U of M Centennial Showboat docked at Harriet Island credit: RiverRides
Centennial Showboat announces Farewell Season
In celebration of the rich history of its productions on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, the University’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance will present Augustin Daly’s Under the Gaslight, directed by John Miller-Stephany, July 7 to August 27, 2016, in the Showboat’s farewell season. Docked on the Mississippi River at Harriet Island in downtown Saint Paul, the Centennial Showboat offers this sensational tale of a young woman’s harrowing journey to find her true identity while battling against evil forces. When performed in the Minnesota Centennial Showboat’s inaugural summer of 1958, Under the Gaslight proved a runaway hit with audiences. Reserved seats for this summer’s final season of 60 performances are now on sale by calling 651-227-1100 or visiting www.showboat.umn.edu
Since that summer of 1958 when construction of the first Minnesota Centennial Showboat was completed, faculty and students from the University’s Theatre Arts & Dance Department have produced entertainment aboard the Minnesota Centennial Showboat on the Mississippi River; since 2002, the Showboat has welcomed audiences at the splendid location on Harriet Island in Saint Paul.
This year on September 30, the fifteen year agreement between the University of Minnesota and the City of St. Paul for docking the Minnesota Centennial Showboat at Harriet Island will end, requiring both parties to review the partnership. In the meantime, the University and the City of St. Paul are working together on creative alternatives for the use of the boat.
Production costs as well as all repairs and improvements have traditionally been funded by Showboat ticket sales, which have declined dramatically in recent years. Without University support for maintenance and operating costs, the College of Liberal Arts has initiated the process to eventually transfer ownership of the Showboat to another entity.
The Department of Theatre Arts & Dance has determined that it must establish opportunities for its students that are more in line with the department’s mission, and move away from the nineteenth century melodrama format with its often-problematic social conventions.
Under the Gaslight will be performed in the fully air-conditioned 200 seat theater styled after a vaudeville house complete with painted scenery, footlights, nineteenth century stage magic, and live piano accompaniment.
The Centennial Showboat proudly presents Under the Gaslightfor this 57th and final season of fun and laughter. Thousands have found it to be “a perfect Minnesota summer evening” for a first date or family outing. Unsolicited comments by one audience member sums up the response of many: “A talented cast of singers and actors kept me laughing and entertained the whole night…I’m going again and taking others with me.” Convenient FREE parking for cars and buses is available. Arrive by bike on the Lilydale Trail, or by boat and dock for FREE on the island. The University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat is completely accessible. Moored on the banks of the mighty Mississippi at Harriet Island in beautiful downtown St. Paul, the Showboat offers welcoming public spaces, bars and a beautiful upper deck lounge with spectacular views of the city’s skyline. Visitors stroll along embankments with wide green lawns shaded by towering cottonwoods as they step aboard.
Under the Gaslight plays 2:30 pm matinees every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and evenings at 8:00 pm Wednesday through Saturdays July 7- August 27, 2016. Thursday nights feature post-show Talk Backs, informal Q & A sessions with cast members. Ask about Family Fun Special rates for Friday nights and Saturday matinees. Discounts for students with valid ID, seniors 65+ and groups rates for 15 or more are available. Reserve tickets ($20-$25) by calling 651-227-1100 or by visiting www.showboat.umn.edu. for more information.
In the News
Congratulations! The Star Tribune (April 17, 2016) and City Pages in their “Best Of” honors recently recognized the artistic excellence of the following talented individuals; all are current and former instructional staff members of the Dance program.
Ananya Chatterjea, Best Choreographer, Star Tribune
“Chatterjea is unashamedly political. She taps into social justice issues with fierce passion and empathy. Her dancers don’t simply move, but channel a raw intensity that they seem to suck up from the earth beneath them. We see a complex range of emotions in their faces but also in their bodies, from their cores to their fingers and toes. As a choreographer, Chatterjea’s distinctive vocabulary draws on the classical Indian dance form Odissi with yoga technique and the martial art form Chhau. It’s an intricate style that she employs to stir raw fury, anguish and hope as a call to action.”
Toni Pierce Sands & TU Dance Best dance company in Minnesota 2016, Star Tribune
Under the leadership of power couple Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands, TU Dance boasts some of the best dancers in the Twin Cities, who display both athletic prowess and a clarity of form. Somehow, the individuality of each member of the diverse company always shines through in the work. Whether they are bringing to life one of choreographer Uri Sands’ eloquent pieces, or working with the many world-renowned guest choreographers TU brings in to funnel new ideas and challenges, TU Dance is reliably crowd-pleasing and emotionally riveting.tudance.org“
Erin Thompson, Best dancer in Minnesota 2016, City Pages
“A mature dancer with an ample and varied expressive palette, Erin Thompson infused Joanie Smith's Tableaux Vivant, a tribute to suffragettes and female icons of the early 20th century, with heroic vigor and sly sensuality. Through shifting characterizations of women including flappers, mothers, and militant feminists, Thompson charged each gesture with fluid intensity. Movement purled through her lithe body as she imbued the period dances and behaviors suggested in Smith's vignettes with swing, sass, and rhythmic panache. Part of an excellent ensemble of dancers ages 22 to 75, Thompson captured the eternal feminine in subtly detailed motion.”
Dustin Maxwell, ( Alum & former Dance program instructor) Best Dancer: Star Tribune
“For someone with such a distinctive punk look, Dustin Maxwell has an amazing ability to blend in, to become an integral part of an ensemble. In works such as Christopher Schlichting’s “Stripe Tease” and Morgan Thorson’s “Still Life,” Maxwell brought a special energy to group dynamics, while moving cohesively with the other dancers. Maxwell also shines as a solo performer. His unusually angular physique creates captivating lines, and his nuanced, subtle understanding of movement results in meticulous, enthralling execution.”
Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Best Musical 2015, (City Pages) as
produced by Theatre Latte Da, was a bloody hit of a show directed by Peter Rothstein and choreographed by Dance program faculty’s Carl Flink. The two first teamed together for Spring Awakening co-produced with Latte Da and UMTAD in 2012 at the Rarig Center.
Sarah Bahr, MFA ’16 was in a news maker last month. Interviewed by the Star Tribune the use of social media by the theatre makers, Sarah uses the site Pinterest to share images with her directors and other designers. “It’s like giving the director a photo album with 20 or so options,” she said,” Then we can talk on the phone while we’re looking at the Pinterest boards.” (April, 3, 2016). Sarah recently designed costumes for Earthquakes in London.
Students Center Stage
The 2nd annual BA Senior Showcase will be presented Monday May 9, 7:30 pm at the Southern Theater. This evening of short performances by graduating actors, directors, performance artists and theatre makers will also include displays by stage managers and designers. An informal reception with light refreshments follows with an opportunity to meet and greet the artists.
TAD’s Playwriting Showcase will be presented Friday May 13, 12:30 pm at the Playwrights Center. The Intermediate Playwriting Class taught by Jerome Fellow Andres Rosendorf will present excerpts from their new plays directed by Joel Sass and Stephen Yoakam and read by actors Pearce Bunting, Jennifer Blagen, Ryan Colbert, Emma Foster, Laura Mason and others.
Dance Repertory class students taught by Carl Flink participated in”TPT-TV Takeover” co-produced by Black Label Movement ( BLM) on April 30. The dozen students were featured in a pre-recorded video shot earlier in the Barker Center for Dance. In addition, the student dancers performed a five minute version of BLM’s HIVE during the live portion of the show in the St. Paul television studios. <Learn More
Alums on Stage
Nico Swenson (BA ’14) will be performing in Northern Sparks June 11 in The Night Library, an interactive collaborative installation exploring the role of information and the library in society for the Hennepin County Library. Share resources, gather information, and save the world through puzzles, storytelling, and theatre. <Learn More
Kiara Jackson (BA’13) and Paul LaNave (BFA’13) play in Six Characters in Search of an Author, in Wonderlust's production, presented by Park Square Theatre though May 8.
Q&A with Joanna Harmon
Alums Joanna Harmon (BFA) and Noah Bremer (BA) are co-artistic directors of the critically acclaimed Live Action Set. This award-winning physical theatre company is “committed to creating original, ensemble –driven performances that dissolve boundaries between artistic disciplines.” Founded in 2003, the Live Action Set has emerged as one of the most influential theatre companies in the Twin Cities and its work has been hailed as “courageous,” “beautiful,“ and “daring.” <Learn More.
credit: Star Tribune
Their upcoming production THE SPARROW, opens May 6 playing through May 20 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. Cast member include the BA alums: Cate Jackson, Kalen Keir, Noah Bremer, Sam Kruger and Peter Rusk <Learn More.
Between rehearsals, Joanna Harmon took time to talk about their work for Live Action Set.
Projects you’re most proud of, Joanna?
I’m proud that we explore artistic regions beyond what’s been charted. It’s terribly unnerving, but if I didn't force myself from the safety of what I've already mapped out, I'd be unsatisfied. I often feel like I’m diving into the deep end without knowing how or when (or if!) the pool will fill up. But inevitably water is there. Sometimes it's deep and warm, sometimes it's cold and shallow, but the water is always there. I occasionally fall on my butt, or I get lost in the woods. That's the price of exploring new artistic territory and it's worth it.
Two recent productionsboth of us are particularly proud of:
Crime and Punishment was a production ambitiously large in scale: a huge cast, a huge space, a huge design, a style unfamiliar to many audience members, and a very small admin team... We didn’t have any grant funding, so I’m doubly proud of the fact that the show basically paid for itself in ticket sales...
The Half-Life was an intimate expression of profoundly personal emotions. I am proud that in so many audience members the piece touched a soft part of their hearts. Because of an audience member’s suggestion mid-way through the run we added talk-backs after every performance...That desire to process the piece together, was one significant way that the piece felt immediate and purposeful. It was also my first time working with a cast solely comprised of dancers. They had a beautifully poetic way of receiving and interpreting direction...(so) the collaboration felt fresh and seamless in a way I had not previously experienced.
What motivated you to become a founder of a theater company?
I did not, in fact, want to start a theater company. When I graduated, my goal was to meet the theater companies in the Twin Cities and learn who was already pursuing a mission and an aesthetic that aligned with mine. Live Action Set was one of those companies (founded 6 years prior). With all of the wheels currently spinning and turning and trying to gain traction, it was better for me (and I dare say the field) to become a spoke on one of the wheels already in motion rather than trying to “reinvent a wheel” of my own.
Very shortly after I started working for/with Live Action Set, Noah Bremer was hired by Cirque du Soleil to tour in one of their shows. At the time, we didn’t know when he would return, and so the company was “bequeathed” to me during that time, and Noah stayed present from afar. So, a lot of what I know, I learned by default and in the moment. But, frankly, that’s how everyone seems to learn anything-- even the people I talk to who have been doing this much longer than I have.
I recommend that everyone, and especially recent graduates, ask of themselves: How do I strengthen what’s already here? If you find a hole that isn’t being filled, then I say to you, “Go for it! Start a company!” But, 90 percent of the time, someone else is trying to fill in the same hole that you are. The field is already tapped for precious resources---people, money, time. Make it a team effort! So much of creating is about the team with which you’re creating. People are the most important things in an artistic company. Yeah, it’s about our product, too, but it’s mostly about the people involved (i.e. the working environment, and therefore the process).
I found my team in Live Action Set. I love how the work lives in a world in between dance and theater. It strives to create experiences that can only be experienced live; nebulous worlds that aren’t explained easily with words, they have to be felt; powerful experiences.
What are the skills that transferred from school and what lessons have you learned?
The skills that I learned in the BFA Program as an actor that translate to my job as an administrator and creative leader are:
A strong work ethic -- We have a lot of work to accomplish in the B.F.A. program. In that pressured environment, you learn to stay focused, prioritize, and present work when you aren’t fully “done.” Presenting/performing/doing, even when “half-baked,” is how you’re going to grow.
A proactive nature -- As co-leaders of Live Action Set, Noah and I together decide our performance schedule, avenues to pursue, strategic goals, etc. Many people help us, but their help won’t come if we aren’t proactive about what we want and proceed as if no one else is going to help.
Intention -- Every element should be purposefully created. A flick of a finger can mean a lot for a character. The font one chooses on a postcard can mean a lot for the tone of a production.
Prepare, prepare, prepare -- Have as big a tool box with as many tools in it as you can. That way, you’ll have many strategies to try when you get stuck and feel as if everything is going to fail.
Emotional truth and authenticity -- The BFA Program is all about this. This quality makes you a better artist, a better collaborator, a better administrator. Mostly, it makes me a better person, and that’s the most important thing of all.
It’s never done. -- There is no “finished product,” just iteration after iteration.
Self-worth comes from myself. -- We have many intensely dedicated, intensely passionate teachers in the B.F.A. Program who all have their own valid, individual responses that are sometimes quite different from one another. All of these voices are useful. Similarly, audience members or ensemble members may also have very different opinions. I add all of the voices together -- negative and positive -- to my knowledge bank and care deeply about them. But, I don’t cling to them for validation of my worth. Those voices don’t determine one’s worth. One’s integrity does.
Who influenced you while at school?
In addition to all of my B.F.A. teachers, Michael Sommers (of Open Eye Figure Theater) had a profound impact on me. I took a puppetry course from him during one of my last semesters. He did two things: He expanded my brain to see a different aesthetic of performance and storytelling, and he gave me time to create without time pressure. We’d have a three-hour class, and for the majority of the time, we’d be doing something as “simple” as cutting paper. Cutting that paper taught me about my personal aesthetic and gave me the confidence to pursue career paths that are uncommon.
How did you go about finding your path into the professional admin world?
I am both an actor and an administrator, and the intimate knowledge of both sides helps me be a more effective player on both sides. When I graduated, Jon Ferguson (Theatre Forever) asked me to help him produce a play called Super Monkey in the Dowling Studio. He saw something in me (and I’m forever grateful for that) that said to him I’d be good at admin work. I think it’s because I have a big picture brain. Even when I am performing as an actor, I often see myself from a bird’s eye view. That experience producing caused me to question the sustainability of small theater companies in general, companies I cared about and wanted to thrive. Those ideas eventually led to the creation of what has now become ARTshare at The Southern Theater (headed by the tenaciously dedicated Damon Runnals). I have a strong sense that we are all in this thing called “theater” together. Your success is my success. And that belief leads me to being interested in theater admin. I want the whole damn thing to work!
Why or why not should undergrads consider going to grad school?
I haven’t been to grad school. I was never interested in it, although, of course, it crosses my mind from time to time. If ever I were to decide to go, I would need to feel that grad school could fill a hole inside my creative heart or my practical skill set. I feel that I’m learning so much right now doing what I’m doing.
Any other advice or ah-ha moments:
Get over the aversion to saying, “no” to a project. You will always be saying, “no,” because even when you say “yes” to a project, you are, by default, saying “no” to some other opportunity. It’s the inherent yin and yang of a decision. Embrace it. It is your power to say “yes” and “no” to take control of your own life.
Faculty Summer Activities
Lisa Channer, BA program head travels to San Francisco in June as a performer /writer in RANT produced by Fools Fury Theatre at the Fury Factory Festival. She also travels to England where she will be presenting research at the International Brecht Society Symposium at Oxford.
Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Chair, will be at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival during May/June attending productions and speaking with Artistic Director Bill Rauch and other members of the company in preparation for an article about the company. The trip is supported by Imagine Funds. In August, she will be speaking at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference in Chicago. Her topic: Women's Roles in Combatants for Peace--an Israeli Palestinian alliance of ex-combatants who use theater, storytelling and alternative rituals as a tool of their social movement work. Kuftinec will also be moderating two panels,“Irony and Activism in Performance” and “Theatre of the Oppressed as Political/Aesthetic Labor: Toward Timely (Never Timeless) Work.”
Montana Johnson, Audio and Media Supervisor, created the sound design for Yellow Tree Theatre’s production of Violet, the Musical. The show which opened in April continues through May 8 in Osseo, MN.
Bruce Roach, BFA acting instructor, fresh from directing Earthquakes in London with the senior BFA class of 2016 at the Guthrie’s Theater’s Dowling Studio, takes stage himself. In June and July , he will be appearing as Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival in Kansas City, MO.
Barbara Nordstrom-Loeb, Adjunct Faculty , will be teaching Dance Movement Therapy at the Inspirees Institute of Creative Arts in Shanghai, China in June.