!). Workshops in spring were Working directed by Amy Silverberg and The Wager by Tim Willey. Working was to appear again on the mainstage a year later – the second time we took a workshop production from the Experimental stage to a remounted full production on the mainstage. Theatre of the Word: Touchstones adapted and directed by Cynthia Elmquist.
The Showboat crowd enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo, featuring David Connor as the Count with Julie Yugend as our heroine. Of course the grand finale olio was “The Marseillaise” featuring Elizabeth Ebel as La Belle France.
The University Theatre livened things up by presenting Alan Ayckbourn’s spoof of sexual morals Taking Steps in the fall. Directed by Nancy Ehrhardt and designed by Tom Thatcher, this production toured to St. Cloud as our ACTF entry. Six Characters in Search of an Author haunted the Thrust. The fall workshop was The Waltz of the Toreadors.
Alum Eric Brogger’s new play Copperhead opened winter quarter in the Arena. Its setting in western Pennsylvania was very familiar to director Lee Adey – he hailed from that part of the country. Robert Moulton did his usual bang-up job on The Music Man in February with John Seibert in the lead. And Mother Hicks was the YPUT production for the year. Winter workshops: He Who Gets Slapped and American Primitive.
The venerable Everyman opened spring quarter, directed by Nancy Silva and given a wonderful timelessness by designer Kathy Schuetz. The delightful Lady Windermere’s Fan directed by guest Richard Russell Ramos was the final production of spring. Les Brelsford directed Charlie the Chicken Plus Two and Marguerite Folger did Johnny Shades, Rock n’ Roll Private Eye written by local playwright David B. Kunz on the spring workshop season.
Girl of the Golden West, adapted and directed by Charles Nolte with olios by Robert Moulton, was the Showboat offering for the summer of 1985. Charles dared Gino to reproduce Belasco’s 20-minute sunrise from the original production – she did, in 2. Summer of 1985 also marked the first time we sponsored a 4-week workshop for high school students called Honors Institute in Theatre (H.I.T.) under the direction of Lee Adey. This four-week long theatre camp featuring classes in acting and technical theatre culminated in a public performance in the Proscenium.
After 44 years, 1985 marked the final year of Young People’s University Theatre production. With Kenneth L. Graham’s retirement in 1980 and retrenchment at the University, there were no longer faculty teaching in the creative dramatics/children’s theatre area. The department was forced to make choices for the future and this one was quite unpopular with several of the alumni who had completed their degrees in this field and carried the banner forward to many other universities and producing groups in the country, not the least of which was The Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis.
1985 also marked the retirements of Professors Virginia Fredricks and David W. Thompson after remarkable careers as teachers, authors, administrators, colleagues, and friends. How fitting that two careers which complemented each other so beautifully should change together at the same time.
The musical Working by Studs Terkel opened the season, Marguerite Bennett Folger directing and David Hartmann designing. There had been such an enthusiastic response to its workshop performance a year ago, that it was remounted on the mainstage. Mollie Bailey’s Travelling Family Circus: Featuring Scenes from the Life of Mother Jones followed in the Thrust directed by Robert Moulton and eventually traveled itself to ACTF in Duluth. The fall workshop was King John directed by Roberta Cullen. Theatre of the Word: Flight into Fantasy directed by Melissa Ann Reed.
La Ronde opened winter quarter in the Arena, followed by The Rivals in the Thrust. Theatre of the Word produced the Selected Works of Mario Puzo and there were two workshops: Phaedra and Playboy of the Western World.
The Dining Room played spring in the Arena, and The Comedy of Errors followed in the Thrust. Spring workshops were Lion in Winter directed by Larry Ruth and Status Quo Vadis by Brian Sherman in the Experimental.
A well-received Sherlock Holmes played on the Showboat with Jay Goede in the title role. The script, adapted by director Robert Moulton, was called “acutely theatrical” and the youthful crew “a polished one.” Vance Holmes served as musical director.
1986 marked the end of Robert Moulton’s tenure as Artistic Director of the University Theatre – a post he had held since 1980. Arthur H. Ballet retired at the end of fall 1985 after an outstanding career as teacher, mentor, dramatist, creator, discoverer of talent, actor, director, DGS, etc. etc. Jean Darling, long-time Graduate Studies Secretary and then assistant to the chair, retired. James Norwood joined the faculty in the areas of oral interp, acting, and theatre history.
Barbara Reid became department chair in the fall of 1986 and Charles Nolte began serving as Artistic Director of the University Theatre. The school year schedule of theatrical events began with The Second Shepherds’ Play, staged in the Experimental by Larry Ruth, followed by Time and the Conways directed by Leah Lowe. This production will long live in the light lab’s memory as the most use of cable and creative circuiting ever devised for the Arena (MFA designer Kathy Kohl)! The Miser directed by Vance Holmes ended fall in the Thrust and also returned for a Proscenium run winter quarter when we once again hosted the ACTF in Rarig. On top of the State High School One-Act Play Festival, it was quite the winter. The Bacchae ’65 was adapted and directed by Charles Nolte in the Experimental in February. And the quarter ended with Ondine directed by James Norwood in the Thrust, but not before the workshop production of The Bluebird.
Spring brought Anouilh’s Antigone to the Thrust directed by Lee Stille, followed by The White Devil, marking the return of Stephen Kanee to the department as a faculty member. The quarter ended with Autumn Garden directed by Michael Lane with design by Kari Larson in the Arena. Brian Sherman directed an original adaptation called Laughter and the Love of Friends also in the Arena. An original one-act play festival was begun in spring of this year featuring work by student playwrights: Reunion by Dan Conway, Different Others, Different Selves by H. Noel Quamen, and Soldier of Art by Tracy James Anderson.
On the Showboat, audiences saw The Bat, a charming 1920’s mystery directed by Lee Adey and featuring Kelly Bertenshaw, Margie Weaver, and Amy Salloway. In August of 1987, Rarig Center first hosted the Playwright’s Center’s reading of new plays called Midwest Playlabs – an association that would continue for 11 years.
Barbara Barker joined us this year as Dance Coordinator after a lengthy search. Lance Brockman took a sabbatical and MFA candidate Kelly Allison filled in as TD. Mourning Becomes Electra opened the season. We decided to produce the whole 5-hour play providing patrons with a break between parts I and II. It was very well received as both a production and an experience! Spring Awakening directed by Stephen Kanee and designed by KJ Sciandra followed in the Thrust and toured to Mankato in January (this time in a blizzard) as our ACTF entry. George Abbott’s Broadway was the final fall production in the Proscenium. The production directed by Larry Ruth also played in January to take advantage of a winter quarter audience.
Winter found rotating productions of The Snob and Brecht on Brecht in the Arena. These two productions were part of the final creative process for the MFA Acting students whereby they could have the experience of playing two completely different roles on consecutive nights. The musical The Boys from Syracuse played the Thrust. Barbara Barker choreographed and persuaded a friend and colleague of hers Lee Abraham from UT-Austin to direct. MFA Susan Johnson-Hood’s wonderful wacky costumes and scenery were very appropriate to this musical based upon Comedy of Errors.
Pirandello’s To Clothe the Naked featuring the incomparable Gina Burke played on a Wendell Josal setting in the Arena to begin spring quarter. Charles Nolte directed Comrades in the Thrust. This production was the first in memory where we were forced to cancel performances due to actor illness. The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet and No Exit played in rep in the Experimental. A very lively original musical workshop conceived and choreographed by Vance Holmes called Swing, Swing, Swing played the Proscenium. We continued the original one-act play festival.
For the 30th anniversary of the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, a musical revue Down River Ramble: A Mississippi Panorama was written and directed by Robert Moulton. This production featured a 100-foot long vertical roll drop painted by Lance and crew that took us down the Mississippi from the headwaters to New Orleans. It was a wonderful tribute to the river, the history of the region, and the historic scene painting techniques and styles so dear to Lance’s research. We continued with H.I.T. and providing space and support for the Midwest PlayLabs festival of new plays.
1988-1989 “Drama at its Best”
Picnic, William Inge’s nostalgic portrait of small town American life, started off the season. Directed by Jean Congdon and designed by Wendell Josal, it was the first time we created a raised deck to cover the entire floor in the Arena. This gem was saved, used year after year as a subfloor, and is still known as “the Picnic deck” some 15 years later. Picnic was the final University Theatre project for both Professors Congdon and Josal – it was the first for new faculty member Martin Gwinup, Technical Director and Sound Designer. A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Wes Balk followed in the Thrust. There were two versions of the play performed: the traditional version with a cast of 23 and an exploratory version with a cast of 7. By cleverly and exploratorily combining the court, the fairies, and the mechanicals into quadruple casting, the exploratory version was a wonderful piece of theatre and many audience members saw both versions to make the comparison. What was a Midsummer nightmare for MFA designer Pamela Kildahl became one of the legendary University Theatre productions of Midsummer. The Hostage was the fall Workshop in the Experimental.
The Trojan Women began winter quarter directed by Michelle Martin and designed by A. H. Novodvorsky. Midsummer toured to ATCF at the University of South Dakota (good weather for a change). The 1989 ACTF was the last time that the original regions competed together. Due to a re-structuring of the ACTF in 1990, Region V North ceased to exist. Midsummer was selected as the first alternate to the Kennedy Center festival. It was a banner year for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities at the national festival: Kelly Bertenshaw, MFA actor, won the national Irene Ryan competition; Dale Huffington was invested as a Fellow of the American Theatre, and Lee Adey was honored as Chair of Region V North. The quarter continued with a presentation of Erdman’s play The Suicide in the Proscenium. Translated by Stephen Kanee working with Paulina Shur, it featured designs by Richard Rees (scenery), Lance Brockman (costumes), and Steve Draheim (lighting). Caligula played in the Experimental on the Workshop season.
This was a year of “firsts”: the first time we offered alternating performances of the same play with different production concepts (indeed possibly the first time in the country); the first time we offered symposia after certain performances; the first time we produced under the newly created Department of Theatre Arts and Dance; and the first time that “An Evening of Dance” performed in Rarig Center. Up until this time the dance program had been performing on the St. Paul campus. Robert Moulton served as producer, Barbara Barker as Dance Coordinator, and David Voss as Company Director. Barbara Barker noted that “this evening marks three important beginnings for the Dance Program. It is our first opportunity to join our colleagues in Theatre Arts in their production season, the first year for our dance ensemble, University Repertory Dance Company, and our first chance to show the splendid works created for our students by the faculty brought to our program under the auspices of the Sage Cowles Land Grant Chair in Dance.” The lighting designer for this first season was Kathy Stewart and costume designer Joe K. Leonard-Anderson, both graduate design students. The program featured “Gobe Gobang” (Meg Harper And Garry Reigenborn) with wonderful performances by Barbara Barker, Marcia Chapman, Sage Cowles, Kathie Goodale, Molly Lynn and Zoe Sealy as the Pole women; “Nine Person Ball Passing” (Charles Moulton) including the now-director of the Dance Program Carl Flink; “Crossings” (Carolyn Brown); “Idyll” (Maria Cheng); and “Let Yourself Go” (Zoe Sealy). The Three Sisters playing in the Thrust rounded out spring mainstage. A Taste of Honey and the original one-acts finished the Workshop season. The latter produced Cloud People by William Sonnega, Getting It Back by Tracie Peterson, and Grads by Joseph Berry.
The summer Showboat production was Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines directed by Robert Moulton. And we continued the H.I.T. program for high school students. Professor Michal Kobialka joined the faculty in the history/lit area; Maryanne Beneke joined the Middlebrook staff for 9 years, serving as assistant to the chair.
1989-1990 “Balance Does It!”
University Theatre’s Artistic Director Charles Nolte stated his belief that the season “strikes a fine balance between classic and modern, the old and the new.” Wes Balk opened the season with Shaw’s Back to Methusela, playing in repertory with Stephen Kanee’s production of Old Times in the Arena. Three of the MFA actors (Sue Kenny, Nelson Williams, and Krista Scott) were in both productions. Stephen’s program note provided context for the wonderful opportunity afforded by educational theatre to be able to experiment in this fashion: “The pairing of a didactic and theatrical Shaw with this mysterious and subtle Pinter provide a challenging showcase for both actors and audience.” Barry Hamill directed Elmer Rice’s Street Scene in the Experimental.
Winter quarter brought Flea in Her Ear back to the Proscenium stage, directed once again by Lee Adey. Buchner’s classic Woyzeck directed by Kit Brady and designed by Steve Draheim performed in the Thrust. URepCo entered its second year, and featured the following pieces: “Concerto for Dancers” (David Voss); “Drugari” (Erin Thompson) featuring music of the Bulgarian State Women’s choir; “Sonatine” (Carolyn Brown); “Blocs” (Douglas Dunn); and the classic “Esplanade” (Paul Taylor, staged by Susan McGuire). A Triple Bill of One-Act Plays was the winter workshop in the Arena with The Intruder (directed by Sarit Cofman), Offending the Audience (directed by Ross Willits), and The Seduced (directed by Paul Newman).
Spring brought A Little Night Music co-sponsored with the School of Music, directed by Vern Sutton and choreographed by Robert Moulton, followed by Measure for Measure directed by Catherine Weidner in the Thrust. The spring workshops again comprised the Original One-Act Play Festival and The Rover directed by Julia Fischer in the Thrust.
The Moonstone, a thriller based on the first “detective” story by Wilkie Collins, brought together two guest alumni: director Jeff Steitzer, Artistic Director of A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, and adaptor Barbara Field. We continued with H.I.T. and hosting the Midwest PlayLabs Conference.
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