Sally (Tara Schaefle) and Cliff (Josh Horst)
Kit Kat Klub: Gabrielle Dominique and Emcee (Ben Swenson-Klatt)
Sally (Tara Schaefle) and Kit Kat Klub members
Texas (Timothy Kelly), Emcee (Ben Swenson-Klatt) and Lulu (Rosie Linsner)
Fr. Schneider (Erica Hoops) and Herr Schultz (Max McKuen)
Emcee (Ben Swenson-Klatt)
Emcee (Ben Swenson-Klatt) and Kit Kat Klub dancers
Emcee (Ben Swenson-Klatt)
Fritzie (Annaleah Magnuson), Ben Swenson-Klatt and Shannon Brick, Schultz (Max McKuen) and Fr. Schneider (Erica Hoops)
Emcee (Ben Swenson-Klatt) and Helga (Maddie Sabin)
Cast in Wilkommen
William Steig wrote his now famous children’s book Shrek! in 1990. Steig turned the folk literature model upside down in his book by having a scary ogre, Shrek, revel in his ugliness and never turn into a “handsome” prince. When Shrek sees himself in a mirror, Steig writes Shrek as “happier than ever to be exactly what he was” and when he finally meets his love, another ogre, and they live not happily ever after but “horribly ever after, scaring the socks of all who fell afoul of them.” DreamWorks Theatricals took Steig’s story and turned it into a musical in 2001, creating a multicultural celebration of diversity that also poked fun at Disney musicals on Broadway. While the musical added characters (notably the fairy tale characters), it kept the message of Steig’s original work: we should celebrate our differences and not try to fit into someone else’s idea of what it is to be “beautiful.” Rather than following the story that someone else wrote, the musical argues, we should write our own stories that honor who we actually are.
In this summer 2017 Young Artists Initiative (YAI) production, I worked with children from second grade to young adults who just graduated from high school. The set design was by Karn Severson, lighting by YAI Artistic Director Benjamin Lacina, costumes by Jason Millner, choreography by Benjamin Swenson-Klatt, musical direction by Seth Bovis, sound by Matthew Berdahl, props by Terri Ristow. Photographs are by Benjamin Lacina and Matthew Berdahl.
Cabaret book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
For my first musical and last show at St. Olaf College, I was lucky enough to work with dancer and choreographer Timmy Wagner (St. Olaf graduate) and current Olaf wunderkind Gabrielle Dominique as assistant choreographer. The dream team continued with Phil Biedenbender as musical director, Shelby Reddig as stage manager, Todd Edwards as set designer, Aimee Jillson as costume designer, Stacie Argyrou as assistant director, Sam Getka as sound designer and the inimitable Becky Raines as lighting designer. Here are the director's notes that I included in the program:
Christopher Isherwood arrived in Berlin in 1929. After a brief economic recovery following the destruction of World War I, Germany, now the political entity of the Weimar Republic, was once again plunged, like many Western nations, into economic depression. While the Weimar Republic crumbled economically and politically, the city of Berlin scintillated with modernity, offering its inhabitants a sexual and gender freedom unimaginable in the rest of Europe. Isherwood, a gay man, came to Berlin to experience this freedom, writing stories from his diaries of 1929-1933. What he chronicled, however, became a narrative of the soon-to-be annihilation of this freedom and the bodies that practiced it as Adolph Hitler’s National Socialists came to power. Isherwood's story was initially made into a play, I Am a Camera (1951), and then a musical, Cabaret. Hal Prince directed the first production in 1966 to expose the audience to the parallels between 1931 Germany and 1966 America. Like Prince, Sam Mendes, the director of this 1993 version of Cabaret, wanted the audience to see the danger of doing nothing in the face of injustice of oppression. Sadly, we are still here, in the cabaret, fast asleep and dancing with Sally Bowles. As Isherwood, Prince and Mendes warn us: it is time to wake up.
Photography by Fernando Sevilla
Pictured are the following cast members: Ben Swenson-Klatt (Emcee), Tara Schaefle (Sally), Josh Horst (Cliff), Fritzie (Annaleah Magnuson), Herr Schultz (Max McKuen), Fr. Schneider (Erica Hoops), Ernst Ludwig (Dylan Stratton), Max (Ben Habel), Kit Kat Men (Dario Villalobos, Luke Fowler, Stephen Oberhardt, Shannon Brick), Kit Kat Women (Rosie Linsner, Timothy Kelly, Amanda Treseler, Jesse Landa, Maddie Sabin, Gabrielle Dominique and Becca Thavis).
How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel
How I Learned to Driave
By Paula Vogel
Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive puts the character Li’l Bit, a female survivor of incest, in the driver’s seat. Reliving her past memories of abuse in bits and pieces, Li’l Bit constructs her story for the audience as she attempts to move forward in her own life. Ever controversial, Vogel brings exuberant humor and devastating humanity into this story of a woman’s attempt to forgive, heal and reclaim her self.
Pictured: Jojo Rinehart-Jones, Jake Bolster, Adrian Summers, Bridget Lavin, Maria Lagin Ciercielli
Set Design: Sung Hwan Hong; Lighting Design: Yinxu (Kennie) Zhou; Costume Design: Maggie Luddy; Sound Design: Angelique Archer; Stage Managers: Grace Woolson and Frankie Outlaw; Dramaturg: Caitlin McQuade.
Photographs by Bryan Edwards
Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel
My first production at Hamilton College, Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel, is a frank portrayal of how teenage girls perceive and live in their bodies. Spiegel’s play charts the relationship between two high-school swim team members, one of whom is experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and one of whom is working through a past history of depression and eating disorders.
This bare-bones production, with a budget of $500.00, was produced through the Bare Naked Theatre of the Hamilton College Theatre Department. The cast featured Taylor Wallace as Ester, Taomi Kenny as Amy, Ali Zildjian as Reba, Jack Martin as Victor and Ryan Cassidy as the Janitor. The lighting design was by Chris Williams, sound design by Eliza Burwell with Angelique Archer assisting her. Maggie Denoon was our stage manager and Sophie Shi ASM. Nadav Konforty (Costume Designer) and Alexandra Ham (Makeup Artist) rounded out this all-student production team. Bridget Lavin and Ryan Cassidy were our student dramaturgs and Mimi Do designed our poster. All photographs are by Bryan Edwards.
Shrek The Musical, Jr.!
Shrek The Musical, Jr.!
Music by Jeanine Tesori; Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
William Steig wrote his now famous children’s book Shrek! in 1990. Steig turned the folk literature model upside down in his book by having a scary ogre, Shrek, revel in his ugliness and never turn into a “handsome” prince. DreamWorks Theatricals took Steig’s story and turned it into a musical in 2001, creating a celebration of diversity that also poked fun at Disney musicals on Broadway. While the musical added characters (notably the fairy tale characters), it kept the message of Steig’s original work: we should celebrate our differences and not try to fit into someone else’s idea of what it is to be “beautiful.” Rather than following the story that someone else wrote, the musical argues, we should write our own stories that honor who we actually are.
In this summer 2017 Young Artists Initiative (YAI) production, I worked with children aged from second grade to young adults who just graduated from high school. The set design was by Karn Severson, lighting by YAI Artistic Director Benjamin Lacina, costumes by Jason Millner, choreography by Benjamin Swenson-Klatt, musical direction by Seth Bovis, sound by Matthew Berdahl, and props by Terri Ristow. Photographs are by Benjamin Lacina and Matthew Berdahl.
Actors Pictured: Andrew Didenko-Gamart (Shrek), Rachael Bernstein (Fiona), Jacob Barrett (Lord Farquaad), Max Hailer (Donkey), Lexie Modica (Dragon), Graham Whitney (Gingy), Juniper Krings (Dwarf), Ellie Haugen (Pinocchio), Maxwell Juvland (Papa Ogre, Little Pig), Mae Wrigley (Mama Ogre), Seth Juvland (Little Ogre, Little Bear), Michaela Kamara (Mama Bear), Tanushri Buck (Little Pig), Joella Harris (Little Pig), Adajia Torres-McClain and Alex Rogers (Woodland Creatures).
The Love of Three Oranges by Carlo Gozzi
The Love of Three Oranges
While this production was not devised, we approached it in a very improvisatory way. I wanted to see what a distinctive St. Olaf Commedia dell'Arte would be and this meant that we riffed off of the script. We did not use masks that were objects but, instead, created the masks with our faces (I learned this technique from Dario Tangelson when I worked with him in Theatre Novi Most's production of The Oldest Story). Another unique aspect of this show was that it traveled (four locations on campus, plus the Weitz Center at Carelton) and that we worked with Irve Dell and his students in St. Olaf's Art Department to create objects for the show. Below is the text that I wrote for publicity.
Carlo Gozzi’s The Love of Three Oranges, although written in 1761, seems quite out of place in the Age of Enlightenment. This fiabe, or fairy-tale play, put a fantasy world on a stage set for rational thought; drawing on the Commedia dell’Arte traditions of improvisational comedy, Gozzi successfully upstaged the disciplined and didactic theatre championed by Enlightenment playwrights and thinkers of the time. The St. Olaf production teams up students in ART396, led by Irve Dell, with a cast, directed by the Theater Department’s Jeanne Willcoxon, to stage this this always lively, often ribald, tale of an enchanted prince and his fruit-encased love. Following in the footsteps of Gozzi’s beloved itinerant Commedia acting troupes, the actors leave the Kelsey stage to perform throughout the St. Olaf campus. There will be no ticketing for this show but accommodations will be available at all locations for those who require seating. Get ready to join in the fun as The Love of Three Oranges unpeels its story of love and power at a location near you!
Photography: Heidi Bohnenkamp
Pictured: Christine Menge (Speaker of the Prologue), Guillermo Rodriguez (Silvio), Shannon Cron (Prince Tartaglia), Nathan Aastuen (Pantalone), Denzel Belin (Clarice), Ben Swenson-Klatt (Truffaldino), Matt Stai (Leandro), Seton FitzMacken (Brighella), Noelle McCabe (Celio), Joey LeBrun (Fata Morgana), Amy Jeppesen (Farfarello), Emily Field-Olson (Smeraldina), Gabby Dominique (Princess), Leidy Rogers (Princess), Stacie Argyrou (Princess Ninetta), Shannon Brick and Jenna McKellips (Bumpkins), Francesco D'Aniello (Creonta), Charlotte Smith (Gate), Dario Villalobos (Dog), Nattha Sangboon (Rope) and Margaret Jacobson (Cook).
The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel
The Baltimore Waltz
During the summer of 2013 I co-advised a St. Olaf Program called Leaders for Social Change. One of the students, Olivia Slack ('15) worked at the Minnesota AIDS Project. Attending a seminar on her work, I was struck by how little students knew about the history of AIDS and how different the understanding of AIDS is now than when I was living in New York City in the 80s. When we performed this show, the student organization Face AIDS tabled every show, giving audience members a chance to learn about AIDS and to donate money to this organization.
Written in 1989 one year after her brother died of AIDS, Paula Vogel’s Baltimore Waltz imagines the trip she never took with her brother to Europe. Rejecting realism, Vogel’s Europe is a pop-culture landscape peopled by Strangelovian doctors, quinquagenarian little Dutch boys and Orson Welles wannabes. Ribald and absurd, the surreal journey of Anna and her brother Carl through Europe unfolds in a hospital lounge as Anna faces the death of her brother. At a time when AIDS was a death sentence and government response to the growing epidemic criminally slow, Vogel’s funny and moving play reveals both the ludicrous ineptitude and profound loss that she and many others experienced during the AIDS crisis of the 80s, a crisis that continues today as 33.4 million people live with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Photography: Heidi Bohnenkamp
Pictured: Becca Hart (Anna), John Michael Verrall (Carl), Andrew Lindvall (Third Man), Megan Behnke (Stagehand)
Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind
Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind translated by Jonathan Franzen
I wanted to continue the fruitful collaboration with music students begun in the last show and brought Mitchell Ebert ('09) on to compose music and create a live soundscape for this show (using tree branches and voices). I knew that I would have actors play both adults and children and brought in Sara Weathers ('09) to both help the actors physicalize these different ages and to create choreography for this production that I staged in the style of German expressionism. Below is the production description that I wrote for publicity.
Written by the bad-boy of German theatre, Frank Wedekind, this play exposes the incredible pressures German youth were put under to perform academically and conform socially in the repressive Wilhelmine Germany of the late-twentieth century. Dealing frankly with the overwhelming anxiety of the student and the emerging, purposefully mystified, sexuality of youth, the play sheds a glaring light on the consequences of society’s unrelenting “education” of its children. Immersed in our own culture of academic and professional achievement, this play still speaks to audiences today (witness the popular Broadway musical based on Wedekind’s play). Expressionistic in tone and form, this play offers St. Olaf students a chance to explore and respond to the demands they face in their own academic careers through the structure and words of Wedekind’s avant-garde, ever-provocative, ever-controversial Spring Awakening.
Photography by Lisa Kudas (also the set designer!)
Pictured: Ross Lambrecht (Melchior), Scotty Gunderson (Moritz), James Doyle (Masked Man), Hannah Sorenson (Wendla), Julia Grover (Mrs. Bergmann), Christopher Davis (Mrs. Gabor), Kaylee Fortin (Mr. Gabor) and the cast.
Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, translated by Paul Schmidt
Student Ben Olson designed this wonderful set for us: he actually brought these trees from his family's home in northern Minnesota. I used the musical talents of my actors, and of our musical director and arranger, student Natalya Romero, to have live music throughout this production. Marc Robinson from the St. Olaf Russian Department helped us with pronunciations and cultural background. I wrote the following for publicity on the show.
The three Prozorov sisters yearn for Moscow, the exciting cosmopolitan city of their youth, as they live and work in the dull, provincial, army town that is now their home. Written by Anton Chekhov in 1900, Three Sisters examines the sisters’ lives of deferred and dying dreams in a now extinct czarist Russia. Gradually alienated from their own home, unable to find solace in love or work, the sisters hold on to the hope of happiness in Moscow. In their struggle to find some meaning in their daily existence, Chekhov reveals the painful beauty held in the many unremarkable lives, lived on the periphery of great events, lost to history.
Photography: Heidi Bohnenkamp
Pictured: Liz Hawkinson (Olga), Clara Kundin (Masha), Jamie Sadd (Irina), Addison Eng (Andrey), Jason Andrews (Tuzenbach), Ryan Evans (Vershinin), John Michael Verrell (Solyony), Justin Henry (Kulygin), Fedotik (Matt Terhaar), Rohde (Isaac Rysdahl), Chebutykin (Josh Woolfolk), Jessilyn Marth (Natasha).
bobrauschenbergamerica by Charles Mee
bobrauschenbergamerica by Charles Mee
Taking Charles Mee at his word, we inserted our own performance pieces into this show. Heidi Bohnenkamp and Aisha Ragheb produced a dadaesque movie that we premiered and the cast enacted another, devised, movie on stage. Jake Schlichting created movement pieces and we also had a dance party with the audience during the show. The following is a production blurb I wrote for publicity.
Celebrating the spontaneous, the random and the incomprehensible, Charles L. Mee's bobrauschenbergamerica takes the bits of pieces of life and creates in performance a Robert Rauschenbergian combine. Just as American artist Robert Rauschenberg's combines (artwork made from everyday found objects) challenged the spectator's definition of what art is, Mee's text, combining Walt Whitman's poetry with family slide shows, country music and John Cage, makes the audience question how and why we separate art from life. Opening up a world of delight and nonsense, love and betrayal, Mee explores art in America as we all dance through our ever more erratic and unintelligible lives in the 21st century USA.
Photography: Todd Edwards
Pictured: Jason Andrews (Pizza Boy), Lauren Bartelt (Bob's Mom), Joey Cherney (Becker), Brad Damon (Allen), Sam Fiorillo (Wilson), Megan Hadley (Susan), Justin Henry (Carl), Andrew Mehegan (Phil, the Trucker), Molly Trucano (His Girl), Abbey Warmboe (Girl with Roller Skates)
This was an experiment -- for the first time, we devised an entire piece of theatre as a production in our mainstage season. The Theater Department awarded Shadow Zimmerman ('12) an Anna K. Bonde Memorial Career Advancement Opportunity to return to St. Olaf and design lights for this show. The Bonde Opportunity offers St. Olaf Theater graduates a way to gain experience in their field, to further develop their artistic portfolios, and to advance their career in theater. Student Xuan He composed original music for the show (with students David DeLuca and Katie Heilman contributing two songs to the piece) and I also had the wonderful assistance of student choreographer Hattie Andres. Below is the text that I wrote for the show's publicity.
Edgar Allan Poe, master of the macabre, fascinates and frustrates in equal measure. As literary critic Harold Bloom notes, his writing can be of a “badness not to be believed,” but his stories nonetheless lodge in our unconsciousness, disturbing us with unforgettable images of death, abandonment and horror. Dead by the age of forty, Poe’s life as an American writer in the mid-nineteenth century proves to be as tumultuous and haunting as his tales. During the first three weeks of J-term students will create an original piece based on, and incorporating material from, the writings and life of Edgar Allan Poe. Working with text, image, object and movement, students invite you to join them in this experiment of imagining and performing the uncanny and unnerving world of Poe
Photography: Heidi Bohnenkamp
Pictured: Evan Adams-Hanson, Anne Elish, Emily Field-Olson, Ian Hamilton, Kelsey Henquinet, Alex Kirstukas, John Knapp, Adam Levonian, Amanda McShane, Josh Revier, Isaac Rysdahl, Christa Schmidt, Dylan McNamara Stratton, Cynthia Zapata.
Helen by Ellen McLaughlin
by Ellen McLaughlin
I directed this show for the Minnesota Fringe Festival with my colleagues Dona Freeman (Helen) and Todd Edwards (Menelaus) and students Scotty Gunderson (Servant), Camryn Reynolds (Io) and Martha Stuckey (Athena) acting in the production. Ellen McLaughlin very kindly approved the extreme cuts I had to make to allow the show to fit the time slot of the Festival -- we then brought the show to St. Olaf to perform at the beginning of the fall semester. This production marked the first St. Olaf collaboration to perform at the Fringe Festival. Supported by a St. Olaf grant for summer artistic activity, St. Olaf faculty, students and staff gathered throughout the summer to create this piece of theatre.
This abridged version of Ellen McLaughlin's Helen asks us to pierce through the image and find the reality of human life. In a world that becomes ever more mediated, with wars comfortably viewed on television and images of feminine beauty circulated ad infinitum in the media, Helen makes us examine the human cost underlying the images of war and beauty that so define our lives. In the middle of our own war, too often ignored except by those who directly bear its human costs, McLaughlin wakes us up to the reality of corporeal suffering. Helen attempts to tell her story: a story that has not yet been heard, but that might begin the process of speaking the truth of human experience, rather than simply disseminating the inhuman image of what never was.
Enchanted April by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim
Enchanted April starts in post-WWI London amidst a steady downpour of rain. Alienated from and in a state of mourning for her marriage, Lotty Wilton starts a journey that will move all the characters from loss to love as they travel from England in February to Italy in April. For my first production at the University of Wisconsin — La Crosse, I enlisted the help of Alessandro Quartiroli, a professor in the psychology department, to help the cast learn Italian and worked with faculty and student designers to create a production that moves us from a very dreary London in Act One to a very sunny and lively Italy in Act Two.
Photography by Joe Anderson.
Pictured are Sarah Coppenbarger (Lotty Wilton), Grant Latus (Mellersh Wilton), Maddie Stoffel (Rose Arnott), Alec Berchem (Frederick Arnott), Emily Farebrother (Caroline Bramble), Evan Medd (Antony Wilding), Katie Piper (Mrs. Graves) and Sarah Lambert (Costanza)